In Case You Needed More Proof of the Power of Deep Work…

Cal Newport’s latest blog post:

As longtime readers know, I enjoy tracking down the deep work habits of well known and highly accomplished individuals. This is why I was happy to recently stumble across a pair of interviews (here and here) in which the novelist John Grisham describes his professional routines.

Here’s what I learned…

  • Grisham primarily writes his novels during the winter months on his farm in Oxford, Mississippi. During this period he works five days a week, starting at 7 am and typically ending by 10 am.
  • Grisham writes in a period outbuilding on his property that used to house an antebellum summer kitchen. He and his wife refurbished the kitchen to maintain its period details (with the main exception being that they added electricity and air conditioning). Crucially, as Grisham explains: “[the building has] no phone, faxes, or internet. I don’t want the distraction. I don’t work online. I keep it offline.”
  • Grisham maintains strict rituals for his writing. He starts work on a novel on the same day each year, and starts writing each day at the same time. He works on the same computer. He drinks the same type of coffee out of the same cup. “My office routine rarely varies,” he explains. “It’s pretty structured.”
  • Grisham starts a new novel on January 1st and is usually done with the bulk of the writing by the end of March. He aims to be completely done with the manuscript by July. This leaves a nice half year period to recharge and work on new ideas.

I understand we all have different life circumstances and professions. Not many of us can construct a schedule just like Grisham’s. But the point is that highly focused, distraction-free work actually gives you more freedom, more free time in your life.

Disconnect a Little Bit Each Day

We are technologically and informationally deluged. Smartphones are essentially the new cigarettes.

Although we all could use some disconnection in our lives, we’re so inundated that we may feel like we can’t step away for whatever reason. But those who suffer from FOMO—Fear of Missing Out—need disconnection the most.

I’ve heard people advocate for “tech sabbaths,” where you take a day—Sunday, for example—and keep all of your technology off, including cell phone, tablet, computer, and TV. I can’t comment on it because I’ve never tried it, but I plan on testing it out in the near future.

So instead of a “tech sabbath,” what I do is make several little disconnections each day. Regarding cell phone use, I refuse to bring it with me to the bathroom (every guy knows how easy it is to spend 10-15 minutes on the toilet if he has his phone on him) and don’t use it while getting ready for the day.

Regarding the internet, I put my computer on hibernate and turn my cell phone to silent a little while before I hit the sack. I used to do this an hour before going to bed, but for me the duration matters not. All that matters is that I don’t use technology right before turning out the lights, opting to read a book or write in my journal instead.

If your job involves heavy computer use—what job doesn’t nowadays?—I recommend devoting at least a couple hours in the evening to leisure activities that don’t necessitate the use of technology. Like working out, reading a physical book, doing Sudoku or crossword puzzles, or whatever.

Another helpful trick is one I learned from a friend of mine: Keep all text message and app notifications on silent, but leave your ringer on in case someone calls you. I’m not sure how you can change this on iPhone, but on Android you just turn it to “Priority Only.” That way you’re not constantly distracted by things that can wait. If there’s an emergency, someone will get a hold of you by calling.

When doing a session of deep work, I keep my phone on “Priority Only” since I’m used to not receiving many phone calls. But if you’re someone who frequently talks on the phone, I recommend just putting the phone on silent when deep working or focusing on a goal.

I also deleted Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail from my phone. Those are colossal time sucks; I’ve found that you’re less likely to dink around on your phone if you’re not being bombarded with notifications of new likes on your post, replies from that girl whose DMs you slid into, or emails about stuff that doesn’t need an immediate response.

Just disconnecting a little bit each day benefits you more than you may think. Try out some of these tips and tricks. It’s a liberating feeling!

Simplify Your Morning Routine

Common on the journey of self-development is establishing a kick-ass morning routine. It may even be one of the first things you do when starting out.

I’ll bet that when you’ve had an amazing day, you’ve probably had an amazing morning. On the other hand, when you’ve had a crappy day, you’ve probably had a crappy morning.

So to carpe diem, you must carpe mane. Mornings set the tone for the rest of the day. No wonder you’ll find endless guides in the self-development community on how to wake up without hitting the snooze button, the top morning rituals of über-successful people, etc.

