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A Nobel Laureate's Secret to Avoiding Distractions: Be Irresponsible!
A counterintuitive advice to career progress.
Hey folks 👋
It's been a while since I've posted on my Substack (two and a half years, damn it!), so I thought it might be good to share some new content with you.
This post is a translation of an article I recently wrote on my French blog.
I came across this idea of "being irresponsible" while reading Deep Work by Cal Newport, and the idea really stuck with me.
I think it's a unique way to keep distractions away, so I thought, why not share it?
If you like it and want more articles like this, hit the reply button and let me know!
Without further ado, here is the article:
🧐 The Initial Problem
Managing our priorities at work is a veritable conundrum.
Our attention span is under constant attack from all sides.
If we're not careful, we'll spend our days working for others instead of focusing on our own goals.
The solution is simple: know how to say 'no'.
But saying no can be scary.
So we end up agreeing to put our priorities on the back burner because it's good manners to say yes.
But there is a way to be fully focused without feeling guilty: be irresponsible.
🧠 Inside Your Mind
I got this idea from Richard Feynman, one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century, famous for his part in the Manhattan Project and for developing an indispensable tool of quantum physics (Feynman diagrams).
Feynman owed the success of his research (for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965) to his ability to concentrate, which depended, above all, on having long, undistracted hours at his disposal.
In 1981, he explained his secret weapon in a BBC interview:
" If you have a job administrating anything, you don't have the time. So I have invented another myth for myself: that I'm irresponsible. I'm actively irresponsible. I tell everyone I don't do anything. If anyone asks me to be on a committee for admissions, "no," I tell them: I'm irresponsible… "
This somewhat surprising technique makes perfect sense.
Long, uninterrupted hours are the only way to reach the flow, the mental state that allows us to forget the passage of time and be fully focused (a concept described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975).
And to achieve this level of focus, we need to say no.
Saying no is easier if people think you are irresponsible.
You don’t have to be irresponsible.
You only need to keep the appearance of it.
Being irresponsible is a secret weapon allowing you to focus on the essentials.
💪 How To Apply This
Of course, being deemed "irresponsible" comes at a cost, especially in the short term.
You won't climb the corporate ladder by being labeled irresponsible.
But is that really your goal?
Appearing irresponsible is a long-term investment that could pay off far more than a promotion.
Being irresponsible (and thus focused), allows you to stay focused and produce more.
While most people will spend their 9-5 on emails and meetings, you’ll have time to dive deep into the tasks that matter the most to you.
As Feynman explained:
"Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn't stop you from doing anything at all."
In order to become an expert in a field, you have to make a choice, and that choice is bound to be frowned upon by some of the people around you.
But ultimately, you’ll become the expert, not them.
💥 The Short of It
Protect your time; be irresponsible.
We don't all aspire to a Nobel Prize like Feynman, but as creators, thinkers, or leaders, total immersion in our work is what gets us up every morning.
It's our duty to protect our time and focus, sometimes drastically.
Take the advice of one of the most brilliant minds of the last century: Be irresponsible and let it be known!
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