Deep Work by Cal Newport

I first came across Cal Newport’s work with his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You which argues that it is better to follow what you are good at and build up career capital to leverage later to do what you enjoy, rather than following your passions. I love this approach so when Cal came out with another book called Deep Work I read it as soon as I could.

Deep work, the concept of focusing your attention on a difficult task, is becoming rare in our social media driven society and I have felt my ability to concentrate deeply slip away as I get older. I remember being able to study for hours on end without a break or distraction by the phone or computer, now I am lucky if I get 20 minutes in before checking my emails. As a future medical doctor this concerns me – a lot. So I turned to this book to provide guidance.

Quotes that resonated with me

📚 “If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive – no matter how skilled or talented you are”

This is very similar to the argument laid out Austin Kleon in Show Your Work, simply put that if you don’t produce and share your work then it doesn’t matter. This is what I am attempting to do with this website in the hope that by sharing I can help other people on their journey and engage in meaningful discussions with readers.

📚 “High quality work produced = time spent x intensity of focus”

📚 “Shallow work … is low value and easily replicable”

📚 “busyness as a proxy for productivity”

Ahh yes, I have been in this situation many times, I get to the end of the day after running around like a headless chicken absolutely exhausted and worn out. But when I reflect on what I achieved I can’t really name anything. I answered a lot of emails, I went to a few meetings, I spent time in front of the computer but… I didn’t really move any project forward. Being busy and being productive are not the same things and I am trying to get better at identifying when I am busy but not productive and change my behaviour and attitude.

📚 “the key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life”

📚 “the first step of this strategy is to identify the main high-levels goals in both your professional and your personal life”

📚 “your goal is not to stick to your schedule at all costs; it’s instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time going forward”

Reading this was quite a relief! I am notorious for writing a schedule at the beginning of the day only to change it two hours later and then another two hours after that. I used to feel bad or like I was a failure when I modified my plans but now I can see that it is a good thing. I am reflecting on the time I have left in the day modifying where appropriate – or at least that is what I tell myself.

Key message

The ability to focus deeply on a complex topic is quickly becoming more rare. If you have the ability to do this (through a lot of training) then it will be a high value skill for yourself and others.

Going forward I am going to implement Cal’s strategies laid out in the book and I’ll be sure to update you on the progress.

~ Lizzie

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