Deep Work by Cal Newport

Some author-defined terms-

Deep Work: “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” 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.” Shallow Work: “Non-cognitevly demanding, logistical style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”

Some famous Deep Workers: Richard Feynman, Carl Jung (see Bollingen Tower), Bill Gates, Mark Twain, Woody Allen, among others.

“Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time...there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons. ” - Noel Stephenson on the importance of Deep Work.

Why Deep Work is “the superpower of the 21st century” (As regarded by business writer Eric Barker) To quickly hone complicated skills. The current information economy places heavy reliance on complex systems that change rapidly. This is important to remain valuable. The digital network revolution greatly enhances our reach. To effectively garner a large audience, “you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing”.

Both of these tasks require depth.

Some pointers about Deep Work Requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking Network tools negatively impact deep work A skill that you cultivate (and get better at) with time & practice

Part 1: The Idea Chapter One of Three: Deep Work is Valuable

The unprecedented growth and impact of technology are creating a massive restructuring of our economy (The Great Restructuring). In the new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital. Regarded as ‘The High Skilled workers’, ‘The Superstars’, and ‘The Owners’, respectively. (As described in an analysis by MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee) How to thrive in the New Economy: By applying the practice of Deep Work to be able to Quickly master hard things Produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed Core components of Deliberate Practice (By K. Anders Ericsson): Unwavering focus on the idea/skill you’re trying to master, as a consequence of uninterrupted concentration free of distractions Receiving feedback to evolve approaches to be most productive Neurological foundation for the concept of Deep Work: Focusing intensely on a specific skill forces relevant circuits in your brain to fire repeatedly, in isolation. Myelin is a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurons. You get better at a skill as you develop more myelin around the relevant neurons (by repeatedly firing the specific circuits). It is important to avoid distractions because they fire up too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly, preventing specific strengthening (myelination of certain circuits). High-Quality Work produced= Time Spent x Intensity of Focus (Thus by maximizing your intensity, you can produce more HQ work per unit time) Why ‘Switching’ (between tasks) is bad: When we switch between two tasks, our attention doesn’t immediately follow. If our previous task was of low intensity and unbounded, our attention remains divided on the old task for a while (attention residue), not allowing us to focus completely on the task at hand. Why you shouldn’t sneak a glance at your phone’s incoming messages/emails: By seeing messages that you can’t deal with at the moment, you’ll be forced to return to your task with an unfinished secondary task that still has (part) of your attention.

Chapter Two of Three: Deep Work is Rare

Big trends in business like Instant Messaging actively decrease people’s ability to perform deep work. The Principle of Least Resistance (basically: without clear feedback, we do what’s easier) gets enhanced by the effect of Metric Black Hole (basically: When metrics fall into an opaque region resistant to easy measurements- Like figuring out how many hours you actually studied when you had your phone right beside you). This explains why we support work cultures that save us from short-term discomfort of concentration and planning, at the expense of long-term satisfaction and the production of real value. Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not. We use Busyness as a Proxy for Productivity: Knowledge workers tend to be visible business because they lack a better way to demonstrate their value. We assume, “if it’s high-tech, it’s good.” We are a technopoly- we no longer discuss trade-offs surrounding new technologies, (discussed more in -- chapter about -- tools) Deep Work is exiled in favour of more distracting high-tech behaviours because it is built on decidedly old-fashioned values like quality and craftsmanship.

Chapter Three of Three: Deep Work is Meaningful

Knowledge work is ambiguous; it can be hard to define what a knowledge worker does and how it differs from another. The Three Arguments for Depth- Neurological Argument for depth: Our brains construct our worldview based on what we choose to pay attention to. Center our attention on the process and divert it from the outcome. We allow circumstances to dictate how we feel. Deep work allows us to focus on the small-scale details of how we spend our day. Leaves no room or attention for overthinking. Concentrating on a particular task for a long period of time prevents us from thinking about the minor unpleasant things in life. Psychological Argument for depth: Contrary to popular belief, human beings are at their best when immersed in something challenging. We assume that relaxation makes us happy but It is tough to structure free time. It does not provide us with the deep satisfaction of having done something productive or worthwhile. Does not generate a ‘flow state’- does not stretch our limits. Philosophical Argument for depth: In a Post-enlightenment world, we have tasked ourselves to identify what’s meaningful and what’s not, an arbitrary exercise that might induce nihilism. “You don’t need a rarified job. You need a rarified approach to your work.” Deep work does not generate meaning, it allows us to cultivate the skill that helps to discern the meaning that is already there.

Part 2: The Rules

Rule 1: How to integrate deep work into your life Rule 2: How to increase your deep work limit (concentration training) Rule 3: How to quit social media to improve your life Rule 4: How to drain the shallows

