As modern technology continues to advance, machines will continue to infiltrate most aspects of our lives. Indeed, it is not surprising that thousands of people around the world spend at least 30% of their time each day on electronics. Besides 15% of this time is spent on social media. Also, machines have replaced human labor in most industries and companies continue to hire fewer people as they find that they can automate most tasks.
Today, I will tell you the story of Gerald, a young graduate from an elite Ugandan university. When he finished his bachelor’s degree in economics, just like any other young graduate, he had a great ambition to transform the economic lives of Ugandans. He planned to work in large industries and companies.
When I first met Gerald, it was at his graduation ceremony. Every graduate was excited about the end of their school journey and were enthusiastic about transforming the world. I intently watched as a journalist interviewed one of the top graduands from that year. I later learned that the latter graduate was Ian. The journalist congratulated Ian for his tireless effort in his journey to success. “Hard work and commitment are the very keys to reaching this day. However, if you want to reach this day with a broad smile, you need to do deep work”, muttered Ian.
I kept in touch with Gerald through phone calls and emails. One afternoon, I was awakened by a soft knock on my door. I had shortly taken a nap on my sofa in the sitting room. Since I had made it a routine to keep my door open in the afternoons to allow in fresh air, I signaled Gerald through the mirror to turn the doorknob.
When he entered, I rang the bell so that Tara our caretaker could come and get Gerald’s request regarding foods and drinks. Gerald’s eyes were red and wore that expression of” I am fed up." I waited patiently for Tara to return with his requested items while trying to study Gerald’s mind. When Tara made her way to the sitting room, Gerald had commenced on his plans. He thanked Tara without looking at her when she placed his roasted chicken and a mildly chilled cocktail juice on the table.
Gerald told me that when he was still in school, he had always yearned to grow his country’s economy. He added that he thought he would be a star at work. However, when the opportunity availed itself, he found himself unable to put an outstanding performance. Gerald admitted that his work required him long hours of concentration yet he never could manage to do that for even just five minutes. If he decided to concentrate he would find himself unconsciously scrolling down a bunch of messages from friends. His work would be interrupted by things that he sometimes had no solutions for.
Gerald continued that his computer and phone were failing him. One time, he decided to leave his electronics at home in an attempt to avoid distraction at work but Gerald admits that he could not concentrate as well. This is because he spent 50% total time out of his working hours thinking about the large sums of messages awaiting him on both his phone and computer. He also found himself borrowing a computer from a friend so that he could google something that he thought his brain could not digest. At the end of the day, Gerald was confused and hated himself. He had come here to tell me that he planned to quit his job the following week.
I began by telling Gerald to feel relaxed because I had the right answer to his woes. I told him about the value of working without any distraction and how he could achieve it. Many people today have the same problems just like Gerald. Such people do too much shallow work. That means that their output is also shallow. Once you fail to do deep work, then you have fewer chances of being an outstanding figure in today’s competitive world. I told Gerald that he needed to lock himself in a room without electronics and do work for long hours. I knew he would find it hard in the first period but would finally get used.
The next time I heard from Gerald was about four months since we last communicated. He sounded excited because his performance at work was impressing everyone and he had recently been promoted at work. Gerald concluded that there is nothing as beautiful as doing deep work! He spent less time at work and felt that things were easier because of his ability to learn hard things faster.