Deep Work

46. Readers Are Leaders | Book Review of Deep Work by Cal Newport

Episode 46

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In this new series on the Driven by DCKAP podcast, we turn the spotlight on some of the standout books that have inspired us. Each month, we highlight an important text that has the profound ability to help shape your business growth strategy, stoke your entrepreneurial spirit, and inspire your personal journey.

In this episode, we review “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport. In this book, Newport argues that those who perform ‘deep work’ are more productive and are able to produce more efficiently than those who do not. In a distracted world, those who are able to resist distraction and work with the right amount of intensity and focus will be better situated to achieve success and find true satisfaction.

What is ‘deep work’, how does it improve your ability to compete and succeed in such a competitive world, and what does it mean for personal accomplishment? Why do we struggle with so much distraction in the modern age, and how can we overcome those distractions to be more focused and productive? Who is this book meant for, and why should you read it? We offer answers to these questions and more in this episode, so be sure to tune in!

Karthik Chidambaram: Hello, everyone. Welcome to a new episode of the Driven
by DCKAP podcast. I'm really excited to do another series of Readers are
Leaders.

In this series, we are going to be discussing the book “Deep Work” by Cal
Newport. And I have with me Catherine Sulskis, who runs our Driven podcast.
Catherine is an avid reader.

Catherine, excited to have you join us for the Readers are Leaders.

Catherine Sulskis: Thanks, Karthik. I'm really excited to talk to you about
“Deep Work”. I thought it was a really well written ‘what, why, and how’ of
deep work and the process of doing it.

So, to jump right in to start off our discussion. I'd like to start by
asking, what drew you to this book? Why did you want to read it?

Karthik Chidambaram: Well, I would say, the title of the book says “Deep
Work”, and everybody likes to do deep work. I thought the title of the book
was very fascinating.

And I'm just trying to think who recommended this book to me. I mean, I
really can't remember. Maybe, you know, it was just talked about a few
times. And then I thought, okay, you know what? I just got to get this and
start reading. And, yeah, that's how I got into reading “Deep Work”.

What about you, Cathy? I mean, how did you get into deep work? How did you
get into reading the book, “Deep Work”?

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah, well, you know, I mean, I had seen the book in
passing, but really after hearing you talk about it really just solidified
my wanting to read it. So, I'm really glad to have gotten, mainly, the
suggestion from you to read it as well.

So, I'm also curious, did you understand deep work, the concept of deep
work, before reading the book, or did that help you to understand it?

Karthik Chidambaram: I would say after reading the book, I understood deep
work better because the word ‘deep work’ is so common, right?

So where, hey, when you get to listen to the word deep work, you think like,
you know it, but then when you start reading it, it definitely gets you
better insights.

So, it's essentially focused work with no distractions. That's what is
written in the book. Yeah, focused work with no distractions is deep work,
but I really enjoyed reading the book, you know, definitely. I mean, I would
say it's after reading the book. I really understood Cal Newport's deep
work.

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah, I think I had a bit of a vague understanding of it
more than a detailed understanding of it, which this brought out, after
reading the book, you know, you need those moments of quiet solitude.

I used to do that a lot in college for, you know, needing to sit down and
write a research paper. So, it's a very helpful tool in a lot of ways. And
there are also a lot of ways Newport suggests getting into the habit of deep
work, which I thought is really helpful as well.

And what are some of the suggestions from the book that you found to be more
easily applicable than others, perhaps?

Karthik Chidambaram: One thing which resonated with me a lot is having a
routine. He calls it the smart routine. So, wake up routine. I kind of
follow it in a way, in terms of, hey, what time are you getting up? So, it's
not like that, right? See, sometimes I find a lot of people skipping
breakfast or skipping lunch. It gets so busy and things like that.

But I can't really skip breakfast or skip lunch because once I start
skipping it, I start having a headache and that ruins my day. So
essentially, what Newport talks about is to have a routine. Get up at a
certain time in the morning and plan your day ahead of time. And then what
time are you going to have lunch? And then what time are you going to go to
bed?

