I recently finished the audio book Deep Work, by Cal Newport. I’ve made one of my 2018 goals to increase my professional development. One cheap, even free way, thanks to the library and the internet, is by reading/listening to books, podcasts, YouTube videos and TED talks.
The book by Cal Newport was helpful, particularly because it wasn’t focused on one specific field or profession. Everyone, from students to professionals, can benefit from the tips in Deep Work.
Basically, Newport argues that deep work is valuable, because it’s rare. Deep work is focused, and that is sought after in our world. People have more demands on their time now, and are becoming more distracted.
Although I’m drawn to the theme of the book, staying focused in our digital and distracted world, I was skeptical about how much I could gain from it. A supporter of “shutting down” from technology at a set time each day as a way of avoiding unnecessary distractions, Newport doesn’t read emails after he leaves work. He doesn’t continue to engage in work behaviors once his work day has ended. One way he claims he’s able to do this is by not having an online presence. In fact, he’s never had a social media account, ever.
As a communication major and someone who has worked in social media and digital marketing, the idea that Newport might want me to delete my online presence in order to get to the deep work had me jittery. Thankfully, Newport doesn’t advocate that the only way to produce deep work is to get rid of social media. The idea of deep work is working without distraction, giving your work your utmost focus. Newport argues, persuasively and truthfully, that it’s getting harder and harder to work distraction free in our multi-tasking, ultra-connected world.
According to Newport, there are levels to deep work, but I viewed them more like strategies. Some people approach deep work from a Thoreau-writing-Walden-stance, meaning they need to take a period of time and seclude themselves. Of course, taking two or three months off from life, work and responsibilities is not an option for a lot of people, so thankfully, that’s not the only way to produce deep work.
Other people who accomplish deep work may take a more scholarly approach and conduct research then pour themselves into it, while others schedule small blocks of time and stick to a routine. Little did I know until I listened to the book, that I’ve unwittingly been using a deep work approach to my fiction writing for months now.
One tactic is the journalistic approach to deep work. This occurs when someone can take short bursts of time, forty minutes here, an hour there, whatever, and intensely focus. I’ve been doing that with my fiction writing since November. I cram in 1,400 words on my lunch hour. I write 3k in two hours before work at Starbucks.
I value these short bursts of time, and because I know that my time is limited and somewhat precious, I get down to it and zone in on my manuscript. Want to know a secret? Thanks to this focus, this deep work, I’m more productive than I’ve been in years. Maybe ever. I’ve written close to 90k words in four months. And I’ve done it without sacrificing time with my husband, I’ve been able to take a week or two off here and there, spend time with friends and I work 31 hours a week at a day job.
It sounds almost too simple, right? I assure you it’s not too good to be true or too simple. Deep work is a valuable skill and it’s one that’s attainable, it just takes practice and drive to hone it.
I recommend reading or listening to Deep Work by Cal Newport.
I’d love to hear from you! If you have already read it and are reaping the benefits of Deep Work, leave me a comment and share your experiences with me and my readers!