How to do great work, as only you can
Do you have creative projects you yearn to complete? Is there an unfinished manuscript in your desk drawer, empty canvases collecting dust in your garage, a dissertation breathing down your neck? Then this post is for you. (And for me. Also for me. We are in this together.)
Last week, I dove into Part One of Cal Newport's excellent book Deep Work, in which he explained why it is so important to cultivate the ability to stay focused on a project for long periods of time.
It's common sense - good work takes time, we all know that - but in this Internet day and age, it is easy to feel like the dog from Up, forever chasing squirrels.
So how can we get better at going deep?
Good news: there's more than one way to get the job done. It all depends on your personality and your situation.
Do you have a job/life that allows you to shut the door for long, long periods of time? Maybe you're a professor or a novelist or a mad scientist. In that case, you have the sweet luxury of taking the monastic approach - which is also the most extreme approach. Get off social media, stop checking email, and just WORK already. Not just for a day or a week. We're talking months here.
Like I said, this is extreme, but it works for some people. For example, the author Neal Stephenson doesn't share his email OR mailing address on his website. He writes,
"Persons who wish to interfere with my concentration are politely requested not to do so...all of my time and attention are spoken for -- several times over. Please do not ask for them."
This "work like a monk" approach works for people who have a clearly defined and extremely important goal that will make all the difference for them - like a Ph.D. student who has to finish his thesis or else. But it can also drive you berserk. Who wants to be alone all the time?
Let's say you can't disappear into a monastery. You have an important project, but you also have a life to live. In that case, you could split your time, and take what Newtown calls the bimodal approach -- dedicate part of your time to your deep work, and leave the rest of your schedule open. (He warns that the "deep work" time has to be extensive - a full day, at least - for it to be effective. It takes a while to really get into the groove.)
This is a good option if you have other obligations -- or if you're the kind of person that needs social interactions to keep from going totally bonkers. But you still have to commit to serious chunks of alone time.
If you really and truly cannot give daylong chunks of time to your project, you could try the chain method, in which you commit to working on your project every day, ideally at scheduled times. Make deep work a habit. (This is the Seinfeld productivity model - don't break the chain.)
You only do a little bit of work each day, but you do it EVERY day until it's done. No excuses. This can be a good option for projects that have no pressing external deadlines - like a first novel, for example. Or a comedy set. Those jokes aren't going to write themselves...
Here's the most dangerous, "this may not work" option -- just do the deep work when you can. This model apparently works for some people. They're able to just grab time here and there and instantly drop into the mindset they need to get work done. He calls this the journalistic approach, maybe named after all those fast-talking, hardworking dames who are always up against a deadline.
This approach works best, it seems, for people who are extremely self-confident and believe deeply that their project is a) worthwhile and b) will be successful. (I have never met this kind of person, but I hear they exist.)
So there you have it - a way to diagnose your working style and plan accordingly. If you want more, I highly recommend the book, which is full of great insights and ideas.
Which personality type sounds like you? Are you a monk, a reporter, or something in between? Tell us in the comments below!
This post is shorter than usual because guess what? I'm still recovering from that damn accident!
But the writing residency continues. Here's what I'm up to:
Watching: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; standup; the inside of my eyelids (I'm sleeping a lot, is what I'm saying)
Reading: Women and Power; Make Trouble; books on physical therapy; The Hidden Tools of Comedy; The Untethered Soul; Twitter (ugh I hate myself for that one)
Listening: podcasts (Good One, The Daily)
Thinking: When I am I going to get better already? :)
Plotting: the project I'm going to start when I'm not sleeping 24/7
Thank you for all your recommendations! I've got them in my (slow-moving) queue and I'll be checking them out in the next couple of weeks. <3
© 2018 | Susan O'Connor Inc.
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