DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Another Helpful Tool

Written by: on October 12, 2018

(**My apologies for this being a day late. I have been out all week again with a spine issue. Scoliosis in my neck caused a muscle tear. Good times.)

 

Last year, Cal Newport’s Deep Workwas listed on a proposed reading list for class that then was postponed until this week. I noticed the title that resonated deeply with me because it came at a time when I found myself being constantly interrupted from assignments – like exegetical research or sermon writing and formation, to policy work or letter writing or completing an assignment for class – by tweets and emails and basically random thoughts that would pop into my head that would cause me to jump to the internet in search of an answer to a question or that I just remembered I needed to order beard balm from Amazon, and how difficult it would then be to get back to the place of deep concentration where my writing, thinking, studying, or brainstorming, could return to its flow state. This was a long way of saying how eager I was to read a book I felt I desperately needed in my work and in today’s hyper-tech society.

For this post, I am choosing to write from my memory of what I took away from the book last spring, while it continues to remain in an unpacked box in my garage (we are still a long ways from being settled in our new home). It is an easy concept to explain. We all know what is shallow work because we experience it every day – responding to emails, text messages, sitting in boring meetings, cleaning our bedrooms, pulling weeds, driving to work. And most of us know –at least, every doctoral student—what deep work requires. The focused concentration of writing a term paper or drafting a legal statement, or performing spinal surgery, are all examples of deep work. The problem is that deep work in our day of digital communication is constantly being pressed upon and interrupted. It’s easy to escape deep work and trade it for the little adrenaline rush of responding to an email, but it takes so much longer to get back to that level of depth of concentration once interrupted, that our times of deep work need guarding.

Newport suggests some very practical things that I continually remind myself to implement, such as scheduling chunks of 2-4 hours of “deep work” each day, where I shut off everything else—phone, email, all unnecessary applications, and try to work for those hours and I find it is amazing how much can be accomplished. This is because the brain finds its flow state and our potential is more likely able to be reached in these moments.

At the same time, much of our – or at least, my – work requires fielding contacts, emails, mindless reports, various tasks that do not require high levels of concentration. This is shallow work. Shallow work is not bad work or less meaningful, it just utilizes a different part of the brain and has a different set of requirements.

I am reminded that Newport’s work is not necessarily new, though it is packaged in a way that makes great sense for our context. But most of the greatest writers and preachers of history will tell you that having a carved-out time for writing, in the same place at the same time, with no interruptions, is the best way to find success in writing and accomplishing deep-level work in the shortest amount of time. This is because these writers (Fred Craddock is one who comes to mind) understand intuitively that our bodies have memories that are established through consistent routines. So, to sit in one particular desk at the same optimum time for the same two hours each day for the same purpose of, say, writing a novel, communicates to the brain that this is not time to think about politics, or the state of the economy, or the problems with your bi-polar son—no, this is time to write the novel. In other words, Cal Newport contextualized with thorough research and personal experience, a theory that some of the greatest writers, thinkers, preachers, and inventors have known intuitively for centuries.

One of the things I learned from our time in Hong Kong that connects to Newport’s concept is that even our capacity for deep work has limits. Many of us on the trip (myself being the first) found ourselves reaching max capacity to listen and receive deeply the messages and sharing of people like Alex and the Saddleback Hong Kong pastor. Each of these experiences required deep work (at least in terms of mental and emotional engagement), and there were times when we needed to find some light or “shallow” space to breathe. So I am reminded again of my need to block time for deep work, shallow work, self care, and everything else that deserves time in this demanding and hurried world.

About the Author

Chris Pritchett

7 responses to “Another Helpful Tool”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Chris,

    You did well at remembering a book you read last Spring! I am so sorry you got the muscle tear…

    I think maybe the people in Hong Kong would benefit from this book. Did you think they were more into their smart phones than even us Westerners? Watching folks on the Subway was intriguing for me. Talk about being distracted. They could use some down time from their phone screens…

    Thanks for writing about deep work requiring 2-4 hours of uninterrupted time. I agree! And think this may be the greatest part of this book.

    Heal up Brother!

    Jay

  2. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    great post Chris. Yeah I had read this book a while back too. I feel some of this stayed with me more than most of the books Ive read so far this year. Ironically I am responding to these posts in little tiny chunks in the in between times of my pizza movie night with my family. I like your validation of shallow work. Its still important! However us in the knowledge industry will probably need to be extra intentional about scheduling the deep work.

  3. Great post, Chris!

    Firstly, I’m sorry to hear about your neck. It’s never fun trying to balance a heavy work week with health issues. It reminds me of when I hit my foot with the power washer my first semester, lol I’ll be praying for a quick recovery.

    Newport’s book, Deep Work, was a perfect crescendo after a very bustling week in Hong Kong. It was the solace that we all craved in order to reflect and take note of God’s purpose and presence. Globalization and entrepreneurial concepts have crossed over into the ministry realm. It’s gifted us with the ability to express compassion for every race, every nation and every nationality, but it’s also stolen our ability to be present and place ourselves first.

    You mention, “The problem is that deep work in our day of digital communication is constantly being pressed upon and interrupted.” Technology always presses us towards the future. Each day, we’re pressed by political upheaval in a world far away from the doors of our office. So, we go to work and solve problems. However, global compassion has replaced individual health. Too many leaders are operating from a place of exhaustion because we’re being compelled by expectation. Your ministry, life, location and calling has shifted in a matter of months. How have you carved out space for deep work and shallow work in the midst of transition?

  4. Chris,

    I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to do deep work when my life is unsettled from a move. You’ve just moved down the coast and are starting a new nonprofit (with your family!!) – that’s a lot of stress. It’s probably showing up in your neck issues. So it’s hard to focus.

    You have my support and encouragement in these transitions. Please let me know how I can help in any way. It was great to be together in HK. I’m taking some great memories away from our times together.

  5. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Chris,
    I am sorry to hear about your back and torn muscles I cannot imagine how much that affects you. Great insight on your post, I am impressed with your ability to recall from early this year. I bet you are having to use much of this book in your life right now with all the changes going on. What a great tool to have at your use going forward.

    Hope you feel better.

    Jason

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Chris, I have found that it is not the ability to carve out that time, but sometimes, just the discipline to do so. Life is full of so many distractions as it is, it is not always easy to make ourselves remove all of the distractions that hinder us. My wife and I had a discussion regarding my dissertation work over the next year; in that conversation I declared that I will have to “disappear in my office,” and I needed her to respect that. Unfortunately, for my plan to work, I am going to have to respect that as well; no other projects, no tv breaks, and no excuses. I’m not sure there was a lot to learn from this book; however, I am sure there was a lot to help us focus from this book…especially as doctoral students.

    Good job

  7. Dave Watermulder says:

    Hey Chris,
    Great synopsis of the book, even from memory! I think you are right one, and appreciated your personal reflections on it (even about buying beard balm on Amazon!).
    As you move into your new season and situation, do you think the Deep Work ideas will be something that you implement for yourself? Would this book a book you would recommend or use with staff or others? As you set out the rhythms of your new life, it sounds like you are trying to be intentional about the way you’ll schedule your work, family and self-care time. Very good!

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