Book review: Deep Work by Cal Newport
If you are like me, you probably wish for more time. More time to relax, more time to spend with family and also more time for your own projects. Today however, our world is dominated by social media, email communications, but also a culture of instant availability. This leaves us practically no time to dive into deep undisturbed work anymore. We all now that, but we are all somehow paralyzed by the sheer amount of tweets, deadlines and the urge to stay connected.
A couple years ago, I sat at a table with some museum directors, university professors and project leaders. We were talking about having time and this is what one of the university professors told me: “Since I am a professor, I come early to work, before everybody else does. This way, I have a full hour of undisturbed research time. This is the only time I can do research really, after 8 o’clock, I need to take phone calls, go into meetings and answer at least 100 mails per day.” This struck me. As a university professor, so one of the best in their field, they are not able to do the work they trained their whole lives for: research. Instead, they are forced to do administrative work or sit in endless meetings and waste their time for mediocre work.
This is what Cal Newport is talking about in his book “Deep Work. Rules for focused success in a distracted world”. He describes why Deep Work is so important and that this is one key factor in having success, whether you are Bill Gates or a university professor. Newport being a professor at Georgetown University himself knows what he is talking about. He describes how Deep Work is meaningful and also how it certainly can help your career. This first part of course comes to no surprise, especially when you are working in academia. We all wish for the time to work deep, focus on one problem, paper or idea at a time. Working deep also does not mean to have one hour before other people come into the office. Deep Work means that you spend 3-4 days undisturbed focused on one particular problem.
Quit social media
The second part of the book however describes how we can achieve that and what needs to be done to get this undisturbed time for ourselves. I have to admit, it seems all pretty reasonable. Quitting social media is one obvious choice, but explaining how little these addicting services really help in achieving your career goals helps certainly to just leave them. I did too. I did quit Facebook a while ago, a page where I was scrolling through every single day. Since I quit, I did not miss it for one second.
Embrace boredom for Deep Work
Embracing boredom is another quality that we certainly lost since the raise of the internet. We always have the next distraction one click away, but when did you had you last really good idea? While watching YouTube videos or while taking a walk and deliberately going AWAY from these distractions. Newport asks further: When you know that these things distract you and slow you down, why do them at all?
Drain shallow work
Shallow work, like answering emails or sitting in meeting you clearly don’t have to, is the problem here. We have too much of this shallow work to do, instead of what we are supposed to. Newport describes how to drain this work, so you can have more time working deeply. This includes also not answering emails right away.
In my opinion, this is one of the better books about productivity, especially if you are working in academia. It is well written and in fact does not waste any of your time while reading it (like GTD by D. Allen). If you are struggling with your time and wish for more focused work, it might be a book for you.
Cal Newport has a website with more information about him and his books: https://www.calnewport.com/