Deep, focused work is a privilege.

Anastasia
3 min readAug 19, 2021

I’ve recently finished ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport and have some sad revelations and thoughts about the message and the whole idea of the deep work.

Deep work is a privilege. Of income level, gender, race, and lifestyle choices.

The author starts with a long intro on how deep-focused work is extremely valuable in our society, especially for knowledge workers.

And I agree! It does help learn more complicated concepts, provide work of outstanding quality and(!) allows to come up with new, creative solutions.

The castle where Carl Jung went to think (ref)

But this just makes the reality sadder. Almost all examples of deep work integrated into life are already rich men. Carl Jung’s castle at lake Zurich, where he came to work, famous Bill Gates’s “think weeks” in a full serviced cabin in the woods, male scientists and researchers who deliberately disconnect from people around them for days, weeks, and months to do deep work.

The only female example that I remember (and I may be wrong) is J.K. Rowling finishing “Harry Potter” at Balmoral Hotel (where a night costs start from €500!).

I would love to hear more examples of regular people incorporating deep work, or even how J.K. Rowling wrote the FIRST “Harry Potter” when she was relatively unknown and more relatable?

The responsibility of the deep work is put on an individual:

  • don’t use emails,
  • don’t do messaging,
  • lock yourself up in a distraction-free environment,
  • use noise-canceling headphones,
  • take weeks off to “think”

But the reality is that an average caregiver on a corporate job doesn’t have this privilege. As well as a school student living in the same room as their 3 siblings. Or a student in a loud dorm.

The last hour of the book provides some useful tips for the regular corporate workers:

  • calendar and time blocking,
  • overestimating how long tasks would take,
  • saying no to shallow work,
  • project-centric communication approach,
  • choosing a company with the right culture, etc.

But still, this advice works for people who’ve done their inner work, who can choose where to work, who are confident to set their boundaries and lead by example.

And some of those things are impossible for non-neurotypical workers.

It gets sadder when you realize how ‘deep work’ is important for you to climb that ladder, and get the monetary and societal privilege. To be able to afford to do the deep work. It is a full-blown change of lifestyle. And it’s a thing that affects your happiness majorly too.

I think the responsibility should not rest on the shoulders of an individual. New, distraction-free office environments, meeting-free days, focus weeks, child and elderly care, mental health care — should be a part of the system.

The environment is more powerful than personal responsibility here.

Fighting against all the world’s distractions as an individual seems way too hard. Especially, when you don’t have the means for it. 🧠

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Anastasia

Data Scientist who believes everyone should know how to use and analyse data. Working in fintech, living in Stockholm.