Deep Work is a well written book that not only explains why being able to perform extended periods of distraction free work is important and becoming more so, but also offers real world tactics for putting this into action.
Cal Newport, the author, breaks down Deep Work by explaining what it is:
Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
In the opening chapters of the book he really dives into what deep work is and why you should consider it important.
This is good for someone who might not have been exposed to the idea but was a little long for me. However, what I really liked was his explanation of why Deep Work is important in this day and age and how it seems to be that the world is moving to make Deep Work more difficult when it’s needed more than ever.
We have the typical distractions of our lives: jobs, relationships, activities, but the technological distractions are growing at an increasing rate.
However, work is becoming more knowledge based and requires time to dive into it for real progress to be made.
I’ve noticed over time that I’m becoming more easily distracted and the amount of time I spend devoted to a single topic without answering an email or checking a social media account has been going down.
When I first heard about Cal Newport via the Tropical MBA podcast, I checked out his articles and was immediately interested – I knew that I could be doing more than just batching tasks, which works well as a first step and a way to minimize mental switching time, but I also knew that I needed to take more steps to really get high quality work done.
And it’s not only about getting work done. I’m not here to “make more widgets”. I want to create value. I want to create products, processes, and information that myself and others value. I want to create value so that I can have the things that I want like time to read more, the ability to take time off and go run in the mountains.
After the first section of the book, Cal segways into The Rules surrounding Deep Work – basically, how you can get this done.
Now, there is certainly a lot of leeway here and he showcases a few different ways of applying his ideas.
Cal is a professor and leads a very different professional life from the majority of us and he realizes this. He lays out several different strategies for applying his deep work process.
I believe that for myself, I’ll need to further tweak the process as the described examples didn’t fit exactly – which isn’t a huge surprise and doesn’t really take away from the idea itself.
What I need, and I suspect most of us will need, is a way to work this into our lives while contending with the everyday demands.
So, with that in mind, the real question is – how ruthless can you be about creating larger and larger blocks of time that are truly YOURS?
This is what matters in the end. When you can create more time blocks and be in control of them, you then need to strengthen your ability to really dive deep while avoiding distractions.
And this shouldn’t be taken too lightly – just making time isn’t enough. Just yesterday I had a great 1.5 hour block and I realized about half way through it I was moving my mouse over to my email tab and just about to click and I thought “wait – what the hell am I doing?? I don’t think I even thought about checking email…do I need to check something?? Nope….”.
It’s mastering your ability to deal with boredom (sounds harsh, but it’s a good word) that will also help you with Deep Work. Cal addresses this in the book and gives some great examples.
Like people waiting in line and depending on their phones to fill that 30 seconds while they stand there.
We’ve all been there, I know I finding myself pulling out the phone to see what’s been posted or if a new email has come in when I’m held up for any reason. So, I’m working on letting myself just be there. This actually has 2 good effects.
- I’m getting used to that feeling of “oooo I better check this or that” and ignoring it. I DON’T NEED to check anything. I want to. Big difference.
- Being more present is a great skill that lots of us are losing. How about pulling out phones while out to eat with a friend or loved one?
For the remainder of the book, Cal talks about several different ways in which you can help yourself get into the Deep Work methodology by quitting social media (no you don’t have to delete your Facebook account. Probably…) and getting rid of as much “shallow work” as possible.
This shallow work concept is an important conclusion to the book and Cal is realistic – no matter how open your time is, you have shallow work that has to be done. Paying the bills, replying to your boss’s emails, etc. That normal and something we all need to deal with. However, you can minimize the impact on your time by working these into your schedule properly and not letting them take your attention away.
One area that I’d like to circle back around to is the “why”. Why are we doing this? Why do we want to work “deeper”? Why do you want to get more done?
The answer to these questions is really important and for myself, and others, it’s the driving force behind striving to improve ourselves and our abilities.
For myself, I want to be able to contribute more meaningfully. I also want to have more time that I’m in control, for both work and play. To be honest, I want to be super productive so that I can spend more time outside and reading. I love to travel with my fiance and look forward to doing even more of that in the future – so I’d better figure out a way to improve my working time so that I can do this!
Answering these questions can really help you move forward – don’t feel selfish or 2nd guess yourself, just be honest. Why do you want to be more productive?