I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.Winifred Gallagher
It seems as though most of us spend most of our waking lives distracted: just reacting to stimuli, bouncing from one Facebook notification to another urgent email or missed call… How much time do you spend engrossed fully in your work, or in your pleasure? When was the last time you lost yourself in your work, in a conversation, in a book, fully engrossed in the moment?
For many of us, it’s been a while.
Cal Newport’s book Deep Work makes this point well. He points out that the ability to reach depth is the predictor of success in life, for every conceivable meaning of the word: financially, academically, and in terms of fulfillment.
This is nothing new: from meditation to monasteries, the art of undivided attention has been pursued and written about for a long time. But not too long ago, it mattered mostly for the intellectual, the spiritual or the contemplative: most people’s lives and livelihood revolved around manual labor where depth was neither necessary nor particularly useful.
In our modern day however, knowledge work has become predominant and automation promises to continue moving the workforce away from manual labor and towards the service industry. Thus, considerations that were once relevant to only a few are becoming essential to most of us.
The ability to focus deeply on the task at hand and to deliberately choose how we want to invest our limited time is a vital and surprisingly non-trivial skill, and one that will make the difference between the winners and losers in our economy. Those who can work deeply will consistently outperform the rest.
Deep focus is also, as it turns out, the best way to live a deliberate life, and one you can enjoy to the fullest. If time is precious, we must realize that attention is the currency it is measured in. If you can’t control what you give your limited attention to, you will fritter away your time and your life in unsatisfying ways.
In Deep work, Cal Newport expands on these ideas, and offers a number of very specific strategies to help you achieve depth and train your mind and your attention to live the focused life.