Deep Work – Best book in April (2016)

Deep Work Cover

‘The best book I read last month’ entry for April 2016 is Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

This is one book I have been looking forward to reading. And I read it at a right time for me (well, to be honest, whenever you read this book, will be the right time for you to read this book).

This book has the potential to be one the most important books shaping these years of my life. Potentially, because, it remains to be seen to what extent I can implement and then sustain at least some of its recommendations.

To be honest, the recommendations, those that resonated with me are simple. But we all know, simple doesn’t equate easy – especially when it comes to changing our ingrained behaviors …

So, why should you read this book?

This book will benefit you, it has the potential to change your life too, if

  1. You already have / are trying to develop / have bought into the growth mindset (read Mindset by Carol Dweck to understand what this is all about.)
  2. You know that what you need to do (in work / in real life / in afterlife) requires a whole lot of “something” (time, energy, money, magic etc) which you suspect you might not have enough of.
  3. You run into roadblocks trying to achieve some of your goals / side projects. The roadblocks can be the “I don’t have enough time” roadblock or “I’m trying so much, working so hard, but not seeing results equivalent to the effort expended” roadblock or something other such.
  4. Or you are just curious on how you can improve your way of life and presence and productivity.

Cal starts off with defining what deep work is: “Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

He explains why deep work is important, and how it is similar to deliberate work. Reading this part of the book was preaching to the choir. I already know, and am struggling with the debilitating disease of distraction, and suffering the consequences of not working deep.

The next part was very interesting – something I had not come across before. Cal explains about the 4 philosophies of deep work: Monastic, Bimodal, Rhythmic and Journalistic. This was an eye-opener. I always thought the Monastic way was the only way to work deeply and definitely out of my reach to implement. And the Journalistic way needs much more discipline than I possess currently. I decided that Rythmic makes most sense currently, but Bimodal seems to be just right – experimentation will tell.

Cal gives us a bunch of tricks and tips – which are very easy to understand, whose implementation can be planned easily, but whose implementation brings you in contact with piggy mind rolling around in the muck of busy work and distraction. And you see this, your own dirty restless piddy mind, with sorrow and horror and helplessness.

Anyway, Cal mentions a bunch of techniques, exercises to develop deep work. Some of these resonated with me, and I am trying to implement them:

  1. Apply the 4DX framework for my personal use
    1. Identify the most important achivements to work on.
    2. Measure these achievements using leading indicators (this concept of keeping score using lead measures vs lag measures is game changing.)
    3. Keep a visual, easy to read scoreboard.
    4. Keep accountability using a weekly review.
  2. Schedule deep work (in a calendar) through the week, every week.
  3. Schedule each session of deep work in 90 minute increments.
  4. Each day log how I do during the planned deep work times, for calibration.
  5. Schedule your day – every minute of it – not to hold yourself accountable and beat yourself up when you don’t meet your schedule, but in an exploratory, self-calibration kind of way (this one I find hard to do…)
  6. Identify every activity planned in your day and call out if its shallow or deep
  7. Schedule breaks from focus (internet blocks) through the day, all days. Any internet stuff gets done only during these blocks. (And feel free to beat yourself up if you don’t adhere to these schedules)
  8. Design a startup ritual.
  9. Design a shutdown ritual.
  10. Learn how to be ok with being bored (noticing the smartphone / email / IM / feedly / clash twitch, just observing and not giving in.)
  11. The idea of productive meditation practice twice a week (I just don’t like the term….maybe active deep thinking?)
  12. The idea of practicing “Rooseveltian Intensity” – peak focus in highly constrained time, once a week.
  13. Indulge in social tools with care
  14. Fixed-schedule productivity since constrains can help us reach our peak (as if moms – ok, parents – with young kids can even dream of any other kind of productivity?)

And the mind-rest part. Of course we need to rest our brain muscle after this kind of discpline and effort right?

  1. 50 min walks in nature everyday.
  2. No work allowed after shutdown till tomorrow’s startup.
  3. Saying ‘no’ before saying ‘yes’.

Well, these are my highlights. I am sure, once you read the book, your set of highlights might be quite different.

So, who is this book really for? It is for those of us in the quest of understanding ourselves better, and making ourselves better so we can be and do better at what we really love without expending extra time, and at the same time, having more time to enjoy with our families and for our hobbies. Yes, for those of us on the quest of the holy grail of productivity and presence.

Highly, highly recommended.


On Amazon (Kindle EBook / Hardcover / Paperback)Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Public Library – Check here to see if Deep Work is available in your public library.

June 09, 2016