Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World - by Cal Newport
ISBN: 978-0349413686, READ: 2017-03-20, RATING: 7⁄10
Cal Newport’s other book - So Good They Can’t Ignore You - is his Authority piece. This book explores in depth a particular part of that book - Deep work. He argues how ‘Deep Work’ is essentially the key to success in this era of great distractions. The ideas are nothing new and most of us won’t even need any convincing that deep work is important. But it is good to be reminded about every once in a while.
See Amazon Page for details and reviews.
Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity.
Twain’s study was so isolated from the main house that his family took to blowing a horn to attract his attention for meals.
“If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. [If I instead get interrupted a lot] what replaces it? 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.”
Larger efforts that would be well served by deep thinking, such as forming a new business strategy or writing an important grant application, get fragmented into distracted dashes that produce muted quality.
Deep work is so important that we might consider it, to use the phrasing of business writer Eric Barker, “the superpower of the 21st century
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.
I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule. Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.
The key question will be: are you good at working with intelligent machines or not?
Hearing a succession of mediocre singers does not add up to a single outstanding performance
In this 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.
This new science of performance argues that you get better at a skill as you develop more myelin around the relevant neurons, allowing the corresponding circuit to fire more effortlessly and effectively. To be great at something is to be well myelinated.
the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches.
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
Does it really help your work to be constantly connected? To do so, she did something extreme: She forced each member of the team to take one day out of the workweek completely off—no connectivity to anyone inside or outside the company.
To do real good physics work, you do need absolute solid lengths of time … it needs a lot of concentration … if you have a job administrating anything, you don’t have the time. So I have invented another myth for myself: that I’m irresponsible. I’m actively irresponsible.
Deep work is at a severe disadvantage in a technopoly because it builds on values like quality, craftsmanship, and mastery that are decidedly old-fashioned and nontechnological.
Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling, similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.
If you focus on a cancer diagnosis, you and your life become unhappy and dark, but if you focus instead on an evening martini, you and your life become more pleasant—
Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”
concentration hijacks your attention apparatus, preventing you from noticing the many smaller and less pleasant things that unavoidably and persistently populate our lives.
Many knowledge workers spend most of their working day interacting with these types of shallow concerns. Even when they’re required to complete something more involved, the habit of frequently checking inboxes ensures that these issues remain at the forefront of their attention. Gallagher teaches us that this is a foolhardy way to go about your day, as it ensures that your mind will construct an understanding of your working life that’s dominated by stress, irritation, frustration, and triviality. The world represented by your inbox, in other words, isn’t a pleasant world to inhabit.
‘the idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ … when you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right.”
I’ll choose my targets with care … then give them my rapt attention. In short, I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”
The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.
To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.
We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals.”
The Eudaimonia Machine is a good example of this intersection. The machine, which takes its name from the ancient Greek concept of eudaimonia (a state in which you’re achieving your full human potential), turns out to be a building. “The goal of the machine,” David explained, “is to create a setting where the users can get into a state of deep human flourishing—creating work that’s at the absolute extent of their personal abilities.” It is, in other words, a space designed for the sole purpose of enabling the deepest possible deep work.
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.”
I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I’d used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime. Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration.
[Great creative minds] think like artists but work like accountants.”
There is a popular notion that artists work from inspiration—that there is some strike or bolt or bubbling up of creative mojo from who knows where … but I hope [my work] makes clear that waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible, terrible plan. In fact, perhaps the single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration.
Where you’ll work and for how long. Your ritual needs to specify a location for your deep work efforts.
How you’ll work once you start to work. Your ritual needs rules and processes to keep your efforts structured. For example, you might institute a ban on any Internet use, or maintain a metric such as words produced per twenty-minute interval to keep your concentration honed. Without this structure, you’ll have to mentally litigate again and again what you should and should not be doing during these sessions and keep trying to assess whether you’re working sufficiently hard. These are unnecessary drains on your willpower reserves.
It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth
The key is to maintain both in a hub-and-spoke-style arrangement: Expose yourself to ideas in hubs on a regular basis, but maintain a spoke in which to work deeply on what you encounter.
Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important
The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish.”