So, one thing which really resonated with me and I started doing it after
reading the book is he says, hey, quit social media. He says, quit social
media for 30 days and try it. But that's a different thing. But then at
least what he asks us to do, or he recommends is before you go to bed, do
not check any email or do not check any social apps. Let's say for 30
minutes or 45 minutes or an hour.

And that resonated with me a lot because. Again, we make mistakes all the
time. Sometimes, right before I go to bed, I open YouTube, watch something,
and then that's what really is in my brain when I go to sleep, and sometimes
in my dream, I think about it and that's not a good thing.

So, yeah. So, I mean, I would say, hey, do not check social media prior to
going to bed. I thought that was a big takeaway for me.

What about you, Cathy? What was a big takeaway for you from the book?

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah, that's a great one. I think he sort of posed it as
a test as well, right? If you can stay away from social media for 30 days
and it does not really negatively impact you, then maybe, you know, that
says something. You don't really need to continue a habit of doing that.

And I think it's almost like a rerouting of the habits that you're making in
your mind. So, you know, having that kind of structured thought process of
being able to find the focus for, you know, those moments of deep work,
certainly made it really helpful, I think to me, in understanding it.

And even beyond having the right habits, I also thought it was really
interesting, you know, he brought up some of those more extreme ways that
people would find the opportunity for deep work. Rowling, J. K. Rowling,
right, rented a castle in Edinburgh to find the quiet to write. I believe he
said Alan Lightman went to a private island with no cell service to find
those moments to write.

Obviously not all of us can do such an extreme, you know, process of finding
the isolation or quiet for deep work, but it just really drives that point
right that cultivating habits towards focus and concentration is necessary
to enhance productivity.

I think for me, planning your work day in advance was another one that I
really took to. I think I already have certain to do lists, but it spurred
me to make it a much more efficient and a constant habit to make. So that
was a couple of mine.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah, planning work is interesting. And another thing I
did take away from the book, which I thought was very interesting as well
is, let's say you have a problem to solve, it’s just going for a walk.

So one thing I've been doing recently is, before I start my workday, I go
for a walk. I kind of think through it, right? So you talked about planning
your day. So let's say I'm going to start my work at whatever time, 8:30 or
so, or let's say 7:30 or whatever time it is. I just try to go for a walk
and try to think through, hey, what am I going to accomplish in the first
half of the day for the first hours?

I try to come up with 2 or 3 things and that's really helped me a lot as
well. Hey, just go for a walk. Think through things, what you're going to
accomplish and then that really helps. Yeah.

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah, that's a great one.

And another interesting notion by Newport is how he talks about the
difficulty of many of our environments not being conducive to deep work. And
he brings up the workplace, which I think is certainly interesting,
especially for our dynamic. You know, he argues there's a greater importance
for quiet and isolation for the deep work efforts, rather than necessarily
the wide open spaces that many offices have for teamwork and collaboration.

And curious what you think. Do you think companies might be missing out on
the greater contribution of deep work from employees? Rather than, you know,
putting them more in environments for teamwork?

Karthik Chidambaram: Great question. One thing Newport writes in his book,
and I can totally relate to this, is he talks about the MAANG companies or
the FAANG companies, as it used to be called, Meta, Apple, Amazon, Netflix,
and Google.

And these companies are, in a way, consumers. Hey, Google, hey, we are on
YouTube. Meta, we are on Facebook or Instagram. Netflix, they really consume
your time. But then he also writes that among companies or the FAANG
companies would not be FAANG companies if they did not do deep work. Which is
so true.

And collaboration is great in a workplace. And that's something you put
right as well. So I love collaboration. It's awesome to work with people.
But then when you're working on a problem, sometimes, you know, it's just
good to focus. And maybe, you know, even go out to another location. It
doesn't have to be your office, or it doesn't have to be your home office.

