COVID19 Work

Day 122: School & Deep Work (again)

July 15, 2020

Well. There you have it – our superintendent has announced that in our county, the school year will begin online. The kids are slated to begin August 19 with “100% e-learning”.

I understand the rationale and respect his decision. But I’m still a little sad. It’s not that our days are terrible right now — while they are not perfect, the kids are doing at least a little bit of ‘schoolwork’ each day (using online apps, workbooks, etc). But Cameron in particular does not seem suited to online learning. (By this, I mean that it literally sounds like a person is being tortured when he is asked to read or complete written work. Let me tell you, It’s a lovely soundtrack to listen to when you are upstairs trying to Work Deeply).

I still have questions. Would sending G to her in-person Montessori school help the other two focus better at home? Would Cameron do better at that school than he would with e-learning? Is that school just going to end up online anyway (making this whole train of thought a waste of time/energy/effort)?

I personally do not have significant fears of a) our children contracting COVID-19 or b) our children bringing it home, mostly because I continue to feel having it in our household is inevitable anyway with the exposures at work. That said, I recognize it is not risk-free. AND I understand why for many teachers / school employees, in-person school is a significant risk (so again — I 100% respect the decision made given our local case burden).

Well. There goes my resolve not to think about school. On the bright side, our nanny has continued to be willing to run homeschool and in fact has felt like our daily pattern this summer has been doable. (NOTE to e-learning curriculum creators in warm climates: I hope there is some flexibility built in so that the kids can continue to spend time outside in the mornings!)

Deep Work Report

I am actually very happy with my Deep Work efforts yesterday! I knew I had an essentially open day, and a Big Project that needed to be completed that had been plaguing me for days called our Annual Program Evaluation. This is a ~20+ page document with many sections, some of which require digging for data and others which require thinking/writing/creatitivity. I put my phone on DND (though I am not convinced it was sending out my DND message? I couldn’t see them?) and you guys — IT WORKED!

That thing is done and it was so satisfying. And yes, there were multiple work texts I did not receive during that time period and none of it mattered.

I took a break mid-day to eat lunch with the kid & put G down for her nap, and another short walk break at 3 pm. It was a satisfying and rather lovely day.

I also listened to another episode of Cal Newport’s podcast. You guys — even though it personally irks me sometimes (AND I HAVE QUESTIONS – maybe I will submit them), I actually think it’s filled with valuable ideas. One thing that struck me yesterday was the idea of focusing on adding more activities with value to our lives rather than subtracting “bad habits.” Of course, he also spends a great deal of time discussing use of the phone as pacifier and ending the terrible habit of jumping in and out of social media all day, but for me I find it more helpful to focus on what I am doing that does contain value and depth.

Things I would still like to ask him:

First and foremost: what a day in the life looks like for him. While I 100% agree with Gwinne that having children does not preclude deep work (after all, she is a professor parenting 2 children alone, and STILL gets DW done!), the sheer volume of things that CN recommends doing sounds like a lot.

He exercises (well, so do I). He writes for professional outlets. He kicks ass at his professor job (it sounds like) — both the research & teaching. He is deeply involved in parenting (what does this look like for him?). He reads complex books and takes notes on them. He walks outside every day for an hour, alone with his thoughts.

I mean in truth, I guess I could write a similar paragraph about myself. But unlike Cal, I do not feel like I live in depth most of the time. I feel like I am answering to others’ needs more than my own for a lot of the time, and I find a good deal of parenting work to be . . . well, not so deep. Cleaning up kitchen messes over and over again. Breaking up fights. Figuring out meals (well, I do rather enjoy that part. Sometimes).

Is the ~30 minutes/day I spend on Instagram and my email checking habits really what is holding me back? OR do our lives feel different because unlike me, Cal mostly gets to control his own schedule due to his career choices and personal split in family responsibilities (which he has every right to do, if that is what works for his family). Not entirely sure.

(My husband’s life does not look like Cal’s either. For the record.)


  • Workout (today’s Cardio Flow contains 88 spiderman pushups. I am scared.)
  • Telemedicine patients with a resident (all remote!)
  • GME meeting
  • Walk with G (I am trying something — alternating taking each kid individually for a ~30 minute walk at the end of the day if I have time before our nanny leaves).
  • Probably finish Beach Read (which I read on my phone. Ugh I need some paper books back in my life).


