Deep Work

Over the past few years I have noticed that there seems to be a lot of angry talk couched in a whole lot of dogmatism.  Politics is one area where everyone seems to have an opinion and that opinion is the RIGHT and ONLY opinion that matters and if someone else sees the world differently, then they are just flat out wrong and stupid and should not be allowed to talk or in some cases, even exist!  Last week I had the chance to talk with Ty Salvatore on an Enfactor podcast show regarding a recent transformation in his small business.  Several weeks ago, he made a rapid transition in one of his manufacturing locations in Southwest Florida.  In this facility  where they formerly produced mobility device accessories, he set up shop to manufacture face masks for essential workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.  In that conversation, he described this time as a “cleansing” of sorts.  He mentioned the bravery of his workers and others who leave the safety of their homes to help others.  And, he talked about noticing neighbors whom he had never seen before in their yards playing with their children. He talked about people taking the time to really listen to their families and friends.  Somehow, many of us seem to have left behind some of the pettiness and anger of the past.  This conversation reminded me of recent conversations with my two grown children who each, separately, talked with me about how they want to come out of this experience “better.”   I agree. Life is certainly different now and will be in ways, not yet clear, from here on out.  To adapt to this, we have had to change, and it is my hope also that the positive changes we have made will stay with us and perhaps leave us all better.

That was also the hope of many of the leaders with whom I participated in a virtual Leading with Resilience seminar this past week.  During the session we were invited to write down 3-4 adjectives that we hope our team would use to describe our leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic challenge.  We all shared our words, and in some cases, borrowed from others.  Some of the common ones were Calm, Steady, Fearless, Innovative, Compassionate, Brave. One word that resonated with me was Thoughtful.

Throughout my life and career, I have always had a desire to be a thoughtful leader. The people I had most respected over the years demonstrated that trait.  Thoughtfulness, to my mind, conjures up two distinct, but important, attributes of a person with character and strength.  The first definition is someone who is kind, someone who truly listens and considers others before speaking or acting.  The second, is someone who is a thinking person.  A person who is reflective and meditative.  One who thinks deeply about issues, challenges, opportunities and problems faced in life. Someone who is informed and capable of conversation. 

A few years ago, I read Cal Newton’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.  The premise of the book is that the ability to engage in deep work, that is something that is cognitively demanding, can be a “superpower” in our hyper-stimulating, full of interruptions world.  Providing examples of how the greatest innovators utilized deeply cognitive and creative work to advance their purpose and change the world, in his book he provides tools and techniques for building more reflection and deep work into your daily life. 

As a university professor for most of my life, I have been and am frequently engaged in creative work that requires deep thought and focus.  I have always been good at getting lost in my work. My family might say I am too good. They know that when I am focused, they are not being heard and I am probably not aware of what is happening around me.   But that is not the point.  The point is that even though I am capable of deep focus, my day to day life typically hasn’t provided me with enough opportunity to address the deep work that I yearn to produce.  Prior to this pandemic I would quite frequently look at my schedule and struggle to find a few hours each week that I could focus on something important but not urgent and therefore, often ignored.  Sound familiar?

At this stage of my life and career, despite my wish for more deep work time, I actually have more time than I have had most of my working life. And, now with the required social isolation, I am no longer spending time in commuting to work, am less frequently interrupted and thus, able to devote more time to deep thought and creative endeavors.  I realize that not everyone has the freedom right now to do that.  Many people are working tirelessly on the front lines of this crisis.  But, for those of us who have the luxury of working from home, this extra time social isolation affords could be considered a gift. 

Growing up in a family floral business, I learned very quickly that when someone died in our small community, we had to all show up to work.  No matter if I had a date with my friends, I had to help out. And, often my friends would join us and help out at the business so that I could perhaps join them later for fun.  Funerals were important to the bottom line.  This is where the bulk of our profits resided.  Funeral flowers were generally less expensive, and typically required less time to assemble than flowers for a wedding for example.  So, we all worked in the business when customer demand required.  This is true for many small business owners.  It was challenging for my mom to hire enough talented labor at the salary her small business could afford.  So, she worked in the business constantly and brought in family as needed.  She had little time to reflect on strategy or scenario planning.  She was on the front lines every day keeping the doors of her business open. Many entrepreneurs have to work this way and in so doing they miss out on the opportunity to work ON their business because they are always working IN their business.

So, here’s a few questions for you.  Does this time of economic slowdown and social isolation provide you with more opportunity to reflect, strategize and think about your entrepreneurial dreams?  Is there a silver lining in this experience?  Can you use this time to develop and test scenarios for what your business or life will be in the future?  Perhaps you can take some time to listen to some other entrepreneurs talk about their journey with finding time to work on the business instead of always in the business.  For example, in his story, Nick Friedman, co-founder of College Hunks Hauling Junks, shares his perspectives on meditation and using a routine to provide freedom and balance in life.  LA creative, A J Favicchio, discusses how he has found help with finding time for creative, cognitive work using a program outlined by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way.  In the end, it is my hope that all of us can find more time to be thoughtful in our work and lives and perhaps, all come out of this, better.

Skip to content