Prioritizing Deep Thought in a Distracted World: A Case StudyMarch 13th, 2013 · 13 comments
A Deep Day
I’m a big supporter of deep work. People often ask, however, how to fit this type of persistent concentration into a fractured knowledge work schedule.
To demonstrate my personal answer, I took a snapshot of my calendar from Monday (see the image to the right).
At 9:30, I began my commute, having already tackled enough small logistics to clear my head and allow me to start obsessing on a problem I’m trying to solve (I love thinking in the car). Once I arrived on campus at 10:00, I continued to obsess about this problem until an 11:00 meeting. I then had 2 more hours to obsess. At 2:00, I had another call. Then at 3:00, now mentally exhausted, I turned to a less cognitively demanding logistical task that I’m chipping away at, bit by bit, with the goal of avoiding a schedule-busting scramble the day before the deadline.
(I should note that I teach on Tuesday and Thursday, and, accordingly, devote those full days to class related work — which is why you don’t see such tasks on the sample Monday shown here.)
Here’s the take-away message: On non-teaching days I start with the assumption that the full day will be dedicated to thinking deeply on the projects that will best increase my career capital. I then (only reluctantly) squeeze in the other stuff that simply cannot be ignored. Because I assume the day is mainly about deep work, I tend to ruthlessly batch this extra stuff and push it toward the borders of my day, where it will have a minimal effect on what matters.