“Ill choose my targets with care . . . then give them my rapt attention. In short, I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”
Cal Newport’s latest book, Deep Work, provides any student, practitioner, or academic the insight to build and hone a successful legal career. Law is a notoriously complex, frustrating field. As a young associate, you must learn about novel issues in short amount of time, and subsequently produce valuable insight to demanding (rightly so) clients or supervisors. My experience with studying law, which has only been as a student and summer associate, has been vitally missing what Cal Newport calls Deep Work—a skill necessary to achieve optimal productivity. Fortunately, for those like myself who have up to this point been missing out on Deep Work, the rest of the population doesn’t possess the skill either. Why not? Well, it has to do with the fact that we are constantly consumed by online media and other day-to-day distractions that channeled through the internet and our smart phones.
Let me start by saying that at base, Deep Work is a really valuable asset. I have been engaging in Deep Work for the last couple weeks and my productivity in writing a Law Review article has increased tremendously. I also enjoy “going Deep” and receive a level of satisfaction (a type of emptied-out feeling) after that I don’t often experience when working in a distracting environment.
Thus, this book can help you gain an asset, but I don’t quite know how to categorize the book’s genre. It’s neither a garden-variety self help book, nor a business book with general principles about how to succeed in your respective field. It is really a “Skills” book that teaches you ways to become extremely productive in any field that requires periods of learning new tasks. In fact, it is really no different than a “how to” book describing the ways to build something. But instead of building something tangible, you begin to build something much greater: the ability to focus in a way unparalleled to the majority of the population. In a profession where you can see students and practitioners alike checking their email or other distracting websites every couple minutes, the ability to focus is becoming a lost art, but also a competitive advantage.
But what is Deep Work? It is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Newport explains that people have been engaging in Deep Work far before the writing of this book and describes the habits and satisfaction various professionals, old and young (i.e., Carl Jung and Adam Grant) gain from Deep Work. And, upon completion of this book, you too will be increasingly excited to start your next project or complete your next “Deep” task—not everything we engage in on a daily basis is considered Deep Work (think answering emails or reading a well-written secondary source vs. writing a research paper or drafting a motion on summary judgment). Upon completion of this book, you will be inspired to shut off your smart phone for prolonged periods of time and decline frequent ESPN visits or Reddit visits from this day forward. The difference in productivity is palpable.
In today’s industry, everyone wants to be productive. Everyone wants to be efficient. But not everybody wants to implement the steps to get there; this book will show you the steps and urge you to follow them in a decidedly persuasive fashion.
I could go into further specifics about the tactics Professor Newport applies, but, unfortunately, as experience dictates, my attempts to explain such tactics has proved unsatisfying. Thus, Ill leave Professor Newport to fill in all the gaps for you, but not before I leave you with my favorite principle from the book: Attention Residue. This principle dictates that people are increasingly less productive when they constantly switch tasks instead of focusing all their attention on a single subject. This reduced productivity results because the other less important task(s) work as a distraction that remains on your subconscious mind. So, when in the middle of performing a cognitively demanding task like writing a brief, think twice before you switch out of Westlaw and decide to briefly check Facebook; opening that tab will can a residual-type effect that impedes your ability to focus once you get back to brief writing.
Hopefully this review will inspire you to check out this book so you too can develop the skills necessary to cultivate both Deep Work and success in your profession. You can find the link to the book here:
Disclaimer: I am an Amazon affiliate and will receive a commission if you buy this book using this link. In addition, please let me know if there are any questions I can answer about this book, or Deep Work in general.
For a great youtube video on Deep Work, check out Brian Johnson’s channel here.