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Book Review: Deep Work, Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World

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In a highly capitalist world, the demand for being productive is the essence of a fast-moving society. Where each individual is expected to contribute to the existing knowledge systems. While some professionals are able to add significant value to the prevailing economic and knowledge structures, yet large chunks are not as productive.

This book of Cal Newport Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, extensively deals with the issues, of why some people can do more than the rest?

“If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.”

Professor of Computer Science at George Town, besides his academic endeavours, Newport has been a renowned author and a motivational speaker. Author of six books, two of which have been proclaimed as bestsellers by the New York Times, his work has been published in over 25 languages, featuring across major publications. Like his previous works, the book under review is a serious critic of digital consumerism and culture.

Writing about the intersection of digital technology and culture, the author has made an attempt to unearth how these tools can serve out value instead of accidentally subverting them. Coining the deep work hypotheses, through his work, Newport advocates for a sober living free from digital distractions.

“Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”

As economies have shifted and became digitized, our priorities have changed. To paraphrase Newport, the reason why knowledge workers are unfamiliar with the concept of deep work is quite obvious the network tools. Yes, you heard it right, all electronic gadgets that we are carrying in our pockets, giving us ubiquitous access to social media platforms, and different infotainment websites, like BuzzFeed and Twitter, are a hindrance in the growth of an individual.

“In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital.”

According to the author, these network tools fragments the attention of most knowledge workers, making them inefficient or less productive. In modern economies large number of people, due to digital distraction, are doing what Newport calls, shallow work. A non-cognitively demanding task, which adds little or no value in the world. To put it more aptly, in this DIGINOMY, that is to say in the technology-driven economy, people are increasingly replacing deep work with shallow work, resulting in decreased productivity. To make matters worse, big conglomerates and businesses are pushing their employees to have the necessary social media presence at work, leading to distraction.

A large effort that could have served better in deep thinking which would have proven beneficial for laying new strategy for businesses or for writing grant applications, in the words of the author, is being thwarted due to shallow work. These fragmented dashes caused by the overuse of network tools are costing businesses and individuals. So, to overturn the negative impact of network tools, on the thinking process, the author proposes the idea of deep work, in his book.

Divided into two parts, the first half outlines the definition of deep work. As per the author, contrary to shallow work, deep work is cognitively demanding and requires long, uninterrupted thinking. In the twenty-first century, where people are forgetting the art of thinking deeply, and short attention spans due to digital distraction, are a common phenomenon, this book redirects individuals to the importance of long, and sustained focus.

“Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants.”

If deep work or deep thinking is accomplished successfully by someone, it is likely that they will be able to enhance their productivity. Or at least, this is what the author intends to convey to his readers when he gives examples of some of the famous individuals who have gone on to make a name for themselves. So, to put it more precisely, what the author wants to say is that for focused success in a distracted world, an individual needs to pursue a path of deep work, free from the lures of digital distraction.

To encourage readers into action, the author devotes much of the second part in the book to actions which a layman could follow for attaining focused success in a distracted world. Merely on a personal level, I respectfully disagree with the author’s insistence on quitting all forms of technology during deep work, as I feel deep work is a state of mind that does not require any necessary prerequisite to intrude the thinking process of an individual. But without going into the nitty-gritty of human behaviour psychology and without being too critical about the author, I would say it is a good book that everyone should read before arriving at any conclusion. As it is said, interpretation of text lies with the reader. So, I will leave it for the readers to decide for themselves.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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