Deep Work
Deep Work summary

Deep Work

Rating: 8.5/10

Author: Cal Newport Read The Original

High-Level Thoughts

The most valuable skill to have in the 21st century is the ability to work for long periods at a time in deep concentration. But in a society where we are constantly being bombarded with emails, tweets, and blaring notifications the skill is becoming more and more important to have. Newport has studied and practiced the art of deep work and distills his secrets as to how to incorporate into our lives.

Deep Work Summary and Notes

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.

Gives examples of titans such as Carl Jung, Mark Twain, and Woody Allen who were disconnected from the outside world and focused on their craft.

Part 1: The Idea

Ch 1 Deep Work Is Valuable

  • In this new economy three groups will have a particular advantage:
  • High-Skilled workers -> those who work well with intelligent machines
  • Superstars -> the top 1% of their field
  • Owners -> those with access to capital
  • Two Core Abilities for Thriving:
  • the art of quickly learning complicated things.
  • The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
  • Deliberate Practice requires:
  • 1) Your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you're trying to improve or an idea you're trying to master;
  • You receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it's most productive.
  • In The Talent Code, the book explains that myelin sheath is created around firing neurons in order to make them fire faster whenever we are improving at something. Therefore the only way to do Deliberate Practice is to isolate the relevant neural circuit enough to trigger myelination. So having your Facebook open while you learn a new skill won't work because you're firing too many circuits simultaneously.
  • High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
  • To ask a CEO to spend 4 hours thinking deeply about a single problem is a waste of their time. Instead, get 3 smart subordinates to do it and come back with their solution.

Ch 2 Deep Work Is Rare

  • Busyness as Proxy for Productivity -> many knowledge workers without a clear indicator of productive output start doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.
  • Technology nowadays is making deep work extremely rare and this quote sum it up very well -> "I realized I became a professional emailist, and writing was my hobby when it should have been the other way around."

Ch 3 Deep Work is Meaningful

  • Our brains construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. If you focus on a cancer diagnosis, you and your life become unhappy and dark.
  • "the idle mind is the devil's workshop"
  • flow -> when the mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something worthwhile but difficult"
  • We're happiest when we are in a flow state
  • Deep work is an activity well suited to generate a flow state.
  • "A deep life is a good life, any way you look at it"

Part 2: The Rules

Rule #1 Work Deeply

  • Eudaimonia Machine -> building designed inherently for deep work.
  • You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it
  • There is no one correct way to integrate deep work into your life.
  • bimodal philosophy of deep work -> divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else.
  • Create momentum by doing deep work on a daily basis, during the same time every day. For example: waking up at 5:30 every morning to squeeze in 2 hours of deep work every day before the day starts.
  • Walter Isaacson who is known for prolific output and success, would switch into deep work mode whenever he had pockets of free time. This is not something a beginner should be doing however.
  • "Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants" - David Brooks
  • "Waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible, terrible plan. The single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration."
  • Effective rituals address:
  • Where you'll work and for how long.
  • How you'll work once you start to work.
  • How you'll support you work.
  • J.K Rowling and Alan Lightman (MIT physicist) spend thousands of dollars on their Peter Shankman bought a round trip ticket to Japan, and wrote his whole manuscript on the plane going and returning#environment
  • 4 Disciplines of Execution:
  • #1: Focus on the Wildly Important
  • #2: Act on the Lead Measures -> focus on the process and the goal will take care of itself
  • #3 Keep a Compelling Scoreboard -> Keep track of your hours and note any breakthroughs during a session.
  • #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
  • Spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.

Rule #2 Embrace Boredom

  • Treat undistracted concentration as a habit like flossing. It's not something you can develop overnight.
  • Training must address 2 goals: improving your ability to concentrate intensely and overcoming your desire for distraction.
  • Don't take breaks from distraction. Instead take breaks from focus.
  • Schedule in advance when you get your internet break and for how long.
  • A side effect of memory training is an improvement in your general ability to concentrate.

Rule #3 Quit Social Media

  • You don't have to quit social media altogether, or go cold turkey for a month. However:
  • Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on success and happiness in your personal life substantially outweigh its negative impacts.
  • Create a list of professional and personal goals and add key activities supporting this goal.
  • Law of the Vital Few -> 80% of a given effect is due to just 20% of the possible causes. (This is the Pareto Principle, don't know why Newport gave it a new name)
  • An hour spent on a low return task is an hour you take away from a high return task.
  • Put more thought into what you're gonna do with your leisure time, don't just reach for whats the most convenient and most available.

Rule #4 Drain the Shallows

  • Company 37signals that implements 4 day work weeks gets more output because they value their time more and spend it on tasks that actually matter.
  • Once you hit your deep work limit (1-4 hours), you'll experience diminishing returns.
  • Schedule every minute of your day. Through the user of blocks. It's not about constraint but about thoughtfulness.
  • Quantify your work as shallow or deep by asking yourself how long would it take to teach a new college grad this job?

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