I recently read Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.
It was a good read and made me look differently at what I want to do and how I go about it, but mostly, how I allocate my attention. I recommend it to anyone who feels that they don’t have enough time, which is high praise, because that’s most everyone I’ve ever met.
The main premise of the book is that it’s really important to carve out uninterrupted time in our days to focus on tough problems, ignore distractions, and do the hard work. He calls this “deep work,” and contrasts it to the shallow work of reacting to email, refocusing after interruptions, meetings, engaging on social media, and so on. He argues convincingly about why deep work is valuable, and writes extensively about how to go about it (e.g. scheduling, how to limit shallow tasks), as well as how to boost your concentration skills to make the most of your deep work time (e.g. meditation, memorization work).
I have to admit that it was a bit hard for me to get into it: as a stay-at-home-mom who can’t use the bathroom without getting interrupted, the multiple stories of single men retreating from the world for months at a time to incubate their genius in silence felt kind of like Newport was flipping me off. I’m glad I kept reading anyway, and I encourage you to do so as well. I think he’s just trying to be engaging by talking about so many extreme examples at first. In Part II of the book, he really delves into the how of deep work, and includes many suggestions and examples of people working deeply to great effect without abandoning their other responsibilities.
Are we employing deep work strategies to perform our best as faculty? How could our departments support deep work of both full-timers and adjuncts? How can we as individuals harness it?
Are we fostering or impeding deep work in class? With our assignments? With our LMS expectations?
Is this a topic worthy of mention and coaching in our classes, like information literacy and plagiarism and critical thinking?
Excerpts from this book be a worthwhile text to use in an advanced class. The writing is pretty direct, has a strong voice, and makes really valuable points as well.
In case you’re interested but aren’t going to be reading the book any time soon, Newport has some talks up on YouTube, and he’s a great speaker.