Book thoughts: Deep Wor

March 6th, 2019

Deep Work by Cal Newport was highly recommended in a YouTube video I watched a couple of months ago.

The author has coined the term ‘Deep Work’, which he describes as the ability to focus without distraction on demanding tasks which pushes our cognitive abilities to the limit. And he claims these efforts create new value, improve our skills and that they are hard to replicate.

The counterpart is ‘Shallow Work’: non-demanding, logistical-style tasks performed while distracted, and which don’t create much value and are easy to replicate.

I immediately found this book very interesting. While I am excited about new technology, I am also interested in how it affects us as human beings. It also put me in a dilemma since I want to be a programmer. I will probably not always be able to decide what I want to program and may end up coding something that will take the focus away from deep work for someone.

This book is also a great reminder of how much time we waste on being entertained. Often times the technology seems to be in control. Even though I have prioritized a lot better the last couple of years, it’s good to get a reminder and to be able to learn how to get even better. Learning to code is hard, and if I plan to be a programmer, I need to focus properly.

In his introduction, Newport points to a study from 2012 which shows that the average knowledge worker feels busier than ever, even though 60 percent of the workweek is spent on searching the web and handling electronic communication, and 30 percent of a workers time is dedicated to reading and answering e-mail. If we are to believe the author, the age of these network tools represents a shift toward the shallow, and this shallowness is not easily reversed. If we spent enough time in this state, we may permanently lessen the capacity to perform deep work.

As a knowledge worker myself and a user of network tools, this is easily recognizable. I get distracted all the time, and especially by mail, social media and management tools like Slack. And even if I have canceled my subscriptions on services like Netflix and HBO, and stopped using Facebook and Twitter, turned off notifications on my phone etc, I still find myself procrastinating and checking other things on the web. It’s not easy.

I also feel that my two kids have a lesser attention span, even though we are fairly restrictive on screen time. They would rather never be bored, and if they are, they tend to look at the phone or tablet as a solution as opposed to reading a book or playing with their toys. And that actually scares me and makes me a little sad. Newport does mention that there are those that think this change in society will make us better off and that we don’t need good memory anymore since everything is always readily available on the internet.

Either way, the author states that our work culture’s shift towards the shallow presents a huge economic and personal opportunity for those who recognize the potential of doing deep work. The reason being that our information economy changes so rapidly, and to remain valuable you have to learn complicated things fast. That requires deep work.

This concept may sound old fashion, but it’s a skill that has great value today, and the growing necessity of deep work is actually pretty new.

The Deep Work Hypothesis: “The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive”.

After reading this introduction I immediately cut back even more on social media and surfing. I am very excited to read the rest.