Friday, February 8, 2019

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (2016) by Cal Newport, Book Review

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (2016) by Cal Newport

What is Deep Work? Dr. Cal Newport, a graduate from MIT and currently a computer science professor, divides our professional work into two categories: Deep Work and Shallow Work. Deep Work (what he called the “superpower of the 21st century”) is defined as: “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” On the other hand, Shallow Work consists of tasks that can be performed while being distracted. If you spend more time doing shallow activities such as checking your emails for hours even during meals or chat on WhatsApp while listening to lecture and scrolling mindlessly on Facebook simultaneously, your capacity to perform on Deep Work decrease dramatically. In a distracted world like today, Deep Work is important and thus valuable – and rare.

I understand the concept of Deep Work for so long now but nobody put it into words as awesome and awestruck as Cal Newport. I need this message, I must be converted, and I want Deep Work as part of my life. In order to survive and prosper in today’s ever distracted world, Newport said we need to develop these two skills: #1 the ability to quickly master hard things [speed] and #2 the ability to produce at an elite level [quality]. If you like an equation, it looks like this;

[High-Quality Work] = [Speed or Time Spent] + [Deep Work or Intensity of Focus]

I confess Deep Work is easy to read but very hard to practice. If it’s easy, everyone will do it…. but the fact is, most of us don’t. Yet, we must! Newport emphasizes, “To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.” What separates Carl Jung and Albert Einstein from the rest of their other genius contemporaries? Their ability to think deeply. What separates Stephen King and J.K. Rowling from other amazing novelists? Their commitment to Deep Work. “Human beings, it seems,” writes Newport, “are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.” These deep people (including the author) understand that “less mental clutter means more mental resources available for deep thinking.” I remember I went into Deep Work mode when I wrote an eBook to help my students to understand this one particular false religion that was spread in campuses and student’s residents. I start in the afternoon after lunch, shut off my smartphone, locked myself in the office, only drink water and coffee, and I finished the book by 1.00am. I was in the flow, super focus and away from any conscious distraction. It was one of the most productive and great works that I’ve ever done.

There are lots of lessons I learned from this book. Some I disagree (such as Quit Social Media), but to most of his wisdom I say, “Amen” (especially on Embrace Boredom, Drain the Shallows, and the 4DX Framework). Like I said, Deep Work is easy to read but hard to practice. But it worth it. Everything worthwhile is hard at first. “The differentiating factor in the 21st century is going to be those who can focus and those who cannot,” says Newport. Read this book and increase your Deep Work capacity. I’m always reminded of that when I end every blog with this philosophy…


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