Lex Fridman on how to do deep-diving focus sessions

Lex Fridman is incredibly productive. He is an AI researcher and lecturer at MIT, and host of the extremely successful Lex Fridman podcast, in which he interviews guests such as Elon Musk, Joe Rogan, Mark Zuckerberg, Ye, and Vitalik Buterin, for over 3 hours on average, with often 2 episodes released each week.

Fundamental to his exceptional capabilities is his daily habit of four hour focused sessions, referred to as “deep-diving” in Thriving on Overload.

In one of his podcast episodes, A Day in My Life, shown below, he shares how he goes about his deep-diving focus sessions (5:30 – 8:20). Transcript and discussion below the video.

“I’m now ready to hit the day hard with a four hour session of deep work focused on a single thing…, no interruptions. If interesting ideas come into my head to try to trick me into pulling on the thread of that idea I gently set it aside, write it down in a Google doc to address later, so i bring my mind gently back to the focus of the task. 

Because ideas keep coming but you really want to focus on the task so the only interruptions that are allowed are water, coffee, bathroom. I try to minimize those I usually try to be just once in a four hour session. I stop the timer when I take that break but I don’t do anything during that break like social media or any of that stuff. It’s really my mind is still focused on the task at hand and hitting it hard when I return to the desk. 

That’s the hardest part of the day. that’s the hardest thing on my to-do list, that’s what i’m going to focus on, no distractions. That’s what this four-hour session is about.

I’m usually drained but happy at the end of the session. I mean i’m happy throughout but I kind of dread this four hour session every day which is why I hit it hard early on without reflecting, without thinking, almost like a machine. I just get the job done that’s the way I think about it and I feel good afterwards but I don’t want to do it and I do it anyway, so here we go I’ll see on the other end of the four hours.”

The heart of a deep-diving session is that there are absolutely no distractions, no notifications, nothing that takes you out of the depth you can only achieve when you are completely focused.

Four hours is longer than most people can manage. Ninety minutes is the minimum you should allocate to a deep-diving session, with two to three hours ideal for most people.

As Fridman shares, it is hard work, it is something our brain wants to avoid, but if we can bring ourselves to it, we can enjoy it, and over time get better at it. Our brains need training of this nature to be able to sustain that sort of focus.

However if you aspire to more-than-usual (or exceptional) productivity, there is no other way than allocating dedicated time to deep-diving.

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