Book Review: Deep Work

A couple years ago, I read a great book by Cal Newport called “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, which I really enjoyed. I had heard that he wrote another book that was about focus and productivity, but I hadn’t gotten a chance to read it until recently. I just finished it, and loved it.

The book is called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. I found that I really connected with the writing style, and found it quite easy to follow along. Cal Newport is a computer scientist and an academic, so his writing was robust and scientific, but without being dry or a slog. It was a good read.

Why Deep Work?

The premise of the book is that “Deep Work” is rare and valuable, and the ability to do it is a competitive edge in today’s world. A state of distraction is the norm, and we tend to gravitate toward “shallow work”; working while distracted in a non-cognitively demanding way.

In contrast, Deep Work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Newport outlines several reasons why it is such an important skill, from several different perspectives. I found the discussion of neuroscience and psychology as they relate to Deep Work particularly interesting.

He argues that Deep Work is important because it helps us to master new things quickly, and produce at an elite level, both of which are important in today’s world of rapid change.

My Deep Work Ritual

As I was reading the book, I started working on my own Deep Work ritual. There are several things I do to prepare for a Deep Work session:

  • I close my instant messaging software.
  • I close my physical notebook.
  • I put in my headphones with some background noise.
  • I turn off notifications on all of my devices.
  • I open up new workspaces on my computer to hide all my other windows.
  • I even hide the dock at the bottom of my screen so I don’t see any notification badges.

This all helps me to really get into “the zone” and focus deeply on a particular task or project. I try to block off at least 30 minutes for a session, and preferably 90 minutes when possible. I don’t try to push beyond 90, as usually I start to get drained and need a break before diving back in.

I’ve found these Deep Work sessions really helpful at work. I didn’t really realize how much time I spent in a distracted state. It’s easier now for me to recognize and be mindful of when I am getting distracted. Some “shallow work” is always necessary, but I try to do at least one solid session of Deep Work every day, preferably 2 or 3.

Other Ideas

There are some other great ideas in the book that I’ve been thinking about. I’ve worked on practicing cognitively demanding tasks (at the book’s suggestion, I learned to memorize a deck of cards in a day). I’ve been thinking about “leading measures” of things that I want to improve (increasing my Deep Work time every week, also increasing my bike riding time every week – another skill I want to improve). I’ve been going on some “Deep Thinking” walks. And I’ve been trying to “shut out” work after a certain time and not getting back into it, which is tough but I think mentally beneficial for me.

This is just a quick whirlwind tour of some of the things that I got from the book. There is a lot more depth (ha!) in the actual book, though, and I definitely recommend it. Especially if you’re interested in being productive and getting the most out of your time and cognitive ability, at work or otherwise.

Leave a Reply