  • Reply Irene July 15, 2020 at 7:14 am

    We are starting the year on line with the theory being kids will all be back for some period of time in person soonish which annoys me because we are reasonably well under control at the moment but I have to imagine things are going to get worse for Covid symptoms (if not actual cases) in the fall and they are just going to not open. I think my kids would do way better if they at least got to meet the teachers and some kids. I hope now that they have made the big decisions they can do some mitigation for how shitty this is going to be.

  • Reply Grateful Kae July 15, 2020 at 7:17 am

    So I have been playing with DND a lot lately too, and had the same question about the messages going out. Turns out, those only go out if you have it on the Do Not Disturb While Driving mode (so when you swipe down to turn on DND, you have to select the little car symbol, not just the half moon.) The half moon mode is DND, so you don’t see the messages, but people don’t receive that response. Mine is personalized so I erased the part about “driving” and put my own little message. When they go out, you will see them, fyi.

    I love stuff about productivity and all of that but for some reason have never tried Cal’s podcast. I’ll have to check it out. I agree it is always questionable when people seem to have so much time for deep work like that and seem to “have it all”. I don’t know his situation, so I can’t judge, but I would be interested to know about many day to day things too. For example, my husband is an involved parent overall, but he is gone for work (in non COVID times) from 08:00 until after 6:00 many days. Naturally, then, I am the one who has to run kids to after school activities and 4:45 pm soccer practice or whatever which eats into my potential “deep work” times while he is comfortably still sitting at work (alone). In the summer its even worse since I work from home, so ANYTHING kid related falls to me (again, while he is off at work in an office). Anyway, definitely would be interesting to be a fly on the wall.

  • Reply Anon July 15, 2020 at 7:17 am

    Some people have personalities who can take things in better stride. Meaning, we don’t know how you and Cal would react if your lives were swapped.

    I just commented on your last post. Some professional women’s reactions to Cal puzzle me. It’s as if you must be able to execute the 100% or you question him. Rather than just taking what you like and ditching the rest. You don’t do this with Laura’s advice.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 15, 2020 at 7:30 am

      I don’t think I’m saying that — or at least I don’t mean to. As I noted, I am actually finding a lot of what is in his podcasts valuable EVEN if it raises questions. I think one of the reasons I am particularly curious is that he does note being heavily involved in his family quite a bit, and his children are almost exactly the same ages as mine. So I cannot help but draw parallels.

      That is not to negate the value of his work, but I also don’t think these thoughts must be completed disregarded, either.

      • Reply Anon July 15, 2020 at 8:38 am

        I find criticism of LV and CN pretty analogous – sure you can do these things bc you have $, a supportive spouse, right job, whatever.

        In the past you’ve defended LV, while surely knowing others did not have the resources and life to follow her approach. Maybe it would to see it through that lens.

        • Reply Anon July 15, 2020 at 8:42 am

          By the way, I don’t mean to discourage you from submitting questions. I am skeptical about the value of the answers to you.

        • Reply Erin July 15, 2020 at 1:32 pm

          Full disclosure I have not listened to Cal’s podcast (or read his book) but have listened quite a bit to BOBW and read Laura’s blog, so my response regarding Cal is only in reference to what I’ve read from Sarah’s posts and others’ comments.

          But, I do wonder if there is less questioning towards Laura’s advice as she is quite transparent on the amount of paid childcare she has. I can fairly easily visualize Laura’s average (pre-pandemic) day, including when she is actively caregiving and when she has someone else providing care (e.g., nanny) whereas I get the impression that no one can really visualize Cal’s day and when he has others (spouse, nanny, etc.) providing care and when he is actively caregiving. Key word = transparency.

    • Reply CNM July 15, 2020 at 10:45 am

      I haven’t listened to his podcast but I read his book, Deep Work. It struck me while reading the book how it seemed like he could execute his DW because he seemingly had very few childcare tasks or child interruptions during the day. Or rather, the childcare aspect of his DW philosophy was largely absent. Maybe he does do hours of childcare a day, or is wholly in charge of bedtime, but that is unknown.
      For me, this is what distinguishes CN with LV: LV, while being in a privileged position to be sure, discusses the childcare part of the puzzle at length whereas with CN it’s not more than a mention here or there. CN has valuable ideas but as I am a working parent with 2 children, the childcare issue is by far the biggest factor in my workplace productivity, particularly now because of the COVID stuff.

