Focusing Rhythmically

Part I: Scheduling Deep Work

I’m slowly making my way through Deep Work by Cal Newport. Although I am not yet finished, I can tell that this will be a game changer and have a significant impact on my life.  Let me fill you in on how it has changed my life in the past week.

In the Rule #1 section, Work Deeply, Newport discusses the four philosophies of working with depth. As soon as I read about the example and case study of Brian Chappell, and what Newport describes as the rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling, I knew I had found gold.  
Chappell was finishing up his dissertation when offered a full-time job, along with an arrival of his first child. His failed attempt at scheduling 90 minute chunks of time – the amount of time that intense focus can be sustained in a work period – in an ad hoc manner led him only to a single chapter written in his entire first year. 
This drove Brian to begin waking up at 5:30am every morning and working until 7:30.  He would then go to work totally finished with any kind of dissertation obligations for the day. This resulted in getting a chapter written every 2-3 weeks.  
It was this concept that totally resonated with me.  I admit, I am weird in the fact that I don’t need an alarm to wake up this early and start working (after making a cup of joe, of course).  My morning routine has usually consisted of snoozing or slumbering restlessly later than this natural wake up time, enjoying a cup of coffee while I leisure read either the news or a book, and then having a quick bite before heading out the door.

This changed last week.

My first week of rhythmic deep work scheduling began on Tuesday, February 28th and this has lasted through today.  I’ve used most sessions for my own MLC Exam studying purposes, with the exception of one day last week which I used for class preparation when I got a little behind. 

These deep work sessions will continue beyond passing the MLC Exam. Studying for this exam will be replaced by working on publications, further professional and personal development, or anything else that requires intense focus. Eventually, I can see filling that time with learning a language or a musical instrument.

Part II: Nobody Really Gives a Shit

Newports 3rd rule is to quit social media. Check.

OK, so I quit for different reasons than he gives, but the deed is done. Now, after reading about the reasons he gives, I’m pretty sure I will never go back. I really appreciated and admired his analysis of what the draw to Facebook is in the first place.

Prior to Facebook, he describes, it took a lot of work to get a significant number of people to read whatever you write. Facebook created an avenue to get a lot of people to read whatever you want to blabber on about. There seems to be this code of “you like my stuff and I’ll like yours.”  It is highly addictive.

But here is the kicker. If/when you quit Facebook, and if you don’t announce it on Facebook before doing so, nobody will notice. OK, by nobody, I mean out of the 400 Facebook friends that you have, 395 will not notice.

That is kind of a hard pill to swallow. The masses don’t care what you have to write or say. If they do, that took some very hard work to get to that point, and it most assuredly did not happen on Facebook.

This has me thinking a lot about what I’m writing, and the content that I want to produce. Do I want to write something that the masses will eventually find their way to?  Do I care to reach them?  Maybe I just like writing whatever it is I like to write, and find it meaningful to reach the extremely small number of people that actually do read this.

I don’t know. It does give me something to think about. 

2 thoughts on “Focusing Rhythmically

  1. I've been a Deep Work devotee since last summer, but Kate's entrance into our lives has both shattered my old familiar schedule and made the above solution (early morning deep work) much more attractive. I remember that Brian Chappell (whom you referenced) also had a kid.

    I'm going to explore the early morning option too, since my previous 7-9 pm deep work sessions won't be possible in the near future. Thanks for the timely reminder!

    One question: how do make sure you get enough sleep going to bed so early? Have you made any evening adjustments as well?


  2. I naturally begin to wake up in the early hours of the morning. Before adopting this early morning deep work philosophy, I would usually just roll over and repeat this several more times before succumbing to the weight of the day and finally getting up.

    Now, I just get up when I wake up naturally that first time.

    Given this new routine, however, I have noticed that the bedtime needs to be more strict. Now, I try to be in bed well before 10, read for a while to let the drowsiness set in, and turn the lights out around that 10ish region.

    I'm a napper, too, so that helps.


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