At the CUTE office, we also experience the daily struggle between ‘deep’ & ‘shallow’ work. Do we need to do this meeting now, or is it better to work on strategic projects?
We asked Sarah (= CEO of CUTESolutions) how she manages her time.
After years of teaching the habit principles from the Getting Things Done method, I finally get it. This happens to me all the time. That I’m teaching an at first sight really simple model for communication, leadership or in this case time management and that years later some hidden layer hits me. And recently it hit me how in the Getting Things Done method, you start with the control axis (getting the short-term and endless stream of daily inputs under control) before you get to managing the perspective axis (or working towards your longer-term dreams and bigger goals). In coaching or training people, we always start with helping our participants get 4 big categories under control first: their email, the expectations from and interruptions by others, their to do lists and their calendar. Then we give them about 6 weeks to install new systems and small daily habits. The main goal of this phase, is to help people ‘download’ everything from their minds into reliable systems, so that they can free their mind for what it is best at: creative, deep work, being present in the moment and connecting with others.
As long as we have all these to do’s floating around somewhere in our heads, we are constantly suppressing a nagging feeling of overwhelm that blocks us from using our brains to their full potential. Because our minds are not well equipped as an automatic reminder system for all of our to do’s. When do you remember that the batteries for your flashlight have run out? Right, the exact moment when your electricity falls out, not the hundreds of times when you pass the batteries in the supermarket!
I love the Buddhist metaphor David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, refers to: ‘a mind like water’. When you throw a small stone into water, the water will react with small ripples and will get back to normal in just the amount of time it needs for that. No more, no less.
When you throw a big stone into water, the water will react with big ripples and it will take a little bit longer for the water to get back to normal, but again, not a second longer than necessary. What does my mind do? Sometimes it obsesses over something small, like an offhand remark someone made. And even worse, I’m sometimes shocked to realize how little time my brain spends on working out the stuff that on the longer term is really important to me. It’s like I’m always living in some state of procrastination.
And now to get back to my point! The funny thing is, that although in our sessions we leave only 6 weeks between both sessions. It feels like I have spent the first 15 years of my career and building my company CUTESolutions in the first phase, just trying to get things under control! And although I have developed some really helpful habits for more strategic time management, it feels like I am only now really sensing the ‘perspective axis’ as the more urgent stuff that I want to focus on and give all my energy and attention to. Maybe the fact that I just hit 40 has something to do with this. The longer term does not seem that far away anymore and all the more pressing. And although I thought I had some pretty decent habits for working on the ‘perspective axis’, it feels like I’ve only entered the arena.
Last week I flew to Portugal for a week of ‘deep work’. I felt I literally had to remove myself from my daily life to concentrate on the work that I am most passionate about and that I add most value with. I am still trying to figure out why I don’t spend more time in daily life on ‘deep work’. I am estimating that it would be fair to spend about 4 hours every day on ‘deep work’, instead of the more shallow but more obvious work I sometimes get lost in, like answering mails, attending meetings and solving the issue of the day. My week in Portugal did not only feel rewarding, because I was working on a project I am passionate about, but the potential financial rewards also justify it. So really, there is no excuse for not working more strategically in daily life. And no worries, I’m not all about work, no play. In the weekend, I was joined by my hubby and my ‘colleagues turned friends’.
But to close on a more philosophical note, maybe the Getting Things Done model is also a blueprint of life. You somehow move to the ‘perspective’ axis as you get older. And suddenly you want to spend all your time there. Reflecting on all of this, I’ve decided to test some new habit loops in my life: Spend a week in Portugal for ‘deep work’ every 2 months Schedule 1 day a week for ‘deep work’ Don’t check emails before 11am Start the day with setting my 3 wins for the day (tip from Peter Thiel in Tools of Titans).
Please let us know what your Deep Work habits are in the comment section below!
Don’t want to miss our Habit magazine blogs? Subscribe here.