The general exhortation to “spend more time working deeply” doesn’t spark a lot of enthusiasm. To instead have a specific goal that would return tangible and substantial professional benefits will generate a steadier stream of enthusiasm.
If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”
For an individual focused on deep work, it’s easy to identify the relevant lead measure: time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.
Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures
Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
During my experiments with 4DX, I used a weekly review to look over my scoreboard to celebrate good weeks, help understand what led to bad weeks, and most important, figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead.
The 4DX framework is based on the fundamental premise that execution is more difficult than strategizing.
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets … it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
In other words, to actively try to work through these decisions will lead to a worse outcome than loading up the relevant information and then moving on to something else while letting the subconscious layers of your mind mull things over.
The implication of this line of research is that providing your conscious brain time to rest enables your unconscious mind to take a shift sorting through your most complex professional challenges
Reason #2: Downtime Helps Recharge the Energy Needed to Work Deeply
spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.
Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day to follow.
trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown.
Reason #3: The Work That Evening Downtime Replaces Is Usually Not That Important
notes that for a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit, while for experts this number can expand to as many as four hours—but rarely more.
The implication of these results is that your capacity for deep work in a given day is limited. If you’re careful about your schedule (using, for example, the type of productivity strategies described in Rule #4), you should hit your daily deep work capacity during your workday. It follows, therefore, that by evening, you’re beyond the point where you can continue to effectively work deeply.
first accept the commitment that once your workday shuts down, you cannot allow even the smallest incursion of professional concerns into your field of attention. This includes, crucially, checking e-mail, as well as browsing work-related websites.
Committing to a specific plan for a goal may therefore not only facilitate attainment of the goal but may also free cognitive resources for other pursuits.”
Decades of work from multiple different subfields within psychology all point toward the conclusion that regularly resting your brain improves the quality of your deep work. When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done.
The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.
Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.
research revealed that constant attention switching online has a lasting negative effect on your brain.
People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand … they’re pretty much mental wrecks.
Don’t Take Breaks from Distraction. Instead Take Breaks from Focus.
if you spend just one day a week resisting distraction, you’re unlikely to diminish your brain’s craving for these stimuli, as most of your time is still spent giving in to
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.
if you’ve scheduled your next Internet block thirty minutes from the current moment, and you’re beginning to feel bored and crave distraction, the next thirty minutes of resistance become a session of concentration calisthenics.
The key here isn’t to avoid or even to reduce the total amount of time you spend engaging in distracting behavior, but is instead to give yourself plenty of opportunities throughout your evening to resist switching to these distractions at the slightest hint of boredom.
to succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli. This doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate distracting behaviors; it’s sufficient that you instead eliminate the ability of such behaviors to hijack your attention.
We found that one of the biggest differences between memory athletes and the rest of us is in a cognitive ability that’s not a direct measure of memory at all but of attention,”
The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection: Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.
you both should and can make deliberate use of your time outside work,
the most popular examples of such sites include the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Business Insider, and Reddit. This list will undoubtedly continue to evolve, but what this general category of sites shares is the use of carefully crafted titles and easily digestible content, often honed by algorithms
the most popular examples of such sites include the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Business Insider, and Reddit. This list will undoubtedly continue to evolve, but what this general category of sites shares is the use of carefully crafted titles and easily digestible content, often honed by algorithms to be maximally attention catching.
These sites are especially harmful after the workday is over, where the freedom in your schedule enables them to become central to your leisure time. If you’re waiting in line, or waiting for the plot to pick up in a TV show, or waiting to finish eating a meal, they provide a cognitive crutch to ensure you eliminate any chance of boredom.
Put more thought into your leisure time.
figure out in advance what you’re going to do with your evenings and weekends before they begin. Structured hobbies provide good fodder for these hours, as they generate specific actions with specific goals to fill your time.
the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change—not rest, except in sleep.
If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you’ll end the day more fulfilled, and begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semiconscious and unstructured Web surfing.
