Work Deeply and Then Be Done

Jann FreedLeading, Living Leave a Comment

This post is written for those of you who are Type A, driven, goal oriented, and who have trouble slowing down and appreciating downtime.  If you know how to work deeply, now you need to learn how to “be done” with work.


As the saying goes, “work hard and play hard.”  A few of my recent posts have been focused on what I learned from Cal Newport in his book Deep Change:  Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.  And there is no doubt we are living in a distracted world especially people facing the recent natural disasters (too many to believe true) and the responders (true heroes) coming to their rescue.  Newport puts it this way:  “When you work, work hard.  When you’re done, be done.”

Newport gives several tips on how to “be done” with work so that you can relax and actually be more creative when you are working.

  • Shutdown ritual.  This is a series of steps you always complete that ends with a phrase you say to indicate completion.  Newport says, “Shutdown complete.”  While he says it may sound cheesy, it is a reminder to your mind that it is safe to move on and “be done” for the day.
  • Downtime aids insights.  Giving your conscious brain time to rest enables your unconscious mind to come up with creative and surprising insights.
  • Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply.  Newport refers to attention restoration theory (ART) which says spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.  Taking a walk in the woods (compared to walking busy streets where you have to pay attention for safety reasons) can replenish the energy needed to boost concentration.
  • The work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important.  If you have an “end” to your work day, then there is time for low-energy (shallow) tasks of less importance.

Newport gives us permission to “be lazy.”  It is common for Type A people (high energy, task oriented, goal focused, driven) to have trouble relaxing and I can relate to this.  I tend to think I need to be productive–always getting something accomplished.  But relaxation is important for creativity and for recharging our batteries.

For me, a few examples come to mind such as biking and walking a labyrinth.  When I bike, whatever I might be thinking about or worried about tend to metaphorically roll off my shoulders.  Therefore, I have been trying to integrate biking more into my life.  In fact, my husband and I recently went on a weekend bike trip to Minnesota (Root River Trail) and it felt good to just take off and disconnect.  No computers.  We enjoyed the change of scenery with no agenda.

A few weeks ago, I went to a retreat center for a conference planning meeting.  The Center had a big labyrinth cut into a neighboring field.  I find walking a labyrinth relaxing and more meditative than just walking.  Unless you are walking on an isolated trail, you have to pay attention to where you are going or for other obstacles.  Walking a labyrinth is undistracted walking where focus is not needed.  Just follow the path and keep walking.  Similar to biking, I find that I am not thinking about anything in particular and not worried.  Recently, I discovered a small labyrinth in a nearby cemetery.  So I plan to integrate this routine into my life.

Do you have a “shutdown ritual?”  If so, what is it?  (I need to work on this one.)

If not, what could it be? 

What are your ways of incorporating downtime into your life and work? 

When will you have more time than you have right now?”

When you work, work hard.  When you’re done, be done.”–Cal Newport