Deep Work by Cal Newport

29th November 2016

Photo of the book Deep Work by Cal Newport


People often refer to ‘game-changers’ and this book, has definitely been that for me. I heard about this title on the James Altucher podcast and after listening to the pod I watched Cal Newport’s TED talk ‘How to quit social media’.

Having long suspected that the constant attention switching in my day to day was messing with the way my brain actually functioned it was refreshing, albeit frightening to learn that Clifford Nass, Stanford professor had concluded that those of us that ‘multi-task’ in this way, online and using social media are “chronically distracted” and unable to “filter out irrelevancy”. My own ability to resist distracting stimuli with platforms like instagram and Facebook was dire, my need to check them reflexive as opposed to intentional. I obviously post on my instagram a fair amount sharing work, moments and books. I’ve been swept up along with the digital generation that stakes out our little section of the internet and I suppose aims to show our originality and relevancy via little square photos. I have to tell you, I enjoy it too! The feedback and the connection to other people with children, dogs and family and the ability to connect with other people who love to make with yarn or read is FUN, but it was also draining me. I was more than aware I was spending too much time there and not getting as much as I wanted done.

So, I left Facebook, with no fanfare, no ridiculous virtuous status update. I just left. I’ve been gone a few months now. I’ve had one phone call from a good friend I used to live with hoping that I am ok and then the other two people who have mentioned it to me in a text are both my neighbours who I see pretty much everyday anyway. Was I a little worried about FOMO (fear of missing out)? A little bit, but on balance I knew that there was little going on there and I was reclaiming my time from updates and an interface I genuinely sometimes felt irritated by. I was fed up of clickbait and bored rigid with my feed. All I’ve noticed as a consequence is that I’ve made more phone calls and made more of an effort to meet people. Texting/whatsapp-ing has inevitably increased but that’s understandable and I’m ok with it. At the moment, not being on Facebook is working.

The other thing I’ve done is switch off my notifications for whatsapp – this way I’m not getting constantly disturbed by interruptions throughout the day or getting involved in long and time consuming exchanges. This feels like more time back to me, a drawback is missing out on impulsive ‘are you free to Skype?’ chats with my sister and my friend abroad, but again, I’ve not missed out on anything that I absolutely needed to be aware of immediately.

The crux of “Deep work” is that to be relevant in the new economy we need to be able to focus undistracted on cognitively demanding tasks. This will make us better at what we do, more attractive as an employee, let us achieve more in less time and provide the sense of true fulfilment that comes from the mastery of a skill.

So what else has changed since I read this book?

I generally get up earlier, at 5.45, to be up before the rest of the family and have some uninterrupted time to start my day. I have found this so much easier since the clocks changed and I love sitting in the kitchen with my cup of coffee getting things done quietly.

I’ve been learning a new cognitively demanding skill, computer coding. The last few months have seen me switch up my routine to code directly after walking the dog. Before, I was running as a non negotiable in my day, primarily so I couldn’t wriggle out of it, however running comes under a “more automatic” task, as does crochet which I don’t need to concentrate on as much anymore, so coding and writing fills up the morning as much as possible. I don’t enjoy running in the afternoon, it means I have to be more self disciplined which is more tiring but it’s possible. There are no podcasts playing, no music, the phone is in airplane mode and I just get on with the task at hand. It will be a slow burn but I’ve mastered some basic html, css and bootstrap, I can navigate github and pull code, all things that were unknown to me before. I get a real kick out of it. The only thing I’ve struggled with is how much time I can spend doing this but I will blog on that another time.

Every other week I try to stay off instagram entirely. I don’t want to be consuming images, I don’t want any inputs and I don’t want to organise what to post or spend time replying to comments. I just stay off. That week inevitably makes me realise how much time and how often I go to check. One thing that has helped is putting the app on the 5th screen I tab to on my phone so I am more aware when I’m going to check. I’ll be writing more on how to be more of a master with your phone because I’ve learnt a few things over the last few months, some of which really aren’t pretty!

I thoroughly recommend this book, all my reads are here on my goodreads profile.

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