29 Jul The Lost Art of Deep Work and How to Teach It to Your Child
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Bill Gates
If you live on planet Earth you know our current world and the lives of our kids are filled with distractions (phones, internet, sound bytes, texting, apps, etc.) and you are fully aware of how our culture is driving us to have short attention spans.
This has gotten me to think about the process of deep work and how important it is. How writing a novel is deep work that can take years. How learning to be a good cook takes a long time (I am still learning). How building a business isn’t really about having that one-in-a-gazillion idea that gets funded and then makes you rich in 6 months.
It’s more about years of trial and error and the learning process. You can’t get as deep in the first week of knowing something as you can after practicing it for 20 years. Overnight successes have usually been developing for quite a while.
Life is life and it really moves in a different cadence than technology wants us to believe. It’s slower and more methodical. Think back to the last time you had a cold — it took time to heal. Just like making a full breakfast for your family: shopping, prep and chopping, stirring, baking, cooking, setting the table, cleaning up — it all takes time.
I have a strong belief that deep work is important which is why I am committed both to doing it and modeling it for my kids.
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, states the following:
“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy.”
If you have been following my blog you know that I am a mom to 3 kids, a chiropractor with a busy practice, a consistent weekly blogger — AND I’m in the process of distilling my life’s work around the conversations parents should have with their kids to create a mindset for self awareness and well-being.
Yesterday, one of my practice members commented on how productive I was. I laughed and immediately thought of the undone laundry from our trip to the mountains that I stepped over and ignored this morning. I also thought of how many times I sit down to accomplish x, y or z and then disappear into the black hole of Facebook or my email box.
It’s true I get stuff done. Mostly, it’s because I make conscious choices to create the space to do my deep work. I have a process and I make it visible to my kids. They see me doing it and I speak about it. They know all about how I roll…
You may be a cake maker, or enjoy needlepoint or acting or working with numbers. Your deep work engages you and I invite you to share your process with your kids, to empower them to be able to do their own deep work.
Here are some tips on how to model doing deep work for your kids:
Consciously choose to settle into a project.
It’s not uncommon for me to announce, “I’m gonna work on my blog,” and sit down on the couch and open up my laptop in front of my kids. They know it’s something I’m committed to because first off, I tell them. Secondly, I strive to do my work visibly in front of them: in the living room, at the kitchen table. (However, me settling into the project can look like me announcing, “You guys are too loud and I’m going upstairs to get it done.”) Point is, I make it happen given the circumstances I am in (mostly).
When you strive to integrate different parts of your life, as a self-employed mom like myself has to do, consistency can be challenging. Instead of saying that something won’t get done if the elements aren’t perfect, the announcement creates the right container and environment. The more you practice consciously settling in, the more people around you will support and understand your commitment to what they’re not seeing.
Express the discomfort of your process.
I am a human being and I procrastinate and kvetch (my mom’s favorite word for complain). My kids know that this blog and ecourse project I am working on is not all hearts and puppies. They know I sometimes struggle to find a topic, feel tired and unhappy about writing, and often want to throw in the towel. Speaking the words normalizes for them the feelings of resistance. Then when they sit down to work on their science project or write that college essay they understand that resistance can pop up, it’s normal and a part of the process for everybody.
And resistance does not need to be a stopping point. When you’re comfortable with the speed bumps of your own creation, you see that you have to slow down but you can still keep moving forward. Model this by complaining “I can’t find the bloody staple gun” when putting up chicken wire around the new garden (then go and dig it out of the storage shed).
Make the work a priority, in the moment (as much as you can).
Planning is great but often difficult for parents. Lives are complicated and busy so while I do try to plan, my strategy is to prioritize in the moment.
When my eyes open at 7:30am I have a choice. Go back to sleep or get up and work. For me, the impulse is to sleep in, so getting up is an active decision (and one I have to reaffirm when I long to hit the snooze button). If you are a planner you can actually set an alarm!
At other times, because of bigger deeper work, laundry stays undone, and I have a cute colony of dust bunnies in the corner of our family room. And yes, I serve frozen delights sometimes (organic; don’t judge) to carve out time for my deep work. My kids see that I make choices to prioritize the work. And trust me it tweaks me every time I see that pile of beach towels.
Identify when it is 80% done and then move on.
Done is better than perfect every time. Some random Facebook person enlightened being shared with me the tip that completing a task when it feels 80% of perfect keeps your monkey mind at bay and your momentum going. Taking this to heart, as I do my work I assess if it meets my 80%-done-and-good barometer and move on. My kids are used to me announcing “80%!” and they know exactly what this means. It’s also really useful when planning a kid’s birthday party, crafting an email or decorating for a dinner party.
Even a driven parent needs to recognize when homework is good enough, the bedroom floor is clean enough, and the plate is empty enough. Saying out loud that the outcome is sufficient will help your kids know when it’s time to let go of a task that will never be perfect.
Use creature comforts to enhance productivity.
I love rituals and things to help me get into the zone: my tea, a pretty work area in a light-filled room, vials of aromatherapy to sniff to keep my brain awake, and time constraints (gotta get this week’s blog written and I only have this hour and a half to do it).
Shiny new pencils, a cool calculator and a nook for homework will help your child too. (Funny how kids have so many of the same needs as “real people,” isn’t it?)
I have a virtual assistant and an editor I call on to help me with my business. My kids make dinner sometimes. My sweetie will pick up paper at Staples on the way home from work. My daughter takes photos for my blog (if I ask sweetly enough). My BFF reads my course copy. My deep work fluctuates between times of quiet solitude and often boisterous and fun collaboration.
Involve your community in your deep work and your kids will see your example. When you build a birdhouse with your child you may need to consult with your neighbor on how to get the darn thing to balance on the pole!
So I’m feeling the 80% right about now. And over time (thanks Bill Gates) using these tips with your kids with teach them how to do deep work and that is deep love!
I’d love to hear what your deep work is and what you can use to teach your kids to focus and minimize distractions. Leave your comment below.