Deep Work

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11 interesting paragraph from the book “Deep Work” by “Cal Newport”

To explore this macro perspective we turn to a pair of MIT economists, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, who in their influential 2011 book, Race against machine , provide a compelling case that among various force at play, it’s the rise of digital technology in particular that transform our labor market in an unexpected ways. “We are in the early throes of a great restructuring,” Brynjolfsson and McAfee explain earlier in their book. “Our technologies are racing ahead but many of our skills and organization are lagging behind. For many workers, this lag predicts bad news. As intelligent machine improve, and the gap between machine and human abilities shrinks, employers are becoming increasingly likely to hire “new machines” instead of “new people.” And when only a human will do, improvements in communications and collaboration technology are making remote work easier than ever before, motivating companies to outsource key roles to stars – leaving the local talent pool underemployed.

This understanding is important because it provides a neurological foundation for why deliberate practice works. By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called Oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin around the neurons in the circuits-effectively cementing the skill. The reason, therefore why it is important to focus intensely on the task at hand while avoiding distraction is because this is the only way to isolate the relevant neuron circuit enough to trigger useful myelination. By contrast, if you’re trying to learn a complex new skill (say, SQL database management) in a state of low concentration (perhaps you also have your Facebook feed open), you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen.

Also consider the frustratingly common practice of forwarding an email to one or more colleagues, labeled with a short open-ended interrogative, such as, “thoughts?” These emails take the sender only handful of seconds to write but can command many minutes (if not hour in some cases) of time and attention from their recipients to work toward a coherent response. A little more care in crafting the message by the sender could reduce the overall time spent by all parties by a significant fraction. So why are these easily avoidable and time-sucking email so common? From the sender perspective, they are easier. It’s a way to clear something out of their inbox-at least, temporarily – with a minimum amount of energy invested.

Deep work should be a priority in today’s business climate but it’s not. I’ve just summarizing various explanations for this paradox. Among them are the realities that deep work is hard and shallow work is easier, that in the absence of clear goals for your job, the visible busyness that surrounds shallow work become self-preserving, and that our culture has developed a belief that if a behavior relates to “the Internet” then it’s good – regardless of its impact on our ability to produce valuable things. All of these trends are enabled by the difficulty of directly measuring the value of depth or the cost of ignoring it.

Just because this connection between depth and meaning is less clear in knowledge work, however, doesn’t mean that it’s non-existent. The goal of this chapter is to convince you that deep work can generate as much satisfaction in information economy as so it clearly does in a craft economy. In the section ahead, I’ll make three arguments to support this claim. These arguments roughly follow a trajectory from the conceptually narrow to broad. Starting with the neurological perspective, moving to the psychological, and ending with the philosophical. I’ll show that regardless of the angle from which you attack the issue of depth and knowledge work, it’s clear that by embracing depth over shallowness, you can tap the same veins of meaning that drive craftsman like Ric Furrer. The thesis of this final chapter in part 1, therefore, is that a deep life is not just economically lucrative, but also a life well lived.

This brings me to the motivating idea behind the strategies that follow: the key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration. If you suddenly decide, for example, in the middle of a distracted afternoon spent web browsing, to switch your attention to cognitively demanding task, you’ll draw heavily from your infinite willpower to wrest your attention away from online shininess. Such attempt will therefore frequently fail. On the other hand, if you deployed smart routines and rituals – perhaps a set time and quite location used for your deep work task each afternoon – you’d require much less willpower to start and keep going. In the long run, you’d, therefore, succeed with these deep efforts for more often.

Rowling decision to check into a luxurious hotel suite near Edinburgh Castle is an example of curious but effective strategy in the word 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 of money, all dedicated toward 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.

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Adam Marlin’s experience underscores an important reality about deep work. The ability to concentrate intensely on a skill that must be trained. This idea might sound obvious once it’s pointed out, but it represents departure from how most people understand such matters. In my experience, it’s common to treat undistracted concentration as a habit like flossing – something you know how to do and know is good for you, but that we have been neglecting due to a lack of motivation. This mindset is appealing because it implies you can transform your work life from distracted to focused overnight if you can simply muster enough motivation. But this understanding ignores the difficulty of focus and hours of practice is necessary to strengthen your “mental muscles.” The creative insight that Adam Marlin now experiences in his professional life, in other words, has little to do with commitment to training this ability early every morning.

This conclusion, if considered objectively, shouldn’t be surprising. In the context of network tools, we’ve become comfortable with any benefit mindset, but if we instead zoom out and consider this mindset in the broader context of skilled labor, it suddenly becomes a bizarre and ahistorical approach to choosing tools. In other words, once you put aside the revolutionary rhetoric surrounding all things internet – the sense, summarized in part 1, that you’re either fully committed to “the revolution” or a Luddite curmudgeon – you’ll soon realize that network tools are not exceptional; they are tools no different from blacksmith’s hammer or artistic brush, used by skilled labor to do their jobs better (and occasionally to enhance their leisure). Throughout history, skilled labors have applied sophistication and skepticism to their encounters with new tools and their decisions about whether to adopt them. There’s no reason why knowledge workers cannot do the same when it comes to the internet – the fact that the skilled labor hare involves digital bits doesn’t change this reality.

This strategy picks specifically on social media because among the different network tools that can claim your time and attention, these services if used without limit, can be particularly devastating to your quest to work deeper. They offer personalized information arriving on an unpredictable intermittent schedule – making them massively addictive and therefore capable of severely damaging your attempt to schedule and succeed with any act of concentration. Given these dangers, you might expect that more knowledge workers avoid these tools altogether – especially those like computer programmer or writers whose livelihood explicitly depends on the outcome of deep work. But part of what makes social media insidious is that the companies that profit from your attention succeeded with a masterful marketing coup: convincing our culture that if you don’t use their products you might miss out.

As I emphasized in this book’s introduction, I have no interest in this debate. A commitment to deep work is not a moral stance and it’s not a philosophical statement – it is instead a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done. Deep work is important, in other words, not because distraction is evil, but because it enables Bill Gates to start a billion-dollar industry in less than a semester.

The book “Deep Work” by “Cal Newport” is more like a research on, how “focus” and “concentration” can improve our productivity, and how to implement it in our lives. Cal Newport describes deep work as, “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capability to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

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