Deep Work – Rule #2

When I was a child, I spent many hours up trees and gazing at the clouds.  On Sunday mornings, I would sit quietly listening to sermons I didn’t really understand.  Then there were the times when my parents would be visiting with other grown-ups, and my brother and I were expected to wait quietly until they were done.

All of those times tended to have moments, even hours,  of boredom.  There was no one and nothing to entertain me except my own thoughts.   I spent a lot of time, thinking up stories, making plans, solving problems, and dreaming of the future.

Cal Newport’s Rule #2 is Embrace Boredom.  These days, escape from boredom is only a click away.  We can check Facebook or read an article on the internet, binge watch a TV show or check out what our kids are doing on Snapchat.  We never allow ourselves to get bored, but instead distract ourselves constantly.  When was the last time you stood in a long line and just stared into space while you waited?  Yeah, it’s been a long time for me, too.

In Deep Work, Cal Newport makes the point that the ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.  He suggests that you schedule breaks from focus rather than scheduling breaks from distraction.  In other words, make your internet breaks sparse enough that you practice resistance to the distraction those breaks bring.

The key here isn’t to avoid or even reduce the total amount of time you spend engaging in distracting behavior, but is instead to give yourself plenty of opportunities throughout your evening to resist switching to these distractions at the slightest hint of boredom.

A second point he makes is to practice productive meditation.  While engaging in something physical (such as a walk or run or bike ride), you focus on a single, well-defined professional problem.  Every time your attention wanders from the problem, refocus your mind on it.  If you do this  two or three times a week, after several weeks, you will find yourself able to focus on the problem much more effectively than in the past.

In my experience, productive meditation builds on both of the key ideas introduced at the beginning of this rule. By forcing you to resist distraction and return your attention repeatedly to a well-defined problem, it helps strengthen your distraction-resisting muscles, and by forcing you to push your focus deeper and deeper on a single problem, it sharpens your concentration. 

When walking outside, I tend to plug myself in to music or an audio book instead of seeing that time as an escape from distractions and an opportunity to think about things in a more focused way.  The next time I go for a walk, I think I will leave my phone behind and embrace boredom.  Do you want to give productive meditation a try, too?  If so, I’d love to hear how it goes.

 

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Deep Work – Part II

In the first part of Deep Work, Cal Newport defines what deep work is and makes a case for why the world needs it. I read this part but since I already had a fairly good idea about the definition and didn’t need convincing, I didn’t linger over Part I.

The second part of the book was where the meat was and I have spent a lot more time there. He has four rules of deep work. Rule #1 is… wait for it… Work Deeply.

Newport says:

“The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.” P. 100

He then goes into some ideas on creating those types of routines and rituals. Some of his ideas were new to me and were helpful to think through. For instance, I get up early because I am a morning person and do my best work in the mornings. However, I have been squandering a lot of that good time in frivolous things. So I’m rethinking my morning routines, reading articles such as How to Set Yourself Up for a Productive Day, Bookend Your Days: The Power of Morning and Evening Routines (morning routines are for women, too!),  Establish a Consistent Morning Routine: Maximize Your Mornings, and 6 Elements of a Powerful Morning Routine

Another point Cal Newport makes in this section is that being “lazy” at times actually helps your deep work and creativity. By leaving work behind for a few hours a day, you give your brain a chance to work on things in the background and come up with new ideas for problems you are seeking to solve.

I think also that time spent reading and thinking about non-work things gives you a chance to refuel your mind so that you have a constant flow of new thoughts and ideas to chew on.

Do you have any morning routines that help you work more effectively and/or use your time more wisely? I’d love to hear about them.

Books I’m reading the week of August 14…

As always, I have several books going at once. From my post earlier this week, you know I am reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. My other nonfiction books are How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler, which I am reading with a group of home educating friends, Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield for Sunday School class, and Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon as my daily devotional this year (I try to read through Spurgeon at least every other year. His words of love and devotion to Christ never get old and are always comforting and challenging).
In fiction, I am slowly working through Deborah Crombie’s mystery series featuring Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. I finished Necessary as Blood, the 13th book in the series last week and the other day I picked up the latest Isabel Dalhousie book, A Distant View of Everything, by Alexander McCall Smith. I thoroughly enjoy these books as I feel that Isabel and I would get along well. I have the same tendency to think about everything and anything although I’m not as good as getting myself embroiled in other people’s problems the way she does. I’m thankful for that.
What are you reading this week?  I’d love to hear about the books you are loving right now.

Finding My Focus Again

Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that I’m not reading as much, not thinking as much, and definitely not writing as much. I could blame it on all of my responsibilities at home, work, and, until last June, home school, but the reality is that I’ve lost my focus and find it all too easy to distract myself with frivolous things.

