Beautiful Systems: Deep Work
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus) (Cal Newport, Deep Work)
Fragments from imaginary dialogues
“Deep Work is a beautiful concept I know from Cal Newport. In his words,
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.
I’ve tweaked it however to suit my own purposes.
I refer to the ability to focus without distraction as ‘Deep Focus‘.
And I like to think of ‘Deep Work’ as a system, whose function is to maximize daily productivity.”
Basically, to maximize productivity, you need to maximize the time spent in Deep Focus. However Deep Focus is energy intensive, so it’s not possible to maintain it for long periods of time.
To maintain Deep Focus, rest is essential.
This requires creating a beautiful oscillation, alternating between periods of Focus and rest. And the quality of rest is also important.”
“So we could say the quality of work depends on the quality of focus and the quality of rest.”
“Indeed. I call quality rest ‘Deep Rest‘.
Ideally, while resting, you want to disengage completely from the work. I prefer to move away from the computer, to give my eyes some rest as well.
The micro-unit of the system is the ‘pomodoro‘, 25 minutes of Deep Focus, followed by 5 minutes of Deep Rest. I like to think of this as the ‘micro-oscillation‘.”
“I thought you’d stopped using the pomodoro.”
“I had initially, because I lacked the Discipline to make it work. I’ve since realized the pomodoro is a beautiful opportunity to actually practice Discipline [<link; long].
The macro-unit of the system is what I call a ‘deep-work block‘: 2-3 pomodoros one after another, followed by a longer break. I like to think of this as the ‘macro-oscillation‘.”
“What does an ideal work day look like for you?”
“It starts in the morning, to capitalize on the very first hours of the day, when energy is at its peak, and has at least 3 deep-work blocks.
The beauty of the system is that it’s modular. It can expand or contract based on the available time.”
“What do you do during breaks?”
“Breaks are a design space [<link; medium]. I seek to fill it up beautifully. I play with movement, meditate, take a (cold) shower, go for a short walk, take a nap, etc.
As for the work itself, the content, it falls within three main systems, which every single day must contain:
Creating (writing, playing with ideas)
Learning (absorbing information, eg reading; reflecting/reviewing)
Optimizing/Organizing (eg systems optimization)
I arrange the deep-work blocks in the order of priority: the most important first.
There’s a beautiful directive I know from Brian Johnson:
Be creative before you’re reactive.
I’ve taken that to heart.
I always start the day with a deep-work block dedicated to writing.”