Deep Work

By: Cal Newport

Cal Newport‘s book Deep Work was released on January 5, 2016. As the subtitle suggests, this book organizes and manages your life, allowing you to focus on what matters most. Most of us have lost our capacity to focus intensely and immerse ourselves in a complex work; with just four easy rules, this book will help us cultivate that skill again with just 4 simple rules.

Deep Work Increases You Productivity

What is Deep Work? 

Deep work is defined as professional activities carried out for long periods of time in a state of distraction-free concentration. It necessitates your complete focus. It’s the kind of work you can’t do while multitasking. Everything else (including checking emails and social media) should be placed on wait so you can focus exclusively on the serious work.


What is Shallow Work?

Shallow work is the polar opposite of deep work. It’s a task that you can finish even if you’re distracted or that needs little mental effort. Consider keeping an eye on your child while you are doing the chore and listening to the news on the radio. You don’t have to focus on the superficial task in order to complete it. The shallow work’s result, on the other hand, is neither unique nor valuable, and it can be easily replicated.


The Idea


Deep work is Valuable

Deep work is a necessary ability to master. When you’re in a state of deep work, the result of your job is one-of-a-kind and cannot be duplicated.

Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy
1. The ability to quickly master hard things.

This talent will be crucial in mastering and performing any given skill.

Deep work is the act of adding intellectual value to a concentration-required activity. It’s similar to deliberate practice, in which you work hard to improve your skills.

Engaging in activities with the goal of improving performance, with accurate and unambiguous feedback on performance, is what purposeful practice includes. It has three distinct characteristics: it needs a substantial amount of effort, is laser-focused on enhancing a particular aspect of performance, and demands continual repetition of these actions.

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

It is required, but not sufficient, to master any given talent. What matters in the end is producing actual results with that knowledge.

The author demonstrated the formulaic view of productivity, which she has come across several times:

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)


Deep Work Is Rare

In the office, there is a distracting behavior, and the author wonders if being always linked at the workplace is beneficial. Leslie Perlow, a Harvard Business School professor, revealed that she surveyed professionals and discovered that they spent more than twenty hours per week outside of the office checking emails because they believed it was critical to answer to an email within one hour of its arrival. According to Newport, the time they spent checking those emails was wasted time that could have been spent on more vital activities.\

Checking our emails on a regular basis affects our well-being and productivity. As a result, Newport demonstrates how ineffective workplace behavior can be rewarded.

The Principle of Least Resistance: In a corporate situation, without clear feedback on the impact of different actions on the bottom line, we will tend to do what is easy at the time.

Busyness as a Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and important in their professions, many knowledge workers revert to an industrial indicator of productivity: doing a lot of things in a visible manner.


Deep Work is Meaningful

Our world is shaped according to what we pay attention to. Consider what kind of mental environment we could create if we put effort and time into our task. If you can maintain a laser-like focus on your work, you will be less likely to notice the numerous lesser and less significant activities that inevitably abound in your life.

Working, according to the author, is more enjoyable than spare time. Flow activities, having built-in goals, receiving feedback, regulations, and challenges all help you focus on your task, inspire you to work more, and temporarily forget about everything else. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured and requires considerably more effort to appreciate.

Deep work requires effort and the development of abilities. Deep work will change your responsibilities from a distracting, draining obligation into something fulfilling, according to Newport, which is a portal to a world full of dazzling, beautiful experiences.

The Rules

Rule #1 – Work Deeply

Even though deep work is essential, distractions are inescapable when focusing on your work. Checking important emails and notifications are just a few examples of things that will interfere with your focus.

We have a lot of desires throughout the day, and according to a survey, these are the top five:

  • Taking a break from hard work
  • Checking email and social networking sites
  • Surfing the web
  • Listening to music
  • Watching television

Some well-known people who utilize their minds to create meaningful things rarely work haphazardly.

Every square inch of Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Robert Caro’s New York office is governed by regulations. Everything is dictated by a routine that hasn’t changed much over the course of Caro’s long career. He explained, “I trained myself to be organized.”

And for Charles Darwin, according to his son Francis, would get up at seven a.m. to go for a short walk. He has a daily routine planned out, and the last thing he did was go for a walk till he was satisfied with his thinking, after which he declared his workday completed.

Mason Currey, a journalist who spent half a decade researching prominent intellectuals’ habits, summarized a predisposition toward systematization as follows:

There’s a common misconception that artists work from inspiration—that inspiration comes in the form of a lightning bolt or a burst of creative energy from nowhere… but I hope [my work] demonstrates that waiting for inspiration to strike is a bad, terrible plan. In fact, ignoring inspiration is possibly the best piece of advise I can provide to anyone trying to accomplish creative work.

Build routines with the same level of strictness and idiosyncrasy as the critical tasks to get the most out of your long work sessions. This was done by philosophers.

Remember that there’s no one correct deep work ritual—the best fit is determined by both the person and the situation as well as the type of job undertaken.

Any effective ritual must take into account the following factors:

  1. Where you’ll work and for how long. 

For your ritual, the location where you’ll be working is important. It might be as simple as your office with door shut and desk cleaned. It might also be a library or a meeting area where working intensely will have a favorable influence. Whatever venue you choose, make sure you set up a definite time limit in which you can concentrate and complete the work.

  1. How you’ll work once you start to work.

You’ll need rules for your rituals so you can concentrate on the tasks at hand. If you don’t have one, you’ll constantly come up with something else to keep you occupied, and you’ll have to start all over again. This will drain your stores of willpower.

  1. How you’ll support your work. 

We must support our efforts to go deep if we want to succeed. The word “support” in this ritual simply implies that our brains should be given the help they require to continue operating. For example, you might start with a cup of coffee, eat enough food to keep your energy up, or even go for a stroll to clear your thoughts.


