Book Recommendation: "Deep Work" By Cal Newport

January 26, 2016
Year On TeamPower Skills

Original post by Jean Fan

I absolutely love Cal Newport. (This is pretty clear if you’ve read my other writing here: I’ve quoted him in five different pieces.) I have no affiliation with Cal, and I certainly don’t get paid for endorsing his work, but here I am -- writing about it, again. If you understand his advice and follow it, it will change your life (by teaching you how to structure your life). It’s really, really good.Cal Newport has taught me many things:

To Live a Good Life

He taught me that I didn’t have to work myself to death now in order to be successful, through his series on Zen Valedictorians. He gave me the idea of adventure studying that I mentioned in my post on 3 weird habits that help me learn.

To Learn Effectively

In his book, How to Be a Straight-A Student, he describes an array of study strategies that made learning much, much easier for me. (In particular, his question/evidence/conclusion technique has allowed me to capture content in a much more coherent way.)

To Aim High

Lots of people will advise you to aim high, but the thing that Cal provides is a concrete step to act on that ambition, with his idea of a Grand Project.

To Be Interesting

Although Cal’s advice on being interesting is aimed at helping people get into top universities (which worked for me), it’s relevant to everyone: persistently pursue a single skill or project, becoming So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and spend time reflecting and being open to interesting, unexpected, and unpredictable opportunities.

To Do Hard Work

Cal Newport is intense. He promotes diligent and deep work, and that’s the subject of his most recent book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Deep Work came out earlier this month. Here are the three simple things you'll learn by picking up a copy:

  1. Doing deep work will make you successful. Cal says of deep work in his announcement of the book on his blog: “I firmly believe that deep work is like a superpower in our current economy: it enables you to quickly (and deliberately) learn complicated new skills and produce high-value output at a high rate.” These are things that you need to do in the ever-changing environment we live in.
  2. Doing deep work will make you feel great. Making visible progress makes you feel great, both in how much you’re learning and how much you do. Doing deep work will help you make visible progress.
  3. Doing deep work will help you change the world. Cal writes in the introduction of Deep Work: “[Carl Jung] wanted to change the way we understood the unconscious, and this goal required deeper, more careful thought than he could manage amid his hectic city lifestyle… Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity.”

One last thought on Cal Newport, and why his writing is particularly important for readers: being self-directed is hard. You have to be both the teacher and the student. You can’t just passively learn. You have to actively create structure for your education. Cal’s work helps you do just that. 

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