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.