The premise of deep work is that you are spending your time on something meaningful. You probably wouldn’t aim to spend more and more hours deeply immersed in smaller and unimportant projects.

If you want to do big things, as Cal quotes from Tim Ferriss, you want to develop the habit of letting small bad things happen.

This is not always helpful advice as it shouldn’t be applied to any position. If you’re just getting started in a new role, you really should be the one picking up all the little details. Those tasks are going to help you build trust from your peers and leadership.

But, if you have lots of things on your plate and want to make a bigger impact, you got to let things go. With that, you’re going to allow small mistakes to be made. But as long as they are controlled and it helps you work on the larger and more important goals, that is perfectly fine.

One concrete example from the book is about email. This might make you feel uncomfortable because we feel the pressure to answer every single thing. But, Cal says, don’t reply to an email message that fits one of these criteria:

  • The request is ambiguous
  • It contains a proposal that does not interest you
  • Nothing really good would happen if you did respond
  • Nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t

Again, I think this is not a set of rules you should apply to each and every email that hits your inbox, but you get the general idea. For any incoming message, you should continuously evaluate whether it makes sense for you to hit reply.

One other technique in this regard is to have a really clear definition of your focus: what are the most important things you’re working on right now. If you have this at hand, deciding if you should spend energy on a given task will be a lot easier.

The action steps for today:

  1. Set up a your personal criteria for when not to respond to different groups of emails (work internally, work externally, personal email, etc.)
  2. Take a couple of minutes to make a list of your core focus at the moment. What are the most important projects in your life right now. I actually did this yesterday and it gives so much insight in how I should be deciding what to do next. Good stuff.