I found Deep Work by Cal Newport on a list of recommended reads for productivity and then when I tweeted out the article, I had so many people say, "Yes! Read Deep Work." So I listened. And I'm glad I did.
Here's the back cover summary (from Amazon):
One of the most valuable skills in our economy is becoming increasingly rare. If you master this skill, you'll achieve extraordinary results.
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It's a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there's a better way.
In DEEP WORK, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four "rules," for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill.
A mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice, DEEP WORK takes the reader on a journey through memorable stories-from Carl Jung building a stone tower in the woods to focus his mind, to a social media pioneer buying a round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo to write a book free from distraction in the air-and no-nonsense advice, such as the claim that most serious professionals should quit social media and that you should practice being bored. DEEP WORK is an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.
I know I'm not alone in feeling constantly distracted. It's the nature of our world today. So this book appealed to me on a number of levels. My goal is always to write as much as I can. That's my "deep work". That's what bring me joy (and what allows me to support myself.) But in addition to the writing, I have all the other things pulling at my time: returning emails, all the business stuff, coordinating things, marketing/promotion, blogging, and staying active on social media. Not to mention, you know, being a mom and wife.
With all that, I feel a little like an addicted lab rat when I'm working. Every ding of an email, every time I hit a hard sentence or am not sure what to write next, I'm clicking over to something else. Checking twitter, checking facebook, checking instagram, clicking on an interesting link. It's like this...
Part of being on social media is my job and part is for my own enjoyment. I want to be connected to readers and my fellow writers. I want to know what's going on in the world. But I know I don't need to be CONSTANTLY connected. And this book explains that not only is it not helpful, it's damaging. Staying constantly in a "shallow" state of work and never letting yourself get deeply involved in your important work trains your brain to be like those dogs above. It makes us forgetful, less able to concentrate, less productive, and most importantly, less likely that we're going to achieve great things.
And I know this is true. I have those days where I'm in what people call "flow", where I'm totally focused on writing and the words start pouring out. When I stop, it's almost like coming out of a daze. Sometimes I don't even remember most of what I've written. That is the state I need to be in regularly. But I can't do that with the constant distraction. And that distraction is an addiction. I use the Hey Focus App to block social media for chunks of time when I'm trying to write. I have it on right now actually. Twenty-five minutes of being locked out. And even though I KNOW I'm locked out, I still find myself clicking that little Twitter icon in an idle moment out of pure habit. To which the Hey Focus app basically gives me the finger and shakes its head with a no and I want to kick myself.
So needless to say, I needed this book. And though some of his suggestions are a little extreme, I'm taking a lot from this and will be implementing what I learned.
Here are some of my takeaways:
1. The deep work you do is what gives your job meaning. - What are people paying you for, why are you specially equipped/educated to do this job? That's what you should be spending most of your time on. What work do you do that couldn't easily be replicated by a recent college graduate from outside your field who had a month or two of training? For me, that's writing fiction. It's not answering emails or being clever on Twitter.
2. Deep focus can generally only be maintained for a certain amount of time - The author suggest that those just starting out, an hour a day of deep work might be all they can manage. But with practice, he said that people can do 3-4 hours of deep work in a day--which means that you're still going to have time to get the shallow stuff done.
3. It's okay to not be good at everything and to say no. - I think this is probably difficult for everyone to get a handle on, but even harder for women. We have been conditioned to be helpful, to say yes to things, to try to do it all. But this is something I've learned (out of necessity) over the years: I have to pick and choose. One of my mottos for this year is "If it's not a hell yes, it's a no." Because my instinct is to people please, but you can't please everyone and still get your stuff done. So I have no problem telling everyone right on my contact page that I'm slow to return email. I refuse to feel guilty that I can't volunteer to coordinate parties at school or something because A) you don't want me in charge of that. I will suck at it. and B) I'm working full time even though it's from home and I just don't have the time. I'm not good at those things. And that's okay.
4. Create a schedule and WRITE IT DOWN. - Set the plan for your day ahead of time or you'll get pulled in 100 different directions or get sucked up by the internet. - Paper planners, people. I've been preaching it all year, lol. And beyond planning out your week, he suggests writing down your list each morning. What you're going to do and specifically what time you're going to do it.
5. Schedule your deep work and remove the distractions - Use an app like Hey Focus. Go to a place with no internet. Shut your office door. Don't check your email until your done. Whatever it takes to only let yourself focus on the main thing you're trying to accomplish.
6. Idle time is important - He has a whole section on the benefits of being bored. Our subconscious mind works out answers to things when we're bored or doing something relaxing. For me, this is listening to music while I cook dinner after I'm done working. My mind is resting and all of sudden, I'll be hit with some problem fix or inspiration. This happens it the shower all the time too. Or right when I'm falling asleep. Writers all experience this, but it's just more proof that our mind needs to rest in order to figure things out sometimes.
7. Keep a scoreboard visible - Write down your goals and keep them in your face. For me, it will be a word count tracker. I can mark off boxes for every 500 words to get a visual representation of what I'm accomplishing.
8. Evaluate a tool not just for it's usefulness but also it's drawbacks. Weigh them out. - For instance, maybe that new fangled social media app looks cool. But are the benefits of it going to outweigh the time it takes from deep work? In other words, don't enter into things blindly.
There are so many more, but this post is already long enough, lol. Go buy the book! But I'll keep you updated on things as I try to implement these things and see how it impacts my productivity.
Has anyone else read this? Anyone relate to that dog GIF like I do? :)