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Beyond Personal Productivity

Over the last few years, I have been increasing the amount of reading I have been getting done. I have attempted to read 'at least one page' each day, though this is a minimum. Most days, I read at least a chapter or two. Sometimes more, but I can always find time to read at least one page of whatever book I am working my way through. While I have included the odd fiction book, I have been focusing on non-fiction books, particularly this year.

Back in May, I started to listen to Cal Newport’s new podcast that he had just set up. I had been vaguely familiar with his work for a while and had wanted to dive deeper, but never got around to it. While keeping up with his podcast (two per week), I have also worked my way through his most recent three books, 'So Good They Can't Ignore You', 'Deep Work' and 'Digital Minimalism'.

I wish I had come across Cal’s earlier work on studying and collage life when I was at uni, but I guess I can be glad I have come across it now. My quick summary of the three books would be:

So Good - To get a 'great' job, forget 'find your passion'. Instead, get really good at something, build up ‘career capital’ (people really want you to work for them) and deploy it to get the things about a job that make it good (autonomy, impact, flexibility etc).

Deep Work - To be able to get 'so good you can't be ignored' you need to focus on deep work. Work that requires lots of focus for long periods of time (checking email doesn’t count). Generally it is also work that cannot be easily taught to someone new. If any graduate can pick up what you are doing in a couple of weeks, you don’t really have any career capital yet.

Digital Minimalism - To be able to focus on deep work, you need to avoid distractions. Social media is engineered to distract you. If you use it as intended, they will hijack far more of your attention than you ought to be comfortable with and you will struggle to focus on things that are important to you. Technology is great, but just make sure you are intentional with it. Make sure you are actually getting benefits from it and avoid the negatives.

Following the guides, I believe it is possible to get a significant productivity boost and accomplish more work. The problem then becomes integrating that work with other people and systems.

Cal briefly mentions this in his latest Atlantic article: "The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done". In this article he looks at the wider productivity mindset and considers that in knowledge work, we put most of the effort and responsibility into the individual. Shouldn’t we be looking at the wider teams and systems?

I find this an interesting idea. I am sure the way I have seen things get done is not necessarily the best and that there could definitely be improvements. It would be good to see what other options are out there, what their strengths are and importantly, what you would be giving up when implementing them.

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