Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Review of 'Deep Work' by Cal Newport

Deep Work by Cal Newport provides an overview of 'Deep Work', why he considers it so critical in the modern world, and a few ideas for getting more of it into your life. In this post I'll be going over the book's content with a short review at the end.

To the author the most important, challenging, and meaningful work we can do in our lives, whether personally or professionally, is done with long periods of uninterrupted focus and concentration. And so he considers it a central task for the modern worker to organize their life and habits so they have more time to focus.

What's interesting here is that to most people this is obvious, but the idea has become relevant with the rise of a barrage of time-sapping apps. Because we live in such a distracted world there's room for a title like Deep Work to remind people how to get things done.

A Summary of the Book

Deep Work is broken out into two sections. The first outlines the concept and why the author thinks it's so important, and the second outlines rules for integrating it into your life.

The Idea

Newport describes deep work and it's significance in depth here, and I would definitely recommend reading the book, but the section can be tidily summarized.

He makes the argument that in many workplaces today (and sometimes at home, too) people find themselves in a constant state of distraction. Instant messaging, e-mail, social media, and similar keep us focused on what he calls 'shallow' work: stuff that keeps us busy but that isn't very important.

This results in a drag on our time and attention, making it harder to do anything that's challenging and takes focus - deep work. And in such a world this creates an opportunity for people who are able to manage their attention to get critical things done.

The Rules

In this section Newport lays out four chapters: Work Deeply, Embrace Boredom, Quit Social Media, and Drain the Shallows.

Each of the chapters offer rules and ideas to put Deep Work into practice, which I'll be describing here.

Work Deeply

The brunt of this chapter discusses philosophies for working deeply. For instance, the 'Monastic' where a person becomes a recluse and focuses on deep work exclusively, or the 'Bimodal' where a person focuses half of their time in the distracting arena, and the other in the focused arena so they don't conflict.

The gist is that if a person wants to get more done they should lay out a plan for how they're going to do so.

Embrace Boredom

In this chapter the author describes boredom as a muscle that needs to be flexed. He explains that people default to social media and search for the next adrenaline rush at every opportunity. Five minutes of downtime? Check your phone. Have nothing going on? Turn on your laptop.

The problem is that we spend our lives in a half-conscious state, always checking social media, without ever breaking free and latching onto those things that take effort and provide value and meaning. And by embracing those bored moments we become more able to flex this muscle and focus when we need to.

Newport goes on to recommend splitting up the time you spend on the internet, or doing other distracting things, from the time you spend focusing on important work completely. Set a policy and stick to it, which he argues will help build your willpower. 

Quit Social Media

What Newport recommends here is quitting all of your accounts for 30 days. He reasons that by doing this you can get a sense of which accounts you actually need, and which don't really do much for you.

He explains that people view sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as default parts of their lives, but when you look at them through a different lens they're just forms of entertainment, and if you don't visit or post most people won't notice.

So by taking a break you start to understand which of these sites are just a drain on your time. And Newport recommends that if they do serve no purpose after the thirty days to quit them completely.

Drain the Shallows

In this section Newport explains the difference between cognitively demanding, and non-demanding work, and strategies for limiting the non-demanding (or shallow) work from your schedule.

There wasn't a central focus in this chapter, just a set of ideas like becoming harder to reach by email, strategies on how to respond to email, how to schedule your work day, and setting a shallow work budget. 

It would take some time to describe all of these ideas, so I'll leave it up to you to read the book.

A Review of the Book

I'm not a big reader of popular non-fiction, but after reading an article on this title a few weeks back I thought I'd give it a go.

I usually find that books like this don't have a lot of depth, and are filled with noise to take up space. But I actually found a fair amount of substance in this title.

While it could be repetitive all of the chapters had something substantial to offer, and the layout and writing was well executed. It was also a quick, easy and enjoyable read. And while I've laid out the brunt of it in this post, there's plenty more in the book.

Overall, if you're interested in doing more with your time I'd definitely recommend checking it out.