Profundis: “Deep Work”

I just finished “Deep Work“, Cal Newport’s ode to sustained, high-octane focus. The short version of my review is that you should give him your money and do what he tells you to do.

The longer version begins by noting that there are at least two kinds of scholars:

Some scholars traffic in insights which change your mental landscape with all the ferocity and permanence of an asteroid impact. Perhaps Mencius Moldbug has convinced you that democracy isn’t that great, Roissy has you looking out for the subtle game-theoretic dynamics beneath human sexual interaction, or Thomas Metzinger has demonstrated that the subjective experience you call “I” doesn’t really exist.

Newport is not this kind of scholar. He belongs to a different, in some ways even rarer class of thinkers that tells you things you already kind of, sort of, halfway knew, but in a way that makes it all completely obvious and with clear, concise instructions in place for how to better act on this knowledge.

A brief summary of “Deep Work” might go like this: “Some work, like responding to emails and attending planning meetings, is shallow and easily automated. Other work, like proving new results in a field of math, is deep, and very difficult to automate. You should do more deep work because it’s more valuable, but it’s kind of hard, so here are some rules to help you quell distraction and build concentration, all of which you could probably implement before you finish this chapter”.

This is not a towering intellectual edifice that inspires fear and awe, it’s a carefully built retaining wall that keeps the rain from eroding a hillside; not a white-hot beacon of truth, but a flash light showing you a staircase that you overlooked in your haste.

The chances are good that you’re not getting as much out of your brain as you could be.

This book can help fix that.

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