In a nutshell
The ability to focus on a task, without any distractions, can be seen as a super power in our increasingly competitive and rapidly changing economy. Deep Work provides an in-depth look into how we can hone the skills of deep focus to create the most value in our work. This framework demands that we leave the comfort of artificial busyness and social networks behind, so we can deploy our minds to full capacity.
We are in a state of deep work when we perform our professional activities in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes our cognitive capabilities to the limit. Deep work creates new value, improves our skills, and is often very hard to replicate. We cannot achieve it whilst we’re distracted because it requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking. The more time we spend in a state of frenetic shallow working distracted by digital network tools, the more our capacity to perform deep work reduces. The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
In workplaces today, various working trends are being prioritised over deep work. Those trends include open offices where workers can collaborate serendipitously, culture of connectivity, and an active presence on social media. Cal Newport argues that these trends actively decrease people’s ability to perform deep work.
In contrast to traditional assembly work, busyness and value have decoupled in contemporary work. Ironically, we often think we need to display visible busyness because we lack a better way to demonstrate the value of our work. Cal Newport argues that deep work can have a meaningful role in cultivating a good life. The type of mental world we could construct, when we’d dedicate significant amount of time to deep work, would be rich in meaning and resilient to distractions.
The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to our working life. In doing so we can minimise the amount of willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration. There are many different ways to integrate deep work into your schedule. It’s worth taking the time to find out an approach that makes sense for you.
To support your deep work practice, Cal Newport advises you to schedule sessions in advance, to focus only on wildly important goals throughout, to keep a deep work scoreboard at your desk and to set up a weekly review of your sessions. To succeed with deep work we must rewire our brain to be comfortable resisting distraction, taking the time off internet and social media. Another way to train your deep focus is to adopt productive meditation. The goal of productive meditation is to use a time when you’re occupied physically but not mentally – walking, jogging, driving, showering – and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem.
The deep work life is not for everybody. For many, there’s comfort in the artificial busyness and social media, while deep work life demands that we leave all of that behind. Deep work is not a moral stance nor a philosophical statement, but a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.
Three things to take away
The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time as it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
It’s important to be mindful of which social media platforms we use and what impact they have on our lives. Restricting the access to those which deliver only occasional value, can free up a lot of our time and help us to nurture our deep focus.
Time blocking is our friend. Dividing our time of the day into blocks is a great way to ensure we’re doing the right amount of deep work focused on specific activities each week.
Who should read this book?
Deep Work offers an insightful and useful framework for those who feel like they’re stuck in ‘always-on’ mode. Cal Newport gives great guidance on how to manage the prevalent culture of connectivity, find solace and focus in our work, and deliver our best results. Deep Work can teach us how to prioritise our goals and careers, and set boundaries so we’re able to work most effectively, and feel long-term satisfaction in our work life.
For more, join the Book Club community and read the lastest and greatest non-ficition books with us.
In the meantime, hear Cal Newport share key insights from his bestselling book A World Without Email on the Journey Further podcast.
Cal Newport, Piatkus, 2016