As someone who is always looking for new ways to get more meaningful work done, I picked up this book in the hope it would show me how I can achieve more by dedicating meaningful chunks of time to focussed work. Most of what he says is just straightforward common sense — you just don’t realise it until you’ve read it.
Cal explains that if we want to achieve anything meaningful, we need to set aside large blocks of uninterrupted time for “deep work”. Without distractions, and regularly. I admit, this is obvious, but what Cal does is gives some advice on what the most common interruptions are, and practical tips on how to avoid them.
Our use of social media, interrupting ourselves with distractions out of habit, and blindly accepting meetings is so ingrained in us, that it can leave little time for the long periods of time we need to get into a task, or “deep work” as Cal has coined.
The biggest take-away I got, was that these interruptions don’t have to be interruptions. For example, we dont have to leave our email clients open all day, but we do. Why not instead dedicate a block of time at either end of the day for responding to emails, rather than feeling forced to interrupt ourselves every five minutes.
I also found that blocking out periods of time in my calendar for dedicated deep work is a game changer, and loved his suggestion for putting the “out of office” on during these blocks of time (even when you’re still in the office!).
In essense this is a book about boosting productivity, and the down side of “shallow” and fragmented work is that we are always task switching, which is the death knell of productivity.
A lot of Cal’s suggestions will be hard to stomach for most modern knowledge workers (close the email client, delete your social media accounts, turn off your phone — or even get rid of it), but as someone who has published many books, and a much higher than average number of academic papers than his peers, it’s clearly a strategy that works.