Work Deeply

This is the sixth post in a series of posts on book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” It is not surprising that the first rule is to work deeply. He writes that you need your own philosophy for integrating deep work into your professional life. Newport feels strongly that attempting to schedule deep work in an ad hoc fashion is not an effective way to manage your limited willpower. He warns us to be careful to choose a philosophy that fits one’s specific circumstances, since a mismatch here can derail one’s deep work habit before it has a chance to solidify. He presents four different depth philosophies he’s seen work exceptionally well in practice for our consideration.

One is the monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling. This philosophy attempts to maximize depth efforts by eliminating radically minimizing shallow obligations. Practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have well-defined and highly valued professional goals that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well. This clarity helps them eliminate the thicket of shallow concerns that tend to trip up the whose value proposition in the working world is more varied. Science fiction writer Neal Stepheson who follows this philosophy summarizes his communication policy as follows: Persons who wish to interfere with my concentration are politely requested not to do so, and warned that I don’t answer e-mail…lest [my communication policy’s] key message gets lost in the verbiage, I will put it here succinctly. All of my time and attention are spoken for—-several times over. Please do not ask for them.

To justify this philosophy, Stephenson wrote an essay titled “Why I am a Bad Correspondent.” At the core of his explanation for his inaccessibility is the following decision: The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent and why I very rarely accept speaking engagements. If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time -chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.

Author Newport writes regarding this philosophy, “…the pool of individuals to whom the monastic philosophy applies is limited—and that’s okay. If you’re outside this pool, its radical simplicity shouldn’t evince too much envy. On the other hand, if you’re inside this pool—someone whose contribution to the world is discrete, clear,and individualized”—-then you should give this philosophy serious consideration, as it might be the deciding factor between an average career and one that will be remembered.

It is useful to ritualize practices for deep work. Consider the following:
*Where you’ll work and for how long.
*How you’ll work once you start to work.
*How you’ll support your work. Your ritual should ensure your brain gets the support it needs to keep operating at a high level of depth. For example, the ritual might specify that you start with a cup of good coffee, or make sure you have access to enough food of the right type to maintain energy, and integrate light exercise such as walking to keep the mind clear.

Keep in mind the importance of downtime.
Downtime aids insights
Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply

Ericsson’s paper, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance reviewed research about an individual’s capacity for cognitive demanding work. For a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit. For experts this number can expand to as many as four hours, but rarely more.

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