      • Reply Erin July 15, 2020 at 1:43 pm

        I clearly didn’t read this reply before my post, but I agree. We don’t know.

  • Reply Chelsea July 15, 2020 at 7:40 am

    So… crazy suggestion… you *could* fill out the paperwork to officially home school A and C for the fall. This would give you/Josh/your nanny the freedom to do more or less what you are doing right now school-wise. Or you could keep A in if she’s done well with the school version of virtual and have C be out so he can do more paper/pencil/experiential learning.

    I (in Central Florida) have done a complete 180 about sending my kids to school and am going to pull them out and officially home school them this fall (or maybe all year – totally depending on Covid). I’m specifically choosing to home school rather than doing one of the virtual options because my oldest son (2nd grade) likes virtual learning about as much as Cameron.

    There is still so much uncertainty about how school would *actually* function that I can’t handle it. There was an 10-hour school board meeting yesterday to discuss re-opening after an 11-hour meeting last week, and still no decision about what would *actually* happen. Plus there is this insane plan where students can be “hybrid” in person and online and drop in and out of the classroom at will, which I think will result in the teacher having to teach the same thing over and over because there are different kids in class every day. At this point I think the disruption of potentially having them in and out of school all the time (we still have no official start date for the fall!) is worse for my career than just knowing they are going to be home. I think we will try to find a (hopefully!) trustworthy college student tutor to help, IDK.

    • Reply Emily July 15, 2020 at 8:39 am

      I am also considering doing this, because both my kids but particularly my daugther (C’s age) really did not take to online learning and I think a more creative and non-online curriculum more geared to her interests could work better. But the downside is that it just adds one more thing I have to research and plan and execute. Given that my husband and I both work full-time and have zero child care, I’m worried doing full-on homeschooling will be even more challenging and time consuming. But then again, maybe an attitude shift in the kids would make the extra effort worth it.

      • Reply Chelsea July 15, 2020 at 9:44 am

        Yeah… it’s really tough. I think I’ve decided that the mental load of figuring out some amount of stuff for them to do that they are less likely to fight about is less than the mental load of having a constant battle over online education. And we will probably try to find a college student who is online only (my DH is a professor so he can ask some students he knows personally) to work with them for at least some hours during the day.

  • Reply gwinne July 15, 2020 at 8:12 am

    Morning! Thanks for the shout out!! Maybe I’ve missed something in CN. But I’ve never read (or assumed) that he does deep work most of the time; it’s just a priority for him. But I have no idea what actually happens in his life (it would be great to see a time log, for sure!!). I do understand the way that sometimes self-help bloggers/writers trip a mental switch; there’s someone who absolutely does that for me, so I’ve stopped reading.

    And I also want to be clear, since you gave me a shout out, that it’s not all deep work all the time for me, either. These past few months have in many ways SUCKED. For months, I had literally one hour of childcare per day (as supplied by my often surly teenager); when that was it, I always made sure to do my own writing (i.e. “deep work”) during that time. That meant my son watched a lot of videos when I was on zoom calls and answering email and doing all the rest of my job. One of my projects is actually writing an essay on single parenting during this time, so it’s on my mind….

    I’m in a good place right now, because my childcare is up (like I said, that’s a MAX of 2-4 hrs/day) and my only work responsibilities are my own writing (like many faculty on 9 mo contracts, I don’t get paid over the summer!). That will change in 4 weeks when I’m back on contract, and I will likely be singing a different tune. But I will still find at least 30 minutes a day to do deep work, because without it, I’m no good to either my students or my kids.

    I’m feeling like I should stop typing the comment and actually write on my own blog.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 15, 2020 at 8:25 am

      First of all, I realized I did not properly link to your blog – fixed it! Second, yes “mental switch” sort of describes my reaction. But the more I reflect on that I think that’s more on me than it is on him. SO I will continue to listen and be aware of my thought patterns. Third, I think you’re doing AMAZINGLY well considering your circumstances. Would love to read the essay when it is done!!!

