I heard about Cal Newport from a long time back when Newport was still a student in college and wrote the study hack book How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less. I don’t exactly remember when it was but it might either have been when I was a student myself or when I had just begun teaching and was trying to figure out how to best help my own students. Either way, I never got around to reading his book and in time, I think I will.

This review is for his latest book, Deep Work which was released early 2016 and to be honest, the reason why I waited so long to read it is because I never really followed what Newport was up to and I guess I never saw the need to read a book about how to be more productive.

All that changed when I decided to start on the ReLive project. Since the ReLive project is about living better, it is inevitable that I need to learn how to work better. I see two benefits to working better. One, I do better work and get rewarded better for it and/or Two, I get more of the essential work done quicker so that I can then focus my time and energy on picking up new skills and knowledge to further the ReLive project.

Deep Work is a useful book in that regard. In the first part, Newport paints a very convincing picture of why deep work is beneficial to anyone. His style is to present the thesis and then bring you through the examples and supporting evidence of his thesis. Needless to say, I picked up the book because I already saw the need to do deeper, more impactful work. What I was looking for were strategies on how to do that. This is where the second part comes in.

In the second half of the book, Newport takes us through the four main rules to working deeply. His first rule is just to simply, work deeply. This is where he suggests finding a routine. It could be (a) working deeply for long periods at a go like how writers shut themselves in a cabin in the woods for a week cutting out all forms of distraction, (b) doing deep work only during certain pre-specified periods such as academics working on papers and research during the term break or (c) penciling in certain periods in the day to do deep work. For example, this could be an hour or two before leaving the house for the office each morning.

The second rule is to Embrace Boredom. This rule basically emphasises the necessity of taking breaks in order to be able to continue deep work for longer periods of time. One useful tip is the suggestion that internet time be scheduled. For example, if you decide that 15 minutes is the amount of internet time you’ll get for every three-hour block of time, then there should be absolutely no opening of the web browser outside the allotted internet time of 15 minutes.

Although the third rule is called “quit social media”, it isn’t as draconian as it sounds. Newport makes a good argument for both keeping and quitting social media but ultimately leaves the choice up to the reader. The chapter also talks about decluttering and how the decluttering mindset helps when it comes to quitting social media.

The fourth rule is to “drain the shallows” which is to reduce or even eliminate the shallow work from your life. The two follow up questions I have when I read the title of the chapter are “how do I identify what is shallow work?” and “is it possible to even avoid shallow work?” This is where Newport nicely defines shallow work before running through a couple of suggestions like ruthlessly scheduling every minute so you know how much of your time is going into mindless, repetitive tasks, asking your boss to limit the amount of shallow work and to obsessively reduce and cut shallow work. I also particularly like how he suggests making it more difficult for people to elicit a response from you by making them craft emails in a certain way so that it’s easier for you to get a response.

All in, I highly recommend Newport’s book. You may not agree with all the suggestions in the book but after reading his book, I think you would agree that deep work is something we should all strive towards.

I hope you liked this review and if you choose to get Deep Work by Cal Newport via Amazon, clicking on that link gets me some coffee money.

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