“People should enjoy the weather in the summer
Deep work is exhausting because it pushes you toward the limit of your abilities. Performance psychologists have extensively studied how much such efforts can be sustained by an individual in a given day.* In their seminal paper on deliberate practice, Anders Ericsson and his collaborators survey these studies. They note that for someone new to such practice (citing, in particular, a child in the early stages of developing an expert-level skill), an hour a day is a reasonable limit. For those familiar with the rigors of such activities, the limit expands to something like four hours, but rarely more.
treat shallow work with suspicion because its damage is often vastly underestimated and its importance vastly overestimated. This type of work is inevitable, but you must keep it confined to a point where it doesn’t impede your ability to take full advantage of the deeper efforts that ultimately determine your impact.
Schedule Every Minute of Your Day
adopt the habit of pausing before action and asking, “What makes the most sense right now?”
you should recognize that almost definitely you’re going to underestimate at first how much time you require for most things. When people are new to this habit, they tend to use their schedule as an incarnation of wishful thinking—a best-case scenario for their day.
It’s a simple habit that forces you to continually take a moment throughout your day and ask: “What makes sense for me to do with the time that remains?” It’s the habit of asking that returns results,
How long would it take (in months) to train a smart recent college graduate with no specialized training in my field to complete this task?
tasks that leverage your expertise tend to be deep tasks and they can therefore provide a double benefit: They return more value per time spent, and they stretch your abilities, leading to improvement. On the other hand, a task that our hypothetical college graduate can pick up quickly is one that does not leverage expertise, and therefore it can be understood as shallow.
Ask Your Boss for a Shallow Work Budget Here’s an important question that’s rarely asked: What percentage of my time should be spent on shallow work?
Finish Your Work by Five Thirty
fix the firm goal of not working past a certain time, then work backward to find productivity strategies that allow me to satisfy this declaration
much of the stress suffered by tenure-track professors is self-imposed.
“deliberately … do specific things to preserve my happiness
set a limit of fifty hours a week and worked backward to determine what rules and habits were needed to satisfy this constraint. Nagpal, in other words, deployed fixed-schedule productivity.
“Sounds interesting, but I can’t make it due to schedule conflicts.” In turning down obligations, I also resist the urge to offer a consolation prize that ends up devouring almost as much of my schedule
A commitment to fixed-schedule productivity, however, shifts you into a scarcity mind-set. Suddenly any obligation beyond your deepest efforts is suspect and seen as potentially disruptive. Your default answer becomes no, the bar for gaining access to your time and attention rises precipitously, and you begin to organize the efforts that pass these obstacles with a ruthless efficiency.
Fixed-schedule productivity, in other words, is a meta-habit that’s simple to adopt but broad in its impact. If you have to choose just one behavior that reorients your focus toward the deep, this one should be high on your list of possibilities.
Make People Who Send You E-mail Do More Work
If you have an offer, opportunity, or introduction that might make my life more interesting, e-mail me at interesting [at] calnewport.com. For the reasons stated above, I’ll only respond to those proposals that are a good match for my schedule and interests.
What is the project represented by this message, and what is the most efficient (in terms of messages generated) process for bringing this project to a successful conclusion? Once you’ve answered this question for yourself, replace a quick response with one that takes the time to describe the process you identified, points out the current step, and emphasizes the step that comes
As a graduate student at MIT, I had the opportunity to interact with famous academics. In doing so, I noticed that many shared a fascinating and somewhat rare approach to e-mail: Their default behavior when receiving an e-mail message is to not respond.
When it comes to e-mail, they believed, it’s the sender’s responsibility to convince the receiver that a reply is worthwhile.
Professorial E-mail Sorting: Do not reply to an e-mail message if any of the following applies: It’s ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response. It’s not a question or proposal that interests you. Nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t.
“Develop the habit of letting small bad things happen
break a key convention currently surrounding e-mail: Replies are assumed, regardless of the relevance or appropriateness of the message.
The one trait that differentiated [Gates from Allen] was focus. Allen’s mind would flit between many ideas and passions, but Gates was a serial obsessor.”
Gates worked with such intensity for such lengths during this two-month stretch that he would often collapse into sleep on his keyboard in the middle of writing a line of code. He would then sleep for an hour or two, wake up, and pick up right where he left off—an ability that a still-impressed Paul Allen describes as “a prodigious feat of concentration
Deep work is important, in other words, not because distraction is evil, but because it enabled Bill Gates to start a billion-dollar industry in less than a semester.
You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.