  • Reply CBS July 15, 2020 at 8:23 am

    I do really love the idea of flow or deep work, and occasionally find it but am finding it particularly difficult while working from home without childcare. By the time I start my work shift, it’s 1pm, I’ve made breakfast, gone for a cycle ride, played Brio for an hour, made lunch, and I’m exhausted. In addition, we’re in a small flat, so I here every noise, even with headphones, and it’s hard to get into the state of flow that I would in my nice quiet office.

    I don’t think it’s a Cal Newport hatred, I enjoyed both his books and am enjoying the podcast as well, but I guess I struggle with understanding how the logistics of his life works. Also, as someone who lives 7000 miles away from my family and has lived all over the place, social media (in my case, Instagram, ditched Facebook in 2016) and WhatsApp provides a valuable point of connection. Who is arranging playdates, meet-ups, etc, if he never uses his phone?

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns July 15, 2020 at 8:49 am

    Knowing and A & C will be elearning at home, I would send G to Montessori if the decision was mine to make. It’s not so you can completely disregard this comment! But I think it would free up time for your nanny and she would love the interaction with kids her age. Our son has been back in daycare since late April and it’s been so good for everyone. He learns so much there and has so much fun. Granted, things in MN are not like they are in FL. Our cases are pretty low and people, in general, mask up. So we will never be a hot spot like FL (I hope). But we did have 3 cases in May in the classroom for 2.5-3 year olds. The 2 teachers got it – 1 felt tired, the other had no symptoms. All the kids got tested and only 1 was positive and she was asymptomatic. So it really does seem like kids do not spread the virus like adults do. So it seems like sending her there would take some of the burden off your nanny so she can focus on the other 2.

    It’s a bummer that school will be online but it’s nice that you know this a month before school starts so you can plan. Maybe you can also consider hiring a tutor for C? He might respond better to that then working with a parent or your nanny?

    • Reply Nikki July 15, 2020 at 2:00 pm

      I would second this positive report about preschool – my daughters’ preschool reopened part time 2 weeks ago and it’s been wonderful for our whole family. Their classes are both smaller now (we live in a hot spot, so no childcare center can have a classroom of more than 10 for the foreseeable future -they are both in pods of 5 in addition to that), the school was already primarily outdoors with big, awesome yards for each class (lucky with our SoCal climate), and the school is following all health guidelines super strictly, which means my daughters have both picked up a ton of healthy habits! My 2.5 year old is always reminding me and my husband not to touch our faces now, which is actually super helpful because that’s a hard habit to break! And their hand washing skills are top notch (FYI – cosmic kids yoga has a hand washing video that we used to help prep them for their return to school). It’s only been 2 weeks so fortunately, no experience to share about coronavirus in the classroom, perhaps optimistically I am hoping we don’t deal with that for a while…

  • Reply Omdg July 15, 2020 at 8:49 am

    Sarah, you are a doctor. Your job is different from Cal’s by definition. His academic stuff requires deep thought and that is ALL that he does. For my job in anesthesia, maybe 5% of what I do requires it (the part where I’m making the anesthetic plan for a complicated patient, or if I am setting up for a complicated case). The rest is putting out fires (I.e being at someone’s beck and call all day) and talking talking talking. That’s what being a doctor is. Most of a doctor’s work, after all the training, becomes a reflex that you don’t even have to be awake to do.

    I have some friends who are theoretical physicists who say they find it impossible to work more that 4 hours in one day. This is deep work they are talking about, and yeah! It’s totally true! This is more like what cal Newport’s job is like. When I’m coming up with an analytical plan or writing for my academic work, it requires a level of focus that is almost totally unachievable (and unnecessary) at the hospital. This is not sustainable for 8 hours. Yesterday I did 4 (plus a bunch of brainless tasks on the side) and that was a LOT. Sometimes I only get 20-40 minutes.

    As for school, homeschool sounds like it will work great for you guys, even C. At this stage he only really needs to do 10-20 min of reading per day anyway, and PLENTY of kids who are perfectly smart don’t read until age 7 anyway. He is going to be fine. Embrace the howling, it is normal.

    Finally, you need to let go of the idea that you are going to get covid at work. I worked with a crna in close proximity to her for a full day who ended up coming down with it that evening, and I didn’t get sick. We were both wearing masks and practicing good hand hygiene. Universal masking works.