I know that I’m not alone. Everywhere I look, I see articles and TED Talks and books discussing this problem. While they have talked about the problem, the most common solutions (take an internet break, throw your phone away, go off to the woods to a cabin with no wifi) are out of my price range or impractical or not concrete enough to help.
However, a couple of months ago I picked up a book which is helpful–Deep Work by Cal Newport. I’m about two thirds through it and am taking copious notes (alas, it’s a library book so I can’t mark it up).
I know I’m not the only person out there to struggle with focus and the ability to read, write, and think as deeply as I used to so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts as I work my way through the book. Stay tuned for future thoughts as I blog my way through the book. And, run, don’t walk, to your nearest library and check out this book. It’s one of the most helpful productivity books I’ve read.

The Farmer’s Market


Having a rare Saturday off work today, I decided to go over to our local Farmer’s Market.  I wanted some vegetables for dinner and some local honey for allergy prevention.

What a great place!  There were rows of vegetables and fruits, flowers and plants, nut butters, honey, and so much more.  I had a strict budget which I kept, with much difficulty, until I came upon a plant stall.  At this point, I lost my heart to a gorgeous coneflower.  The farmer and I had a great chat about my growing adventures this year (which I must share with you all one of these days), and he gave me some good advice for encouraging the white coneflower plant I already have, which has struggled this summer.

Then I saw some cockscomb.  I had fallen in love with this flower while at Monticello last week and was thrilled to buy some for my dining room table.  After I bought it, the farmer showed me where the seeds were located (100’s of them) and told me to save them and plant them in my garden next summer.  How fun is that?

It was a lovely, cool morning, and I came home laden with vegetables, fruit, and flowers.  What a great way to spend a Saturday morning!

Experiments with sourdough

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I plan to teach a class on baking bread from a starter at my library this Fall.  While I have often done this in the past, I always “cheated” and used yeast in my original starter to get it going. I’ve used the traditional liquidy kind of starter and the old dough method, but this time I decided to try to create my own starter with flour, water, and time.

I did a bit of research (my favorite thing to do) and found this recipe on the King Arthur Flour site. I also read a blog post with more details here.  I bought some whole grain rye flour and a gallon of distilled water and set to work.

The first batch was a complete failure.  After four days, I forgot to feed it and came down to find it moldy and stinky.  So, I threw it away.

My second try, on the other hand, was a success.  I didn’t forget to feed it and after five days, I had lovely big air bubbles in it. By day six, it was overflowing my crock after only four hours so today I made my first batch of bread (view the photo above).

I admit that this was a “cheat” in that I used this recipe which included a small amount of additional yeast.  However, as you can see, the loaves came out beautifully. They have a nice even crumb with a great brown crust.

Next week, when I have more time, I plan to try out this recipe which requires no extra yeast.

Has anyone else experimented with starters and successfully baked bread with no extra yeast added?  I’d love to hear from you.

 

Planning for Senior Year

As you may be able to see from the pile of books above, we will be covering many subjects, including 20th century history and literature.  The chemistry book has not yet arrived, and the precalculus book is already being used for the dual enrollment class.

My planning is made so much easier by the wonderful book selections and schedules at Ambleside Online.  For the past 10+ years I have been hanging out over on that website, reading, learning, and borrowing their lists, schedules, and ideas.  This past summer I had the great privilege of meeting two of the creators of Ambleside Online, Lynn Bruce and Karen Glass, and their conversations were even more helpful and fabulous as I could have imagined after looking through all that the AO Advisory has done over the years.

Another main resource for me has been the ClassEd email group of which I’ve been a part since 2000.  These ladies (and gentlemen from time to time) have shared curricula suggestions, teaching tips, lesson plans, and prayed for my family for many years.  I know that we could never have done all that we did without their wisdom and support.  It really struck home how much they have supported us over the years when the husband of one of the long-time members of ClassEd mentioned how their family had prayed for our family for many years.  What a sweet fellowship we have begun on earth to be continued into eternity.

Along with Honors Chemistry and Precalculus/Calculus at our local community college, we will studying Latin, Bible, Art and Music appreciation, Shakespeare, and 20th century history and literature.  This is my third time through 20th century history in our homeschool, and while there are some bleak books written the past century, there are also some great books, which I look forward to discussing with my youngest son.  Some of the titles we will be reading: A History of the Twentieth Century, Testament of Youth , The Men Behind Hitler, The Hiding Place, Call to Conscience, The Hungarian Revolt, Economics in One Lesson, The Great Gatsby, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Chosen, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Sophie’s World, and Heart of Darkness.

We will also be continuing our reading through some of the Great Books together.  We have finished The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost.  Last year we started Les Miserables and will finish it this fall after which we will read Crime and Punishment.  This will be my first time reading Dostoevsky and I’m a bit intimidated but still looking forward to it.

Also, after attending an excellent workshop on T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets this past summer, I’m adding T.S. Eliot to our poetry studies.  I’ve been given several titles to read in preparation of teaching Eliot’s poetry so that I at least have a glimmer as to what he is saying in his poems.  We will also read the poetry of the World War I poets and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

As I mentioned in my last post, I want to finish strong with my youngest son.  If we read and study these books, I believe that we will run our last lap of our homeschool journey well.

I’d love to hear about anyone else’s plans for this next year.  Please do share in the comments.