I’ve been putting off a client project.
Not so much putting it off, as giving it too little time each day.
An hour here, an hour there.
And no real progress is made.
Yes, I’ve refined the lead. Yes, I’ve developed the narrative. Yes, I’ve been making progress.
But it’s been incremental — there haven’t been nearly as many breakthroughs in getting this dang project out the door as there should have been.
According to my time-tracker, I’ve spent the last 5-hours, 22-minutes nearly completely absorbed in the project…
I took maybe a 15-minute break to make lunch.
I’ve taken a couple bathroom breaks (and, the preceding walks across my home office to refill my coffee).
But for the most part, for five-hours-and-change straight, I’ve had this document open on my primary monitor, and a Chrome window open on my second monitor to do research.
And I’ve been focused.
In fact, so much progress has been made that I had to reluctantly stop working on it when I was already 15 minutes late to start this essay, because I was on a roll and didn’t want to lose it.
If you want to succeed in any creative endeavor, this is the kind of focus you need to give it.
I regularly learn this lesson again, the hard way.
I get busy.
I do a lot of things.
And I end up scattered, and not making as much progress on anything as I would if I simply time-blocked everything in these bigger chunks.
For creative work, you must block out BIG chunks of time to make it happen.
Maybe you’re familiar with the book Deep Work by Cal Newport?
If not, here’s the link.
In short, the book argues that there is some work that requires deep focus to be successful. Most creative work — including copywriting — falls under this category.
And then, there’s work that can be performed at a high-level in short chunks of attention. Work that’s more logistically-oriented often falls into this category.
One is not necessarily better than the other. But each requires a separate strategy.
If you’re doing Deep Work, you can’t give it a superficial or fleeting level of attention. You must give it time, attention, focus, and concentration.
If you’re doing Shallow Work, you can often do it in shorter chunks, and multi-tasking is usually more of an option.
Deep Work is usually required to create new value in the world. But Shallow Work is what’s usually required to maintain course.
The big problem is when your work type and plan are mismatched…
I mentioned my Deep Work time today.
I’ve accomplished many times as much in five continuously-focused hours as I have over the last five one-hour segments.
That’s true any time you give extended time to deep work.
Perhaps this is why Gary Bencivenga once said he tried to write for three continuous hours every day.
Because that’s a plan that work for the kind of high-level creative work — Deep Work — required to be successful as a copywriter.
Are there days where that’s impossible?
Are there times — like now — where you have to go off and finish another task, before turning your attention back to the Deep Work?
And yet — the more you focus, the better your result…
Think about this, even in the context of how you check email, or respond to social media.
Do you respond to an email every time one comes in?
What about Facebook? Do you have a tab open all day, and check it whenever it dings at you?
If you want to do great creative work…
And I’ll interject here, this can be strategic planning, writing copy, having conversations to move your relationships (professional and personal) forward, or even just thinking…
… You must give yourself UNINTERRUPTED Deep Work time.
Research has found it takes 20 minutes per interruption to get back to the level of focus you were at prior to the interruption.
You answer the phone? 20 minutes.
You check your email? 20 minutes.
You reply to a comment on your Facebook post? 20 minutes.
How many people have so little control of their life and interruptions that what I just described is their average hour? Pretty much everyone.
It’s an endless cycle in which moments of focus are scarce and precarious, fleeting.
This may be your most powerful, profitable skill…
Dan Kennedy calls them “time vampires.” (His No B.S. Time Management is great, by the way. I don’t implement his most extreme methods — such as not using email at all. But the principles are sound and consistent with all high-achievers.)
Every you allow an interruption to your Deep Work, you’re not only giving up that time, you’re giving up the 20 minutes after.
Regularly allowing interruptions will quickly steal an entire day from you.
Do whatever you need to in order to protect this time.
I like to put on headphones, even when I’m working alone and they’re unnecessary.
I leave my email open, but have turned off all notifications, so I only see it when I choose to check it.
I do keep my phone next to me, but it’s rare that I answer it.
And, I’ve trained myself to not engage with interruptions unless absolutely necessary.
And at my best, I do a good job of separating focus days and buffer days. Those dozen smaller tasks that are more Shallow Work than Deep are consolidated, and tackled in chunks on “buffer days” set aside for them. The Deep Work is given long, focused hours on focus days. (Hat tip to Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach for this concept — he also recommends work-less free days.)
This is a choice.
It’s also a lesson you will likely have to learn over and over again — at least if your experience is anything like mine.
But it’s worth it. No matter what it takes, it’s worth it.
Now back to that project…
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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