2017 Reading Challenge – Book 2: A Book Your Pastor Recommends
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. ~ Ephesians 5:15-16
Last month, our pastor recommended this book to the rest of the church staff as a resource for using our time well, tuning out the distractions and producing excellent work. The timing was good: I had felt as if my own personal productivity had taken a dip, to the point where the demands on my time were beginning to hurt my family. I was eager to make some changes, and this was definitely the right book at the right time.
Cal Newport is certainly no slave to convention. In an era dominated by social media and constant connectivity, he calls for readers to intentionally disconnect more often, pursuing what he calls “deep work” free from distraction. But rather than being a “curmudgeonly pining for the days of unhurried concentration,” his book pursues “a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.” (p 258, italics his).
Newport describes deep work as: “Professsional 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.” (p 3)
This is contrasted with shallow work: “Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” (p 6)
In my review of 2016, I found that most of my time was being spent on the latter at the expense of the former. Judging by the very well-researched findings of Dr. Newport, I’m far from alone, as the data shows that “deep work” is increasingly rare in today’s economy. But I’ve never been satisfied with normal. As a believer, I am called to be a good steward of the time, talents, and intellect God gave me. By losing my ability to concentrate deeply and produce excellent work, I was drifting more and more into the sin of laziness, without even noticing.
Thankfully Newport provides detailed and practical alternatives for making better choices with my time. The book is split into two sections. The first builds the case for the importance of deep work (it is valuable, rare, and meaningful). The second lists and expounds upon four rules for going deep. The most controversial–for most readers, anyway–is the chapter entitled “Quit Social Media” Nowadays we are constantly bombarded with the ubiquity of social media; it is accepted as a given that you must be active on social media (and on other tools of digital connectivity such as e-mail and instant messaging) in order to be a productive member of a digital economy.
Newport doesn’t mince words in pleading with readers to invest their time in activities which produce value, happiness, and contentment rather than allowing the allure of the Internet to distract us from work and family. And while I may not be totally signing off from all digital media (he acknowledges that this is not feasible or necessary for most people), I have already begun implementing many of his suggestions for planning my time (including planning when I will be accessible through e-mail and social media) more wisely, and have been both more productive and more available to my family in the last two weeks than I have been in some time.
If you’re like me, and like most other people in the world, you could benefit from learning how to concentrate better, longer, and with greater purpose. This book offers great practical tools which will aid you in your pursuit that goal. While it’s not a “quick fix”–it requires discipline, consistency, and a lot of hard work–it is something which, as I’ve already seen, can be implemented in relatively short order with almost immediate returns.
Grab a copy of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Living in a Distracted World here.