December 21st, 2012
(written by lawrence, however indented passages are often quotes)
Creating real value requires deep work, which is a fundamentally different activity than knocking off organizational tasks.
Deep work cannot be reduced to clear next actions. It is, instead, a philosophy that must be cultivated. If you read Robert Greene’s Mastery, for example, you’ll encounter story after story of remarkable people who didn’t carefully organize tasks, but instead marshaled their energy toward the obsessive (and often messy) pursuit of something new.
As a graduate student, I didn’t need better lists of next actions. I needed instead to be training my ability to focus hard on meaningful things for long periods of time — even after it becomes uncomfortable.
It’s here that Allen apologists might try to force these two worlds together. They might suggest, for example, that you could simply have a next action labeled: “spend many hours obsessively doing deep work on problem X.” But such efforts soon reveal their inadequacy.
Deep work is fundamentally different than the shallow (though still important) work of keeping on top of the little things required to function personally and professionally.
At least, this is the compromise I’ve adopted. I embrace GTD for organizing shallow work. It is, as many will attest, devastatingly effective for this purpose. But I think of deep work as something different altogether. A philosophy of life that requires its own strategies.