Notes & Quotes Deep Work by Cal Newport


October 10, 2016

The following is a summary of Cal Newport’s book Deep Work. Much of what is written below is either his own words or my paraphrasing of them.

Chapter 1: deep work is valuable.

Deep work: professional activities performed in a state of distraction free concentration that push one’s cognitive ability to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

Shallow work: non cognitively demanding, logistic style tasks often performed while distracted. these efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Hypothesis: 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.

Two core abilities for thriving in the new economy

  1. the ability to quickly master hard things

  2. the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

Footnote pg 31 = The complex reality of the technologies that real companies leverage to get ahead emphasizes the absurdity of the now common idea that exposure to simplistic, consumer-facing products–especially in schools–somehow prepares people to succeed in a high-tech economy. Giving students iPads or allowing them to film homework assignments on YouTube prepares them for a high-tech economy about as much as playing with Hot Wheels would prepare them to thrive as auto mechanics.

High quality work produced = Time spent x Intensity of Focus

Chapter 2: deep work is rare.

The principle of least resistance: in a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.

Busyness as a proxy for 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 an industrial indicator of productivity doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

Rule #1 = Work Deeply

The truth about will power is that one has a finite amount of will power that becomes depleted as one uses it.

Depth philosophies

  1. Monastic- attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations. [they] Have a well-defined and highly valued professional goal, and the bulk of success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well.

  2. Bimodal- monastic for defined intervals (for example taking the summer to work deeply, or a month or 1 week every 5 weeks, or one day a week.)

  3. Rhythmic- consistently start deep work sessions through transforming them into a simple regular habit. This can be visualized through the chain method. example- wake up early and work for a few hours before the kids wake up, or work every morning from 8 to 11 on deep work.

  4. Journalistic- fit deep work wherever one can into one’s schedule (example whenever kids are napping)

Develop a ritual around deep work That includes answers to these:

  • where will I work and for how long?
    • is there a specific place for deep work?
  • how will I work once I start?
    • will I banned myself from the internet
    • will I measure words written in 20 minute intervals?
  • how will I support my work?
    • will I start with a snack or included walk or minimize the Clutter of my office space?

Working alone is fine, but be aware also of the Whiteboard effect, that is that sometimes we can be more productive working with someone else in a controlled planned collaboration in which we keep each other accountable and focused.

What to do it’s often easy to answer, but how to do it is the real challenge that slows us down.

Discipline of execution

  1. Focus on the wildly important

  2. Act on lead measures not lag measures

    • Lag measures are metrics for after the task or project is done. The obviously lead measure for deep work is the time spent in deep work.

    • Leave measures are metrics for in the moment while task or project is being completed. (My example is a speedometer that measures current speed against the target speed set by the speed limit sign.)

  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard

    • Tack it up next to desk
  4. Create a cadence of accountability (usually during weekly meeting / weekly planning)

Importance of Being Lazy

  1. Downtime aids insights

  2. Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply

  3. the work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important

Shutdown Ritual

This ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirm that either one you have a plan you trust for its completion or two it’s captured in a place where it will be Revisited when the time is right.

At the end of shut down sequence, say out loud a phrase such as “shutdown complete”. This serves as a simple cue to you that it is safe to release work-related thoughts for the rest of the day.

For example:

  1. Take a final look at my email inbox to ensure that there’s nothing requiring an Urgent Response before the day ends.

  2. Transfer any new tasks that are on my mind or were scribbled down earlier in the day into my official task list

  3. Skim every task on the list and then look at the next few days on my calendar, checking if any have important deadlines or appointments that are rapidly approaching.

  4. Make a rough plan for the next day

  5. Say the shutdown phrase.

  6. Enjoy the rest of your day guilt-free knowing that you are ready for the next day. Forget your work, and enjoy your life out of work.

Rule #2 = Embrace Boredom

Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead take breaks from focus.

For example, plan out the times day when internet use/browsing is acceptable. Do not use internet outside of these times.

