Working Deeply: The Philosophies

My workdays go as such:

  1. Wake up at 5:45 AM
  2. Shower/get ready
  3. Go for a walk with my dog
  4. Make a cup of tea
  5. Work on personal projects from 7:30 AM – 9:00 AM
  6. Begin the professional workday at 9:00 AM – from home
  7. Break at 11 AM – eat lunch, spend time with my dog
  8. Finish the workday at 5:30 PM
  9. Have a beer with my SO
  10. Cook dinner, if needed
  11. Misc. – watch TV, social media, etc.
  12. Bed by 10 PM

Though days may vary slightly, this is my go-to routine each day. It seems to work – until I get distracted by factors like social media, music, my dog acting up, etc. I haven’t come up with a solution to resolving the implications that come from this. While some of the issues are out of my control (usually – sometimes, if my dog is acting up, it could be because we skipped a morning walk); however, most of it is due to my habits. I oftentimes want to be distracted.

A 2012 study called the “experience sampling method” had 205 adults with beepers. When the beeper went off, the individuals wrote down how they felt and what desires they had – which resulted in the conclusion that people fight their desires all day long. This study was done by psychologists Wilhelm Hofmann and Roy Baumeister, described in Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. What’s most interesting about this study is that the typical desires that the adults felt were related to shallow activities like going on social media, surfing the web, and listening to music. They only succeeded in resisting these distractions half of the time.

“You’re a disciple of depth in a shallow world.”

Cal Newport

The above quote struck me, as I think significantly about work in a professional business surrounding versus otherwise. By attempting to achieve depth, I’ve quickly learned that my professional work layout does not help promote deep work, but instead, shallow work. 

David Dewane, an architecture professor, who met with Newport, author of Deep Work, discussed a system called “The Eudaimonia Machine.” In fact, this machine is actually a building represented for individuals to achieve deep work, though it is only an illustration. 

The Eudaimonia MachineA rectangular building with five rooms and no hallways, meaning to get to any place within the structure, you would need to go through the other rooms. 

  1.  The Gallery. A space that acts as an introductory room with examples of work produced within the building meant for inspiration of others.
  2. The Salon. A social space with a coffee bar, full bar, seating, and WIFI, meant for discussion and argumentation between people.
  3. The Library. “The hard drive” space with a record of everything created within the space; copiers, and scanners helps collect information.
  4. The Office. A space with a conference table, whiteboard, and some other desks or cubicles. This is meant for some of the shallow-type collaboration and thoughts. 
  5. The Deep Work Chambers. 6’x10’ rooms that are soundproof, meant for uninterrupted work and total focus. Dewane mentions that the process should be 90-minute intervals of being in and being out of these rooms. 

I explain the rooms in order of the eudaimonia machine because this would be an effective workspace that promotes deep work; whereas, most business settings have developed their spaces on openness and collaboration, which actually encourages shallow work. 

Thinking to myself, “I hope there’s a way to incorporate this into the open, meeting-filled style of the corporate setting.” Luckily, Newport explains helpful strategies that individuals could absorb, which will aid their efforts – in any environment – and be focused around deep work.

Choose your work philosophy:

  • The monastic philosophy. This philosophy encourages maximizing deep efforts by removing shallow obligations. An excellent example to understand this is by making a tremendous and impactful change on routines – such as deleting email altogether. Doing this will be more difficult for others or yourself to get in touch with each other; however, it removes the daily and time consuming shallow work of checking and responding to emails. 
  • The bimodal philosophy. This philosophy asks you to dissect time with stretches for deep pursuits, and the remaining time is open to everyone and can also be shallow. Carl Jung’s approach to deep work uses this strategy. He identifies a large amount of time to go to a small home in the woods dedicated solely to work, where contrastingly, uses the rest of his time away from this space to collaborate, be involved, and do shallow work. 
  • The rhythmic philosophy. Using this strategy is the easiest way to implement deep work in your daily life. Examples include: writing a joke every day if you’re a comedian (Jerry Seinfeld’s approach to never-ending jokes,) marking X’s on a calendar for when you’ve completed something, or setting aside time each day specific for deep work. 
  • The journalistic philosophy. Shifting gears by using whatever free time available is the backbone of this philosophy. Doing the deep work needed to complete a project can be done at any given moment, possibly going as far as socializing with friends, then actively working away from them, then back with friends after a few hours. 

Looking back to my routine for each workday, I find myself in the rhythmic philosophy standard. Using time each morning (7:30 AM – 9 AM) to work on my personal projects promotes a rhythmic routine and ritual into my deep work practice. While this is the first step in identifying how to change your work habits for deep work, many additional factors will help as well.

Additional helpful tips:

  • Schedule your time. Know where you’re going to work and how long, know how you’ll do after getting started, and know how you can support your work. Reference project management tasking in another blog, “Help, I Need More Time! A Discussion on Project Management.” 
  • Choose spaces that will promote thinking deeply. Move to a radically different place from your familiar environment, and get inspired by your undistracted surroundings.
  • Work with others, at least sometimes. Though collaboration settings like open workspaces actually promote shallow work, having others bounce ideas off is helpful. When the time allows, and it’s reasonable, choose to use the whiteboard effect*.
  • Shut down at the end of each day. Choose when you are finished with work for the day and make it known to yourself and others that you will not be thinking about the jobs at hand until the following day. However, this can be easier said than done; make a ritual of ending the workday by thinking ahead on what tasks still need finishing, and how you can achieve that at another time. This will help you to work better when you do return to work and lets your brain rest. 
  • Convince yourself that you’re multitasking – even though you aren’t. A study is written and measured by Shalena Srna, Rom Y. Schrift, and Gal Zauberman in “The Illusion of Multitasking and Its Positive Effect on Performance,” focused on the effects of subject perception of multitasking. After many focus groups with controlled and varied elements, the conclusion was that if you have the perception of multitasking, your work will be performed better. This isn’t to get confused with the studies showing that multitasking does impair your abilities to complete a task successfully (like Sophie Leroy’s article “Why Is It So Hard to Do My Work?”). The mere outlook on completing tasks has the power to make you create work more successfully. 

*The Whiteboard Effect: A back-and-forth collaboration, frequently on a shared whiteboard, can push you to think deeper than if you were to do this alone.

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