Cal Newport has recently posted a technique for setting up what he calls “deep work” sessions, a technique that seems very useful indeed. His picture of how he uses the technique isn’t very illuminating, though, at least to me; here’s my translation: He’s got a list of things he wants to work on. (In his case, this is apparently written on white board, so that he can see it easily from his desk.) On one side is the helpful information as to when the project is due, if it’s got a due date. The “study hack” he’s writing about is in a column down the left side of the board, where he’s written, in code, where he wants the project to get to next.
Ok. Here’s why this is brilliant: When he sits down to do deep work on a project, he’s got specifically in mind where he wants the project to end up. This means that his brain is working deeply AND towards a specific goal. It focuses the deep work, which makes the deep work easier to enter into. Excellent.
And why are we interested in deep work?
As Newport puts it, the more deep work we do, the more value we create. Deep work is the work we’re invested in, that pushes us, that’s not easy, and that we come to be masters of. If we do it. He’s focusing on the deep work of thinking, but I notice that all of the fields we can be masters of require deep work.
Deep work is what we do when we’re writing not lists, but a novel. Deep work is what we do when we’re talking not conversationally, but therapeutically. Deep work is what we do when we’re playing not in the backyard, but on the field with our teammates. Deep work is what we do when we’re knitting not a dishcloth, but lace.
Notice that for all these activities, varied as they are, there is a goal, a product, in mind. A novel. A decision that can change a life. A season championship. Beauty.
Newport’s idea of focusing each session towards the next smaller goal is right on. He also advocates rituals to start a session off; doesn’t that make sense? And don’t you do it already?
We don’t need rituals to get started reading our emails and playing around on Facebook. We need rituals to move from regular activity into deep work. The tools gathered. The tea or coffee made. The door closed. The clothes changed. The sacred space.
Cause that’s what this is about. The sacred nature of deep work.