    Good luck! Hopefully you’ll end up getting deep work done today as well!!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 15, 2020 at 10:22 am

      All fair points 🙂 TO be clear I am not expecting swathes of deep work time on my clinical days. More like . . . ability to work on bigger projects when needed on my GME days. (I do feel it is best when the days are very clearly delineated).

      I actually have no need for deep work today b/c yesterday I got my behemoth intimidating project done! Woohoo!!

      • Reply Omdg July 15, 2020 at 11:23 am

        I literally get no deep work done on my clinical days except planning for my cases on the next day. Clinical work sucks my brain dry. This is why it is impossible to have a successful academic career as a physician seeing patients more than two days per week.

  • Reply Anon July 15, 2020 at 8:57 am

    Did you listen to the May 28th episode?

  • Reply Young July 15, 2020 at 9:11 am

    Do you usually drink another cup of coffee in the afternoon to stay productive after lunch? Just regular coffee or espresso?

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 15, 2020 at 9:36 am

      Usually tea 🙂

  • Reply Meg July 15, 2020 at 9:58 am

    Cal’s podcast sounds like something I would have enjoyed pre-pandemic but would find totally unachievable and frustrating now! I can’t go near it, lol.

    We are probably heading towards virtual only here in Southeast MI and I’m already experiencing anger/anxiety/grief over it. We basically gave up on participating in online school for my 1st grader last year, and we will have to really re-set our family’s mindsets/schedules to make it work in the fall. One of my kids is starting K and I don’t think he will take to virtual or homeschooling easily. I was at least hoping he would start the school year in person to have a relationship with the teacher so that he knew the work was coming from them and not his parents.

    We are going to look into a babysitter for the fall but I’m stressed about finding someone we can trust (can we ask them about their personal lives? I don’t want to have to do that). I’m so sick of having to make all of these decisions and assessing risk. It’s exhausting.

    • Reply KGC July 15, 2020 at 10:09 am

      Have you considered holding back your kiddo starting K this fall? Not sure when his birthday is, but this is something that a lot of our friends are considering, especially if kiddo has or is turning 5 this calendar year (so would already be on the ‘younger’ end of those starting K). Of course, this only provides an actual solution if you already have a good daycare or preschool situation that IS happening in person. My son is 4 and set to start K next fall (2021), but was supposed to do a year of preschool starting this year. We decided to pull him from that, given that we think it is unlikely that the preschool will be able to remain open consistently – we expect that someone along the way will test positive and they will have a state-mandated 2-week shutdown and switch to online preschool (and…what they heck does that even entail?!!?). Because our in-home daycare (8 kids total) is still up and running and we are prioritizing reliable childcare rather than academics (at least at this stage), and because we think that our daycare is less likely to have a state-mandated shutdown (just due to having only 8 kids and 1 teacher there instead of many more), we decided to just delay and keep him in daycare. What I don’t know is if we will still send him to K next fall as usual, or if we will view this as a true delay (redshirting) and do preschool next year and K in 2022 when he is 6. None of these are easy or good solutions for anyone and I totally agree with your sentiment that constantly having to assess risk and make decisions with unknowns is just exhausting.

      • Reply Meg July 15, 2020 at 10:40 am

        That is a great question that I’ll have to put some thought into! We had ended our daycare/preschool contract in June assuming he would go to camps (decision made in like January, of course!), and I’m not sure if he’s aged out of that school. Our 3 year old will be returning there in Sept anyway…. We have a public “pre-K” for kids who turn 5 between June and Dec, but he turned 5 in March. So I’m not sure where he would fit this year or next. I think if things were normal he would have been ready for K, I just don’t think it will work for him at home.

        • Reply KGC July 15, 2020 at 2:48 pm

          Part of our decision was also having my 4-year-old in the same place as my 1-year-old (who we were already planning to keep at the in-home daycare). I figure one germ-pool is better than two, even if we could guarantee that preschool would stay open! So, another layer of things to think about if you decide to delay K and debate between daycare and pre-K (if he would even qualify). And, full disclosure, our in-home daycare is literally our next-door neighbor (YES we are incredibly spoiled), so…I was not super sad about pulling from preschool and therefore eliminating the need for one of us to get in the car and drive him somewhere, rather than just walk next door!

