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

Dissertations Require Deep Work

Written by: on September 21, 2019

Previously I read the assigned Newport’s Digital Minimalism with surprise and fascination. I was surprised by Newport’s emphasis on reduction of tech distractions for both himself and his audience. Newport’s focus helped me to reduce the distraction of checking my phone for messages or updates (even in the presence of others). One would think I would have integrated the practice of coaching listening and presence skills better into my daily life.

The assignment of Newport’s Deep Work has also come at a very opportune time. In his current work, Newport has hit the nail on the source of my research writing woes. My son, Mark, who is also pursuing his professional doctoral degree, is much further along in his dissertation process. Recently, he has remarked how he is challenged to find the headspace and motivation to complete the collaboration with his committee chair. I have always admired Mark’s ability to be a prolific writer in both volume and content. If he is struggling, how can I overcome my persistent writing block? Like his previous book, Newport’s Deep Work has offered fresh ideas for me to consider and apply in my context.

Newport defines deep work as the ability to concentrate without distractions for extended periods to maximize one’s cognitive limits. Only at the upper end of one’s cognitive limits can one produce superior depth and quality output.[1] He goes on to give examples in his own and other professional accomplishments due to disciplined times of concentrated effort for prescribed amounts of time. Newport’s operating hypothesis is that deep work skills are becoming increasingly rare juxtaposed alongside the current increased market value of deep work skills.[2] He conjectures that anyone who develops deep work skills is well-positioned within the current rapidly changing complexity of tech and communication output. Conversely, anyone unable to form deep work skills will be unprepared to function much less excel in the current environment.

For me, I immediately connected his emphasis on deep work with the challenges of learning new, even alien research and writing skills as integral to the dissertation process. Perhaps this is especially true for professional doctoral program students who are already juggling family, career, and ministry responsibilities. While Newport spends his first three chapters unpacking why deep work is a legitimate working skill (i.e., valuable, rare, and meaningful), he did not need to convince me; I already know I need to establish rhythms of undistracted times of concentration and output. I spent the first year of our program always behind in our research courses, and I am determined to learn and practice the newfound skills I need to produce dissertation quality output. In my projected view forward, this must be learned, developed, and practiced this second year to stage myself for the final push to completion in our third year.

Therefore, I skipped immediately to Newport’s chapters on suggested rules. Rules #1 Deep Work and #3 Quit Social Media were most impactful for me. Newport preps these rules by providing the critical motivational construct behind the recommended strategies. He insists one must add routines and rituals to your working mix to minimize tapping into one’s limited willpower to transition from good intentions to good output.[3] My own experience affirms this motivational truth. Wanting and desiring to improve undistracted periods of concentration and quality output is insufficient. There appears to be a pragmatic sense of not merely adding on but instead taking away to add a routine or ritual for superior depth and production.

The taking-away premise leads me to rule #3 Quit Social Media. While I have never been much of a Facebook poster, I do follow many pastors I coach, folks within our local church, and members of our LGP9 cohort. Newport contends that social media fragments one’s time and reduces one’s ability to concentrate.[4] Therefore, I have elected to delete Facebook bookmarks from my laptops. Newport also contends not to use the Internet to entertain oneself. So, I will also need to delete ESPN and Reddit bookmarks as well.

The adding-on premise leads me to take a closer look at Newport’s suggestions for deep work scheduling and ritualized methodologies. Newport’s rhythmic philosophy works much better for me rather than his journalistic or bimodal proposal. That is, I tried to reserve a day a week to doctoral work. Inevitably other appointment became scheduled for those designated days and distracted me from writing. Instead, I will get up earlier Monday through Friday (I am going to try 1-2 hours), write daily, and then begin the rest of my day. Newport lists the habitual nature of the rhythmic philosophy as necessary for maintaining progress on more open deadline output such as dissertations.[5] Of all the assigned readings we have encountered, many were potential candidates, and some have become sources for my dissertation. Newport’s Deep Work may be the seminal work that helps me accomplish my goal of producing a dissertation and completing a doctoral degree. Who knows, I may even learn and apply these deep work skills well enough to also write the book on developing and nurturing coaching networks that I see lacking in my field.

[1] Newport, Cal, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), 3.

[2] Newport, Deep Work, 14.

[3] Newport, Deep Work, 100.

[4] Newport, Deep Work, 182.

[5] Newport, Deep Work, 112-113.

About the Author

Harry Fritzenschaft

Harry is the Coordinator of Coaching for Multiply Vineyard (the church planting resource arm for Vineyard USA) and part-time pastor of business administration for the Vineyard Church of Houston. He is a certified coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and is pursuing a DMin in Leadership and Global Perspective with a focus on internal coaching networks. Harry has been married to Gloria for almost forty-two years and has two grown children; Michelle, who is married to Brandon and has two sons (Caleb and Judah), and Mark, who is engaged to Cannus. He loves making new friends (living and dead) from different perspectives, watching college football with Mark, and helping global ministry leaders (especially church planters and pastors) accomplish their goals in fulfilling their call. He especially loves learning about and nurturing internal coaching networks.

6 responses to “Dissertations Require Deep Work”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Great post! I also enjoyed this portion of the book. I highly recommend your approach as this is what I have been doing since starting my Master’s program and it helps relieve the stress.

    As you gaze forward to adding this book to your research is the rhythmic philosophy the only part that you see as a fit for you?

  2. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    “Who knows, I may even learn and apply these deep work skills well enough to also write the book on developing and nurturing coaching networks that I see lacking in my field.” – I believe you can achieve this Harry! Great post . . . it is fun to see which of these books we read are the most instantly applicable isn’t it?

  3. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Harry. I found Newport’s work extremely timely as well. It was encouraging to read the example of another doctoral candidate and the process he engaged for writing especially with a young family. We can do this!

  4. Karen Rouggly says:

    Thanks for this post, Harry! I would say this is what I found the most encouraging and exciting as well. I don’t necessarily imagine myself using the material in this book in my research, but actually using this material to get the research done! Great post!

  5. Jenn Burnett says:

    Thanks for your post Harry! I am of course cheering you on as you work 🙂 I think the idea of the internet as entertainment has been such an interesting development. When the internet was first developed, it seemed it was all about access to information. And then that information became increasingly nuanced. Now, we live in an era of news and information as story and entertainment. How do we separate staying informed from being entertained? While I sometimes wonder about purchasing a subscription to a print newspaper for just this reason, I am currently still attached to the internet for news. Given you likely have a little more experience than I with the difference between the various mediums of news production, how would you tease out the key differences between them and their impact on time management? And how the medium affects the quality of news ones receives? Thanks for your ongoing wisdom my friend!

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