An author, a programmer, a Zen Master, and many others agree: to do your best work, create the space for it and don’t look up.

Justin Jackson is writing a book about highly productive people. When he reached out to entrepreneurial legend Derek Sivers, the founder-speaker-programmer replied thusly:

“I’d love to do an interview! But could we wait just a few months?
I’m deep in the middle of my programming. Very head-down. Not much to say. I’d be a pretty bad interview right now. But if you don’t mind waiting a few months, I’ll be more head-up with a lot of new stuff to talk about.
Is that OK? Ask me again after July or so?”

Sivers, clearly, is being vigilant about protecting his time–a productivity practice advocated by Warren Buffett.

Why do you need to put your head down?

Because, as Jackson asserts, focused minds produce great work. This is why he advocates “heads down” time: a section of the day for focused, productive work–a sprint, if you will.

The problem, he says, is that we’re usually “heads up,” wading through the sundry stimuli of tweets, meetings, and other assorted tasks. Before we know it, it feels like we’ve sacrificed our career to the fickle gods of email.

Why does putting your head down work so well?

The more you’re multi-tasking, the worse you are at realizing that you’re so bad at multitasking. Look at anyone texting while they drive–all that switching tasks produces is a major cognitive load, taking up your brain-bandwidth and crowding out your capacity to monitor your actions.

The advantage of keeping your head down, then, is that you get to take full ownership of the stimulation you’re wading into. You get to be intentional about the way you invest your cognitive load. You get to be mindful about what’s entering your mind.

If it sounds a little Zen, that’s because it is: As Shunryu Suzuki, who brought Japanese Buddhism to the U.S. back in the ’70s, once wrote, discipline is creating the situation. So when you put your head down, you put yourself in the situation to do meaningful work.


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