On June's bookshelf

Technology | Brighten Youth Education Centre 11 Jun 2019

cal newport's deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (2016) is a potential antidote to online distractions, finding any excuse to avoid a project, and giving your time away to people and problems in a way that means you'll never get down to what really matters.

According to the author, deep work is "the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task" or, more precisely "professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit."

Let's be clear: he's not trying to make you a better poet or a more successful yoga instructor.

Newport argues that this skill will allow you to become better at your job and develop the sense of achievement that comes from craftmanship - something that he feels is essential in today's complex and competitive economy.

Deep work, according to him, is becoming increasingly rare at the same time that it is becoming correspondingly valuable.

More and more of us, however, are expected to work in open-plan offices or classrooms, and respond to e-mails or social media messages from people who expect an instant connection.

This helps create what Newport labels "attention residue." For example, if you are working on an important project (perhaps finishing an essay), and you glance at your social media account, then you might see new messages.

Breaking off to answer them means that even if you return to your task, you will be producing at a much lower rate, thanks to this "attention residue" (part of your brain is still thinking about the content of those messages). Switching between tasks does not mean that your attention will follow.

The book's premise is that one or two hours a day, five days a week, of carefully directed focus can produce a significant output. This is nothing new. Many of the successful figures whose work habits we have discussed as part of this column worked in brief but highly productive bursts. The important thing is that they did it every day.

Newport believes that those who cultivate the skill of "going deep" - and make it the core of their working life - will thrive.

This message is easily applied to education.

Success, in Newport's world, is based on quickly mastering difficult tasks and then producing work at an elite level - from classroom, to lecture hall, to workplace.

For those wanting to follow Newport's advice, he advocates making deep work a habit.

This means implementing routines and rituals that make the best use of your limited willpower and allow you to transition to a state of intense concentration more easily. Those starting out can usually only manage an hour, but those who practice can manage four.

If you have any questions about our column, or the issues raised within it, please e-mail them to us: enquiry@englishlearning.edu.hk

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