Over the past fifteen years, I’ve covered many different topics in my writing that all seem to roughly orbit ideas around productivity, technology, and meaning. Some of my readers have taken to unifying this prescriptive worldview with a simple description: the deep life. Giving its foundational role in what we do here, I thought it might be useful to summarize how I think about this philosophy at the moment.
To me, the deep life is about focusing with energetic intention on things that really matter — in work, at home, and in your soul — and not wasting too much attention on things that don’t.
Those who embrace the deep life often push some of these efforts to a place that seems radical to outsiders, but it’s exactly in this extremeness that they find the deep satisfaction. A life focused intensely on the things that really matter — even if it’s riddled with ups and downs — trumps a comfortable life that unfolds with haphazard numbness or excessive narcissism.
The tricky part in cultivating a deep life, of course, is figuring out what things matter. This will differ between different people. I strive to divide my focused attention among four categories:
- community (family, friends, etc.),
- craft (work and quality leisure),
- constitution (health), and
- contemplation (matters of the soul).
In each of these areas I keep striving to identify the big swings — the actions or commitments that will make the most difference — while clearing out the detritus that gets in the way (this latter goal giving rise to my obsession with productivity). They all interact: constitution enables better craft, while contemplation, as it so often does, provides a template for basically everything that’s important. Sometimes I’m more successful in these efforts than others. I’m better at it now than when I was at 25, and think I’ll be even better when I’m 45.
So there it is: a short summary of the underlying philosophy that gives rise to so much that I end up writing about, from the zen valedictorian, to career capital, to deep work, to the importance of digital minimalism. You’re only granted so much energy to expend in a lifetime. You’re almost certainly best off focusing it as intensely as you can on the targets that seem to really move the needle.