The Library: Deep Work by Cal Newport

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Reviewed by Matt

What’s life like in your current workplace? 

If you’re behind a desk, in a busy open-plan office, do you ever find it difficult to focus on the work at hand?

If you spend most of the day working on a computer, how would rate your ability to stay productive for longer spans of time?

In Cal Newport’s latest book, Deep Work, he identifies this as a major challenge for today’s knowledge workers.

Whilst computers have greatly empowered our productive capabilities, there’s also a darkside. Those day-to-day tasks that we think are signs of productive work, such as email, often actually work against us. 

Newport notes that we, “increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative - constantly sending and receiving e-mail messages like human network routers, with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction.”

These problems make it harder to perform deep work and should leave us questioning whether or not we can become better at working with intelligent machines.

As machines become more complex, Newport believes that those who can do this will thrive. But to thrive you must first understand how to get the most out of your day:   

“To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work.”

In Deep Work, Newport provides a comprehensive guide to some of the best methods for achieving a consistent mode of deep work. 

This includes some often-overlooked basics, such as scheduling every minute of your day -  something that those in a creative industry can struggle with a little more. But, as creatives that are required to perform every day might realise:

“[Great creative minds] think like artists but work like accountants.”

Our environment also plays a major role in our ability to focus. Newport shows that the open plan office has been working against us since its inception and wide adoption in workplaces across the world.

For many of us, that’s a change that is out of our control but there are some things that we can take responsibility for. 

Newport believes that not using the internet for entertainment is one. Keeping business and pleasure separate in the work environment will ensure that there are less urges for distraction throughout the day. 

Another is ensuring that you give yourself adequate downtime each day. This will help to aid insights as well enable you to recharge enough so that you can reach the necessary levels of deep work. 

When you’ve finished work for the day, it actually pays to switch off. 

Overall, Deep Work is filled with some fantastic insights that will provide you with some practical ways to increase your productivity. 

Just be warned though that, whilst they may be practical, they won’t necessarily be easy.