Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Put Out into the Deep

Written by: on October 7, 2018

Cal Newport’s Deep Work is a strategy book for leaders who want to make sense out of chaos, free themselves from unnecessary distractions, and improve their concentration while working. Newport’s premise holds that multitasking “kills productivity” and promotes shallow work that is ineffective and decreases the global leader’s efficiency in the marketplace.[1] I related negatively with Newport’s claims that “multitasking” creates an attention residue when switching from one task to another and is “likely to demonstrate poor performance on the next task.”[2] While I disagree with his findings on multitasking obtained during controlled laboratory experiments on human subjects, I wonder what he is really saying and want to dig deeper and see if I can find any useful themes or ideas that can be used in my dissertation research on spiritual warfare. while following Jesus’ advice to “Put out into the deep” and let my net down for a catch (Luke 5:4).

First, Deep Work strives to help the leader develop distraction free zones of practice that enhances concentration and improve effectiveness. Planning tasks, freeing up time, and eliminating obstacles are all good in the day to day pre-planned activities of life.[3] I agree with Newport on this principle. Nevertheless, we must prepare for the “life-happens” events that are not controlled or anticipated outside of the sterile and controlled research laboratory setting. I think this is where my spiritual warfare research could add value to Newport’s work since Christian leaders plan for and utilize Biblical solutions for the dark forces, principalities, and evil schemes of the devil that do not subscribe to Newport’s deep work strategies.

Second, Newport’s ideas on workplace discipline, scheduling, and time management fits nicely into the Hong Kong multicultural leadership context that we just experienced. I envision some of my cohort members will like his ideas, will make improvements in several ministry areas, but will not give up their day job to join the Deep Work movement.

Using the Elder approach to critical analysis I pulled several reviews on Deep Work.[4]  Dixon says the Deep Work is not for “all workplaces” and that it is “easier said than done.”[5] Further, she says that distractions are “part of the work place” that connect people, organizations, and ideas; “differentiating between necessary and unnecessary” distractions is the key to improving focus.[6]

Pederson disagrees with Newport’s thesis that the internet is “high jacking” our ability to concentrate and argues that this is the age of big data, powerful processors, and faster speeds for information flow.[7] He argues that future leaders must be able to both “absorb” diverse sources of information while simultaneously maintaining “focus” that he calls the “distraction-focus paradox.”[8] Pederson’s cites research on how to manage attention in a distracted age with the following:

  • Diverse Tweeters generate better ideas
  • Intense focus enhances multitask prioritization and planning
  • Productive distraction promotes self-reflection and weak area compensation[9]

Newport has degrees in computer science from MIT, teaches as Georgetown, and has written a few books on how to be successful and lead productive lives. I reviewed several articles and biographies on Newport and could not find any solid connections to the Christian world. He appears to mock the Sabbath with what he calls the “internet Sabbath” or digital detox and supports a Zen philosophy and wrote a blog-book on The Zen Valedictorian.[10]

Even through Newport provides some practical ideas on how to improve concentration and promote effectiveness he did not explore, research, or experience the next-level multitasking events involved in leading people through critical incident responses like a mass-casualty, natural disaster, terrorism, or war. During my police and military careers, we always had to plan for the “high risk-low probability” scenarios that required radical leadership strategies for success. Consequently, I agree with the low risk-high probability deep work rules that Newport is selling, but believe he needs to get out of the office and go into the mission field, so to speak, and walk in the shoes of the leaders who must manage what Dixon calls the distraction-focus paradox.[11]

I also think Pederson is right; slowing down and trying to stop distractions so we can focus better does not keep leaders in pace with the continuously evolving and faster information technology pace. For example, when LGP8 does a Zoom video conference there are multiple levels of communication going on simultaneously. We must multitask within the Zoom voice feed, static internet connectivity distractions, visual Zoom ques, nonverbal ques, and sidebar written group or private chats, supplemental information links to the internet, and side jokes and jabs all going on at the same time. I think this is an excellent example of how we can and do manage the distraction-focus paradox. Bayard, who taught me how to move between the center and periphery of the authors ideas and themes while seeing libraries of books is another author who supports absorbing and focusing on information in volumes, not pages.[12]

After reflecting on Deep Work, I believe I fall between Newport’s Bimodal and Rhythmic approaches on normal day-to-day leadership opportunities.[13] Notwithstanding, my multitasking daily approach is to intentionally put on the whole armor of God. This discipline helps me integrate Biblical solutions with workplace training and experience so I can move horizontally or vertically in response to chaotic crisis and situational stress incidents as ministry leaders may face in God’s sovereign plan.

