How to have the best beginning

When I saw Daniel Pink’s book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, I knew I had to read it.

Science telling me when the best time to do things for the best results? Gimme, gimme!!

To keep the posts on this book a little shorter and easier to read, I’m going to break it up over a series of blog posts.

Today I’ll cover his general topics on timing, breaks, and how to have good beginnings. In a later post, I’ll go into how to have good midpoints and endings.

Hidden pattern: U-shape

Daniel Pink starts out with a study that drives his a large portion of his book.

Michael Macy and Scott Golder looked at 50 million tweets and ran them through a text-analysis program, LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count), to determine the emotion that each word conveyed.

They found that our tweets start out positive in the morning, plummet in the afternoon, and then become more positive again in the early evening.

This held up regardless of ethnicity, gender, location in the world, or day of the week.

It turns out that our emotions, bodies, and minds have a time-based pattern of peak, trough, and rebound that can be used to maximize how we live our days.

Note: This pattern has emerged in other studies that he goes through in the book. I won’t cover those other studies here, but wanted you to know that all this info isn’t based just off this one Twitter study.

What type of bird are you?

Pink spends a lot of time talking about your chronotype (whether you are an early bird, night owl, or what he calls “third birds”).

Your bird type can be used to predict when your peak, trough and rebound happen.

He argues that most people are third birds and make up 60-80% of the general population. So, if you don’t want to take the time to figure out your bird type, it’s pretty safe to assume you’re a third bird.

Interesting chronotype tidbits

Your birthdate may play into what type of bird you are:

  • If you were born in the Fall or Winter, you’re more likely to be a lark.
  • If you were born in the Spring or Summer, you’re more likely to be an owl.

Your age may also be a factor:

  • Children tend to be larks. (Oye! Every parent is painfully aware of this tendency.)
  • Teens and young adults morph into owls. Peak “owliness” hits around 20 years old.
  • After age 20, we slowly become more “larky”.
  • Then at around age 60, we become so “larky” that we are more of an early bird than when we were kids.

How gender plays in:

  • Men tend to be more “owly”.
  • Women tend to be more “larky”.

But, these gender differences disappear around age 50.

My two cents: With all these loose correlations and trends that weigh in on your bird type, it tells me that your bird type is more of a tendency rather than a hard fact. It’s loose. It changes depending on many factors. So, maybe factor that in when you apply this information to your life.

To find your bird:

  1. Look at your sleep window of your days off from the weekly grind.
  2. Find the midpoint of your sleep cycle. If it is:
  • 3:30 a.m. or earlier = Lark
  • 5:30 a.m. or later = Owl*
  • Somewhere in between = Third bird

*If you’re an owl, your day has the opposite shape of larks and third birds. Your pattern is to have a rebound, trough, and then peak at night.

Guidelines for your day

  1. Know your chronotype (bird type) so you know your daily pattern: Peak-trough-recovery or recovery-trough-peak.
  2. Do your most important work that requires analytical thinking, vigilance, and clear thinking in your peak. Keep the mundane tasks that you can do without thinking in your trough.
  3. Beware of the trough. About all it’s good for is reading email and taking naps. Pink says that 2:55 pm is the most unproductive moment of the day.
  4. Save your secondary tasks for your rebound timeframe.

Impressions, decisions, docs, and judges

When scheduling a job interview or anything else where you are trying to make a good impression, try to schedule it in the morning because that’s when most people are happiest and that’s when it’s easiest to make a good impression.

If you have a tough decision to make, make it in your peak.

See the doc in the morning and avoid the trough (afternoon slump) at all costs. They’re more likely to wash their hands and make the right diagnosis in the morning.

Judges are more likely to give a favorable ruling in the morning or after a break.

Fun fact: Judges give out sentences that are 5% longer on the Monday after Daylight Saving Time than any other Monday.

When to exercise

The best time to exercise depends on your goals.

Exercise in the morning to:

  • Lose weight (fasted workouts may burn 20% more fat).
  • Boost mood (you can enjoy the mood boost that comes from exercise all day).
  • Keep to a routine and form a habit.
  • Build strength (testosterone peaks in the morning, helping you build more muscle).

Exercise in the afternoon or evening to:

  • Avoid injury (muscles are warm and less prone to injury).
  • Perform best (sprint faster and lift more – this is the time you have peak lung capacity and strength).
  • Enjoy the workout more (you feel like you’re doing less work).

4 Tips to a better morning

  1. Drink a glass of water when you wake up.
  2. Wait 60-90 minutes before you have your first caffeine boost. (Cortisol, a stimulant, is highest in the morning. Wait for that to come down first to get better efficacy of your morning coffee.)
  3. Get some sun on that face!
  4. Learn in the morning (high cortisol = high learning because you can focus and absorb more deeply).

Take your breaks!

Breaks are essential to keep you on your toes.

If you take a break, you’ll be more productive when you come back to work, even in the trough.

How to take the best break

  1. Something beats nothing.
    • Frequent and short are more effective than occasional ones.
    • The golden ratio is: work for 52 minutes and then break for 17 minutes.
  2. Get moving, don’t just sit there.
    • A quick walk will sharpen your focus and boost your energy and mood throughout the day.
    • “Microbursts” are more effective than a longer break.
  3. Get social.
    • Talk with others about something other than work. It’ll reduce your stress and improve your mood.
  4. Get outside.
    • Use nature to get more restoration.
    • If you can’t get outside, get by some plants or other greenery.
  5. Avoid tech.
    • No email or phone checking!
    • Taking a tech break reduces your stress and boosts mood.
  6. Take at least 3 breaks a day.
    • Know when you’ll take your breaks, how long they will last, and what you’ll do during them.

Lunch = the most important meal of the day

The idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day isn’t really panning out with subsequent studies.

It looks like we’ve been had. The initial studies that tout the value of breakfast were done by food industry groups that have an interest in selling you cereal.

Myth buster: Eating breakfast has no discernible effect on weight loss.

Lunch, however, can have a huge impact on your day. So, if there is a “most important meal of the day,” it looks like it’s lunch.

If you eat your lunch at your desk, you’re going to be more exhausted and less vigorous than that “slacker” that gets out for lunch everyday.

For the best lunch break

  1. Choose what you do over lunch. Mandatory team lunches are not that restorative nor are lunches where you’re told what to do in general.
  2. Get away from your desk and your work environment.
  3. Detach from work completely.

Take a nap

Naps are a great way to take a break and counterbalance that dreaded afternoon trough.

  • NASA found that pilots that napped up to 40 minutes had a 34% increased reaction time and a 2X increase in alertness.
  • Nappers are twice as likely to solve a complex problem than non-nappers.


  • Increase your chances to get into flow.
  • Boost your mood, alertness, and cognitive performance.
  • Expand your brain’s capacity to learn.
  • Improve your physical and mental health (nappers are 37% less likely to die from heart disease).
  • Strengthen your immune system.

And, if you habitually take naps, you’ll get more benefit from your naps than infrequent nappers will from theirs.

The ideal nap

The ideal nap is a “nappaccino”:

  1. Drink a cup of coffee.
  2. Nap for 10-20 minutes.

This works because it takes caffeine 25 minutes to enter the bloodstream.

Take a nap, wake up to a caffeine boost. #winning


When you start out is important. Here are some tips on how to have the best beginnings.

When to start a new habit or goal

When we start a new goal or habit, it is often tied to a specific day.

  • “I’m going to start exercising regularly on Monday.”
  • “I’ll start setting money away with my first paycheck starting in January.”

The days we pick to start are often “temporal landmarks“. They signal to us that a new beginning is about to happen.

Temporal landmarks can be social (recognized by everyone like holidays, Mondays, of the start of a month), or personal (birthdays or anniversaries). So, don’t feel like you need to hang your hat on January 1st. You have many opportunities in a year to “start over”.

When starting a new habit, pick your landmark and stick to it.

When to go first

There are times in your life when you have the choice to go first or wait.

Here is when you want to be first:

  1. You’re on a ballot (the 1st name listed is chosen most often).
  2. You’re not the default choice (for example, you’re competing against a firm that already has the account you’re seeking).
  3. There are relatively few competitors (take advantage of the “primary effect” – they’ll be the most likely to remember the first in a series).
  4. You have a job interview. (“Narrow bracketing” occurs when you assume a small set of candidates represents the entire field. A good candidate up front means they’ll look harder for flaws in later candidates.)

Don’t go first when:

  1. You are the default choice (they’ll be more likely to stick to the defaults later in the day).
  2. There are lots of competitors. (On American Idol, the last singer advances to the next round 90% of the time. This may be because at first the standard of excellence is high, but with time, the standard becomes more realistic.)
  3. You’re operating in an uncertain environment.
  4. The competition is meager.

When to get married

Disclaimer: These are just trends, not hard and fast rules, so don’t panic if you didn’t get married at the “right” time.

  1. Shoot for somewhere around 25-30 years old to get married. If you get married too young or after the age of 32, you’re more likely to divorce.
  2. Wait until you’re done with school.
  3. Date for a year or more before getting married.

And, when you do get married, do it on the cheap. The more money you spend on your ring and wedding, the more likely you are to divorce.

Next time…

That covers the first chunk of When!

I hope you learned some things and will try some of these ideas out. If you do try any of these ideas, let me know in the comments.

Also, let me know what you think of your bird tendencies. I’m curious to hear more.

Next time I’ll cover how to have the best midpoints and endings, according to Pink.

You got this

Affirmations for people who think affirmations are bullsh*t

Ah, affirmations. Nothing will make me run from a room faster than a person that wants to talk about how positive affirmations have changed their lives. (I’m looking at you, Miracle Morning accountability groups!)

To me, conversation about the power of affirmations is a signal that we’re about to start talking about “the ‘hoax’ of global climate change” and ‘the powers of essential oils to cure cancer” next and I just am not interested in entertaining that bullshit. Plus, affirmations are all about eliciting a feeling…oh my word…feelings? No way. I’m out.

