Why Every Developer Needs ‘Deep Work’

In our work environments as software developers, we’re constantly confronted with different and constantly-evolving technologies that challenge our ability to learn. This really brings home the importance of being able to quickly acquire new knowledge and apply it to real-life problems. If there’s one thing that’s true about tech, it’s that if you can’t learn, you can’t thrive.

If only learning were as simple as plugging a data-transfer needle into the back of your head to allow direct access to your brain. But for the moment, we’ll have to settle for good old-fashioned learning, the ‘slow’ way.

The problem is, concentration seems to be a really scarce commodity these days, when it’s needed the most. With connectivity at an all-time high, we’ve become more distracted than ever. It’s virtually impossible to see people focusing on a single task. The norm? Multitasking on every conceivable device the moment a few notifications pop up.

Cal Newport’s Deep Work to the Rescue

That is Cal Newport’s premise in his book “Deep Work“. He maintains that it’s vital to block distractions and really focus on those tasks that provide the greatest benefits. To do that, we need to really be in control of our own minds and to be able to quickly learn complicated things. For Mr. Newport, this ability is so important that he calls it the “superpower of the 21st century”.

He goes further on to define two crucial abilities that we need to cultivate in order to thrive in our modern world, both of which depend on our capacity for staying focused:

  • The ability to master complex tasks
  • The ability to produce at a superior level, in terms of both quality and speed

If Deep Work Is So Valuable, Why Don’t We Have More of It In Our Daily Lives?

This is where routines and rituals come in. Routines and rituals are key if we want to avoid succumbing to the lure of daily distractions.

We often have desires to check our inbox, our cell phones, or social media channels, but each time we do so, we need to switch our brains from one task to another. That, in Cal Newport’s words, leaves a “cognitive residue”. We need to either process the new information we received or remember what it was that we were doing before the switch. That requires effort and energy that we could avoid expending by not switching tasks in the first place.

Newport’s Answer: Develop Habits and Build Routines

The Japanese have a saying: “Sooner than later, the discipline will beat the intelligence“. I’ve been testing this pearl of wisdom for a year, and I can attest to its validity. Granted, I haven’t been completely consistent all that time but those periods when I stayed on track have contrasted so much with the rest that I can clearly see the value in building discipline.

You may think it was hard and boring to have the same routine day after day but that wasn’t really the case. Once we get into building habits and we start seeing results, it’s impossible not to crave more.

Willpower is an Absolute Necessity- Trust Me

In my personal opinion, the trick here is to build what I like to call “pillar habits”. These are the habits that will help support the habit-building work that we need to perform. They need to be habits that lead to a clear mind and a refreshed point of view that allows our brains to function at their top capacity. Build whatever habits you want, as long as they provide the benefits you need.

For me, the pillar habits are very clearly defined:

  1. Get enough sleep
  2. Build an exercise routine
  3. Practice daily meditation

Those are my pillars. What do they have in common? The brain. Don’t get enough sleep and you’ll barely be able to properly function if at all. Don’t get enough exercise and your mind will also pay the price eventually. Meditation gives us perspective, relieves stress, and improves our relationship with others. Without all three, I cannot even attempt complete focus and truly achieve deep work.

If we’re able to build habits like these, which enable us to sustain smaller habits, which in turn drive us into a deep working routine, then we’re on the path to success.

I Leave You With This Thought

“Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.”

Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges

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