Deep Work: Finally Get to the Bottom of Your To-Do List

Look, I know how it goes. Your to-do list is 8-miles long before you dutifully check your email first thing on Monday morning. You’re already overwhelmed and stressed about client work. You remember (briefly) that you promised yourself you would improve some of the processes at your firm and double down on personal productivity, but you just haven’t found time to focus on it. And there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.

So, what do you do?

  • Open the contract you’re supposed to review by end of day.
  • Stop to check your email. What if another client reached out?
  • Return to the contract and read three sentences.
  • Type up half a comment.
  • Your assistant calls. Answer it and chat with him for a few minutes.
  • Check social media. Lawyers are supposed to have a good Twitter presence, right?
  • Go back to the contract and read the same three sentences to jog your memory.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.

Sound familiar?

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, calls this “shallow work.”

In shallow work, we flit from one small task to another, favoring the quick and easy over longer and harder tasks. And when we do find focus for things that really matter, those longer, harder tasks get chopped up into smaller bits, and we don’t give them ample time or concentration to produce something really valuable or creative.

Sure, you’re going to do some of this churning no matter what. But do we really want the bulk of our 2,000+ working hours each year to be so…shallow? Unoriginal? Busy? Stressful? Formulaic?


Deep Work by Cal Newport

Deep Work

Newport evangelizes the opposite kind of work: deep work. That is, “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to the limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

As I was reading Deep Work, I was like, “Yes. Yes! YES! This is how I can get things done!”

The past year at Birken Law was crazy. I feasted on tons of new ideas and had no time to implement any of them. The new stuff kept getting shoved aside for client work (hey, I gotta eat!). Months went by, and nothing moved forward. I could feel myself getting stuck.

So, I turned to Cal Newport to figure out how to jumpstart that work and get. shit. done.

Cal talks about making a “grand gesture” to get a jumpstart on deep work. By shaking up your normal environment and investing some time (and maybe some cash), your newfound dedication to deep work becomes much more important psychologically.

My friend Megan Zavieh was in the same boat. So we hatched a plan. 3 days, locked in a room in a different city, laser-focused on firm improvements, with zero distractions.

Guess what?

It worked. We eliminated distractions and excuses. And it really just…worked!

If I can do it, I promise you can, too. We both (finally!) made a ton of headway on our projects. You can see us talk about the experience here. Check it out, then take back your to-do list.

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