But, Gary John Bishop has written an entire book on affirmations that didn’t make me want to puke, so I felt compelled to share it. It’s titled: Unfu*k Yourself: Get out of your head and into your life.

If you are a Stoic, you will appreciate this book. It’s all about how to live your life better while focusing on things you have control over…like your self talk. O_o

I know, “Self talk? Ew!!” Yep. Agreed. But stick with me on this one.

Disclaimer: There’s not a lot of science referenced in this book. In fact, I think there is only a hint of a reference to a study on self talk findings and I have no idea if that was good research or not.

“Your self talk is fu*king you over in ways you can’t even imagine” – Bishop

On self talk, Bishop mentions that Albert Ellis found that how we talk and think about our experiences shifts the way we feel about them. The way we talk to ourselves and others impacts our behavior in the moment.

Nothing too earth-shattering with that premise. If you’ve ever read anything on the power of language, you know that the words we use shape our existence.

The idea that the self talk we use shapes how we perceive things is not too far out of the realm of possibility either. And, if that’s the case, how do we make our self talk as good as it can be?

How to improve your self talk

  1. Make the choice to talk in a way that is helpful rather than harmful. For example, “problems” are “opportunities”.
  2. Be more assertive rather than narrative.
    Don’t talk about what you’re “going to do” or “what you will be”.
    Don’t use “should” or “try”.
    Instead use phrases like, “I am,” “I embrace,” and “I accept or assert.”

As Bishop points out, there is a massive difference between “I am relentless” and “I will be relentless.”

Affirmations to try if affirmations make your skin crawl

Each chapter of Bishop’s book is about a different affirmation to try. Here they are:

  1. I am willing. (Or, alternatively, I am unwilling.)
  2. I am wired to win.
  3. I got this.
  4. Embrace the uncertainty.
  5. I am not my thoughts. I am what I do.
  6. I am relentless.
  7. I expect nothing and accept everything.

Holy Stoicism, Batman! Wowza! See? Not so painful, right?

Here’s a little about each affirmation and why Bishop thinks that’s the way to go.

I am willing.

Bishop argues that you have the life you are willing to put up with.

Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself. – Epictetus

He and the Stoics argue that even though there are things that happened to you, for which you may have had little to no fault in, you are 100% responsible for how you react to them.

Fate leads the willing and drags along the reluctant. – Seneca

If you use the phrase, “I am willing, but…”, you instantly make yourself a victim. You are not a victim. You are in charge of your reactions.

The world doesn’t stop you from succeeding; you’re not that big of a deal. – Bishop

Yes, but am I willing?

In order to know what you’re willing to do, you have to ask yourself, “Am I willing?”

For those instances in life when you really don’t want to do something but you feel like you “should”, when you are unwilling, Bishop says to tell yourself, “I am unwilling”. It’s powerful. It’s assertive. You’ve drawn your line in the sand. And, it gets rid of any guilt you may feel when that topic comes up in life. No more “I should”. Accept that you’re “unwilling” and move on.

I am wired to win.

Bishop argues that you are winning at the life you have now. You’ve accomplished whatever it is that you’ve set out to do with your life even if it’s just what your thoughts were set out to do. Because you are wired to win.

You don’t want to change! If you did, you’d be doing it! Call yourself out on this shit. – Bishop

If you think to yourself that you have no time to work on that dream of yours, you won’t find the time. You will win that argument with yourself every time.

Every belief we have about ourselves, we prove right every day with our actions.

So, if you’ve been telling yourself a story about why you can’t really do that thing you’ve always wanted to do and you can’t figure out how to get past it, ask yourself, “What is it that I get to be right about if I continue down this path?”

If you can identify what you get to be right about, you can identify the root of your resistance to getting the thing done, which goes a long way in pushing through the resistance.

How to make goals in life

I read a lot on goals because I think it’s somehow going to make me willing to work on them. Ha! (I have a lot of “should” goals.) So, I found Bishop’s take on goal-setting refreshing because it’s not the same ole bs. He says, when making your goals in life, make sure to identify the following:

  • Mile markers you will use to recognize your progress.
  • Daily actions you need to get it done.
  • Changes in mindset that you’ll have to make.
  • How your sense of self and your beliefs about yourself will change.
  • What your life, if you’re successful, will look like.

I don’t think I’ve ever thought about changes in mindsets or beliefs when it comes to goals. Ever. So thanks for that, Bishop.

From Bishop, “You are wired to win. Define your game, embrace the challenge, and strive to understand yourself in deeper and more meaningful ways.”

I got this.

When you have negative experiences in life, they can get you into a funk. And once you’re in the funk, it can be really hard to get out of it. Here are Bishops suggestions:

How to get over your emotions and out of a funk

  1. Think about the good times, the most memorable experiences you’ve had in life. Revel in them.
  2. Think of all the times you struggled. Remember those times when you overcame an obstacle and the problems you faced. (They may be similar to what you’re dealing with today).
  3. Think about your inevitable death. (Hello, Stoicism, my old friend.)

Going through this thought process will help you get a more reality-based perspective. When you feel bad, step wayyyy back and see if you can get a more realistic perspective of what your life really is.

You can also use those steps when you need to get a different perspective on how to solve the problem you’re working on now. Bishop argues that everything is solvable, you just haven’t figured out the solution yet, and getting perspective is sometimes all you need to see the solution.

Embrace the Uncertainty

This one hit home. If you are like me in that you have a contingent plan for your contingent plan, you may also find this one really useful.

Bishop argues that we are addicted to predicting the future because we want certainty. My multiple contingent plans is me grasping for certainty in an uncertain world.

He argues that this need to be certain comes from our old caveman mentality where we had to be risk averse to survive. These days, risk is not as prominent as the media would like us to think, so we don’t need to be so damn careful all the time.

Those same survival instincts that once kept us alive can now keep us from living because success happens in uncertainty. Uncertainty is where new happens.

He argues that when you do what you’ve always done, you’re just living in the past and how can you do anything new when you’re doing what you’ve always done?

He argues that success doesn’t happen because the person was certain they could do it, but because they didn’t let the uncertainty stop them.

We settle for certainty, but certainty doesn’t exist. – Bishop

Bishop posits that what causes most of our worry is trying to predict the future to feed our addiction of certainty. But, certainty doesn’t exist. The only guarantee in life is that it is uncertain. So embrace that and stop worrying about predicting what will happen. Embrace the uncertainty.

I am not my thoughts. I am what I do.

Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind. – Theodore Roosevelt

Bishop argues (along with the Stoics) that you are what you do. No matter what your thoughts are, your actions make you what you are.

You don’t have to feel like to day is your day; you just have to act like it is. – Bishop

The whole premise with this one is that your thoughts, though important, are not as important as your actions. Thinking “good thoughts” never accomplishes much, but your actions are the fastest way to change your thoughts.

Action may not bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action. – Benjamin Disraeli

I am relentless

For this one the basis is that all discomfort breeds change and if change is what you want, then you have to be ok with being uncomfortable. You have to keep going in spite of the discomfort.

Success is rare because embracing discomfort is rare.

Paraphrasing Bishop: Be relentless by focusing on taking one step at a time. With each step you get a little closer even if you can’t see it. It’s ok to get discouraged, but it’s not ok to stop.

I expect nothing and accept everything

Holy wha! If ever there was a summary of Stoicism, that would be it.

Bishop argues that your expectations are screwing you over. Any time you feel disappointment, resentment, regret, or anger, that’s where you expected one thing and got another.

Your expectations don’t do you any good. They blow things out of proportion and dilute your power to deal with issues.

Instead, don’t expect anything. Resolve issues as they come up and accept circumstances as they are and you’ll be a lot happier.

Well, th-th-that’s all folks!

What do you think? Do you feel pumped up to go kill your goals now? Hopefully this info was helpful, if anything, maybe a little different from the same ole stuff you normally see on how to be successful, right? (Hey, at least there wasn’t a suggested “8 steps” you need to do each morning to reach your goals. :eyeroll:)

My next few posts will be on Daniel Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets to Perfect Timing. There were some interesting nuggets in that book that I think are helpful and worth sharing.

Mortality and how to live a better end

I’ve been thinking about my own mortality a lot lately. That may sound morbid, and maybe it is, or maybe it’s just an result of what I’ve been going through lately or because I’ve been studying Stoicism, but in any case, it’s there.

Stoics say that it’s quite important to think about your mortality. If you acknowledge and embrace the fact that you are going to die, then you can live a better life because of it. It helps ground you on what is important in life.

So today I’m writing about our end of life. What does it look like? What are your odds of ending up in a nursing home? How do you make yours as good as possible?

Yes, I know this is not a light topic, but I think it’s an important one and one that nobody wants to talk about, except for Atul, that is. I promise to get to more uplifting posts after this one.

Let’s jump right in, shall we?

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Early in the book, Atul makes the point that we all are living for independence. Tell somebody that they can’t live on their own anymore or that they can’t be trusted to walk by themselves anymore and watch their desire to live disappear. Nobody wants to have to depend on others to live.

Falling, the biggest threat of all

Falling is one of old age’s biggest risks. 350 thousand Americans fall and break a hip each year. Of those, 40% end up in a nursing home and 20% never walk again.

When it comes to falling there are 3 major risk factors:

  1. Poor balance
  2. Taking more than 4 prescriptions
  3. Muscle weakness

Without those risk factors, a senior has a 12% chance of falling. With those factors, it’s 100% likely they will fall in a year.

Lessons learned

  1. Lift weights and stay strong for as long as you can. If you don’t lift weights now, start. When it comes to exercise, prioritize weights over cardio because if you can’t lift your bodyweight when you need, you’re going to have worse problems than a heart attack risk.
  2. Work that core! While lifting weights, make sure you’re fitting in core work. Get balance moves into the mix.
  3. If you take prescriptions, talk to your pharmacist (not your doctor) about interactions they may be having with each other and any side effects you need to be aware of.
  • Note: I say pharmacist rather than doctor because pharmacists know those drugs inside and out. Your doctor, though a very educated person, did not have enough time to learn pharmacy and medicine. Health issues = doctor; Questions about medications = pharmacist.
  • Geriatrics

    Of all the med students that pile into classes each year, 97% of them take zero classes in geriatrics. It’s not a sexy profession, so why would students flock to it? But, that is our loss because Geriatric docs can have a huge impact on the longevity and quality of life.

