Edel Grace

Programmer, Developer, Enthusiast

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Book Review: Deep Work by Cal Newport

Oct 22, 2018 | Comments

Deep Work by Cal Newport

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. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.

In Deep Work, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four “rules,” for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill.

A mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice, Deep Work takes the reader on a journey through memorable stories-from Carl Jung building a stone tower in the woods to focus his mind, to a social media pioneer buying a round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo to write a book free from distraction in the air-and no-nonsense advice, such as the claim that most serious professionals should quit social media and that you should practice being bored. Deep Work is an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.

Cal has a lot of good ideas but I hate how he presented them.

I pretty much skimmed through the first section that was trying to convince me that deep work was worth it. Of course, I know it’s worth it, why else would I be reading this book? As a computer scientist, I don’t mind that the examples he spouts off are largely tech-related and usually intended for office/self-employed workers. However, there’s a lot of anecdotes in this book. There are some mentions of studies here and there but the evidence is still lacking.

When it comes to social media, he comes off as pretentious and snobby even if he is mostly right. I’ve read some of Cal’s blog posts before and I had the same impression of him back then. I am a bit defensive over the usage of my social media even though I know I’d probably be better off without. But Cal brings up the point of, think what you could be doing in your time instead. And I agree.

Regardless, there’s a lot of things I want to try out from this book.

  • Commit to a rhythmic philosophy of deep work
  • Ritualize where and how I will work
  • Follow 4DX (quick note, this largely taken from another author)
  • Focus on just the important goal
  • Measure new behaviours that drive success AKA keeping track of deep work hours (i.e. lead measures)
  • Keep a scoreboard (like a streak)
  • Create accountability with weekly reviews
  • Take breaks from focus over distractions (schedule hours dedicated to the Internet instead of hours dedicated to work)
  • Quit social media (almost)
  • Re-evaluate the social networks I’m a part of (including Goodreads)
  • Take a month-long “sabbatical” from social media and see if anyone misses me
  • Schedule every minute of my day
  • Finish work by 16:30 (in the book Cal says 17:30 but I’m assuming he starts work at 9:00 whereas I start work at 8:00)
  • Become hard to reach (e-mail and phone only, maybe Discord still?)

Yes, there are good things to try out with this book. Cal takes until the very end to say deep work is not for everybody (with his usual pretentious air). I’m going to take a crack at it. I’ve found that ever since I’ve graduated and started working, my hours are incredibly limited. After careful attention, I’ve realized that much of my day is dedicated to shallow activities. I want to get things done (yes, I’ve read David Allen’s GTD).

Forever Tinkering with My Productivity System

Aug 12, 2017 | Comments

I follow the blog baty.net in which Jack Baty continuously finds new tools and new ways to improve his productivity. While I usually scoff at people who are always changing things up, I will admit that I am the exact same way. It would be great to just stick to something tried and true and never have to think about changing but there is just so much out there that it’s hard for me to resist the temptation to not try everything I can see. I have gone through Filofaxes, Bullet Journal-esque planners, Google Calendar, regular paper agendas, post it notes, back to Bullet Journals, etc.

“Bullet Journals” and Paper Planners

In it’s simplest state, the Bullet Journal is an analog system for rapid logging. You have a thought or task, you write it down, and (hopefully) come back to it later to deal with it. Without a few tweaks, it’s not the greatest for future planning. It’s real use case is capturing at the moment. I have tried both minimalistic Bullet Journal and all out “unrecognizable as a Bullet Journal” planning and I found it too hard to keep up with and check on regularly, especially with the latter. I would write something down and never look at it again or I would be too daunted with drawing out daily/weekly/monthly layouts.

For a period I did somewhat automate dealing with layouts by printing a whole year during my Winter break. I would meticulously design a layout in Photoshop, export it to a PDF, print it, cut it, and punch holes. It was a lot of effort for a system that I only ended up using for a couple of months but when I did use it, it worked well for me.

