4 Ways I’ve Optimized my Life for Deep Work

According to Cal Newport, deep work is a 21st-century superpower. It’s not only becoming more valuable, but rare because our personal and professional lives are becoming increasingly driven by sources of distraction.The performance gains from deep work aren’t just a minor increase in productivity, but significant increases in high-value creative output.

With the manuscript for one book finished, and a second one around the corner, a book about creative habits, I’ve been diligent about upping my deep work game.

1.Eliminate Decision Fatigue

According to toNeil Pasricha, the average human being is making over 300 decisions a day. Most of those decisions are low-value like what to eat, what to wear, and what route to take to work. Low-value decisions should be automated.

I ordered 5 black t-shirts from Old Navy. I may not end up on the cover of GQ for this, but right now I want every ounce of mental bandwidth I have for deep work and my upcoming book launch. My breakfast for the last 100 days has been bulletproof coffee and a protein shake. It gets the job done and I’ve conserved my willpower. These are low-value decisions as far as I’m concerned.

This will look different for everybody. Given that your decision-making power gets depleted over the course of the day, what matters is that you use the earlier part of the day for the highest value decisions.

What I’m going to write about for the day and what book I want to read to start the day with are much higher value decisions for me than what I’m going to wear.

2. Develop Rituals and Routines

Rituals are a big part of the way I work. Rituals help you defeat resistance signal to your unconscious that it’s time to sit down and do your work.

- I brew my coffee.
- I meditate for 10 mins
- I read before I write.
- I write 1000 words a day

Here’s an excerpt from a previous post about how I tackle my ritual:

Every morning I wake up and I can feel the resistance.

  • What the hell am I going to write about?
  • Will it be any good?
  • Can I shape madness into meaning?
  • It would be easier to see what’s on Facebook or twitter.
  • What did Seth write today to defeat his own resistance?

There are plenty of distractions, all of which fuel resistance. But I’ve put safeguards in place.

  • I’ve blocked all these distractions
  • I’ve got a pair of Beats headphones on with techno blaring.

This is all like armor for a soldier in battle.

The first drop of ink hits the paper and the resistance increases. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to write anything at all let alone anything good. I whittle and carve, push and cajole. I’ve got a sentence. I’ve won the first battle in this daily war of art.

3.Implement Safeguards To Protect against Sources of Distraction

Sources of distraction are difficult to resist. My temptation to give in is quite high. So I have to put safeguards in place to avoid this.

  • Heyfocus: A tool that allows you to block distracting websites and apps on your computer.
  • Rescutime: It might seem like overkill to have both this and Heyfocus. But the reason I installed rescue time was because I wanted actual data. When it comes estimating productivity, we tend to have a positivity bias. With rescue time I can, I see how much time I’m truly spending on Deep work. Here’s a screenshot from the past week.
  • Distraction free writing software: I can’t imagine writing without distraction-free writing software. It’s designed to help you do one thing and one thing only. Get words down on the damn page. And since you’re in full-screen mode you can’t see a thousand other things.
  • Xtab: The other day I read an article by Kevan Lee about single-tasking. And I realized how easy it was to get into 20 different browser tabs So installed Xtab and limited the number of tabs I could open to just two so I could cut and paste from google docs into things like medium.

A way you can apply this.

  1. Block distractions from 8 pm until 12pm.
  2. 2) Then block them again until 5pm.

When you initially do this, you’ll probably feel anxious. But if you do this for enough days in a row, you’ll find that you experience flow-style concentration that facilitates deep work.

4. Do the Work

Once you’ve optimized for deep work, then comes the most important part. You actually have to sit down and do the work. Whether’s writing, painting, programming or reading, everything above means nothing if you don’t actually sit down and do the work. As I’ve said before, spend 80 percent of your time on the 20 percent of things that create the most value.

If you spend more time preparing to do your work than on the work itself, resistance has kicked your ass.

I’m the host and founder of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast.

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