Deep Work in Isolation

by Ron Potter

I seldom do a quick follow up after a recent blog but the next couple of blogs have been triggered by reader feedback.

Recently many readers commented on the blog post titled “Coronavirus and Deep Work”.  In that post, I recommended that you not waste this forced time at home.  Use some of it to sit quietly and think deep thoughts.  We seldom get a chance to do that during our former work life even though it is much needed.  I referred to Cal Newton’s book Deep Work where he goes into much more detail.

Isolation Advice

Then today—April 17—I was reading a Wall Street Journal article titled “Coronavirus Lockdown Lessons from Antarctica.” The article looks at many of the scientific teams that populate Antarctica during the wintertime and are completely isolated.  They focus on one team in particular from Norway that works at the Troll station.

“On a recent evening, Troll’s six-person team put together a list of advice for those struggling with extended lockdowns.

    • Give people space…folks have to be allowed time on their own to read books, listen to music, watch television.
    • Don’t let problems linger and get bigger—talk about it from the start.
    • Stay active, and even if you are in a small place, move furniture and get fit.
    • Take a deep breath, this is a time to be curious”


I think curiosity is the foundation piece to deep work.  Wikipedia says

Curiosity is a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation, and learning, evident by observation in humans and other animals. Curiosity is heavily associated with all aspects of human development, in which derives the process of learning and desire to acquire knowledge and skill.”

Development and Learning

Notice that curiosity is heavily associated with development and learning.  I once had a friend who was fond of saying “as long as you’re like the little kid pulling his wagon up the hill, you’re doing fine.  But as soon as you stop exerting the effort to get up that hill and you sit down in your wagon to rest, you’ll find yourself at the bottom of the hill”


I think the first thing to be curious about is yourself.  Socrates is quoted as saying “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”  I’ll give Socrates a pass because he was alive about 400 years before Jesus but the Bible says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Even if you don’t hold to the Christian faith, let’s put those two concepts together.  What they are really saying is that you must know who you are and how you fit into this life and humanity as a whole.  That doesn’t come easily.  A complete lack of this reflection is a sign of Psychopathy.  Just a few of the symptoms of Psychopathy include: Grandiose sense of self-worth, lack of remorse, guilt, or empathy.  Lack of long-term goals.  None of these symptoms show signs of self-reflection.  Start with yourself.

Notice that not having long-term goals is one of the signs associated with lack of self-reflection.  Where are you going?  What does the end of your journey look like?  What do you want to be remembered for?  These issues and others are not part of our busy lives, they are reached only by deep, reflective thought.


You’ve been handed an opportunity.  Don’t waste it!

  • What kind of person do you want to be?
  • How will you become a great leader?
  • What will make you an outstanding team member?
  • What is that thing inside you that you always wanted to learn or explore?

Build it into your routine.  Find a quiet place and a quiet time at least several times per week.  Force yourself to go quiet and think about these things.  You’ll come out the other end a better person.

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