A trusted friend recently recommended this book to me. So I’m paying it forward. If you want to excel in anything – business, the arts, sports, leadership, even ministry – then you need to embrace deep work.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is compelling, thoughtful, and practical. It will challenge your unproductive and shallow work habits. The author, Cal Newport, makes a strong case for deep work, which he calls, “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.” His hypothesis is that this type of work is becoming increasingly rare – and yet becoming increasingly valuable at the same time. In short, in a world of distracted, shallow thinkers, people who can focus, concentrate, and engage in sustained, uninterrupted work, are a pretty hot commodity. I won’t restate his arguments here…you need to read the book and examine them for yourself.
A quick point here: shallow doesn’t refer to ethical or social behaviour (think Shallow Hal), but to “noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted…[they] tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” Shallow activities include Netflix binging, Facebook scrolling, constant email checking, and cleaning out your ear with your car keys.
How do you become a deep-work diver? Newport recommends we learn to embrace boredom, strategically re-think our social media input, and cut back on the habits that lead to shallow thinking.
Beyond these, you have to develop deep work habits. You do this by committing time and space to whatever activity you want to engage in: writing, learning chess, playing the guitar, etc. This state of unbroken concentration means committing to undistracted effort by scheduling time and developing consistent rituals. Your brain is like a muscle – it must be trained for this. But the more you engage in deep work, the more effective you become.
This is why I’m sometimes slow in responding to email or social media. I don’t turn on notifications. I’m also committed to deep work for the first few hours of every day and don’t go online until about 11:00 am. I only check email a couple of times a day and I don’t keep my phone at my bedside. I know, right? What kind of a monster does that? Don’t they care about the world and people enough to be accessible throughout the day? The truth is that people who do deep work do care deeply about the world – that’s why they’re committed to leaving the shallows.
Friends, read the book. But more importantly, dive deep.