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Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World Hardcover – January 5, 2016
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"As a presence on the page, Newport is exceptional in the realm of self-help authors."―New York Times Book Review
"DEEP WORK accomplishes two considerable tasks: One is putting out a wealth of concrete practices for the ambitious, without relying on gauzy clichés. The second is that Mr. Newport resists the corporate groupthink of constant connectivity without seeming like a curmudgeon."―Wall Street Journal
"As automation and outsourcing reshape the workplace, what new skill do we need? The ability to do deep work. Cal Newport's exciting new book is an introduction and guide to the kind of intense concentration in a distraction-free environment that results in fast, powerful learning and performance. Think of it as calisthenics for your mind-and start your exercise program today."―Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human
"DEEP WORK makes a compelling case for cultivating intense focus, and offers immediately actionable steps for infusing more of it into our lives."―Adam M. Grant, author of Give and Take
"Cal Newport is a clear voice in a sea of noise, bringing science and passion in equal measure. We don't need more clicks, more cats, and more emojis. We need brave work, work that happens when we refuse to avert our eyes."―Seth Godin, author of What to Do When It's Your Turn
"Cal Newport offers the most well-informed and astute collection of practical advice I have seen for reclaiming one's mental powers."―Matthew B. Crawford, author of The World Beyond Your Head
"Just when you think you already know this stuff, DEEP WORK hits you with surprisingly unique and useful insights. Rule #3 alone, with its discussion of the 'Any-Benefit' mind-set, is worth the price of this book."―Derek Sivers, founder, Sivers.org
"Here lies a playbook for professionals of all stripes to achieve true differentiation in a crowded talent marketplace. Cal Newport's latest shows why he is one of the most provocative thinkers on the future of work."―Ben Casnocha, co-author of The Start-Up Of You
"In this strong self-help book, Newport declares that the habits of modern professionals-checking email at all hours, rushing from meeting to meeting, and valuing multitasking above all else-only stand in the way of truly valuable work."―Publisher's Weekly
"[A] worthwhile distraction."―ValueWalk
About the Author
Cal Newport, Ph.D., lives in Washington, DC, where he is a writer and an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University. He also runs the popular website Study Hacks: Decoding Patterns of Success. This is his fifth book.
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1. Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.
2. I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule.
3. 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.
4. High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
5. 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.
6. Depth-destroying behaviors such as immediate e-mail responses and an active social media presence are lauded, while avoidance of these trends generates suspicion.
7. “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love— is the sum of what you focus on.”
8. You don’t need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.
9. You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it. …The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.
10. … the minimum unit of time for deep work in this philosophy tends to be at least one full day. To put aside a few hours in the morning, for example, is too short to count as a deep work stretch for an adherent of this approach.
11. Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets… it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
12. At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning— no after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you’ll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely. If you need more time, then extend your workday, …trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown.
13. for a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit, while for experts this number can expand to as many as four hours— but rarely more.
14. The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.
15. So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand… they’re pretty much mental wrecks.
Dr. James T Brown, Author, The Handbook of Program Management, McGraw-Hill
The problem with Newport's book is that the above ideas are not enough material for an entire book. So he needs to fill out the book with interesting stories and related facts. This is where Newport gets sloppy, goes off the rails, and ruins the book. He contradicts himself over and over. Starting out by saying one needs time isolated, undistracted, alone, to be totally focussed on a task for several hours at a minimum, and then contradicting this by saying we should work in teams, or first that we ignore the smart phone and later put a stop watch phone app on our desk which we can constantly glance at to make sure we stay there for a certain time, etc. He even inserts bizarre asides that are completely irrelevant to his `deep work' topic such as card memorization tricks that have nothing to do with deeply concentrating on a task and entering the `deep work' state. Newport's editors at the publishing company clearly didn't bother pointing out the many contradictions, irrelevant distractions, and non-sequiturs riddled throughout this book.
