Bestselling author Cal Newport understands the importance of immersing oneself in challenging, difficult, and meaningful work. Newport’s most recent book, “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” makes a powerful, evidence-based case that business leaders and their organizations should be going deeper rather than getting distracted by superficial time demands. The book argues that the capacity to focus deeply on meaningful work is the new I.Q. and can be a massive competitive advantage for business leaders in today’s workplace.
How exactly do you define “deep work” and why is it so important for business leaders?
Newport: I define deep work as focusing intensely and without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.
It’s a skill that has a growing importance and value in our marketplace. One reason is that the ability to concentrate intensely helps you learn hard things quickly, and we know this from psychology. The ability to concentrate is key if you're going to learn complicated things quickly. Of course, in a fast moving, ever shifting economy, the ability to keep up with the latest ideas and systems is really important. Deep work will get you there.
The other big advantage for those who are embracing deep work is that it allows you to produce better results in less time. Being able to perform at that type of elite level is something that is increasingly valuable for people and companies as our economy gets more competitive.
What do you see as the obstacles to doing deep work?
Newport: One big obstacle is that we are training our brains, accidentally, to be bad at deep work. What I mean is that the advent of the mobile internet, where we can access the internet anywhere at any time, has left a lot of people with an addiction to novelty. At the slightest hint of boredom, they need to give themselves a jolt of novelty [by checking their smartphones]. We haven’t been able to do this before in the history of the human race, and now suddenly, everyone can do it.
Our brains are not wired for this, and so what happens is we get a Pavlovian connection between boredom and novelty. As soon as you're bored, you need novelty. Once you’ve established that connection, it becomes very difficult to do deep work when the time comes. Your brain simply isn’t going to tolerate it. In effect, we’ve trained our brains to be very uncomfortable with concentration.
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