Book Review - Deep Work by Cal Newport

Since its publication in 2016, the book Deep Work by Cal Newport has maintained its word-of-mouth popularity. 

The initial marketing push through the blogosphere and mainstream media is apparent, and with a little digging, you'll find reviews on many platforms coming out in January 2016*.  The publisher did a great job to ensure we were aware of a new business/ professional/ personal development book that was a 'must read!'

But there's marketing, and then there are sales. To my mind, the actual evidence of the book's impact and success are its ratings and reviews on Amazon, LibraryThing and Goodreads.

People who've read Deep Work thought enough of it to rate it between 3.9 and 4.5. Further, in addition to scoring the book, many average readers were inspired to write lengthy reviews, some even detailed summaries. So why is it so popular? 

While the writing style is super accessible and, at 296 pages, not that long, it did take me a while to finish it. Which probably illustrates one of the book's themes – to learn or produce anything worthwhile, requires you to immerse yourself in the project through extended concentration.

In other words, the complete opposite of the skimmy, short-cut nature of what we currently allow ourselves (or are allowed) to produce meaningful work.

The benefits of practicing deep work is immense – mastery of difficult subjects, creativity and problem solving, expansion of understanding, sense of pride, being able to finish what you start, working in a state of flow. And the potential subsequent benefits of recognition and success.

Concentration requires distractions to be removed or ignored. It requires an acknowledgement that what’s in front of you may be slow, hard and heavy going. It requires tenacity and a stick-with-it till the work is complete. Concentration is often a solitary activity; meaning no-one else is interested, encouraging or supporting your endeavour. Therefore, it requires a self-motivated commitment. 

Not only does Newport provide a treatise on the benefits, but he also presents a number of models of how you can develop a practice, and he's brutal about what we need to cut out to 'do' deep work.

‘efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from dependence on distraction’ Deep Work p157

Newport is an academic – academics necessarily master the skill of comprehending long dry, difficult tracts and using them to support research into the development of new work. 

I'm not an academic, and so like many people, I abandon reading and thinking when boredom descends. My ability to focus will kick in under the pressure of a timeline; I will lean on my experience which is effective, but not necessarily my best work. Personally, I'm excited about the possibility that I could do groundbreaking work. Even the lesser experience of working 'in flow' thrills me. Reading Deep Work inspired me to think that it's possible if I'm prepared to do the work!!!

My main takeout from reading Deep Work is the essentiality of managing distractions and time to support any effort to immerse oneself in work that matters.  Procrastination, looking for shortcuts, being amused by shiny new things, or prioritising almost anything over the work erodes our ability to do our best - but for the person who is up for the commitment, new thought adventures await.


Etc ...

Additional reviews on Deep Work

Ryan Holiday
Barbara Oakley
Molly Young (in NYT)

Additional Resource
The most powerful MOOC I completed was Learning how to Learn, lead by Barbara Oakley and Terrance Sejnowski. One of the course objectives is to train the student in sitting through discomfort and stick with it. It's a great companion to Deep Work.

Learning and Memory Zombies

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