Stand firm,

M. Webb

[1] Cal Newport. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. (London: Piatkus, 2016) 70.
[2] Ibid., 42.
[3] Sapiens Editorial. “Summary of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World-by Cal Newport.” (2016) 7.
[4] Linda Elder and Richard Paul. The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. Kindle ed. (Tomales, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2009) Location 29.
[5] Lauren Dixon. “How to Carve out Time for ‘Deep Work’ amid Distractions.” Rochester Business Journal 33, no. 43 (2018): 1.
[6] Ibid., 3.
[7] C. L. Pedersen (2018). Managing the distraction-focus paradox. MIT Sloan Management Review, 59(4), 73.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Newport, Deep Work, 159.
[11] Dixon, Deep Work Amid Distractions, 1.
[12] Pierre Bayard. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. (Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2007) Kindle Edition, Location 247.
[13] Sapiens, Summary Deep Work, 10.

About the Author


4 responses to “Put Out into the Deep”

  1. Great post, Mike!

    You mention, “I agree with Newport on this principle. Nevertheless, we must prepare for the “life-happens” events that are not controlled or anticipated outside of the sterile and controlled research laboratory setting.” Newport sought to create a concrete world that was devoid of distraction, but also devoid of others. Yes. It’s imperative to carve out time for deep work, but it should never blind us from showing deep compassion.

    Family can be the biggest interruption to our plans and the greatest reminder of our purpose. Both of my parents have dealt with very difficult health issues this past year. If I followed Newport’s text to the letter, I would be forced to uphold my task list above my parent’s need for care. You’re right. Many things come into our life at whirlwind speed. It’s important to limit our distractions, but it’s also important to not allow our goals to keep us from enjoying the journey or creating space for those around us.

    You mention that Deep Work ties into your research on spiritual warfare? Would you elaborate on this further? In what ways did you find similarities?

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hey Mike,

    I wondered if you were going to mention that there were zero Christian or Biblical references in this book. You did not disappoint! I noticed the same…

    I too wondered about his comments, “He appears to mock the Sabbath with what he calls the “internet Sabbath” or digital detox” which is what I wrote a little about this week. I wholeheartedly support a “internet Sabbath” and learned much from a book called REPLENISH found here:



  3. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks, Mike,
    I really appreciated the way that you analyzed this book critically. Clearly, there is value in a lot of what Newport writes, but you pushed back around the idea that all of life could simply be “scheduled” or planned-for, or given a time slot to be handled. Definitely true that this doesn’t work all the time. I also think that you made a good point using the Zoom chat– that there are times where we really need to multi-task and pay attention to a lot of moving parts. I think the piece that will stay with me, is just the idea that given the world we live in and the speed with which everything moves, that taking some control back, and making some time for real deep work is important. I don’t want to always feel like I’m on a zoom chat, with multiple conversation box windows open, etc. That is possible for a short period of time, but not all the time. Your reference to Jesus inviting the disciples to put out into the deeper water is good on this point. Jesus saw a vital, core, lively relationship with God (through prayer, quiet, solitude, small groups, rest, etc) as a key to maintaining a very full ministry schedule. We would do well to take our cue from him (as usual!).

  4. Greg says:

    Mike I appreciate you take and views on this book. I kept thinking that just a secular view on achievement is never a good thing.

    Also I wanted to tell you that I handed those coins to one of my leaders and he was excited to have them and use them in correlation with a new study on the Armor.

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