The Science of Performance

To learn requires intense concentration

Cal Newport


Just finished reading “Deep Work” by Cal Newport and might I say it was quite an eye opener in more than one ways! I’ve always considered the argument of staying away from the social media quite beguiling for a simple reason of being too much ‘out there’ for no good reason. But as Newport argues, it bemuses me as to why I couldn’t think of this premise myself. He calls Deep Work as the work performed in a state of undivided concentration that cannot be replicated and imparts a great value to the surrounding world. More like shutting the self from the outside world to concentrate on the task at hand and this momentously boosts the productivity levels in this information economy. On the other hand in reality almost half of the world is experiencing what Neil Postman wrote a book about called “Technopoly” i.e. surrenderance to everything related to technology. Such is the plight of people turning into cyber-zombies feeding on their own cerebral capacities that they can subsist without food but not without constantly checking on their emails, instant messages or extraneous social networking statuses.


High Quality Work Produced = Time Spent X Intensity of focus

-Deep Work


This constant vigil on the information exchange in whatever technology or form one prefers, paves way to some thick “shallow work” something that Newport explains is mostly logistical natured, can be easily replicated and doesn’t add any value to the world as we know it. Sadly it is rampantly trending at the moment due to its ease of nature as compared to the Deep Work. In a very alarming discovery made by the Atlantic Media’s Chief Technology Officer Tom Cochran, it was found that the company was spending around billion dollars annually on employees for processing just the emails. For every message sent or received, tonnes of resources were being utilized which Cochran quoted was equivalent of a small company buying a Learjet! That’s a serious dent to our current economy and the advancement that we take pride in witnessing in this modern world!


Don’t follow your passion but let it follow you in your quest to become really good at what you do

Cal Newport


So are we doing pseudo work? I guess no, as everyone is as busy as ever but the problem is that this constant craving to sneaking around into the ubiquitous social portals be it mails, messengers, social networking etc. has a depth destroying impact which unfortunately could never ever be quantified to be taken seriously enough. It is always about just one email, or one message; but the ripple effect of these negligible metrics can never be comprehended. How can Deep Work help us? Well I guess the moment you grasp the idea of what Deep Work insinuates it is half the battle one. There are many tempting arguments that Newport has used to explain the benefits of indulging into Deep Work but I would quote here the one I found most convincing and reverberating with my own creed.


You are only as valuable as what you do best!

Cal Newport


It takes something to become the master of the hard tasks. To survive in the present economy where information and technology recidivates in blink of an eye, only two kinds of people can survive the whiplash of change, the ones who can master the difficult quickly and the ones who can produce some high quality work with speed and precision. Both of these categories rely heavily on super doses of Deep Work! Daniel Coyle in his 2009 book ‘The Talent Code’ explained why concentrating intensely on a single task produces some path breaking work. He argues as neuroscientists have been exploring, this has something to do with the myelin- a fatty white substance that grows around the axon of certain nerve tissues to form an insulation layer allowing the cells to fire prompter and better. For every task that we perform, there is a neural circuit that gets fired inside our brains that allow us to bring our attention to the task in hand. Now interestingly, when you focus on the single task again and again you develop more myelin around the respective neurons which helps in firing this circuit more efficiently and effectively. Therefore by focussing on a single skill again and again, we allow this neural circuit to fire in isolation which further triggers oligodendrocytes- cells that are responsible for creating myelin sheaths around the neurons in the circuits. In layman’s this means more you focus mastering a single skill, better your neural circuits would fire in isolation to help you conquer that skill. Consider writing a life-altering algorithm for some start-up you are working for, simultaneously checking your Facebook wall and Reddit feeds; you’re involuntarily firing too many circuits simultaneously resulting in no concrete strengthening of the relevant neurons that in this case require you to master that algorithm you are attempting.


To be great at something is to be well myelinated

Cal Newport


There have been some legendary figures in the past and the present that have stayed away from the banes of cyber social attendance only to concentrate deeply on their works, to bring about a change in the world, standing true in their beliefs, indulging in some valuable Deep Work practices. Sequential switching from one task to another might make you seem diligent in the public eye, but is it adding any value to the world around you? This is why we’ve been told time and again that every employee is replaceable. But why should one restrict their ability to Deep Work only to their employments? Let’s take it to another level and do something we wanted to do for long because there is no better time than ‘Now’!


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