    The University of Minnesota did a study on 568 seniors over the age of 70 that were still independent but were at high risk of becoming disabled. For the half that got a Geriatric team, they were 25% less likely to become disabled, 50% less likely to become depressed, and 40% less likely to require home health services.

    What do Geriatric docs do that is so impactful? They simplify meds, control arthritis, keep toenails trimmed, meals square, and they watch for signs of isolation and home safety concerns.

    Lessons learned

    1. If you happen to be lucky enough to find a Geriatric doctor, first, buy a lottery ticket, and, second, hang on to them for dear life.
    2. If you can’t find a Geriatric doctor, work with a Pharm-D to simplify your meds, take care of your feet (even if you have to pay for pedicures to do it), have your meals planned out and nutritionally solid, and stay social.

    Our needs change as we age

    Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, though a great model for anybody that feels like they have time, goes out the window when we feel that time is short.

    Laura Carstensen, of Stanford University, found that when we feel our end is near:

    • We let our larger circle of friends fall by the wayside as we focus on those closest to us.
    • We start focusing on everyday pleasures that barely register when we are younger.
    • We become less interested in achieving and accumulating and more interested in the rewards of just being.
    • We are less ambitious, but more concerned with our legacy.

    Studies have found that when folks are hit with a serious illness, they are concerned with:

    • Avoiding suffering
    • Strengthening relationships with family and friends
    • Being mentally aware
    • Not being a burden to others
    • Achieving a sense their life is complete

    Lessons learned

    1. Make sure to give attention to those closest to you.
    2. Try to be more mindful of time going by. Study Stoicism. Practice meditation.

    If you need a nursing home…

    The average American spends a year or more in a nursing home during their life at 5 times the cost of independent living. Your chances of ending up in a nursing home is directly related to the number of kids you have. And, if you want more help as you age, you have better have had a daughter.

    If you are in the market for a nursing home or an assisted living apartment, here’s what to look for:

    • Smaller pods of people (no more than 16 people to a household)
    • Private rooms
    • Common living areas
    • More independence and fewer safety precautions. More safety precautions means less independence, which is something we all want in this life. So don’t take that away. Instead, find ways that you can move freely without an aid hovering over you. Walker, wheelchair, whatever it takes to keep your independence.
  • Also, if you’re going to move into a nursing home, be sure to bring a plant with you. Having a purpose to your days is important.
  • If you’re offered hospice, take it.

    Hospice is end-of-life care where the goal is to keep you comfortable as you live out your days. They address emotional, spiritual, and physical needs, and as somebody that has watched hospice nurses in action, I can tell you they are likely saints.

    Accepting hospice can feel like you’re giving up because you’re not going to fight anymore and because of that you’ll die sooner. But the reality is that hospice can help you live longer, better, and with less trauma and pain.

    If you use hospice, you’re about 1/2 as likely to end up in an emergency room compared to those that don’t and 2/3 less likely to end up in the ICU. You’re also likely to live 25% LONGER and have less suffering.

    So, yes, you’re accepting the end, but that is not always a bad thing. You’re more likely to have a far less traumatic ending and live longer with hospice.

    Lessons learned

    1. If you find that your treatment will have low odds and likely mess up the rest of your life, go on hospice. As hard as it will be to “admit defeat”, it will be better for you and your family.

    Questions to ask yourself if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness

    In the book, Atul makes a thorough argument that doctors are not equipped to handle conflict (facing your mortality) with you. They’re not trained in grievance counseling and don’t want to talk about uncomfortable things with their patients. As a result, they are more likely to talk about treatment options and odds of success rather than whether or not you should do the treatment.

    • 63% of doctors overestimate their patient’s survival time.
    • 17% under estimate it.
    • The average estimate is 530% too high.
    • The better that the doctor knows a patient, the more likely they are to err.

    The questions you need to ask your doctor to better understand your options are not just “can I live longer with treatment”, but also, “what will my life be like after treatment”.

    To help make the decision to do treatment or not a lot clearer, answer these questions and share your answers with your doctor:

    1. What is your understanding of the situation and it’s potential outcomes?
    2. What are your fears?
    3. What are your hopes?
    4. What trade-offs are you willing to make and not willing to make?

    Then, based on those answers, ask your doctor: What is the course of action that best serves me?

    End-of-life plan

    I love this quote from the book. It sums things up so nicely:

    We are inflicting harm in patients rather than confronting mortality. If end-of-life discussions were an experimental drug, the FDA would approve it.

    End-of-life discussions are not comfortable, but they are critical to having a better ending. Just talking about your wishes with your family can greatly reduce the turmoil of death and greatly reduce suffering for everybody involved. Not wanting to talk about it is natural, but it is also a sure way to make your family suffer more.

    This isn’t just for the old or terminally ill. You should have an end-of-life plan laid out even if you’re young and healthy so that others that care for you know what you want to happen if things get dire. And, yes, your plan can change as you age.

    Critical questions to ask for your end-of-life plan:

    1. Do you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops?
    2. Do you want aggressive treatments such as intubation and mechanical ventilation?
    3. Do you want antibiotics?
    4. Do you want tube or intravenous feeding if you can’t eat on your own?


    I know this topic is not easy and I will likely lose some followers because of it, but it’s an important topic that you’re not going to find very easily in a Buzzfeed article, so I felt compelled to share it. I hope you found it helpful.

    In my next post, I’m getting back to lighter topics. I’ll be looking at Gary John Bishop’s book, “Unfu*k yourself: Get out of your head and into your life”.

    The best books I read in 2018

    I read 56 books last year, which isn’t a whole lot compared to pro readers like Ryan Holiday (of which, I stole the idea for this post – thank you, Mr. Holiday), but for me it was a banner year. Of those 56, I’ve narrowed it down to the handful I would recommend to check out if you’re looking for good reads.

    1. Deep Work by Cal Newport

    As you know from my multiple posts on this book, I learned a TON from it. It taught me about the importance of making time to get into flow and focusing on your work AND – get this – it gave me actual techniques I could use to do just that. I know! What a concept! (It also was part of the impetus that got me to quit social media and not look back. So, thank you, Mr. Newport.)

    2. Atomic Habits by James Clear

    This was a bit of a dark horse for me. I had never heard of James until a friend recommended him to me late last year and now I follow everything he does. He published his first book in 2018, and, wow, it’s a doozy. Atomic Habits is full of tidbits to get your habits to stick, and not just the same ole stuff you hear from everybody else. He takes all that information and adds more to it while keeping it succinct and to the point. The result is an incredibly helpful book on how to form habits – and that’s coming from a habit forming junky that can’t get enough information on this topic.

    3. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

    I listened to this as an audiobook, and though I recall less from books I only hear and not hold, I still learned a LOT from this book. It’s a bit dense to get through and mildly depressing (I ain’t gonna lie), but it is incredibly insightful and eye-opening. I learned so much about humans, society, and why we do the things we do. I’ve added his other books to my to-read shelf because he not only shares a ton of information, but I get a hint of sass when he explains things that he thinks are kind of stupid, and you know how I love sass.

    4. Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

    We read this as part of a work book club and holy cats did I learn a lot about being an actual adult. My big insight from the book was that I was a jerk to my friends that didn’t think like me. This book taught me that when you’re having those hard conversations where you and the other person are clearly not seeing eye-to-eye, that instead of writing them off and ignoring what they have to say (yes, I did that), you should get curious and open the conversation up. Instead of saying, “well that’s YOUR opinion” and walk away, you should say something like, “why do you think that?” and learn more. There’s way more to this book than that, but that was the big lesson for me. It’s a definite must-read in our current political climate.

    Note: Yes, I do see the irony that this blog is all about chasing curiosity and yet I wasn’t doing that in my deepest interactions with people – hey, I’m learning here!

    5. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

    To lighten this list up a bit, I’ve added the funniest book I’ve ever read to the mix. This book is full of swearing and bluntness, so if that ain’t your thing, skip it. I actually started reading this years ago and stopped to save the last of it for when I needed a pick me up. I realized that that was like saving the good china for some reason instead of using it and enjoying it, so I started over and devoured the whole thing. I listened to it while I was driving – sure made that commute more entertaining.

    Where’s the fiction at?

    I realize this list doesn’t have a any fiction in it (so far), and that’s pretty sad. It’s harder for me to recommend fiction because I tend to read more non-fiction and because the love of a fiction book is so much more subjective to the individual reading it, in my opinion. However, if I were to pick my favorite fiction reads from 2018, it would include:

    6. Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

    I loved the creativity of tying old photos into a story. The characters that came from those photos were diverse and likeable and the story moved, which is always a pleasant thing.

    7. A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

    Ove is a major crabass and I loved him. My book club found the writing to be not so great with way too many metaphors and “as ifs”. I didn’t notice and I loved the story. Though Ove is crabby, his story is a real heart-warmer. It’s all about a guy considering to end things and his damn neighbors getting in the way of his plans. And, though that doesn’t sound heart-warming, trust me, this story is.

    8. Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey

    Bright Shiny Morning has multiple characters and their individual stories with chapters of facts on L.A. mixed in. I found the format, the characters, and the stories intriguing. The only thing tying all of these characters together is that they all live in L.A. Heads up: This book will make you want to avoid L.A. at all costs.

    Those are my favorites from the past year! Let me know in the comments if you read them and what you thought of them.

    The New Year (a love letter)

    WARNING: Contents are cheesy as hell and may cause massive eye rolling – and that is quite all right by me because when the muse says to write, you listen.

