Most of the scary articles I read about AI coming for our jobs focus on on the same low skill, repetitive tasks that could easily be automated: driving, data entry, simple assembly line tasks.
I do worry about impending job losses for Uber drivers, but I also feel a smug over-confidence about my own job. I am paid to think, analyze, and ‘be creative.’ AI is no match for a strategy consultant like myself.
And yet, I am constantly distracted at work. I chat up colleagues on Slack. I check my phone sometimes 30+ per hour. I’ve turned to Forest App to kick that habit. But still: the work I do is shallow. The short periods of time I spend actually focused do not produce any genius that could not be automated in a few years time (or less, depending on how quickly AI develops).
The reason is that when I multitask, I (and everyone else) am not actually doing two things at once. Multi-tasking means constantly switching between separate tasks, leaving a switching “residue” that reduces cognitive performance for a non-trivial amount of time to follow (Cal Newport – Deep Work). It means that most of the time, I never get to a deeper level of thought or analysis. Instead of 8 hours of work, I am putting in hundreds of shallow 5 minute (or less) sessions as I check my phone and email.
Tech is not just getting smarter, it’s making my work dumber.
When I do engage in Deep Work (focused, uninterrupted flow), I don’t just get more done, the quality of my work is better. I reach levels of insight that take extended focus. The work is valuable, unreplicable, and smart. This is the work that won’t be outsourced to AI.
To make better work that I am proud of (and avoid succumbing to my future robot overlords for another year), my 2017 resolution is to engage in deep work everyday.