My biggest goal this week is to start practicing the art of “deep work“. I learned about the concept through an old Ezra Klein podcast interview with Cal Newport, a computer science professor who writes about the toll technology takes on our ability to be productive.
According to Newport deep work is “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task”. Half of it is secluding yourself for anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks to work on a project, and the other half is using the chunks of downtime you have throughout the day to brainstorm and problem-solve your project rather than checking social media or catching up on the news.
The first part isn’t as easy as it sounds. It means no social media, no scrolling, no novelty or dopamine hits at all. It may mean no internet access at all! I would like to start with just 1 to 2 hours during the work week and 6 hours over the weekend devoted to writing. For now, I will just be focusing on blog posts but after a few weeks, I will switch to writing for a major project I have been planning. I want to practice focusing for a while and fail a few times before I direct my attention to things I’m much more terrified of.
To be clear, writing blog posts doesn’t mean searching for featured images, quotes, or editing. It means writing and only writing using what notes and ideas I already have. It means keeping my ass in the chair and the cursor moving no matter how frustrated or bored I get.
The second part is also two parts. I need to stop getting sucked into twitter threads or Facebook video holes. If I have a free minute that allows me to use my brain for writing rather than work I have to use it to take notes or research with intention. Just like when I was learning to meditate I have to be mindful of where my attention is being paid and do the work to redirect myself with kindness. To help me avoid this distraction, I’ll schedule my social media time—because I can’t just quit cold turkey—and keeping my phone anywhere but within arm’s reach.
During these “deep work” blocks of time, I will simply work my way down my editorial calendar putting together my notes and writing post after post after post. I’ll spend the last 15 minutes or so of each session writing a short journal type post for this space summarising how I feel and how the day is going.
I will also schedule what Newport calls “shallow work”. Checking my email, working on my editorial calendar, posting to Tumblr, answering comments, tweaking my blog themes, looking up “calls for submission”, reading other blogs, etc.. These tasks are surely important, but they are easy so I often do these things rather than to doing the actual writing. I feel busy, but at the end of the week, I have little to show for all the effort. I’d like this week to be the first in a long time I feel like I have made significant progress.
In addition, I have quite a few other items that have been lingering on my to-do list:
- Set up an appointment to tour one potential wedding venue.
- Create one newspaper blackout poem and a collage poem for Instagram.
- Draft next Friday’s newsletter for Zen and Pi
- Read every day for 40 minutes at lunchtime and 30 minutes before bed.
- Finish my Christmas shopping!
- Get an oil change and new tires.
- Develop/choose a bodyweight fitness routine
I plan to write these “motivation and goals” posts every Monday with information and links to what is inspiring me to work harder and smarter and a few specific things I’m working to accomplish. Then at the end of the week (perhaps during my Weekend Coffee Share posts) I’ll check in and let you know how I fared with each new productivity and writing tactic and my ever-overwhelming to-do list.
I’m starting slow, but I’m definitely starting, and I hope that being accountable here and sharing what I’ve learned about what works might help you too.
So how about you? What goals do you have for the week? And what is your plan to achieve them? Have you heard of or tried the “deep work” method? If so, what did you think? How did it fit into your lifestyle?
Let me know in the comments, or write your own goals post and link back if that’s easier.
Thanks for reading and good luck!