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Deep Work: Focus without Distraction

Angelo Luciani
Angelo Luciani

Cal Newport’s 2016 book; Deep Work, demonstrates the need to deeply immerse ourselves in cognitively demanding tasks so as to achieve extraordinary results. Deep Work contains compelling arguments, actionable advice, real-life examples and rules to work in a high concentration mental state.

The book is divided into 2 parts. The first part provides evidence that the ‘Deep Work Hypothesis’ is true; that a deep work ethic is increasingly rare and at the same time an extremely valuable skill that can increase productivity and produce massive career benefits.

The second part is dedicated to the ‘4 Rules of Deep work’; these are the guidelines and practices that one can deploy to achieve a deep work ethic in their daily lives.

Deep Work vs. Shallow Work

The book starts with an interesting distinction between deep work and shallow work. Newport suggests that we can divide each professional activity either as deep work or shallow work.

Deep work demands a high-concentration state and often pushes our mental capabilities to their limits. This type of work requires distraction-free focus to create something that truly matters such as; forming a new business strategy, adding a new chapter to your book, designing a new application, etc.

Deep Work with Cal Newport

On the other hand, shallow work involves logical-style activities that are are not mentally demanding, and are often performed while distracted. It is the type of work that ‘needs to be done’ such as replying to emails, answering calls and organizing files.

Everybody has experienced both deep work and shallow work, but shallow work is more common as it requires minimal focus and is simple in nature. However, any valuable work that can significantly contribute to the advancement of one’s career objectives requires intense stretches of work.

The Deep Work Hypothesis

This book’s hypothesis is that in our current economy, the deep work state is becoming increasingly rare and at the same time increasingly valuable.

Newport suggests that it is essential to find a way to prioritize deep work. This is especially true in the age of the network tools, where smartphones, internet, social media, emails, and more are killing our productivity.

In the current digital era, many people either often find themselves substituting deep work for shallow work, or have completely lost the ability to perform deep work. Multiple screens, apps, and notifications create distractions, fragment our concentration and increase our likelihood of multitasking, which discourages our brains from engaging in deep work.

In general, deep work is hard and rare while simple work is easy and most people just choose the path of least resistance. In addition, most businesses unknowingly encourage shallow work by demanding for fast response times, constant internet connectivity and even open offices.

Perhaps a more worrying point of view is Newport’s research that shows continuous exposure to shallow work may have long term effects on cognitive function. Years of exposure to shallow work impairs our concentration in the future and is not easily reversed. Newport taps into various case studies to show the reader how deep work benefits the brain.

Value of Deep Work in the Current Economy

According to Newport, the ability to master new, complex things fast and produce at an elite level are the 2 most essential abilities to thrive in our current economy.

Deep work requires you to deliberately set aside blocks of intense uninterrupted blocks of time to concentrate on vital projects and do meaningful work. It creates new value to your work and is hard to replicate.

Without deep work, you will find yourself in a constant trap of shallow, unimportant, light tasks that don’t make any significant contribution to producing high-quality results.

Our current information economy depends on rapidly changing, complex systems. For instance, some of the systems or trends you work with today may not have been in existence 10 or even 5 years ago. Deep work allows you to learn new, complex things quickly and extensively, which is guaranteed to boost your productivity and advance your career.

Ability to Work Deeply; The 4 Rules of Deep Work

Newport covers 4 rules accompanied by numerous examples of real world-experiences to simplify the process of developing deep work as a skill.

Working Deeply

Newport recommends four deep work philosophies or strategies you can choose from; monastic, bimodal, rhythmic and journalist.

  • Monastic philosophy involves isolating yourself for a long time (usually a few weeks) to concentrate on deep work.
  • Bimodal approach involves clearly splitting your week into 2 periods; 2/3 consecutive days for deep work and the rest for all other activities during the week.
  • Rhythmic is the most popular and easiest approach. It involves setting 3-4 hours aside in the day and leaving the rest for shallow work.
  • Journalistic approach involves alternating your day between deep work and other activities as the opportunity arises or as you see it fit.

Once you decide on your deep work philosophy, the most important thing you should consider is developing a deep work schedule. According to Newport, human beings have limited will power. Habits and rituals help us by eliminating the thinking process involved in starting deep work. Developing deep work habits creates a systematized support that minimizes the amount of time taken to enter a deep work state. This will involve setting a very strict schedule for when to start and stop deep work.

Embracing Boredom

Continuous exposure to distractions and shallow work has wired our brains to expect and demand distraction. As a result, we are constantly plugged in. Deliberately schedule a time to use the internet, to avoid using it while engaged in deep work.

It’s important to re-wire your brain and comfortably resist these distractions by embracing idleness. Shut down your work at exactly the same time every day and allow your mind to idle around in activities that have nothing to do with work such as walking, showering, jogging and even doing the dishes. This will help you recharge and increase your creativity.

Productive Meditation; focusing your attention on a single problem while doing a physical activity that requires little to no mental effort, greatly enhances your deep work muscles.

It goes without saying that social media makes it significantly more difficult to work deeply. Newport suggests that social media is not as important to our success or happiness and that the main benefit accrued from it is just entertainment.

Moreover, social media’s negative impact substantially outweighs the benefits for most people. Though mainly used for entertainment, social media has been proven to reduce energy and fragments our concentration throughout the day.

To determine the value social media adds to our lives, Newport recommends doing a test run and logging out of social media for 30 consecutive days. If social media does not have any positive outcomes for your work or if it was possible for you to log out without being greatly inconvenienced, then consider quitting it to increase your chances of success and deep work.

Draining the Shallows

In this chapter, Newport explains the strategies you can use to reduce shallow work in your day. To be successful at deep work, you need to spend as little time as possible on low-value tasks that consume time for deep work. This includes scheduling every single minute of your day and measuring the depth level of every activity in your day.

Who Can Benefit From This Book?

Deep Work has what it takes to take you to the next level if you wish to track and boost your productivity, accomplish more meaningful goals in your career and separate yourself from the crowd.

Newport’s objective for this book is to reveal effective strategies you can use to focus on things that are most important and renounce all external and internal distractions. This particularly important for high-achievers who need to quickly master new things and continuously produce at an elite level.

Deep work involves intense focus which maximizes the amount of productivity one can squeeze in a short span of time. Not only is good for your work life, but it is also important for your mental health.

I would recommend this book to people who need to get more things done in less time, people who experience attention residue in their work and knowledge seekers who need to quickly master hard things in their careers.

I also listed this book among two others as three must read books for 2019. They are timeless and will help to accelerate your learning.

Have you read Deep Work? Have you implemented any of the ideas from the book into your daily work? Let me know on Twitter and thanks for reading.

BookGTD

Angelo Luciani

Blogger who enjoys exploring current and emerging technologies.