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 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!

3 tools to get you through your mid-life crisis

Photo by Genevieve Dallaire on Unsplash

Maybe it’s my age, or my friends’ ages, but I run into a lot of people that just feel “uneasy” about where they’re at in life. They can’t quite put their finger on what is bothering them: their lives are “good” and “complete” and yet they feel discontent about it.

There might be different flavors of it, but essentially, my friends, it’s a mid-life crisis.

I’m definitely in this camp. The whole “what is my purpose?” question is enough to send me into a full on anxiety attack. “I don’t know what my purpose is! I’ve tried to find it and I still don’t KNOW.”

I think I’ve been suffering a mid-life crisis for at least the past year, probably longer. Fumbling along, trying to make whatever it is in my soul that is not happy, happy and complete.

I’ve read books and blogs on happiness, habits, purpose, and fulfillment. I’ve tried to be more reflective. I’ve tried making lifestyle changes. I’ve tried ignoring it. And although I didn’t buy a sports car, I did buy a house in the woods, so…

It hasn’t gone away, but it has gotten better. Significantly better. And I think these tools are the reason why.

Tool 1: Meditation

I know, this meditation thing is all over the self-improvement arena and you’re probably sick of hearing it, but seriously, nothing can calm my shit down more than 10 minutes focused on my breath.

When you’re in mid-life crisis, you spend a lot of time feeling “off”, like you’re supposed to be doing something really important, but you don’t know what it is. It’s kind of like a perpetual state of that nightmare where you have to take a test you didn’t study for. Gah!

Meditation calms you by letting you get some distance from your thoughts. It’s like pulling in a friend that can point out where you’re not seeing things so clearly or where your inner-voice is needlessly leading you to Dramaland. Perspective like that is invaluable when you need to figure out what you need to do to feel better.

So, even if you’re sick of hearing about meditation or if you’re doubtful it will work for you or not, try it anyway. And, keep trying it because the practice of meditation is where “the magic” happens.

Tool 2: Journal

Get to know thyself, friend. You’re in mid-life crisis because your brain and heart are trying to tell you something.

Meditation will help you shut up. Journaling will help you listen.

Feeling bugged about something and can’t quite put your finger on it? Write it out. Want to start working on some goal to see if that helps? Journal it. Want to find your purpose? Journal it.

Writing things down helps crystallize your understanding of yourself, which is key when you’re trying to figure out what the hell you need. So give it a go.

And don’t put a bunch of rules and baggage around this. Just do it when you feel the urge. No more guilt about not journaling every night before bed. This is not that habit. This is about healing yourself and using this tool when you need it.

And don’t get hung up on what to journal with. Pen and paper. An app. Whatever. Just let it all out.

Tool 3: Playtime

Remember when you were a kid and you did whatever you loved doing as soon as you had time for it? Maybe it was a game you liked to play. Maybe it was coloring or jumping rope. Whatever it was, bring that back. Do it. Make time for it.

Adults suck at playing. We’re taught that we have so much to do and don’t have time to play. Bullshit.

I’ve learned that if I don’t make time for play, my inner-self, or whatever in the hell it is, gets all upset and tries to bring me down. If I’m playing, I’m happier.

Make time for it. Make it a priority.

That’s it?

No. These tools may help you with your crisis, but if you’re not taking care of your health, it all falls apart.

Your health is the most important tool in this kit, but I didn’t list it as one because we all know we’re supposed to take care of ourselves. I didn’t want to give you a tool you already have because you would feel cheated.

However, if you’re not getting the nutrients, sleep, and exercise you need, you’re not going to feel right and all the meditation in the world won’t help you. So take care of yourself and see if that crisis you’re in doesn’t improve.

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New stuff!

If you missed my last post on accountability systems, I’ve created a new Facebook page for the blog where I put out smaller tips and ongoings.

I also created an accountability group for my blog subscribers, so if you’re having trouble sticking with your resolutions, be sure to join us there!

What’s your goal-setting personality?


I don’t think it’s too big of an assumption to think that goal setting is a very personal and unique thing. I’m not talking about how your goals themselves are personal (that’s a given), but that the goal format and how it will work for you is very personal.

For example, some people do best when they have big goals to work towards, some do better when they’re making small changes they barely notice that add up to big changes. Some people like working on their goals in private, others like the accountability of posting every meal on Instagram.

Who you are plays a role in this goal setting game, so you need to account for it when you pick them.

Gretchen’s Four Tendencies

One of the tools you can use to help nail this down a bit comes from the work of Gretchen Rubin and her idea of “the four tendencies“. Her argument is basically that there are generally four types of people in the world:

  • Obligers – Really good at doing things expected of them by others, but kind of suck at doing things they expect of themselves.
  • Questioners – Question EVERYTHING and only do things if they know why they should do it and if it makes sense to them to do it.
  • Upholders – Will do things when anybody expects them to, even when that person is them.
  • Rebels – Won’t do or struggles to do what is expected of them, even if they expect it of themselves.

