On Deep Work Tents and the Struggle for Focus in an Age of Social Distance by Cal Newport

On Deep Work Tents and the Struggle for Focus in an Age of Social Distance

Jessica Murnane is a wellness advocate, writer, and podcaster who interviewed me on her show not long ago. Earlier this year she signed a deal with Penguin Random House to write a new book. This was great news, except for one wrinkle: the coronavirus.

“Writing a book during a pandemic was one of the most challenging things I have ever done,” she told me. Like many working parents during the past few months, she was trying to balance homeschool with the need to accomplish serious, mind-stretching deep work; all without any easy means of finding some peace and quiet.

So Jessica went to an extreme: she setup a beach tent in her backyard, so she could work outside without the sun glaring on her laptop screen (see above). She’s not alone in this innovation: I can think of at least two other people I personally know well who deployed similar tent setups in their yard for similar purposes.

I mention this story to emphasize a point that sometimes gets lost in our technical discussions, both here and on my podcast, about neuro-productivity, workflows, and the deep life: it’s been really, really hard to get things done recently. To the point where we’re setting up tents in our yards.

I strongly believe, however, that it’s still important to push back on these challenges and do our best to structure our obligations, and build our time blocks, and prioritize our deep work to the extent possible. From both a mental health and professional longevity perspective, straining to optimize a hard situation is still better than just giving in to chaos. This commitment might also set you up well to sprint ahead when things eventually, inevitably return to normal, as has happened after every pandemic in the history of humankind.

But we should also all give ourselves a break. This sucks. It will get better. We should keep striving to do our best until then.

In the meantime, if you need me, I’m trying to find an extension cord long enough to plug in the margarita maker I just hauled out to the tent I setup behind my backyard.

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