January 18th, 2016 · 30 comments
The Attack of the Inbox
Not long ago, I was listening to Pat Flynn’s podcast. Pat is an excellent podcaster, so it doesn’t take much to convince me to listen, but this time I was particularly interested because the episode title caught my attention: 9000 Unread Emails to Inbox Zero.
Pat tells the story about how his email inbox grew along with the success of his online brand. He used to try to empty his inbox. After a while, he began to consider “only” 100 unread messages as a victory. Then, one day, he looked up and his inbox had expanded to 9000 unread messages.
Something had to give.
Pat’s solution was radical: he hired a highly-trained executive assistant who could devote many additional hours to sorting through the communication deluge before it reached Pat. He still spends a lot of time on email, but at least now it’s tractable.
Longtime readers will not be surprised to learn that the subtext of this story depresses me.
I am, as you know, a big proponent of deep work — as I think this activity can produce a professional life that’s both successful and deeply meaningful. But as Pat’s experience seems to attest, our current digital economy has perverse incentives: forcing you, it seems, to fragment your time into increasingly small, anxious slivers as recognition for your skill grows.
To me, the idea of needing to hire assistants to increase the amount of one-to-one communication you can fit into a single day is, to steal a relevant phrase from George Packer, a truly “frightening vision of the future.”
But then Brett McKay came along and gave me hope…
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January 5th, 2016 · 80 comments
A Focus Opus
It’s official, today is the release of my new book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
The book argues that deep work (focusing without distraction on a cognitively demanding task) is becoming more valuable in our economy at the same time that it’s becoming more rare.
The implication: if you’re one of the few to take advantage of this trend and cultivate a deep life, you’ll thrive.
Not only will you produce at quantity and quality levels that stun your peers, you’ll also find your work more meaningful and less exhausting.
To make this claim more concrete, consider me as a case study. As a longtime devotee to depth, I’ve been able to publish close to 50 peer-reviewed papers as an academic (earning over 2500 citations), write five books as an author (selling over 200,000 copies), and build a popular blog (300,000 page views last month) — all without working at nights and rarely working on weekends. The secret is my fanatic commitment to deep work.
This highlights an important point that I want to emphasize: This book isn’t a cranky screed about how kids these days spend too much time on the Facebook, and it isn’t a collection of warmed over suggestions about how you should turn off notifications on your phone and not check email first thing in the morning.
It instead calls for a radical transformation to your work life in which focusing with great intensity becomes your core activity, not an occasional indulgence.
With this in mind, the book then details specific strategies, divided among four “rules,” that you can use to accomplish this transformation — covering topics from focus training, to effective scheduling, to rituals and routines, to aggressive tactics for taming the tide of shallow obligations that constantly threaten to drown the typical knowledge worker’s day.
Give Yourself the Gift of Depth
To help you learn more about the book, I’ve included below an annotated table of contents and a link to a long excerpt.
In the meantime…
- If this topic sounds interesting to you — whether you’re a longtime reader of my writing or new to the party — please consider buying a copy of this book.
- If you already bought the book and found it useful, please consider buying copies for your friends or colleagues (if you do buy multiple copies, send me an email so I can thank you personally).
I’m proud of this book and believe it can have an impact on how we think about work in a digital age.
Deep Work is available now at Amazon (kindle and hardcover), Audible, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, or anywhere else books are normally sold.
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December 31st, 2015 · 36 comments
A Deep Omission
In preparation for the upcoming release of my new book, I’m doing a lot of interviews about deep work. This process of talking about depth again and again helped me identify a shortcoming in my treatment of this skill here on Study Hacks.
I realized that I spend a lot of time explaining the importance of intense focus and detailing strategies to help you focus better, but I’ve neglected the big picture questions about what it really means to prioritize this skill in your life; e.g.,
- What are the major changes to your life required by a commitment to deep work?
- What are the large scale goals you should be striving to achieve using the types of small scale habits and strategies I so often discuss?
- What, in other words, is the sixty-second summary of what it means to live a deep life?
In this post, I’ll try to answer these questions…
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December 22nd, 2015 · 34 comments
A Brief Reminder
A few weeks ago, I announced that on January 3rd, I’ll be hosting a webinar in which I’ll walk through all the details of how I integrate deep work into my professional life, and then answer your questions on the topic.
To gain access to the webinar, you need to pre-order my new book DEEP WORK (readers in the UK should pre-order here), and then enter your information at this online form.
If you’re one of the 1300 people who have already signed up for this webinar, I want to thank you for supporting my new book and let you know that I look forward to speaking with you on the 3rd.
