I sit on my chair and open my laptop. I type in my password and stare at my screen for a minute. I ponder about the work needed to be done in the day and then make a rough to-do list. The phone chimes. I glance at my phone, and debate for a second on whether I need to check it. My willpower endeavours and I turn my head back to my laptop. Another vibration from the phone. This time I pick it up and check the notifications. Sometimes they are from WhatsApp, sometimes from Instagram. It mostly is a message from a friend about some breaking news in the day, nothing too important. However, once I am in the app, I check the plethora of groups in WhatsApp, scroll down Twitter and Instagram, and maybe watch some fun videos on Youtube. Fifteen to twenty minutes easily pass by, unnoticed. Once the passage of time is noticed, I put my phone down, reprimand myself and then begin work. However, the vicious cycle continues. At the end of the day, I feel unproductive, dissatisfied and in need of a ‘detox’.
I am sure many of us go through these cycles every day; struggling to get in a prolonged period of focussed work. Fractured schedules, shaky time management and social media addictions are the common enemies of focussed work requiring ample amounts of your mental resources, otherwise also known as ‘Deep Work’. This might be more true during this period, where social media is the easiest way to socialize and communicate.
Enter Cal Newport’s 2016 bestseller Deep Work. A friend of mine introduced me to the book, and I cannot thank him enough for it. Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, vexed by his ever bloating inbox and his highly fractured schedule, started looking into the various ways of effectively managing his work, personal and social life. His primary job (research), like many of us, demanded many hours of uninterrupted, highly focused work (or deep work). However, his attention is constantly diverted by emails, student queries, interactions etc, referred to as ‘Shallow work’. While shallow work might be important, it doesn’t require the mental prowess demanded by deep work. He wanted to develop a lifestyle that balanced these two types of work along with the other facets of his life. These efforts and subsequent research led to this amazing book.
The author elucidates the need for deep work in the modern era, and the damage done to our attention by the barrage of shallow work thrown at us. The book then goes on to talk about the limited amount of focus that the brain can give to deep work (only 4 hrs in a day). So, it is important to maximize this time to get the most work done. On the flip side, without any distractions, most work can be done in 4 hrs of deep work. However, amidst the glut of distractions we face, it is hard to stay focussed for 4hrs at length. Hence the book gives us different kinds of lifestyles that maximize the deep work done in a day. While this may seem restrictive to many, the author clarifies the need to have a loose plan of the tasks you need to do in the day, and it can lead to a more satisfying life.
Deep Work is a well-researched book, one that requires you to keep an open mind about your habits and lifestyle. While there may be some facets of the book that you might not agree with, most of the routines and tricks introduced here are logical and most importantly, practical. I found the part of email management, which can be considered analogous to WhatsApp or Instagram, very helpful in my day-to-day life.
Deep Work is certainly a book for everyone who is doing creative original work. I have never been this deeply influenced by a productivity book. It is very practical, sensible and a must-read for anyone who feels he/she has no work-life balance or is always feeling the pressure. It taught me that I always have the time, just not the right mentality to manage it. The perils of distraction and addiction were beautifully highlighted, and it was an eye-opener. I have certainly made more time in my life for other pursuits after imbibing certain routines from this book, and I hope it will help you stay satisfied and productive during this quarantine and beyond.