After hearing a few interviews with Cal Newport on podcasts, I decided to pick this up. The book is divided into two main sections: The idea or “why” behind deep work, in which Newport tries to convince you it is necessary. I more or less bought in to this before listening to the book, but I listened to it anyway. The second part are the rules for how to do deep work. Newport writes this from an academic’s point of view, but there are definitely universal principles you can apply.
My main takeaways from the first half of the book (which I breezed through) are:
- How much our brains respond to distractions.
- How damaging the open office space is.
- Not all professions require depth.
My comments in italics
- Work Deeply
- Decide on your depth philosophy
- Monastic - Disconnecting yourself from the internet and making yourself hard to reach. Donald Knuth, Neal Stephenson.
- Bimodal - Pick stretches of time to retreat and be monastic. At least a full day at a time. A few days out of a month or a few weeks out of a year. Carl Jung, Adam Grant.
- Rhythmic - Make it a regular habit. A particular time each morning or each afternoon, etc.
- Journalistic - Fit it wherever you can into your schedule. Journalists are trained to shift into a writing mode on a moment’s notice. Not for the novice because it is incredibly difficult to do.
- Where & How long
- Pick a location to be used only for depth - I can’t swing this in my current living and work situation
- Develop rituals to support work
- Mine: Pomodoro timer, kill Slack and email, turn on Stayfocusd nuclear option, move my phone to a table across the room, put on my headphones. Listen to instrumental music if needed.
- Give yourself downtime, i.e. time not thinking about your work. Clear your head with exercise, a cold shower, music, etc. Lets your subconscious work on the problem, lets your brain recharge. Attention is a finite resource.
- Decide on your depth philosophy
- Embrace Boredom
- Walks in nature
- Practice staying focused and scheduling distraction.
- For me, this means staring a Pomodoro, closing Slack, closing email, and not checking them or browsing the internet until the pomodoro break.
- I use Headspace.
- Quit Social Media
- In a broader sense, Cal’s advice is to do a strict cost/benefit analysis of when and why you use social media, or any work tool.
- I’m unwilling to do this completely right now because I promote my work on social media and my primary interaction with Praxis is through a private Facebook group, but I am severely cutting back. I’ve removed the social apps from my phone (except Instagram, which I block during work hours with Freedom), blocked all social and news sites during the work day with Stayfocusd, and started only posting on Twitter through a one-way channel instead of consuming other people’s tweets.
- Drain the Shallows
- Shallow work is the type of work that doesn’t require a lot of focus. Commonly referred to as busy work. Delegate, cut back, and confine as much as you can.
- Raise the cost to direct communication like email to cut down on the number you receive each day.
I’m in a unique situation: I work remotely and set my own hours. As long as my deadlines are met I am free to work as I wish. So I decided to give this a try. I’ve been implementing my own form of this since listening to the book and it has paid off quite a bit. I track my time and tasks (and have for 2 years), and I noticed that I’m getting more done in a compacted period of time.
I use a mixture of the rhythmic and journalistic approach because I need to be available to answer questions since I’m a remote worker. As long as I respond within an hour during the work day, I’m in the clear. I use the pomodoro method to focus on a single task at a time. I do 1-2 full pomodoros with Slack and my email turned off. I still use the internet because I primarily work online (research, writing /testing code, debugging, making new sites), but I severely restrict what I can access with Stayfocusd.
I’m going to keep working on my adherence to see what works best, but I’m hooked. I’m using my extra time outside of my deliverables to read, write, and learn more.