Separate Life and Work

You should also schedule time away from your professional obligations on a regular basis. Stop being stressed or worrying about work in your spare time, for instance. These concerns will deplete your well-being and cause you to miss work. Allowing yourself to remain idle during non-working hours can help you get more work done.

At the end of the day, put your work worries on hold until the next day. Another thing to remember is that you should never check your emails after meals. You should also refrain from reviewing business conversations or making arrangements for the coming week. Shut down completely and savor your moment of rest.

According to Newport, having downtime and a defined end to your workweek can significantly improve your work performance:

  1. Downtime Improves Insights

According to studies, the unconscious mind is capable of accomplishing tasks that you are unaware of, and it is better than conscious intellect in solving tough situations. The idea is that if you relax your conscious mind, your unconscious mind will be able to sort through your most tough professional challenges.

  1. Downtime aids in recharging the energy required for deep work.

After spending time outdoors or watching natural sceneries, people are better able to concentrate. You can regain your ability to focus your attention by taking a break from the activity.

  1. The work that is usually replaced by evening downtime is usually not that important.

The amount of deep work you can perform each day is limited. You should be able to meet your daily deep work capacity during the day if you maintain track of your time. And by the evening, you’ve exhausted your ability to operate effectively and thoroughly. As a result, late-night work is unlikely to be high-value, career-advancing work; instead, it will be low-value, shallow work that is completed slowly.


Rule #2 – Embrace Boredom

The first rule describes how to include serious work into our daily routines and how to use rituals to support it. These routines are meant to help you reach your current concentration limit on a regular basis.

And this second rule will help to improve this restriction greatly. You should learn to live in an environment that is free of distractions. After being wired for distraction, you crave it. Cal Newport’s approach is founded on this reality, and it aims to help you rewire your brain to a more task-oriented configuration. To succeed in deep work, you must reprogram your brain to resist distracting stimuli. This isn’t to mean you shouldn’t engage in distracting activities. Instead, simply removing the capacity of such activities to divert your attention is sufficient.

We must improve our ability to focus intensely. You must retain your focus outside of your rigorous work hours, just as athletes must maintain their bodies outside of their training sessions. It will be impossible to cultivate the type of intense concentration required for serious work if you give in to distractions at the first sign of boredom in your daily life.

A person who adopted a strategy similar to Newport’s is Theodore Roosevelt. According to Newport, choose a task that is high on your priority list. Determine how much time you’d regularly devote to a similar task. Then create a strict deadline for yourself that reduces this time estimate significantly. Make the deadline as public as possible. For example, you could let the person who will receive the finished job know when to expect it. If this isn’t possible, keep yourself motivated by using your phone to establish a countdown timer that you can’t miss while working.

At this point, there should only be one way to do the deep task on time: work extremely hard. You won’t be able to take email breaks, daydream, read through Instagram, or return to the coffee machine many times if you have this expectation of intensity. You should use all of your free neurons to complete the task just like Roosevelt. If you commit to full intensity, your task will crumble under your relentless assault of concentration. 

At first, try this experiment no more than once a week. This allows your brain to train at a high level while also relaxing in between jobs. Once you’re confident in your ability to trade concentration for completion time, you can increase the frequency.


Rule #3 – Social Media Should Be Avoided

If you utilize social media for entertainment purposes, the expense of doing so surpasses the benefits. Consider how you may use social media to help you achieve success and happiness in both your personal and professional lives. Choose which actions will help you reach your top three goals. You can use the “80/20 rule” or “Pareto’s concept” during this period. Eighty percent of the total is accounted for by the results of twenty percent of the activities. Find out what they are and what they aren’t. Examine whether you can do these things on social media. Use them only if they provide more benefits and lower costs.


Rule #4 – Drain the Shallows

The Shallows, a book by Nicholas Carr, is about how the Internet affects our minds and lives. Low-value activities such as responding to emails and attending meetings are common yet inevitable. You’ll need to empty the Shallows if you’re serious about working deeply. Schedule time for deep work and spend as little time as possible on shallow tasks. It’s not a good idea to let superficial work get in the way of deep work.

This is how Newport suggests you go about it:

Divide your workday into time blocks and assign activities to each of them. For example, you could schedule time from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. to write a press release for a customer. Draw a box around the lines that correspond to these hours to completely engage with this strategy. Then type “press release” into the box, with a minimum block time of thirty minutes.

After you’ve completed arranging your day, divide each minute into blocks. Every minute of your workday has been efficiently allocated a task. Use this schedule to help you get through your day.

Your schedule is almost surely going to be affected, so make sure you adjust your plans accordingly.


Final Summary

Deep Work is defined as the ability to concentrate on a cognitively challenging task without being distracted. The word was coined by Cal Newport, an author and professor, on his popular blog Study Hacks. If you put in a lot of work, you will improve at what you do. Deep work also permits you to do more in a shorter amount of time. It will also provide the satisfaction that comes with mastering a talent. Deep work is equivalent to a superpower in an increasingly competitive market.

About the Author

Image Source: Blinklist Magazine

  • Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University who is also a New York Times bestselling author of seven books.
  • That includes A World Without Email, Digital Minimalism, and Deep Work, which have been published in over 35 languages.
  • He’s a regular contributor to the New Yorker, the New York Times, and WIRED, a frequent guest on NPR, and the host of the popular Deep Questions podcast.
  • He’s been publishing articles here at and on my email newsletter for over a decade.

Source: Cal Newport

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Books by the Author

  • How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less

  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

  • How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets for Success from the Country’s Top Students

  • Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

  • So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

  • How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out)

  • A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload

  • The Time-Block Planner: A Daily Method for Deep Work in a Distracted World

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