The purpose of this post, however, is to note that if you’re thinking about pre-ordering the book and signing up for the webinar, then you only have until Christmas Day to do so — as on the 26th I’m going to begin the process of exporting all the names of people who signed up from the form and into my webinar system, after which, it will be too late.
December 12th, 2015 · 54 comments
A difficulty I’ve faced in promoting the practice of deep work is that many people think they engage in this activity regularly (and don’t get much out of it), even though what they’re really doing is far from true depth.
To better understand this possibility, consider the following two hypothetical scenarios:
- Scenario #1: Alice has to write a difficult client proposal. She decides to work away from her office for the first half of the day. She begins by going for a long walk to clear her head and play around with the different proposal pieces. She ends up at the local library, where she settles into a quiet corner for an hour and tries to write a rough draft. She feels the pitch is still too muddled, so she walks to a nearby coffee shop for more caffeine and works the outline over and over on paper. Finally she hits a configuration she likes and returns to the library to work it into the draft. After another hour she has something special. For the first time that day, she checks her e-mail before heading into the office.
- Scenario #2: Alice has to write a difficult client proposal. She checks her e-mail, sends off some replies, then drives into work. At the office she closes her door to work on the proposal. She finds it hard going, but sticks with for a couple hours. She only checks her e-mail a few times an hour during this period (much less than normal) and peeks at Facebook to relieve her boredom only once. She does take a break halfway through to gripe about an unrelated manner in the office kitchen with a colleague.
In both scenarios, Alice dedicated a good stretch of time to working on a cognitively demanding task. Many people, new to the concept, would therefore consider both scenarios to describe deep work.
But they would be wrong.
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December 1st, 2015 · 38 comments
Schwartz’s Important Admission
Last weekend, Tony Schwartz published an op-ed in the New York Times titled “Addicted to Distraction.” It soon topped the list of the paper’s most e-mailed articles.
Schwartz begins the essay with an admission:
“I fell last winter into an intense period of travel while also trying to manage a growing consulting business. In early summer, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t managing myself well at all, and I didn’t feel good about it.”
Determined to improve matters, he launched an “irrationally ambitious plan” to simultaneously correct multiple deficiencies in his lifestyle, spanning from excessive alcohol and diet soda consumption, to bad eating habits, to the addictive e-mail checking and web surfing that fragmented his day.
What struck me is what happened next…
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November 27th, 2015 · 51 comments
A Look Inside My Systems
I’m committed to the idea that deep work is the key to a successful and meaningful professional life. Not surprisingly, I back up this commitment with a complex set of battle-tested systems that ensure I spend a non-trivial amount of time in a state of intense depth each week.
At the moment, due to these systems, I average between 15 – 20 hours of deep work per week. I manage this even though I’m professor with a full course and service load, an active blogger and writer, a father of two young boys, and someone who rarely works in the evening.
Now I want to let (some of) you inside my world and explain exactly how I make this happen…
In more detail, I’m going to host an exclusive, invite-only webinar on Sunday, January 3rd where I will walk through the details of my deep work systems and answer any and all questions on this general topic from the webinar attendees.
Here’s the catch: invitations to the webinar will be limited to people who pre-order my new book DEEP WORK, which will be released on January 5th.
(Note: If you’re in the UK, you should pre-order here.)
Once you’ve pre-ordered the book (of if you’ve already done so): simply click here to access an online form where you’ll be asked to enter your e-mail address and some order confirmation information.
Once we’ve confirmed all the entries, I’ll e-mail this pre-order list the information needed to access the webinar. After the webinar, I’ll also send this pre-order list a full recording of the event for those who cannot attend live.
Why am I limiting this event to people who pre-order the book?
Pre-orders carry a great weight in the modern book business. Major retailers such as Barnes & Noble, for example, now use pre-order numbers to determine how seriously to take a new release.
I’m using this event, therefore, for two reasons:
- To try to convince those who think they’ll buy the book anyway to consider pre-ordering it.
- To thank those of you who have supported my efforts over the years to spread the gospel of deep work.
This offer will only be available for the next few weeks, as we’re planning on processing all the entries before the Christmas vacation. So if you’re thinking about taking advantage of this invitation, don’t procrastinate too much.
Enough about this. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…
November 25th, 2015 · 33 comments
After his second year of graduate school at Princeton, Richard Feynman faced his oral examinations. Feynman was not yet the famous physicist he would soon become (as his biographer James Gleick put it, “His Feynman aura…was still strictly local”), so he took his preparation seriously.
Feynman drove up to MIT, a campus familiar from his undergraduate years, and a place “where he could be alone.” It’s what he did next that I find interesting.
As Gleick explains:
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