    Ah, new year, how I love thee!

    You, with your fragrance of hope and courage, full of energy, motivation, and big plans. You are the chance to begin again, to create a new me.

    You offer much to those constantly trying to improve. You’re a shining start-gate in a sea of false starts. The truest beginning of all big dreams, you are the temporal landmark that rules them all.

    Together, we are unstoppable, and yet, I am still afraid. What if I can’t keep my promises again? What will people say and think about us? Worse yet, what if we actually succeed and make a new me – what will that mean for my understanding of self?

    Still, my life is roughly half-over and someday too soon I won’t even be able to try for these dreams. So if not now, when?

    Oh, I fear how our relationship will change things, that is true. But, with all new love and its excitement comes the will to do it anyway. To hell with my fears! This time, with you, something magical will happen and I WILL keep my promises.

    And so, our journey begins. Only time will tell how our long relationship lasts. But like any good partnership, we are starting from a place of trust, transparency, and hope – how can we fail?

    We will have bumps. Many, many bumps. But, together, we will overcome. We will plan. We will dream.

    Why listening to blogging “experts” killed my blog

    Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

    I haven’t written anything here for months now and it was nagging at me as to why. 

    What’s the deal? I wanted to blog. I wanted a creative outlet. I have it. Why am I not using it?

    Maybe I have nothing to write about?

    Maybe my year of loss put out my fire to write? (Both of my parents and my beloved dog died in a matter of 7 months this year – yeah, 2018 can suck it).

    Maybe I just can’t commit to anything and I got scared of signing up for something?

    I wasn’t sure. 

    But, I think I’ve finally figured it out.

    It’s because I listened to the blogging experts and it killed all the fun.

    I started this blog as a way to write about things that I’ve learned about and am fired up about. I wanted to share those lessons here for anyone that wanted to listen in.

    I picked a blog name that left it wide open. “Captivated by Curiosity” didn’t pin me down. I could chase whatever I wanted, write whatever I felt compelled to write, and I wouldn’t feel stifled.

    Except I did. What gives?

    Like I do with most new topics of interest, I started researching how to “do it right”. Normally, this lets me pursue my latest point of interest and get deeper knowledge of it – something I love to do. This time it confined me. Suffocated me. And sucked all the fun out of it all for me.

    • “Have a niche”, they said, or you won’t be a “successful blogger”. Ok, so, I’ll make my niche that I write about things I learn – Ha! Still can’t pin me down!
    • “Have a writing schedule and post at a regular cadence”. Hmm…I can already feel the burden of this blog coming on, but they’re probably right. I probably should be more disciplined. I’ll work on getting up earlier so I have time to write. Although my mornings are full and I work a full-time job and am a mom of two and…deep breath…I’m sure if I just get up earlier, it’ll be fine.
    • “Create freemiums to entice your readers to give up their email addresses and grow your list!” Gross. I don’t want to market to people. I don’t want to swindle them out of their email addresses! But, if I want to get followers so that I can get a book deal in case I ever figure out what I want to write a book about and need one…I should probably listen to them. Maybe my freemiums could be of quality. None of this “get a free download of my monthly calendar template!” on my blog. Nope. But then, what am I expert enough at to “sell” on my site? Gross…I never wanted to sell anything. I just wanted to write.

    And so it went.

    Suddenly my blog became a huge burden. Another thing on my todo list. All the joy of the project was stripped away and it got pigeon-holed into some poppy sensation to cop me rotation at rock-and-roll stations. And I just do not got the patience!

    Heh, heh…just seeing if you’re still reading and paying attention that I just dropped some Eminem on y’all. 😉 BTW, you’re welcome. 

    But seriously, my blog became exactly what I didn’t want it to be. A burden. Something I had to do. Something I felt guilty about because I hadn’t written in MONTHS.

    Months?! Oh my! I’m such a failure!

    WTELF? Why would I do that to myself? I should just quit this blog thing altogether.

    And then I came across this TED talk by Emilie Wapnick and it all popped into place.

    The mid-life crisis I’ve been feeling for years quieted down and the reason why I stopped writing on this blog became clear. 

    I am a “multipotentialite”, as Emilie puts it. Or a “Scanner” (Barbara Sher) or “Renaissance Soul” (Margaret Lobenstine) or a “Hummingbird” (Elizabeth Gilbert) – pick the term that resonates most with you and run with it.

    Basically, I am interested in many things and feel stifled when I have to pick “one”. That’s it. Plain and simple.

    I study and study something until I have a handle on it and then I find a related topic and dive into that one, or I drop it altogether because I’m bored with it. 

    I will never be the person that practices one thing for hours a day to become an expert at it. I will never climb the ladder at work for decades or stay in one job so that I can get a pension or a gold watch. I will never be comfortable with picking career goals at work because I don’t know where I want to be in 5 days, let alone 5 years – even though it would make my annual review a hell of a lot easier.

    I may never find my “one true calling.” And that’s OK. 

    My interests vary wildly. They always have. I don’t have one “true” passion. I have dozens, and they just keep coming. Here’s what my life has looked like so far:

    • In high-school, I tried everything that didn’t cost anything or was very cheap to join because I was poor, mmkay? Speech, Theater, Basketball, Cheerleading, SADD…anything I could get my hands on. I was in Choir from 5th through 12th grade and got good enough to get into the 9-girl acapella group. I took as many foreign languages as I could, which were only two since I’m from a small town and that’s all that was available. Basically, I was hell bent on trying everything.
    • In my early college years, I started at my local community college because I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I toyed with being an author or a Psychologist. In the end, after I got my Associate of Arts, I picked a major that let me pull from multiple disciplines (Geology) because I still didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. 
    • Right before I graduated undergrad (I had one lingering credit left), I quit college and moved back home with my folks to figure out what I was going to do next. I figured out late in my college game that I didn’t want to “work in the field” for the next few years of my new and “budding” Geology career. I was burnt out from school, scared that I didn’t know what to pick, and I panicked. 
    • While living at home again, I worked in the pharmacy I worked at while I was in high school, but this time instead of running the cash register, I became a certified pharmacy technician. I learned all about pharmaceuticals (at a very high-level), nursing homes, hospice, and insurance hell. (Pro tip: I also learned that you should never trust what your doctor says about a drug and instead talk to your pharmacist because THAT’S WHAT THEY DO FOR A LIVING.)
    • On the side of that job, I worked at my hometown community center. I was a certified aerobics instructor and taught water aerobics and yoga. I worked nights and weekends there as a fitness specialist in the gym and helped people figure out how to use the equipment. I could have easily become a personal trainer (that was the next logical step), but didn’t want to and I couldn’t really explain why. Hint: It was because I was already growing bored with the fitness topic. I figured it out. The excitement of it was gone.
    • Then I finally got my shit together with the help of a very insightful mentor, wrapped up that one remaining credit, and took the GRE to go to grad school for Technical Writing. (Coincidentally, I discovered Tech Writing through that lingering credit I’d left hanging for a few years. :facepalm: ).
    • I’ve been doing Tech Writing since then and because it is so multi-disciplined, it has kept my interest so far. But, I have never focused solely on Tech Comm and I’ve checked out all the related fields and have gotten a good handle on them. I still can’t get myself to commit to being any one title other than the more generically-termed “Tech writer” because it feels the least restrictive. 
    • Since “getting a career”, I’ve continued to dapple in other topics.  Because of personal health issues and serious curiosity, I have taught myself an extensive amount about gut health, the microbiome, nutrition, and food intolerances. Whole30, Paleo, and Keto, I’ve done all of them trying to find what made me feel the best. I’ve considered going back to school to become a functional medicine doctor, but the student loans I would have to take on for that have killed that idea.
    • I’ve dappled in habit building and time management. I love efficiency in all things and this only helped me pursue that. 
    • I experiment in the kitchen a bit and work various recipes every week, sometimes repeating them and putting my own spin on them. But mainly, just trying different meals to find the ones I love. 
    • I’m currently trying to get meditation into the daily mix, finally pursuing fitness again, and want to sneak in learning how to play an instrument somehow. 

    Basically, I’m all over the damn map and always have been. And I’m finally giving myself a license to embrace it. 

    My midlife crisis to “hurry up and find my one true passion so that I don’t live a wasted life” is a bunch of shit.

    My need to “niche my blog, write regularly, and grow my email list” is also a bunch of shit. 

    I’m through with false pressures and stressing myself out. Done. (Though I’m not delirious and know that I still have others and will likely create more of them with time.)

    I don’t “have” to do anything. I can take this blog wherever I want because I’m a free agent and I pay the damn bills for it.

    This isn’t my job. I don’t have a performance review to prove my worth to write. I don’t need to get email addresses to prove my blog is successful. I can just have fun because it doesn’t matter if this blog is “successful”. That was never really my goal, though I was persuaded for awhile that it was by a bunch of well-intentioned (maybe) pros. (I say “maybe” because they likely just wanted my email address, and it worked.)

    So, that’s what I’m going to do from here on out: no more false rules and pressures. Just the sheer joy of it all.

    Because of my strong dislike for being pigeon-holed and committed to arbitrary deadlines or goals, I will likely never promise you “a post every Thursday” or that I will pursue one topic and one topic only. Therefore, you may find that I write about a topic you don’t like or care about – just hang with me during those times, if you’re up for it, and I’ll likely get back to a topic you enjoy. But if you’re not a fan of switching gears, I may not be your cup of tea. 

    I will never apologize for not writing for awhile because this blog isn’t about becoming a “good” blog anymore. This blog is for me to have an outlet when I feel the fire. And if I don’t feel the fire, I may not write for a bit. Hopefully you’re ok with that because it means you’ll get better content instead of just an unimpassioned repeat of what’s already out there. But if you’re not, I guess we’ll have to part ways.

    Bottom line, I’m taking the chains off myself. No more “should’s”, “have to’s”, “rules”, or “niches”. Just raw thoughts and writing what I feel compelled to share.

