Whenever I get asked which one book has changed me (besides the Bible of course 🙂 , my immediate answer without any thought is ‘So good they can’t ignore you by Cal Newport’. This one book has single handedly contributed distinctively to my approach to work and I was very excited that my book club’s pick for March was another book by him – ‘Deep Work‘ and what an amazing book it is. This is one of those books where I left almost every other page highlighted as it contained too many points I wanted to always be able to refer to.

The book is premised on the concept that there are 2 categories of work/activities that we engage in – ‘Deep Work’ and ‘Shallow Work‘ and Cal tries to extensively shed light on the importance of spending a greater chunk of your time doing ‘deep work’ based on research, experiences and also stories of highly effective and successful people who have adopted some of the concepts shared in the book.

In today’s Life as I go, I will be sharing a few learnings from the book which I believe will be helpful even if you don’t read the book, although I highly encourage that you do read it. First, some basic definitions:

Deep Work: These are professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.

Shallow Work: These are non-cognitively demanding tasks, often performed while distracted and these efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

By Cal’s assessment, our work culture is slowly shifting towards shallow work and as such the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare and hence a critical skill to have for people who will like to thrive in their work life.

It is important to find ways to build your days around a core of carefully chosen deep work with the shallow activities you absolutely cannot avoid at the peripheries of your daily schedule. The book explains in depth why deep work is valuable and how rare it currently is. Below are a few takeaways from the book that I wanted to share:

  • Schedule your deep work: Cal speaks on how important it is to schedule your deep work. Because of how the work environment is structured today, it sometimes seems like other people are planning our days for us. Several meetings are being booked in your calendars, emails are flying up and down tagged ‘Highly urgent’ and you sometimes find yourself swamped with a pool of work/activities that are not even part of your core work. An option to tackle this would be to set aside your deep work hours daily. This is the time when you are working on a clearly defined important task/deliverable and not being distracted by emails, instant messages or work meetings. Since reading the book, I started blocking a few hours on my calendar that I call ‘Deep Work Time’. I put myself on ‘Do Not Disturb’ and try to focus on the core task I am trying to complete. I haven’t perfected this concept and still find myself occasionally distracted by a call from my boss or some other emergency activities but I have the intent to continue working towards a more Deep work centred day.

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”

  • Focus on the wildly important: Cal speaks on the importance of identifying a number of ambitious outcomes you want to accomplish in each day and focusing on those. This helps to be able to measure success at the end of that day. The idea that we can reach a point where all our obligations are handled is a fantasy and as such it important to identify and focus on what needs to be done each time. As a person who thrives on execution and wants to focus on everything at the same time, this has been a very helpful tip for me.

“The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish”.

  • Plan your downtime: “At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning…… If you need more time, then extend your workday, but once you shut down, let your mind be free to encounter other things…” This is a tough one for a lot of us as we literally live and breathe work, in and out of work; Cal however points out in the book three reasons why having a downtime is important:
    • It aids insight
    • It helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply
    • The work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important – I had a good laugh reading this part because I could totally relate

“When you work, work hard; when you are done, be done”

  • Don’t take breaks from distractions; Instead take breaks from Focus: There are a lot of distracting factors inhibiting us from putting in our best work each time, social media being the most popular source of distraction. The crux of this point is that instead of trying to fit deep work into your distracted schedule, plan your distractions instead. This could mean having fixed times that are your distraction times (e.g. internet time) and keep times outside these blocked times absolutely free from internet use; otherwise we will find ourselves deeply immersed in the distractions that it is hard to fit deep work into our daily schedules.

“To succeed with deep work, you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli”

In addition, the book also shares information on how you can audit/manage your social media usage and steps you can take to drain the shallows in your daily life.

Overall for me, the book was very insightful and a reminder to continually take steps to maximize my productivity daily and I can’t wait to discuss the book with my book club members today. I hope this post has helped you identify something new you can start or reinforced a habit you need to continue.

Do have a great week