The 100 Day Deep Work Challenge

This year I have set myself the goal of creating 3 video tutorial courses. It will be a difficult goal to achieve. Because like everyone else, I am very busy with my job, family and life in general. It’s getting towards the end of February as I write this, and I haven’t made a great deal of progress. I have periods where I get quite a lot done. But then something happens, or I get distracted, and nothing gets done for a while. When I start working on it again, I need to build momentum again.

I have to find a more efficient way of working.

I recently finished reading Deep Work by Cal NewPort  Fantastic book, highly recommended. The book explains the benefits and importance of “Deep Work” sessions. In these sessions you are completely focused on your task and have no distractions. You can go to extremes with this approach. For example Bill Gates famously often set aside entire weeks in seclusion as “Think Weeks” to merely read and study . Others have gone to the Himalayan Mountains and become a Monk for a month….
Whilst both of these sound appealing, they aren’t practical options for most people, myself included. I need another way of getting into the Deep Work zone without upending my entire life. The author of Deep Work recognises this as well. There are interesting case studies in the book where specific blocks of time are scheduled for Deep Work. Nothing should be able to interrupt or take precedence over those sessions.
So I’m using what I have learned in the book (and others like it). Combing that with my understanding on the time taken to form new habits  (which its generally agreed is around 100 days). And I have come up with a personal challenge.
Without further ado, I present the 6 rules for the 100 Day Deep Work Challenge:
Some more words on each of these rules:

Rule 1: You must do 90 minutes of Deep Work everyday

90 minutes seems like a reasonable amount of time. It’s enough to make progress everyday. But not too much to be overwhelming. The word everyday is key here for me. I thought about just doing weekdays, or having 1 day off a week. The problem though is this. In the past I have had periods of 5 or more days where I worked on something everyday. Then I took a day or two off to relax or “take a break”. When it comes time to start again, I have lost momentum. It takes me time to ramp up again. If I haven’t worked on the task for more than a couple of days, this can be a significant.

I’m hoping to minimise / eliminate this waste and loss of momentum by doing a Deep Work session every single day.

Now the above is all well and good in theory. In reality I know that during the 100 day period there will inevitably be days when I know in advance that I won’t be able to complete a deep work session.
For example I occasionally stay away from home at my parents house for the night. I will know in advance when one of these occasions in coming up. In this instance, I should complete the 90 minute deep work session beforehand. This is in addition to the regular morning session that day. I recognise this isn’t ideal, but I think its the best solution. I don’t want to force myself to have a session in an unusual environment. And I certainly don’t want to skip a session altogether.
This way I can complete the work in advance, and not feel guilty about missing the session. But I want to make it clear to myself, this isn’t a regular option. It’s only to be applied in the event of an upcoming occasion where I will be away from my normal deep work environment (i.e. my office at home)

Rule 2: No Distractions

That means no phone, no email, no television, no internet (other than what is required for research etc.). I have found that I personally work well listening to classical music, so I will permit that for myself. I know that this works for me. It might not work for you, it is up to you to decide. But as a general rule, there should be nothing in your deep work environment to distract you.

Rule 3: Deep Work should be done first

This means it should be done first thing in the morning. For me, I will need to be finished by 7am, to get my son ready for nursery. I will need 30 minutes to wake up and have a cup of coffee. That means getting up at 5am everyday in the week. Perhaps a little later on the weekend, but not much. Not a massive problem for me, I already get up pretty early. The harder part is probably getting to bed early enough for sufficient sleep.
If for some reason I can’t complete the session first thing that morning, I must complete that session as soon as possible that day. This is only in the event of mitigating circumstances. I don’t want to consider it an “option” that I can do the Deep Work later. But it’s better that than breaking the chain. Nothing should be able to break the chain, other than a drastic or unforeseeable event.

Rule 4: Set an overall goal for the Deep Work challenge

For me, the goal of this 100 day challenge is this: Create and launch a video training course on Udemy. I’ll break this down into lots of smaller tasks / goals that all contribute towards this one goal. Some examples of smaller tasks that contribute to my overall goal:
  • Develop my own API for use in teaching my course
  • Write new blog posts relating to the subject of the course
  • Study / take another course on the subject I am teaching
  • Learn how to promote / market courses
  • Improve my video editing skills by studying online and practicing

Rule 5: Spend 5 minutes at the end of the session writing a summary

Loosely following an Agile daily Scrum approach, at the end of every session I should spend 5 minutes writing up what I have achieved in the session, what problems I am facing and most importantly what I will work on next time. When I come to do the next session the next day, I can read this summary and quickly pick up where I left off. This should also create a very interesting log to look back on at the end of the challenge.

Rule 6: Chart your progress

I will have a physical calendar on my desk. On the calendar I will mark a red X for everyday a 90 minute Deep Work session is completed. Building the chain of red Xs, and getting towards day 100, I hope will motivate me. As the chain gets longer, there should be increased motivation to not break it.
So those are the 6 rules I am going to follow for this exercise. I am planning to start on Monday and go from there. Honestly I am really excited to be undertaking this exercise. I know this is pretty extreme, it’s going to be hard, and there will be times I really don’t want to do it.

I hope, when those times come, I can find the motivation to push through.

I’m sure I’ll run into challenges and events along the way that I haven’t thought of at this stage. That’s fine, I’ll use that experience to refine the next challenge. I’ll be writing regular blog posts as I make my way through this journey. That should help serve as an additional source of motivation. Wish me luck!
  • Mark Crowther

    Great post James and one that has helped shape an idea of developing my test automation skills through 2017. I’ve just added a blog post abut it at and I”ll be using the Twitter tag of #100DayDeepWork each time I blog and update on progress. Here’s to the next 100 days!

    • James Willett

      Mark this is awesome, love that you are going to take up the challenge as well, let’s keep each other motivated! I’ll use the #100DayDeepWork hashtag as well 🙂

      Also respect that you have decided not to do it at weekends. I toyed with that as well, but I think that for me (based on my past experiences) I REALLY need to do this without having any breaks in between… maybe when i’m getting up at 5am on Sunday I’ll think differently, lol.

      Best of luck, looking forward to your updates!