    I hope you stick around for the ride, but if you don’t, that’s OK, too. You do you and I’ll try my best to do me. 

    Deep Work: Methodologies I tried and the results

    In my previous posts on what I learned from Cal Newport’s, Deep Work, I laid out what it is and how to get more of it.

    I tried to implement some of Cal’s advice and this is where I landed.

    What I tried

    Track deep work

    What Cal Suggested

    Cal suggested that you keep track of your deep work time, keep a running tally, and reward yourself for reaching certain goals. Also, he says to note when you meet a milestone because of your deep work.

    What I did

    To track my deep work, I used my handy bullet journal. I tried a few different things, but landed on a system where I would write out what I planned to work on that day for my deep work and then put a checkmark next to that time if I felt I accomplished deep work and an x if I felt I didn’t. Here you can see what that looked like in my bullet journal:

    Deep work tracking in bullet joural

    See the red boxes where I planned (open circle) and tracked (x or check mark) deep work. I also tallied my work at the end of my day.

    How it went

    During this experiment, I couldn’t break my twitch to check email and instant messages completely and I actually felt more distracted with all the tracking (yet another thing to interact with during my day). But, when I tried to stick to the plan, I did give into my twitch much less, so that’s something.

    Schedule Internet time

    What Cal suggested

    Cal suggested that you schedule your Internet time and stick to it. If you have to deviate from the schedule, you could do so after waiting out 5 minutes, but then you were to reschedule your Internet time and stick to it as best as you could.

    What I did

    I tried scheduling my time to use the Internet with my knowledge worker job and it wasn’t easy.

    I kept a post it next to my mouse for when I could use the Internet again and did my best to stick with it.

    How it went

    I stuck to my schedule and rescheduled away, but I didn’t like it. I felt like I spent more time rearranging my schedule than doing work. Also, the added distraction of checking another thing (my schedule), made me feel less productive, so I didn’t keep this up for long.

    Plus, I don’t know how many times I would catch myself opening another browser window to check something for my work and then remember that I wasn’t supposed to use the Internet yet, get flustered, and quickly close the window to wait it out. I would procrastinate while I waited because I didn’t want to reschedule things and wasting time was easier.

    I felt like I was constantly failing, so I gave it up after a couple days.

    Quit social media

    What Cal suggested

    Cal said to ban any social media you couldn’t come up with a good reason to keep for 30 days. No big announcements, just stop using it. If after the 30 days, you felt you didn’t need it, you should let it go. But if you felt you really needed it, then you should keep it, and schedule it just like your Internet time.

    What I did

    I tried the 30 day ban on Facebook and I didn’t really miss it as much as I thought I would.

    Now, before I pretend I’m all noble and took Cal’s advice to quit it if I found I didn’t need it, I will tell you that is NOT what happened.

    After the 30 day ban, I still got the cold sweats at the thought of quitting Facebook. So instead, I settled on depending on myself to moderate my time on Facebook (because that worked so well in my past <eye roll>).

    But then I got pissed off at Facebook. Yes, I’m one of those people. I wan’t shocked at the Cambridge Analytica BS, but all the different ways that kept coming out (and keep coming out) about how Facebook sold my information to other companies, without my knowledge, really started to creep me out and piss me off.

    And, when I get pissed, I tend to flip a switch and rebel. Lo and behold…

    How it went

    I quit giving Facebook information about myself and a few other social media platforms that weren’t really doing much for my quality of life. But, I keep pinning on Pinterest. Why? Because where else am I going to collect those adorable DIYs I’m never going to do anything with? Duh.

    Do I miss it? Hell no.

    Honestly, as a whole, I don’t. But, I DO miss Facebook events because scheduling a party with Evite just is NOT the same, no matter how hard they try. Also, I don’t get invited to things via Facebook anymore, so I usually find out about them afterwards or right before they happen, if at all. That kind of sucks, but the tradeoff is worth it for me.

    Which leaves the question: Has my productivity picked up because of this new free time?

    Ahhh, you know, I’m not quite sure.

    I find myself staring out the window more. I am reading more, but I’m clearly not writing more, as you may have witnessed. And, I’m working out more, but I’m also catching up on my shows…so, I wouldn’t say I’ve swapped scrolling time with deep work.

    But, I am calmer and less obsessed with my phone. I’m calling it a win.

    Schedule every minute

    What Cal suggested

    Cal said to keep shallow work to a minimum, you should schedule every minute of your day. It allows you to see your priorities and know where your time goes.

    What I did

    I tried this for my work hours. I used Google calendar to schedule my minutes at the suggestion of one of my good friends.

    I only schedule a day or two in advance and when I create those task “meetings”, I make sure to make the event so that I appear as “available”. That way, others can schedule time with me during my time blocks.

    In an ideal world, I would probably block the time from others, too, and protect it, but I ain’t the boss and I need to make sure I’m available to meet with people or it’ll likely come up in a performance review.

    How it went

    For work, it worked like a charm. I stayed on task and got shit done. When my schedule changed, I just dragged and dropped events to other time slots. Bam! So organized! I could look at my calendar and keep calm knowing that I would get to that task later this afternoon. It was a big relief for me and helped me feel less overwhelmed.

    As for my personal time, I found myself longing for the ease of scheduling my non-work time like I do with work: drag and drop on Gcal, so I tried that for a bit. But, I soon discovered that my days are pretty much the same during the week and only differ on the weekends. Scheduling all these recurring time blocks was kind of ridiculous for my personal life. So I stopped.

    Instead I focus on sticking to my general time blocks that I know encompass my day and if I find the urge to write instead of clean during my cleaning time block, I do that instead and don’t beat myself up about not sticking to the schedule.

    What stuck

    I have quit using social media so heavily and I am likely to schedule every minute for work hours, especially when I feel overwhelmed and don’t know if I’ll be able to get it all done in time.

    But overall, I haven’t really gotten more deep work in my life. Yet. I don’t think Cal would be impressed with my application of his book, but I did get a couple lasting changes from it and that’s all I need for now.

    How about you?

    Did you try any of the suggestions that came out of Deep Work? What were your experiments? How did they turn out? What did you learn? Let me know in the comments.

    What’s Next?

    Even though I haven’t been writing, I have been keeping up with my reading, and have a couple books on deck to run through what I learned with you:

    I’ve read some duds that I won’t mention, but I’ve also read some really good books that are worth the time, but I didn’t take notes on like:

    • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed 
      I know, I should have read this book a few years ago when everybody else did, but I just got to it now. It’s worth a read if you’ve ever struggled with a mid-life crisis, but it may make you want to attempt something similar. Heads up. It’s insightful and entertaining and you’ll end up loving Cheryl in the end. 
    • Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
      This one came from Ryan Holiday’s newsletter he sends out that lists his favorite books he’s read that month. If you’re not a member of that newsletter, I highly recommend it. I listened to this audiobook and loved the reader/narrator. It’s a great set of characters and compelling stories about them.
    • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
      I can’t remember where this suggestion came from, I think Ryan Holiday again, but in any case, it’s worth a read if you just don’t understand why folks can’t just make it on minimum wage. Disclaimer – the minimum wage has gone up since this book was written, but the points are still pungently made and are still relevant.
    • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
      I believe this was another Ryan Holiday pick. It’s exactly as the title suggests and is the most objective examination of humans that I’ve ever heard. It was amazing, insightful, and terrifying. If you want to know why we are the way we are, why we use money, track time, and eat processed food, give this book a try.


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    Deep Work: Why you need it and how to get more of it (Part III)

    Disclaimer: If you buy this book using this linked image, I get a small kickback. 

    So far we’ve talked about what deep work is and rule #1 on how to get more of it. If you’re not familiar with deep work, why you need it, and what rule #1 is to get more deep work, you’ll want to read those posts first and then come back to this post.

    With this post, I will wrap up how you can get more deep work in your life.

    So, without further ado…

    Rule #2: Embrace boredom

    Our new mantra is: Be bored to concentrate better.

    To go along with this idea, here’s a little quote from Clifford Nass, a Stanford Communications prof:

    People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand…they’re pretty much mental wrecks. – Clifford Nass

    What does multitasking have to do with being bored? Well, if you fill every moment of boredom with your smart phone and “multitask”, then you have likely rewired your brain to be a “mental wreck”. Even if you practice deep work in your day-to-day, if you still whip out your phone any time you’re bored, you’re reinforcing your brain to act like a mental wreck.

    So, knock it off. Be bored instead.

    Here are some exercises to practice that concentration muscle.

    Take breaks from focus

    Instead of taking breaks from distraction, take breaks from focus. Schedule a break from concentration to give into distraction. To do this, try scheduling your Internet time:

    1. Schedule your phone and Internet time in advance.
    2. Keep a notepad by your computer at work and note the next time you’ll use the Internet.
    3. Avoid Internet all together outside of that scheduled time.

    If you have an office job that requires you to be connected all the time to email and chat, and you need to check in every 15 minutes. That’s fine. Schedule it. Keep track of it. And, don’t deviate from the plan. You’re still training your brain to concentrate and that’s what matters.

    Keep your Internet-free times truly free of the Internet. If you’re working on a task that requires more Internet time, wait if you can. Do another offline activity until your next Internet window comes along.

    If that won’t work and you have to do the task NOW, then reschedule your Internet time so that your block begins sooner, but you have to have at least a 5 minute gap until you can go online again. Otherwise, you’re reinforcing that bad behavior you’re trying to break.

    This scheduling of Internet time is not only for when you’re at work. Do it when you’re at home, too.

    Also, you can schedule large blocks of Internet time, so don’t feel that you can’t binge on Netflix anymore. You can. But you have to schedule it and you have to stick to the schedule.

    Work like Teddy Roosevelt

    Teddy Roosevelt would use concentrated bursts of studying to reduce the overall amount of time it took. Do what Newport calls the “Roosevelt Dash”:

    1. Estimate how long it will take you to do a high-priority, deep work task under normal conditions.
    2. Reduce the amount of time you’re allowed to get the work done dramatically.
    3. Announce the revised deadline publically or set a timer you can’t watch and get to work.

