Protect Your Time and Do Better Work…

Just finished reading a great post by one of my favorite bloggers/writers/observers of life, Cal Newport.  Cal is a wunderkind having earned tenure at a major University before the age of 35.   He writes about “Deep Work” and the ways in which knowledge workers can do great work, despite the distractions and obstacles which obstruct our path.   I was so impressed with the post that I wrote a reply and thought I’d share both with all of you.

Here’s the post.

Here’s my response —

This is an important and useful clarification. The “four weeks in advance” threshold is an excellent idea, as it “leapfrogs” the planning horizon of the vast majority of organizations. Excluding significant events (annual /quarterly meetings, product/tech launch, Holiday Party) most organizations (and those who work in them) just don’t think about a daily operating time horizon which extends past the next 5 to 10 days max. In fact, if you think about it, I would expect that >80% of the “requests” for your time are for the current week or next week.

This is not a trivial observation as it reveals a truth which Cal has frequently referenced – i.e., the vast majority of people are in a reactive state, planning and executing their actions in response to what is happening in real time.

And thus, 1/2 of the beauty/elegance of this approach – by re-configuring your personal planning horizon beyond the immediate, you preserve your opportunity/ability to do deep, focused work.

The other 1/2 lies in the “mental classification” of these blocked out times in the calendar. How many times have you seen a colleague (or you yourself) cross out something like “reading club”, “yoga class” or another activity on their schedule because something “important” came up from work. Notice that in the post, Cal repeatedly talks about protecting these blocks of time and assigning them the same importance as a medical appointment. (which, while sounding a little dramatic could very much BE a matter of life and death). So, the other important element of following this approach successfully is the idea that once identified and placed into the calendar, “deep work blocks” need to honored and protected..

Again, this is intuitive and while I think that many people would agree to the logic of it, some of those same people might be the ones who I mentioned earlier – the ones who are blocking out activities and times that are “nice to have” because there is something “blowing up” at work, or because they don’t want to be labelled as not being a team player.

I think that this is similar to what Steven Covey wrote about in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, when he developed his four quadrants of time management. The deep work blocks are clearly what could be referred to as the Quadrant II, Important But Not Urgent tasks. I think, without digressing too much into a discussion on Covey, which would be more appropriate for a different venue, that it’s interesting to note the following. In his classification, Covey even notes that the reflection of the Important, but Not Urgent Quadrant II activities, are the Urgent, but Not Important Activities found in Quadrant III. Covey refers to this as the Quadrant of Deception (though it isn’t clear to me, at least, whether that deceit is self-directed or directed towards others). Covey notes that Quadrant III activities include such easy to recognize tasks as “interruptions, some calls, some meetings and…..many pressing matters”.

To conclude, another important and enlightening clarification from Dr. Newport, rich with insight and loaded with practical application. Good Luck to all.

Author: Frank SanPietro

I am a doctoral candidate in business administration with a concentration in finance at the Fogelman College of Business and Economics , University of Memphis. My research interests include; information asymmetries, real estate valuation and sub-markets, and personal financial planning.

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