It’s extremely early in the year for me to already add a five-star rating to a book on my yearly reading list. Yet here we are. I recently finished Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work (see: Amazon link). He writes about a different type of work which is increasingly rare these days yet which offers a disproportionate amount of return. Newport defines deep work as “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.” As the frequency and sophistication of the distractions continue to increase around us, those people who find the time and ability to achieve deep work will stand out from the rest. In addition, they will feel a sense of contribution on a greater level.
How much “distraction-free concentration” time do you have in your schedule? With the busyness of my life, I realize my need to intentionally work toward this. I was immensely intrigued by almost every section of this book. This is one of those books you have to digest slowly as you consider ways to apply (and disrupt) it to your current habits. As Newport argues, “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.” This may sound daunting given your current reality, yet he provides numerous ways to approach this idea and how to nuance the application for your situation.
I strongly recommend you work through this book for yourself, but here are a few of the practical ideas to give you a feel for it:
Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.
Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy 1. The ability to quickly master hard things. 2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
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.
Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.
The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.
Instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction.
Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times.