It's hard to get things done these days.
The amount of distractions in the world - both good and bad - is mind-boggling.
But you and I (and the monkey) all know that if we want to make a go of things, we have to develop the ability to FOCUS.
Both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates say that the reason they've been so successful is because they're able to focus for long periods of time.
But does that mean "focus" as in "hunched over a desk, crunching a bunch of numbers"? Or does it mean focus as in "staring out the window, spacing out" because that's where the breakthroughs happen?
Turns out that both types of focus matter. A lot.
Warren Buffett doesn't have a computer on his office desk. He doesn't have a million people interrupting him throughout the day. He doesn't deal with emails or dumb meetings. He reads the news and then he thinks about what he's read, and what it could mean for the future of the markets.
He moved back to Omaha from New York specifically to get away from distractions, so that he could think deeply about the things that mattered most.
Creative people need to focus, too. Have you seen this Dave Chappelle trailer from a few years ago?
I love this because that is a video of a man hard at work!
Creative breakthroughs happen when we give ourselves time to explore our own ideas, without endless interruptions.
Sounds almost impossible to do these days.
But focus is a skill. We can get better at it. (I hope.)
The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
The book is split into two parts: Part 1 advocates for WHY deep work matters, and Part 2 explains HOW to retrain your mind in order to make deep work the focus of your career.
The Why is important, because the How is hard.
(If it were easy, everybody would do it.)
Here are the reasons why Newton believes deep work matters:
Deep work is valuable.
Deep work leads to breakthroughs and "the ability to produce at elite levels." Look at Nate Silver, and his Five Thirty Eight blog. Silver used to be a baseball stats geek before he became an election forecaster. His site blew up during the 2012 campaign, and Silver became a household name because he accurately predicted every single race.
The thing is, there are LOTS of baseball stats geeks and election forecasters out in the world. But Silver was able to go deep and stay deep with his databases and statistical analysis systems and figure out how to get the right information at the right time. It wasn't easy. But he stuck with it, and it changed his life.
There are probably plenty of election forecasters who had the skills to develop that system. But they didn't develop that system. He did.
If you can do deep work, you'll be the one coming up with the breakthroughs. Yeah!
Deep work is rare.
Deep work matters; but most studios run on meetings and email threads and Slack channels that just won't quit - in other words, shallow work.
Why does shallow work seem like such a good idea?
Maybe because we can see it. It LOOKS like work. (Sort of.)
Deep work happens in the mind; shallow work happens in the inbox or the conference room, where everybody can see it.
Newport writes that it's hard to get good evidence of how MUCH of a waste of time shallow work can be. (We all secretly know it's a waste of time and energy, we just can't prove it.) And so, "Without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment."
If we choose to do deep work, we're going to feel like weirdos, because deep work isn't something most people do. But it's worth it. Because -
Deep work is meaningful.
If we go deep on our work, we can build a BODY of work. We can start to create the stories or games or standup routines that we've wanted to make our entire careers.
As human beings, we build our own reality. We decide what matters, and then we focus intently on those very things.
Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love - is the sum of what you focus on.
Newport writes, "Your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to, so consider for a moment the type of mental world constructed when you dedicate significant time to deep endeavors. There's a gravity ... whether you're smithing a sword or optimizing an algorithm ... if you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance."
If you can do deep work, then you'll find yourself doing work that matters. To you.
Thanks for reading. See you next week.
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Susan’s first job as a game writer was for “a slumber party game - for girls!” She’s gone on to work on over 25 projects, including award-winning titles in the BioShock, Far Cry and Tomb Raider franchises. Titles in her portfolio have sold over 30 million copies and generated over $500 million in sales. She is an adjunct professor at UT Austin, where she teaches a course on writing for games. A long time ago, she founded the Game Narrative Summit at GDC. Now, she partners with studios, publishers, and writers to help teams ship great games with great stories. She is dedicated to supporting creatives in the games industry so that they can do their best work.