Strategies for Deep Work #2

[This post is part of a book review series on Deep Work, by Cal NewPort. See post 1 for a summary.]


In Newport’s chapter titled “Rule #1: Work Deeply”, he outlines strategies and principles to help us build rituals and rhythms to do deep work that stretches our personal abilities. This first rule is about reducing and removing distractions that prohibit us from doing deep work. I outlined his first strategy (see post 1) about deciding on a Depth Philosophy. Here’s a list of the strategies (I’ll only highlight a few):

  • Decide on your Depth Philosophy
  • Ritualize
  • Make Grand Gestures
  • Don’t Work Alone
  • Execute Like a Business
  • Be Lazy

Ritualize

This strategy is about adopting rituals (actions, gestures, intentions) that help to create and maintain regular patterns of deep work. Here are some of his examples:

  • Identify where you’ll work and for how long
  • Identify how you’ll work once you start to work
  • Identify how you’ll support your work

I found this principle helpful to continue focusing on my work habits and patterns of when and where and how I like to think and create. For me, I like the morning times. It’s when my brain is the sharpest to think critically. I also don’t check emails, social media, or respond to phone calls/text messages. No tech distractions. I also like sitting in my reading chair or my patio. Both are quiet and soothing places.

“Surrounding such efforts with a complicated (and perhaps, to the outside world, quite strange) ritual accepts this reality—providing your mind with the structure and commitment it needs to slip into the state of focus where you can begin to create things that matter.”

Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 121). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Execute Like a Business

For this principle, Newport is now interested in HOW to execute strategy. What and how are two different set of questions. We may know that (what) we need to do, but not know HOW to execute it. For this, Newport refers to the book, “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” and then summarizes each discipline.

  • Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important
    • identify a small number of ambitious goals (or outcomes) during deep work hours…with a tangible reward attached to it.
  • Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures
    • measure your success by focusing on activities that will improve behaviors that will impact your long term goals
  • Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
    • have a way to publicly record and track your lead measures
  • Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
    • review your weekly work and scoreboard to celebrate and make adjustments

Here’s one my favorite quotes from the above principle:

David Brooks endorsed this approach of letting ambitious goals drive focused behavior, explaining: “If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”

Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 137). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Bringing it Home for Me

So how does this apply to me? I have a few areas that require some deep work:

  • church planting
  • corporate chaplaincy
  • music

Using the church planting area, my work is to focus on discovering what the wildy, ambitious goals are for a new church. For me, my goal isn’t to get a lot of people to a church service. It’s not even to tell people what to do. Part of my work is to discover what the wildy important goals are. They seem to be connected to justice, healthy relationships, and caring for leaders who have big ideas on how to transform our city to reflect God’s love.

(Review of Deep Work) Rule 1 Work Deeply

Deep Work by Cal Newport is a book that has been circulating in my network for the last two years. The book is about creating rituals and rhythms to have focused time on working and focusing deeply on things that matter, while removing distractions. Reducing shallow thinking times, disconnecting from social media and online surfing for long periods of time during the day are just some examples of reducing distractions.

In part 2 of his book, he starts with Rule #1: Work Deeply. Newport addresses the need to build habits and rituals because we get so easily distracted by the superficial. Newport says,

Unfortunately, when it comes to replacing distraction with focus, matters are not so simple. To understand why this is true let’s take a closer look at one of the main obstacles to going deep: the urge to turn your attention toward something more superficial. Most people recognize that this urge can complicate efforts to concentrate on hard things, but most underestimate its regularity and strength.

Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 98). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

CONFESSION: I know that when I begin to read a book or start a project, the moment I hit a tough problem, I go online or check social media sites. I go superficial real quick.

To say that we can just will ourselves past these temptations to be distracted is futile. Willpower is more like a muscle than an inherited trait. As Newport says,

“You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it. Your will, in other words, is not a manifestation of your character that you can deploy without limit; it’s instead like a muscle that tires.”

Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 100). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

This is good news for me. I no longer shame myself for not having the “will” to muscle through deep thinking work. I need a different way to approach deep work.

This is where Newport offers the key motivating strategy and idea for engaging in deep work:

The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration...if you deployed smart routines and rituals—perhaps a set time and quiet location used for your deep tasks each afternoon—you’d require much less willpower to start and keep going. In the long run, you’d therefore succeed with these deep efforts far more often.

Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 100). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The first strategy to develop healthy habits and rituals is to have a philosophy to integrate deep work into our working lives. There are a few different depth philosophies to integrate deep thinking and focused time. For the sake of encouraging people to buy the book, I’m offering a very quick one summary of each:

  1. The Monastic Philosophy: create deep efforts by eliminating or reducing shallow obligations. Works well for people who have singular goals in mind and have the kinds of jobs that allow for this type of schedule.
  2. The Bimodal Philosophy: dedicate stretches of time without interruptions and distractions (this would ideally be a dedicated whole day of deep work).
  3. The Rhythmic Philosophy: establish a simple routine/ritual schedule that removes the need to decide IF you should do deep work. This could be a set block of start and end time (i.e. waking up at 530 am and doing deep work for 2 hours).
  4. The Journalistic Philosophy: fitting deep work into your schedule whenever you can (this presupposes an ability to switch modes and go into deep work rather quickly…it’s not for a deep work novice).

We can develop our own philosophy so long as we follow some of the general guidelines from these. In all of these frameworks, the importance is that intentionality and active engagement are implemented (do it!). This can be an experimental time at first to see what works.

For example, I like to get up at 5am and meditate. This sets the tone for the rest of the day. It’s followed up by 1.5 hours of focused deep work time. Since I have a full time job, I need the deep work time in the mornings (when I seem to be most fresh). I try not to go online when I’m getting bored or hit something hard in my deep work. That’s when I tend to get frustrated and want to be distracted.

