Book Report: Slow Productivity

I recently read Cal Newport’s latest book, Slow Productivity. Cal Newport is one of the leading voices in productivity, particularly for knowledge workers. One of the things I like about him is that he covers a diverse array of topics, from planning your career in So Good They Can’t Ignore You to finding focus in Deep Work and now slowing down for the important stuff with Slow Productivity.

book cover from Cal Newport's book titled slow productivity. it shows a wooden cabin on a cliff in the background, with multiple pine trees in the foreground, with a winding path made of stone in the middle. Way in the background is snow-covered mountain.

There’s a movement afoot concerning productivity and slowing down, and it’s a good one. With the emergence of technology, we all came to the idea that we needed to do more faster, which led us into this current crisis where we’re all so busy doing the little things that we never have time to think about the big stuff. Even though this is normal to us, it is unusual in history.

In this book, Cal goes back through history and explains how, normally, people spend a lot of time thinking about important questions to come up with valuable and important answers. Sir Isaac Newton didn’t have to contend with an email inbox. In this book, Cal talks about ways to bring us back to those roots where we can focus on the big things and a lot less on the small things.

This has been an overall trend for me as well. So much so that one of the video lessons in the Productivity Field Guide is called You Have To Do Less. This is straightforward advice to give and hard advice to accept.

In this book, Cal gives some great examples of practical ways to turn slow productivity into a reality. The book is entirely digestible at 220 pages and full of good ideas for exploration. As a complete aside, I will note that of all of Cal’s books, this one has the best cover.

The Apple Jonathan

I enjoyed this story by Stephen Hackett on Apple’s unrealized modular computer project, “Jonathan”, from the 1980s. I remember when the idea of a modular computer was in vogue. It makes sense. Everything back then was super expensive and letting users construct their hardware by plugging the right pieces together was a popular dream. The first time I saw this go to market was with the truly dreadful Timex Sinclair.

However, I have no recollection of modular computing ever actually working. I can imagine a lot of reasons for this. Getting hardware to work in a modular fashion has never been easy, and available ports back then were slow. Instead, the market for this sort of thing drifted into build-your-own PC, which doesn’t surprise me. The only people interested in this were nerds and there was nothing nerdier than building your own PC.