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Deep Work, By Cal Newport: A Book Review

“Instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction.”

What is deep work? Cal Newport, in his book, Deep Work, provides the example of a blacksmith who hammers away at a metal ingot for endless hours until it eventually takes the shape of a beautiful sword. This man takes immense satisfaction in his work, using old fashioned techniques and, as he toils, he enters a hypnotic state of concentration. He does not mindlessly hammer on the metal but picks out the exact spot he must modify, working his mind as much as his arms.

This is deep work and this is what Newport talks about. He offers advice on how to get to such a state telling us that it is harder and harder to get there in today’s world with so many distractions.

Newport discusses the importance of working without interruption. We are now reachable at almost any time. Many authors and productivity gurus have spoken about distractions and the impossibility of multi-tasking. I have written a previous blog about it myself. We do not multi task, we simply switch from one task to another and when we do this, we lose concentration and efficiency. We lose the depth which Newport is talking about. He references Sophie Leroy, a business professor at the University of Minnesota, who demonstrates that when switching from task A to task B, our attention stays attached to the first activity, which means we can only half-focus on the second.

“Maybe social media tools are at the core of your existence. You won’t know either way until you sample life without them.”

He encourages breaks from social media for up to a month or so to see if you really need it as part of your life. From my own point of view, I use social media to promote the blog you are reading and I really feel the distracting pull of it. If I am working on something and my phone is nearby, I feel the need to jump on the social and check the stats, which in turn leads to a loss in concentration and a waste of time.

To combat this, I like to use screen time on the I phone, you can set time limits on the applications you use and set downtime periods for your phone. Generally, most apps are locked out of my phone from 8:30pm to 7am the next day. I can make calls, listen to audiobooks but I cannot read text messages, check emails or use social media outside of these hours. I set a password and save it elsewhere and the password is forgotten. This may not work for everybody but I find it useful. Refer to the below video.

Newport recommends to turn off all notifications, with a constant stream of information, it is impossible to get into a state of deep, productive work. I like to put my outlook into offline mode when I am working one something that needs concentration as the constant incoming emails grab me like a moth to a flame and I can’t help but check them.

“If you want to eliminate the addictive pull of entertainment sites on your time and attention, give your brain a quality alternative.”

He recommends planning your evenings and weekends by blocking out time for everything, including downtime. I don’t like the idea of living a scheduled life but in the work environment I have to block out time for what I am working on, otherwise it either won’t get done or I will spend too much time on it and ignore my other requirements.

Watch your internet usage. Plan your evenings and downtime around activities which don’t involve the internet. From a blogger’s perspective, this is difficult but that’s where the screen time feature and being deliberate about when I work online comes in. It is very easy to get sucked into the screen and stay there. I make time to go and read a book, get to yoga or get out for a run and I take these activities as seriously as I take my professional life or our blogging work.

To wrap up, this is a short, easy read. I listened to the audiobook in about a week. It has useful advice for professionals, students or anybody who’s work revolves around sitting at a desk or computer. If I was to sum up Newports advice in one sentence I would say cut the screen distractions from your life as much as is practical and remember that you don’t need to be accessible or responsive to people at all times.

I hope you enjoyed the blog.

Peace,

George

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screentime – Remember To Take A Break

I took a class in a beautiful yoga studio last week. The room was open and spacious, the decor was calming and the mood content.

The teacher brought us through a relaxing sequence which was ideal after a days work to quiet the mind and come down from the stress and stimulus of modern living.

At the end of the class, after we closed and we started to move again I noticed two people immediately had phones in their hands before they even left the mat. They sat with their shoulders hunched and their eyes close to the screen as if they would be sucked inside of it.

There was no worry or consternation on their faces after to suggest that there were circumstances which required both of them to check their phones immediately after class.

This was disheartening for me to see. There is so much more to yoga than just the exercise. Meditation and looking inwards are an equally important part of yoga just as much as the postures.

How can we look inward to ourselves if we cannot resist the urge to go to our screens immediately after our yoga session.

I wonder how the teacher who offered the beautiful class felt when she saw two of the recipients immediately pick up their phones and hunch over them like Golem with the ring.

There are mental benefits to be taken from yoga and meditation, which are lost if we do not allow them to sink in.

I too am guilty of too much screen time. I am writing this blog on a device as I speak. My screen-time app on my IPhone tells me that I spent an average of 2 hours a day on my phone in the last 7 days.

Surely though there is a time and a place.

All to often I see people stare into a screen with their thumbs moving furiously while out for dinner with a group or in a meeting. It is a well known fact that we cannot multi task, we simply jump from one task to another and loose efficiency as we do so. If we are focused on the screen we are not focused on anything else.

There are certain spaces which have no place for screens, those places we come to relax and unwind. Your bedroom for example. The yoga studio. The church or the temple.

My fear is that as a society we will become entranced as a whole, unable to detach and therefore unable to destress. We will become blind to what is around us because we see everything through a 7 inch screen.

My hope is that as a society we will see these screens for what they are. Useful tools, but nothing more than interactive two dimensional surfaces which cannot replace real experiences.

My hope is that we take the time to let our minds digest the experiences laid out before us before we get sucked back into the black hole of a screen.

A black hole is so powerful that even light cannot escape, an IPhone screen is so powerful that it takes our thoughts, ideas and feelings.

Here are some simple tips we can put in place to limit or become more aware of our screen time:

  1. Leave the phone at home a little more. Recognize that it is not always required.
  2. Leave it in another room while you sleep.
  3. Use screentime – you’ll find it in settings for IPhone. Im not sure about android.
  4. Take a break from social media. See if you miss it.

I hope this helps.

Peace,

George