February 20th, 2017

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Doing Deep Work

I had a weekend that was both productive and relaxing. I did a lot of housework and I did a lot of reading. Alas, I didn’t get to look at that house, as they seem to have canceled the open house. It was still on the online listing, but when I went there, there was no sign and the house was shut tight with no one around. My Realtor friend said there was an option contract on it, so maybe they changed their mind about the open house. I think I’m going to take this as a good sign that this house wasn’t meant to be mine, or at least not now. So, onward with my plan for the year to focus on writing now.

Part of my weekend reading was a really interesting book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s about how any kind of work that requires deep thinking or creativity requires periods of deep focus. You can’t really multitask and get good work done. A lot of it got into how current business practices are actually robbing companies of real innovation, since they’re more worried about “shallow” work that looks like work — sitting at a desk in an open office, going to meetings, answering e-mail, being on social media — and might even penalize people who are doing what they need to do in order to get real thinking done, like hiding out in a conference room or working at home, only looking at e-mail once a day, not going to meetings, etc.

But for my situation, what I took away from it was the fact that some of my habits that I berate myself for when I’m writing are actually on the right track for getting good work done. I talk about how I tend to be “all or nothing” when I’m working on a book, and I feel bad about not being able to just devote a few hours a day to writing and still get other stuff done. I also tend to get “book brain,” in which I don’t want to do anything other than write or at the very least don’t want to leave the headspace of the story. Both of these are signs of being able to go deep, to get into a state of flow.

The author had some good suggestions for being able to do deep work. One is to be very intentional about how you use your time. Create a schedule so that you don’t let shallow stuff fill your day and keep you from getting to the things you care about — that “first things first” idea. He’s really not keen on social media and e-mail because of what he calls “attention lag.” Even if you only dip in for a few minutes during a break, your mind will still be on it when you get back to work. For breaks, he suggests doing physical things that allow you to keep your mind on your work — exercise, walking, housework, gardening, etc. You can be intentional about your thoughts while doing those things, setting up a problem you need to solve and focusing on it.

One thing I may try is giving myself permission to go all or nothing. I’m not getting business or promo stuff done because it feels like a distraction from my writing. So, since Wednesdays are always a distracted day for me anyway, I think that’s going to be a non-writing day. That will be the day I take care of errands, business (like bookkeeping), and major promo tasks. I can write blog posts and social media posts in advance, work on my web site, contact people for interviews, etc. Then I can devote the other days just to writing, with only a little bit of maintenance on other stuff (post the things I’ve written, reply to e-mail, social media).

That won’t start until next week, though, since this week I’m doing proofing, and that’s a different kind of work that requires mental breaks.