Must-Read Book: Deep Work by Cal Newport


On a scale of one to 10, how distracted are you? Be honest about it. How do you concentrate and try and calm the noise in your head? For me, this is a big challenge every day. My brain is a very active place–like the concourse of Grand Central Station.

When my head is working properly, I’m productive, organised and the energy is flowing the right way, when it’s not, I feel overwhelmed and completely bombarded.

Every day we are all pelted by thousands and thousands of messages, and it’s only getting worse. The advent of social media, in the last 10 years, has intensified the problem. How often do you get distracted into a social media rabbit hole and spend hours endlessly scrolling through Twitter, Youtube or Facebook?

There is a small wooden stool in our kitchen–a relic of when my daughters were smaller. Sometimes late in the evening when I pop down for a cup of tea I’ll perch on it while the kettle is boiling. I’ll just have a quick look at social media–that’s what I tell myself. Too many times I’m still sitting there, uncomfortably, 20 minutes later drooling in a mindless scroll–helpless to break out of my bad distraction habit.

Enter Cal Newport and Deep Work. I discovered Cal Newport about four years ago and immediately fell in love with how his mind works. Newport is Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University and he writes self-improvement books. They’re not your run of the mill ‘how to get better’ books. He has a gift for simple language, powerful lessons and practical tips based on evidence.

Deep Work kicks off with the story of Jason Benn and the way he learned to program. He spent hundreds of hours isolated in his bedroom, without a computer, reading and learning before he got near a computer. Being isolated taught him how to work deeply, with no distraction. It is a way of work that he used in his career. The book is full of great examples and practical tips.

Deep work is defined as:

  • the ability to learn, and master, things quickly.
  • the ability to focus on your work to excel at a high level.
  • built on the same old-school values we often refer to as key to the success of our design work: craftsmanship, quality and mastery.

Newport argues that in modern work productivity is a goal in and of itself, and it shouldn’t be.

Deep work requires determination, focus and effort. Newport strongly suggests that much of the modern work atmosphere is designed to distract. Open offices are distraction labs and the lure of convenient work like email and chatting place the appearance of being busy over producing value.

If you want to figure out how to get more from your work and get more done in a better work atmosphere, read this book.

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