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.
To work more deeply, I’ll go over Cal Newport’s 4 rules in this post as well as my next:
- Work deeply
- Embrace boredom
- Quit social media
- 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:
- Gallery – where you see examples of the deep work you made in “the machine”.
- Salon – a room that creates a mood between intense curiosity and augmentation where you can sit and debate or brood.
- Library – houses a permanent record of all the work produced in the machine. It has all the resources you needed for the previous work.
- 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.
- 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:
- Taking a break from hard work
- 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:
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:
- Where will you work and for how long? If at all possible, make this a spot that you ONLY use for deep work.
- 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?
- 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)
Use these 4 disciplines that companies use to successfully implement high-level strategies:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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?
To help you get into your downtime zone, have a shutdown ritual (Again, with the ritual!):
- Review your inbox and make sure there’s nothing urgent there.
- 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.
- Skim every task in that master list and look at the next few days on your calendar.
- Make a rough plan for tomorrow.
- 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.
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.
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