Previously I read the assigned Newport’s Digital Minimalism with surprise and fascination. I was surprised by Newport’s emphasis on reduction of tech distractions for both himself and his audience. Newport’s focus helped me to reduce the distraction of checking my phone for messages or updates (even in the presence of others). One would think I would have integrated the practice of coaching listening and presence skills better into my daily life.
The assignment of Newport’s Deep Work has also come at a very opportune time. In his current work, Newport has hit the nail on the source of my research writing woes. My son, Mark, who is also pursuing his professional doctoral degree, is much further along in his dissertation process. Recently, he has remarked how he is challenged to find the headspace and motivation to complete the collaboration with his committee chair. I have always admired Mark’s ability to be a prolific writer in both volume and content. If he is struggling, how can I overcome my persistent writing block? Like his previous book, Newport’s Deep Work has offered fresh ideas for me to consider and apply in my context.
Newport defines deep work as the ability to concentrate without distractions for extended periods to maximize one’s cognitive limits. Only at the upper end of one’s cognitive limits can one produce superior depth and quality output. He goes on to give examples in his own and other professional accomplishments due to disciplined times of concentrated effort for prescribed amounts of time. Newport’s operating hypothesis is that deep work skills are becoming increasingly rare juxtaposed alongside the current increased market value of deep work skills. He conjectures that anyone who develops deep work skills is well-positioned within the current rapidly changing complexity of tech and communication output. Conversely, anyone unable to form deep work skills will be unprepared to function much less excel in the current environment.
For me, I immediately connected his emphasis on deep work with the challenges of learning new, even alien research and writing skills as integral to the dissertation process. Perhaps this is especially true for professional doctoral program students who are already juggling family, career, and ministry responsibilities. While Newport spends his first three chapters unpacking why deep work is a legitimate working skill (i.e., valuable, rare, and meaningful), he did not need to convince me; I already know I need to establish rhythms of undistracted times of concentration and output. I spent the first year of our program always behind in our research courses, and I am determined to learn and practice the newfound skills I need to produce dissertation quality output. In my projected view forward, this must be learned, developed, and practiced this second year to stage myself for the final push to completion in our third year.
Therefore, I skipped immediately to Newport’s chapters on suggested rules. Rules #1 Deep Work and #3 Quit Social Media were most impactful for me. Newport preps these rules by providing the critical motivational construct behind the recommended strategies. He insists one must add routines and rituals to your working mix to minimize tapping into one’s limited willpower to transition from good intentions to good output. My own experience affirms this motivational truth. Wanting and desiring to improve undistracted periods of concentration and quality output is insufficient. There appears to be a pragmatic sense of not merely adding on but instead taking away to add a routine or ritual for superior depth and production.
The taking-away premise leads me to rule #3 Quit Social Media. While I have never been much of a Facebook poster, I do follow many pastors I coach, folks within our local church, and members of our LGP9 cohort. Newport contends that social media fragments one’s time and reduces one’s ability to concentrate. Therefore, I have elected to delete Facebook bookmarks from my laptops. Newport also contends not to use the Internet to entertain oneself. So, I will also need to delete ESPN and Reddit bookmarks as well.
The adding-on premise leads me to take a closer look at Newport’s suggestions for deep work scheduling and ritualized methodologies. Newport’s rhythmic philosophy works much better for me rather than his journalistic or bimodal proposal. That is, I tried to reserve a day a week to doctoral work. Inevitably other appointment became scheduled for those designated days and distracted me from writing. Instead, I will get up earlier Monday through Friday (I am going to try 1-2 hours), write daily, and then begin the rest of my day. Newport lists the habitual nature of the rhythmic philosophy as necessary for maintaining progress on more open deadline output such as dissertations. Of all the assigned readings we have encountered, many were potential candidates, and some have become sources for my dissertation. Newport’s Deep Work may be the seminal work that helps me accomplish my goal of producing a dissertation and completing a doctoral degree. Who knows, I may even learn and apply these deep work skills well enough to also write the book on developing and nurturing coaching networks that I see lacking in my field.
 Newport, Cal, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), 3.
 Newport, Deep Work, 14.
 Newport, Deep Work, 100.
 Newport, Deep Work, 182.
 Newport, Deep Work, 112-113.