In this episode of The Agent of Wealth Podcast, the Bautis Financial team discusses the most recent book assignment in their monthly Book Club, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.
Deep work should be considered a superpower in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy, yet most people have lost the ability to go deep – instead, spending their days in a frantic blur of emails and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.
In this episode, we discuss:
- What it means to “work deeply.”
- The power of deep work.
- The four “rules,” for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill: Work deeply, embrace boredom, quit social media, drain the shallows.
- And more!
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World | Listen to All Bautis Financial Book Club Episodes | Bautis Financial: 8 Hillside Ave, Suite LL1 Montclair, New Jersey 07042 (862) 205-5000 | Schedule an Introductory Call
Disclosure: The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity and content. It is not a direct transcription of the full episode, which can be listened to above.
Welcome back to The Agent of Wealth Podcast, this is your host Marc Bautis. Today, the Bautis Financial team is back for our first Book Club of 2024. This is the twelfth book we’ve read as a team.
We kicked off this year by reading Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. This book was selected by John, so I’ll pass it over to him to explain why he chose it.
My interest in this book is rooted in my growing fascination with peak human performance and how it is achieved. Although my curiosity about the boundaries of human performance, or the lack thereof, date back to my days as a track and cross-country athlete, my interest in this topic increased significantly when I read the book Peak by Anders Ericsson. This book addresses the science of expertise and how and why people become experts in their field.
In one of the chapters of Peak, Ericsson discusses what he calls “purposeful practice.” Basically, purposeful practice is focused practice that is designed to make you better. In other words, if you want to get better in a particular sport, hobby or field, what you practice matters significantly.
Cal Newport’s idea of deep work builds on the idea of purposeful practice in that it isolates the importance of when, how much, and the circumstances surrounding your practice. Focus during this practice matters and the time you spend practicing must be protected from the many distractions that exist in our world.
Years back, I found the distinction between being busy and getting things done. I had one of those “crazy days,” as we like to call them – a day where you barely have time to eat. Exhausted from being incredibly busy, I reflected on the day. The long and the short of my findings was I really didn’t make any progress. I was crazy busy all day, but all I did was stay afloat. I didn’t make any strides towards some of my long-term goals, but was merely going through the motions. This is where I think Cal unlocks some great ideas as to how we can break free from the monotony of being busy and move on to improving and producing things that are in line with achieving our goals.
The Rules for Deep Work
Rule #1: Work Deeply
- The Monastic Approach: Shutting yourself off completely and not coming back until it’s finished.
- The Bimodal Approach: You can set a five hour block each day for deep work. For example, you can lock yourself in your office, similar to the monastic approach, then when those five hours are up you are free.
- The Rhythmic Approach: Chunks down work into time blocks. You plan a week ahead of time and assign 10 one hour blocks on your calendar.
- The Journalistic Approach: Dedicate any unexpected free time to deep work.
Rule #2: Embrace Boredom
Rule number two is embrace boredom. Cal Newport explains that embracing boredom is a skill that has to be trained, and it won’t happen overnight. That’s because most of us are dependent upon distraction.
So, you have to develop boredom into a habit, the same way that you develop a habit such as flossing.
One example really hit home for me. He said that if you can’t stand in line at the grocery store without looking at your smartphone, your brain most likely has been rewired. And I have to admit, it happened to me even after reading the book.
So, how do you embrace boredom? He suggests what’s called a digital detox, where you avoid the internet as a distraction. And what he says is, oh, the digital detoxes, you stay off the internet for a day. And what he says, this usually doesn’t work because he equates it to, well, if you want to get healthy, you can’t just eat healthy for one day and then gorge on food the other six days.
So the same premise is you can’t just go off the internet one day and be on the internet all day the other six days and think that you’ll actually get better. So what he does is he proposes the reverse. So his version of a digital detox, he says, no, you’re actually going to take a focus detox, so you actually plan your internet time. And he says, by doing this, you avoid the internet at all times. And that by doing this, you’ll focus or minimize the number of distractions or the number of times that you give into that distraction. If let’s say you schedule your next internet block in 30 minutes, you know that in 30 minutes or for the next 30 minutes, I have to focus, and he calls it mental calisthenics of being able to. And over time, you kind of let those session or you make those sessions go more and more.
