When Deep Work Strikes

Sep 9, 2016
Joe Buhlig
~3 mins

There are a plethora of articles promoting and dissecting the tenants and principles proposed by Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work. That’s what led me to picking it for an episode of Bookworm. After implementing my takeaways for about a month, I can see a decided difference in my productivity and effectiveness. It’s what allowed me to release Working With OmniFocus when I did and to develop the depth of detail in those videos.

If you haven’t read Deep Work, I will join the crowds in saying you should. It can change your methods of working and make you rethink the importance of the internet. In my case, it led to alterations in many core routines and habits I maintain.

The biggest change I have successfully implemented is a simple contact form over a blanket email address on this website. Over time I had begun receiving hundreds of emails each day. It’s not possible to keep up with that kind of volume. And as Newport points out, email rarely produces a meaningful result. By putting systems in place to help me cut back on email received and removing expectations that I’ll respond to every one of them, I take back more of my time and free myself to focus on essential projects. Email is still important, but it’s not worth sacrificing my mission in life to answer the requests of others.

Newport talks about the value of a shutdown ritual, which is a way of closing off the work of today, preparing for tomorrow, and transitioning from work to family. I’ve experimented with an “End of Business” ritual before but I have always struggled getting it to stick. Reading Deep Work made me dust off my old checklist and give it another try. The clarity that comes when I follow through with this ritual makes me wonder why it was so hard to make this a habit in the past. I can only assume that a difference in perspective and season of life makes me see a greater value in closing off the day and intentionally shutting down my work mode.

Shutdown Ritual

Easily one of the most valuable action items you can take from the book is scheduling deep work sessions: time when you disconnect from all external inputs and focus on the one task in front of you. This is time spent unplugged and head down on a creative or critical project. And it is paramount that you keep the internet at bay. Its ability to send you down rabbit trails is uncanny and detrimental to the work that matters. To help combat the allure of infinity apps and their addictive tendencies, Newport suggests scheduling time for going online.

On the surface, I love this concept. Only allowing a set amount of time for the web forces you to be intentional with that time and see it as a tool with a purpose. But in practice, it’s been extremely challenging to even put a plan together. I know there are benefits on the other side, but my business is online. It feels irresponsible to limit that time. But taking a cue from Joshua Becker, I think I’ll have to pick a day and experiment with less time online. My anxiety is likely an indicator of the importance of trying.

To help with this trial, I reviewed a topic on the Discussion site by Jay Blanco about setting up a deep work phone. The thoughts shared there and my own reflections on the internet-as-a-tool mentality have led me to turning off cellular data and Wi-Fi on my phone.

Deep Work has lead to great progress on projects with a lot of value. I have some ground to cover yet, but the simple understanding of how to engage in deep work and suppress the time and energy devoted to shallow work has exponential benefits over my normal methods of getting things done.