Deep Work by Cal Newport

This book is a must read for any knowledge worker. Newport gives practical strategies to rid the noise and distraction from your life without having to move to an island in the Pacific. This book is on my re-read list every few years.


This book is a must read for any knowledge worker. Newport gives practical strategies to rid the noise and distraction from your life without having to move to an island in the Pacific. This book is on my re-read list every few years.


Part 1: The Idea

Chapter 1. Deep Work Is Valuable

The Three Types of Skilled Knowledge Workers

  1. The High-Skilled Workers
  2. The Superstars
  3. The Owners

The 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.

If you can't produce real, meaningful work, you won't thrive in the new economy. Being able to master difficult things quickly, is not an advantage - it's a must.

Deliberate Practice requires:

  • Our attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you're trying to improve or an idea you're trying to master
  • You receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it's most productive
  • The way to master hard things quickly is a deep process in the brain

Myelin - the fatty tissue that grows around the neurons, acts as an insulator. The more Myelin that grows, the faster and better neurons are able to fire off.

The repetitive use of a specific circuit trigger (practicing the same thing in deep intensity) begins wrapping oligondrocytes which cements the skill

This is only possible is the neurons are firing uninterrupted. If they begin being interrupted, they will not wrap Myelin. (Distracted by a cell phone, etc.)

High Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) X (Intensity of Focus)

The question is posed: What about Jack Dorsey?

Dorsey has a net worth of $1.1 Billion and has started two tech companies yet he's infamous for many meetings and no deep work sessions. How come he does well?

He enables others productivity. There gets a point in a career as a manager or CEO that you no longer protect your deep work sessions because that's not your job. Your job is to break down barriers for other people to create meaningful work.

Chapter 2. Deep Work Is Rare

  • 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 is a proxy for productivity
  • Sending emails, engaging in chats, going to meetings, reviewing notes, are all things that make us busy, so we think we're productive. That's not true.
  • To combat this, it's helpful to have clear goals and measurable items for employees and yourself to look back on. Then, you can work towards those goals, not meaningless busywork

Chapter 3. Deep Work Is Meaningful

  • What you pay attention to, will affect your mood and your level of happiness (Winifred Gallagher)
  • "Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love - is the sum of what you focus on" (Gallagher)
  • Checking your inbox constantly ensures that's what you pay attention to. Therefore, it will be difficult to do deep, meaningful work because you are focused on the trivial tasks brought up by co-workers
  • Giving rapt attention to the important things in life and ignoring the shallow, trivial things, life will be more important and positive.
  • You don't need a rarified job to have deep work and flow states. Instead, you need a rarified way you approach your work.

Part 2: The Rules

Rule #1 Work Deeply

There is no 'right' way to work deeply. Just the opposite in fact - there are multiple depth philosophies.

The Monastic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling

  • Maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations
  • People who practice this philosophy have a career that focuses on doing one skill incredibly well.
  • Their approach is monastic - one way - "i don't have time for distractions, only what is necessary for me to accomplish deeply.

Bimodal Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling

  • This philosophy divides your time, dedicating some to clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits, and leaving the rest of the time to everything else.
  • This needs to be at least one-full day - this ensures enough time will be allowed to reach maximum cognitive intensity.
  • This is a good balance between the deep work of the monastic approach, but also respects the pursuits are more trivial. This is probably where most people are allowed to approach the philosophy.

Rhythmic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling

  • Believing that the easiest way to start a deep work habit is to make them into simple, regular habits.
  • Simply having a schedule of when you're going to work deeply reduces the fact of you missing it.
  • Example of this is: Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5:00 am - 8:00 am I will work on my book. Of course you have to have systems in place to work on the right thing, but that's another book.

Journalistic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling

  • Fitting deep work in whenever you can - not the best method of deep work because you have to pick and guess and it fluctuates, but an option if no other philosophies fit your schedule.
  • Chosen by Walter Isaacson

The most common and doable is the Rhythmic Philosophy, but there is no right answer. Some questions to consider when choosing a philosophy are:

  • Where you'll work and for how long?
  • How you'll work once you start to work
  • How you'll support your work
  • Making grand gestures such as buying a two way ticket to Japan just to write your book, or a hotel room in London if you're writing Harry Potter, or a cave in the mountains can help bring on the desire to work deeply.
  • Separate the act of thinking deeply and executing on those ideas. When you sit down for a productive Deep Work session, you should know exactly what you're supposed to be working on.

4 Disciplines of Execution

  • Focus on the Wildly Important
  • Act on the Lead Measures
  • Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
  • Create a Cadence of Accountability

Schedule downtime, use it well.

Rule #2 Embrace Boredom

  • Instead of taking a break from distraction to focus, take a break from focus to break free from distraction.
  • Scheduling times of when you'll look on Youtube, when you'll scroll through Twitter or check your iPhone next is a huge step in the right direction.
  • Use productive meditation to your advantage, instead of filling time with your phone.
  • While doing any task that isn't mentally taxing - walking, running, showering. - focus your mind on a particular, well defined problem.
  • Be wary of distractions and looping
  • Structure Your Deep Thinking Time

Rule #3: Quit Social Media

The Any-Benefit Approach

  • You justify using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don't use it.

Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection

  • Identify the things that add success or happiness in your life. Be specific. Now, only adopt new tools if they add massive amounts of positive impact to what you selected.

Define high level goals for personal and professional life:

  • Professional Goal:
  • Key Activities Supporting This Goal:

Law of the Vital Few

  • Pareto Principle - 80% of the outcome is from 20% of the input

Give yourself something to do in every minute of the day. If you don't something else, typically social media or TV will capture those seconds, minutes, or hours away.

Even with "free" time or your weekends. Schedule them out beforehand.

Rule #4 Drain the Shallows

  • Schedule every minute of your day using time-blocking technique
  • At the beginning of each work day, turn to a new lined paper and write out the hours you'll be working or doing something.
  • If things get thrown off, write a new schedule to the right of the old one and voila, follow that one now.
  • Find a fixed time you want to stop working at, and use a system to make sure all the productive work for the day is finished by then.
  • Become Hard to Reach
  • Make People Who Send You an E-Mail Do More Work
  • Do More Work When You Send and Reply to Emails
  • Instead of, 'Yes I can meet. What works for you?' and playing that game of back and forth, reply with 3-5 specific times that work well for you and have them reply with which option they choose.

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