Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Bimodal Dream and Rhythmic Reality

Written by: on September 21, 2019

This reader engaged Deep Work during a critical time of reflecting on my potential next assignments and found useful guidelines for reorienting back to a healthy rhythm. Georgetown University computer science professor, Cal Newport, has written extensively on how technology and our distracted, multi-tasking society is affecting break through thinking and overall happiness in our personal and professional lives. Newport’s description and examples in Deep Work of bimodal lifestyle is this student-practitioner’s ultimate dream. The concept of locking oneself away to write without interruption, then emerging to go for a meditation walk in the woods to reflect on what was written and prepare for the following day’s writing is conducive to my internal wiring. The concept of doing that seasonally throughout the year and then in the off season engaging the world to put into practice and test that which I’ve contemplated and created would be a dream life. “The bimodal philosophy believes that deep work can produce extreme productivity, but only if the subject dedicates enough time to such endeavors to reach maximum cognitive intensity – the state in which real breakthroughs occur.”[1] Season and station in life certainly dictates this to some degree and seems especially conducive to older adults when responsibilities begin to shift. What an important opportunity to seize by those who have lived enough life to bring wisdom to bear in deep work, have maintained a growing curiosity and learning posture as they have aged, and have more flexibility with their time. “Those who deploy the bimodal philosophy of deep work admire the productivity of the monastics but also respect the value they receive from the shallow behaviors in their working lives.”[2]

Though I hope to attain this bimodal dream in the not-too-distant future, I have more potential of a rhythmic reality in the present. The Rhythmic Philosophy “argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep.”[3] Newport describes the habits of a doctoral candidate with an already busy life as an example of how scheduling and consistency produce a significant outcome. Having a steady routine creates a habit conducive to most human wiring even though it may fail in getting to the deeper work accomplished by more extended times of contemplation.

It’s confession time…I have attempted this before! Each year I tell my assistant we are not going to overschedule me as I must have time for a rhythmic lifestyle. Each year my rhythm quickly moves from a peaceful andante (the musical term for a walking tempo) to a prestissimo (music played incredibly fast). After reading this week I am asking, “Who’s to blame for that?” I could try to cast aspersion on the organization but the reality is once again, I control me. I can say “yes” and “no” which sets the tempo. Unfortunately, Newport also reminds us of the failure of willpower, we have a limited amount and it gets depleted. In his book The One Thing, Keller says, “Think of willpower like the power bar on your cell phone. Every morning you start out with a full charge. As the day goes on, every time you draw on it you’re using it up.”[4] This author describes willpower as a personal resource to be stewarded. Now I must ask myself how well I  manage my willpower so that boundaries stay solid.

I will be reflecting these next few days, not on reordering 2020, but how to begin today. I will set the course while my willpower is recharged and ask a few trusted friends to hold me able to keeping an andante rhythm, knowing there are always temporary seasons of presstisimo. This actually makes the music more interesting, these just cannot become the norm. The Flight of the Bumblebee is not the score for deep work! My week proves that, thus the date of this post.

Thank you, Cal. You were a very present help in my time of needing Deep Work.

[1] Cal Newport, Deep Work (NewYork: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), 150.

[2] Ibid. 152.

[3] Ibid. 154.

[4] Gary Keller with Jay Papassn, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results (Austin, TX: Bard Press, 2012), 65.

About the Author

Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

4 responses to “Bimodal Dream and Rhythmic Reality”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Love this post, Tammy. I can relate to all of it. I just recently order Micheal Hyatt’s book on Focus and he says that we need to plan to perfect week and then try and make that happen as often as possible. He acknowledges that if this happens 35 to 40 times a year you have done great lol. I think as you have pointed out we must plan but also know that life happens, but that we must be willing to come back to the center rather than to continue to drift off.

  2. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Love the “Flight of the Bumblebee” reference Tammy. Definitely NOT the soundtrack of Deep Work 🙂

    Best of luck applying Newport’s findings to your life . . . both today and in 2020.

  3. Karen Rouggly says:

    This is so poignant Tammy! I loved hearing your perspective. I appreciate your thoughts too on how generationally we might be able to apply this. I did think about how in this book, much of what Newport describes just isn’t my season of life. I can’t escape (except to London for school!) for large chunks of time because I have young kids. As I was working through the book, I realized I needed a rhythmic schedule too. I have to be considerate of multiple rhythms in our house too – kids, husband, my mom, etc. Many good things, but many things nonetheless. Thanks for what you wrote here!

  4. Jenn Burnett says:

    Thanks for your insight Tammy. I agree that there are significant seasonal differences in what is possible—particularly with regards to parenting. I wonder if this affects the genders differently. I think of how my kids can where down my will power just by nagging me for things. I could use up my whole allotment of willpower before I even get to a part of the day where I am meant to be working! When I think about your comment around your assistant’s role in helping control your schedule, I wonder how much of a role the respect of the people around us plays in our capacity to be deep workers? Whether that is family or colleagues or bosses, could it be that we could fully prevent others from doing deep work? Is the ability to do deep work actually dependent on a level of privilege? I appreciate your reflections!

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