Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World – Cal Newport

Here are my comments on the book:

How can you increase your productivity and get more done? Cal Newport, assistant professor in the department of computer science at Georgetown University, states that it requires something called “deep work.” So what makes Professor Newport so special? He’s able to produce more academic papers than his colleagues in his field while still living a balanced life. To get more accomplished out of your day and in life, deep work, also known as focused and undisrupted work, is a requirement in today’s world due to the countless, continuous distractions. As technology rapidly evolves to even greater capabilities, this results in a requirement to master even more challenging things to be at the top as the standard for human labour increases. Here are some points to the book:


1. The quality of your work is dependent on the amount of time you spend on it multiplied by the intensity at which you focus on it. To outproduce others in both quality and quantity, learn to increase your ability to stay focused and concentrate on the task on hand. Time and time again have studies shown that multi-tasking is a myth; multi-tasking seemingly has no affect. Those who stay focused are better able to produce better work and make fewer mistakes. In a course I took with high performance coach Brendon Burchard, he talks about “time blocking” where you block certain times of the day where you just stay focused, with no distractions whatsoever, to get work done. Grant also batches his attention on a smaller time scale. Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods where his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods where he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task. (He typically divides the writing of a scholarly paper into three discrete tasks: analyzing the data, writing a full draft, and editing the draft into something publishable.) During these periods, which can last up to three or four days, he’ll often put an out-of-office auto-responder on his e-mail so correspondents will know not to expect a response. ‘It sometimes confuses my colleagues,’ he told me. ‘They say, ‘You’re not out of office, I see you in your office right now!’ But to Grant, it’s more important to enforce strict isolation until he completes the task at hand. My guess is that Adam Grant doesn’t work substantially more hours than the average professor at an elite research institution (generally speaking, this is a group prone to workaholism), but he still manages to produce more than just about anyone else in his field. I argue that his approach to batching helps explain this paradox. In particular, by consolidating his work into intense and uninterrupted pulses, he’s leveraging the following law of productivity: High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus).


2. Believe it or not but we derive happiness more from getting into a mental state of flow, which entails doing somewhat challenging and meaningful work, than free time that’s unstructured. This is why I believe that entrepreneurs are willing to put in more hours on their venture than a job to make the same amount of money. There are certain aspects of entrepreneurship, especially if it’s something that you’re passionate about, that just brings you into a state of flow that a job doesn’t. In addition, entrepreneurship is more fulfilling as you have more control over it. Among many breakthroughs, Csikszentmihalyi’s work with ESM helped validate a theory he had been developing over the preceding decade: ‘The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Csikszentmihalyi calls this mental state flow (a term he popularized with a 1990 book of the same title). At the time, this finding pushed back against conventional wisdom. Most people assumed (and still do) that relaxation makes them happy. We want to work less and spend more time in the hammock. But the results from Csikszentmihalyi’s ESM studies reveal that most people have this wrong: Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed. When measured empirically, people were happier at work and less happy relaxing than they suspected. And as the ESM studies confirmed, the more such flow experiences that occur in a given week, the higher the subjects’s life satisfaction. Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.


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3. At times, the environment that you’re producing in needs to be changed. Bill Gates goes on a “think week” twice a year where he gets out of routine and secludes himself from others and the available distractions. During his “think week” he reads, researches, and gets his creative juices flowing. Putting yourself into a new environment will help you just as it has with Bill Gates, Phil Knight of Nike, and J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter. Rowling’s decision to check into a luxurious hotel suite near Edinburgh Castle is an example of a curious but effective strategy in the world of deep work: the grand gesture. The concept is simple: By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated towards supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task. This boost in importance reduces your mind’s instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy.


4. Go out and explore nature more. In the book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman, Goleman states that going out for walks in nature can lead to increased focus. By going out and exploring nature, it allows you a chance to rejuvenate and thus increasing your ability to stay focused. A frequently cited 2008 paper appearing in the journal Psychological Science describes a simple experiment. Subjects were split into two groups. One group was asked to take a walk on a wooded path in an arboretum near the Ann Arbor, Michigan, campus where the study was conducted. The other group was sent on a walk through the bustling center of the city. Both groups were then given a concentration-sapping task called backward digit-span. The core finding of the study is that the nature group performed up to 20 percent better on the task. The nature advantage still held the next week when the researchers brought back the same subjects and switched the locations: It wasn’t the people who determined performance, but whether or not they got a chance to prepare by walking through the woods. This study, it turns out, is one of many that validate attention restoration theory (ART), which claims that spending times in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.


By Ryan Lee


My rating:
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Check out the book here:

Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK


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