Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is writing this blog. He's a startup veteran, having built a company called Simplifilm. This blog is about things that he's starting to - but may not actually - think yet. It publishes irregularly.

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Deep Work by Cal Newport is an amazing book that will certainly change my life.  The process is going, and I’m excited about where it will take me. It’s a book that I can’t really criticize because it’s so good

As something of a workaholic, I’ve had spurts where additional hours not only no longer produce value, but undo work I’ve done.  A case in point is the current state of the Simplifilm website.   I have done, undone, and redone it dozens of times and I’m not substantively closer to being OK. It’s consumed hours and yielded little extra benefit.

That’s because I’ve worked while distracted, while unfocused, and this means that the work suffers.  A little focus – at the expense of other things – is the way to go.

But Deep Work truly is at the expense of other things. If we are to make an amazing contribution we have to “drain the shallows.”

The book is divided into two parts: one “the case for Deep Work,” and two “How to Work Deeply (which also spends about half its time reinforcing the case for Deep Work).

The first part is for motivation. We learn why this matters, we learn how peer-reviewed academic journals have treated topics like concentration, performance and mental throughput.  (Beginners can practice a musical instrument for about an hour a day. Masters can rarely go past 4 hours.)

The main gist is that Deep Work is rare.

In Part II, we’re given more specifics. We’re given definitions and exhortations.

-work deeply (create habits that support it)

-quit social media

-drain the shallows

-have a quitting time (so you can go back)

-embrace boredom (which means that you can’t scratch the itch all the time to do things.

This book has started a curriculum for me of things that I’ve meant to catch up on.  I finished Scott Adam’s new book : How To Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. That book compliments this one. In that it provides an example/case study of a person who has optimized his life to work deeply.

The case for deep work is compelling. It’s our chance to in fact make a contribution that lasts longer than we do. It’s done through deep work, not merely getting better at “cranking widgets,” which has diminishing returns.

I’ve optimized my life to be able to be more productive. I’m working from home again, and I’ve got my things about me.  It’s time to make a big contribution.


Connected To The Stream

There’s a feeling when you are connected and working in flow that really feels good and works well.  You’re sharper because you’re connected to the stream.

That is like flow but different.  Because you’re studying and working hard (for me reading, writing, all my life) you are the best version of yourself.  Because of that, you have opportunities that are often not available to you.

That’s how winning works.

Batching Work

Reading Deep Work by Cal Newport.  One of the ideas that I want to do more of is to batch work and that is something that I haven’t done a tremendous job with yet.

Hopefully in lieu of trying to dabble at a little of everything I can have the guts to go deep and bold.

I am, I suspect, too connected for my own good at the moment, and it’s impacting my ability to do deep work, which impacts other things as well.

The Hard Way

We find ourselves at a rockclimbing exhibit a few years ago.

My boy Jack, then 6 looks up at three paths.

The easy path with lots of handholds.  The hard path with few handholds and tricky angles.


To Jack, it’s not a choice.  He tells the attendant “Our family rule is that we do everything the hard way.”

Too true.  He tries to go up the hard way – his first time rockclimbing.  Admirable, but foolhardy.

Our family. Same deal. A wind sprint from the couch.

We eloped and didn’t have the support and sendoff from the people that loved us.  This put us on a rocky path.

We bought real estate in the ghetto.  The place where the cap rates were high, but the tenants were even higher.  That was the overhead lesson.  (Thank you, Robert Kiyosaki).

I changed jobs every 2 years or so to chase away wanderlust.

We’re both stubborn people and we wanted justice at the expense of everything else. Someone had to be right, someone had to be wrong.

We didn’t take care of our health.  Good genetics kept us out of the hospital.

We sold all we owned and then packed everything we owned – everything – and put it in a minivan to get a change of scenery and we moved from Columbus to Portland.

Then, Heather was enrolled in an intense program that selects a select few and works them hard.

With a 3 and a 6 year old.

That’s the hard way.

That’s how we did things.  There’s more: taking on overhead, running a startup.  It was ugly and it was terrible.

Now, we’ve gotten Heather earning income.  We’ve gotten into a house that we love.  Everything – everything should be easier.

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