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Embrace Boredom, Memorize a Deck of Cards, and Quit Social Media

Embrace boredom. Memorize a deck of cards. Quit social media. What do you think when you read those statements? I know for me when I read them initially I was not only concerned I was resistant.

How exactly do you embrace boredom? Isn’t that a paradox?

Seriously, memorize a deck of cards? I find myself at the stage in life where I incorrectly call my three kids by names other than the ones I gave them.

Quit social media? How will I possibly keep up with the number of likes, messages, and comments I’m receiving from posting the incredibly striking photo of my three year old as Batman?

These imperatives along with a plethora of others poured over my life as I read Cal Newport’s Deep Work. Newport is an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University as well as an author. He’s written several books and is well known for his blog Study Hacks: Decoding Pattens of Success.

Deep Work, according to Newport, "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.” As I read these words initially, I was distracted. I couldn’t get past what I had picked up as I skimmed through the book shortly before purchasing it. The further I moved through the pages of the text I felt like Newport was on to something that could be pivotal for me and potentially you.

Deep Work is contrasted with what Newport calls Shallow Work. This work is not demanding, focused on logistical tasks, and is often performed while distracted. He goes on to say, “these efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” While there may be some oversimplification taking place, I do think the base definitions are worth of noting and reflecting upon.

It may seem as though this book is chiefly aimed at knowledge workers, people who think, teach, talk, and write. To a large degree that’s correct.

I’d like for us though to consider the implications of the relative difficulty and at times inability to do Deep Work as Christians. Living in a world saturated with distractions from social media, entertainment, and the fiery arrows of our adversary have led us to a place of forfeiting the right and responsibility to think deeply about what matters most – God’s Word.

It’s not uncommon for me to hear from those I talk to, “I’m not a reader.” To a large degree I can understand the difficulty here. Even the words in the title of this post can send you down a path of memories, thoughts, and ideas that steal away your focus from what brought you here. And if not that distraction, the sheer word count may drive you to boredom and navel gazing.

That’s exactly where Newport comes in and Deep Work has been so helpful for me. Let’s not confuse this with Scripture….it’s certainly not that. What Newport did for my habits and thought process though was beyond helpful. Newport shares personal experiences, the struggle of others, and research about the subject in order to persuade his audience to engage in this style of work. To be clear Newport leans far too much on secular psychology from my perspective. What he does though is provide ample food for thought. He leads you to a place of personal reflection and strangely you’ll likely find yourself aspiring to the type of work he describes.

Our lives must be a balance of Newport’s Shallow Work and Deep Work. It goes without saying that as a Christian I need to apply the principles of Deep Work to my study of the Bible and the practice of spiritual disciplines. You need this too.

As recommendations go I’d say Deep Work is worth the read and the price I paid to read it – both money and time. As you read it you’ll need to think through his concepts biblically and allow your worldview to lead you to a clear understanding and application of his suggestions. Working deeply is certain to provide both depth and growth for those who take Newport’s words seriously, but then to do that you’ll need to do a little Deep Work just to read the book!