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Cal Newport, in Deep Work cites A. G. Sertillanges, which is enough to recommend his book to me! Among Newport’s insights, are his observation that boredom is quite valuable for concentration training, that multitasking frays your capacity for forward attention, that we need to take internet ‘sabbaths,’ that we need large uninterrupted quantities of time for deep work, that rituals help minimize the ‘transition friction’ as we shift between tasks, that it’s helpful now and then to design a ‘Grand Gesture’ by which we invest a great deal in some particular accomplishment. Most surprising in an already interesting book is the proof that many who work in serious creative or intellectual work have established strict boundaries around the amount of time that can be stolen from ‘deep work’ by social media and email.
Newport highly recommends Clayton Christensen’s four disciplines of execution, having accomplished a lot of ‘executing’ as a young professor.
- Focus on the Wildly Important (none of my work seems ‘wildly important,’ but I do sit down periodically to assess which work seems most important, most loudly resonant with my heartbeat at the moment).
- Act on lead measures vs lag measures (In other words, measure the things that get the job done, rather than measure finished jobs. For me, this means count the number of chapters, not the number of finished books.) In this way, the measurement itself helps you get the jobs moved along, rather than just letting you carve a notch in your belt for each one.
- Use a visible scorecard for whatever you are measuring, so as to connect visually to the achievement of milestones. (Perhaps I should put up a daily weight graph for the next twenty pounds I need to lose.)
- Create a cadence of accountability (Get into the habit of regularly facing that scoreboard, making the next commitment, checking up on your forward progress.)
I’ve definitely ‘executed’ more since this book inspired me to honor my own ‘deep work’ by strengthening my get-it-done skills. I tend to avoid the ‘production’ side of writing, but once I have done the deep work of creating something, I need to ‘ship,’ as they say in business. I’ve taped the word EXECUTE to my computer as a reminder that this is a skill I’m aiming to improve.
Next, I’d like to think of some ‘grand gesture’ like his holing up in a ritzy hotel for a particular writing project. Hmmm…maybe I’ll just copy his! I’d need a Kickstarter campaign just to fund the gesture, so maybe not. Until then I’ll just hole up in my great home office and keep writing.
A complete digest of The Intellectual Life by Sertillanges is included in my new book, Upschooling.