“Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” is a self help book written by Cal Newport. Spanning around three hundred pages, the book was first published by Grand Central Publishing in January, 2016, subsequently also by Hachette Book Group. New York Times published a book review praising Newport as an exceptional self help author. Wall Street Journal praised the concrete practices discussed in the book to empower the ambitious and the manner in which the author has avoided corporate groupthink. The book has been praised by The Economist, The Globe and Mail and 800 CEO Read.
Many critics and authors have appreciated the book for its entangled and intertwined, often erudite and otherwise effortlessly explained techniques, disciplines, strategies and philosophies to focus on the work at hand or the ulterior objective an individual has. Deep Work is a self help book but it does dive into the depths of the subject and is not superficial at all, according to reviews on The Guardian, Publishers Weekly and many others in the media.
What is Deep Work all about?
Deep Work does precisely what its tagline says. It lays out the rules for ambitious and committed people to succeed using focus that is constantly under threat due to the many distractions in the contemporary world. The book was a Wall Street Journal Business Bestseller, the Best Business Book on Amazon for the month of January in 2016 and the Business Book of the Week at 800-CEO-READ.
Deep Work has one objective, to help people master a skill that will help them achieve the results they want. The book tries to inculcate an ability or sense in the readers to focus on a task that is cognitively demanding without getting distracted by anything. According to author Cal Newport, focus alone can help simplify complicated situations, enable people to process more information and hence produce much better outcomes in considerably less time. The book aims to enhance the sense of fulfilment in its true sense that can only be derived from work and a successful outcome.
The book comes at a time when most people around the world are constantly embroiled in the frantic chatter of social media, relentless exchange of emails and far too many distractions to keep a mind from being truly focused and committed to the task at hand. Deep Work is relevant in an increasingly connected age. The basic skill that it talks about has always been important but never has it been so elusive. This self help book is not limited to any particular profession or industry, age or gender, socioeconomic factor or even lifestyle. Newport combines cultural criticism with actionable advice in Deep Work to help people become experts in their chosen discipline and achieve everything they are meant to.
Who is Cal Newport?
Dr. Calvin Newport is a thirty six years old associate professor at Georgetown University. He teaches computer science. The tenured professor is also the author of five books, all on self improvement. Newport has a blog called Study Hacks focusing on academic success and career. He attended Dartmouth College and then completed his Ph.D. in computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a post doctoral associate for two years in the department of computer science at MIT.
Cal Newport routinely blogs about productivity, meaningfulness and value in the context of academics, career or job and he coined the word deep work to signify studying or working without any distraction. While distractions can be of any nature, he is mostly against social media, emails and other contemporary issues. Newport advocates digital minimalism. He has written four other books: “How to Win at College”, “How to Become a Straight-A Student”, “How to Be a High-School Superstar” and “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”.
For Deep Work, Newport dabbles in principles of neuroscience and psychology to drive home the points he makes. Elaborating how cognitive abilities can be improved and that employers must encourage their workforce to avoid shortcuts, Newport suggests ambitious professionals and also individuals to break away from the frantic race, to switch off from the digital world, to unwind and rewind so one can introspect and realize their true potential.
Key Takeaways from Deep Work
Newport has an extensive guide for self improvement in the book, replete with all the factual and anecdotal information that one needs to understand everything in the right context. There is no dearth of tips but some are more pertinent than others. One of the first takeaways from the book is to stay away from social media. Newport does not necessarily recommend that readers should not be on social media or avoid using it at all times. He actually talks about the benefits of not having the distractions of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn among others. Newport suggests that if any engagement is not adding anything of value to the quality of life then it may very well be completely redundant. The simple question he asks readers is if social media or social networks have any benefits for a particular individual. There are many who rely on social media for professional or personal purposes. Unless there is any true and tangible benefit, one must stay away and focus on what matters more.
Cal Newport does not sound like a nagging parent when he urges readers to log off and turn off the gadgets. He does not speak like the old professor in college who still thinks one must study all the time. Instead, the writer of Deep Work suggests that working should be limited to a strict span of time. This avoids burnout. Short sessions of work actually help focus and concentration. More work can be done in shorter spans of time if the mind is rested enough and one does not become a work creep. Just as staying distracted all the time is bad, trying to remain focused all the time is not much good either. There are people who spend days doing very little work but end up spending their lifetime at the workplace.
One of the important takeaways from Deep Work is the necessity to work on concepts or ideas and various ways to develop oneself during tasks that are repetitive and do not require any cognitive involvement. Cleaning, exercise, daily commutes, listening to music or the radio and many such everyday acts do not require much participation of the mind. These chores have to be attended to so one can make most of the time available. As the tasks are being carried out repeatedly, one can think of concepts, ways to improve their skills, figure out what they should be doing next or explore other thoughts that can have a consequential and valuable bearing in their lives.
There are other significant advices in the book such as the four disciplines of execution. Newport suggests that people should focus on a task that is the most important at a given time, then one must act on lead measures, assess how much work has been done which is like keeping a score and finally ensuring accountability so one can stay committed through a long and arduous journey. Newport also suggests that shallow work, as opposed to deep work, that does not require much participation of the active and focused mind, can be done when one is distracted. Logistical, clerical or repetitive tasks are not cognitively challenging so it is not necessary for anyone to stay unfailingly focused for such chores.
Review of Deep Work
Cal Newport does not present a negative assessment of distraction. He takes a hard stand against it but by using the positivity of remaining focused. He uses focus, what concentration can help a person accomplish and what distractions will keep one away from. It is a refreshing way to help with self improvement since people often fear of being considered a curmudgeon if they are not on social media or avoid digital interactions. The book has two parts. The first part discusses the deep work ethic that is suitable for nearly every profession. The second part delves into a rigorous training program. The four rules become the crux of this latter part and they can truly transforming a willing mind.
Not everyone has the same commitment and hence focus does waver. Some people have problems with concentrating on something for a predetermined period of time. Focus, concentration, working hard and deep work are all about habits. Just as distractions get ingrained in our daily lives, habits too have the same effect and Newport tries to turn focus into a habit and then a skill. He uses other habits and skills to the same effect. This book does not dive into the same clichés that readers may have come across in countless other self help or self improvement books. Some of the tips may be immediately adopted by many readers. Some of them are rather daunting but practice can indeed make perfect. “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” is a critically acclaimed popular book and rightly so.
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