I also had success with store bought planners. My second year of university I used a planner for the entire year. However when the school year ended, I was bored with the system and wanted to try something new. I was lured in by the Filofax craze and fantasized about using a planner that could also be my wallet. Even now as I look at the Filofax website after not visiting it for so long, I’m drooling over the pretty planners (someone please take my wallet away from me). However that was even more short lived and I converted my would be planner-wallet into just a wallet.

Google Calendar

What I loved about Google Calendar was seeing my entire week at a glance down to the last hour. However, the way I used it, it was unsustainable and lacked the detail I needed. While it was easy to change things around, sometimes an unexpected event would throw off my entire day and a result, throw me off from my productivity. Taking away time from something else gave me a little bit of an existential crisis that I didn’t have with other productivity systems.

Still, it was great getting those notifications and being able to sync across device and basically have my entire life without me wherever I go. I haven’t forgotten my phone at home for many years now and I recently got data in my phone plan and a rechargeable battery pack so it really is with me 247. Eventually though, I just stopped using it and went for a while without using any sort of productivity system at all.

Org mode

As I have mentioned before, I recently started using emacs and got sucked into the world of Org mode. The customizability of Org mode excites me and I love having everything in plain text and available at the terminal. Like Google Calendars, it’s pretty much with me everywhere I go, with the help of Dropbox and SSH-ing into my private server. I love the task and habit functions built in and while it was daunting to learn at first, I quickly got the hang of it.

So, for now, I am using Org mode. It’s working well for me but who knows what ship I’ll jump onto next? Maybe one day I will find the one that works for me until the end of time but I doubt it.

My Minimalist Bullet Journal for 2017

Jan 29, 2017 | Comments

It’s been a couple of weeks since 2017 has started. I started off the new year with some tweaks to my bullet journal. 2016 wasn’t the best year for using my bullet journal. I used it a lot when I was in school but not so much when I was working. I’m aiming to be more productive outside of work this year though! In light of my new goal, I decided it was best to revamp my bullet journal. This year’s theme is work-life balance. One of my friends jokingly said, “It seems like you never have any fun.” Thus, I resolve to have more fun!

Monthly Habit Trackers

I’ve never stuck to a habit tracker in full before. This year I aimed to make them as minimal as possible. No rulers were used in making these. It took about half an hour to do all twelve months. I condensed the monthly log because I really don’t have that many events, usually.

Monthly Health Trackers

On the other side of the monthly habit trackers are the monthly health trackers. This mostly focuses on physical health with a side of mental health too. I’m trying to track my calories, steps I’ve taken, weight, and my mood each day.

Dailies

The Verdict

Since I had a couple of weeks to settle into my bullet journal, I can safely say that I’m still pretty bad at using my bullet journal everyday. Honestly, this is definitely a mental health thing. When I find myself in a depressive slump, I do not feel like doing anything. You can tell when my mind became a little clouded and it wasn’t until a couple of days ago that I finally got out of it. Hopefully, February will fare better.

My Week #13

Mar 30, 2014 | Comments

Man, this was the most productive week I’ve had since Reading Week! I’m super happy with my level of productivity. I got a lot done and I still managed to have a large amount of free time all to myself. On Tuesday, I got to hang out with a friend for two hours and I still got stuff done.

On Thursday, I went on a Kill la Kill marathon. My friends have been bugging me about watching it and since the finale was Thursday night, I spent the entire day catching up on the series. I had to watch about 14 episodes. As soon as I got home, I definitely just sat there and watched until around 11 at night. And it was okay, because in the morning, I was done everything I needed to do! I will say though, that the finale was pretty good. I was a bit disappointed because Kill la Kill was so hyped up but it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. My expectations for anime are too high. I just want another Evangelion! Needless to say, I’m looking forward to 3.33 in 2015. Please hurry up!

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My Week #12

Mar 24, 2014 | Comments

Wow I am so not proud of myself at all lately. Ugh. School. Please be done and over with!

The pictures aren’t great because I didn’t take them in “natural light” like I usually do and it’s currently 11:07 PM. Still Sunday, so I’m technically not late!

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About

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My name is Edel Grace Altares. My programming interests include full stack development and back end development. My languages of choice are Python and Java. Outside of programming I enjoy crocheting, video games, cats, historical fiction, and reading.

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