Welcome back to our Velentium Book Club series on Deep Work by Cal Newport. In today’s post, we’re going to look at deep work’s potential to enhance work-life satisfaction.
In the third chapter of his book, Newport advances a bold case supporting the claim that “skillful management of attention is key to the good life” in leisure as well as work (we’ll keep our focus on the work side of things for this blog series). Newport argues that craftsmanship, which he describes as producing “elite quality” with tools and materials the craftsman knows intimately from long use, supplies an antidote to the “creeping nihilism” or sense of meaninglessness or wasted time which can plague any of us today. The more we practice deep work and develop expertise, the more satisfaction we find in our work, and in each day’s accomplishments.
To underscore this idea, Newport refers to the medieval quarry workers’ motto: “We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals.” In our field, every line of code, every circuit board design, every piece of quality documentation, builds into something much bigger than the task itself might suggest a medical device that will save a real person’s life or improve the quality of a real person’s life. That’s our cathedral. Keeping our clients’ future patients in mind imbues the day-to-day of our work with real meaning.
This isn’t academic for us. Our senior leaders have worked on devices that later saved their loved ones (read Tim’s story or Chris’ story) and met patients whose lives were saved by their earlier work (read Randy’s story). It’s why we emphasize “whole systems thinking” for all of our staff. That stone you’re chiseling matters. Practicing deep work not only results in a smoother, stronger stone; it also reinforces the satisfaction the quarry worker can and should feel in a job well done.
Newport’s definition of craftmanship includes a “skill for discerning the meanings and properties that exist in specialized tools and raw materials.” In other words, deep workers develop a feel for what they’re working with and what they’re working on. At Velentium, we’ve worked to foster this subtle affinity by aggressively hiring and training Subject Matter Experts and support staff in 9 Areas of Expertise: Test systems, embedded cybersecurity, electrical & mechanical design, firmware, mobile & cloud applications, and interfaces, human factors, and systems engineering. But this expertise isn’t static: the rapport between a craftsman and her craft allows the craftsman to grow along with her field, quickly grasping how her fundamental understanding can be applied to new approaches, techniques, and challenges.
Developing this kind of rapport with your craft doesn’t just happen. Intentionality, deliberate practice, making changes in how you work, where you work, when you work, and how you transition into and out of your work mindset, all play their part. In our next post, we’ll look at five elements of Newport’s first rule for deep work, focusing particularly on things you can do to promote a deep-work culture at your company, even if you’re not in management.