Inside the Book: Deep Work

Inside the Book - Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

This blog refers to the best 5 books I read in 2021 and goes deep on the matter. You can find the list of my best readings here.

Complete title – Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Author – Cal Newport

What does make the difference between very successful people and the others? According to Cal Newport, Computer Science professor and author of Deep Work, three are the options: you should be highly skilled in what you do, to create new value; you should be great in delivering work; or else, having capital to invest.

Whereas the last one is an option that few among us can really pursue, the other two are achievable by everybody. Then, sheer focus and commitment for a purpose is what we can use to become successful.

This is far from being another motivational book. In my previous blog, I called it “the gospel of focused work”. It is a researched digression on how our ability to concentrate can make us achieve great things, and also how we are losing it.

Here’s what you’ll find inside the book:

Deep VS Shallow Work

By definition, deep work requires elevate concentration in a distraction-free environment, that is difficult to replicate. It is a form of Flow, or optimal experience. It is very useful for learning as well as for producing something: to become highly skilled, or to deliver outstanding performances.

Shallow work is all the rest: tasks that we perform daily and do not require much focus – not challenging, in a way. But make no mistake: they both need energy and time.

It is, of course,  something that requires concentration, memory and having a purpose.

Deep work can be sustained by “time-boxing” frameworks and cadencing reflection

The author takes as an example C. G. Jung and even his own acquaintances to mark the difference between deep-work induced result. Then he offers different ways how to shift from shallow to deep work.

In brief, we can consider that everything we learn and know is reduced in “brain circuits”: information in the form of neural activity. Being proficient in some skill is equivalent to be both efficient and effective into using it. Wasting no time while channelling our energy in purposeful actions.

The book explores some solutions to keep distraction out of our scope to do something good. The main advice here, is that we must learn how to manage our energy first. We don’t want to reach the end of the day feeling tired, without having accomplished much.

Deep work has an economical impact

Consider the quick progression of technology, the way it influences both our personal lives and society. We all know the turmoil in the labour market: the ongoing transformation changed the scope of firms and industries, so the relevant professional skills. To this we add that also information increases and changes faster, to a point that we can feel overwhelmed by it.

An example is the need for automation, where human tasks are replaced by computing. For many, survival can be granted by a relevant upskilling. At the same time, many of these tasks are what we call “monkey jobs” and they do not require much concentration, right? The inference is that there are few people who can naturally handle deep work consistently, while the rest is mostly used to shallow work.

My favourite quote from this book

“Even though you are not aware at the time, the brain responds to distractions.”

Cal Newport

Think of how many people want to learn a language or something, but they become quitters. We tend to say we do not find the time, or we are too busy. This book is a statement that we can find excuses everywhere, yet the equation to focus is simple:

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

I like this line in the book so much because of its universal implication. How can we truly enjoy something when our attention is continuously called elsewhere? We forgot how to concentrate even on ourselves.

This is also another catch on the economic influence of attention. Think how much mindfulness is praised nowadays. And why are practices like meditation, yoga and martial arts increasingly becoming popular again? We forgot, or we did not learn, how to push distractions aside.

That has a take on our motivation to do something. The motivation to learn, or the one to complete a project. As the author establishes in the book: the soonest negative thoughts take form in our mind, the easiest our concentration fades away. What we need is the inverse trend.

What I learned from reading this book

Distractions are depletive for our concentration, then for motivation. I began to establish time slots where I do my best to cut personal communication off, keeping my mind and senses only on what I need. I schedule my learning and activities and I even keep a journal about my plans against my accomplishments. This way I keep accountable and focused.

Emotions are connected to our focus rather than facts. We are brought to think that what happens around us affects our emotions. Unless we practice situational awareness, though, the truth is that we see only a part of what happens: what really changes our mood is what we decide to focus on. In my opinion, this makes the book also about shifting the attention to a broader overview of our accomplishments and goals: from what we fail to accomplish to how much we grow.

There are different ways to incorporate deep work in our routine. Indeed, we can learn how to alternate deep and shallow work. Two approaches suggested by the author are the “Bimodal” and the “Journalist” approach. Before reading this book I never integrated time-boxing in my doings. It encouraged me to try the pomodoro technique in both learning and working, with amazing results.

Published by Andrea Paviglianiti

I practice coaching, I love reading, and I work as a data scientist. I also recharge my batteries with meditation, martial arts, and video games. I perform career and skills coaching – thus I define myself as a “cognitive” coach: I help people improve their learning experience to succeed where they want. My method is based on behavioral analysis, psychology of learning, philosophy of dialogue, and classic literature. I write about how to get better at learning, the best books I read, and my personal philosophy of coaching. And I will not lie to you – I can get verbose at times! I’d be happy if you stick around and read more of what I have to share!

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