7 min read

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Author: Cal Newport


Category: Mindfulness, Productivity

Rating: 7/10

Check it out on Amazon.com 

Related Books & Resources:

Table of Contents:

Summary & Review:

The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive. (Location: 168) Themes: Deep Work, Future of Work, Mentorship Program, Career

This book has two goals, pursued in two parts. The first, tackled in Part 1, is to convince you that the deep work hypothesis is true. The second, tackled in Part 2, is to teach you how to take advantage of this reality by training your brain and transforming your work habits to place deep work at the core of your professional life. (Location: 189) Themes, Deep Work, Work, Focus

Questions & Implications:

  • Will “Deep Work” (as Newport defines it) be the compliment to highly technical skills and expertise for what will remain valuable (from a market standpoint) for the worker as trends of automation, A.I., etc. continue?
  • Cultivating awareness and specifically self-awareness (through meditation and other means), draw even more value based on the potential of ingraining more deep work into your life.
  • Deep Work is a skill that must be practiced, cultivated and mastered — as a means of survival in the economy, not just a skill that is “nice to have.”
  • Why do we need such involved interventions? Put another way, once you accept that deep work is valuable, isn’t it enough to just start doing more of it? (Location: 1,051)
    • People fight desires all day long. As Baumeister summarized in his subsequent book, Willpower (co-authored with the science writer John Tierney): “Desire turned out to be the norm, not the exception.” The five most common desires these subjects fought include, not surprisingly, eating, sleeping, and sex. But the top five list also included desires for “taking a break from [hard] work… checking e-mail and social networking sites, surfing the web, listening to music, or watching television.” The lure of the Internet and television proved especially strong: The subjects succeeded in resisting these particularly addictive distractions only around half the time. (Location: 1,062)
  • Is there any “smart” use of social media? Or…is the potential fragmentation of your attention and concentration not worth the cost — Does your “Deep Work” suffer?

Actions & Takeaways:

The Rules of Deep Work

Rule #1, Work Deeply

Rule #2, Embrace Boredom

Rule #3, Quit Social Media

Rule #4, Drain the Shallows

Building “Deep Work” as a Habit — The Checklist

  • Set the “Ultimate” Target, 3-5 hrs per day 5 days per week.
  • Determine a philosophy of “Deep Work” application that fits your circumstances and strengths. The 4 most common;
    • The Monastic Philosophy – This philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations. Practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have a well-defined and highly valued professional goal that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well. It’s this clarity that helps them eliminate the thicket of shallow concerns that tend to trip up those whose value proposition in the working world is more varied. (Location: 1,151)
    • The Bimodal Philosophy – This philosophy asks that you divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else. During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically—seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration. During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritized. This division of time between deep and open can happen on multiple scales. For example, on the scale of a week, you might dedicate a four-day weekend to depth and the rest to open time. Similarly, on the scale of a year, you might dedicate one season to contain most of your deep stretches (as many academics do over the summer or while on sabbatical). (Location: 1,156) The bimodal philosophy believes that deep work can produce extreme productivity, but only if the subject dedicates enough time to such endeavors to reach maximum cognitive intensity—the state in which real breakthroughs occur. (Location: 1,159) At the same time, the bimodal philosophy is typically deployed by people who cannot succeed in the absence of substantial commitments to non-deep pursuits. (Location: 1,170) Perhaps the biggest obstacle to implementing this philosophy is that even short periods of deep work require a flexibility that many fear they lack in their current positions. If even an hour away from your inbox makes you uncomfortable, then certainly the idea of disappearing for a day or more at a time will seem impossible. (Location: 1,188)
    • The Rhythmic Philosophy – This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep. The chain method is a good example of the rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling because it combines a simple scheduling heuristic (do the work every day), with an easy way to remind yourself to do the work: the big red Xs on the calendar. (Location: 1,240)
    • The Journalist Philosophy – …in which you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule…This name is a nod to the fact that journalists, like Walter Isaacson, are trained to shift into a writing mode on a moment’s notice, as is required by the deadline-driven nature of their profession. (Location: 1,258)

 Build a Routine, that Follows the “Deep Work” Rules

  • Designate a “Deep Work” location — Home office, coffee shop (ideally the same one), library nook, etc. (This is important from a ritualistic standpoint of associating focus, deep work and no distraction with this location)
  • Set “rules,” for your Deep Work time — Is it no internet? Is it a words per twenty minute interval? Whatever is applicable to you, make it strict and specific and measurable or at least discerned with a yes/no.
  • Set an amount of time for focused work — this avoids having the work session turn into an “open slog”
  • Prepare your brain “fuel” — Is it a pre-Deep Work short walk? Air squats? Or a cup of coffee, or micro dose of LSD? As Nietzsche said: “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” (Location: 1,301)
  • At the beginning of the week (or during a Weekly Review), schedule in potential Deep Work blocks
  • Incorporate a “shut down routine” each day to administer time to recharge and refresh.
    • Get to Inbox Zero (Gmail) — Anything urgent? Can anything be boomeranged?
    • Review Calendar — +/- a few days, anything I need to remember? Any meetings, appointments, deadlines coming up that would prompt future action?
    • Record every lingering tasks in your official tasks hub (Asana, Evernotes, etc.)
    • Review every open task, project or goal and determine —  (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right.
    • Determine next actions and rough schedule for tomorrow.
    • Use an actual word or phrase to “lock in” the end of your day — “Shutting down!!”

Tracking Deep Work —

  • Track your Deep Work hours, ideally in plain site (whiteboard in the office, paper attached to the computer screen, etc.) — Great app recommended fromNathan Barry,Forest

How to Make the Most of Your “Deep Work” Time —

  • Focus on the “wildly important,” — The time you spend in deep work should be focused on the most important thought, challenges or problems you and/or your organization might be facing.
  • Attempt Memory Training — Memory training positively affects your ability to concentrate, taking on any task, practice, etc. that can facilitate a greater skill of concentration can benefit the results you see in your Deep Work sessions because you will be able to…well…go deeper.

On Selecting Tools — (Like Social Media) —

  • Newport calls this the The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection
    • Step #1, identify the high level goals in both your personal and professional life.
    • Step #2, Once you’ve identified these goals, list for each the two or three most important activities that help you satisfy the goal. (P. 195)
    • Step #3, The next step in this strategy is to consider the network tools you currently use. For each such tool, go through the key activities you identified and ask whether the use of the tool has a substantially positive impact, a substantially negative impact, or little impact (p. 195).
    • Step #4, Decide to only keep this tool if it has substantial positive impact on those activities and those far outweigh the negative impacts.

Alternative Options & Troubleshooting Deep Work —

  • The Grand Gesture — The concept is simple: By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated toward supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task. This boost in importance reduces your mind’s instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy. (Location: 1,326)
  • Instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction. (Location: 1,830)
  • Productive Meditation — Have a professional problem in mind, and “activate” your body. Go for a run, walk, etc. and stay focused on the “well-defined” problem.
  • Social Media & Networking Sites — A social media platform should only be used after 1) we’ve identified the factors and characteristics of a successful professional and personal life and 2) we’ve discerned that the tool in question does not conflict with, and greatly meets those factors and characteristics. We cannot fall into what Newport calls the “any benefit mindset,” that being if a social media tool provides any benefit at all it then justifies its use. That’s just flawed logic.
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