And some people will say, well, what if my job requires a lot of internet use? So what he says is, that’s fine. You just have to make your internet blocks more numerous. You still have to keep the integrity of your offline blocks intact. So even if you have to schedule this distracted block for every 15 minutes, do it. But the rest of the time, those offline blocks, you have to keep true to them and you have to keep from being connected, even if what you’re doing, like your deep work requires something from the internet to keep doing it. He says, you must resist to give an in. He says, if you have to switch to another offline activity until your next internet block and then you can do your research or whatever you need the internet to do, he basically says, you can’t turn this off at home too.
So you can’t say, okay, I’m just going to do this or adhere to this during my working hours, and then when I get home, I’ll go crazy and I’ll be glued and watch Instagram reels all day long. He says, when you’re in your offline block, put the phone away. Don’t avoid it. Don’t engage in any distracting behavior. He says to simply wait and be bored. It’s a novel experience nowadays just because how ingrained we are to become distracted. So I thought in the whole book, I thought he did a great job at blending together analogies, stories, theory and actual practical advice. So he thought it was a good book overall and good chapter especially.
Rule #3: Quit Social Media
Rule three is to quit social media, or significantly minimize the use of social media, which will in turn support deep, focused work.
Cal Newport argues that social media can be detrimental to deep work due to its addictive nature and the constant state of distraction it puts us in. As we all know, social media reduces our ability to concentrate and reduces our willpower.
I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves picking up our phone or getting on our computer to accomplish a task, but then get sucked into the social media black hole. It’s even worse now, since this book was written, with the short-form content we see on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, that really lowers our attention span and keeps us scrolling.
He suggests that social media platforms are designed to be attention-grabbing and can lead to shallow work habits, making it challenging to engage in concentrated, deep work.
Newport recommends that we should evaluate the value that social media truly brings to our personal and professional life, and advocates for a more intentional and limited use of social media platforms.
Some strategies for minimizing use include:
- Adopting strict time limits
- Scheduling specific intervals for usage,
- Or, completely abstain from certain platforms.
He does discuss that taking a break from social media, or a social media cleanse, can be beneficial. But once the break/cleanse ends, we should be careful that we don’t jump right back into our old habits.
I think the key is really to use social media mindfully and purposefully to leverage its advantages – connection, networking, information sharing, business and marketing opportunities – while mitigating its negative effects. But there is no doubt that quitting social media can free up time for more meaningful work. So if you have a project you’re working on or have trouble focusing on work, school, or other tasks that involve focus, removing the distraction of social media will ultimately maximize your productivity.
Rule #4: Drain the Shallows
There’s a lot of overlap with role number four and this social media, because of how it’s a growing part of our society deserves its own role. But I feel like role number four that he calls Drain the Shallows is very much connected. We think he would consider that social media being one of those shallows the opposite of deep work and the time you’re putting in and just really, really looking at your life and understanding some of those things that aren’t moving you forward, that shallow work, and not just looking at all those things and just completely eliminating them, but just understanding how they are related to your day-to-Day, he uses this really cool example of how there’s a company that basically takes a five day work week and breaks it down to four, but the long and short of it was is it was a successful pilot and they actually expanded and doing it ongoing in perpetuity because what they found was you had this 40 hour work week that was spread over five days, and the actual activities that their employees needed to do to get done throughout the week were still getting done in the four days.
And it wasn’t like they took 40 hours and took it and expanded and put them into, went from eight hours a day to ten four hour days. They basically just eight hours a day. And the idea was, look, now I have four hours to get this done. And really there’s a lot of things going on throughout the day where people are just wasting time, I guess is the best way to put it. And his idea was there’s a lot of things we’re doing in our lives that if we really had our backup against the wall or a deadline, that we wouldn’t be doing those things. And there’s a lot of things that we might be able to eliminate. So now that we’ve identified some of those things that aren’t necessarily important or material to really anything, we can replace them with some of this deep work in the end at the highest level.
It was just really, really interesting to see. After you read it, you’re like, yeah, of course this makes perfect sense. You should be focused, you should be doing these things. But I think the real life examples really, really made it clear to me that there, especially with some of these, he think he talks a lot about pure scientists and some of these people where you have to do a lot of memorization or learning and just to be really, really focused. He uses journalism a lot and writing and just, you need a lot of time to be focusing and learning and how much those people had accelerated past everyone in their field because of their involvement. And I just thought there’s a lot of really great takeaways that I think all of us could use in our lives to make ourselves better. So I guess right now, I’ll just hand it back to you, mark, to close us out.
Okay, thanks John. And thank you to everyone who tuned into today’s episode. Don’t forget to follow The Agent of Wealth on the platform you listen from and leave us a review of the show. We are currently accepting new clients, if you’d like to schedule a 1-on-1 consultation with our advisors, please do so below.