    Since this requires a lot of concentration and you are likely new to deep work, only do this once week at first. After you get used to it, increase the frequency.

    Meditate productively

    When you’re doing a mindless physical task like walking, driving, or showering, use it to do practice deep work.

    1. Concentrate on a well-defined problem and review the relevant variables to solve the problem.
    2. Your mind will wander. Bring it back to the problem at hand.
    3. When your brain begins to “loop” (repeats what you already know) say to yourself, “I seem to be in a loop” and redirect your concentration back to the problem.
    4. When you solve the problem, review the answer and start on the next problem.

    Newport says to try this 2-3 times a week to strengthen your concentration muscles.

    Expect to see results from this activity after about 12 times (3 weeks) of doing this.

    Memorize a deck of cards

    Doing this task requires attentional control. It is a memory training task, but that leads to an improvement in your ability to concentrate. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Cement an image of you walking through 5 rooms in your home.
    2. Fix in your mind a collection of 10 things in each room. The larger the better because they’re easier to remember.
    3. Establish the order you look at each of these items in the room.
    4. Add 2 more items in another room or a place like your backyard to get to 52.
    5. Practice mentally walking through each of the rooms and looking at the 10 items in each room in their correct order.

    Then, with a deck of cards:

    1. Associate a memorable person or thing with each of the 52 cards. For example, imagine Jim Carrey for the Ace of spades because he played the character Ace Ventura.
    2. Practice these associations until you can randomly pull a card from the deck and immediately recall the associated person or thing.

    Combine the two:

    1. Begin your walkthrough of your house. For each item, look at the next card in the shuffled deck and imagine the corresponding memorable person or thing doing something memorable near that item.
    2. Once you finish a room, walk through it in your mind a few times in a row to lock in the imagery.
    3. Go carefully through the rooms, associating the proper mental images with objects in the proper order.

    Voila! You memorized a deck of cards and your concentration is increasing by the second!

    Rule #3: Quit social media

    Eek! Do what now?!

    Don’t worry, you can do a trial run of this. You don’t have to quit until you’re ready. And, if you’re never ready, that’s ok, too. Here’s the spiel…

    We all know that these services are made to be addictive and are meant to take as much as your focus as possible. They’re made so that you keep scrolling.

    We also know that we often spend more time than we had intended on them. For example, it’s a common scenario that I open my phone to add an item to my grocery list, get distracted by the red badge notification that we know and love, and my list item is completely forgotten while I “check Facebook real quick”. 15 minutes later, there’s no item on my grocery list, but I’ve learned that so-and-so had a nice looking lunch and smiled at a pic of a cute puppy. …WTF am I doing?

    Deep work is a hell of a lot harder with social media. Hell, focus of any kind is a lot harder with social media. So get real clear on what you get from social media. What benefits do you get from social media? Why do you use it? What might you miss out on if you don’t use it?

    The craftsman approach to tool selection

    Look at the core factors that determine your success and happiness. Use a tool only if its positive impacts on those factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

    Apply the law of the vital few

    1. Define your high-level goals in your work and in personal life.
    2. List the 2-3 most important activities you need to reach those goals. Be specific enough that you can clearly picture doing them, but general enough to not be tied to a one-time outcome.
    3. Look at your social media tools. Ask if each tool has a substantially positive impact, negative impact, or little impact on the activities you listed for your goals.
    4. Only use the tool if it has substantial positive impacts that outweigh the negative.

    Try this: 30 day ban

    For 30 days, ban yourself from social media. All of them. Rules:

    1. Don’t deactivate your accounts.
    2. Don’t announce you’re leaving.
    3. Stop using them cold turkey.

    When your 30 days are up, ask:

    1. Would my 30 days have been notably better if I had used them?
    2. Did people care I wasn’t using them?

    If your answer is no to those questions, then quit the service permanently. If your answer is yes, then schedule that social media time and and stick to that schedule.

    Don’t use the Internet to entertain yourself

    I, for one, love the Buzzfeed articles that show me how to cheaply decorate my home. Do I ever do anything with that information? Nope. I fantasize about doing all these cute DIYs, but I never do them. Never write them down as goals. Never make action plans with them. Just fantasize about doing them.

    There are many of these entertainment services that pose themselves as light “news” or helpful information, but with their snappy headlines, big promises, and easily consumable content, they are just another focus-sucking machine. Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, TMZ, Business Insider, Reddit, and I’ll add, Netflix…all time sucks. They are a crutch to eliminate boredom and they kill your ability to do deep work.

    But how do I relax?

    When I read this in Deep Work, it was a real eye-opener. I had realized it on some level, but it never fully registered until now…

    Did you know that your brain can handle continuous hard activity? It doesn’t get tired like the rest of your body. It was made to think and analyze. Your brain still needs rest, and it gets it when you sleep, but other than that, your brain is like, “Let’s do this!”. All. The. Time.

    The mental faculties are capable of continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or leg. All they want is change – not rest, except in sleep. – Arnold Bennett

    If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you’ll end the day more fulfilled, and begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semi-conscious and unstructured Web surfing. – Cal Newport

    Experience what it means to live, and not just exist. – Cal Newport

    Bottom line, our “Netflix and chill” need after a long hard day is really just a ruse. If we didn’t veg out on the interwebs, we may actually be more rested for tomorrow.

    Say what?? I know, right? Doesn’t seem right at first, until you do it and begin to see the difference.

    (Also, this doesn’t mean you have to give those things up, but you should plan them and schedule them and then stick to the schedule.)

    Rule #4: Drain the shallows

    This rule is all about minimizing and controlling your shallow work. You can’t eliminate it completely because not all of your work can be deep. And, shallow work is only problematic when it crowds out your deep work. So what to do with shallow work?

    Schedule every minute of your day

    We’re horrible at knowing where our time goes. We underestimate how much sleep we get and overestimate how much we think we work. So, bottom line is that you really don’t know where your time is spent until you track your time.

    Track every minute:

    1. Divide the hours of your workday into blocks of at least 30 minutes per block.
    2. Assign activities to those blocks.
    3. Batch similar tasks to more generic task blocks. He suggests drawing a line from a generic task block to a list of individual tasks to be done during that block.
    4. Schedule every minute of your day.
    5. Use the schedule to guide you.


    • As new, unplanned tasks crop up, reschedule your day.
    • Use “conditional” blocks to allow for tasks that you’re not sure how long they will last. Basically, mark the block for two tasks knowing that if you finish the first task early, you will work on the next task for that block. And, if you don’t finish early, you’ll keep working on that first task instead.

    Quantify the depth of every activity

    If you don’t know if a task you’re about to do is shallow work, ask yourself:

    • How long would it take (in months) for me to train a smart, recent graduate with no specialized training in my field to do this task?
      • If it’s many months, then it’s a deep work task.
      • If it’s not long at all, then you’re looking at shallow work.

    And, as always, try to spend more time on deep work.

    Ask your boss for a shallow work budget

    If you ask your boss how much time they want you to spend on shallow work, you then also have permission to timebox yourself from doing more shallow work than allotted. This is also a good time to have a discussion with your boss about how responsive and connected you need to be to IM and email, if you haven’t already.

    Cal notes that about 30-50% of your time is the typical budget for shallow work.

    Finish your work by 5:30pm

    This is a case of timeboxing, essentially. With the 5:30pm deadline, you not only get a better work-life balance, but you also have the push to finish your work in that timeframe. It’s kind of like a daily “Roosevelt Dash” motivator. It helps you turn down shallow work.

    Shallow work seems harmless in isolation, but when you have less time to get your real work done, it really becomes clear how low-priority it is compared to your deep work.

    Become hard to reach

    Here are 3 tips from Cal to make yourself hard to reach:

    Tip 1: Make people that send you email do more work.

    Ask them to filter themselves before emailing you. “If you need XYZ, contact PQR.”

    Set the expectation that you won’t respond unless <insert reason>.

    Tip 2: Do more work when you send emails.

    Ask yourself, “What project is represented by this email?” and, “What is the most efficient process (in terms of emails generated) for bringing this project to a successful conclusion?” before you write the email. It will help you put in more information than you may have originally, cutting down on the number of emails you end up sending overall.

    Tip 3: Don’t respond if any of the following applies:

    • It’s ambiguous or makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response.
    • It’s not a question or a proposal that interests you.
    • Nothing really good will happen if you respond and nothing really bad will happen if you don’t.

    Develop the habit of letting small bad things happen. If you don’t, you’ll never find time for the life-changing big things. – Tim Ferriss

    The End

    That concludes everything that I learned from Deep Work. I hope my notes help you out in some way. If they have, let me know in the comments. It’ll keep my momentum going to know that somebody is getting something out of this weird propulsion I have to write all this stuff down in a blog.

    Also, share it with your friends, if they will find it useful.

    In my next post on Deep Work, I’ll show you how I’m implementing these practices in my own life and how I track it all in my bullet journal.

    Thanks for sticking with me to the end. Now go do some deep work.

    Deep Work: Why you need it and how to get more of it (Part II)

    Last time we talked about the basics of deep work and why you need it. This time I’ll share how to get more deep work, for those tasks that you have that require you to have intense focus to master, in your life.

    Disclaimer: If you buy this book using this linked image, I get a small kickback. 

    To work more deeply, I’ll go over Cal Newport’s 4 rules in this post as well as my next:

    1. Work deeply
    2. Embrace boredom
    3. Quit social media
    4. Drain the shallows

    Rule #1: Work Deeply

    According to David Dewayne, if you were to create the perfect environment to work deeply, it would closely resemble the Eudaimonia machine. It’s essentially a chain of the following connected rooms where you would enter into room 1 and work your way to room 5. You would spend 90 minutes in room 5 and then exit back to room 1 for 2-3 cycles because that’s about all our brains can handle.

