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DEEP WORK – CAL NEWPORT BOOK REVIEW

The Deep Work Hypothesis: 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.

We live in a society in which we lack focus. Most people are distracted by their phone, Facebook, Youtube, etc. The main premise of this book is that the only way to achieve greatness is to do deep work. Deep work basically means to focus on something deeply for a sustained period of time, without any distractions.

The great restructuring

The main idea is that technology is way far ahead if you compared it to the skills people have in organizations. Technology is changing all the time and at a rapid pace. This is the new economy and the author argues that there are three types of people who will do will in this new economy:

  1. Highly-skilled workers: people like analysts and programmers that are able to use the new technologies.
  2. Superstars: People that are the very best at what they do, like actors, musicians, etc.
  3. Owners: People with a lot of money that can invest in these new technologies.

There are thousands of books on how to become the number 3, but not a lot on how to become number one and number 2. To be able to reach that level, you must master two things:

  1. You must master the ability to quickly master hard things. Those that are able to master the new technologies will be rewarded greatly.
  2. You must master the ability to produce at an elite level both in terms of speed and quality.

focus pictureThe author suggests that in order to accomplish these two things, someone need to be able to perform deep work. If you want to learn something, you will need intense concentration for a sustained period of time.

Forget about the prodigy story-line. In order to achieve greatness in a field, what you need is deliberate practice.

You want to focus your attention tightly on a specific skill that you want to master. What you want is all of the relevant brain circuits to fire again and again in isolation. This is what deep work is all about and you wont accomplish this if you keep getting distracted by Facebook or by text messages.

You learn when you do deep work. This skill will be highly valuable in the new economy.

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

If you want to produce at a high level, what you need is to work for extended periods of time with FULL concentration on a single task. You have to eliminate ALL POSSIBLE DISTRACTIONS.

The author gives the example of Adam Grant, the youngest professor at Wharton. He became the youngest professor because he was able to produce at an absurd rate. In 2012, he published 7 articles, which is really high for his field of research.

How is he able to do it? By doing deep work. He stacks teaching into the fall (and he is really good at it…in fat, he is the highest rated prof at Wharton), and then turn to research in the spring and summer. Focusing on research during the spring and summer allows him to have no distractions at all when he does his research. This is what deep work is all about.

What about Jack Dorsey?

Jack Dorsey is the the CEO of both Twitter and Square and is known to work at both companies everyday. By studying how he works, it seems like he doesn’t do deep work AT ALL.

The author explain that some jobs, like CEO for example, don’t require people to do deep work. The very nature of their jobs make it almost impossible for them to do deep work but that’s Ok because this is not what they got hired for. There are certain corners of the economy where depths is not valued.

Deep work is rare

open space officeBig trends in business today are decreasing people’s ability to perform deep work. Take the open office concept for example. The idea is that by removing walls between employees, they will enjoy their work more and communication is be easier. This is a big trend right now all across the world. There is a huge problem with the open space concept though: it is much harder to perform deep work. It is way easier to get distracted with the open office concept.

The author also tells a story from a CEO that calculated that his company paid around 1 million per year for his employee to process emails.

Why do so many people promote a culture of connectivity even though it’s likely to hurt the productivity of the employees?

The principle of least resistance: In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.

In today’s world, a lot of people seem busy, but in reality they are not producing anything. Just go to any office and you will see a lot of people on their computers who seem like they are working...The reality is they are busy, but they are not being productive.

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

It can be really hard for a knowledge worker to know if he is productive or not. It is much easier to determine if a construction worker is being productive because you can easily see the progress. A lawyer can work a few hours on a case and just by looking at him, you won’t notice anything different from a few hours ago. The connection between depth and meaning is less clear in knowledge work.

Those that are able to perform deep work are those that will achieve a high level of success in this world.

Deep work is meaningful

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the man behind the concept of Flow, a state in which your mind stretches to its limit. In a flow state, you are deeply concentrated and you lose yourself in an activity. Another key element of flow is that it generates happiness.

If you look closely enough, you will notice that deep work and flow are pretty much the same thing. Decade or research from Csikszentmihalyi validate the fact that deep work makes you happier and gives a meaning to your life.

Rule #1 Work deeply

If you want to incorporate deep work into your life, you need to add routines and rituals into your life. By doing this, you will minimize the amount of willpower needed for you to maintain a state of unbroken concentration. If you decide, right in the middle of a distracted afternoon spent browsing on the internet, to switch all of your attention on a task that requires a lot of focus, you will draw heavily from your finite willpower reserve not to go back on the internet. You have to understand that your willpower is limited and that switching from an easy task that you enjoy (watching Youtube videos for example) to a hard task will require you to use a lot of your willpower.

The smart way to do it is to use routines and rituals. By using these, you will need way less willpower to start and keep going. By using rituals, your brain reach a point in which doing the rituals becomes a habit, and it doesn’t need to use much willpower at all to do it.

Use rituals and routines to access that state of deep work. Decide WHERE exactly you will work and for how long. Decide HOW you will work once you start to work. It might be a good idea to completely ban the usage of Youtube and Facebook as you work. Might also be a good idea to leave your phone in another room as you are in deep work.

Rule #2 Embrace boredom

You are most likely addicted to distractions. We live in a society in which as soon as we have to wait two minutes in line somewhere, we quickly go on our smartphones. Our ability to concentrate is gone. This is why almost nobody do deep work and people who will become highly successful are those that do.

Schedule your distractions. Instead of scheduling a break distractions, what you should do is to schedule a break from focus so that you have to time to engage fully into all the kind of distractions that you want.

Practice productive meditation. The main goal with productive meditation is to take a period in which you are doing something physically but not mentally, like walking, showering, etc and focus all of your attention on a problem that you have to solve in your life. It could be anything like sharpen a business strategy or making progress on a specific work related problem. What you want to do is to bring back your attention back to the problem every time you lose your focus. You will probably need practice before you are able to this for long periods of time but with time YOU WILL get better.

Rule #3 Quit social media

quit-social-mediaMost people use social media as they work and therefore they CAN’T do deep work. It would be a good idea to eliminate this addictive habit from your life.

The author suggests you should try to quit social media for 30 days and see what happens. You will be surprised by how easy it is to do this and at the end of the 30 days, ask yourself these two questions : 1) would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use social media? 2) Did people care that I was not using this service?

Rule #4 Drain The Shallows

Eliminate shallow work from your life. Yes, this work is inevitable, but what you need to do is to confined it to a point where it doesn’t impede your ability to take full advantage of the deeper efforts, the ones that will actually determine your impact.

Schedule your day. You need to schedule your day if you want to be able to do deep work. The author argues that people who schedule their day are more likely to experience creative insights than people who adopt more of a traditional  “spontaneous” approach where the day is not structured at all. The problem with the lack of structure is it is too easy to waste time on social media or browsing the internet for hours. You won’t accomplish any creative work by doing this.

Fixed-schedule productivity: try to finish your work day always at the same time. By doing this, you will find productivity strategies that allow you to satisfy this time constraint.

Conclusion

Overall this book was really good. The whole idea is to eliminate the distractions in your life so you can focus on what the author calls deep work, sustained amount of time in which you focus all of your energies on what you are doing.

I agree with the ideas in this book and I think everybody should read it. The capacity to do deep work will give you a competitive advantage over your competition and you will achieve a level of success that you wouldn’t be able to achieve if you don’t implement these strategies.

Click here to see the book on Amazon

lease leave a comment below or let me know any questions you have.  I’d love to hear what you think!

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