Maybe you can go to a park and find some quiet place and just think through
the problem. Just think through the problem or work on it. Yeah, so I do
think it's very valuable, but a difficulty I do have. That's why I think
conversations like this are very helpful. I read the book, I practice deep
work, and then I get sidetracked, and then I don't do deep work anymore. And
then I really realize, hey, you know what? I got to get back into the
rhythm.

So in a way, this conversation is helpful because I have to refer to my
notes in preparation to this podcast. And then I kind of relearn my
learnings. It really helps because, hey, okay, tomorrow and for the next few
weeks, I'm going to practice deep work again.

And, yeah, I find it really fascinating because, especially in a work
environment, you just can't grow big or you can't progress in your career.
It's also very competitive. That's something Newport writes in his book.
It's a very competitive environment. And the deep work, which you do is
going to be a big differentiator.

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah, and I think it's important to remember that deep
work is a skill as well, right? It's not something that you can just do. You
do need to create the habit and really understand what it is that you're
doing in order to kind of execute that. So, I think that's another sort of
reinforced idea that Newport gives us out of that book as well. So yeah,
that's, that's an important one also.

So, did you have any favorite passage in particular or quote from the book?

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah, I've written it down. Let me check. I think he
quotes Tim Kreider. He says, Tim Kreider says this, ‘I'm not busy. But I'm
the laziest, ambitious person I know’. I thought that was interesting
because sometimes not doing anything is also a good thing. When you're lazy,
you can also be creative.

Again, it's rational thinking, but if you really think deep into it, it
would make a lot of sense. So I thought that was very interesting.

What about you? What favorite quote or passage did you enjoy the most from
the book?

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah, I think one of them that stood out to me was,
‘sometimes to go deep you have to go big’, he brings up and that one just
really jumped out at me. Because I think it also helps to let you know that
sometimes you have to make a rather big change or alteration in what you're
doing, in your schedule, your habits, in order to find those moments for
deep work.

It's not like you can just, you know, turn off the computer and then
immediately be able to go into the deep work, but that you have to really
sort of shift, and sometimes in a big way, right?

I think he brought those up around the examples of Rowling renting the
castle. Again, it may not be something like that for us to do, but, you
know, maybe it's like you said, you go out to the park and you're walking,
you know, for an hour and just really focusing your mind on plans that you
need to make and things like that.

So, yeah, I think that's one of the things that stood out to me is to be
able to make a bigger shift.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah, and that's something I've not done either. Like,
maybe that's something I would like to experiment with, right? Not a castle,
but just go to a city where you have not gone and it's not so expensive, but
then you can try to do deep work during the day.

And then you also get to explore during the evenings or something like that.
I think that'll be interesting. And a lot of people do that. And also, we
find this often when we travel, we always go back energized. So, yeah, it
does make sense to get out of the home and get to another place, a new
environment. It really helps.

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah. And I think that idea of, like, a work trip does
make some sense. You know, I have even found that I've been able to find
deeper focus a lot of times when I'm away from the home setting and on a
work trip like that too. So there is something about that, right? Where
you're kind of taking yourself out of your normal environment. And then
being able to come back to it, maybe a bit more reinvigorated or able to
focus more. Yeah, that's a good one.

I think the second thing I think is really simply engaging in deep work, and
really important is that it's more difficult to achieve, right? It's like I
said, you need that bigger shift, but that will be far more rewarded by
finding the ways to do so. So, I think in a lot of ways, for us to be able
to find those moments, whether, you know, closer to home or a little bit
further away, it's worth doing, right?

Karthik Chidambaram: Absolutely. And then when you work, there's obviously a
lot of distractions. Let's say, you know, you're trying to do deep work and
you're thinking. One thing, which really resonated with me is, he says that
there is a limit of how much deep work you can do during the day.

