Book Review – Cal Newport’s Three Books

I recently finished reading Cal Newport’s three books : 1. Deep Work 2. Digital Minimalism 3. So good they can’t ignore you. The three books are subtly different but have common threads that link them back together. The desire to find ways to do work that is deep and inspirational, controlling technology in a way that is effective and additive but not distracting and the art of deliberate practice to gain mastery are threads that repeat themselves over the course of the three books.

So good they can’t ignore you:  In the field of knowledge work that most of us are engaged in, one can vastly understate the importance of a deliberate training plan that is long term, continuous and effective. The craftsman element of work in churning out something special is largely lost in our daily, multi-tasked, attention deprived work environment. Cal Newport makes the case for a craftsman mindset and hence forming a passion for one’s work rather than chasing one’s passion at the outset.  The author introduces a framework for developing career capital that comes from acquiring rare, valuable skills and using them to get greater control over things you work on and the traps associated with them. The author echoes similar principles to Malcom Gladwell’s outliers such as the 10K hour rule and deliberate practice that have taken center stage in the art of gaining mastery.

Deep work: In the midst of today’s digital world that emphasizes on multi-tasking, the art of digging in and doing deep work that is effective and meaningful has been lost. Cal differentiates between the deep work that require intense focus, uninterrupted work with results that are hard to replicate with shallow work that is unfocused and easy to replicate. The author outlines the art of mastering hard things and using the ability to transform the output into something that people value through frameworks and examples on how to implement them. Newport lays out rules for having an environment that is conducive to deep work, the ability to embrace boredom and draining out the shallow work as key to getting good deep work done. The author outlines ways to use technology more effectively and not assume that all technology is good and lays out principles to use them to get more effective, deep work done.

Digital Minimalism: And lastly, the distractions of the digital world where the technologies that were supposed to aid us have started to distract us and heavily so. Newport uses various examples and stories to convince that clutter is costly and the way to a brighter future is through intentional use of technology through optimization of tools that we value. Newport advocates a break from all social media (where avoidable) for a period of 30 days and then to intentionally allow back in selective technologies and platforms that we value in our lives. The key to break existing habits is to have alternate leisure activities that we can spend our time on without falling back to the digital distractions.

The three themes that Cal Newport picks could not have more apt and more relevant in any other time in the last 30 years than it is at this point in time. There are aspects in each one of the three books that provide additional tools that one can add to the arsenal to be more effective in everyday.