Diving Deep…and Staying There

July 24, 2018

β€œThe key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”
~ Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

So how did my experiment with Deep Work go? Pretty much as I expected.

Even though I usually write on the weekend, I didn’t count that here since my weekdays tend to be more structured. Keep in mind that I don’t have a job outside the home—my job is working on my own creative projects, the teaching I do at various Denver-area locations, my one-on-one consults and critiques, and writing-related tasks (this blog, my newsletter, my YouTube channel, etc).

How I Did

Scheduling. It was important that I note specific timeframes for both deep work and shallow work. I was committed to doing my deep work first when I had the most energy and attention so I started with one hour per day, knowing I would have to rebuild that deep work muscle since I have such a crazy distracted brain right now.

I designated two timeframes for checking email and other more shallow work: lunch and around 4:30 because my goal is to stop my workday at 5:00. I did well at this (mostly because I knew I would be reporting this week), except the first day.😬 (See Where I Fell Short below.)

Sticking to it. Difficult at first. That darn urge to check e-mail was pretty powerful. Very similar to the hunger pains I’m ignoring right now as I write this because my sister and I are trying a 36-42 hour fast together.

I was able to work 1-2 hours on my novel each day and also on revisions for my chapter book sample and proposal. I was happy that I could surpass that one hour goal on some days and grateful for my Brainwave app that has binaural beats for Concentration. I believe that helped keep some distraction at bay.

Where I Fell Short

Guess what? When I started the list of what my job consists of in that first paragraph above, I started with teaching, not my own writing projects! Then I revised it to put my writing projects first. That was very telling to me and disappointing because I had done something similar when reporting to my two accountability buddies every Monday. I’d put the paying tasks first and my writing projects at the bottom of my goal list. HELLO? I switched that up several months ago and it’s made a difference psychologically. But I was bummed that I fell into that writing this post. Argh. Clearly I still have work to do in terms of how I value my own projects. The paid work always gets done because paying clients and students deserve my time and attention and I give it. So putting my writing first doesn’t shortchange anyone except me.

Confession Time. In spite of my proclamation that I would schedule shallow work like email around my deep work and had determined lunchtime and 4:30, I failed right away and checked my email right after finishing last week’s blog post. Why? I don’t know! There was nothing pressing, nothing that couldn’t want a few hours until lunchtime. And yet I couldn’t seem to resist. It’s a bit embarrassing to note how obsessed/addicted I seem to be to checking email. But it also feels good to get it out there so I can deal with it.

Side note on email. Last Wednesday I submitted a revision for my chapter book series proposal to my agent so I had to resist the urge to check incessantly to see if she had replied. πŸ™‚ She did on Thursday to tell me she couldn’t get to it until Monday. Excellent. No need to check until this week! (I’m writing this on Monday 7/23 and have already looked five times even though she said she’d get to it on Monday, not that she’d reply to me on Monday—the work continues!)

Summing Up

I felt it was a fairly successful week, with definite areas for improvement. This week is a mix of working on the novel, preparing for my workshops for the Regis MFA in Creative Writing residency that starts this weekend, and any changes my agent may send my way for the chapter book series. Those are my deep work priorities and I’m looking forward to continuing this focus shift.

Background photo info: I took the picture snorkeling in Belize this past spring. Yes, that’s a shark down there. A gentle, lovely nurse shark that has pebbly, rubber skin when you touch it. One or two swam by close enough to touch. Amazing!