Deep Work Scheduling Philosophies for Writers

October 23rd, 2017

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I’m reading the book Deep Work by Cal Newport (Amazon Page). Deep work involves the ability to focus on a cognitively demanding task, such as writing a book, so that you can get more done in less time. Writing a book is difficult if you check your email and Twitter feed every 10-15 minutes.

To get into a state to produce deep work, you need to schedule time for focused, uninterrupted work. Newport lists the following philosophies of deep work scheduling:

  • Monastic philosophy
  • Bimodal philosophy
  • Rhythmic philosophy
  • Journalistic philosophy

Monastic Philosophy

The monastic philosophy maximizes deep efforts by eliminating shallow obligations, such as social media and email. Eliminating shallow obligations gives you large blocks of time to work.

This philosophy is the most difficult to live by, as most of you have lives that don’t let you isolate yourselves from the world for long periods of time. But if you can live by the monastic philosophy, it’s a great way to schedule enough time to do deep work.

Bimodal Philosophy

The bimodal philosophy divides your time between deep and shallow work. During the deep time you act like you would in the monastic philosophy, seeking long periods of intense and uninterrupted concentration to do deep work. The shallow time can be spent doing things like answering emails.

The most common ways to implement the bimodal philosophy are to block out one or more complete days a week for deep work or to spend one season of the year in deep work. If you were a teacher, you might spend the summer in deep work, allowing you to concentrate on teaching during the school year.

Rhythmic Philosophy

The rhythmic philosophy says the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a regular habit. Generate a rhythm that removes the need to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to do deep work.

There are two common methods to implement the rhythmic philosophy. The first method is the chain method. Put a calendar up on your wall. When you do deep work on a day, put an X through that date. Use the calendar to build up a chain of consecutive days of deep work that you don’t want to break. The second method is to schedule a block of time (usually 1-2 hours) at the same time every day for deep work. A common approach for people with full-time jobs is to wake up early and do the deep work before going to their jobs.

The rhythmic philosophy is the best philosophy for most people. It’s easier to carve out 1-2 hours a day for deep work than to carve out the days or weeks of time that the monastic and bimodal philosophies require.

Journalistic Philosophy

The journalistic philosophy fits deep work wherever you can into your schedule. If you have 20 minutes free, spend that time doing deep work. The journalistic philosophy gets its name from the fact that journalists are trained to shift into writing mode at a moment’s notice to finish articles in time to meet deadlines.

On the surface the journalistic philosophy is the easiest of the philosophies because you don’t need to schedule large blocks of time for deep work. You work when you get a chance. But the journalistic philosophy is difficult to practice because of the difficulty in shifting from shallow to deep mode. It helps if you have confidence in your abilities and feel that what you’re working on is important and will succeed. If you can practice the journalistic philosophy and quickly shift from shallow to deep work, go for it.


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