Book Notes - Deep Work by Cal Newport

Takes about 6 minutes to read.

Attention These book notes are neither a fully fledged summary nor a review. They are just some thoughts that I collected while reading the book. For ratings on these books see my GoodReads profile.

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 the skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
Shallow Work Non-cognitive demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Rule #1 - Work Deeply

In order to work deep, you have to be in a distraction-free environment. There are several different strategies for working deeply. Which to choose depends on the schedule and boundary conditions.

The Monastic Philosophy where you only focus on deep work and don’t do anything else. This is probably not usable for many people
The Bimodal Philosophy where you spend extended periods of time (i.e. weeks or months) in „Deep work Land“
The Rhythmic Philosophy where you schedule a set number of hours at a specific time of the day(i.e. in the morning) for Deep Work
The Journalistic Philosophy where you switch into deep work mode whenever you can. This one requires a lot of effort and is not easily doable.

Rule #2 - Embrace Boredom

Our world is flooded with distractions. Instead of constantly giving your brain something „more interesting“ to do, restrict it and embrace boredom.

  1. Don’t jump on your smartphone the minute you have nothing to do

Rule #3 - Quit Social Media

Social Media is a distracting factor in today's (work) world. However, social media also has its benefits. Newport has different tactics on how to choose which distraction is „allowed in“ and which isn’t.

The „any benefit“ Approach to Tool Selection lets you use any tools that offer any benefit. This tactic is flawed since it distracts you with tools that offer a small number of benefits. However, this is the most commonly used approach. Better use the next one.

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.

Steps to apply the craftsman approach:

  1. Identify goals both in the professional and personal life. Then list the two or three most important activities needed to achieve these goals.
  2. Consider every networking tool currently in usage. For each tool, does it have a substantially positive, negative or little impact on one (or more) of the activities listed above
  3. Only use the network tool if they have a substantially positive impact on one of the activities.

Cold-turkey Social Media Detox
Quit all social media for 30 days without notice. Then ask two questions:

  1. Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service?
  2. Did people care that I wasn’t using the service?

If the answer is „no“ on both occasions, quit the service. If the answer is „yes“ on both occasions stay. If the answer is ambiguous decide but lean toward quit.

Don’t use the Internet to Entertain Yourself
The internet offers a wide variety of „attention-grabbing“ sites like HackerNews, Buzzfeed or Reddit that optimize their content for clickbait. These sites thrive in a vacuum where you have time but nothing to do(i.e. leisure time). To the solution is to structure your time off by having interesting things (reading, exercise, in-person meetings) pre-planned and ready to do.

Rule #4 - Drain the Shallows

The shallow work that increasingly dominates the time and attention of knowledge workers are less vital than it often seems in the moment. For most business, eliminating shallowness has no impact on the bottom line of the company. This chapter shows how to identify shallowness in your world and get rid of it. However, there are limits. Deep work is limited to about four hours a day

Strategy #1 - Schedule every minute of your day
We spent most of our time on autopilot not knowing what we do(see e.g. the difference in reported and real TV consumption). To overcome this, schedule the time in your day by dividing your day into blocks and assigning activities to each of these blocks. As interruptions (i.e. from unforeseen events or wrong time estimates) come along reschedule as soon as possible. Redraw your schedule as often as necessary. Your goal is not to stick to a given schedule but to have every minute scheduled.

Strategy #2 - Quantify the Depth of Every Activity
Scheduling allows you to track how much time of your day is spent in shallow activities.

Strategy #3 - Set a Shallow Work Budget
Budget how much time (between 30 - 50% of the overall time) you want to spend on shallow work and then stick to this time limit.

Strategy #4 - Finish Your Work by Five Thirty
Don’t work after 5:30 - 6:00 p.m. and on the weekends - Cal calls this commitment the fixed-schedule productivity as he set a fixed time on when to finish working and then propagated backward on what strategies he needs to employ to reach this goal. To do the same

  1. Be forced into avoidance of shallow work/distractions by setting a rigid cut-off time
  2. Say „no“ and make it a clean cut. Turn down shallow commitments that don’t add much/any value at all
  3. The limits on time necessitate more careful thinking about organizational habits and structures

Fixed-schedule productivity is a meta-habit that allows you to get more done by doing less.

Strategy #5 - Become Hard to Reach
E-Mail (and IM) have become hard to avoid distractions in personal and professional life. Here are some tips on how to regain authority

  1. Make people who send you e-mail do more work Create a sender filter and lower the expectation that you are going to answer the e-mail.
  2. Do more work when you send or reply to e-mail When receiving an e-mail, don’t instantly reply with a short answer that will clear the message. The message will bounce back. Instead answer the following question: „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?“. Now reply with the identified process that lays out the steps needed to be done and emphasize the steps needed to be taken next. This concept also works when writing e-mails from scratch.
  3. Don’t respond Don’t respond to messages that have any of the following apply to them
    1. It’s ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response
    2. It’s not a question or proposal you are interested in
    3. Nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t