Thoughts on deep work and avoiding distraction

Please note: This is not a review. A review of Deep Work will be posted later.

I downloaded the sample of Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World in December 2018 and just started listening to the audiobook after reading this New York Times article about deep work. (This download was also during my ‘let’s see how to be more productive’ stint of which you can read more here).

Cal Newport makes a very good argument that what he calls “deep work”, which is basically work which requires constant concentration and must be done without interruption, is on the decline as distractions like social media become more invasive in almost everyone’s everyday lives.

Distractions, distractions everywhere!

“When it comes to topics like distraction in the workplace, my philosophy is that instead of focusing too much on what’s bad about distractions, it’s important to step back and remember what’s so valuable about its opposite. Concentration is like a super power in most knowledge work pursuits. If you take the time to cultivate this power, you’ll never look back.”Cal Newport

I have been struggling with exactly this invasiveness of distractions and my seeming lack of steady concentration. Not to mention the toxicity of many of the social media networks.

Even my usually mild-mannered Twitter stream (books, more books, writers, history, and some crafting) has somehow become a hotbed of spewed opinions, many by people I don’t even follow and really don’t agree with. Thank you, Strange Algorithm. And so many of all of the opinions are obviously hastily typed in anger – okay, I have been there as well, but I really try not to! – that they offer more hurt to a cause than actually helping. Add to that a volatile mixture of hatred and prejudice simmering beneath the surface of the (partly) anonymous horde trying to “tackle” any injustice they see or imagine, and you far too soon lose all hope in humanity. Hang on … what am I doing on Twitter again?

But, already, I digress.  

Trying to carve out blocks of time to work without distraction has become more and more difficult and you really need to become mindful of just how many times a day you check your phone or social networks. Not to mention checking your email. With the rise of messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, it has both become extremely easy and cheap to communicate and just as easy to not be able to “switch off”. We don’t talk about FOMO for no reason.

But how do you combat it?

John Green has decided to leave social media for a year. (Thank goodness not vlogging!) And this is how it has affected him thus far:

However, even if I wanted to, I can’t cut myself off from it completely, as I also use it in my day-to-day work. The problem, I think, comes in that, no matter how much you want to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter, you fall into a popularity trap. It leads you to worry about whether your Instagram photo composition is the perfect flat lay or composition. It leads you to miss out on stuff around you (or a warm meal) because you’re busy trying to take a better selfie or photo of your food. It makes you feel inferior because your photos aren’t of the same quality as someone who does it for a living. It makes you worry that you can’t post a work-in-progress photo again because you’ve only knitted another 10 rows in two weeks and won’t that be boring? It can basically make you hate part (or all) of your life for no good reason.

Again, I bring you John Green…

Then again, I can (and think I should) really clean out my “following” list as well as the amount of time spent on the networks overall. Listening to more ambient sound and instrumental music to drown out the constant noise of an open plan office (awesome because I love my team, not so awesome when I need to sit and write) should also help, I think. And, of course, I need to stop checking my phone every other minute!

I’ll probably also get more ideas as I work through Cal Newport’s book, but, until then (and until I write a review), I’ll start taking mindful baby steps.

By Carin Marais

Bibliophile, writer of speculative fiction, non-fiction, and maybe-fiction, language practitioner, doer of stuff.


  1. Sometimes tuning out everything else and just concentrating on your work is the best thing you can do. As for Instagram: I take photos that don’t blur and post them — that’s the best it’s going to get 😉 Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

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