Some might call me lazy.
And if you judge me by the number of hours sitting in a chair, you’d be right.
Because right after I finish this blog post, I’m heading out the beach to dip my toes in the sand and watch the sun set over the Pacific ocean.
But if you judge my laziness by the volume of work I get accomplished, you might be singing a different tune. In the few hours I worked today, I accomplished more than most accomplish in a week (including offering on a new real estate deal to add to my portfolio).
Seven weeks ago, my wife and I decided to move to Hawaii for the winter months because—well, honestly, who wouldn’t want to trade the rainy Washington state for the gorgeous beaches in Hawaii?
Sure, my desire to hone my surfing skills and work on my tan probably turned a few heads in my own real estate investing company and those at BiggerPockets, where I run the marketing team and produce a significant level of content. But the interesting thing is this: My work has not suffered while being remote. In fact, while here in Hawaii, the quality and the quantity of my work has actually increased, and I’ve done it by working fewer hours.
So, how do I accomplish a high level of “output,” including podcasting, writing a book, hosting a weekly webinar, heading up marketing at BiggerPockets, writing blog posts like this one, attending meetings, selling real estate, buying real estate, and managing the entire process?
Two simple words: deep work.
The term “deep work” comes from the groundbreaking productivity book by Cal Newport of the same name. The book describes the practice of proactively working without distractions on the few items of work we all do that prove to be the most valuable—the “deep work” we really need to do, as opposed to the “shallow work” we often fall into, like checking email, engaging on social media, and sitting in pointless meetings.
If you truly want to work less and accomplish more, it can be done IF you are willing to work hard and work deep. Here are three strategies I’ve used to do just that.
3 Simple Steps to Work Less While Getting More Accomplished
1. Define your deep work.
Before you can begin working deep on the projects that matter, you need to decide: What really matters?
This might seem like a funny question at first glance. But all work is NOT created equal. In fact, the vast majority of what a person does each day has very little to do with the outcomes they are trying to achieve. Most of what we do is shallow work; this work accomplishes little but makes us feel productive, rather than be productive. This principle is perhaps best explained using the famous “80/20 Rule” that suggests 80% of our results come from just 20% of the things we do. So, what are the few things that really will make the biggest difference on your goals?
Here’s a quick example: I’m looking to buy an investment property. I could spend my time designing business cards, going to open houses, taking other investors out to lunch, or posting cute “quote cards” to my Instagram. Or I could do the few important tasks that will actually get me a new property: getting leads, analyzing those leads, and making offers.
In fact, two days ago I found a potential real estate deal, so I quickly checked it out (in person), analyzed the numbers, and made an offer. Total time to do this? About three hours. If they accept my offer, I’ll probably spend another dozen hours over the coming month closing on the property. In fact, I typically spend more time on Instagram talking about real estate than I do actually buying a real estate deal. Because remember: All work is not created equal.
Now, take a look at the goals you have set, whether personal or business. What work is “deep” and what’s “shallow”? I think you already know the answer to that, and if not, sit there until you figure it out. And once you know, it’s time for step two.
2. Schedule the time.
When are you going to accomplish your “deep work?” If you don’t know, it probably won’t get done.
I find the early mornings allow me to complete my deepest work, as it is a time when my family is not awake. I love my family, but as anyone with young children knows, they don’t allow you to “go deep” very often. I firmly believe one hour of quiet work in the morning is worth five hours of work during the day, when the buzzing cell phone, crying baby, and loving wife tend to make long, uninterrupted time impossible. Since implementing deep work into my life, I am able to consistently achieve writing 1,000-2,000 words during my two-hour deep work sessions.
The motivation and achievement I feel when I am able to focus on my deep work in the morning sets the tone for my entire day. Once I’ve accomplished my most important tasks, I am able to then focus on my “shallow work,” such as responding to emails and participating in business meetings. By doing my most challenging work when my brain works the best in the morning allows the rest of my day to flow easier.
Of course, mornings are not the only time to get your deep work done. Others might be able to work with less distraction during the evenings or maybe during lunch breaks. The key is to find when you are able to best focus and really dig into your work.
3. Retrain your brain.
In Deep Work, Newport explains that working deep doesn’t happen naturally—but we need to train our brains to go deep. Like training for an athletic event (like surfing!), you likely won’t be very accomplished until a lot of proactive. But each day you practice doing deep work, the easier that deep work will become.
So, how do we retrain our brain? Let’s start with the world’s most distracting thing: your phone. A recent survey showed that the average smartphone user touches their phone 2,617 times per day! Furthermore, 66% of users underestimated the amount of times they touch their phone. With smartphones so prevalent in modern society, it has become a quick-fix for boredom. Any time we find ourselves bored—whether it’s waiting in line, stopped at a stop light, or walking into work—our brains have become accustomed to needing some sort of distraction or stimulation. Like Pavlov’s dog, our brains are wired to salivate whenever boredom arises. But boredom is good, according to Newport. It allows us the ability to more easily endure long periods of deep work at the appropriate times.
To train our brain to be bored, we need to remove the items that fill our void; for me, that is leaving my phone outside of my office when I am writing. It is training my brain while at the grocery store waiting in line to enjoy the sights around me. It is waiting for my daughter to finish putting her toys away without looking at my phone. Not only does this help build my “deep work muscle,” it also shows my little girl that she is the most important thing to me, not my phone.
For me, deep work is not only helpful, it’s vital. I don’t want to work 50, 60, 70 hours per week. I want to surf. I want to sit in the sand. I want to enjoy a two-hour lunch with my wife. I want freedom.
And something tells me you want the same.
So make it your goal this week to define your deep work, schedule that time, and and then re-train your brain to enjoy the deep work.
Do you focus on achieving deep work? How do you incorporate this time into your schedule?