Deep Work (#SoGv2 - 32)

Deep Work. By Cal Newport.

Writing in after a while.
Hope all is well with you. Life's been unkind lately. Nothing too serious. Just one of those things. Trying to find my way back to sanity. Hopefully will be back soon.

Coming to the point. It is a Tuesday and that means its time for a SoGv2 and thus time for a letter inspired by a core idea by a giant.

Today's giant is Cal Newport. Among other things, he is notable for his work around decoding success. He writes a popular blog, Study Hacks where he does this and talks about doing work that matters and living a satisfying life. He is also an author and has written 6 books, each a bestseller. He is also a computer science professor at a US college. Oh and he does NOT have a social media account. Apart from email or a blog. No twitter, no Facebook, nothing.

This letter is inspired by his seminal book, Deep Work. Which is a must-read for any knowledge worker.

In one line, Cal says that in the 21st century as we get more connected than ever before, we need to be able to focus deeply and do deep work (and not shallow work) that actually adds more value to the world (and to you as well).

Deep Work is those things that you do in a distraction-free environment that push your limits and make you do more. This is the work that creates new things, improves your capability and often, gives you the edge!

Shallow Work is mundane tasks. You know, replying to emails, checking for notifications, responding to various requests for attention, etc.

The core principle of the book is that you ought to eliminate all the shallow work and try to do deep work. Essentially, by focusing one task at a time. The best work (that adds value and is satisfying) is a multiple of the intensity of the work and the amount of time that you put in that work. You thus ought to work on one thing and one thing only without distractions. And do it for, say, an hour at a time without switching to other tasks (howsoever mundane and simpler those tasks are).

Apart from this core idea, I am taking away these 4 things (in no order and different from what Cal probably intended to talk about) from the book.

1. Routine.
Make a routine.
As a creator, you do not wait for inspiration to hit you. But you fix a time when you would do the creative work that you need the inspiration for. And then let inspiration come to you at that time. You know, how I keep saying that every morning till about 11 AM, your time can NOT be given to anyone else. Ever. That is your time to do the work that gives you the most satisfaction and adds the most value. At this time you can not be on SM (I check my SM after 9 AM. Starting tomorrow, I will check after 11 AM unless it is required for what I am doing).

Here's a tip that I used to get to 9 AM. I started by not checking my SM until 7 AM types. And then I added 30 minutes every 2 weeks. And it reached a point where I would consistently not check till 9. Now, I am hoping to crank it up to 11. And ditto for the evening. I do not check things about an hour before I get to bed.

Try this.

2. Chucks of time.
Create chunks of time in which you would work. Remember Paul Graham's Maker - Manager days? Now, what if you scale the idea down? Instead of an entire day when you are a manager or a maker, you divide your day into specific hours for specific tasks? Like, in the morning, for 4 hours, you are in the maker zone. And within those 4 hours, you will create 4 chunks of an hour each and each hour will be allocated to one task only! No more multiple tabs, task switching, thinking about 20 other things while you are working on one.

Cal says that it may be tough to create longer chunks (about an hour) in the beginning. So, start with smaller chunks of 20 mins or so. And then ramp up.

Right now, I can't go on for more than 12 seconds without getting distracted. I need to build this habit to be able to focus for hours at stretch. Guess meditation would help. Guess sustained, the consistent practice would help. Let's see.

3. Places to do work.
This is in continuation of the last one. Cal says, identify a place where you go to get your work done. He talks about living like a Hermit and he also talks about working like a journalist where every day is a hustle. And everything in the between.

My spin on this is that I do all my writing at Starbucks (I choose a table and a chair). I write all my presentations etc at the office. I do all my thinking while walking. I conduct all meetings at Starbucks (but sit on a couch). The moment I get into any of these places, I get in that zone and work automatically flows. And I guard these places and times with my life.

See if you can implement this. Identify a place in your vicinity that you can allocate for specific things. And then see magic.

4. Downtime.
After a day of chunks of deep work, you need downtime where you unwind and relax. Books and books have been written about this. And this is something that I needed help with. And this book did just that (taught me the importance of downtime and unwinding).

I believed that unwinding is a crime. I used to think that each minute has to be accounted for. Each chunk of time has to be spent working. What I was missing all this while was that I was counting social media, emails and other such things as work. Now I know these are not. These are shallow work and I must remove those altogether (so, maybe check email three times a day - once at around 11, once at around 2 and last just before you start to unwind for the day to put it on the priority list for the next day).

So yeah. Downtime. Unwind.

N. Apart from these 4, the other thing that I found valuable in the book is the focus on obsessive execution. He talks about lead and lag indicators (though I am not too big a fan of this) and talks about tracking those (which I am a big fan of).

So yeah. This is it.

I already do a few of these things and now that I have revisited the book (thanks to this tweetstorm. Ironic. No?), its time to reclaim the mornings and get even more obsessed by doing the deep work (and not the shallow, meaningless kinds). The things that I did not do (recreation, tracking, etc) I will try and include in my routine - let's see how that goes.

Has to be one of the most important pieces of texts I've ever written. Hope this adds value.

Further reads on this...

  • If you want to see a video version of the summary, PNTV does a great job.

  • This post on Medium is an interesting take on the book.

  • This is a good summary of the book. In fact, I could just point to this person and get out of the way!

  • In this TEDx talk, Cal talks about why he does not have a SM account. And while I don't agree that SM is not useful (most of my connections in life have come from my activeness on Twitter / Instagram etc), Cal does make a lot of valid points herein!

  • You may want to read my piece on context switching. A large part of what Cal talks about is around this only.

And with that, over and out. See you guys on Thursday.

Thank you for your time! Here's to some deep work!
2254, Wadhwa. SoGv2-32
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TAGS: Cal Newport, Work, Focus, Productivity


And, in the end, in case you have some extra coins lying around, 1ABmUxhpbaXpBDrxtkpH8zFMBWSLCbK3sr.