`Deep Work', as Newport calls it, is sort of the work analogue of rem sleep, it is a state of concentration that only comes after you work undistracted for a certain amount of time. The amount of time needed to achieve this state differs between people and you get better at it with practice. In fact, contrary to what Newport says, some people can do it without the isolation. They can simply put their phone in airplane mode and shut everything out. Like the guy on the subway reading or writing who is completely oblivious to everything around him. A bomb could go off and he wouldn't even notice. In other words, contrary to Newport's initial (contradicted later) premise, we don't need to retreat to a proverbial `mountain shack' to achieve this productive state. In fact, I am in the state now, writing this. Yes, the mountain shack helps, but it is not required.
It became clear by the end of the book that Newport has decided to write Malcolm Gladwell type `techno self help books' for two reasons: 1) to pad his resume, and 2) to make money.
The first is clear by the importance he places on the number of books and articles people pump out (falling in to the `publish or perish' trap of academia) repeating yearly publication rates over and over for himself and others -- quantity not quality; and the second is clear by the importance he places on riches and rich people. How rich you will get, how irreplaceable and therefore highly paid you will be, etc., if you are a deep worker guy. Although this may just be his awareness of the values driving his target audience -- i.e. tech entry level programmers types or software sales types who went into CS or business school to make money. In otherwords the type of high level software tech guy who idolizes Bill Gates and has never heard of Dennis Richie or Richard Stallman. (Newport himself not have heard of them either)
It is also annoying that he talks forcefully about deleting your twitter or your facebook account and then reveals later that he has never even had a facebook account! That is like complaining about the number of people addicted to `game of thrones', saying it is a worthless waste of time and they should stop watching it, only to reveal he has never seen an episode of the show!
Look, I agree that social media is a distraction and one should not allow it to constantly interrupt your concentration throughout the day, but lets not start deleting every modern tool just because they can be addicting. Instead learn moderation! Alcohol can be addjcting too, but there are 10 people who enjoy relaxing with a scotch or glass of wine in the evening for every addicted alcoholic. Facebook provides pleasure and relaxation to people -- which is exactly why it can be addicting. The secret is moderation, not elimination.
Also, all of his talk about how long your mind can remain in `deep work' mode per day is pure made up nonsense. Four hours? He has no clue. Nor should he. In fact, it is likely different for different people and completely dependent on how long you have practiced it. People have gone for weeks, months, or even longer in that state (when proving Fermat's Last Theorem, Andrew Wiles went for 7 years!) Isaac Newton for example, would work so hard on a problem that he would forget to eat, he would dream about it, and it would totally consume him for weeks at a time. I heard a story, written by a fellow Cambridge professor and fellow member of the Royal Society who said Newton would emerge from his rooms, ostensibly to get some dinner, and would walk a certain distance lost in thought and completely oblivious to his surroundings. He would then suddenly stop and look around. Clearly having forgotten why he had left his rooms and he would then turn around, go back to his rooms, and continue working. Now that is what I call prolonged `deep work' -- forget about social media, not even hunger could interrupt Newton .
Anyway, I could go on but I won't bore you with further complaints.
Read "On Writing" by Stephen King and you will get a much more substantial and informative discussion of how to work, to create, and to go 'deep'. King's version of "deep work" is outlined beginning on page 151 (sections 2, 3, and 4 of the part entitled 'on writing') and I think he really nails it. Stephen King is both prolific and humble (he is also filthy rich for those of you who think that fact is important), and he certainly proven he knows how to achieve deep concentration. Search "22 lessons by Stephen King" sometime. They apply equally well to any 'deep' creative task in my opinion.
Summary: Make time in your life to go distraction free when you have an important creative endeavour to work on. Put your devices in airplane mode and retreat to your proverbial `mountain shack'. Do it as often, as for as long, as it takes to finish that creative endeavour. Then turn your devices back on and rejoin the rest of us out here in social media land. Tell us about your cool creation so that we can enjoy it as well and we can compliment you on how cool it is and how much hard work you did to accomplish it. However, don't brag too much or toot your own horn too much okay? Let us do that. Your creation shows your value without needing adornments about your publication rate, your million tasks accomplished -- and with children in their terrible twos!, your MIT education, your Georgetown professorial eliteness, and the rest. All that tooting just makes you look insecure.
In fact, by the end of Newport's book, it made me want to read a book written by his wife. I bet she would tell a revealing tale.