APDO Book Club: Deep Work

Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Piatkus, 2016.

Is there an irony in my having finished reading this book as a shallow relief from finishing writing my own current book and finalising preparations for a training on rare books cataloguing? Possibly. Possibly not.

Essentially, this is a book about how the author and other people whose work he has read or whom he has interviewed manage their lives to prioritise the tasks that stretch them. As such, it’s a 3-star read for me because he’s achieved what he set out to do, but there’s nothing in either the information he shares or his writing style that I actively love.

It’s actually quite a hard task to write about something at which you are already quite good yourself. I know in teaching Cataloguing, and certainly in writing about it, I avoid using my own learning experiences as exemplars, because they can be summed up by: read the international guidelines, looked at what we do locally, wrote up the process for myself and other cataloguers. How hideously, hideously smug does that sound? No – don’t tell me. I know. That’s why I don’t do it. It’s also why I physically cringed at points that Newport talked about what he does. Even taking away the privileges he has (White, Male American college professor able even as a junior academic to lI’ve within an hour’s walk of his campus office), it’s just really not necessary for us to know how he manages his time to write his book (the one he was writing right now, as he kept on pointing out) or stopped answering emails unless the senders jumped through the hoops he set them. The majority of people I’ve met who struggle to keep on top of email and time management issues have got into their current pickle because of a disruption to their home or work life. They aren’t just looking for ways to select their priorities. They’re looking for ways to push back against managers / life partners / children whose expectations are set too high. There’s nothing here for them.

However, if your issues are purely organisational, there are good tips to try, and, as is usually my way with APDO Book Club selections, I’ve filleted Newport’s text for key quotations I think will help my clients and friends.

I just hope in his next book he has the self-assurance not to talk about his own situation as someone who is now and always has been on top of his time and task management. Tonally, I’d be much more comfortable.

Now, back to my own “Deep Work” writing about the latest round of international cataloguing changes.

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