The strategy works even if your job requires lots of internet use or prompt email replies. More importantly, you must keep the time outside these blocks absolutely free from internet use. Doing this at home as well as it work can further improve concentration training.

Productive meditation

Practice productive meditation which involves thinking about a single well-defined professional problem while doing something that occupies you physically but not mentally, such as walking, driving, showering, etc. When practicing productive meditation, avoid distractions and looping. Looping is when your mind reviews everything you already know or have done rather than focusing on what needs to be solved. Also, try to find ways to structure your deep thinking, by setting up questions that will help guide the thinking and the work. For example, start by reviewing all the relevant variables for solving a problem and then find the next step questions you need to answer using these variables. Then, consolidate your gains by reviewing clearly the answers you identified.

Memorize a deck of cards

Imagine walking through your house in your mind. Pick 5 rooms from that house to visit in a specific order. Pick 10 items in each of those rooms to visit in a specific order. practice visualizing this over and over until all 50 items are memorized. this is just to item short of a 52 card deck. Associated each card of the deck with a person, so that as you walk through the house you can associate that person doing something with a object from the room in each room. This takes practice.

Rule #3 = Quit Social Media

The any benefit approach to network tool selection you’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it. This is obviously an approach that should be avoided,Contrary to what Facebook, Twitter, Home Depot, Amazon, Etc would have you believe. Instead

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. In other words, identify First the main high-level goals and both your professional and personal life. then list for each the two or three most important activities the help you satisfy the goal. Then consider the Network Tools you currently use, asking whether the use of the tool has a substantially positive or negative impact. any tools that offer substantially negative impact or a little impact should be avoided or replaced with better tools.

The law of the vital few: In many settings, 80% of a given effect is due to just 20% of the possible causes.

Quit Social Media

This is a strategy for leaving social media: ban yourself from using social media for 30 days. Don’t announce to anyone ahead of time. don’t deactivate any of your accounts. After 30 days of self-imposed network isolation ask yourself 1) with the last 30 days have been notably better if I had been able to use the service, 2) did people care that I wasn’t using the service? social media does not provoke the creation of valuable content. Instead it is based on shallow collectivist connections. ” I’ll pay attention to what you say if you pay attention to what I say– regardless of its value”. ” you like my status update and I’ll like yours”.

Don’t use the internet to entertain yourself

Put more thought into your leisure time. Plan carefully, and you can accomplish quite a lot outside of work. accomplishing goals in your leisure time can often make you feel more fulfilled and relaxed, and might make you more productive at work.

Rule 4 = Drain the Shallows

Schedule Every minute of your day

This includes creating blocks of time to tackle shallow tasks, Rather than allow the shallow tasks to drown you. By scheduling every minute of your day into blocks, you will be more prepared for interruptions and disruptions to your schedule, being able to rearrange blocks as the day progresses and as needs change. This may also include creating overflow conditional blocks, and which if a task is yet to be finished, continue working on the task, but if the task has been finished, move on to some shallow work that only takes a little while.

Quantify the depth of every activity

To determine if a task is shallow or deep ( or on the Spectrum) ask yourself: 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?

Ask your boss for a shallow work budget

This allows you to avoid shallow tasks from others by placing the burden of explanation on your boss.

Finish your work by 5:30

Not only will you have a more rewarding personal life, but the self-imposed time constraint forces greater intensity and concentration of work. It forces you to choose carefully which activities to engage in at work. Like raising a family in grad school, you just don’t “have” the time to work all day and night like other grad students, but instead force yourself to finish by ~5pm

Become hard to reach

Also, to avoid endless back and forth text messages:

  1. Make people who send you email do more work.

    • Explain conditions for contact on home page
  2. Do more work before you send emails.

    • contexts

    • conditions

    • complete details

    • answer the question what is the project represented by this message, and what is the most efficient process ( in terms of messages generated) for bringing this project to a successful conclusion?

  3. Don’t respond

    • The email is ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response

    • it is not a question or proposal the interest you

    • nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you did not.