Deep Work by Cal Newport argues that in our current age, abilities such as discipline, focus, and concentration are lacking. This is a result of how easy it is to be distracted in the world of technology. These constant distractions are detrimental to our ability to work deeply. Newport provides a set of rules and practices to help increase our ability to concentrate and focus while decreasing the cravings for distraction.
What Is 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.
Two Reasons Why Deep Work Is An Essential Skill
The first has to do with learning. We have an information economy that’s dependent on complex systems that change rapidly. To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.
The second reason that deep work is valuable is because the impacts of the digital network revolution cut both ways. If you can create something useful, its reachable audience (e.g., employers or customers) is essentially limitless—which greatly magnifies your reward. On the other hand, if what you’re producing is mediocre, then you’re in trouble, as it’s too easy for your audience to find a better alternative online.
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.
On Productivity – Work Deeply
Law of productivity: (time spent) x (intensity of focus) = high-quality work. In order to produce works of quality we require long stretches of focus and concentration.
Three Approaches To Deep Work:
The Monastic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling. This philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations. Practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have a well-defined and highly valued professional goal that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well. It’s this clarity that helps them eliminate the thicket of shallow concerns that tend to trip up those whose value proposition in the working world is more varied.
The Bimodal Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling. This philosophy asks that you divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else. During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically—seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration.
The Rhythmic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling. This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform “them into a simple regular habit”. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep. The chain method is a good example of the rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling because it combines a simple scheduling heuristic (do the work every day), with an easy way to remind yourself to do the work: the big red Xs on the calendar.
A productivity tip is to finish your work by 5:30 pm. Enforcing such parameters and boundaries makes you more cognizant of how you spend your time in the morning and afternoon. It also lends to the idea of working deeply and then resting deeply.
On Action – Practice Deliberately
Deliberate practice means focusing on the task at hand. Don’t jump around from one thing to the next. This is where the concept of attention residue comes in. Newport determined that even quick breaks are harmful to your work because when you switch from one task to another, regardless of its intensity, a part of your attention will remain stuck to the previous task. So, quick social media breaks during your work session aren’t advised. Instead, for that period, lock into what you are doing and don’t create your own distractions. Life doesn’t require your help in that avenue.
On Action – The Four Disciplines of Execution
- Focus on the wildly important. This means to identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours.
- Act on the lead measures. This means focusing on what you can control and/or improve. For example, writing down a number of pages/words you wrote during a deep work session so that next time you can aim to either match or surpass it.
- Keep a compelling scoreboard. This means that in order to stay accountable, tally the number of days you do deep work. This helps with consistency and also you can see how many hours it takes to produce quality work.
- Create a cadence of accountability. This means that you should plan your day/week and then review how the day went at night. Make adjustments as needed.
On Life – Embrace Boredom
Distractions and boredom go hand in hand. Often we distract ourselves in order to avoid being bored, even for a minute or two. However, this habit trains your mind to seek distraction the moment you’re bored, which goes against the ability to focus and concentrate.
Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction. Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions, you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom.
Use focus breaks in order to improve concentration and focus. This concept requires you to schedule in advance when you’ll use the internet. This will create a healthy diet in regards to distraction. You can view the resisting of temptation as calisthenics for the mind.
By segregating internet use you’re minimizing the number of times you give in to distraction, and by doing so you let those attention-selecting muscles strength.
Keep time outside the internet blocks completely free from internet use. An easy way to practice this ability is in areas where you’re forced to wait, for example, in check-out lines. It’s easy to glance at the phone when you’re stuck in a check-out line, but resisting the urge and just being bored for the next few minutes will be more beneficial in the long run.
On Life – Meditate productively
The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally—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 a 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.
You are essentially forcing your thoughts to focus and concentrate on one well-defined problem repeatedly. This can be viewed as “focus repetitions” just as you may perform pull-up repetitions in order to strengthen back muscles.
On Life – Put More Thought Into Your Leisure Time
It’s easy to mindlessly scroll around or flip through channels or watch videos online. However, such actions reinforce bad habits.
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.
Two important things to remember. One, your mental faculties are capable of continuous work because all they require is a change in the type of work. Two, don’t use the internet to entertain yourself. That’s a slippery slope.
On Life – Drain The Shallow
Shallow work is:
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.
Ruthlessly identify where the shallow work appears in your life and cut it down to minimum levels.