You’re just not that into it

I recently read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work and was blown away by how some simple changes to my behaviour could help me get more out of my working hours.

The book’s thesis is that the ability to perform cognitively demanding work is becoming increasingly valuable and increasingly rare at the same time. Most of us spend a significant chunk of our day dealing with electronic communication of some sort. These tasks make us feel productive in the short-term, but hurt our ability to carry out truly valuable work over our lifetimes.

Studies show that distractions in the middle of cognitively demanding tasks result in poor performance. This is true not only for that task, but also for subsequent tasks. According to Newport, we can avoid this effect that distractions have on us.

But first, are you in the kind of profession that demands Deep Work?

Yes, according to him, if your life and work circumstances fit one of these four philosophies of work:

  1. Monastic: You are a writer or thinker, whose main contribution to the world is to understand a complex idea to explain it to others.
  2. Bimodal: Your profession requires a certain amount of Deep Work, but the rest of your time is open.
  3. Rhythmic: You need to perform a little bit of Deep Work everyday, usually at the same time.
  4. Journalistic: You need to switch to Deep Work mode at short notice, whenever you find the time or when you’re close to a deadline.

Of course, there are several professions where you don’t need to do Deep Work. But the book highlights some very surprising professions in which there is a large amount of unrecognised Deep Work (I’m not telling you here, go read the book!).

I realised as I read the book, that I have been in several situations in the past that required Deep Work and I hadn’t known. If you ever read my entire Ph.D thesis, you will recognise the parts that I wrote in a state of deep focus and the parts that I wrote in a distracted frame of mind. While the “focused” parts needed very little or no editing, the “shallow” parts did not improve even with a lot of editing. This drove home the value of Deep Work for me.

Whatever philosophy of Deep Work you want to follow, Newport provides a set of rules that will guide you there. I’ve distilled the essence of his rules into a neat little chart below. Print it out, or make it your desktop background, put this chart in a place you’ll see everyday! It’s time to dive deep into your work.

Adapted from Deep Work, by Cal Newport

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