There are many ways to define a great book, but this is one of my favorite: one mark of greatness is when I find myself thinking about the book, or its ideas, weeks, months, and even years later.
I read one of those books on summer vacation this year. It was Deep Work, by Cal Newport, and it’s a full-force call to arms to stop breaking our lives into tiny slivers of attention and learn how to go deep.
As you can image, there’s a lot of tough talk about social media and email, about focus and attention. Newport makes a strong case for rearranging your priorities to create time to focus, because that’s the only way you can accomplish anything significant.
I think he’s probably right. I still haven’t given up twitter.
But the thought I keep coming back to—the one that prompted me to instantly form a new habit—was a little aside he made on p 171, where he suggests taking occasional walking breaks for the sole purpose of thinking. If you’re working on a project, or thinking through an issue, and you reach the point where you’re not sure what to do next, lace up your shoes and take time to think.
It’s clear from Newport’s work that the man does little that’s not on purpose, and in contrast, I was struck by how rarely I set how for a walk, or maybe a drive, with the express purpose of thinking about a specific problem.
And so I started doing it. I haven’t acted on all Newport’s suggestions, but I’m doing this small thing. When I leave the house, for a walk or a drive, I’m pausing to decide what I’m going to think about. Maybe I’m going to think about the podcast or audiobook I’m listening to, and that’s fine, as long as I’m doing it on purpose. But sometimes I’ll be thinking through a problem or a plot twist (metaphorically speaking), a blog post or a book I’ve read, how to help my kids with homework or friendships or chores. Lately, I’ve been thinking through next year’s reading challenge—how it can help you most, what categories we’ll have, how we can encourage you in your reading journey.
Whatever I decide to think about, it’s the decide part that really matters. It’s a small thing, but it’s made a not-small difference in my days. I’m training myself to think, on purpose. It’s not easy, but it’s helping me enough to persevere.
Maybe one day I’ll make Newport proud and shut down my facebook account. But for now, I’m happy with my thoughtful walks.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on deep work and thinking on purpose in comments.