Investing in self

Anything of value that you wish to create will require a significant investment of time. Brilliant work is expensive.

I recently came across a new phrase while reading the book Essentialism by Greg Mckeown – “monk mode”. Mckeown was reflecting upon how the process of writing a book was taking a toll on him, especially in light of his existing commitments to business, family, and friends. He determined that he was going to go into monk mode for the following several months, declining all new invitations and opportunities, until his book was completed. He dedicated 5am to 1pm every day for nine months to the process of writing his book.

While appealing in concept, most people who hear this story would say “that’s great if you can manage it, but I don’t have that kind of discretion over my time.” I agree that most roles don’t allow this kind of latitude, but I’d challenge you to consider how the core principle might be applied nonetheless. You don’t need to dedicate eight hours a day to one project, but you can still carve out dedicated time for your most important work while closing the door to distractions and interruptions. Start with an hour or two a few times per week, and set it on your calendar.

Cal Newport calls this process “deep work”. He argues that the most effective way to produce high quality output on a project is to routinely dedicate chunks of time to its accomplishment. This is contrary to how most people I encounter in the marketplace actually work. Instead, they do their creative work in the “cracks” of their already busy meeting schedule, or in-between the more urgent e-mails beckoning them from their tyrannical inbox.

I’ve experienced the same effects through long periods of uninterrupted, focused time on a project. I’ve found that assigning time blocks to specific projects or tasks is often more effective than putting them on task lists, because it gives me permission to focus on one thing at a time. Brilliant work is expensive, because there is often a lot of “churn”. It may take two hours in order to get 30 minutes of solid, productive work done because there is always a task-switching penalty to be paid while trying to put yourself in the frame of mind necessary to think deeply about the problem.

You must be willing to invest large chunks of time in yourself and your work. Efficiency is great, when you can achieve it, but you cannot sacrifice long-term effectiveness on the altar of short-term efficiency.

1. Choose a particular project that’s important to you, and dedicate three blocks of time (at least an hour each) this week to working on it.

2. During that time, turn off all notifications, and if possible remove yourself from potential distractions.

3. If something comes up that could interfere with your plans, then politely decline and say that you already have a commitment during that time.

If your work is important to you, then it deserves dedicated time on your calendar. It’s an investment in yourself and in your body of work.

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