4 Philosophies of Deep Work

September 28, 2020

Work Deeply

Before you can being working deeply, you have to know how you're going to work deeply. You have to choose your Deep Work Philosophy. Your deep work philosophy will help you schedule in deep work sessions that work the best for you. According to Cal Newport, there are four of them:

The Monastic Approach to Deep Work Scheduling

This involves total commitment to working deeply. The monastic philosophy has one, and only one, mindset when thinking about deep work:

Work deeply and eliminate everything else.

This would involve deleting social media, email, text messages, phone numbers, or anything else that might prohibit you from being able to focus on a deep topic for long amounts of time. People who choose this philosophy typically have one thing their career focuses on and they must do this one thing incredibly well. If that's not you, no worries. There's three more.

The Bimodal Philosophy to Deep Work Scheduling

Unlike the monastic approach to deep work, this philosophy chooses schedule periods of deep work sessions while still continuing to partake in everyday life as normal. On a weekly basis, you would dedicate four days a week to deep work and the other 2-3 for catching up on routine life assignments.

If your deep work session stretched over the course of a year, you could choose one season to focus on deep work, and another to focus on less taxing tasks. Adam Grant, a Wharton Business School professor chooses to teach one semester and take the other semester off for research, publication, and study.

The key to practicing this effectively is to: (1) Keep these periods well defined. When working bimodally, it'll be tempting to mix up your schedule or to rearrange a few days here and there, don't do it. Stick to what you planned. (2) Keep these periods well advertised. The key to not upsetting people during disappearing act is to make sure they know it's happening. Sent up auto responders for email, and have your assistant, co-worker, or friend handle anything major. (3) Outside of these times, make sure you're very responsive and easy to find. Doing this ensures your co-workers will respect the time you're away because they know when you're back, they'll get a response.

Rhythmic Philosophy to Deep Work Scheduling

Arguably the most popular form of deep work, the rhythmic philosophy piggybacks off of the "Don't break the chain" mentality and requires deep work sessions every day. By scheduling in deep work every day of the week at the same time, you won't ever have to spend mental energy knowing when or how you'll be able to work deeply.

Journalistic Philosophy to Deep Work Scheduling

BEWARE: Not for the faint of heart. The Journalistic approach to deep work is the hardest to stay in, and the easiest to stay away from. This approach takes major self-control, and is not suitable for people who are new to the field of deep work.

This approach takes any chunk of time, one hour here or a morning there, to get to work on deep topics.  There is no routine or rhythm, just whenever the schedule permits. This is helpful if you have a very clear and defined goal, like writing a paper that is already outlined and researched, you just need to connect them all. The reason for that is it typically takes more than 20 minutes for our brains to shake distractions and get into a flow, which means real deep work is often hard to achieve. This makes analytics thinking, research, and drawing conclusions difficult.

FOOTNOTES

Newport Cal, , Published: New York : Grand Central Publishing, 2016.