Deep Work

By Jane Highley

For the past seven months, I feel as though I’ve been swimming in history books. Not because I am using them to teach my 8th-grade history class, but because they are required texts for graduate school. As a newly matriculated grad student with an already full load of work and family life, I found another book intriguing. It’s called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

Cal Newport, the author, defines “deep work” as “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”[1] Conversely, he also defines shallow work as “noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts then to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”[2]

Given the inordinate number of distractions on this laptop alone, I readily admit that my days are consumed by shallow work. Because Newport is a computer science professor in a well-regarded research university, his target audience is most likely those who are involved in similar professional pursuits: students, academics, bloggers, and writers. As a mom, wife, teacher, and now a graduate student, I am probably not what Newport had in mind among his mainstay readers. In fact, I doubt he was thinking of Christian believers at all as part of his readership as he was conceptualizing his concept of deep work.

Yet I find his principles to be applicable to all of us who long to concentrate regularly in God’s word. Newport asserts that if people “spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness,” they will “permanently reduce [their] capacity to perform deep work.”[3] I think the same could be said of my bible-reading activities. I don’t have a daily reading plan, I don’t read closely enough, and I don’t try hard to change the status quo. Why? Because there is no urgency for change. Nothing presses me at the moment to sit down long enough for me to read God’s word in such deep concentration that would push my cognitive capacities to their limit.

But why not? Certainly, pastors are compelled by their calling to strive for deep work in the Word, but why couldn’t it be me, too? Joshua 1:8 says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

Day and night. I think that kind of steady and regular study of God’s word is deep work, the kind of work I need to do, in spite of and because of all my other  . Yes, those other obligations matter too. But I don’t have to search long and hard to find the time and mental capacity for me to put aside the distractions that can rob me of opportunities to grow in knowledge of Him in unbroken meditation of his words.

[1] Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. Grand Central Publishing, 2016, 3.

[2] Ibid., 5.

[3] Ibid., 7.