From the outside, Cal Newport looks to me as a superhuman. On top of having family and kids, he teaches computer science at Georgetown University, Washington, publishes academic research papers, writes about the intersection of digital technology and culture, has published six books, and will be releasing his seventh book—A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload—next Tuesday, March 2, 2021, which is now available for pre-order.
Newport started writing and publishing books while he was a student—his first titles include How to Win at College, How to Become a Straight-A Student, and How to Be a High School Superstar—and started building a community of readers who enjoyed his Study Hacks blog.
So Good They Can't Ignore You was Newport's first book outside of the college or high school arena, which walks you through how to "build a career you truly love [where] you're not only paid well, but you're doing work that matters." Newport teaches the Top Performer course online—based on this book—together with Scott Young.
Deep Work was a response to readers' questions on how to structure their workday. As reads the summary of his Wall Street Journal bestseller, "deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It's a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time." Newport firmly believes we can only do deep work with full concentration without distractions. His approach consists of working in a series of 1 h 30 min blocks separated by one-hour breaks that he uses for productive meditation (recharge walks or breaks in which your mind can continue pondering about the problems you're trying to solve at work). To keep track of your time, Newport created The Time-Block Planner, a notebook that lets you plan your day using this technique.
For the past years, I've been using this method using this 7:00–19:00 time-blocking sheet that you can download here. It contains four planning cards to print in an A4- or Letter-sized sheet to fold in four. Works best with two-sided printing to create eight cards to cover an entire week. I try to block time for deep tasks one day in advance at the end of my workday.
Digital Minimalism was a response to readers who asked how to manage their non-work time. My takeaway from this book is that a social media sabbath—going cold turkey for thirty days in a row—can help you get rid of the habit of mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds and reclaim your leisure time, only getting back to using social media after you've identified what value you're getting out of them if any, and making sure to schedule your leisure time as well as your workday to ensure the activities you want to do are happening. It's interesting how much Newport—a person who's never been on social media—can contribute with his digital minimalism philosophy. In my case, I spent three months in a row without social media. I decided I would be present by sharing the content I created but wouldn't routinely interact in other ways and would remove the social media apps that remained on my phone.
A World Without Email will be released next week. As Newport mentions on his podcast—Deep Questions—online communication as we know it today isn't the result of careful thinking in search of the best way for knowledge workers to communicate but something that happened because the technology was there. We embraced email and instant messaging as the solution, but Newport explains how this constant influx of messages depletes our ability to perform deep work. He sees applications like Slack or Teams as transient applications that will go away sometime soon, as we devise new methods that will let us—as knowledge workers—work without distractions. I already pre-ordered a copy.
I doubt Cal Newport is superhuman, but I applaud his work and life approach and his consistency to ship work that matters.
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