Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
By Cal Newport
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It's a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep—spending their days instead in a frantic blur of email and social media, not even realizing there's a better way.
As of late, I've been so frustrated and disappointed in my inability to produce and to experience deep work. There are many factors contributing to this—some of which feel more in my control than others—but distraction is high on the list. Over the next month I will experiment and make some adjustments.
Instagram has been the biggest offender. Not only have I spent so much time mindlessly scrolling but, over time, as the platform has evolved, I've struggled to share of myself without feeling immense pressure and self-consciousness. (Someone I know recently articulated this feeling; I called it Instagram paralysis.) It's so easy to feel this way when the algorithm validates its users by the number of likes, comments, and views they receive.
So, I'm leaving Instagram for 30 days. More than anything, taking a hiatus is a conscious effort to redirect my time and attention to interests and projects I don't make enough time for. (Thus, eliciting feelings of guilt and failure—it becomes a vicious cycle.) I'd like to give more IRL love to my people, too. To find spaces for deeper connection. And maybe I'll finally make headway on that project or two I've been thinking about for a year?
Social media has been a wonderful resource and outlet for creativity, education, and connection in my life. Abandoning it permanently, as Newport suggests, is not an option for me. (Ashley C. Ford's recent tweet about making a "grand exit" echoes my perspective.) But I hope disconnecting from one platform for a month provides the discipline to achieve a healthy balance that prevents drastic withdrawals in the future. I also hope for the confidence to share & connect with others more authentically and fearlessly, in person and on social.
"When we step back from these individual observations, we see a clear argument form: To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work. If you're not comfortable going deep for extended periods of time, it'll be difficult to get your performance to the peak levels of quality and quantity increasingly necessary to thrive professionally. Unless your talent and skills absolutely dwarf those of your competition, the deep workers among them will outproduce you."
"We tend to place a lot of emphasis on our circumstances, assuming that what happens to us (or fails to happen), determines how we feel. From this perspective, the small-scale details of how you spend your day aren't that important, because what matters are the large-scale outcomes, such as whether or not you get a promotion or move to that nicer apartment. According to Gallagher, decades of research contradict this understanding. Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. If you focus on a cancer diagnosis, you and your life become unhappy and dark, but if you focus instead on an evening martini, you and your life become more pleasant—even though the circumstances in both scenarios are the same. As Gallagher summarizes: "Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on."
(p. 77) I agree with this to an extent.
"Many knowledge workers spend most of their working day interacting with these types of shallow concerns. Even when they're required to complete something more involved, the habit of frequently checking inboxes ensures that these issues remain at the forefront of their attention. Gallagher teaches us that this is a foolhardy way to go about your day, as it ensures that your mind will construct an understanding of your working life that's dominated by stress, irritation, frustration, and triviality. The world represented by your inbox, in other words, isn't a pleasant world to inhabit."
(p. 81) amen
"By dropping off these services without notice you can test the reality of your status as a content producer. For most people and most services, the news might be sobering—no one outside your closest friends and family will likely even notice you've signed off. I recognize that I come across as curmudgeonly when talking about this issue—is there any other way to tackle it?—but it's important to discuss because this quest for self-importance plays an important role in convincing people to continue to thoughtlessly fragment their time and attention.
For some people, of course, this thirty-day experiment will be difficult and generate lots of issues. If you're a college student or online personality, for example, the abstention will complicate your life and be noted. But for most, I suspect, the net result of this experiment, if not a massive overhaul in your Internet habits, will be a more grounded view of the role social media plays in your daily existence."
"A commitment to deep work is not a moral stance and it's not a philosophical statement—it is instead a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done."