Depending on where you live, you are about 7-10 months into the COVID-19 Pandemic. Your focus and motivation may be lagging or gone. You are probably tired and feeling overwhelmed. You miss the summer you had planned. You are dreaming of the day when social distancing will no longer be necessary and you can gather with close friends and strangers and see their smiling faces.
But what to do until that time?
How do you not just go on with life, but go forward? And how can you go forward with your motivation and focus in disarray?
Remember why you became a solopreneur
“At some point, you entertained the idea that you were born to do something significant,” says Jeff Goins in The Art of Work. He calls this “something significant” a vocation – your calling. The entertainment of this idea may be what brought you to solopreneurship.
Many solopreneurs started their businesses because they believed deeply in bringing about a better world. They had ideas they wanted to share or teach, they had a product they wanted to make. They wanted to have an impact locally or globally. They had an urge, desire, mission, or calling to get their work out into the wider world. They had hope in their talents and dreams.
Understand your best work comes from deep within you
Pursuing your calling is much more about pulling more out of you, than putting more into you. Pulling out the best you have to offer becomes possible when you stretch your cognitive abilities: developing your ideas and honing your skills. Then you can manifest your calling by showing up and taking a stand.
The place to access your “best” is in deep work
When your focus and motivation are frazzled, completing a project larger than finishing a bag of potato chips can be frustrating and prone to self-flagellation. Your mind is darting here and there, anxiety may be just under the surface of your consciousness, doing busy work is easier than doing consequential work. What you need is a place to shut out the noise and realign and rejuvenate your focus and motivation. Enter: deep work.
What is deep work?
The idea of deep work comes from Cal Newport’s book Deep Work. Newport defines it as “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
Deep work is for deeply engaging with your thoughts and exploring their nuances and consequences. It is the Time and Place where you call-in and engage your muse, listen to your inner-wisdom and then forge ahead with developing ideas, frame-works, and solid plans which will give you the structure and motivation to take the required action towards your goals. It is the time you give yourself for taking that planned action.
Deep work, according to Cal Newport, is only possible when you create a “container” that is conducive to deep work. The container parameters are:
- a continuous chunk of time, 3-4 hours, no distractions – turn off your digital distractions and arrange for your humans to respect your time and space, and
- being prepared to work: having at hand all the tools you need to do the deep work – no having to find x, y, or z in order to execute your deep work.
This container can be anywhere you can reliably create it. If you can’t control the noise, distractions, and interruptions then the place you have chosen is not a container for deep work.
If you try creating ideas of substance without this container you will probably find the work slow-going and very frustrating. You cannot create the focus and concentration that will push your cognitive abilities to their limits, in chaos and distraction.
Your motivation and focus in the container of deep work
When your mind is distracted, when you continually interrupt your thinking and work or allow others to, you are undermining your focus and motivation.
Deep work is the distraction-free place where you focus on what is most important for you to accomplish. Engaging and building your motivation happens as you build a map to get to your biggest goals, create the structure to reach those goals and then act on your plans.
The more you practice deep work, the more your motivation and focus grow.
Self-care for your vocation
Deep work is the self-care practice for your vocation. The container you create for this work gives you a metaphorical room that is free from all distractions, cares, woes, and concerns. You come to the room at your freshest, most productive time and focus only on what is most important to the expression of you through your vocation. This room is for creativity, fun, and exploration; for generating focus and motivation that has you giddy with the amount of work you accomplish; for stretching your mind and abilities; for reaching for and grasping your dreams.
When you come to your deep work with whole-heartedness, you are saying ‘yes’ to yourself and your work.
Take time to review the big picture and the details
Getting lost in the forest of your work is easy to do when you are caught up in the urgencies and emergencies of the day. Deep work can be the place where you visit your big picture, re-evaluate your strategies and tactics, look for opportunities to engage even more with your tribe and most importantly set your priorities.
Seeing your whole system (business or major goal) from a high level, how it fits in with your life, and getting clear on your priorities, are some of the other benefits of deep work that will give a boost to your focus and motivation.
A high level perspective of your work gives you information on how to best leverage your work for impact in the world and best leverage your sub-goals and tasks for impact on achieving your goals in your work.
As you practice taking on the high-level perspective and then the detailed perspective, looking for leverage in the detailed tasks that will simplify or amplify your high-level goals you will become adept at “zooming your perspective in and out”, first getting clarity on the outcome of the high-level goals and then looking for opportunities and leverage in the detailed goals/tasks that make up the high-level goals.
The experience of zooming your perspective in and out, adjusting your goals and tasks to better create the outcome you desire is exhilarating and therefore a powerful motivator – you see the small pieces creating the whole and know you are on the right path.
Deep work before external work
Do your deep work before you take care of all the daily interruptions: email, social media, phone calls, supporting others. This may sound cruel, especially about “supporting others.” However, saving your energy and best working time for yourself is what ultimately gives you the progress you desire and the satisfaction you need while nurturing your focus and motivation so you can produce even better. Doing your work first will also make you more effective helping others because your energy, focus, and motivation will be aligned with helping them rather than torn between your work and their work.
Deep Work – Your Garden Outside the Pandemic
In times of upheaval and great change, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, deep work is the source of ideas and solutions for the problems humans and the natural world are facing. Coincidentally, it is also the kind of work that lifts you and your spirits above the chaos, uncertainty, and miasma of negative and uncomfortable feelings.
Enacting a strategy and program of deep work can reactivate clarity, energy, and enthusiasm for your calling and the focus and creativity to put forth your best work – the reason you went into business in the first place. The results are a powerfully rewarding response to confusion, depression, and uncertainty.
Your deep-work garden will need tending: pulling weeds of distraction, repairing your interruption-fencing, bringing with you the proper tools (mindset, devotion, consistency, whole-heartedness), planting new flower-ideas and giving them time and resources to grow, and encouraging all the participants in your garden ecosystem (you will be pleasantly surprised who will perform idea fertilization). The reward is the growth of you and your creativity, curiosity, and whole-heartedness. The results are what you harvest from this garden and the joy comes from sharing them with the world.
The power of deep work
You may find the experience of deep work so powerful (and fun) in your work, business, or vocation that you become curious where else you could use it. Creating a deep-work container for any project that would benefit from focus, motivation, and creativity will invite inspiration, joy, and contentment to journey with you while you work.
Engage in deep work and watch your focus and motivation return with vigor
Experiment with the idea of deep work. At first you may find it difficult to carve out the time and place for it. Keep working at it. It is a practice that pays off in the long-haul.
Respecting your mind and talents by giving them space to grow and develop can be one of the most exciting journeys you take as a solopreneur.