Craftsman’s Approach to Tool Selection / Deep Work

I recently finished the book:

Newport, Cal. 2016. Deep work. Find in a Library

There’s a lot I could say about this book and how it has potential to help people develop, but I think my coworker has already done a good job of explaining how that can work.

I’d like to use this blog post to highlight a domain-neutral framework for choosing one’s tools that Cal Newport offers on page 191 of Deep Work. He calls it “The craftsman’s approach to choosing tools”:

Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive effects on those factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

While I’m still at work identifying all of those core factors, I realized that two of them were: 1) Staying present to my family and friends when I’m with them and 2) Staying on task when I start something.

I starting thinking about the times where I’ve been at gatherings and I’ve gotten bored and started browsing Facebook in a corner instead of listening to what’s being said. I’ve also thought about many times when I’ve started to use my phone to look up a specific thing, use it as a calculator or message someone – only to notice unread notifications on Facebook or Twitter. I look those up and forget what I was going to do.

There’s been usefulness to having Facebook and Twitter on my phone – especially when I want to post a quick picture or see what a particular person has been up to. But using the Craftsman’s approach above, I realized that this utility was being swamped by the negative effects of social withdrawal and distraction when trying to use my phone as a tool. So off my phone they went. I still have the accounts for now, though I really need to do more of an analysis on Twitter.

I don’t see the Craftsman’s approach as a Luddite one. Any tool whose pluses outweigh their minuses in terms of contributing to your goals ought to be adopted. But I find it a welcome corrective to the idea if we find any usefulness in a new thing at all, we’re committed to using it.

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