Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Review of 'Deep Work' by Cal Newport

Deep Work by Cal Newport gives an overview of 'Deep Work', why he considers it so important 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 is done via long periods of uninterrupted focus. And so he considers it a central task of the modern worker to organize their life in a way so they can get more important things done via that focus.

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

A Summary

The title is broken out into two sections -  the first outlines what deep work is and why the author believes it's so important, and the second outlines rules for getting more of it into your day-to-day life.

Section One: The Idea

Newport goes into quite a bit of depth in this section, and I would definitely recommend reading the book, but the central idea of the title can be be tied up fairly tidily.

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

This distraction causes 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 distracting world this creates an opportunity for people who are able to manage their attention to get things done.

Section Two: The Rules

In this section the author lays out four chapters, each offering rules and ideas to put deep work into practice. The chapters all have a guiding theme, but moreover serve as collections of ideas and anecdotes.

Work Deeply

The brunt of this chapter covers philosophies for working deeply. For example, 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 distraction, and the other half focusing.

The idea was that if a person wants more focus throughout their day they should lay out a plan for how they're going to manage their attention.

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 end up spending our lives always checking social media and searching for the next distraction, without ever breaking free and latching onto those things that take effort and provide value and meaning. And by embracing bored moments we become more able to flex this muscle and focus when we need to.

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

Quit Social Media

In this section Newport recommends quitting social media for 30 days. He reasons that this will give a sense of which accounts you 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 a break helps you understand which of these sites are just a drain on your time. And if they do serve no purpose Newport recommends quitting them completely.

Drain the Shallows

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

There wasn't really a central focus here, 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. 

A Review

I'm not a big reader of books like this, but after reading an article on this title I thought I'd give it a try.

I often find that the popular non-fiction I read doesn't have much depth, is filled with noise, and the ideas in them can be a bit vague. But in this title I found a fair amount of substance.

While it could be repetitive at times all of the chapters had something substantial to offer, and the layout and writing was well executed. It was also a quick 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.

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