Deep Work by Cal Newport

Deep Work by Cal Newport
Deep Work Book Cover


This book explains the value and importance of focusing intensely on cognitively demanding tasks without distraction.

Newport argues that deep work is a rare and valuable skill that can help you thrive in today’s economy and achieve more meaningful and satisfying work. He also provides practical strategies and tips on cultivating and practising deep work in your own life.

What I Internalized

  • To be great, one must do Deep Work. Deep Work allows you to master hard skills quickly and produce at an elite level in both quality and speed. Two things happen when you do deep work - you focus your attention on a specific skill you are trying to master, and you receive crucial feedback for improved skill development. You become a superstar in your field with enough repetitions of deep work.
  • Define Your Work Philosophy. Newport has four archetypes of workers. I identify with the Drummer most. Like a drummer, I love the beat and rhythm of work. I work best when I have a daily routine. Find out what works best for you. Don't try to fit in someone else's routine.
  • Embrace Downtime. Downtime recharges your soul. Newport cites the Attention Restoration Theory (ART) which claims that spending time in an environment of 'inherently fascinating stimuli' gives you the mental respite from focused attention. From casual conversations with friends to a light evening jog - this downtime signals to your attention centres that you are resting, allowing it to downshift and recharge for the next day. I must avoid the temptation of squeezing in too much extra work. If not, I rob my soul of rest and accelerate my path to burnout.
  • Implement Batching Aggressively. Task batching allows you to concentrate on one group of tasks at a time without having to switch your attention and mental energy between different tasks. The biggest benefit of this practice for me thus far is that it has helped me stave off the Zeigarnik effect, where incomplete tasks dominate my attention.

Key Takeaways

  • On Winners in the New Economy. ''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.''
  • Why Knowledge Workers are losing focus. The reason knowledge workers are losing their familiarity with deep work is well established: network tools. This broad category captures communication services like e-mail and SMS, social media networks like Twitter and Facebook, and the shiny tangle of infotainment sites like BuzzFeed and Reddit. In aggregate, the rise of these tools, combined with ubiquitous access to them through smartphones and networked office computers, has fragmented most knowledge workers’ attention into slivers.
  • On Peak Performance. “To produce at your peak level, you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work.”
  • The Hidden Value of Boredom. "To simply wait and be bored has become a novel experience in modern life, but from the perspective of concentration training, it’s incredibly valuable.”
  • Rewiring Your Brain For Deep Work. To succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli. This doesn’t mean you have to eliminate distracting behaviours; it’s sufficient that you instead eliminate the ability of such behaviours to hijack your attention. The simple strategy proposed here of scheduling Internet blocks goes a long way toward helping you regain this attention autonomy. 
  • Busyness vis-a-vis productivity. “In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward the industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.”
  • Your Life is What You Pay Attention To. "Your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to, so consider for a moment the type of mental world constructed when you dedicate significant time to deep endeavors. There’s a gravity and sense of importance inherent in deep work—whether you’re Ric Furrer smithing a sword or a computer programmer optimizing an algorithm. Gallagher’s theory, therefore, predicts that if you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance.''

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