Dave Chase believes that healthcare costs have stolen the American Dream. Beyond that, Chase believes that our high healthcare costs have cost us more than just money. People stay in jobs they don’t like so that they can afford healthcare, people feel a wage stagnation as employers have to spend more on healthcare, and up to 70% of people who file bankruptcies due to healthcare costs have insurance. The high costs of healthcare come at a substantial emotional, psychological, and aspirational cost to Americans.
In his book The Opioid Crisis Wake-Up Call, Chase writes, “Had health care costs paralleled the Consumer Price Index, rather than outpacing it, an average American family would have had an additional $450 per month – more than $5,000 per year – to spend on other priorities.”
The money that families are spending on increased healthcare is not the only money that could be redirected toward other priorities. Employers are spending more on healthcare, which means they have less to use for business investment, less to use for retaining great talent, and less money for expanding into new areas.
The stagnation for individuals and companies is real, and it has serious costs beyond just the money going toward healthcare. Individuals who don’t see their take-home pay increase will feel discontent. If inflation picks up, and the amount of goods that can be bought diminishes, people will channel their frustration into social unrest. If businesses cannot invest in R&D because too much money is going to the healthcare costs of their employees, then the United States will not see new innovations inside our boarders, and the dynamic companies that we depend on for our jobs will not be able to compete on a global scale. The costs of our high costs of healthcare go beyond a loss of spending money for some people. The costs are real, and threaten our economy, our global standing, and our social contracts with each other and our institutions.
My last two posts have been about deep work and shallow work, with one post looking at what deep work really entails, and one post considering when you should plan your shallow work relative to your deep work. Today’s post is more directly on the costs of shallow work. Yesterday’s post discussed the importance of doing deep work when we are most focused, and an unwritten but implied aspect to shallow work is that doing shallow work when we are most focus robs us of the time and mental energy that we could use to do our most important work. But that is not the only cost of shallow work – the downsides to shallowness extend beyond the opportunity costs of doing more important work instead of the shallow busy work.
Cal Newport in Deep Work writes, “Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.”
Newport’s warning is very important and extends far beyond losing a few hours where we could be more productive. It extends beyond even our work schedule and the time we are in the office. The warning is this: the more time you spend distracting yourself in line at the grocery store with your phone, the more time you spend fluttering around twitter at work, and the more time you spend scrolling down Facebook before bed, the worse your brain will be when it needs to focus most. Our poor digital habits reduce our ability to focus.
Deep work requires that we keep our mind focused on one thing for a long period of time. It requires that we make connections by truly learning and understanding the material we are focused on. In the long run, it makes us better performers because it allows us to be more productive with our time. The future of our economy is bright for those who can excel at deep work, when others are distracted and unable to complete difficult projects in a unified and coherent manner.
However, if we spend our time doing lots of shallow work like answering every unimportant email as soon as a notification pops up on our computer, or if we spend lots of time distracting ourselves on social media, we won’t build the capacity to engage with deep work. We will actually diminish our ability to do deep work and teach our brain that it doesn’t need to focus for long stretches of time. Our brains get a hit of dopamine with each new social media post and each notification. Our brains can literally become overly reliant on these dopamine hits, to the point where our brains can’t focus because they can’t operate for long stretches without more cheap dopamine hits.
It is important that we be honest with ourselves about how we spend our time and how distracted we allow ourselves to be. Putting the phones down and blocking time for deep work is important, otherwise we will unintentionally fill our lives with shallow work, and in the process diminish our focus ability.