Deep Work

Table of Contents


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

My notes from Deep Work:

The Deep Work Hypothesis: The 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.

   —Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 14). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Main concepts

  • Deep work:

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.

   —Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 3). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

  • Shallow work:

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.

   —Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 6). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Part 1: The idea

Chapter 1 - Deep work is valuable

Deep work brings benefits, it help us to concentrate on hard problems and achieve important things.

In today's economy, three groups will have a particular advantage:

  1. Those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines
  2. Those who are the best at what they do.
  3. Those with access to capital.

To achieve 3 requires capital, but 1 and 2 can be done through deep work.

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.

   —Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 29). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Chapter 2 - Deep work is rare

Current business trends are making it more difficult to develop deep work even though it should be a priority for companies. There are multiple reasons for this, among them:

  • A culture of of constant connectivity: It's hard to measure how an instant message or interrupting a coworker. In this kind of settings we will tend towards behaviors that are the easiest at the moment. Principle of least resistant.
  • People tend to do many different things (mostly shallow work) appearing productive, but this is just Busyness as a proxy for productivity. There is no deep work on things like answering emails or being "present" in slack.
  • Internet-centrism: Our current culture rewards being visible and appear on internet. However this requires interruptions and make it hard to develop deep work.

Deep work is at a severe disadvantage in a techno-poly because it
builds on values like quality, craftsmanship, and mastery that are
decidedly old-fashioned and non-technological.

The fact that this trends continues, give you a personal advantage. Since deep will become scarce and therefore valuable.

Chapter 3 - Deep work is meaningful

  • Deep work can generate as much satisfaction in an information economy as it does in a craft economy.
  • When we interact all the time with shallow concerns there issues remain at the front of our attention
  • Deep work can help us generate flow state.
    • The content of what we focus on matters.
    • We can experience a more important and positive life when we can work on important things.
  • From Csikszentmihalyi’s:

    Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time,
    because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback
    rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved
    in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on
    the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to
    be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.

  • Gallagher:
    • The idle mind is the devil's workshop: when we lose focus, we get fix on what is wrong with our life instead of what's right.
    • Shallow things are draining and upsetting even when they appeared to be fun.
    • Doing deep work maximizes the meaning and satisfaction associated with our working life.

Part 2: The rules

Rule #1: Work deeply

In an ideal work we should be able to have environments that foster deep work, however, that is far from true today, as mentioned in chapter 2.

Hence we need to work on strategies to achieve deep work. There are different kinds:

  • Monastic: This is way of achieving deep work, which consists in disconnecting from the world.
    • Don Knuth and Neal Stephenson used to work on this modality.
  • Bi-modal: It is a combination between going monastic from a period and then coming back.
    • Carl Jung used to spend time between a small house in the country side and Vienna.
  • Rhythmic philosophy: Maintain a visual indicator of your work and set aside specific time for this.
    • Seinfeld chain method: he use to cross a mark in a calendar every day he'll come up with a new joke. Practicing every day.
  • The journalistic philosophy: Name after the journalist Walter Isaacson, who used to crank deep work sessions every time he would see fit.

Creating rituals around our deep work habits will help us make the most of out it.

To make the most out of your deep work sessions, build rituals of the same level of strictness and
idiosyncrasy as the important thinkers mentioned previously.

  — Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 119). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

  • Have rituals:
    • Where you'll work and for how long.
    • How you'll work once you start to work. Create metrics and rules, like:
      • No internet.
      • X words per 20 mins.
    • How you'll support your work:
      • Drink coffee
      • Have a healthy snack
      • Go exercise after
  • Use the the grand gesture: make a radical change in your work environment with a significant investment of effort or money.
  • Don't work alone.

For the sake of discussion, let’s call this principle—that when you
allow people to bump into each other smart collaborations and new
ideas emerge—the theory of serendipitous creativity.

  — Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 127). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

  • Execute like a business - Based on 4DX:
    • Discipline #1: Focus on the wildly important, aim at a small number of "wildly important goals"
    • Discipline #2: Act on the lead measure:
      • Lag measure: describe the thing you are trying to improve
      • Lead measure: Measure the new behavior that will drive success on lag measure.
    • Discipline #3: Keep a completion score board
    • Discipline #4: Create a cadence of accountability:
      • Discuss scoreboard.
      • Commit to specific actions.
      • Describe what happens with the commitments made in the last meeting.
  • Insert downtime:

Rule #2: Embrace Boredom

  • We need to rewire our brains to resist distracting stimulus.

Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, it’s
hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate.

   —Newport, Cal. Deep Work (pp. 158-159). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

  • Don't take breaks from distractions. Instead take breaks from focus.
    • Create internet blocks and keep stay internet-free in focus blocks.
  • Schedule internet use at home and at work, this could help improve our concentration training.
  • Meditate productively
    • Use moments like exercising or doing chores to thing about the hard problems you are trying to solve.
    • Learn memorization techniques and practice.

Rule #3: Quit Social Media

  • Network tools fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate.
  • Avoid the any-benefit approach to tools selection: You are justified in using a network if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out if you don't use it.
    • There services are engineered to be addictive, taking time from activities that support our professional career.
  • Follow the craftsman approach to tool selection: Only adop the tools that have a positive impact in your life.
  • Don't use the internet to entertain yourself.

Fortunately, Arnold Bennett identified the solution to this problem a
hundred years earlier: Put more thought into your leisure time. In
other words, this strategy suggests that when it comes to your
relaxation, don’t default to whatever catches your attention at the
moment, but instead dedicate some advance thinking to the question of
how you want to spend your “day within a day.” Addictive websites of
the type mentioned previously thrive in a vacuum: If you haven’t given
yourself something to do in a given moment, they’ll always beckon as
an appealing option. If you instead fill this free time with something
of more quality, their grip on your attention will loosen.

- Newport, Cal. Deep Work (pp. 212-213). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

  • Attention is a zero-sum game, what you give to low impact activities is energy you could be given to important tasks.
  • Social networks give people a sense of self-importance, making them believe others want to hear what they have to say.
  • Put more thought into your leisure time: Ask yourself how do you want to spend you day.

Rule #4: Drain the Shallows

  • Shallow work isn't necessarily bad, there is a point where you can't keep doing deep work. That's a good time to do shallow work. But we should try to keep it confined.
  • Strategies to confine shallow work:
    • Keep a schedule.
    • Create task blocks.
    • Decide in advance what you're going to be doing with every minute of your workday.
    • Quantify the deep of every activity.

      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?

      —Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 229). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

    • Bias your tasks towards deep tasks.
    • Ask you boss for a shallow work budget.
      • What percentage of your time shall we spent on shallow work.
    • Have a fix schedule, like finishing work by 5 pm. It helps you prioritize and know what to commit to.
    • Become hard to reach
      • Use sender filters.
      • Do more work when you send or reply to emails.
        • Ask yourself:

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

             —Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 249). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle

    • Don't reply to emails. It's the sender responsibility to convince you that you must respond, if you don't, then they didn't do a good job at persuading you.