Deep Work: Getting Valuable Things Done In A Distracted World

It’s no secret: we live in a world of constant distraction. In many ways, to get something done, really valuable work, is a battle. It will only take you a moment to think of a project you want to accomplish and you intend to accomplish, but you still haven’t done it. The distractions are numerous and to make matters worse, some of the biggest distractions during a work day, come in the form of looking like progress. Quick internet searches, social media checks, articles, posts, inboxes, vague emails not only fill up more time than we think, we’ve become addicted to thinking this is real work. What is needed to accomplish amazing and meaningful things in life? Deep work.

I just finished reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. This book really describes well what modern day, information and knowledge workers go through. The author lays out a definition of deep work: extended period of time with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. It’s the type of work that optimizes your performance. As we become good at the habit and practice of deep work, we are able to segment our days into accomplishing the shallow, repetitive tasks, while at the same time blocking off long periods of distraction free work.  It’s the long stretches of distraction free work that is the difference between successful and super successful people.

Here are just a few of the many insights I have gained:

  • Compare a craftsman to a knowledge worker. A craftsman will be busy in completing his craft, the project, the thing that he is known for. You can see the progress as the product is forged. A knowledge worker, not realizing it, tries to look busy as the product is happening. By answering emails, clicking social media links, talking with colleagues the day fills up, but the product itself suffers.
  • Deep work is required if we are going to be able to breakdown and build again what we know and how we do things in a changing world. This doesn’t happen without time to think about the process and the direction of your work.
  • To be successful, we must batch important, intellectual work into long uninterrupted stretches. This is mostly a fight within ourselves – to turn off the distractions, to distance ourselves from phones, emails and small talk conversations long enough to accomplish the meaningful, hard work we need to do.
  • The Principle of Least Resistance: In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment. (page 58)
  • Deep work requires sacrifice, but the rewards are worth it.
  • Deep work can be arranged around your calendar – either a sabbatical, or a couple long weeks in a lump, one day a week, or a part of each day, depending on your work and life roles. The more practice you get at tuning out distractions, the better you will become and moving into deep work modes for short periods of time.
  • Boredom has it’s place in our lives – we need to be alone and quiet sometimes, just to think. Too often, we will take our our phones while waiting in line, just because we’re trying to be productive, in reality, we’re decreasing, at times, our ability to think without distraction. Embrace boredom – it’s the key to thinking and imagining.
  • Deep work is rare because we are so connected with people. People have access to our lives as we give it to them – and it can overwhelm us. As an example, it only take about ten seconds for someone to send you an email with an article link and ask you for your “thoughts?”. That one email alone, if answered at all by you, could take a untold amount of time.
  • Attention residue – when switching from one little task to the next, even if you complete something, your mind is still thinking about – has residue – from the task you just left.  To be successful, we must batch our work and accomplish what is more important without interruption.
  • For ministry leaders, whose lives center around the church and serving people, deep work can seem like a pipe dream. You can line out your day all your want, but something will change. Deep work doesn’t require you to give up on connection with people and needs as they arise, but it helps you prioritize the most influential things you can do. For example, if you can create a system to keep email at a minimum distraction, say, an auto response that lets people know you will respond to emails between 4-5 pm, you can invest a large amount of uninterrupted time in preparing a powerful message or writing an article for many people. To be distracted by one small, inconsequential email or small talk conversation, pulls the rug out from under the potential influence you will have as you speak with many more people during a Sunday message on in a widely read newsletter or publication.
  • Deep work is a skill that allows you to get meaningful things done. It’s way more powerful than most people realize.

This book has caused me to think through how I structure my day, how I give attention to the projects and work that will make the most impact on my life and the lives of the people I serve.

It would be a great book for anyone who serve in ministry leadership in the church.

You can pick this book up at Amazon. 

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