Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Deep Work: How to Find Focused Success

If you feel distracted in your professional life, you are not alone. 

Book Cover
Deep Work by Cal Newport was the subject of a recent book study sponsored by our EG Collab Lab.  When we approached teachers and introduced the topic–how to combat the rising sense of distraction in your professional life–we found plenty of people who wanted to talk.  Using Zoom, we were able to join with staff across our building and from other schools for a discussion over several weeks.

One point of lively discussion was whether we found ourselves “busy” or “productive,” and how email–certainly a necessity in our profession–can overtake more vital functions.  All of us admitted we could probably spend an entire school day on email, yet none of us would feel a sense of satisfaction at the end.  Our abundant new technology may offer opportunities for richer connections in some instances or perhaps push us toward shallow personal connections. Should we re-evaluate the quality of communication and ideas pouring through these new portals? 

Newport passionately argues that the most satisfying work is craft, a point when we use the full force of our intelligence, attention, focus, and creativity to solve problems.  This is where we humans often find deep meaning.  We cannot develop our craft without “deep work,” a term coined by Newport.

Newport also challenges us as professionals with stark advice to become more productive.  Newport argues that the will power to work deeply is not a momentary whim, but a routine investment in ourselves.  Newport gives a plethora of examples of how to eliminate shallow work and re-focus our energy on deep work.  His advice to embrace boredom rather than constantly filling an empty moment with a swipe of the phone resonated with all of us.  He challenges the reader to re-evaluate the use of social media by examining the value of random connections versus the high value connections we have in our personal and professional lives. 

Our discussion ended with an important challenge – how can we teach and encourage deep work in our students?  We certainly need to make changes in our own lives first.  Newport’s argument has clear implications for our classrooms and students.  Although he does not address the educational setting specifically, we certainly felt pulled to apply these ideas to our own students. 

“Deep work,” Newport concludes, “is a life well-lived.” We all agreed that we hungered for more of that in our lives.

Many thanks to Kim Miklusak, Quinn Loch, Mark Heintz, and Linda Ashida in our Collab Lab for facilitating the Zoom technology and helping us make this happen.

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