Problem: You’re working on a book, but you never seem to actually work on it.
Solution: Work on it at the right time of day.
According to Ron Friedman, Ph.D., author of The Best Place to Work, the first three hours of your day are when you’re most productive.
“Typically, we have a window of about three hours where we’re really, really focused. We’re able to have some strong contributions in terms of planning, in terms of thinking,” Friedman said in a podcast from Harvard Business Review.
Writing your book takes a lot of brainpower.
Other activities don’t require as much brainpower, so do them later in the day.
For example, I’ve been working a lot lately to get the Published Author Podcast launched (it’s coming soon, and if you’re subscribed to this newsletter you’ll hear all about it when it launches). I’ve already recorded 30 episodes.
Recording a podcast episode is easy for me, I can do it at anytime of the day. That’s partly due to the external pressure of having an appointment and needing to be on point as I interview guests. This means it makes sense for me to schedule podcast interviews for the afternoon, so I can reserve my morning for deep work.
Deep work is a term popularized by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and a computer science professor at Georgetown University. Newports says deep work refers to:
“Professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
Is that what your day looks like? If not, perhaps you’re busy with what Newport refers to as “shallow work”:
“Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”
I can’t do a good job recording a podcast episode while distracted, but the nature of the activity keeps me focused, especially since I record podcasts via Zoom with video so if I get distracted the guest will easily notice.
The difficult deep work is writing. Nobody watches me while I write, so there’s no immediate, external pressure. I can get distracted for an hour, check email, read fluff articles, and nobody will know. To get this kind of work done I need all the willpower I can muster, which is why I do my writing in the morning when my mind is fresh and my willpower well is full.
Where the concept of deep work came into real conflict with my life was when it came to exercise. Exercise is very shallow work, so shallow I combine it with another activity–listening to audiobooks.
I’ve always exercised in the morning, but my workouts often took up the bulk of those highly-productive morning hours. My fear was that if I did my deep work first, and exercised later, I would get caught up in shallow work and never get around to exercising. However, I knew I needed those morning hours for deep work, and that exercise could be done in the afternoon when my intellectual brain cells weren’t firing so well, so to facilitate the change I set up my ideal weekday like this:
On any given day the exact activities that fill my deep work area will differ, but the point is that things like email, meetings, podcast recordings, or exercise are never scheduled during this time. It is off-limits to anything and everything but deep, focused work like writing books, blog posts, newsletters, etc.
Calls, meetings, coaching, podcast recording, emails, and other communication happen each day between 1-3 pm, and then my work day is over and I head out running.
Does it work?
The real question to ask is whether it will work for you. Everyone is different, and some incredibly productive people did their best work late at night. I’ve tried that, it doesn’t work for me.
If you find yourself struggling to get your deep work done, like your new book, steal this plan and see if it does the trick for you.
I’d love to hear what’s working for you. Please tell me about your daily schedule in the comments below.Liked it? Share it!