Book review – Deep Work by Cal Newport

If there’s one thing this book made me do, it was to wish I’d read it when it was first published, 4 years ago. I would have achieved so much more in the last 4 years had I known about the benefits of deep work before.

I think a part of me already knew that time-vampires such as Facebook and Twitter were responsible for reducing productivity which is why I’ve always had a natural inclination to avoid them. I’ve never really relished either of them, even when all the writing gurus have encouraged it in order to grow a ‘following’. 

What is Deep Work? 

Newport defines deep work as the ability to concentrate on cognitively demanding work with no distractions, to produce high-quality work. Deep work is challenging but helps create the type of work that is valuable and hard to replicate or replace.

By contrast, shallow work is the kind of work we do on auto-pilot; email, social media and the internet – the kind of activity that diminishes our ability to concentrate and work deeply, is easy to do and is pervasive. The book offers studies and research on these time parasites and their effects on attention, and in the second part gives remedies for shallow work such how to schedule your day in advance to focus on deep work.

In this information age where we are bombarded by news or information we struggle to identify what we should be noticing. To become practiced in our area of interest or learning we need to be able to free our headspace from this increasing cacophony. 

Who is this book for? 

This book is for anyone who wants to be more productive, who works in knowledge or a job where concentration and focus is vital. 

It would be good if more managers and leaders could understand how shallow work – the kind you have no choice but to do in a noisy, open office – is detrimental to productivity. Perhaps it would encourage them to be more flexible when it comes to remote working and empower workers to achieve more of real value. It might also make them reconsider bothering employees with shallow administrative requests such as responding to email that has little or no real importance.

One of the most pertinent messages of this book for me was that deep work is much more important in terms of achievement than long work. By working deep one works better and working better equals working fewer hours (we only have the capacity for about 4 hours of deep work per day), with much better results. 

This book is so very relevant today when so many of us spend hours on social media. What we need is a version for tweens and young people so that they can understand how they’re doing themselves a disservice by being so attached to their phones and how this might be detrimental to their future. If they don’t learn, or have the opportunity to engage in deep work now, they might forever be consigned to the mundane shallow work when they reach maturity. On the other hand, being taught the power of deep work might just give them an advantage. 

There is a very compelling message from the author that if we organise deep work periods into our day, then we’re more likely to get more value from our work or learning and will achieve our goals and ambitions that much quicker. He offers examples of high-achieving individuals such as JK Rowling and Bill Gates, who used deep work to achieve their professional goals. 

If you haven’t read this book already, be warned, if you’re someone who wants to push the limits of your productivity, it’ll make you wish you’d read it as soon as it was published.  If you’re addicted to social media, glued to your emails or cemented to the internet you’ve probably been drowning in the quagmire of shallow work for years. So, if you want to get down and dirty with some real, quality work, then you need to quit the time vampires and go deep.