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 · 31 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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November 20th, 2015 · 32 comments
A New Book
I’m excited to announce my new book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
The book will be published on January 5th (though it’s available now for pre-order). In this post, I want to provide you a brief sneak peek.
My Deep Work Mission
If you’ve been reading Study Hacks over the past few years, you’ve witnessed my increasing interest in the topic of deep work, which I define to be the act of focusing without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.
I firmly believe that deep work is like a superpower in our current economy: it enables you to quickly (and deliberately) learn complicated new skills and produce high-value output at a high rate.
Deep work is also an activity that generates a sense of meaning and fulfillment in your professional life. Few come home energized after an afternoon of frenetic e-mail replies, but the same time spent tackling a hard problem in a quiet location can be immensely satisfying.
There’s a reason why the people who impress us most tend to be people who deployed intense focus to make a dent in the universe; c.f., Einstein and Jobs.
Focus is the New I.Q.
Which brings me to my new book…
Deep Work is divided into two parts. The first part is dedicated to making the case for this activity. In particular, I provide evidence that the following hypothesis is true:
The Deep Work Hypothesis.
Deep work is becoming increasingly valuable at the same time that it’s becoming increasingly rare. Therefore, if you cultivate this skill, you’ll thrive.
The second part of the book provides strategies for acting on this reality.
Drawing on my own habits, the habits of other adept deep workers, and reams of relevant science, I describe how to improve your ability to work deeply and how to make deep work a major part of your already busy schedule.
In this second part, you’ll also find detailed elaborations of some of my more well-known ideas on supporting deep work, from time blocking, to fixed-schedule productivity, to depth rituals — in addition to many more tactics that I’m revealing for the first time.
If you want to learn more about the book, the Amazon page includes the full flap copy as well as the nice endorsements it received from Dan Pink, Seth Godin, Matthew Crawford, Adam Grant, Derek Sivers and Ben Casnocha.
You can also read this extended excerpt on Medium that discusses how a star professor uses deep work to dominate his field.
The book will be released on January 5th but is available for pre-order today on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
November 17th, 2015 · 11 comments
A Fellow Dartmouth Alum Discusses E-mail
Not long into a recent Fresh Air interview with Shonda Rhimes, Terry Gross brings up the last subject you might expect: e-mail habits.
Rhimes, it turns out, has the following signature appended to all her e-mails:
I don’t read work e-mails after 7 pm or on weekends, and if you work for me, may I suggest you put down your phone?
Gross and Rhimes discussed the details and implications of this e-mail habit for over four minutes, which is more than a tenth of the entire interview.
Listening to this exchange, I was struck by three points which I think speak to some of the larger issues surrounding work and distraction in a digital age…
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November 9th, 2015 · 24 comments
I’m currently re-reading Genius, James Gleick’s celebrated biography of physicist Richard Feynman.
I was particularly drawn to the opening chapters on Feynman’s childhood in Far Rockaway, Queens. It’s tempting when encountering a brilliant mind like Feynman’s to resort to cognitive hagiography in which the future Nobel laureate entered the world already solving field equations.
But Gleick, whose research skills are an equal match for his writing ability, uncovered a more interesting origin tale…
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November 3rd, 2015 · 46 comments
Making Time for Time
Something organized people don’t often talk about is how much time they spend organizing their time.
I think this is a shame.
The past half-decade has seen a trend in (online) time management discussions toward simplification. It’s now accepted by many that it’s enough to jot down each morning a couple “most important tasks” of the day on an index card, and if you get those done, consider your day a success.
Think about this for a moment. This belief essentially cedes the majority of your working hours over to meetings separated by bursts of non-productive inbox shuffling and web surfing.
I for one am not yet willing to give up so many hours, as doing so would significantly reduce what I’m able to accomplish in the typical week. Which brings me back to time spent organizing time…
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