Cover of book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

by: Cal Newport

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112 Highlights | 2 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 to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.
  • Learning something complex like computer programming requires intense uninterrupted concentration on cognitively demanding concepts—the type of concentration that drove Carl Jung to the woods surrounding Lake Zurich.
  • He would highlight the computer programming textbooks, transfer the ideas to notecards, and then practice them out loud. These periods free from electronic distraction were hard at first, but Benn gave himself no other option: He had to learn this material, and he made sure there was nothing in that room to distract him.
  • 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.
  • Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out,
  • 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.
  • And because these technologies change rapidly, this process of mastering hard things never ends: You must be able to do it quickly, again and again.
  • If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.
  • “Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.”
  • The Intellectual Life.
  • In these words, which are echoed in many forms in The Intellectual Life, Sertillanges argues that to advance your understanding of your field you must tackle the relevant topics systematically,
  • To master a cognitively demanding task requires this specific form of practice—there are few exceptions made for natural talent. (On this point too, Sertillanges seems to have been ahead of his time, arguing in The Intellectual Life, “Men of genius themselves were great only by bringing all their power to bear on the point on which they had decided to show their full measure.” Ericsson couldn’t have said it better.)
  • Its core components are usually identified as follows: (1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master; (2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
  • By contrast, if you’re trying to learn a complex new skill (say, SQL database management) in a state of low concentration (perhaps you also have your Facebook feed open), you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen.
  • To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.
  • the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches.
  • Grant performs this batching at multiple levels.
  • by consolidating his work into intense and uninterrupted pulses, he’s
  • High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
  • The best students understood the role intensity plays in productivity and therefore went out of their way to maximize their concentration—radically reducing the time required to prepare for tests or write papers, without diminishing the quality of their results.
  • the attention residue concept is still telling because it implies that the common habit of working in a state of semi-distraction is potentially devastating to your performance.
  • “If you are just getting into some work and a phone goes off in the background, it ruins what you are concentrating on,” said the neuroscientist who ran the experiments for the show. “Even though you are not aware at the time, the brain responds to distractions.”
  • 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.
  • For many, these standing meetings become a simple (but blunt) form of personal organization.
    Note: Personal organization. Interesting word
  • Here, for example, is the late Nobel Prize–winning physicist Richard Feynman explaining in an interview one of his less orthodox productivity strategies: To do real good physics work, you do need absolute solid lengths of time… it needs a lot of concentration… if you have a job administrating anything, you don’t have the time. So I have invented another myth for myself: that I’m irresponsible. I’m actively irresponsible. I tell everyone I don’t do anything. If anyone asks me to be on a committee for admissions, “no,” I tell them: I’m irresponsible.
  • Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.
  • how well they’re doing their job.
    Note: How do I measure how well i am doing my job? How well i am learning? Additiobal thiufht: Journal at the end of every workday will help with my thinking? But not metrics
  • A similar reality creates problems for many knowledge workers. They want to prove that they’re productive members of the team and are earning their keep, but they’re not entirely clear what this goal constitutes.
  • 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. This mind-set provides
  • So why is Alissa Rubin urged to regularly interrupt this necessarily deep work to provide, for free, shallow content to a service run by an unrelated media company based out of Silicon Valley? And perhaps even more important, why does this behavior seem so normal to most people? If
  • the hypercitational social critic Evgeny Morozov. In his 2013 book, To Save Everything, Click Here
  • We no longer see Internet tools as products released by for-profit companies, funded by investors hoping to make a return, and run by twentysomethings who are often making things up as they go along. We’re instead quick to idolize these digital doodads as a signifier of progress and a harbinger of a (dare I say, brave) new world.
  • Deep work is at a severe disadvantage in a technopoly because it builds on values like quality, craftsmanship, and mastery that are decidedly old-fashioned and nontechnological.
  • a deep life is not just economically lucrative, but also a life well lived.
  • her commitment to focus on what was good in her life—“movies, walks, and a 6:30 martini”—worked
  • Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to
  • As Gallagher summarizes: “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”
  • “concentration so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems.”)
  • ‘the idle mind is the devil’s workshop’… when you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right.”
  • ” Gallagher concludes in her book. “I’ll choose my targets with care… then give them my rapt attention. In short, I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”
  • “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Csikszentmihalyi calls this mental state flow (a term he popularized with a 1990 book of the same title).
