Book Review: ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport | Art


Editor’s Note: Page Against the Machine is a bi-weekly column exploring literature and the UW community’s thoughts on it.

Of all the diseases born of the technological age, our collective loss of focus is perhaps the most troubling.

“Honestly, I can only concentrate for 20 to 30 minutes,” said freshman Ethan Lu. “It’s different for everyone, but for me, [the distraction] is either my phone or app notifications on my computer. »

Sophomore June Freund agrees, also citing phone notifications as a major distraction.

“If I’m tired, or if I get a notification on my phone, or if I stop understanding something, I look for a distraction,” Freund said.

These students are certainly not alone. In lecture halls, libraries, and even the Quad, it seems like every student bounces mindlessly between a phone and a laptop. Hundreds of browser tabs compete for space on computer screens. Students read while listening to music, Netflix plays on Canvas assignment pages, and so on.

Sustained concentration, it seems, has become an almost impossible, if not archaic, feat.

When almost everything is to take advantage of the superficiality of your attention, how do you regain control?

Cal Newport’s 2016 book “Deep Work” offers a compelling way forward.

Deep work, as Newport defines it, is a state of sustained concentration without distraction. Plus, he argues, it’s the most important skill anyone looking to create meaningful work can cultivate. Newport opens the book with this hypothesis:

“The ability to do deep work is becoming increasingly scarce at the same time as it becomes increasingly valuable in our economy. As a result, the few people who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their professional lives, will thrive.

Newport argues that because work is increasingly automated, workers in the jobs of the future will be valued for their ability to quickly understand complex things, make connections between concepts across disciplines, and consistently produce work. High quality. No longer will workers be lauded for the sheer scale of their output or their ability to respond quickly to emails. More than anything, it will be the quality and depth of thought that will inevitably stand out.

Newport encourages readers to cultivate the conditions for deep work by honing their concentration and striving to deliberately increase their attention span. Your professional success, he argues, may depend on it.

The second half of the book functions as a guide for those hoping to build – or rebuild – their attention span. Newport suggests experimenting with boredom, quitting social media partially or completely, and creating fixed schedules for doing superficial and deep tasks, among dozens of other easy-to-implement ideas. We end Newport’s book with a toolkit to fight superficiality, and more importantly, a will to implement those changes.

I found this book fascinating, captivating and easy to digest. Newport’s tone is restrained. He wants you to understand the ramifications of shallow work, but he’s both talkative and empathetic, even funny. Newport does a terrific job of combining scientific evidence with amusing anecdotes. I particularly liked the easy layout and clarity of the arguments, it made for quick reading and even quicker re-listening to the audiobook.

My only criticism of the book is that it seems that the end goal of deep work concentration is productivity. This book is definitely aimed at a self-help, TED, corporate audience. I would have liked to see a discussion of the inherent value of focus and doing complex and interesting work for one’s own enjoyment or joy, or psychological value, rather than the argument responding to a purely money-making end .

I would recommend this book to anyone with complicated relationships with focus, students of all ages, new professionals, and creatives looking to spend more time on their projects.

Cal Newport’s Deep Work, above all else, is the one you should keep on your desk.

Contact columnist Quinn Rector at [email protected] Twitter: @QuinnRector

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