Book review: Deep Work

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An easy to read book with an almost too obvious message: to be able to concentrate is good.

But fortunately for the book, the implications goes much deeper than just this simple fact.

According to Cal Newport, we live in an era where the concentrated and focused man is a dying breed – a paradox considering that we are supposedly living in a “knowledge economy”.

On one side of the equation, our ability to do focused work is being impaired by our modern and hyper-connected environment littered with Twitter notifications, FaceTime calls and easy-to-read news on countless websites. On the other hand, people who can work with complex problems in an exponentially accelerating, technological reality, are best suited to keep up with the rapid development – at least if you believe the author.

If nothing else; if the focused human really is a dying breed, he will always be able to call himself unique, if he possesses the skill that many have lost.

 

I now give you my 3 favorite take aways from the book:

  • Remember to take time off. If we buy the premise that we really can be more effective / creative when we practice the “deep-work method”, we must also realize that we need breaks. According to the author, we cannot expect more than 4 hours of quality work from ourselves during any given day, and if we want to do this on several consecutive days, we will have to recharge in between.
  • Try  a “productivity-meditation“. The author suggests that we try to show mindfulness towards the disruptive behavior that we potentially suffer from. Therefore, one can try to observe the inner urge to check Twitter when being in the middle of something important – possibly, closing the eyes, breathe, return to the work, and keep in mind that Twitter will always be available once the deep work session is done.
  • Choose your social media platforms with care. Cal Newport argues beautifully, that we should not join every possible social network, that we can generate a like on. It is simply important that we make a deliberate calculation of the time we may spend on the various tools, and whether they are worth it in the long run. Social media should only be regarded as tools, and therefore only be taken out of the toolbox once they solve a fitting problem. The time you could have gained from not maintaining your Facebook page has to be accounted for, to calculate the opportunity costs.

As I said, the main point of the book is very obvious, yet it has had a tangible impact on how I do my work now, and it, therefore has my recommendation.

Going to buy the book?

get-it-here

A Case For Not Checking

I remember a few years ago, when the general concept of “social media” was synonymous with “Facebook”. At that point, Twitter hadn’t blown up yet, and there was no Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp or what have you.

Those were simpler times…. 🙂

Nowadays, we constantly need to keep up with an ocean of apps, where friends can reach us, news can be delivered to us and stock portfolios can be checked.

In reality, this means you can always feel certain, that somewhere on your smartphone, there is a bit of information that was just updated and that it still hasn’t reached your eyeballs yet.

This further means, that there is always a new little reward/dopamine/adrenaline rush to be had, every time you want it. You just need to check for it.

Now, is there anything wrong with this? Little rewards here and there throughout the day sounds lovely, doesn’t it? WRONG!

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this stuff recently, and come to the conclusion, that it both kills our productivity and happiness in the long run. And let me explain why.

 

Checking kills your productivity

Remember in school, when you had a report due the next day, how suddenly you felt the urge to clean your room? Obviously, this was just basic procrastination, but what it specifically did, was give you an easy feeling of accomplishment, instead of going through the drudgery of actually completing the report.

Later on, you found yourself writing the report at 3 AM, when the time pressure had become so immense, that you no longer had a choice but to write.

The final result would be stress, lower quality of work and a longer time to finish.

Today, instead of cleaning your room, you can just choose to manically check stuff on your computer or smartphone, whenever you want to procrastinate and feel rewarded.

This gives you a falls sense of accomplishment by completing something, that was totally unimportant.  As a result, the big and meaningful rewards will only be delayed due to the many premature rewards.

 

Kills your happiness

The second part of my argument is just an extension of the first.

I believe, that true happiness in life is partially comprised of some sense of meaningful accomplishment.

That means, if all you aim for, is the small and meaningless rewards, like checking your Facebook account, you won’t improve your long-term quality of life, compared to finishing bigger and tougher projects.

 

How to?

I have now made the case, that we should try and stop checking our smartphones several times a day, because it distracts us from the truly important. This will also enable us to stay more present throughout the day.

But how? Below, I suggest a few tips on how to start making this change. It is a tough habit to cultivate in the beginning, just like anything else, and it won’t come overnight. But the following tips have worked for me so far:

 

Be mindful. Try and see, if you can notice the urge to check, before you actually do it. Most times, it is totally automatic, so it would be best to stop yourself and ask, why you need to check whatever you want to check.

Are you sure, that it cannot wait? I’m sure that it can.

Delete non-essential apps from your phone. This point is self-explanatory, but decide what is non-essential, and what is necessary for your day to day life. Also, think about what can be checked on the computer instead, with lesser frequency.

Decrease the number of platforms for communication. As I said earlier, people can reach each other in too many ways nowadays. Which ones do you use (email, SMS, Facebook, Slack, Snapchat, iMessage)? Are there any of them, you can opt out of, in order to simplify your life, and maintain focus?

Set fixed times for checking. Of course, some things do need to be checked sometimes. Therefore, it can be useful to create artificial boundaries, to keep the checking under control. For instance, tell yourself, that you can check X every morning, and then that’s it for the day.

 

That’s it guys, I hope you liked the post, and that it will help you staying more focused in your day to day life.

 

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For further readings on the idea of staying more focused, check out:

–        The One Thing

–        The Power of Less

–        Essentialism