          I actually have struggled a bit with what I’ll just call ‘survivor guilt’ because we – very much by chance/luck – have a fantastic childcare setup that has minimized the impact of the pandemic on our day-to-day lives. I have many MANY friends struggling to make decisions for their families come fall and I want to help, or lessen their burden, or SOMETHING but there’s nothing to be done that I can see.

  • Reply TAS July 15, 2020 at 10:04 am

    Sarah, thank you again for daily posting right now. Checking your blog is my morning ritual. Two things. First, I agree with your assessment and would be curious about his answers. I also know that in the university setting if you can get away with little to no email or administrative duties you pretty much would have huge blocks of time. It’s meetings and emails that kill my productivity. Second, and I honestly mean no disrespect here. Isn’t one of the concerns about sending your kids back to in-person learning is the risk that they could be the ones that transmit the virus to their teachers etc.? You’ve talked about the fact that for you and your husband it’s not if, it’s when. I will be teaching adults in the fall (because they are demanding some in-class time) and I’m terrified of what I could bring home to my asthmatic husband and 80 year old mom who is moving in with us. It’s a super complex issue, and I often wonder what it’s going to do to this young generation (Something I don’t see being discussed much) so this is not a criticism
    In any way.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 15, 2020 at 10:18 am

      That is a fair point, except that from what i have read young children (C is 6, G is 2) are not very efficient transmitters of the virus.

  • Reply Canuck July 15, 2020 at 10:11 am

    100% agree with OMDG! I’m an NP in primary care and my husband is a professor and the type of work and time use is completely different. Even at the busiest points in his life I.e. writing his dissertation he usually would not be doing more than 3-4 hours a day of “deep work” and honestly doesn’t really ever like sit at a desk and work for 8 hours. In the 10 hours I will be at work during the day he will have worked on an article, prepared a class, replied to all his emails, attended a meeting and also have walked the dog 3x, done a workout, made dinner, and slept in for another’s hour after I left!! etc. When he has a non motivated day he might just make article figures for a few hours, or read an academic book and go on a long bike ride. Not at all saying this is how every professor works but I think it is just totally different. Like my work responsibility is to be physically and mentally present for every hour and respond to everything that gets thrown my way.
    Early on I sometimes felt annoyed about this and one day he was like well, we made different choices, which I often remember when I feel that annoyance start to creep in – I would tear my hair out if I had to sit alone at my computer without talking to anyone the majority of the time.

    • Reply gwinne July 15, 2020 at 12:07 pm

      Speaking as an academic….. academic jobs are not uniform. They vary widely according to institution, appointment type, teaching load, discipline, etc. And not all days or times of year look the same (what my days look like over the summer are radically different when I am teaching multiple courses, serving as an administrator, working on departmental and university committees, AND trying to get a manuscript written)

      And while I agree that it’s a mistake to compare Sarah’s job as physician to Cal’s as academic, I do think the deep work idea still applies. The amount of time might differ (or not…in the absence of a time log, it’s all speculation) and the tasks accomplished might differ but theoretically anyone could find the mental concentration that Cal talks about.

      I think Sarah, you might have hit on it when you said that blogging/podcasts/etc might for you serve as “deep work” (it’s just not your JOB).

      Now I think I’ll take this over to my own blog 🙂

      • Reply Erin July 15, 2020 at 8:04 pm

        Also an academic here (not faculty, but PhD-level research staff) and wanted to mention another point: there is a good bit of data showing that male academics in particular do significantly fewer administrative tasks on average than their female counterparts*, which are often the tasks that interfere with “deep work.” My personal experience (which I know, data is not the plural of anecdote) is that — analogous to home and the mental load/emotional labor tasks — even the men with the most equitable views on gender roles in the workplace still often offload the repetitive, tedious tasks (administrative and otherwise) that create space for the pockets of deep work. There is also some new work showing that female academics with young children, in particular, have shown the biggest hits to research productivity during Covid (though male academics with young childre also have quite a large drop).**

        I don’t listen to Cal Newport’s podcast so I can’t comment on his perspective, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the case for him both at home and at work — only because I know so many otherwise well-meaning men who do it!

