Deep Work by Cal Newport
My manager suggested looking at time blocking to better plan my days, as it felt like I was constantly being pulled every which way. Through my research into time blocking I came across an article from Cal Newport, which lead into picking up his book on Deep Work.
Deep Work is segmented in to two parts: Part 1 which argues the importance of deep work, and Part 2 which provides “rules” for increasing the ability to do deep work.
Productivity is a very personal thing, and what works for Cal might not fit everyone - but he provides four “rules” which I’m planning to implement and find out what works for me.
My Highlights and Notes
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.
Shallow Work: Noncognitively 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.
I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule. Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.
In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital.
Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy The ability to quickly master hard things. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.
By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin around the neurons in the circuits—effectively cementing the skill. The reason, therefore, why it’s important to focus intensely on the task at hand while avoiding distraction is because this is the only way to isolate the relevant neural circuit enough to trigger useful myelination.
To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.
The Principle of Least Resistance: In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.
Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.
If you send and answer e-mails at all hours, if you schedule and attend meetings constantly, if you weigh in on instant message systems like Hall within seconds when someone poses a new question, or if you roam your open office bouncing ideas off all whom you encounter—all of these behaviors make you seem busy in a public manner. If you’re using busyness as a proxy for productivity, then these behaviors can seem crucial for convincing yourself and others that you’re doing your job well.
what we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life.
Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.
To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.
You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.
The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.
By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated toward supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task. This boost in importance reduces your mind’s instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy.
At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning—no after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you’ll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely. If you need more time, then extend your workday, but once you shut down, your mind must be left free to encounter Kreider’s buttercups, stink bugs, and stars.
To simply wait and be bored has become a novel experience in modern life, but from the perspective of concentration training, it’s incredibly valuable.
Willpower is limited, and therefore the more enticing tools you have pulling at your attention, the harder it’ll be to maintain focus on something important. To master the art of deep work, therefore, you must take back control of your time and attention from the many diversions that attempt to steal them.
This is why it’s not uncommon to see a company fire unproductive clients. If 80 percent of their profits come from 20 percent of their clients, then they make more money by redirecting the energy from low-revenue clients to better service the small number of lucrative contracts—each hour spent on the latter returns more revenue than each hour spent on the former.
One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change—not rest, except in sleep.
My Rating: ★★★★★
Date Finished: 2018-08-17