So, a new month and a new challenge. Are you surprised? After my month of early mornings in May, I thought I’d give myself a break from challenges in June. But you know what happened? I was bored. And I didn’t get a whole lot of new work done. Not very much new painting or writing. That bothers me.
Just so we’re clear, I don’t really do challenges for the sake of a challenge. I do them with specific goals in mind that the challenge will help me address. But in framing it as a challenge, I am much more motivated to push hard to finish. To persevere. Especially when it radically goes against an already deeply engrained bad/neutral habit that I have become aware of. Maybe I’m addicted to self-improvement? That’s something we can address later. I haven’t yet regretted focusing intensely on achieving a well-thought out and purposeful goal or direction.
So we are continuing that trend into the month of July.
Just as a preface to my challenge announcement, I will say this challenge is a bit more convoluted than my other challenges have been. It’s more complicated then simply painting flowers for 100 days straight or waking up at 5am every morning for a month. And because of that, it will be more difficult for me to explain, but I will try.
Here is my goal for the month of July:
My goal is to focus on the wildly important instead of what’s easy on a daily basis.
I know, vague and convoluted.
BUT the challenge is specifically designed based on Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, which I read twice in June. Like all the way through, taking way too many notes. You know how you read a book every once in awhile that totally shakes you to the core? Well this is the most recent one for me. Like deep shaking. You can read a summary of it here, but basically it is about the concept of ‘deep work’ and practical steps to incorporate it into your work habits in order to increase the value of the work you do on a daily basis. Like the ultimate time-management strategy for being truly productive–not just feeling productive doing busy work all day.
Deep work as defined by Cal Newport is the following:
Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
Interested in how to set yourself apart in a competitive world, no matter what market you’re in? Deep work is how.
My challenge in July is to spend a minimum of four deep work hours every day towards what I have identified as my ‘wildly important’ goals. This means that all the other ‘shallow work’ of emails, social media, meetings, etc. will not be getting priority status in my daily anymore. That being said, I will be answering emails but only within my scheduled hours of shallow work time and not at the expense of my deep work hours. We only get a certain amount of hours in a day and I’m tired of wasting mine feeling directionless and distracted, just doing what feels easy in the moment.
So to get down to details, my ‘wildly important’ goals include painting and writing/reading. Those are the tasks that are most important to pushing my work forward and providing the most value to people. My business will be going in a slightly different direction than it has been and I’m hoping after a month of intense focus on developing this new direction, I will be able to talk about it here. Stay tuned for that. I specifically only chose two main directions for my focused time because of what Newport says in Deep Work about choosing goals/direction for your work:
The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish.
He also quotes writer David Brooks from a column he wrote called “The Art of Focus”:
…if you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say “no” to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say “yes” to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.
So I’m saying yes to the terrifying longing and let that crowd out the stuff I don’t really care about. Like scrolling Instagram 20x a day and checking my email incessantly.
The complete list of ‘rules’ I am setting down for myself for achieving this month’s challenge include the following:
- No posting to social media for the month of July. Replace with daily blog updates for anyone who is interested in following this challenge. I’ll still be checking messages and stuff but not posting. Good way to see who actually cares about what you’re doing.
- Complete a minimum of two hours of painting + two hours of reading/writing every work day. Take notes of what I do in that time. Record my deep work hours on a scoreboard.
- Other tasks to focus on include planning + filming videos that revolve around my painting and reading/writing time. Would like to have a certain realistic goal for videos ready to publish on Youtube by the end of the month. What should that be?
- All other “shallow” but necessary tasks to be grouped and accomplished together in bundles each day but not as prioritized.
- Make scheduled plan for every day to be as intentional as possible in choosing what will be most valuable. Remember: The goal is not necessarily to stick to a given schedule at all costs but to maintain a thoughtful say in what I’m doing with my time. (Newport)
So yeah. My simple month-long challenge.
I am not unaware of how difficult this is going to be. I’m actually terrified to do this and share this with y’all. What if I fail? Guess what? …I will. At least at some level, at some capacity. I’m not going to live up to my ridiculous standard of perfection in meeting these goals but if I don’t have a ridiculous standard to reach for at all, I won’t ever grow. I’ll just stay comfortable. And the thing is, I’d rather fail working really hard than fail not doing anything.
Cal Newport references a short 100-year-old book entitled How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, in which Arnold Bennett discusses what the most important disposition is when trying to improve the hours our life is lived in:
The most important preliminary to the task of arranging one’s life so that one may live fully and comfortably within one’s daily budget of twenty-four hours is the calm realization of the extreme difficulty of the task, of the sacrifices and the endless effort, which it demands.
He also says:
If you are not prepared for discouragements and disillusions; if you will not be content with a small result for a big effort, then do not begin. Lie down again and resume the uneasy doze which you call your existence.
I wish I had a mic so I could drop it.
And that’s it! A month of intense, focused, scheduled hours of deep work that will probably completely wear me out. But it’s going to be great.
If you’re interested in how the month is going, check back here for updates and I will do a month-long review of the whole thing when I’m done, like always. Hopefully by the end of it, I’ll have established some habits that I can continue using moving forward. These challenges are not supposed to just end once the timeframe I’ve established is up. They are supposed to help propel new, better habits that last for a long time.
Let me know if you read this and have done anything similar in the past? How did it go? Share your wisdom with me!
Thank you so much for reading.