  • To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.
  • Consider this quote from the coding prodigy Santiago Gonzalez describing his work to an interviewer: Beautiful code is short and concise, so if you were to give that code to another programmer they would say, “oh, that’s well written code.” It’s much like as if you were writing a poem.
  • You don’t need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.
  • They tell us that you can expect to be bombarded with the desire to do anything but work deeply throughout the day,
  • willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.
  • commit to a particular pattern for scheduling this work and develop rituals to sharpen your concentration before starting each session.
  • the rhythmic philosophy. This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit.
  • Another common way to implement the rhythmic philosophy is to replace the visual aid of the chain method with a set starting time that you use every day for deep work.
  • He made a rule that he would wake up and start working by five thirty every morning. He would then work until seven thirty, make breakfast, and go to work already done with his dissertation obligations for the day.
  • Isaacson was methodic: Any time he could find some free time, he would switch into a deep work mode and hammer away at his book.
  • decisions on a moment-to-moment basis. I instead tend to map out when I’ll work deeply during each week at the beginning of the week, and then refine these decisions, as needed, at the beginning of each day (see Rule #4 for more details on my scheduling routines). By reducing the need to make decisions about deep work moment by moment, I can preserve more mental energy for the deep thinking itself.
  • To make the most out of your deep work sessions, build rituals of the same level of strictness and idiosyncrasy as the important thinkers mentioned previously.
  • • Where you’ll work and for how long. Your
  • How you’ll work once you start to work. Your ritual needs rules and processes to keep your efforts structured.
  • ban on any Internet use,
  • the ritual might specify that you start with a cup of good coffee, or make sure you have access to enough food of the right type to maintain energy, or integrate light exercise such as walking to help keep the mind clear.
  • the grand gesture. The concept is simple: 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.
  • There was nothing physically stopping Gates from thinking deeply in his office in Microsoft’s Seattle headquarters, but the novelty of his weeklong retreat helped him achieve the desired levels of concentration.
  • But it’s not the amenities of the cabins that generate their value; it’s instead the grand gesture represented in the design and building of the cabin for the sole purpose of enabling better writing.
  • the whiteboard effect. For some types of problems, working with someone else at the proverbial shared whiteboard can push you deeper than if you were working alone. The presence of the other party waiting for your next insight—be it someone physically in the same room or collaborating with you virtually—can short-circuit the natural instinct to avoid depth.
  • First, distraction remains a destroyer of depth. Therefore, the hub-and-spoke model provides a crucial template. Separate your pursuit of serendipitous encounters from your efforts to think deeply and build on these inspirations. You should try to optimize each effort separately, as opposed to mixing them together into a sludge that impedes both goals.
  • world. It’s often straightforward to identify a strategy needed to achieve a goal, but what trips up companies is figuring out how to execute the strategy once identified.
  • They elaborate that execution should be aimed at a small number of “wildly important goals.”
  • identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours.
  • In a 2014 column titled “The Art of Focus,” David Brooks endorsed this approach of letting ambitious goals drive focused behavior, explaining: “If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”
  • In 4DX, there are two types of metrics for this purpose: lag measures and lead measures. Lag measures describe the thing you’re ultimately trying to improve.
  • Lead measures, on the other hand, “measure the new behaviors that will drive success on the lag measures.”
  • For an individual focused on deep work, it’s easy to identify the relevant lead measure: time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.
  • I took a piece of card stock and divided it into rows, one for each week of the current semester. I then labeled each row with the dates of the week and taped it to the wall next to my computer monitor (where it couldn’t be ignored). As each week progressed, I kept track of the hours spent in deep work that week with a simple tally of tick marks in that week’s row. To maximize the motivation generated by this scoreboard, whenever I reached an important milestone in an academic paper (e.g., solving a key proof), I would circle the tally mark corresponding to the hour where I finished the result.* This served two purposes. First, it allowed me to connect, at a visceral level, accumulated deep work hours and tangible results. Second, it helped calibrate my expectations for how many hours of deep work were needed per result.
  • weekly review
  • During my experiments with 4DX, I used a weekly review to look over my scoreboard to celebrate good weeks, help understand what led to bad weeks, and most important, figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead.
