A bit of a background
For over a decade now, along with my technical skills, I’ve been trying to make sure that an 8-hour work day is as productive and efficient as it gets. I’ve had pretty strict rituals, I’ve been working in an office that’s located close, but not within my home, kept todo lists, planned ahead, all evolved around the same principle: being able to produce impactful work within a restricted time frame, without having to work the long hours, in fact, when I had to work the long hours this meant that I wasn’t actually as productive as I should be (or some really urgent matter required my attention - ie. some critical bug or some system failure). All of this has worked just fine throughout the years and I’m pretty happy with my productivity, in fact I’ve become a pretty strong believer that being able to maintain focus and being highly productive is as important as being great at what you do.
In order to validate my processes, I’ve been reading a lot about how other people structured their work day both working on-site and remote, and once I’ve switched to being fully remote (back in late 2015) I just wanted to take my productivity to a whole new level: Deep Work.
Deep Work is a state of mind, in which one produces work intensely and at an elite level, completely keeping away from any distraction. In his book, Newport starts by explaining why Deep Work is valuable and why it helps shaping today’s economy. It debunks quite a few myths about today’s work, such as the open office space, being extremely responsive to communications. He then continues with the rules that apply in order to work deeply and the different approaches to it and since Newport is an academic himself, everything is backed by scientific proof.
His main hypothesis is that even the most innocent distractions can be proven to be harmful and in fact there is a chapter on how our brains’ neurons actually rewire themselves to be even more acceptive to distractions when we start giving into their shinny world, while on the other hand, being able to maintain focus can produce rare and valuable results.
The book is split into two main chapters; the first one actually introduces the reader into the world of Deep Work and what are the benefits from it. As expected, right after the first few pages, one gets convinced about the merits of this type of cognitive process, and gets seamlessly drawn into the second chapter which provides a few actionable steps. The highlights for me were his thoughts on being able to “Embrace Boredom”, where he explains that trying to avoid boredom is what actually makes our brains more prone to distractions, how being disconnected from work actually works in work’s favor, “Quit Social Media” (you didn’t see that coming, did you?) but the one that puts all the pieces together is, as expected, the last chapter of the book where Newport explains “How to drain the shallows” and how to be able to enter states of Deep Work throughout the work day, simply by using pen and paper.
Deep Work isn’t a self-help book with a cheesy cover, it neither is a click-bait post on a popular website. This is the product of year-long scientific research on how to achieve more in a distracted economy, broken down by using simple terms and actionable steps. Every knowledge worker should read the book cover to cover, just to get an idea of what they can achieve, if they’re willing to adapt to a few very simple (and very sane) rules. It’s a book that I nevertheless enjoyed and it has definitely broadened my horizons when it comes to producing meaningful work.
There are quite a few videos of Newport either in TED conferences or the Google Campus. Here’s one that I’ve liked, which is structured around the subject of his other books