Schedule Time Blocks For “Deep Work”
“To unleash your creative potential now and thrive over the long term, you need to establish your own rhythm — one that is independent of the pressures and expectations you face each day.” – The Accidental Creative
Have you ever reached the end of a work week and thought, “what exactly did I accomplish?” You can point to tasks checked off lists, meetings held, and incremental progress on projects, but when it comes to the really big, important initiatives, you’ve barely made a dent.
Professor and author Cal Newport has written extensively on the importance of scheduling “deep work” into your life so that you have the capacity to immerse yourself in the work that might truly move the needle rather than getting caught up in the drudgery of daily task lists and meetings. He believes that in order to make big progress, you must not simply make a list of important tasks, but must put dedicated, protected chunks of time on the calendar to ensure that they get done.
This runs counter to a lot of common thinking about productivity, such as the idea that the calendar is sacred and only to be used for things that must get done during a specific time block. However, I’ve used this technique for years, and have found it incredibly effective in helping me make progress on important work. It’s probably the single biggest contributor to my ability to write three books in five years.
Here are a few ways you might want to go about scheduling “deep work” into your life:
Choose an important project, and dedicate two one-hour slots to it this week.
Make sure it’s a project that will require intense concentration, idea generation, or synthesis. (These are the kinds of activities that most often get squeezed out when under pressure.) During the scheduled times, go someplace where you won’t be interrupted. Treat it like an appointment with yourself, and refuse to violate it. On your calendar, it should show up as unavailable time to others.
Choose themes for your days.
One technique that I use when I have a lot of open time on my calendar, such as during the summer months when client work slows, is to schedule themes for specific days. For example, Tuesday and Thursday mornings are dedicated to creating content, writing, and planning my writing. Monday morning is for study. My meetings and interviews are on Friday morning. This schedule doesn’t always hold up, but it allows me to avoid scattershot meetings or interviews throughout the week and instead cluster them together so I’m better able to dedicate a few hours to writing on the mornings dedicated to that task. I write every day, of course, but having blocks of time dedicated to the task ensures that I won’t fall behind when my travel schedule gets crazy.
Take a “deep work” day.
Things sometimes slow down in many organizations during the summer months. See if you can arrange a day to work offsite, in a park, or someplace where you can get away from the distractions of the office so that you can concentrate on an important project. Even though I can always close my office door, I sometimes escape to a park or go for a long walk when I want to conceptualize something. It helps me to break from my environment and get new stimulus.
If you want the important work to get done, and to get done well, then you need to schedule time for it. Don’t let your frantic schedule disrupt your rhythm. Dedicate time to what matters most and do work you’ll be proud of in ten years.
(Interested in learning more about Cal’s work? His book So Good They Can’t Ignore You is my most-recommended career book.)
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I'm Todd Henry.
I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas. More