Wednesday, July 26, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Deep Work by Cal Newport


(from Amazon):

One of the most valuable skills in our economy is becoming increasingly rare. If you master this skill, you'll achieve extraordinary results.

Deep work 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. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there's a better way.

In DEEP WORK, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four "rules," for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill.

A mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice, DEEP WORK takes the reader on a journey through memorable stories -- from Carl Jung building a stone tower in the woods to focus his mind, to a social media pioneer buying a round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo to write a book free from distraction in the air -- and no-nonsense advice, such as the claim that most serious professionals should quit social media and that you should practice being bored. DEEP WORK is an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.


Cal Newport makes a convincing argument that "deep work" is the key to eudaimonia.

In our present time of smartphones, social media and constant distraction connection, deep work has become rare.  Those who can focus deeply for periods of time (1-4 hours per day) can be more productive, more valuable and experience deeper satisfaction.

In Deep Work, Newport draws attention to some of our seemingly productive habits that are truly just busyness. For example, forwarding an email with an open-ended question, such as: "Thoughts?" may take the sender just seconds to write/send, but may take the recipient an hour to sort through and respond if they want to do so thoughtfully.  This is what Newport calls "busyness as proxy for productivity." In the absence of clear metrics, people will fall back on what is easiest, and instead focus on being visible.

Newport makes some really great arguments for making time in our schedules for deep, focused work.  Do you want to live a life of constant distraction and shallowness or a life of deep focus where you have clarity on what really matters and can accomplish more?  Although I will take the "Quit Social Media" chapter with a grain of salt 😉, I do have to agree that deep work is necessary if you want to have a life that is truly rich and meaningful.

"I'll live the focused life, because it's the best kind there is." 
~ Winifred Gallagher

Friday, July 7, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun


ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

A behind-the-scenes look at the firm behind and the unique work culture that contributes to its phenomenal success

50 million websites, or twenty percent of the entire web, use WordPress software. The force behind is a convention-defying company called Automattic, Inc., whose 120 employees work from anywhere in the world they wish, barely use email, and launch improvements to their products dozens of times a day. With a fraction of the resources of Google, Amazon, or Facebook, they have a similar impact on the future of the Internet. How is this possible? What's different about how they work, and what can other companies learn from their methods?

To find out, former Microsoft veteran Scott Berkun worked as a manager at, leading a team of young programmers developing new ideas. The Year Without Pants shares the secrets of's phenomenal success from the inside. Berkun's story reveals insights on creativity, productivity, and leadership from the kind of workplace that might be in everyone's future.
  • Offers a fast-paced and entertaining insider's account of how an amazing, powerful organization achieves impressive results 
  • Includes vital lessons about work culture and managing creativity 
  • Written by author and popular blogger Scott Berkun ( 
The Year Without Pants shares what every organization can learn from the world-changing ideas for the future of work at the heart of Automattic's success.


In May 2017 I celebrated my 10 year anniversary of working remotely!  When I first started working from home, people typically called that type of work arrangement "virtual" or "work at home" (WAH).  In 2013 Jason Fried published the book Remote, which really popularized that term ("remote") and brought it to the forefront of communication among companies where people work from home (or are "distributed").  As a remote worker, I am often very interested in other distributed companies and how they do things, so when I heard about The Year Without Pants, a book about how Automattic runs an entire company with 120 employees completely distributed all over the world, it piqued my interest.

My book club selected this book for the month of June and I thought it might be fun to share some of the discussion we had (as a group of remote workers) about the book.  We met recently and I asked some questions to get the conversation going.  We had a great discussion!

Below are a few of the questions I asked and our responses:
  1. What do you think was the purpose of this book? 
    • Sharing insight into a world that's different from the norm
    • Comparing remote work to traditional work
    • Sharing unorthodox management
    • Discussing team (and project) management in a remote environment
  2. Was there a specific passage or quote that left an impression on you? 
    • "This is one big problem with working remotely: no one believes you have a job at all." (pg. 11)
    • "No technique, no matter how good, can turn stupid coworkers into smart ones. And no method can magically make employees trust each other or their boss if they have good reason not to.  The best approach, perhaps the only approach, is an honest examination of culture." (pg. 29)
  3. After reading this book, what did it make you want to learn more about? 
    • Job postings at Automattic! 😊
  4. What did the book leave unanswered for you? 
    • How Automattic handles things like finance and paperwork.
We also got into a side-discussion about what makes someone good at working remotely and here were some of the thoughts folks shared about the type of person who would be a good fit:
  • doesn't need face-to-face interaction
  • open to technology
  • willing to learn from others
  • good communication skills
  • used to doing work (and not just being somewhere during specific hours)
  • has clear goals
  • takes ownership/responsibility
Everyone seemed to have really enjoyed the book.  One person specifically said she liked the "storytelling" aspect of it.  The author, Scott Berkun, provides insight into remote work (good and bad) through his own personal experiences working at Automattic for about a year.  We all did joke, though, that Berkun sure did seem to travel to a lot of work retreats in that time period!  

Personally, I thought The Year Without Pants was cute.  If you're interested in, or curious about, remote work and/or want to learn more about Automattic (or Wordpress), I recommend it!