A strong morning routine is undoubtedly crucial to long-term energy, productivity, and success. And no two people’s morning routines are the same. Which is a good thing. Different rituals work for different individuals.

But many people screw up by constructing an overly elaborate, lengthy morning routine which actually ends up hurting them.

I know this is true because it was true for me. When I was a self-development newbie, my morning routine looked something like this:

9:00-9:05am: Brew coffee
9:05-9:15am: Watch a subliminal messaging video
9:15-9:45am: Read a book
9:45-10:05am: Meditate
10:05-10:15am: Journal/gratefulness exercises
10:15am-11:00am: Catch up on the world, check social media
11:00am: Begin homework/blogging/some other priority

Yes, my original routine seriously lasted two hours. Now I even feel silly writing it out, for I realize that no one needs two hours to get “warmed up” for their day.

Suffice it to say that this routine lasted only a few weeks before crumbling. First I no longer felt like meditating, then I no longer felt like watching any subliminal videos, then I no longer felt like journaling. Thus I gradually lost control of my mornings and began to slip back into indolence and unproductivity.

After a while, I realized that I was simply over-complicating matters. I did rituals I felt I needed to do but didn’t need to do at all.

People new to self-development tend to overcompensate for their previous lack of a morning routine by packing in so many rituals that they end up further procrastinating on their work and their goals. This is exactly what I was doing.

What does my morning routine look like now? Let me oblige:

9:00-9:05am: Brew coffee
9:05-9:35am: Catch up on the world
9:35am: Begin homework/blogging/some other priority

Much simpler and much more effective. I can dive right into my priorities with just as much, if not more, energy in thirty-five minutes than in two hours.

Now I still journal, read, and meditate, but I do those later in the day instead. I consider those my “rewards” after putting in a solid morning of work.

So simplify your morning routine. Keep it to one hour at the most. Do only two or three of your favorite rituals before getting down to business. Either cut out the rest or push them back to later in the day.

Recharge Your Batteries to Avoid Burnout

It’s common for those immersed in self-development to want to “hustle” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I certainly tried to at one point.

Key words are “tried to.”

I once thought I could be an Übermensch by operating on six-and-a-half hours of sleep and shunning guilty pleasures in the name of “productivity.” It didn’t take me very long to burn out. I began sleeping 10 hours a night, constantly watched reruns of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” or “High Stakes Poker,” aimlessly surfed the web, had trouble reading books, skimped on my journaling, and quit working out.

The key to a productive, happy life is to not hustle all the time. You need to find time each day to relax and recharge.

Enter Mike Whitfield:

Imagine a flashlight with a dying, but rechargeable battery. Its dim light is almost worthless, yet you continue to use it. All it needs is an hour to recharge the battery and then it would shine brighter than ever.

I can now recognize the warning signs of burnout quicker than I used to. If I ever notice a dip in my energy levels or overall willingness to do things I normally like doing, I make sure to recharge my batteries as soon as possible.

Read the rest of Whitfield’s article here.

How to Be a Cleaner

Jon Anthony at Masculine Development is one of my favorite self-development bloggers. He tells it like it is in no uncertain terms. I even consider him a mentor of mine.

Jon recently published a three-part series on how to be a “cleaner,” which describes someone who’s unstoppable in his pursuit of success and greatness.

Part one here, part two here, and part three here. Thirteen rules in toto. Read, absorb, and take action.

Invest in Yourself

Warren Buffett once said that “the most important investment you can make is in yourself.” Who can disagree with that?

I spent ~$100 today on books and workout equipment. I don’t consider this an accumulation of assets, but rather an investment in my intellectual and physical health.

Ryan Holiday once wrote the following about reading: “I promised myself a long time ago that if I saw a book that interested me I’d never let time or money or anything else prevent me from having it.” This also applies to other investments in yourself like a heavier set of weights, a nice leather journal, a good planner, a gym membership, a self-development course, whatever.

Don’t see the purchase of such things as “spending money.” See them as investments in your health, wealth, and wisdom. Never let time, money, etc., stop you. You are your most valuable asset.