        (Would I be a good researcher if I didn’t cite my sources?)

        • Reply anereson July 15, 2020 at 8:25 pm

          Amen, Erin. I don’t know what Cal’s research/teaching/service ratio looks like because he doesn’t often discuss non-deep work kinds of labor, so this isn’t a comment on him exactly, but I have observed (as a professor at a research-intensive institution like CN’s) that male faculty often use deep-work-esque rhetoric to get out of doing thankless service tasks that still have to get done. Guess who ends up doing them, because if they don’t get done students don’t graduate, stipends aren’t paid, guest scholar accommodations aren’t booked, etc. So much of an academic job is decidedly NOT deep work, but rather academic housekeeping, and is structured according to the same misogyny and gender bias that all housekeeping is…

          • Eva July 15, 2020 at 11:27 pm

            Going to chime in on this part of the discussion as an academic. I remember reading CN saying that he does not review papers (was it in Deep Work or on his blog?), which I think is not the way to go (I mean, who would he expect to review his papers then?).

            I’m quite curious how CN spends his time at work. I get the idea of the long stretches of deep work and I’m a research professor (regular full professor with reduced teaching load to be able to do more research), so I technically should have most of my time for quietly doing my research. But in reality, I spend a lot of time meeting with my graduate students, on committees etc (if you want the nitty gritty breakdown for 2019, it’s here: and I’ve only got more grad students in 2020).

            As a comment to what Erin mentioned: I’m just setting up an international study on the effect of covid-19 on academic parents to come up with evidence-based strategies for academic parents and provide university administrators with information.

          • Sarah Hart-Unger July 16, 2020 at 6:11 am

            I love that you are setting up a study!!! Will be very curious to hear results!

  • Reply Rachel July 15, 2020 at 10:47 am

    So happy for you for completing your deep work yesterday!

    About kids school, our school (and state) have not come out with anything yet and the anticipation for my planner self is killing me. I almost feel like if I knew one way or the other, I would at least be able to accept and start preparing for next year. But that could just be in my head.

  • Reply Natka July 15, 2020 at 11:08 am

    I occasionally read Cal’s blog. I am not big on podcasts (mostly because I don’t have a good setup to listen to them). I think he brings up important points – I approach his writing the way I would approach parenting books (ie, use what may work for my specific situation and ignore the rest). I feel like he is marketing his approach/philosophy, but I find that it makes me feel good about the choices I’ve made (no smartphone, no social media interactions, no social media for kids). And I try to maximize anything that makes me feel good these days, including looking at your super-organized posts).

    Our area (outside Philly) decided to open schools in the fall (unless the COVID-19 infection rates go through the roof). However, their plan is awful – no social distancing for kids, no good plan for what happens when children and teachers start getting sick, no mention of how they are going to enforce that kids who are sick or who have been in contact with COVID-positive individuals stay home. I am considering doing on-line school, even though the education is going to suffer and getting 1, 5th, and 6th graders to do their work is going to be very, very difficult. My husband and I both work full-time from home, but we have no additional childcare – schooling from home is doable, but it is going to be painful, and it is certainly not ideal. Having kids in front of screens, with hours of on-line lessons – not something I would normally choose to do. However, the school district says that they will have desks 3 ft apart, and kids will be all eating lunch in cafeteria, and while everyone is supposed to wear masks – yeah, reality check: kids are going to be yanking, and pulling, and taking them off, and loosing them, etc, etc. It just does not sound safe. I would not be surprised if many teachers quit (we have many older teachers at our school). And some kids’ parents are doctors and nurses and have a high chance of being exposed to COVID-19 and, with the setup the school district is planning, they will become the super-spreaders at the school. It seems that kids typically have mild symptoms that are mild (or are symptom-free), but there may be long-term effects that we will not know about until 2, or 5, or 10 years later.

    I would love, love, love for my kids to go back to school in the fall. They miss their friends. They miss real learning. I am just worried about the risks – for the kids, for us, for the grandparents, for the teachers… This is excruciating – COVID-19 is here to stay (with whatever long-term organ damage it may cause), and there is no guarantee that a vaccine will be developed in the near future, or that there will ever be an effective vaccine. I understand that the schools are facing a lot of pressure to reopen… I just hope that our country will gets its act together and that kids don’t have choose between health and education.

