The Summary Of “Deep Work” by Cal Newport

Learn this increasingly rare skill that will help you to dominate in your career from this best-selling self-improvement book.

There are two types of works:

Deep Work — Tasks that create new value and hard to replicate, push cognitive capabilities to their limit, performed free from distractions.

Shallow Work — Tasks that do not create much new value, easy to replicate, often performed while distracted.

The book proposes that we have lost our ability to focus deeply and immerse ourselves in a complex task. This makes it very valuable in current society. People who cultivate this rare skill produce meaningful work and dominate their respective industries.

This book shows you how to cultivate this skill again and focus more than ever before with four simple rules.

#Rule 1- Work Deeply (Obvious)

Cal has suggested four different strategies to schedule deep work:

  1. Monastic- Isolating yourself for a very long time without distractions or shallow work. This is the extreme approach but has equally amazing results. Such people usually have a minimum amount of shallow obligations and value their work above all. Example- Going to a cabin in the woods for few months to write a novel.
  2. Bimodal- In this method you divide your time in such a way in which you dedicate some defined stretches of deep work while leaving the rest of time for everything else. This division can occur on multiple scales. From dedicating weekends to a season in a year. During the deep time, you will follow a monastic approach which means locking yourself up somewhere without any distraction. A good example is J.K. Rowling. She used to lock herself in a five-star hotel to write books.
  3. Rhythmic- This is the best for most people with jobs. It involves working deeply every day for 3–4 hours at the same time (usually in the morning).
  4. Journalistic- This is for super busy people who don't have a fixed schedule. It involves working deeply alternating your day between deep and shallow work as it fits your blocks of time (not recommended to try out first). Walter Isaacson is a famous example.

Ritualize your work:

To make the most out of your sessions build rituals for them. It will make it easier to form the habit of deep work for you. There is no correct ritual. You have to make it according to your goals. Here are some general things that an effective ritual must address:

  • Where you will work and how long? (Ex- From 2–6 PM in the library)
  • How will you work? (Ex- Internet ban and using noise-canceling headphones.)
  • What will you use during work? (Coffee, laptop, etc)

Make Grand Gestures:

It's a simple concept- By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of money all dedicating towards supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task.

This boost in importance reduces procrastination and motivates you to achieve your goal. Ex- J.K. Rowling going to an expensive hotel to write novels, Bill Gates leaving his normal work and family obligations, and going to a cabin with a stack of books to perform his famous think weeks.

Execute Like a Business:

Apply “The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX)” to your Deep Work:

  1. Focus on the Wildly Important: Since you have a limited amount of time for deep work, you should use them only for a small number of very important tasks.
  2. Act on the Lead Measures: Focus on your system rather than goals. For ex- Rather than making a goal to write 5 research in a year, the author made a goal to give 4 deep working hours every day for writing them.
  3. Keep a Compelling Scoreboard: Track the hours spent in deep work that week by a simple tally of tick marks in that week’s row or using similar methods.
  4. Create a Cadence of Accountability: Use weekly reviews to celebrate good weeks, understand what led to bad weeks, and figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead.

Be Lazy:

Deep work is exhausting for your brain. So you should give it proper rest by making downtime for your work. You should create a shutdown ritual and always stop working after a specific time in the day.

After shutdown, you cannot allow even the smallest of the incursion of professional concerns into your field of attention. This includes e-mail checking and mental replays of conversations, etc.

Decades of work from various researches have shown that resting your brain improves deep work. So when you are done, be done.

#Rule 2- Embrace Boredom

Schedule your internet access:

We spend most of our time online. It has now become a major cause for distraction. By blocking its access during important times we will improve our ability to work deeply.

If your work requires access to the internet then you can block certain distracting websites. This can be easily done by using extensions.

Create hard deadlines:

Making hard deadlines will push you to the limits of your cognitive capacity. This will increase over time.

Declaring it publicly will help it more. Don't make impossible goals but make them hard enough so that you don't have time to waste during deep work.

Meditate productively:

The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied
physically but not mentally like walking, jogging, driving, showering, and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem.

Depending on your profession, this problem might be outlining an article, writing a talk, making progress on proof, or attempting to sharpen a business strategy. As in mindfulness meditation, you must continue to bring your attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders or stalls.

#Rule 3- Quit Social Media

Use “The Craftsman Approach” on your social media selection:

If using it helps in your craft then you can use it. But only up to the extent where it's not harming your skill. Similar to scheduling internet access, you should decide the time when you will use social media.

Use the Pareto Principle (AKA “80/20 rule” or “The Law of Vital Few”):

Identify the 20% of the activities that generate 80% of your results. Try to only use social media if it helps you to achieve 80% of results. Otherwise, try to use it as little as possible.

Just quit useless ones:

Quit social media for 30 days without announcing. Only use some service when it's absolutely necessary. Now after 30 days stop using the ones which you never used altogether.

For the rest of the services ask the following questions:

  1. Would the last 30 days be notably better if I used this service?
  2. Did people really care that I wasn’t using the service?

If your answer is no in both situations then quit the service permanently or you can go back to the service.

Don't use the internet for your entertainment:

Instead of entertaining yourself, spend your leisure time doing something meaningful.

It will develop your mind and improve your focus.

#Rule 4- Drain the Shallows

Schedule every minute of your day:

This will help you to maximize deep working hours and minimize wasting time. At any point during working time in a day, you should not ask yourself about what will you do next.

Restructure your schedule immediately if new challenges appear.

Grade your activities on the deep-to-shallow scale:

Sometimes it's hard for us to determine which task should we perform during our deep work hours. We can solve this problem by grading our tasks.

To do so, it asks that you evaluate activities by asking a simple question:

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? (This question will work for the majority of the time)

For example- Between writing a research paper and making a PowerPoint presentation for a sales report, it will take much more time for our graduate to get to a point where he/she can write the paper.

Become hard to reach:

Doing this will have a huge impact on your conversations. Once everyone knows that you are a hard-to-reach person, they will only attempt to contact you when it's absolutely necessary.

This will save a lot of time for you in the long run.

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Quick note- All images are hand drawn by me.