Deep Work Book Summary

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

My Rating: 10/10

Reviews: Deep Work and Audiobook

Top three takeaways

  1. Deep work is hard to replicate, highly valuable, and rare.
  2. Schedule up to four hours a day for deep work.
  3. Keep a scoreboard.


What is Deep Work? Deep work is professional activities performed in deep focus for long periods of time. They are hard to replicate, create value and improve personal skills.

Shallow work is non-cognitively demanding and can be done distracted. It creates low value and is replicable.

2 main values of deep work: 

  1. We live in the information economy. 
  2. You create something useful and scalable.

Deep work is more rare and rewarding than ever. Deep work is the superpower of the 21st century.

Schedule 3-4 hours/ 5 days of deep work time is all you need.

Part 1- The Idea

Deep Work is Valuable

A deep work habit requires you to treat your time with respect.

Deep work will let you achieve more in less time. 

Outsourcing meaning that the pool of skilled people is growing.

There’s a premium for being the best today. You can’t take a bunch of second-tier people and create a top-notch deep worker(knowledge workers).

Superstars will win the bulk of the market.

Three will thrive today- Access to capital, work with AI, and Best at what they do.

Thrive in the new economy with: 

1. Quickly learn hard things. 

2. Produce at the elite level(quality and Speed).

Deep Work helps you learn hard things quicker. To learn is to go do deep work.

High-quality work produced = Time spent X intensity of focus

Task A and Task B together can leave attention on both tasks. You drain your focus battery. Multi-task is waste of time.

Deep Work is Rare

The principle of least resistance- in professional life without feedback, we go for the easy.

Busyness as a proxy for productivity- in the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, people turn to the industrial indicators of doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

Deep Work is Meaningful

Your focus- who you are, what you think, feel and do, what you love— is the sum of what you focus on.

Beautiful code(or writing) is short and concise.

Writing is a craft. Once you have that skill you become valuable.

Part 2- The Rules

Rule # 1- Work Deeply

The big obstacle to going deep is the urge to do something superficial.

You have a finite amount of willpower that gets depleted as you use it. 

Deep work or long periods of focused concentration has also been shown to strengthen the connections between neurons.

Four Deep Work Approaches:

1. The Monastic Philosophy(All in): Isolate yourself from shallow obligations in order to do your work: 

2. The Bimodal Philosophy(Some periods): Practitioners of this philosophy split their work year into deep work periods in isolation, along with shallow work periods engaged in more normal activities. Adam Grant schedules time to analyzes data, first draft, publishable work. 

3. The Rhythmic Philosophy: Set aside a specific time each day to engage in Deep Work, and defend this time aggressively. Seinfeld X technique to keep the chain going daily. 

4. The Journalistic Philosophy: Journalists are trained to fit deep work wherever they could into their schedules, due to the nature of reporting.

Ritual three facts:

1. Where you will deep work sessions and how much amount of time? 

2. How you will keep the focus on deep work hours once you start to work(ban the internet, etc.)?

3. How you will support your workday(water, jump, walk, schedule leisure time)?

4DX(4 Disciplines of Execution): (A book that I recommend)

1. Focus on widely important(80/20). The more you try to do, the less you accomplish.

2. Act on the lead measure— Measure your success metrics(lead measure vs lag measure). 

3. Keep a compelling scoreboard(Keep track of deep hour work spend daily on a paper or board, Keep track of how many hours got you the results). 

4. Create a cadence of accountability— Plan on Monday and accountability on Fri/Sun.

Be lazy:

1. Downtime aids insights. Leave some decisions to your subconscious. 

2. It will recharge you. You will get decision fatigue. 

3. Give yourself the evening off from Deep Work. When work, work hard. when done, you are done. Enjoy your leisure time. Do the deep work the next day.

Have a shutdown ritual.

Rule # 2 Embrace Boredom

Don’t flee boredom at every chance, love it.

Multi-tasker is a sucker for irrelevance. They initiate a larger part of the brain that’s irrelevant to tasks.

Take breaks from focus, not distractions.

Eating one day a week won’t help your health, some go for detoxing from social media for one month or a week.

Have an internet/network time schedule. Use a notebook and stick to it.

Put your deadline public if you can.

Productive meditation: Focus on one problem in running, walking, driving, shower, etc.

Schedule a walk on a pressing problem at work. Keep in mind to keep come back to the problem. Decide on the sequence to solve the problem.

Humans are good at remembering scenes.

Rule # 3 Quit Social Media

Any benefit approach is when you ignore any negative. This is by taking any small benefit and going along.

The craftsman approach to tool selection determines the core factors that bring success and happiness in your professional and personal life(opposite to any benefit). 

If you have to pick social media, then use the 80/20 aka The law of the vital few.

Marketing coup: You will miss out if you don’t use our product/service.

The brain wants to change not rest until you fall asleep.

Tool search: Pick a high level(1-2), they are not too specific, now first 1-3 activities to support most important goals.

What network tools do you use now? Are they positive, neutral, or negative? Only keep positive impact tools. Eliminate the neutral and negative impact tools.

Drain the Shallows

Research on deliberate practice shows that the maximum most professionals can execute deliberate practice (Deep work) is four hours.

Aim for 4 hours of deep work and you can work on 4 hours shallow.

Schedule with a line on a paper with 30 mins blocks. Schedule every minute of your day. Schedule some free time. Don’t worry about getting off track. If you do, just update the schedule, overestimate the time you will spend on each task. 

Adapt fixed-schedule productivity(e.g. Finish your work by 5:00 pm). This will balance your working life with your personal life.

Shallow activities: Easily replicate-able, logistic, non-focus, you can perform distractions and not create much value in the new world.

Test deep vs shallow work question: How long will it take you to train a recent college graduate to work on this task( in months- longer means deep, shorter means shallow)?

Ask your boss for a shallow work budget(or ask yourself).

In email messaging do extra work: Give next steps, times to connect, details, and the next steps.

The culture of connectivity expects you to respond fast to everything and it can be taxing on your willpower.

Less mental clutter means more mental resources for deep work.

Once a week let go of small things on your plate. This will free you up to create big things.

Bill Gates a serial obsessor(focused man that gets deep work done).

The ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.

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