    One more thought – you can catch up on education. You can’t catch up on health: once its gone, its gone.

  • Reply LDMR July 15, 2020 at 11:34 am

    Re. schooling: the Girls Next Door Podcast had a good discussion about this. One host is pulling her kids and homeschooling with the Oak Meadow curriculum. The other is enrolling her kids in a school that is *designed* to be online. I have a 6 yo (rising 1st grader) who did NOT do well with online/distance. My 9 yo/rising 5th grader did much better. I’m thinking of pulling the 6 yo and homeschooling him with Oak Meadow, but with two parents working full time, I think we will need to hire help. We’re privileged to have these options, and I wonder if by taking advantage of them we can potentially make it easier for teachers and schools to focus on kids and families who don’t have other means and options?

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 15, 2020 at 12:03 pm

      I may have to look into his (I love Kelsey!). How did you select Oak Meadow?

  • Reply GL July 15, 2020 at 12:34 pm

    Deep Thoughts on Deep Work:
    1) I have been drawn to CN and LV’s work for years and read frequently. There points of view give me plenty to think about, but I’ve yet to see either one of them tackle (i.e. write about in a public way) truly unsettling personal and professional setbacks. Many of us have them. Said another way, theirs is only one type of advice and it has its limits.
    2) I don’t understand the over-analysis of either writer on blogs and comment chains because no one writer is going to give any one reader a solution for life.
    3) When does trying to understand someone else’s life tip into a dangerous cycle of comparison, particularly when you only understand a sliver of said person’s life? I’d be as curious as the next person to read a juicy CN time log, but this is where time logs also start to irk me. They provide some insight and data, but they fail to capture so many inputs that influence an individual’s outcomes. Whatever personality type I am on any given day–INTJ female, Ennegram 3, etc. etc.–I have zero interest in maintaining a time log for the recommended diagnostic purposes.
    4) I’d describe my role as a hybrid–requiring of deep work and very subject to the needs and panics of others. Following either CM or LV’s advice too rigidly sets me up for frustration. I like that both of them challenge me to be honest about how I’m spending my time, but I sometimes want to rage and say “I get paid to be interrupted X% of the day.”
    5) I can relate to your curiosity about CN’s life. I am amused with myself for wondering about his life when part of his message is to not get too distracted by the noise of others.
    The End.

  • Reply Megan Stepaniak July 15, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    Not completely related to today, but read this and immediately thought of you and your rituals. I’ve been trying to do the same.

  • Reply Sophie July 15, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    I’m a long-time BoBW listener (love it- thanks!!) but first time visiting your blog. 🙂 As someone who has worked as a clinician in a large hospital and also as an academic I can say that Cal definitely has way more control over his time than you do (a key reason I prefer academia!) and there are few true emergencies in academia so he can turn off his phone and close the door during his deep work time. During his Deep Work book he described his work day from 8am-5/6 as split between blocks of Deep Work and teaching/student blocks (with a long walk to and from work), after kids go to bed was when he worked on his blog, and weekends writes his books. Although he definitely spends time with the kids evenings and weekends, I didn’t get the impression he does much actual childcare, and I did think that probably made his second career as a writer easier. So while I’ve found his advice super helpful at work, I’ve accepted that my more active role parenting at home would limit my efficiency on other projects at home, and that’s ok for me. Just my take 🙂

  • Reply Jenny July 15, 2020 at 7:15 pm

    Hi Sarah, I was wondering why you think it’s inevitable that you and Josh will contract the virus? Data here in NY showed that healthcare workers actually had lower rates of infection that the general population. We know so much more now about how and when the virus is transmitted and can test patients pre-op etc, I would think community spread is far more likely than in a clinical setting.

  • Reply Marcia (OrganisingQueen) July 17, 2020 at 7:32 am

    Sarah, Cal sounds to me like an enneagram 5 (my husband is a 5).

    I better listen to an episode of his podcast since there are such Deep Feelings about the Deep Work 🙂 I happen to be excellent at focussing so I get deep work done at least 3 – 4 days a week (on StrengthsFinder, I have Discipline, Focus – the other 3 are all people related so maybe it’s a good thing I can focus otherwise nothing would get done :))

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