The crucial skill we need in the knowledge economy
Last year I read (and reread) Cal Newport’s “Deep Work“, a book that completely changed the way I work and I highly recommend.
Cal Newport‘s a computer science professor who writes about the intersection of society and technology – particularly how new tech affects our ability to perform productive work.
And this is what “Deep Work” is about: the crucial skill we need to thrive in the new economy: the ability to focus, shut out all distractions, and produce work at an elite level (in terms of quality and speed) – something that’s become more and more rare and, at the same time, valuable.
In the first half of his book, Cal Newport exposes all the modern workplace sources of distraction: from open space offices to instant messaging, always being interrupted, checking our emails, never fully disconnecting our brains from the noise, busyness, and so on.This is one of my notes regarding busyness, for example:
“Busyness as a proxy for productivity = knowledge workers want to prove they’re productive team members, earning their keep, but they’re not entirely clear what this goal constitutes. They turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.”
Cal Newport will take all your arguments in favor for [insert your favorite poison here: Slack, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc] and trash them. He’ll debunk all the reasons why we feel we absolutely need them (spoiler alert: we don’t).
They affect our ability to focus, be creative, and do quality work. While seemingly harmless on a day to day basis, just because almost everyone else around us is caught in the same hamster wheel, they add up.
After opening our eyes and showing us (through science-backed arguments) all the harms done by modern-day distractions, Cal Newport offers us multiple solutions in the second half of the book. Depending on your job’s nature and your personality, there are various ways to tackle this problem (no universal solution – sorry).
All these are sprinkled with stories about how other people work (or used to work) – successful folks across all industries, from Carl Jung to Charles Darwin, Einstein, Walter Isaacson, and more. Well, it’s pretty obvious that if you want to differentiate yourself from others, you’ll need to do things differently.
The arguments in this book are among the reasons why I deleted my Facebook account four months ago, right in the eve of my 10-year anniversary. What started as a one-week experiment, quickly turned into “this is the best decision I’ve made for my mental health”, and so I never looked back.
A few of the positive outcomes of closing my Facebook account:
1. My creativity increased, together with my ability to focus and do quality work for The CEO Library – something I wasn’t even aware I lacked. I only realized this about a month afterwards, when I noticed I’m able to focus intensely for longer strains of time.
2. My mental health improved – the anxiety and stress levels are way incomparable to what was going on before, now that I don’t expose myself anymore to passive consumption of information. If anything important happens, I’m sure I find out about it in some other way. And, of course, I now have more time to read books! 🙂
3. My relationships are stronger than before – both professional and personal ones (if a friendship depends on your digital availability, you should ask yourself how real it is anyways).
Regarding professional ones: I just started investing more time into face to face meetings with those who are worthy of my attention, which resulted in increased trust and creativity.
As an introvert, Facebook used to keep me safe into my bubble for a long time. I was able to avoid most real life interactions for years – not a fertile terrain for substantial growth, I know. Digital interaction will never substitute face to face interaction and should only be used as a tool to facilitate it, not completely replace it.
And if I didn’t convince you by now, I hope others will. Such as Seth Godin, who said that: “Cal Newport is a clear voice in a sea of noise, bringing science and passion in equal measure” (more quotes here – from 10+ entrepreneurs, investors and authors).
- Watch Cal Newport’s TED talk about why we should quit social media.
- You should also read the articles from Cal Newport’s Study Hacks blog (and subscribe to his newsletter).
- Here’s a cool diagram with the main ideas from the book.
Read it together with:
- Rework, from Jason Fried and DHH, the two founders of Basecamp (I swear I’m not getting paid to promote their work – it’s just that good!). This book will help you work in a more efficient and smart way.
- Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000 hour rule through this book, where he shares stories about what it takes to become the best in the world at something.
- Grit, by Angela Duckworth – if you want to get even deeper into the subject of deliberate practice and perseverence.
And you should also listen to my talk with Mike Benkovich: ‘Self-Improvement Lessons from an Entrepreneur‘. Mike’s a Sydney-based entrepreneur and web developer, he was my first podcast guest, and I now consider him a friend. In this recording you’ll hear us talk about digital addiction – Mike’s completely off the grid with social media and will go for days without a phone. His words helped me a lot.
So, tell me: what are things that you spend way too much time doing that are keeping you distracted from your important goals?
For me, it’s checking the news – I cut it drastically, but it’s still something I struggle with. I’m aware that it’s bad for me, doesn’t help in any way, and is a huge source of anxiety (it’s not like I can control what’s going on in the world and save everyone).
As Seneca was saying: “let no one rob me of a single day who isn’t going to make a full return on the loss”.