    Rooms of the Eudaimonia machine:

    1. Gallery – where you see examples of the deep work you made in “the machine”.
    2. Salon – a room that creates a mood between intense curiosity and augmentation where you can sit and debate or brood.
    3. Library – houses a permanent record of all the work produced in the machine. It has all the resources you needed for the previous work.
    4. Office space – looks like a typical office with whiteboards, cubicles, and desks. This is where you would do your low-intensity work that is tied to your project.
    5. Deep work chamber – a 6’x10′ soundproof room that allows you total focus.

    Don’t worry. You don’t need to create a Eudaimonia machine to get more deep work in your life.

    Deep work and willpower

    According to Ray Baumeister, people fight the following most common desires all day long:

    1. Eat
    2. Sleep
    3. Sex
    4. Taking a break from hard work
    5. Go on the Internet or watch TV

    We can resist those desires about 50% of the time. Each time you resist one of those desires, you deplete your willpower a little more until it’s all gone.

    One way to avoid using willpower all day long is to create habits of routines and rituals. So, if you want more deep work, just like most things that require effort, you need to make it a habit.

    There are 4 ways you can schedule deep work into your life. The one you choose to follow depends heavily on the type of connectivity you need in your work and how you work.

    For example, if you need to be present online and in your inbox all day to do your job, then you’ll need to use a different deep work philosophy than someone that can hide away for a day or so at a time and peek their head out every now and then to catch up on all the shallow work.

    4 Philosophies of deep work scheduling:

    1. Monastic
    2. Bimodal
    3. Rhythmic
    4. Journalistic

    The Monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling

    How it works:

    • Get rid of and minimize as many shallow obligations as you can.
    • Block off days, weeks, or months where you only do deep work and you shut out all distractions.

    Who it works best for:

    • Works best for those with a well-defined and highly valued professional goals.
    • The bulk of this person’s success comes from them doing this one thing really well.
    • This philosophy of deep work only works for a small group of people – those that can work on their goals and shut out the outside world to get their stuff done.
    • Works really well for professors.

    The Bimodal philosophy of deep work scheduling

    How it works:

    • You divide your time with clearly defined stretches with at least a full day at a time dedicated to deep work. Leave the rest of your time open to everything else.
    • During your deep work phases, you work as you would in the monastic philosophy: shut out all distractions and only deal with them when you are done with your deep work time.
    • Seek intense, uninterrupted concentration.

    Who it works best for: 

    • If you’re working a day job, you would use this philosophy if you can block out your weekends for deep work or block out an entire week at a time for deep work.
    • Carl Jung used this method in his work as a Psychologist.

    The Rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling

    How it works:

    • This one follows Jerry Seinfeld’s work routine and his streak calendar.
    • Make deep work a habit. Do it everyday with an easy reminder to do the work.
    • Work for at least 90 minutes at a time.
    • May be necessary if the results of your deep work has no serious deadline.

    Who it works best for: 

    • People with day jobs that can block off 90 minutes a day to do deep work.
    • This method works best for most people.

    The Journalistic philosophy of deep work scheduling

    How it works:

    • Any time you have free time, you switch to deep work.
    • Work to fit in deep work wherever you can in your schedule.

    Who it works best for: 

    • Somebody that is not new to deep work and can turn deep work modes on and off like a switch, which is hard to pull off.
    • Requires confidence in your abilities. Knowing that what you’re doing is important and that you will succeed.
    • Journalists and writers can usually pull this off.

    Do any of those sound like they will work for you? If so, get scheduling your deep work time! If not, try the rhythmic philosophy out and see how that works for you.


    As with any habit, if you have it incorporated into a routine, or a daily ritual, you can eventually get to a point where you do it without even thinking about it. Take that, willpower!

    Same goes for deep work. Build a ritual that you can do to get yourself ready for deep work.

    What kind of ritual do you need? One that answers these questions:

    1. Where will you work and for how long? If at all possible, make this a spot that you ONLY use for deep work.
    2. How will you work once you start? For example, will you have no Internet use? Will you use a metric to measure the work you do like words-per-minute if you’re writing? Will you track the minutes/hours that you are in deep work?
    3. How will you support your deep work? For example, will you start with a fresh cup of coffee, some food, and meditation?

    Make grand gestures

    Sometimes when you need to make a change, you need to make it clear to yourself that this IS a big deal and you ARE going to do it. If you invest a lot of time or money into something, it becomes something that you really don’t want to drop the ball on.


    Don’t work alone

    Contrary to how it might sound, you CAN do deep work with others. Hello, whiteboard effect.

    Ever been in a meeting where you’re trying to solve a problem and everybody is at the whiteboard with a marker in hand? That is deep work, but in a group setting. It can happen. But, the key is that you need an area to meet up and bounce ideas off each other and you need an area where you can escape and focus. Like a hub and spoke.

    The pressure of needing to produce something for another person is a great motivator and can help you “short-circuit” your instinct to avoid the discomfort of depth, so get a deep-work buddy.

    Execute like a business

    Figure out a strategy to achieve a goal, but more importantly, HOW you will achieve it. Often we figure out the “what” that needs to happen, but we miss the “how”. To figure out the how, use the 4 disciplines of execution.

    The 4 disciplines of execution (4DX)

    Disclaimer: If you buy this book using this linked image, I get very small kickback.

    Use these 4 disciplines that companies use to successfully implement high-level strategies:

    1. Focus on the wildly important.
      • The more you try to do, the less you accomplish.
      • Find a small number of ambitious goals to work on in deep work.
    2. Act on lead measures.
      • Lag measure is the thing that you’re ultimately trying to prove.
      • Lead measure is the new behavior you do to drive success on the lag measure. It’s the action you do that leads to the goal.
      • For example, if you’re trying to write a book (your lag measure), then your lead measure would be working on getting 1000 words down each day.
    3. Keep a compelling scoreboard.
      • Have a physical artifact where you can see your progress in deep work. Maybe it’s a list of the number of deep work hours you get each day, maybe it’s a calendar where you place a gold star each day you do deep work. Whatever it is, make it hard to miss.
    4. Create a cadence of accountability.
      • Do a weekly review your scoreboard. Commit to ways you’re going to improve your score for next week. Review what happened with the commitments from last week; did they help you get more deep work done?

    Be lazy

    You may be tempted to push as hard as you can and get more deep work hours out of the day, but instead, you should quit working at the end of the day. Working into the wee hours will not get you far in this case. Why?

    Reason #1: Downtime aids insight

    In 2006, Ap Dijksterhuis published an article in Science that proved that some decisions are better left to your unconscious mind.

    Unconscious Thought Theory is the attempt to understand the different roles your conscious and unconscious mind have when making decisions.

    It posits that if you need to make a decision that requires the application of strict rules, then your conscious brain is better equipped to handle it. Much like a computer, your conscious brain can follow the rules and reach a decision. However, for decisions that require lots of information with lots of vague and sometimes contradicting constraints, then your unconscious mind is better equipped to handle it.

    Because it’s a badass.

    Your unconscious mind has so much more bandwidth and can handle so much more data than your conscious brain. So let it. Shut down at the end of your workday and let your unconscious mind take over.

    Reason #2: Downtime helps recharge the energy needed for deep work

    Concentration requires directed attention and this attention is finite.

    If you want to have more concentration, then you need to replenish your attention. Replenish your concentration reserves by chatting with a friend, listening to music while making dinner, go for a run, play with your kids…relax, have fun, and play.

    Though you may be tempted to sneak in a little more deep work before bed, don’t do it. It will only reduce your effectiveness for the next day. You can still do deep work before bed, just not if you’ve already done 4 hours worth. Go to bed, fool!

    Reason #3: The work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important

    If you practice deep work, as a novice, you can usually get in an hour a day. As you gain more experience, you can get up to 4 hours a day. Any more than that and you clearly have super-human focus abilities and should reach out to Cal and brag to him about how you’re bigger deep thinker than he is.

    Bottom line: Your capacity for deep work in a day is limited. Any work you do after a long day of deep work ain’t gonna be your best because you’re all deep worked out, ya dig?

    Shutdown ritual

    To help you get into your downtime zone, have a shutdown ritual (Again, with the ritual!):

    1. Review your inbox and make sure there’s nothing urgent there.
    2. Get your remaining tasks whether they’re in your head or on a scrap of paper onto a master to-do list where you keep all your todos.
    3. Skim every task in that master list and look at the next few days on your calendar.
    4. Make a rough plan for tomorrow.
    5. Say a phrase to let your brain know you’re done for the day like “Shutdown complete”. It sounds dumb, but do it anyway. DO IT!

    Why do you have to say a phrase? The Zeigarnik effect.

    The Zeigarnik effect is the ability of incomplete tasks to dominate our attention. If you don’t make a plan for that task rolling around in your head, your brain is going to feel the need to keep track of it for you. So take care of it. Make a plan for those unfinished tasks and then tell your brain that you took care of it (by saying a dumb little phrase) so that you can free your unconscious mind to do some work for you.

    Next time…

    Well, we made it through the first rule to get more deep work in your life and it was a doozy! My hope is that I can wrap up rules 2-4 in my next post. After that, I’ll post how I’m implementing what I learned in this book, what’s working, what’s not, and if it’s worth the hoopla.


    If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe here so that you don’t miss the next post!

    You can also catch me on Facebook and if you’re a subscriber, you can join my accountability group that is helping me and a few others get shit done. Find details on my Facebook page.

    Last of all, if you like this content and know a friend of yours that would enjoy it, please share this post! After all, that’s the whole point of this blog: to share what I learn with others because they may find it helpful. So please share widely.

    Deep Work: Why you need it and how to get more of it (Part I)

    Deep Work

    I just wrapped up Deep Work by Cal Newport and was blown away with all of the takeaways that came out of it. I’m going to give you a rundown, but it’s going to take a couple posts because it’s a LOT of information.

