Deep Work by Cal Newport: Summary, Notes, and Lessons

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Lessons

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 absolutely necessary to get your best creative output. And the mental strain that accompanies it is necessary for improving your abilities.

Shallow Work: 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.

As we move towards an automated economy, you must become good at doing creative things and learning new things quickly.

The ability to do deep work is becoming rarer while also becoming more valuable. If you can cultivate this skill, you become unparalleled in your field.

Three to four hours a day, five days a week, should be your deep work goal.

Deliberate practice requires: focusing intensely on one thing you’re trying to do or master, and receiving rapid feedback so you can adjust as necessary.

To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.

Do your hard intellectual work in long, uninterrupted stretches.

Busyness as 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.

Build your working life around creating as much deep work as possible.

Measure your inputs, hours of deep work, the score will take care of itself if you’re truly focused on your most important projects.

People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevant information. They’re chronically distracted and doing irrelevant work without knowing it.

If you’re used to always checking your phone as soon as you have to go for a moment without stimulation, then your brain can’t focus when it needs to. You have to learn to be bored again.

Don’t schedule productivity, schedule distraction. Focus and engagement should be the default, not the exception, otherwise it will be much harder to focus when you need to.

Letting yourself get bored and have to wait is great for training your concentration.

Try “productive meditation,” go for a walk, and just like during mindfulness meditation, keep pulling your focus back to one hard problem you need to work through. When you notice your attention slipping away, gently bring it back.

Train your memory by learning to memorize a deck of cards (see Moonwalking with Einstein)

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.

Identify the main high level goals in your personal and professional life. This will help you pick tools, define deep work, and allocate your time appropriately.

Have some default activities for when you have downtime that aren’t addictive ‘bad’ activities you don’t want to do, but are still relaxing. Like reading, walking, etc. If you don’t have a default, you’ll slip into the things you don’t want to be doing.

Fewer official work hours helps squeeze out the fat of the workweek, when you give yourself all day, you waste more time on things you don’t need to do (see Parkinson’s Law).

Three to four hours is a good limit on depth. The fewer chunks you can do this in, the better.

To get started with fitting in deep work, schedule in every minute of your day. Once you have a good idea of how it fits together, you can switch to an order.

Get in the habit of letting small bad things happen. Otherwise, the big good things can’t happen.