Just a quick post today to share a book I read recently that has changed my approach a bit. It’s called Deep Work, by Cal Newport.
The premise of the book is thus: our modern culture is inundating us with constant stimulation, shortening our attention spans, making it difficult for us to focus on complex and difficult tasks. Our brains start to crave distraction, which is why, when I sit down with the best of intentions to bang out a chapter, the lure of the internet or Facebook sometimes proves too strong. Even through time is finite, I find myself wasting it…ALL. THE. TIME. Newport explains why this is happening, and why really, if we want to succeed as a modern day “thought worker” (as he puts it,) we need to be able to sit down, focus, and perform deep and difficult thinking. I mean, yeah, it seems pretty obvious, but why is it SO damn hard to do?
The book gives specific advice on how to create fixed distraction-free periods of time to perform deep work, by eliminating what he calls shallow work (I’m looking at you, email), and then batching the remaining shallow work into chunks. He also gives advice on how to decide if you need certain tools in your life, like social media, or whether a particular task or commitment is a good use of your time. Instead of asking if you get any conceivable benefit from it, ask yourself whether it is actively furthering your core goals and values. If not, say goodbye.
I found this book at THE right time. I was growing increasingly frustrated with how busy I always felt, but how, even when I was overwhelmed with tasks, I would find myself wasting time, or killing time on the easy stuff rather than diving into the meaty bits that actually required serious brainpower. I felt like this cycle was getting worse and it was driving me nuts. As a lawyer and an author who is basically working two jobs, productivity=sanity. Newport explained how your focus is a muscle that you have to exercise, and just like starting an exercise program, you can’t just jump into the gym and start to bench 350 pounds without really regretting it the next day. The way to increase your ability to focus and fight your brain’s desire for distraction is to constantly work at the skill on a daily basis, slowly upping the amount of time you spend doing “deep work.”
This is all to say two things. One, if you’re feeling like your brain spins in a million different directions yet you can’t get anything done (like I did), this book might be for you too. Second, I am going to be reducing the amount of shallow work I’m doing (i.e., spending time on social media and blogging), to increase the time and energy I invest in writing and editing my books, which is really the bit I love the most. So, I’ll still be around, but maybe not as much. But, on the flip side, this will hopefully mean yours truly will be churning out better books at a faster pace. And that feels like a win to me!