Deep Work makes a strong case for a certain lifestyle. One that is intentional, rewarding, and increasingly rare. It has a simple structure, divided into two parts. In part one Newport presents a cultural criticism and attempts to convince readers of the benefits of practicing deep work. Part two is where he lays out “rules” to succeed in developing a deep work ethic (and a neat trick to memorize a deck of cards!).
This book was a gift from a good friend- and no that doesn’t say anything about what my friend thinks of me. I won’t lie, when I first laid eyes on the title ‘Deep Work’ it seemed like I didn’t need to read the book to get the point of yet another Self Help book. I was right and wrong. Right because I correctly presumed ‘Deep Work’ was the act of blocking out the noise and distraction to focus on some specific work. What I didn’t realize at face value is that Newport attempts to convince readers to live richer and more fulfilling lives through deep work. The arguments are backed by research studies and personal anecdotes, and his tone is encouraging.
Even though I’ve given this “self-help” book four stars, I remain grounded in the reality that it will not upend my pavlovian bad habits. I gave it four stars because I related immensely to Newport’s philosophy of work and life. But above all, for me, the success of this book is in the few arguments and strategies that surface in my mind days after I’ve closed the book. Overall, I found many points in here agreeable and I’ve found a couple of new points to view the way I work and live.
I have to mention that Deep Work was a non-fiction book I picked up after a slew of fiction books. And I became occasionally annoyed with the slowness of my reading pace and I frequently felt the visceral urge to pick up my phone- because my brain didn’t want to the hard thinking- which I succumbed to more often than not. This doesn’t plague me when I’m reading fiction- not to this extent anyway. I realized that even if this device was in the farthest corner of my peripheral vision I’d reach for it. So I left my phone on the other side of the room, or a different room while I sat with book and pen in hand, practicing some approximation of Deep Work.
I highlighted a lot in this book and made a lot of comments on the side as well. Here are a few that I resonated with.
“We tend to place a lot of emphasis on our circumstances, assuming that what happens to us (or fails to happen) determines how we feel. From this perspective, the small-scale details of how you spend your day aren’t that important, because what matters are the large-scale outcomes, such as whether or not you get a promotion or move to that nicer apartment. According to Gallagher, decades of research contradict this understanding. Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to.”
“Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. If you focus on a cancer diagnosis, you and your life become unhappy and dark, but if you focus instead on an evening martini, you and your life become more pleasant—even though the circumstances in both scenarios are the same. As Gallagher summarizes: “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”
“The concept of a shutdown ritual might at first seem extreme, but there’s a good reason for it: the Zeigarnik effect… it describes the ability of incomplete tasks to dominate our attention.”
“The task of a craftsman, they conclude, “is not to generate meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill of discerning the meanings that are already there.”
“You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it. Your will, in other words, is not a manifestation of your character that you can deploy without limit; it’s instead like a muscle that tires.”