Book:  Deep Work

Author:  Cal Newport

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Newport, C. (2016). Deep work : rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Three Big Takeaways:​​

  • In 2012, the average knowledge worker spent more than 60 percent of their time engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching, with close to 30 percent dedicated to reading and answering email alone. At the same time, they report they are "busier than ever." (pg. 6)

  • The common habit of working in a state of semi-distraction is potentially devastating to your performance. It might seem harmless to take a quick glance at your inbox every ten minutes or so. That quick check of your inbox introduces a new target for your attention. Even worse, by seeing messages that you cannot deal with at the moment, you'll be forced to turn back to the primary task with a secondary task left unfinished. The attention residue left by such unresolved switches dampens your performance. (pg. 43)

  • To help differentiate between deep work and shallow work ask yourself this question: 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? If the hypothetical college graduate requires many months of training to replicate a task, then this indicates that task is deep work. (pg. 228)

Other Key Ideas: 

  • Deep work is defined as professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to the limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate. Shallow work is noncognitively 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. (pg. 3)

  • 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. (pg. 14)

  • I've committed this thinking to words, in part, to help you follow my lead in rebuilding your life around deep work - but this isn't my whole story. My other interest in distilling and clarifying these thoughts is to further develop my own practice. My recognition of the deep work hypothesis has helped me thrive, but I'm convinced that I haven't yet reached my full value-producing potential. As you struggle and ultimately triumph with the ideas and rules, you can be assured that I'm following suit. (pg. 17)

  • The differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain. Deliberate practice is as follows: 1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you're trying to improve or an idea you're trying to master; 2) you receive feedback so you can connect your approach to keep your attention exactly where it's most productive. (pg. 35)

  • In the absence of clear indicators (metrics) of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn their focus toward doing lots of stuff in a visible manner. If you send and answer emails at all hours and if you schedule and attend meetings constantly - these behaviors make you seem busy in a public manner. These behaviors can seem crucial for convincing yourself and others that you're doing your job well. (pg. 64)

  • Our brains construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love - is the sum of what you focus on. (pg. 77)

  • Many knowledge workers spend most of their working day interacting with 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. It ensures that your mind will construct an understanding of your working life that's dominated by stress, irritation, frustration, and triviality. (pg. 81)

  • The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines to help you transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration. The easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to make them a regular habit. By supporting deep work with routines that make sure a little bit gets done on a regular basis, you will log a larger number of deep hours per year. (pg. 100)

  • Utilize the 4DX framework for your personal work habits. 1) Focus on a small number of ambitious goals; 2) Focus on Lead Measures which things you will do now that will help you meet your ambitious goals (which are Lag Measures). A relevant lead measure would be time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your goal; 3) It's important to have a public place where you track your lead measures as it provides a reinforcing source of motivation; 4) create a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings focused around the ambitious goals (this is more geared toward teams). (pg. 136)

  • At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning - no after-dinner email check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you'll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely. Providing your conscious brain time to rest enables your unconscious mind to take a shift sorting through your most complex professional challenges. (pg. 144)

  • At the end of the day, take a final look at your email inbox to ensure there is nothing requiring an urgent response before the day ends. Then, transfer any new tasks that are on your mind into your official task lists. Then, skim over every task on your to-do list and then look at the next few days on your calendar. These actions ensure that there's nothing urgent you are forgetting. At this point, you have reviewed everything on your professional plate. (pg. 152)

  • People who multitask all the time can't filter out irrelevancy. They're chronically distracted. They're pretty much mental wrecks. Unfortunately, they've developed habits of mind that make it impossible for them to be laser-focused. (pg. 158)

  • The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you're occupied physically but not mentally - walking, jogging, driving, showering - and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem. Similar to mindfulness meditation, you must continue to bring back your attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders or stalls. (pg. 170)

  • Social media can claim your time and attention as these services can be particularly devastating to your quest to work deeper. They are massively addictive and therefore capable of severely damaging your attempts to schedule and succeed with any act of concentration. (pg. 205)

  • 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. (pg. 214)

  • Psychologists have studied how much deep work can be done in a day. They note that for someone new to such practice, 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. (pg. 219)

  • Decide in advance what you are going to do with every minute of your workday. Without structure, it's easy to allow your time to devolve into shallow work - email, social media, web surfing, etc. (pg. 227)

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.