For many workers today, life is about being as productive as possible. Whether we devise sales strategies, write complex computer code or conjure designs to solve our clients’ problems, we need to squeeze the sweet, sticky juice of deliverables out of the dry, hard orange of time. And yet something always gets in the way. That distracting e-mail. That mid-morning meeting. That junior colleague who really needs help with something.
Enter Cal Newport, with his recent book, Deep Work: Rules for Focussed Success in a Distracted World. ‘Deep work’ is working without distraction. It requires serious concentration, leaving e-mail, admin, social media and small talk behind. In the modern world, this kind of work is both necessary and elusive. It’s necessary because the skills and achievements which the modern economy rewards are honed by deep work. To succeed in the tech sector, you or your staff need to master complex programming languages, design and maintain subtle and sophisticated software or manipulate the intricate arteries and sinews of computers. In other sectors, you’ll need to grasp knotty financial systems, perceive subtle flaws in business strategy or produce original and beautiful creations. Work that displays this level of insight is challenging. It can only be achieved by uninterrupted concentration.
But who concentrates any more these days? Our lives are invaded by the chit-chat of open plan offices, the jangle of incoming texts and e-mails and the twenty-four hour news stories mugging us for our attention. The very technology which requires deep work to operate is making deep work impossible. The very creativity which requires deep work to produce is making deep work seem dull.
So what do we do? The book is filled with practical suggestions on how to work deeply. Here are the key takeaways:
- Pick the times when you’re going to work deeply, plan what you’ll do to cut distraction and keep score of the hours you put in.
- Prepare your mind for concentration by spending time isolated from the Internet.
- Be discerning about social media and only use it if you can’t use the time in a better way.
- When you have to respond to e-mails, reply in a way that doesn’t generate more e-mails.
Personally, I enjoyed Newport’s challenge always to finish before 5:30. He says he gets more deep work done in the day than most of us do in the evenings.
All told, Deep Work is a timely word about time’s worth to a distracted world.