My System for Tracking Deep Work
Fragments from imaginary dialogues
“Why do you track deep work?“
“Deep work is an essential component of my day. I no longer conceive of a day without deep work.
Tracking allows me to continuously optimize my work day. Deep work is actually an oscillation between work and rest. By tracking it, I can assess the quality of the oscillation at a glance.“
“What do you track?“
“You’re familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix:
Important / Urgent – Important deadlines and crises.
Important / Not Urgent – Long-term development.
Not Important / Urgent – Distractions with deadlines.
Not Important / Not Urgent – Frivolous distractions.
I track only what’s important.“
“How do you track it?“
“I have a system for it. I use math paper, a pencil, and a pen.
– A dot represents a pomodoro – half an hour of deep work. This is my deep-work unit.
– A pencil dot represents a regular pomodoro.
– A pen dot represents a high-leverage pomodoro – a pomodoro of doing the things that have the biggest impact on my life.
– A circled dot represents the end of the work day – for me it’s usually around 6pm. It’s important to have a ‘shutdown complete’ ritual, as Cal Newport calls it, to close the work mental process [<link; short read]; otherwise, your mind may remain stuck in work mode.
– Two separate dots represent pomodoros with a break in between. I take a 10 minute break after every pomodoro, in which I seek to move as much as possible.
– Two joined dots represent pomodoros without a break in between. This is a situation I try to avoid. Whenever this happens is a sign I may have lost balance.
– Four dots in a row represent a work-block. After a work-block, I take a longer break – 30+ minutes long. If a work-block exceeds four pomodoros, this is another sign I may have lost balance.
– A new column indicates that I’ve taken a longer break.
That’s it. Simple and elegant.“
“Can you give an example?“
“A work day might look like this:
At the end of the day, I can tell how the day went at a glance.
11 pomodoros of deep work (5.5 hours) in total, of which 8 high-leverage pomodoros (4 hours).
I lost balance three times, two times by not taking a break between pomodoros (the joined dots), and once by exceeding four pomodoros in a row (the second column).
As an additional optimization, I started adding a small I (Input) or O (Output) next to each dot. I have a tendency to have too much input. The I and O symbols allow me to assess my input/output ratio at a glance at the end of the day.“