Ever go on an evening hike with no stars in sight? You have have every reason to believe you’re walking north-west, but forgot your compass at home and the clouds above enveloped any guiding light.
Metaphorically, that’s how the last two months have been. In fact, that’s how much of our lives live out. Pauses in life reorient our minds just like coming upon a fork in the trail to find signposts is to get one’s bearings.
I read The Four Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney and secondly, after reading the first half this summer, I once again picked up Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. Whereas the first focused me on where I need to put all of my focus at work (e.g., pay attention to goal #1 and #2, and nothing else), the latter helped me realize we need to set clear boundaries in life. The interesting part about Deep Work isn’t simply its goal of preserving your relationships with family and friends—that’s true, too!—but its promise and numerous case studies of being a better employee and getting more done at the office.
Related, listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast Sunday afternoon, they cited a study explaining a 50 hour week yielded 37 hours of useful work. However, ratchet that up to 55 hours and the useful hours drop to 30 hours. Yikes.
The goal isn’t to bash working 40+ hours or to write any sort of “open letter” to announce a decision to clock out at 5pm every work day. On the contrary, that’s not feasible. However, the plaguing assertion in Deep Work is not to think of total hours, but think of deep work hours.
There’s a difference between writing a draft (e.g., this blog post) listening to music (DMB, anyone?), reading email, having a conversation, and catching up on Slack all at the same time versus simply drafting this article. Your effectiveness plummets trying to engage in too many situations. You’re overwhelmed. Beyond that, you experience attention residue where your mind cannot be 100% devoted to this article, but is instead spread out so thin it’s reminiscent of a peanut butter sandwich where you simply haven’t enough PB on that PB&J sandwich you made. In the end, no one’s happy.
So I’m going to follow up on his challenge on social media. I’m also taking steps to have as few apps open as possible (closing email except for a few scheduled times a day), and limiting myself to prevent hopping from whatever is difficult to something easy. Heck, it’s in our core value Focus: “…We choose making a deep impact, over trying to boil the ocean.”
I didn’t wake up Sunday thinking, “man, I wish there were more life hacks I could try to adapt into my life! Let me go check Buzzfeed and Lifehacker.” My hope is to work up to 3–4 hours of intense deep work hours most days to accomplish more than I could in the 10+ hour days with a scattered, fried-at-the-end-of-the-day brain. I should end the day mentally exhausted like I just got done with a great workout, not from being pulled in ten thousand directions. Less is more: if I can do it right, I should get more done in fewer hours.
I’ll give it a month. Just like everything else in life, I’m retaining a strong skepticism toward anything that promises an increase in health, happiness, time at home, sleep, and basically everything else that’s worth pursuing. However, has a good foundation given the times deadlines induced healthy stress to focus me on the only task that matters. In the end, I did more in less time without all the distractions. That, to me, seems like a winner.