Rule #1: Work Deeply You have a finite amount of willpower. Distractions deplete it. Move beyond good intentions. Add routines and rituals to your working life. Set a time and quiet location for your deep work. There are 4 Depth Philosophies. Based on individual suitability and circumstances, everyone employs different depth strategies. You’d have to choose yours- Monastic Philosophy: Attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations. Can only be employed by a limited number of people. -is anyone still reading the grey text?- That is if your contribution to the world is discrete, clear, and individualized. Bimodal philosophy: Divide your time into 2 distinct pursuits. Dedicate some clearly defined stretches to deep work and leave the rest for everything else. Can happen on multiple time scales. The minimum unit of time needs to be 1 full day. Rhythmic Philosophy: Make deep work a simple daily habit. Use the ‘Chain Method’ (Marking Xs on the calendar, Pg 110). Do the work every day and make an easy way to remind yourself to do the work. Saves energy in deciding if/when you’ll do deep work. Helpful in case of commitments without pressure and deadlines. Journalistic Philosophy: Fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule. Requires enough practice to be able to quickly switch in and out of deep work mode. Works if you’re confident in the value of what you’re trying to produce. Rituals minimize the friction encountered while transitioning to deep work mode. Important questions that need to be addressed- Where you’ll work and for how long- Ideally, a quiet place with no distractions and with a specific time frame in mind. How you’ll work- Creating rules and processes to structure your work efforts. Example- instituting internet bans and defining metrics for productivity How you’ll support your work- Providing support to your brain to keep it operating at a high level of depth. Food and exercise. Make Grand Gestures. Increase the perceived importance of the task. Leverage a radical change in your working environment. Couple it with a significant investment of effort and/or money. Don’t Work Alone. See the theory of serendipitous creativity (basically: when you allow people to bump into each other, smart collaborations and new ideas emerge). Adopt the hub-and-spoke approach (expose yourself to ideas in hubs on a regular basis, but maintain a spoke in which to work deeply on what you encounter). Working in collaboration with someone can help enable the whiteboard effect. Learn to Execute. The 4 DX framework (overcoming the gap between the what and how of execution)- Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important. “The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish.” Identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours. Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures. (Read: lead and lag measures, page 137) Discipline #3: Keep Score. Can be helpful to have a physical scoreboard, measuring the number of deep hours. Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability. Conduct weekly reviews to celebrate wins, understand bad weeks, and figure future strategies.

Be Lazy. Idleness is necessary to get any work done. Inject regular and substantial freedom from professional concerns into your day. Shut down work thinking. Because downtime aids insight. (Read: UTT - Unconscious Thought Theory) Helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply (Read: ART - Attention Restoration Theory) Work replaced by evening downtime is usually not that important. Inculcate a shutdown ritual (Read: The Zeigarnik effect - incomplete tasks dominate our attention) Understand that you don’t need to complete a task to get it off your mind. Take a final look at the inbox, review incomplete projects, ensure nothing urgent’s left. Can include a ‘shutdown phrase’.

Rule #2: Embrace Boredom - Concentration Training

Concentration is a habit and skill that needs to be trained. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. Don’t take breaks from distraction. Take breaks from focus. Example- schedule internet time in advance, then avoid it altogether outside those hours. “The use of a distracting service does not, by itself, reduce the brain’s ability to focus. It’s instead the constant switching... that teaches our mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty.” Rules for internet blocks: The total number or duration of your internet blocks don’t matter as long as the integrity of the offline blocks remains intact. If your work requires you to spend a lot of time online, that’s fine. This simply means you would have to place more internet blocks in your schedule. If it’s necessary to use the internet to complete a task in an offline block, try to switch to another offline activity. In case you must go online, do so after enforcing a gap of at least 5 minutes. This separates the sensation of wanting to go online from the reward of actually doing so. Schedule internet use even in your free time. Resisting distraction and returning our attention to a single well-defined task strengthens our distraction-resisting muscles.

Rule #3: Quit Social Media

Network tools fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate. However, it is unfeasible to think that we can quit the internet. It is important to accept that some online tools can be vital to your productivity or life. We use the Any-Benefit Approach while selecting network tools (the idea that we’re justified in using a tool as long as we can identify any benefit associated with it). Instead, adopt the craftsman approach to tool selection (performing a harm-benefit analysis of network tools in our life). Apply the law of the vital few (the 80/20 rule)- Have a small number of goals in your personal and professional life. Then list 2 or 3 most important activities that help you satisfy the goal. Attempt to assess the impact of various tools and understand if they work for or toward the detriment of your goals. All activities, regardless of their importance, consume your same limited store of time and attention. Stop using all social media for 30 days and join back only if your days would have been notably better with them. Put more thought into your leisure time. Plan it out with activities such as structured hobbies, a set program of reading, exercise, or enjoyment of good company.

Rule #4: Drain the Shallows When you have fewer hours, you usually spend them more wisely. Once you’ve hit your deep work limit for a day, you’ll experience diminishing rewards if you try to cram in more. Schedule every minute of your day. We spend our days on auto-pilot. Divide the hours of your workday into blocks and assign activities to them. Batch similar things into generic task blocks. The minimum length of a block should be 30 minutes. When you’re done scheduling, every minute should be part of a block. Your estimates might prove wrong and sudden new obligations can make it impossible to follow through with your plan. Counter this by being realistic about the time it takes for you to complete a task. Additionally, set overflow blocks with split purposes or alternate uses. Allow spontaneity. Continually ask yourself “what makes sense for me to do with the rest of my time?”. Determine how much shallow work you do in a day and quantify the depth of your activities by asking- “How long would it take to train a smart recent college graduate with no specialized training to complete this task?” Tasks that leverage expertise are deep tasks. Fixed schedule productivity- don’t work past a certain time by maximizing the efforts you produce in your working hours. Place a hard limit on the amount of less urgent obligations you allow to slip insidiously into your schedule.
Reducing shallow work commitments frees our time and mental resources that can then be dedicated toward deep commitments. Do more work when you send or reply to emails to reduce unnecessary back and forth. Send fewer emails and ignore the ones that aren’t easy to process. It’s the sender’s responsibility to convince the receiver that a reply is worthwhile. Let small bad things happen. Makes time for life-changing big things.

Conclusion Deep work gets valuable things done. Deep work necessitates hard work and drastic changes to your habits and routines. Requires you to leave behind the comfort of social media and email messaging. Opens you to confront the possibility that the best work you’re capable of producing is not that good (yet). But depth generates a life rich with productivity and meaning. Allows you to push yourself to your cognitive limits and achieve your best working potential.