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

Math and Deep Work Do Mix!

Written by: on September 19, 2019

It’s rare that an academic year goes by without some upheaval and change. In fact, the years I didn’t expect change, it came dramatically and with full force. In my role as Director, I’ve learned to not just expect change, but I need to be actively and regularly planning for it. So when an employee of mine quit 3 weeks into the academic year, I wasn’t too surprised. The unique challenge that has presented itself with this vacant staff position is that it’s the stuff in my office I know the least about: money. Our office processes around $1.1 million a year, but if you asked me how we process all that money, I’d look at you with a blank stare and shrug my shoulders. When our Finance Coordinator quit two weeks ago, despite the fact that I had been planning for it, I was nervous and fearful that I would mess things up (I only earned one D my entire academic career….in college algebra). But instead of allowing myself to wallow in the shallows of self-pity, I decided to do the harder, deeper work, of jumping into her job with both feet.


Cal Newport, in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, reminds us that thinking deeply is a skill that not many have, but it’s crucial to any work we do, no matter the sector.[1] Newport spends the first section of this book highlighting the need for all people to make space for deep work in their lives. He highlights the amount of time spent on “shallow work” can drastically reduce our capacity to do anything with focus and intention.[2] Honestly, after the first chapter or two, I skipped the rest of the first part because I don’t need any more convincing that deep work needed to be a priority for me. I would venture to guess that most people in a Western culture, specifically American Western culture would agree. Between the work, the kids, the Church, and the grad school – what I need isn’t an argument for the need for deep work, what I need are the practical tools. The second portion of Newport’s book provided those tools, albeit a bit repetitively, but provided them nonetheless. I particularly appreciated Newport’s strategy for making time for deep work in the day. I was beginning to feel defeated when I knew I couldn’t retreat like Jung, or be totally inaccessible through email like Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman or computer scientist Donald Knuth.[3] But when Newport gave me the freedom to choose my philosophy of Deep Work scheduling – I leapt at the chance.[4]


this is my actual calendar this week!

For the season I’m in, the Rhythmic Philosophy of deep work scheduling is the most practical. Essentially, I have built into my schedule each week time for all things. For instance, I’m writing this at 9:57pm on a Thursday night after my kids have gone to bed. This is my pocket of time. I am away from the office on Monday mornings so I can participate in class and work on homework. Before this book, I was using that rhythm to be productive, to check things off my ever-growing lists, not necessarily do deep work (which yes, is productive, but in a different way). But after starting this book Monday, I knew I needed to put these tools to practice. On Tuesday morning, I blocked out two hours of my day (thank you cancelled meeting!) where I could focus on the task at hand: finances. I know if I am going to get good at this stuff while I’m in the hiring process for a new person, I need to know this work deeply. For that two hours, I reconciled accounts, I worked with our business office, I printed things off, I highlighted, I stayed the course. Interestingly enough, I didn’t check email, I didn’t look at my phone, and while I was interrupted once or twice, I got right back to the task at hand. And at the end of that two hours, I felt more productive, learned a ton more, and walked away with my head held just slightly higher in the face of math. I’m a fan of the deep work.



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

[2] Ibid., 7.

[3] Ibid., 60.

[4] Ibid., 101.

About the Author


Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

12 responses to “Math and Deep Work Do Mix!”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hey there Karen. With you, I liked the first part of the book. Jenn warned me the second half felt much like what we read last year in, Digital Minimalism. I remember a bunch of decades back being taken by Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and also the Franklin Quest Planner group that based its time management on a Model used by Benjamin Franklin who, from all accounts, was famously organised. It was said he used his model for decades and would often organise meetings years in advance and would turn up for the meeting precisely five minutes before the appointment. Who knows if it was true. However, the Franklin Quest group and Covey clealry stated that before organising your day, you need to organise you life – who and what do you aspire to be? Who is most important to you. What do you want to achieve in the world? I think Franklin was Deist, so for him, all things in life should contribute to love? These aspects must be agenda’d first, and only then, can other things be added. The are shades of this philosophy in Newport. And I like. It gives the feeling (fleeting perhaps) of being in control of my inner and external world – I get to choose, because I have already reflected. What do you think?

    • Karen Rouggly says:

      First of all, a bunch of decades? No way! Secondly, yes – I would agree that staying organized and knowing who you are at your core gives way to feelings of productivity. I do think though that you have to find space and margin and can’t plan for everything. It goes back to Simon Sinek’s “Understanding your Why”. If you know WHY you do things, you’re more apt to add or subtract things to either contribute or don’t to your why. It’s hard, however, to find margin for me. I think that’s the biggest takeaway. I need to find more margin where I can do deep work.

  2. Oh my… your calendar looks full. And that’s right up to leaving for London. I hope you get a little bit of respite while we’re there.

    Sometimes I wonder if we’re busier and more stressed out here in the West compared to previous generations and other cultures? I suspect we are. I know I feel more stressed than when I first started working my first job years ago.

    What helps me is being structured throughout the day.
    1. Wake up at 6. I like the quiet of the early morning. I want to be awake when the sun comes up. I pray, eat breakfast and read the Wall Street Journal and the Bible.
    2. At 7 I start clearing my inbox and respond quickly to emails that easily deserves quick answers. The ones that require deep work are reserved for later in the day and get on a “to do” list.
    3. By 8 I’m in the office. The next four hours are devoted to deep work. That’s when I’m working on reports, replying to e-mail that got on the list (see above).
    4. Take an hour lunch break. The rest of the afternoon is devoted to shallow work. That’s when I expect to be interrupted and when I schedule most meetings.
    5. Like Newport, I don’t look at e-mail or answer my phone after 5pm.

    I try avoiding subscribing to any e-mail. I’m quick to label unsolicited e-mail as junk and make it a habit to hit that unsubscribe link whenever I have the opportunity.

    I told my wife the other day that I’m ready to go on a “dumb phone” as soon as my job allows me.

    • Karen Rouggly says:

      Hey Harry!

      I would totally agree with you that we are WAY more overprogramed then we used to be, especially in American culture. There’s always something grabbing for our attention, which is why I think we struggle to find space and time for deep work!

      I appreciate you sharing your schedule! Mine is relatively similar with the gym and kids thrown in. I did appreciate that Newport acknowledged life at home – I feel like that’s the one thing we can’t leave to chance!

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    So glad that you have found Newport’s Deep Work immediately helpful in your director role. What experiments do you plan going forward to help you block out undistracted time to think more deeply?

    • Karen Rouggly says:

      Harry – thats a brilliant question and one I’m not entirely sure I’ve been able to answer yet. I did love his example of the person who wrote an entire manuscript on a plane back and forth to China! Maybe I’ll just do that! 🙂

  4. Mario Hood says:

    I can hear the relief in your voice through this post :)!

    Do you see yourself using this in your research at all?

    • Karen Rouggly says:

      Hey Mario – good question! I do see myself using this and have once or twice without knowing it. I did it in Fall of last year where I blocked out an entire half day to think through the structure of my dissertation. I did it a few times to also finish up my academic essay last semester. I think it will be incredibly helpful for me in researching and writing. In terms of actually using this material – it may be a consult here or there, but not a ton. You?

  5. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Karen, the blogs you write about your office and employment are always so fun. With the turmoil of last year, the retirement of the president, the recent resignation of the finance person . . . . they are lucky to have you!

  6. mm Sean Dean says:

    Thank you for this Karen. Finding time to do the things that require deeper work is often difficult, especially with so much of our culture pulling us to do other thing or telling us it’s a bad personality trait to take time for us to do the work we need to do. It’s cool that you’ve found some success in Newports methodology. Keep up the good work.

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