Let's say if you're going to do deep work for 3 or 4 hours. And after that,
you're going to have diminishing returns. So this is something I have found
to be true. Actually, I can totally resonate with that because let's say,
you know, you do some really, really important work and you do deep work.
And after that, I'm like, hey, you know what, I've done enough. I'm just
going to relax a little bit. And, yeah, so I thought that was pretty cool as
well.

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah, that stood out to me as well, where, you know, when
your work is done, be done, right? That's another point that he makes,
because you need to be able to shift back away.

So yeah, it's important to have the counter to the deep work moments, and
give yourself a rest, I think.

Karthik Chidambaram: And that's something I've been practicing too, where,
hey, you just work and then I'm done. Okay. I’ll just close my laptop and I
don't want to think about it anymore. And, yeah.

So, in fact, I was reading a LinkedIn post today where I saw somebody post
on LinkedIn that that person was on a vacation, but then he also took his
laptop with him. And, that doesn't have to be that way. If you really think
about it, some people really like to work during vacations as well. Maybe
that's a different thing. But then, hey, if you're on a vacation, that's
also deep work in a way, right? So enjoy the vacation and have fun. Do not
think too much about work. So, I thought that was interesting.

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah. And I think it speaks to the idea that he also
brought forth that you're kind of tapping out of your deep work ability if
you're trying to do it too much, right? I think that's sort of what
solidifies the idea of when you're done with work, be done, right? You need
those steps away.

So, I think you're right. In a lot of ways, people try to do a lot of this,
what they might think is deep work, in chunks constantly, but that's not
really conducive to having the depth and the truly rewarding parts of deep
work that Newport brings up.

So, yeah, another reason why I think this is just a really great book for
most people to read, right? Would it be one of your recommendations?

Karthik Chidambaram: Oh, absolutely. I definitely recommend people to read
this, especially people in the tech industry. You got to read this because
we do a lot of work. We got to take care of our health and all that. But
then, health is important, but then if you're not able to do deep work, it's
very hard to compete because you got to go deep in order to be
differentiated from the market.

So, yeah, I highly recommend this book to anybody, especially people in the
tech industry or in the knowledge economy, as we call it. People in the
knowledge economy. Everybody is a knowledge worker in a way, or a lot of
people are knowledge workers in this economy. To sustain and to
differentiate, I would definitely recommend everybody needs this.

Catherine Sulskis: I agree. I think it's great, especially for people who
might struggle with certain tasks, writing, coding, even knitting. It's a
good map, a good outline of that ‘what, why, and how’ deep work can really
help you perform at a high quality level.

Karthik Chidambaram: So, talking about tasks. One thing Newport does suggest
is stack your meetings one after the other. I used to do this mistake in the
past. Let's say I used to have a meeting on a Monday. I have it at 11:30 am
and then my next meeting is going to be on a Tuesday at 10am and Wednesday,
something like that. Instead, stack all the meetings on the same day, so you
get some time off.

So, Mondays and Tuesdays, no meetings. Wednesdays and Thursdays is going to
be all my meeting days. One after the other. So it does make you feel more
productive. Would you agree?

Catherine Sulskis: Definitely. I think there's a lot of reward, not only
mentally, but, just in organization of your life. Organizing, you know,
work, personal life, it can come into play in both aspects, I think. So,
yeah.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah. But then if you are always doing deep work, how
do you get distracted? What do you think?

Catherine Sulskis: Well, if you're doing deep work, I suppose, the right
way, the more proper way that Newport suggests, then, you're a little bit
more rigid, I guess, maybe in the ways, in the areas that you're, you're
performing the deep work.

So, as long as you consciously find the moments to step back, consciously
find the moments to engage in deep work, then I think that's when you'll be
most successful.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah, but then one more thing which Newport does have
is to set up distraction times. Let's say if you won't be distracted and all
of us can work, all of us can do deep work all the time. So sometimes, you
know, you set up a distraction time.