    Fair warning:

    • Throughout this post, any statements I make or references to studies I mention are all from Cal’s book. I didn’t add anything to it other than my commentary. I thought that would be less annoying than saying, “Cal says/argues etc.” 85 bajillion times in this post.
    • Also, I am now an Amazon Affiliate. That means that if you buy any of the books I’ve linked here in this post using my link, I get a small (very small) kickback.

    Deep work: What is it?

    Deep work is: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

    It’s the moments when you’re in flow and the time flies by while you’re working. Apparently it’s also important if you want to create and be influential. Or, as he puts it:

    “The ubiquity of deep work among influential individuals is important to emphasize because it stands in sharp contrast to the behavior of most modern knowledge workers. …[Most knowledge workers are] constantly sending and receiving email messages, like human network routers, with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction. – Cal Newport

    I’m a knowledge worker and that just stings. I get it. I know it’s likely true, but it still stings.

    To back this up, he talks about a 2012 Mckinsey study that found that the average knowledge worker spends more than 60% of their work week using electronic forms of communication and searching the Internet. And, 30% of a worker’s time is spent reading and answering emails.

    To any of you with an office job, these stats are probably not that big of a surprise. We live from our inboxes. But, sadly, it’s also not influential work.

    Shallow work is: Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate. 

    Here’s the scary part:

    Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to do deep work.” – Cal Newport

    Permanently?! Holy hell.

    Deep Work: Why it matters

    “The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. The few that can pull this off will thrive.” – Cal Newport

    There are 3 types of workers that will thrive in the current and future economy:

    1. High-skilled workers
    2. Superstars (ace workers)
    3. Owners/investors

    In order to thrive, you need two abilities:

    1. The ability to master hard things.
    2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of quality and speed.

    And what do you know? Both of those require the ability to focus and do “deep work”.


    Deep work is meaningful

    Deep work is meaningful for the following reasons:

    Neurological argument

    Winifred Gallagher argues that we focus on what happens to us and that we allow our circumstances determine how we feel. This allows us to ignore how we spend our days. Or, in other words, we’re focused on large-scale outcomes and not what we do day in and day out.

    “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love – is the sum of what you focus on.” – Winifred Gallagher

    Gallagher argues that an unfocused mind will focus on what could be wrong in your life instead of what’s right, which will bring you down.

    Barbara Fredrickson argues in a similar vein that what you choose to focus on exerts significant leverage on your attitude. If you focus on the the positive, then you’ll have a more positive outcome even after negative events.

    To go along with Gallagher’s and Fredrickson’s research, Newport argues that deep work gives you a perspective of gravity and importance in your work, making your worldview of gravity and importance. And he says that a shallow workday is likely to be draining and upsetting, even if that shallow stuff seemed fun because you didn’t focus on deep work and your focus on the shallow made your day shallow.

    Psychological argument

    A study done by Csikszentmihalyi and Larson backs up this idea that shallow work is a source of unhappiness.

    Csikszentmihalyi and Larson’s study required their subjects to carry a beeper around with them and when the beeper would randomly go off, they would record what they were doing in that moment. What they found was that the best moments are “when your mind is stretched in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”. (Deep work).

    Or as my simple brain puts it: Deep work = happy me. Shallow work = sad me.

    Happier at work than at rest?

    Cal argues, it’s actually much easier to be happier while you’re at work because you have built in goals, feedback rules, and challenges. Whereas, freetime is unstructured and requires greater effort to be enjoyable.

    The hell? So my “Netflix and chill” nights are NOT a form of good self-care and recovery like I thought they were. In fact, I would be happier working? I cannot believe this…

    Philosophical argument

    Post-Enlightenment era, we decided that we are responsible for defining what is meaningful, which can be quite arbitrary and make you think that there is no meaning. (Well, no wonder I have issues.)

    He argues that we are wrong to think that if we “follow our passion” and find some rare, unicorn job, that we will finally be fulfilled and be satisfied, while any other job will be hell. The actual work you do is irrelevant and what matters more is that you use your skills and you find meaning in it.

    And, how do you find meaning in that job you hate?

    Deep work. He says that deep work is the key to get meaning from your job and that deep work will allow you to grow your skills.

    Intense focus means higher quality work

    Intense focus is required to learn hard things quickly, which is what Cal argues is paramount to being successful in this economy. So intense focus is what you should practice if you want to create high quality work.

    He argues that:

    High quality work = (Time spent) x (Intensity of focus)

    (I mean, that makes sense, but it also seems like a gratuitous equation to make it seem more scientific to me. No?)

    Attention residue reduces your focus

    Sophie Leroy from the University of MN (go, Gophers!) studied the impact of what she called “attention residue”. She found that when you switch from task A to task B, your attention isn’t fully on task B. Instead, a bit of your attention (a “residue”) remains on task A, especially if task A wasn’t finished, and was of low intensity without a deadline (a.k.a., shallow work).

    Those “quick checks” we do to see if so-and-so has responded to our email or to see how many likes our Facebook post is getting are super detrimental because of, you guessed it, attention residue. To add insult to injury, when we’re doing that “quick check”, we often see other emails/posts that we can’t deal with at that moment, which causes more attention residue, which tanks our performance on the next task.

    What to do? Try this instead:

    • Work on a single hard task for a long time without switching to reduce attention residue. Guess what you’ll need to do that? The ability to focus.

    The modern office ruins almost every chance you have at deep work.

    Even though you may not be aware of it when it’s happening, your brain notices and responds to distractions. All. Of. Them. (This little tidbit is sourced in Cal’s book as being from “The Secret Life of Office Buildings“).

    If distractions are so detrimental, why are they allowed, even, dare I say, promoted, in the modern work environment? Because of:

    1. The Metric Black Hole
    2. The Principle of Least Resistance
    3. Busyness as a proxy for productivity
    4. The cult of the Internet and technology

    The Metric Black Hole

    The Metric Black Hole is the unmeasurable impact of distractions.

    If you can’t measure it, you can’t see the impact of it = The Metric Black Hole.

    For example: Think of your average day. How much time do you spend on emails? What’s the average length of time it takes you to write an email? Read an email? How long do you spend trying to regain focus throughout the day? How long do you get stuck talking to the company bullshitter? How many meetings do you sit through that you don’t get a damn thing out of? How much time do you spend going to the bathroom, getting a drink, or grabbing a snack?

    Because it’s hard to measure how much time we actually spend being human routers and being distracted, it gets ignored. We turn a blind eye to it because it’s easier to do so, which leads us to our next item…

    The Principle of Least Resistance

    The argument of this principle is that basically we do what is easiest in the moment at work because we don’t get feedback on what it does to the bottom line, thanks to the Metric Black Hole.


    • Why save up all your questions in one email for an individual when you can pepper that person all day with your questions, the instant you have them, via chat systems?
    • Recurring meetings…those are a lot easier to set and forget than to set up a meeting each time you need one. (Also, it’s nice to have that meeting on the calendar “to keep the project moving forward”).

    How much time do you spend answering instant messages during the day or random questions from coworkers or attending a recurring meetings for status updates that really don’t impact you? I don’t know and I’m guessing you don’t either.

    –>The principle of least resistance is protected by the Metric Black Hole.

    How nice.

    Busyness as a proxy for productivity

    Since we can’t really show what it means to be productive and valuable at work or unproductive for that matter (thanks, Metrics Black Hole), we fall back on other indicators that are easier to see.

    We show our value by doing lots of stuff in a highly visible manner. Hello, meetings, email, IM, and office brainstorming sessions!

    When you are using busyness as a proxy, these highly visible behaviors are crucial for convincing yourself and others that you are doing your job.

    Stings, doesn’t it?

    We are uber-connected at work, work from our inboxes, and revel in meetings because then we can show what we did all day even though all that hustle and bustle probably didn’t produce a damn thing.

    Well, shit.

    And, if that wasn’t enough to promote this madness of distraction, this uber-connectivity and all the distractions that occur at work (don’t get me started on open office systems), allow us to avoid the discomfort that comes with concentration and planning. Hello, procrastination!

    But the real bad news is that it also means that we rob ourselves of long-term satisfaction and from producing anything of real value. Dammit.

    The cult of the Internet and technology

    This is our last reason of why the modern workplace promotes so much distraction, when they really want us to make something of value, and it goes a little something like this…

    Anything tied to technology and the Internet is seen as a good thing in our society and something that we should embrace.

    Oh, come on. You know it’s true!

    Have you ever had to explain why you haven’t been on a social media platform lately? Why is that? We EXPECT you to be active on the interwebs. What gives? It’s not like this is The Circle!

    Or is it?

    If you don’t have a Facebook account, you’re not “normal”. Even though social media has been shown to not be so great for our happiness, you’re still expected to be on it, and if you’re not, you better have an explanation as to why.

    Evgeny Morozov, the author of To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, argues that when we have a question, we turn to the Internet. It’s seen as a great source of information and wisdom. It’s much more than just routers and cables to us. Morozov argues that because of how we idolize the Internet, we see anything tied to the digital age as a signifier of progress.

    Neil Postman calls this a “Technopoly”. In a Technopoly, technology eliminates alternatives to itself by making them invisible or irrelevant. Well, hello, Brave New World.

    But the kick in the pants is that if you want to do more deep work, you’re probably going to have to reject all the new and high-tech gadgetry.


    Practice makes perfect

    On the bright side, practice makes perfect. Deep work is like any activity you do repeatedly, you get better at it. Those neurons that are activated when you focus get reinforced with myelin each time you do it, which helps the nerve fire more effortlessly and effectively.

    If you’re scattered and have lots of neurons firing at once, you can’t isolate the group of neurons you want to strengthen, so you don’t have the clear pathways and you won’t see improvement.

    Well, how do I get there?

    Are you ready to learn what you need to do to practice to have more deep work in your life? If so, be sure to read my next post where I get into Cal’s “rules” for deep work.

    If you really want to make sure you don’t miss that future post, you could subscribe! All you need to do is enter your email address and my next post will be delivered right to your inbox. Voila!