I’m a big fan of Cal Newport’s writing and his books, especially his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. We’ve had several conversations about his working (and living) habits — he’s been a guest on my podcast on not one but two occasions — and his dedication to the concept of deliberate practice is something I am working on more than ever. My commitment to delivering a daily podcast is an example of that.
I made some other changes to things I was doing in order to get more deep work done. In fact, I went so far as to theme one of my days as “Deep Work Day.” Every Friday is defined as such. I’ve blocked off my schedule so that no one can schedule meetings with me. I’ve categorized tasks as ones that should be done when I’m in deep work mode, so they often get tackled on Fridays.
But something occurred to me about deep work and the way I approached it.
How I Was Wrong About Deep Work
I had this notion that deep work was work that was to be done alone. I was to sequester myself in my office for hours on end and dive into my writing and any other deep tasks over the course of the day. What I found was that I wasn’t able to do as much as I’d hoped on Fridays. Not nearly as much as I’d hoped.
I decided that deep work in solitude isn’t something that I can sustain for an entire day but I can alter my thinking around deep work so that Fridays still carry that definition. I concluded that I could have social time with those that I could have deep conversations with, essentially deepening my relationship with them. By aligning those kind of gatherings with my Deep Work Day they would stand out from al of my other “meetings” during the week. They would resonate deeper. Some of them may even matter more.
I had it in my head that being around others on the day I was diving into deep work would be contradictory. But after reading about how Carlos Beltran, a member of the Houston Astros during their 2017 World Series champinionship run, connected with this teammates, I realized I was wrong.
During his first days with the Astros, he approached each one of his new teammates—everyone, pitchers included.
“My friend, I am here to help you,” he said. “Even if it looks like I’m busy, you won’t bother me. If you sit down next to me and ask me a question, I would be more than happy to give you the time that you need.” – Astroball by Ben Reiter, on Carlos Beltran
How I’ve Redefined My Deep Work
Spending time with people I wanted to spend time with and carry on deep conversations with on Fridays wasn’t contradictory at all. It was complementary. As long as I was clear on the criteria of those gatherings, I was upholding the definition of my Deep Work Day.
Once I shifted my mindset about deep work, my Fridays got better. Making that change also made for a better week. Over the long term, my hope is this change will ultimately lead to a richer — and better — life.