Hey, what is my YouTube time for today? What time? Okay. 10am to 11am or
like 6pm. to 7pm. What is my YouTube time or what is my Instagram time? So
he's asking us to set up distraction time. I thought that was pretty cool.

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah, in the modern age we live in, I think it makes
sense to do that for sure.

I mean, we're even far past technology wise where Newport was when he wrote
this book. So it's even more pertinent to, I think, ‘give in’ as you say,
like he suggests. To have those moments of distraction.

It's just again, going back to the discipline of knowing when you're maybe
falling too much on that, right? When, you know, you need to pull yourself
in and go back to finding your focus or do something to shift yourself to
find that focus again.

Karthik Chidambaram: That happens to me quite a lot. Let's say I'm doing
really well. And then there's a day where I get distracted and, not during
my distraction time, but the time I have for deep work.

So that's why I've realized that scheduling your day in advance makes a lot
of difference. So you know for sure what you're going to do that day. But
let's say if I get on to a day without knowing what I'm going to do. Then
I'm bound to get distracted.

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah, exactly. I mean, if you don't plan at least to some
degree, you're definitely more susceptible to those distractions.
Absolutely.

Karthik Chidambaram: Another thing I want to ask you, Cathy,
is let's say we go to a Chipotle or a Starbucks. You see a lot of people
drinking coffee or eating a nice burrito, but then you also see them on the
phone. What do you think about that?

Catherine Sulskis: Yeah, I think it just also speaks to, again, the age that
we live in, how maybe we're not putting any kind of priority on, like,
solitude and isolation. Because I do think that's an important part of the
deep work process, right, that we might be missing in larger chunks in
modern society.

We don't often isolate. And I think that is an important part of the deep
work process as Newport talks about it. So, you know, even in those moments
when you are maybe alone, enjoying your coffee, like you said at the
Starbucks, we somehow still feel the need to pick up our phone and talk to
someone or, you know, still find distractions, even in those very small
moments of focus.

And so, that maybe just speaks to the bad habits in all that modern society
really breeds within us. That we have to overcome.

Karthik Chidambaram: And it's peer pressure as well. And you see people
watching the phone and then immediately. Hey, you know what? Also let me
take my phone. But yeah, you're right. So you just got to be really, really
cognizant of what you should be doing and what you should not be doing.

And deep work is not just working, even your personal time, in a way, that's
deep work as well. Or how would you call it? Yeah.

Catherine Sulskis: Sometimes self discipline is the hardest discipline.
Right?

Karthik Chidambaram: Absolutely. And another thing I also found good and I
totally relate to this is there's something called the good busy and the bad
busy.

So it's good to be busy in a good way. Sometimes I've done this mistake as
well, where if I have nothing to do, I just ping randomly. Hey, what do you
think about this? And what's happening there? But then the other person
might be doing deep work. And so, yeah, I think it's also good to set some
expectations.

Let's say you send an email to somebody, do not expect them to respond
immediately or you send them a slack message. And if they don't respond to
you, don't get offended. So I thought these were interesting bits as well
from the book.

Catherine Sulskis: I agree. It can be part of what you're cultivating in
the workforce. Right?

So, we can have maybe a bit more of an expectation of, you know, our
employees are going to have moments of deep work. So you need to understand
that immediate response isn't going to always be there, because we do have
that practice in place. Versus, you know, the idea that you're always going
to be connected to your Slack or your email and always be able to respond
because that's a different kind of workforce culture, right?

Karthik Chidambaram: Absolutely. Yeah.

Cathy, it's been great discussing “Deep Work” with you. So, if you have not
checked out “Deep Work”, for those of you who have tuned in to this podcast,
please do check out “Deep Work” by Cal Newport. It's an excellent book,
especially needed in the knowledge economy.

And again, thanks everyone for joining. Thanks, Cathy, for this great
discussion. I really enjoyed the chat and let's go do some Deep Work right
now. And thank you all for joining. Thank you.

Catherine Sulskis: Thanks, Karthik.

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