How do these tendencies play out with goal setting?

If you are an obliger, you probably want to have an accountability system in place. Get somebody or a group that will hold you to what you said you were going to do. Join an online group where you have to check in.

If you’re a questioner, do your research. Figure out why you want to achieve your goal and know it cold.

Upholders, know “the rules” so that you can follow them. Other than that, you’re pretty well set, lucky!

If you’re a rebel, well, you’re pretty much screwed. Ha! Just kidding. You just need to focus on what makes you want to do the action so that you can then make the choice to do it.

What tendency do you have?

If you haven’t played around with Gretchen’s tendencies yet and want to know what tendency you have, you can take her quiz. However…


Keep in mind that all of these personality theories are NOT hard science, even the ones that claim to be, so don’t hang too much weight on them.

Turns out people are complicated and you can’t put them in a box, no matter how nicely you label those boxes or how much money you spend to define those boxes.

Just because the quiz says you are “x” doesn’t mean you really are “x” or that you are “x” all of the time. Don’t create any self-fulfilling prophecies with this stuff, just use it if you find it helpful.

Also, personalities are not black and white like these categories and quizzes like to pretend. In most cases, you are a blend of the personalities or you are more dominantly one way in one situation and another way in a different situation.

People are complicated. Preach!

Go big or not?

Another personality bit that I think comes into play is if you feel like you need to go big or not with your goals. Can you make a goal to run 30 minutes a day and that will motivate you enough or do you need to plan for running a marathon to get excited for your goal?

I don’t have quiz to figure this one out, but you’ll know what type of goal you need when you start thinking about what you want to accomplish. If the goal gets you jazzed, then that’s the goal you need.

That’s it?

Umm…no, there’s a hell of a lot more that comes into play when you are deciding on goals, but I feel like these are the two heavy hitters and a good place to start.

Up next

My next post is the fun one…the one where we get to do some goal brainstorming!

(Yes, I am truly excited about this and, yes, I know I’m a dork. Back off.)

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Gift giving that doesn’t feel like obligation


I have a confession to make.

I have a hard time with obligatory gift giving, especially at this time of year since there is so much of it. Sometimes I see the perfect gift for someone and can’t wait to see them open it, but most times I just end up getting folks something on their list…that they handed me! Obligatory.

It makes me wonder why adults give gifts at all. Aren’t we essentially swapping tabs for things that we can buy ourselves? …Yeah, I hear it…kind of bitter, right?

No mas!

But, today I had a revelation. Actually, I take that back. A revelation was handed to me.

I was reading the editor’s note of the December issue of Experience Life magazine and it hit home. This article may have changed my holiday gift giving conundrum, for life.

Instead of going into the regular spiel about how great it is to give gifts, Jamie Martin laid it out there that she, too, has gift-giving dread and she tied it up to her love language.

Brilliant! Stick with me…

The 5 love languages

For those of you new to this self-improvement thing, Dr. Gary Chapman wrote this book called “The 5 Love Languages” in 1995–it’s old, mmmkay? The gist is that everyone has a language to show love to others and one to feel love from others. Sometimes they can be the same language.

The 5 languages are:

  1. Words of affirmation
  2. Acts of service
  3. Affection
  4. Quality time
  5. Gifts

If you’re curious what your love languages are, here’s this handy quiz that will help.

Now, is this legit or hokey? At this point, does it matter? It makes me feel like there might be a reason why I suck at gift giving and it’s not just because I’m a cold, heartless person. 😛


So here’s her big revelation…

“It makes sense that I have some resistance to gift giving: I’d rather be connecting with others through shared experiences.” – Jamie Martin

Tada! Get it?!

Her love language is quality time. NOT gifts.

Similarly, my love languages are words of affirmation and acts of service. Not gifts. 

For me, gifts come in dead last as a way to show or receive love. No wonder I’m dumbfounded at adult gift giving. I don’t understand it as a way to show or feel love!


My old solution was to try to convince others that “maybe we shouldn’t give gifts this year”…cough…Scrooge! But, I like Jamie’s idea better.

She is going to work to understand the love languages of those she is giving gifts to so that she gives better gifts. <lightbulb!>

I think this is a brilliant idea and am planning to follow suit. It will not only help me give better gifts, but it will also make me feel like I’m giving more than just a tab swap.

Less bitterness = #winning

For my dearest husband, who is likely struggling to find me a gift this Christmas, try telling me how much I mean to you. That will be enough, and I’m truly not just saying that.

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