Book Review: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
DEEP WORK, the newest publication from Cal Newport, has been making waves among academic communities and productivity circles. Just last month I received the following email from university administrators sponsoring a group discussion on the topic:
Please join us for the Beyond the Podium Faculty discussion on mindfulness vs. multitasking. We will share some of the research and strategies that faculty, TAs and students can use to deepen their focus. Cal Newport’s new book on “Deep Work” will help to inspire this discussion.
Share your ideas and tips regarding this challenging topic. As always we will bring treats!
Office of Faculty Development and Teaching Excellence
Although, I wasn't able to attend the discussion, I was able to get my hands on the book.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World promotes the increasingly popular idea that monotasking - intensely focusing on a single task - increases productivity more than multitasking. This monotasking, which Newport calls Deep Work, encompasses, "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."
Unlike other productivity books in a similar vein, Deep Work doesn't eschew the practice of multitasking but argues that it should be reserved for less cognitively demanding shallow work. Furthermore, Newport contends that Deep work doesn't need to be isolating. Instead he suggests collaborative deep work as a valuable way to leverage collective thinking to tackle challenging tasks.
The book is divided into two parts: first demonstrating the value of deep work and second offering tips to help you engage in deep work practices. Even if you're already convinced on the value of deep work, be sure to read Part I as I found it to be more informative than Part II. Newport recognizes "there is no correct deep work ritual" and, through anecdotal narrative, presents the various ways academicians and celebrities have tackled deep work through time blocking, writing retreats, and minimizing distractions. With all its variations, there is one truth about engaging in deep work; intentional practice is required to focus your attention for extended periods of time. For all the Harry Potter fans, there's even a short story about how J.K. Rowling struggled to write The Deathly Hallows.
As a professor at Georgetown University, Cal Newport is one of the few productivity gurus that hasn't quit his day job. His ability to speak as a professor and former student make his productivity advice particularly relevant to students. My only critique of the book is that it suffers from too many case studies snippets without fully exploring the benefits and drawbacks of each deep work ritual.
For more writings of Cal Newport check out his blog Study Hacks.
Have you read Deep Work? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
This post is part of the Book Review Series which features short summaries and reviews of books that are helpful to students in 500 words or less.