Book Review: Deep Work by Cal Newport

BUSINESS

August 13, 2019

Joy Youell

Joy Youell is an expert copywriter and content strategist.

Good writers read a lot of books. And hopefully pull off better sentences than that one. I read all of the time. All kinds of books. Serious books, Christian books, biographies, novels, professional development, etc. I think reading gives me an edge over the considerable copywriting competition out there. There are a lot of great digital marketers. I can offer my clients the latest greatest and most innovative copy by reading. So, I want to do these quick little reviews of books I benefit from... for the benefit of anyone else who's interested.

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Deep Work by Cal Newport is a good book to convince you of a few things. His foundational idea (in my own words) is that, in an age of increasing automation, the people who can excel will go deep into a single field of study. Going deep requires quiet, focused, uninterrupted concentration.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.”

“Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”

“Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy 1. The ability to quickly master hard things. 2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.”

Cal Newport, Deep Work

That last one got written on a post-it note. Love it. I quite agree with him. I think that google has fooled us into thinking we know more than we do. And, people may know more about a lot of things (shallow knowledge). But it's the absurdity of thinking that you, an adept googler, know more than, say, a medical doctor. It's the youthful arrogance of thinking that a facebook ad certification equips you to compete with CMOs of giant organizations. Deep knowledge means expertise. It's what a PhD is all about: you are an expert. Certified. Authenticated. Vouched for.

Doing the work in this way, with this level of intensity, is totally distasteful to most people. Deep work feels like a death sentence to creativity. But it isn't. I think of it like learning an instrument. It took me forever to learn guitar (and I am not brilliant). But the hours I spent painstakingly getting my fingers to remember chord positions were an investment in creativity. Now, I can sit down and very badly create a very poor song that my children dislike. But the chords are right.

That inadequate illustration is meant to highlight the fact that, you have to put work into mastering something well enough to do it without conscious thought. Whether that be writing something prolific, playing an instrument, formatting a spreadsheet or any other endeavor, the work precedes success. I think Newport argues this effectively. Worth a read.

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