  • I used a weekly review to look over my scoreboard to celebrate good weeks, help understand what led to bad weeks, and most important, figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead.
  • The 4DX framework is based on the fundamental premise that execution is more difficult than strategizing.
  • Tim Kreider provided a memorable self-description: “I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know.”
  • Here’s Kreider’s explanation: Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets… it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
  • For the most part, the more time you can spend immersed in shallow work the more of it that gets accomplished. As
  • 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.
  • which claims that spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.
  • After fifty minutes of such replenishment, the subjects enjoyed a boost in their concentration.
  • Having a casual conversation with a friend, listening to music while making dinner, playing a game with your kids, going for a run—the types of activities that will fill your time in the evening if you enforce a work shutdown—play the same attention-restoring role as walking in nature.
  • Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day to follow. Put another way, trying to squeeze a little
  • deliberate practice is the systematic stretching of your ability for a given skill.
  • Ericsson notes that for a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit, while for experts this number can expand to as many as four hours—but rarely more.
  • must first accept the commitment that once your workday shuts down, you cannot allow even the smallest incursion of professional concerns into your field of attention. This includes, crucially, checking e-mail, as well as browsing work-related websites.
  • a strict shutdown ritual that you use at the end of the workday to maximize the probability that you succeed.
  • this ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right. The process should be an algorithm: a series of steps you always conduct, one after another. When you’re done, have a set phrase you say that indicates completion (to end my own ritual, I say, “Shutdown complete”).
  • relevant.) Once I have these task lists open, I quickly skim every task in every list, and then look at the next few days on my calendar. These two actions ensure that there’s nothing urgent I’m forgetting or any important deadlines or appointments sneaking up on me. I have, at this point, reviewed everything that’s on my professional plate. To end the ritual, I use this information to make a rough plan for the next day. Once the plan is created, I say, “Shutdown complete,” and my work thoughts are done for the day.
  • From my experience, it should take a week or two before the shutdown habit sticks—that is, until your mind trusts your ritual enough to actually begin to release work-related thoughts in the evening.
  • The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.
  • Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.
  • Don’t Take Breaks from Distraction. Instead Take Breaks from Focus.
  • Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times.
  • I suggest that you keep a notepad near your computer at work. On this pad, record the next time you’re allowed to use the Internet. Until you arrive at that time, absolutely no network connectivity is allowed—no matter how tempting.
  • This strategy works even if your job requires lots of Internet use and/or prompt e-mail replies.
  • Regardless of how you schedule your Internet blocks, you must keep the time outside these blocks absolutely free from Internet use.
  • If this is infeasible—perhaps you need to get the current offline activity done promptly—then the correct response is to change your schedule so that your next Internet block begins sooner. The key in making this change, however, is to not schedule the next Internet block to occur immediately. Instead, enforce at least a five-minute gap between the current moment and the next time you can go online.
  • I would suggest that you maintain the strategy of scheduling Internet use even after the workday is over.
  • The key here isn’t to avoid or even to reduce the total amount of time you spend engaging in distracting behavior, but is instead to give yourself plenty of opportunities throughout your evening to resist switching to these distractions at the slightest hint of boredom.
  • Roosevelt would begin his scheduling by considering the eight hours from eight thirty a.m. to four thirty p.m. He would then remove the time spent in recitation and classes, his athletic training (which was once a day), and lunch. The fragments that remained were then considered time dedicated exclusively to studying. As noted, these fragments didn’t usually add up to a large number of total hours, but he would get the most out of them by working only on schoolwork during these periods, and doing so with a blistering intensity.
  • there should be only one possible way to get the deep task done in time: working with great intensity—no e-mail breaks, no daydreaming, no Facebook browsing, no repeated trips to the coffee machine.
  • Try this experiment no more than once a week at first—giving your brain practice with intensity, but also giving it (and your stress levels) time to rest in between.
  • Roosevelt dashes.
  • 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.
  • When you notice your attention slipping away from the problem at hand, gently remind yourself that you can return to that thought later, then redirect your attention back.
  • When you notice it, remark to yourself that you seem to be in a loop, then redirect your attention toward the next step.
  • The Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection: You’re justified in 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.
  • 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.
  • The first step of this strategy is to identify the main high-level goals in both your professional and your personal life.
  • Once you’ve identified these goals, list for each the two or three most important activities that help you satisfy the goal.