You need to understand what hard work is before you can lay claim to having done any. Working hard should not be confused with work that is hard. Changing out tires on heavy-duty equipment is physically demanding; performing neurosurgery is mentally taxing; being an ice-road trucker with two sets of log books and a fierce drug habit in order to facilitate 24-hour driving shifts is hard both mentally and physically—but none of these examples gets down to the definition of hard work that applies here.
Author Cal Newport draws further distinctions around types of work in his book Deep Work. Mr. Newport refers to “shallow work,” i.e., work done amidst all sorts of distractions without careful consideration or complex training. And then there is “deep work,” which is work done with laser-like focus. This is protracted work solving complex problems, developing detailed solutions to complicated scenarios. Work that is done in an environment of limited distraction, and to limit distraction is critical in mortgage-world.
To work hard is to work focused.
To work hard is to work efficiently.
To work hard is to work effectively.
For effective hard work, you must choose an environment that includes a dedicated office outside of your home. Challenge me all you like—on this we can agree to agree that I am correct.
“Oh but that costs money,” you might say.
No. Not having a dedicated office is costing you money. Tens of thousands per year, maybe more, depending on your profession.
But you “love the flexibility of ‘working’ from home.” Well here’s the thing: you are not working from home; more likely you are kind of sort of working. Only the rarest among us can achieve true dedicated focus for any duration from within a home office. Don’t assume you are that rainbow-spitting magical unicorn; you are not.
Before you write me hate mail about how much you’re crushing it from your home office, think about what your production level would be if you were in a professional office environment that we tailor-made for you together. To be clear: this is not to say that you would be happier, or have greater “balance” (whatever that illusion is), this is simply saying you will be more productive in a professional space. Production — that’s what we are talking about here. Not balance.
Although to be fair an office outside of the home just might be exactly the thing to bring you closer to balance. An office within a home is an office located in the epicentre of any and all other distractions that you could possibly have in your life. Garbage to take out, a doorbell to answer, laundry to do, a dog to walk, a cat to feed, a shower at noon, or 3pm, or 6pm. Snail mail to sort, a dishwasher to unload, a pool to clean, a lawn to cut, some pictures to hang, a neighbour to chat with, kids home from school mid-afternoon to greet. The diversions pulling the home-based worker away from deep thinking are endless.
In a proper, dedicated office located away from your home, there is no TV, no talk radio in the background. Distractions are minimized. There is a phone that lights up, or at worst vibrates, but is otherwise silent when a call is coming in. All devices, including your computer, operate in total silence. No notification alerts, no chimes for email or IM. No audible alerts of any kind.
In fact, ideally there are no speakers connected to your computer. You will not be watching YouTube clips, surfing Facebook, or online shopping from this computer. The exception to this is Alexa—she is nice to have around. I find myself asking Alexa all kinds of questions because it’s easier than opening a new tab to Google how long it will take me to get to Waterfront Station, what the temperature is currently, or maybe to play me a little thinking music (Mozart) or some writing music (lcd Soundsystem) on repeat.
Your work computer, found in your dedicated work office, serves only one purpose: performance of tasks dedicated to the completion of fi les. That’s it. Personal pics, personal docs, personal social media surfing are all done from another device, a device not located in your office. In fact, wipe the Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Bumble, Thrinder apps from your phone; you will be glad you did. Actually, while you have your phone out, do the following:
go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut > Color Filters then press the home button three times to enable grayscale, and to revert back click it three times again. Distraction factor reduced 10X.
Create a mental shift between devices.
Personally, I use a desktop PC for work, because PCs are not about having fun; they’re all about getting work done. Sorry, Apple, but your ads backfired. I want boring and dependable, I want Excel and do not want a super-duper graphics card. Not in the office anyway.
Home is where the Apple (everything) is. The PC in my office equals protein and heavy lifting. My office is where I make my gains, and home is where I rest and recover and ultimately express a different kind of creation, often through writing. Each environment is increasingly about optimizing my performance in specific ways.
Your office will have a door that closes. Use it. Privacy is a vital component of focus, as is cutting yourself off from the office rambler, the doorway-leaner, and the got-a-minute meetings about nothing.
Y’know the people who seem to think work is summer camp and want to interrupt your work since they have none of their own to get done.
This is your office. You are there to work.
**Note: this Chapter was written prior to the days of work/home lives being altered by a Global Pandemic. Perhaps the need for a dedicated office is far greater today; or understandably, not a realistic option in the immediate future.**