Deep Work, by Cal Newport

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who struggles to stay focused on their work right now. Cal Newport analyses and coins the term of deep work, a skill that is mastered by only a few nowadays, but is of extremely high value in our economy.

As a final year undergraduate student, I could easily see how deadlines for projects, exams, as well as my dissertation were all approaching and simply could not feel that I was productive and effective in my work. They all require complexity and a lot of attention to detail in order to be high quality A-grade projects. While working, I would easily get distracted by social media and email notifications, unimportant tasks I scheduled without actually putting much thought into them, web surfing, all of which only made me feel bad at the end of the day, knowing I could have made more progress on my projects.

After looking at a TED Talk on Presence from the incredible Amy Cuddy, I looked for her book on Amazon and run into this one. I knew immediately it was exactly what I needed to get back on track and exercise my focus while working. The entire book is based on the hypothesis the author formulates in the beginning:

The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy.

The book is structured in two parts. In the first section, he explains how the concept works and then, goes on with advising on how to approach this style and integrate it into your lifestyle, depending on your type of job and your priorities. The advice is very actionable, as I already started for a week now to include deep work in my routine. I became much more organised and productive.

I wake up daily at 7:15 am, have enough time for my coffee and breakfast in order to be able to start working at 8 am sharp. I can easily combine deep work for my projects and research, University classes and going to the gym daily, scheduling any other commitments I might have on a typical day. If I have to travel, I try to use my time as efficiently as possible, reading a book on a technical topic I am interested in or save articles for offline view, which are related to my projects.

It is also definitely motivating to read all the case studies he presents, understanding how people who manage to stay focused for longer periods of time on certain tasks perform much better, compared to those that constantly multi-task, switching their focus every 30 minutes or so. In my case, at least, I feel I am much more productive when I am surrounded by complete silence, so that my brain can only focus on the task it has to do, really well. I was amazed by how many tasks I crossed out of my to-do list in just 3 hours of deep work. If I were to do the same amount of tasks with my normal approach towards work, it would have probably taken me 3 days to complete them all this thoroughly. Interruptions are dangerous.

It might feel a bit tiring the first few days, while you train your brain to work this way, but believe me, the results are amazing. Our willpower is limited and as a result, we must not stretch it to its limits. It is much better to incrementally train our brain to deeply concentrate while working, so that it will automatically do so over time. I normally finish everything I have to do by 5 pm so that I can enjoy doing some exercise, reading something, talking to my friends or watching a funny tv show afterwards. I could also catch up with my family over Skype, write a new post on my blog or catch up with the news on my Twitter feed.

I could go on writing for ages about this concept and how valuable I find it, but I hope I sparked your interest in reading the book. So far, a fellow colleague of mine already bought the book, 3 days after I told her about it.

On an ending note, we should not forget that our time is our most valuable asset,  so we should definitely consider what we invest it into, to make sure we get the best return on investment.