This talk was originally written and presented by MoJen Jenkins as a 3-minute lightning talk at WordCamp LA 2018 as part of the Learn Teach Code session presented by Twilio.

MoJen is a serial entrepreneur who created this productivity method after managing and developing multiple projects simultaneously for more than 18 years in the US and the UK. She started using the phrase deliberate work after reading about deliberate practice and deliberate learning and wondering why work was left out.

As an avid productivity geek and a completionist, MoJen felt it was her duty to round out the deliberate trifecta. Her talk is reproduced here with her permission. If you find it useful or interesting, feel free to share the link.


This is the formal title of my talk.

And this is the much simpler title that I didn’t think of until after I submitted my talk proposal.
Deliberate work is a productivity method based on clarity of intention.
It’s a focus exercise that allows your brain to naturally go from broad conceptualising to specific problem-solving.
There are three parts to implementing deliberate work.
Part 1 – Define the task. What am I supposed to do?
Part 2 – Identify the goal. What is the desired outcome?
Part 3 – Outline a process for completing the task. What steps do I need to take to achieve the goal?
Then do the work by completing the steps.
Here’s an example:
The client says ‘Update my website to the latest version of WordPress.’ 

OK! Let’s get started.

First I define the task: update this website from version something or other to the current version, which is 4.9.8.
Then I write down the goal. The desired outcome is that the site is updated, it works properly after the update, and the client is happy.
Lastly I write out all the steps I can think of to achieve this goal.
Once I’ve written out my process, I start working through it, step by step.
I add or clarify things as I go along. The important thing is that I keep a record of everything I’ve done.
I mark each step off as done when I complete it.

When everything is crossed off, I’m finished!

You might be thinking, ‘This is a whole lot of writing and extra work. Why would I want to do this?’
Here are five reasons why you might want to give this a try.
Thinking takes less time than working.

Deliberate work allows you to think through your solutions first and explore them quickly without doing any work at all. Time saved!

(This concept is related to rubber duck debugging.)

Deliberate work helps with procrastination.

Breaking large scary tasks down into smaller ones makes them less intimidating and easier to conquer.

Also, marking things off as done feels nice and is a great motivator. Finish one, finish them all!

When you’re finished with the task, you know exactly what you did. No more forgetting!

  • If you have to do the same task again or explain it to someone else, you don’t have to start from scratch.
  • If you need to ask for help, you can explain clearly what you’ve done
  • If you have a code review (or you’re writing your CV), you have documentation of what you’ve worked on.
If you’re interrupted, or if you have to stop and come back to the task later, you always know exactly what you were doing, where you left off and what’s next. You can get back to work quickly.
You can estimate your time more accurately when you can see everything you need to do to complete the task. Much better than guessing!
And if you want to get really nerdy, you can put timestamps on the individual process steps so you can see where you’re spending the most time.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. (Not actually said by Peter Drucker.)

So that’s deliberate work. You can use the Task / Goal / Process method for pretty much anything, not just technical work. It’s a bit of work, but it’s quite simple to try. And it’s effective.
But regardless of what technique you use, always remember this (from John Wooden).

Image Credits


Jaws 1975 Book Cover By Roger Kastel (JawsIllustration2014.pdf) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Forget icon by Andrew Forrester from the Noun Project

SPEECH BUBBLE icon by SHASTRY from the Noun Project

All other icons free for commercial use from

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