Sunday, October 13, 2019

Deep Work - Cal Newport

This is a significant book for me. I realised that after reading the first couple of pages itself. Cal Newport begins by telling a story about Carl Jung who built a retreat for himself in Bollengen, a Swiss town, in 1922. He called it the Tower. After returning from India where he observed that people had meditation rooms in their homes he included a private office.  No one is allowed into the office and the key to it was always with him. Jung would wake up at 7 am, have a big breakfast, go into the distraction-free tower and write for 2 hours, meditate and take long walks in the evening. Newport says he did this not to escape from work but to advance his work. Especially since it was the period when he came up with ideas that disagreed with those of Freud - ne needed to stay sharp, deep and careful thought. Such an atmosphere helps in deep work, a word coined by Newport.

"Deep Work - Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate." - Cal Newport

Deep Work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity says Newport. He gives examples of Mark Twain (who wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in  a barn), Woody Allen, Bill Gates (famous of his Think Weeks twice a year) and several others. Clearly, you need a distraction-free space where you can engage in intense work.

While there here is the definition of shallow work. 'Shallow Work - Non-cognitively demanding, logistical style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.- Cal. If we spend enough time in a state of shallow work we might permanently reduce our capacity to perform deep work he says.

Cal says that the future belongs to three types of people - 1) those who can work well and creatively with Intelligent Machines, 2) those who are the best at what they do and 3) those with access to capital. he gives the examples of Nate Silver, David Hansson and John Doerr to substantiate his case. The first two can be accessed through Deep Work.

One needs two core abilities for thriving in the new economy (any economy I feel) - 1) the ability to quickly master hard things and 2) the ability to produce at elite level, in quality and speed. Simply put if you can't learn you can't thrive. If you don't produce, you won't thrive, no mater how talented or skilled you are. So one must learn and one must produce continuously. These depend on your ability to perform Deep Work he says. Deep Work helps you to quickly learn hard things.

Attention and Happiness
Winfried Gallagher who dealt with a rather aggressive form of cancer. felt that the disease wanted her attention. So she decided to focus on her life instead, the good things in it, the walks, the movies and by doing so passed through that period quite happily. She demonstrated that there was a connection between attention and happiness.  Says Gallagher - I'll live the focused life. Deep Work is all about focused life, work.

Skillful management of attention is absolutely essential for the good life. Our world view depends on what we pay attention to.

The 4 rules to perform Deep Work.

Rule No 1 - Work Deeply.
Cal he talks about seeing a design for a place called Eudaimonia, designed by an architect friend of his. Eudaimonia is a state where you'r achieving your full human potential. The place was designed in such a way that one goes into a deep place, passing through well designed layers, until one gets the right atmosphere for Deep Work. The idea is that we have a finite amount of will power - and it depletes as we use it. So create methods to overcome this weakness.

The two philosophies for practicing Deep Work are the Bimodal Philosophy (where one switches off for periods of time like a few days or weeks and immerses oneself into Deep Work cut off from all else and return to attend to their jobs or whatever) and Rhythmic Philosophy (where one sets apart a time everyday and religiously immerses oneself into deep work in those pockets of time). There is nothing like inspiration - it's hard, regular work where you push yourself to produce intense work. 'Anyone trying to do creative work would do well to ignore inspiration.'

Creating rituals helps to sustain this hard practice - 1) like where and how long are you going to perform your deep work, how 2) will you perform deep work and 3) how will you support yourself in those times of loneliness and intense work.

Cal gives us the 4 disciplines of execution
1) Focus on the wildly important - pick only a small number of wildly important goals and focus on them
2) Act on the lead measures (not lag measures eg. customer satisfaction scores which are not good because it happens after the customer experience) - Lead measures are those measures that will drive success on the lag measures (figure behaviors that drive expected customer response)
3) Keep a compelling scoreboard - being result driven not activity driven
4) Create accountability - Be accountable to others

Cal encourages us to be lazy. Downtime aids insights, recharges energy and moreover the work that normally gets replaced by downtime is not really important.

Rule No 2 - Embrace Boredom
Don't take breaks from distraction. Take breaks from focus. Keep your shallow distractions out - like the Internet - by creating blocks of time in which to access the net. Be wary of distractions and structure your deep thinking.

Rule 3 - Quit Social Media

Rule 4 -Drain the Shallows
As work expands to fill time, we allow ourselves to do a lot of shallow work to appear busy if we have more time. There was an experiment in the company 37 Signals (now Basecamp) to reduce their working days from five to four. The idea was not to increase hours to 40 in 4 days. It was to do 8 hour days in four days. The results were favourable - shallow work was drained, the deep work got done!

To drain shallow work, Cal advises us to schedule every minute of the day, finish work on time and be hard to reach if you want to engage in deep work and produce.

I fully endorse the idea and would like to start implementing it right away. There's much work to do and it had better be good stuff. Thanks Cal Newport and thanks Suresh for recommending it to me. Fully recommended!


Abhinay Renny said...

"Deep work" highly needed advise to get the work done. Will definitely check the book sir.

piyush jha said...

Thanks for the deep review.

piyush jha said...

Very nice. A deep review.