Admit it…all of us are lazy to some extent…all of us except a guy named Cal Newport, in my view. Newport teaches full time at Georgetown University (3-4 classes a semester), writes a minimum of six academic papers a year, is writing his soon-to-be completed fifth book, blogs regularly, and is an active father of a young pre-school child.  Newport finishes doing all of this by 5:30 PM, does not work nights and rarely works weekends.

Cal Newport

How does he accomplish all of this?  Here are some of his secrets.

  1. Newport thinks to-do lists are, best case, first steps and worst case, evil.  “Get rid of them!” he says.  Instead, assign all those to-do’s time on a schedule.  “Schedules give you the whole picture and will enable you to be productive during every free hour you have in the workday.”  Experts agree…we need a plan or else we waste time. Also, Newport believes that assigning work to time blocks reduces the urge to procrastinate because “…we’re no longer deciding whether or not to do something, we’ve already made the decision to do it.”
  2. Newport assumes he’s going home at 5:30 therefore, he fixes his ideal schedule based upon priorities and works backwards from 5:30 to make everything fit.  He says he’s “…ruthless about culling obligations, turning people down, being hard to reach…” in order to make his ideal schedule “fit” his working and personal life.
  3. Newport accommodates long term projects by making schedules for the entire week as well as the entire month.  “I know each week what I’m doing with each day of the week and I know each month what I’m doing with each week of each month.”  Research plays him out…data shows that you spend time more wisely when you follow a written plan.
  4. Too much to do with too little time? Newport says that everything is “…not essential…the key is to determine what is creating real value in your life and to then eliminate as much of the rest of it that you can.” Newport encourage doing those few things as well as possible. “You’re judged on what you do best so, if you want to have as much success as possible, you’re always better off doing fewer things but doing those things better…”  John Robinson, leading researcher on time use, contradicts all of us by saying (and documenting) that we have more free time than ever.  “…it just feels like we’ve no time because it’s (time is) all fragmented with little annoying tasks that drain the life out of you.”  Both Newport and Robinson agree…say “no” more and “yes” less.
  5. What should we be doing?  Newport says to focus on “deep work, not shallow work.” Shallow work “…stops you from being fired…deep work gets you promoted…”  Deep work, according to Newport, is analogous to craftsmanship…work that is of value, work that will make you and others proud.  “What you’re crafting is information, not wood; you’re crafting ideas; knowledge out of raw material.  The more you think of life, of work as craftsmanship, the more successful you’ll be and the more satisfied.”