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Conquering Brainy Work: Getting Out of the Shallows

Big, brainy work is hard at the best of times, but when you’re a Cram it all in Year working parent, it can be even harder.


Cram it all in Year (CIAIY) parents have a lot going on. First, some may be experiencing Brain Fog due to lack of sleep, stress…too much stuff to do. And, like everyone else, we’re living in a noisy world of things that are designed to grab our attention – sometimes in an effort to make us more productive (ugh, Slack) or simply to bring some entertainment or relief during an intense day (IG, Nest, cute baby pics from daycare). Finally, our CIAIY minds are cluttered with a million things to do. None of the above is conducive to big thinking work. But those are the things that actually drive careers. So here are some tips to power through the big, brainy work that help with Attention Residue (the underbelly of multitasking where our mind and attention continues to stick with the previous task and we end up half focused on the next thing).

What To Do (Bites)

  1. Know what time of day is best for you to do deep work

    For many, their best thinking time is first thing in the morning. It’s when you are most focused and have the energy and enthusiasm to take on more demanding work.  Block out that time to do your deep thinking. Beware, when you get to your desk, it’s tempting to start with knocking off the easy stuff, like responding to emails, texts, Slack, or even clean up where you left off from yesterday. That shallow work that robs you of your best thinking time.

  2. Allocate ‘later time’ to The Shallows

    Shallow work is that stuff we do every day that doesn’t require deep concentration. It’s VERY easy to get pulled into the shallows – this is exactly the kind of work that can dominate your schedule and mind-share and can burn through your best thinking hours. Instead, deliberately allocate 15 minutes after deep work to do more mindless, task work. By allocating a longer window to deep work and a short one to busy work, you’ve given yourself a plan that reduces stress. And, when that “oh gosh, I just remembered x,” write it down and deal with it later.

  3. Cut out the world

    Let yourself crawl into a hole, metaphorically speaking, and bear down, if logistically possible. Shut off your email; put your phone in a drawer. We’re wired to pay attention when a new message appears, so eliminate the source of those little alert noises for a window of time. Signal or overtly let others know you need mind time and you’re not to be disturbed. Recognize it as addictive technology – it’s built to reel you in and keep you there – it takes a deliberate choice and discipline to silence it.

Doing the big, brainy work is hard when my workplace has so many distractions.


  1. Set an alarm. If you know you’re “allowed” to check your emails and your texts in, say, 60 minutes, it’s easier to bear down and focus. Think hard about how much time you really need in deep work. Odds are it’s not just 30 minutes and most of us peter out after 90 minutes. After 60 – 90 minutes. Take a break.

  2. Know your distractions and avoid them. Everyone has their own set – whether it’s your phone, live feed from daycare, the person that shows up at your door with a problem, straightening up the house if you’re WFH – know yours and manage them.

  3. Don’t get distracted by getting hangry, dry mouth or a caffeine call. Or relying on the “gotta go to the bathroom” excuse to break from deep work. Get what you need in place before you start.

Hope you found this helpful! Got a topic you’d like some wisdom on? Let us know.


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The Sophia Project is our corporate program that unleashes working parent talent through Intentional Subtraction.