Creating Through Bad Ideas

Play bad notes and rhythms.

Write bad blogs.

Publish poor podcasts.

Do all the creative stuff you wanna do so that you see what’s good and what isn’t.  Nothing is going to get better unless you’re working through the bad ideas as well.

Create through the bad ideas.  I’ve played drums on about 6 albums.  There are some really bad tracks and moments.  This year, I’m recording a live album.  I’m more confident recording BECAUSE of the previous bad performances.

I’ve posted over 300 blogs.  Many of them aren’t very good.  But they’re getting better and I’m weeding out bad ways of writing, bad themes to focus on, and better ways to frame ideas.

Ten Agile Axioms That Make Managers Anxious

Agile management is at odds with the basic assumptions and attitudes of traditional management
— Read on www.forbes.com/sites

The interesting thing is that when firms operate this way, they make a lot more money than companies that focus directly on making money, including the five largest and fastest growing firms on the planet (by market cap): Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, now worth over $2 trillion. It involves a shift from a focus on inanimate things (money, products outputs) to a focus on people (human outcomes, experiences, impact)

Re-Post: Seven Toxic Bosses You Should Avoid Like the Plague

This is a re-post from an article sent to me.  It was so good that I’ve had it opened on my browser for three days!  By chance, I sat at a gathering of pastors today where the #1 issue that ministry leaders face is “feeding the monster” (i.e. focusing on administrative, financial, budgetary, organizational tasks…instead of fostering relationships and mentorship).

source (full article):  https://goo.gl/pNSvLm

Difficult bosses contaminate the workplace. Some do so obliviously, while others smugly manipulate their employees. The “bad boss” has become a comedic part of work culture, permeating movies and television, but when you actually work for one, there’s nothing funny about it.

Bad bosses cause irrevocable damage by hindering your performance and creating unnecessary stress. The stress they create is terrible for your health. Multiple studieshave found that working for a bad boss increases your chance of having a heart attack by as much as 50%.

Even more troubling is the number of bad bosses out there. Gallup research found that 60% of government workers are miserable because of bad bosses. In another study 69% of US workers compared bosses with too much power to toddlers with too much power. The comparisons don’t stop there. Significant percentages of US workers describe their bosses as self-oriented (60%), stubborn (49%), and overly demanding (43%).

Most bosses aren’t surprised by these statistics. A DDI study found that 64% of managers admit that they need to work on their management skills. When asked where they should focus their efforts, managers overwhelmingly say, “Bringing in the numbers”; yet, they are most often fired for poor people skills.

 

 

transformative leaders

We have constructed a way of leadership that is distant from others, believing that leading others is a one way street.  But transformative leaders make themselves transparent to others so that both are inspired towards growth.  

I know this leader who has snacks in her office.  Everyone goes to see Teri because they’re hungry throughout the day.  She will say, “Have something to eat, son” and after a few minutes of the employees eating, they start sharing their work and life struggles.  She just listens as they both snack and tell stories.  Teri might offer a story of her own experiences and then as they’re wrapping up, the employee will thank Teri and off they go.  Most employees describe Teri as one of the best managers to work for.  Why?  Because she cares.  Teri makes herself a vulnerable leader–who is not afraid to listen and learn from others.  I should also note that Teri’s department is constantly breaking records in her department.  

Four Company Pillars

Companies have foundational pillars that sustain them.  When one of these pillars is not functioning properly, it affects the others.  Here are some pillars:

  1. pillar of culture – values, practices, habits, stories, the felt experience, clarity vision/mission, morale
  2. pillar of leadership – who is leading, how are they influencing others, quality of leader
  3. pillar of competency – the actual skillset, qualifications to the do the work, quality of work, strengths, assets
  4. the team – employee base, morale, attitudes, work ethic

If one of these pillars is crumbling, it will be felt within the company.  But when all four are strong, the customer will feel it.  Imagine a company working to strengthen each of these pillars.  It would be an exciting place to be.  The company, employees, and customer would flourish.

Leaders Define Reality

Max Depree writes:

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader. Concepts of leadership, ideas about leadership, and leadership practices are the subject of much thought, discussion, writing, teaching, and learning. True leaders are sought after and cultivated. Leadership is not an easy subject to explain. A friend of mine characterizes leaders simply like this: “Leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain.” The goal of thinking hard about leadership is not to produce great or charismatic or well-known leaders. The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head, but the tone of the body. The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict?

The art of leadership requires us to think about the leader-as-steward in terms of relationships: of assets and legacy, of momentum and effectiveness, of civility and values.

from Leadership Is an Art

I think of the leadership theory and development because if I don’t, I won’t become a good leader.  Plain and simple.  I think leaders need to make more time to reflect on their leadership practices and habits.

Max Depree offers a great reflection of what leaders, who they are, and how they think.

Reflection Questions

*What do think of the statement, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality”?  One can imagine that it might be a struggle to define reality and have to say the hard things sometimes, acknowledge the losses, or admit failure.  How do you cope with reality?

*Reflect on this statement:  “The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head, but the tone of the body. The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers.”  If the body or team is the primary sign of how things are going, how does that shift your leadership tactics?

*What might be one way that you can define reality for your team this week?

Leadership Quips

Honest leaders are relaxed, confident, and bold. The dishonest are irritable, ready to run from guilt.

A good leader seeks out real understanding to straighten things out.

Leaders who lack wisdom abuse those they lead. But those who learn from others will flourish.

Leaders who sow commitment, consistency, and are persistent, will achieve their goals.

Leaders know how and when to critique those they lead. But a leader who is afraid of conflict will spoil the garden.

Leaders who think they know it all and can do it all are a garden waiting to spoil. But those who learn from others will thrive.