This is the second book of Cal Newport’s that I’ve read. The first was “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” which suggested that passion isn’t the best path to job satisfaction and success.
Deep work refers to the kind of work that requires focus and effort. Responding to email is a shallow task, but researching a term paper is deep work, if you are doing it without distractions.
It’s a solid book, although I have limited access to the techniques in it at the moment as I’m staying home with my newborn. I imagine it will be quite some time before I can do as he suggests schedule large blocks of time for distraction free work.
However, the concept is sound. You can’t do groundbreaking work or even really excellent work if you’re checking email every few minutes or getting pinged by your interoffice IM. When I worked at a big technology company I made myself unavailable on IM for a single afternoon and was scolded for it. He anticipates this issue and suggests you speak to your bosses about making yourself unavailable before trying it. And suggests that you could follow the example of some of the people in his book that work before the workday starts for the rest of the company.
There are four rules he outlines to set yourself up for success with deep work:
- Work deeply
- Embrace boredom
- Quit social media
- Drain the shallows
I can do some of those things. I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone, which has helped. I had already deleted the games off my phone that I used to play during the days of enforced bed rest before the baby was born, which helped free up some time.
Side note: I can’t manage to subscribe to Newport’s blog on my RSS feeder–which is just as well, because I’ve deleted that as well and am no longer reading any of my blogs–so I get it via email. This is deeply amusing to me because he spends a significant part of his time on his blog and in the book encouraging people to reduce or eliminate their use of email.
I’m still working my way through the many years of his blog posts, which I had opened and saved to readability but now readability is shutting down so I exported everything to pocket and I read a couple of articles every day.
Obviously I like the “quit social media” rule, and I also like “embrace boredom” although it’s hard for me. I’m working on it. It’s true what he says, that boredom helps shake things loose in your brain.
Draining the shallows means that you should try to focus on the tasks that create the most value in your work. Minimize or eliminate the rest of it. I still work on a freelance basis but out of necessity I have to focus on whatever is most valuable because I have limited time, thanks to a child that seems to believe that a nap should never last longer than 30 minutes, which…no.
I recommend this book for everyone. If I can apply aspects of three of the four rules to improve your work while trying to keep a new human alive, anyone can improve the quality of their work using the principles he outlines.