I heard an interview with Cal Newport talking about the importance of deep work and decided to pick up his book to read more. As creatives, we naturally incline towards deep work. Making art is a focused, time driven practice. Newport fears our new culture of immediacy and the internet could be taking us away from our best selves.
So, how does one define “deep work?”
Deep work is “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate” (p2).
Deep work gives you space to delve into your skills and interests. It encourages real breakthroughs in your work. The act of creation is often a space of deep work. The more we train our brain for deep work, the easier it becomes. Today, enjoy Top Ten Takeaways From Deep Work:
You can only do 4 hours of deep work.
After four hours of deep work you can’t do anymore. Beginners average around one hour a day of deep work and max out after that. It’s a muscle we have to stretch and it’s all about being purposeful with the time you do use.
We must manage our technology.
You could read this text as anti-technology but I don’t. I see it addressing a real concern our society has only recently begun to discuss: how have our lives and brains changed with the advent of the internet, the personal computer, the mobile phone? Are there consequences to this new way of life? What choices can we make that bring optimum utility from these far reaching tools?
Those who do deep work, win.
Newport encourages you to drop all social media. I giggled a bit because for me, obviously, this does not work. It’s how I’ve built the community I’m so proud to support. But we can apply this by asking ourselves, which social media platforms add value to your life? For example, participate in The Soulbrush Sessions, our amazing community, but be mindful of your time there. Go with a goal or a time limit. Don’t let it take time from your art.
We celebrate the maker.
We have seen a shift in our culture as we begin to celebrate the artisan, a maker, which also means deep thinker. I wonder if this ability is becoming more valuable as Newport suggests? And that this celebration of people “putting their hands into” their work is a reflection of this?
You need chunks of uninterrupted time.
Deep work lets you learn complicated things, quickly. But you need time that is without interruption for your brain to ruminate.
Research by Ericsson suggests, “We argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflects a life-long period of deliberate effort to increase performance in a specific domain” (p34).
Practice makes it easier.
The more we do deep work in the studio, or whereever we apply this technique to our lives, the easier it is to jump back in and do more. As I mentioned before, this is a muscle that needs our attention and practice to grow.
While I hope you stay connected to Artist Strong I hope this encourages you to be more mindful of your web use. I want us to be purposeful and directed to meaningfully connect and share because ultimately, I want you to have more time in the studio!
Attention is important.
“The skillful management of attention is the sine qua none [essential ingredient] of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience…” (p77).
Focus on progress not outcomes.
“The meaning of such efforts is due to skill and appreciation inherent in craftsmanship – not the outcomes of their work.” (p90).
The more we can enjoy in the moment of creation, the more we focus on enjoying the act of creation, the more deep work is naturally part of our lives.
You have finite willpower.
Newport offers 4 strategies for managing your willpower and opening yourself to deep work:
- Monastic – Give up email, for example.
- Bimodal – Enjoy regular retreats that allow for deep work: Carl Jung enjoyed long morning walks that allowed him time for deep work.
- Rhythmic – Daily commitment: our accountability calendar and marking every day we make art is an example of this.
- Journalistic – Just jump in when you can.
We need downtime! Without it, we can’t recharge for more deep work. We also become too fatigued by all of our daily choices that there isn’t room for anything else. Managing your willpower helps you create time for that recharge.
If you want to reflect more on your use of today’s technologies and how it has enhanced, or inhibited your life, Deep Work opens you to ask questions of yourself you might not otherwise. The biggest takeaway I have is I wish to be directed and purposeful with my time on the internet. I want to make deep connections and meaningful work in this space, which also means I need to give myself the time for concentration, daydreaming, mental breaks etc. which open me up to more deep work.
A regular obstacle cited by people here is time. I need more time. I wish I had more time. Newport offers real strategies, albeit culturally contrary at times, that allow you to prioritize your art. If you are comfortable thinking outside of the box and willing to assess how you spend your time, Deep Work could afford you new insights that not only improve your life, but also of those around you.
Do you wish to read Deep Work yourself? Please get it through my affiliate link here. There is no additional cost to you and it helps me continue to write articles like this one. Thank you.
Be Creatively Courageous: what is your experience with deep work as a creative? What is one strategy you can use to make more room for deep work in your life?