In my second attempt at college after failing the first, a professor of higher education gave a lecture about learning. He boomed a promise from the stage: "If you go to the same place at the same time for 4 hours and eliminate all distractions — food, TV, a phone, etc. — you will learn to focus and I promise you will graduate in the top 2% of your class."
It sounded too good to be true but I was young and gullible enough to believe it. Thank God I did because it transformed my life.
Cal's previous book, Deep Work, reminded me of that lecture, except he took it several steps further. He said the brain is like the rest of our bodies, it adapts to stimulus. If you constantly interrupt it, it adapts to thinking about a million small things instead of the big, important ones and loses its ability for deep work that intense focus requires.
As I read Digital Minimalism, I became much more aware of the wasted brain cycles and broken concentration that comes from Instagram feeling the need to ding you because you haven't visited for awhile. Or Facebook alerting you of something that can wait until you're on Facebook later.
What I've taken from Cal's books is the need to remove distractions during certain blocks of the day and a need to shut it all off and rest the brain so it can focus on something important again.
One example was working with John Grisham's agent in another life. His agent said Grisham goes to his loft for 6 hours a day to write uninterrupted. He can't be contacted then. After that he coaches little league and doesn't want to think about work. But there are set times of the day he takes calls and reads his email.