Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
by Cal Newport
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep Work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.
In Deep Work, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four rules, for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill.
- Work Deeply
2. Embrace Boredom
3. Quit Social Media
4. Drain the Shallows
A mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice, Deep Work takes the reader on a journey through memorable stories-from Carl Jung building a stone tower in the woods to focus his mind, to a social media pioneer buying a round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo to write a book free from distraction in the air-and no-nonsense advice, such as the claim that most serious professionals should quit social media and that you should practice being bored. Deep Work is an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.
You can increase your productivity by setting time limits for internet usage. For example, you could set aside two hours a day to use the internet and then avoid using it outside that time block. This will make you more productive because you’ll be focused on taking advantage of those two hours instead of being distracted by the internet during other times in the day.
How many notifications, emails and texts do you think you’ll get during this summary? Do you think that will affect your understanding of these key points?
In today’s world, where technology is constantly changing and evolving at a rapid pace, we must learn how to focus on one task without interruption. We must practice deep work in our daily lives.
What does it mean to be productive? It means turning off your notifications and getting into the zone. Deep work is different from being in the zone, which can be achieved in a variety of ways. One way is taking a shower while thinking about something specific.
Big Idea #1: People who are distracted and multitask are less productive.
Many people think that multitasking is the best way to get things done, but Leroy’s research shows why this isn’t true. She believes they’re wrong because when we switch from one task to another our attention stays devoted to the first activity. We can only half-focus on the second activity and thus our productivity suffers. For example, in her experiment Group A worked on word puzzles until she interrupted them for resume reading and hiring decisions. Meanwhile Group B was able to finish their word puzzles before moving on to anything else.
In between tasks, the participants were tested on how many words from the puzzle they remembered. The result? Group A was more focused on the puzzles and therefore less able to focus on hiring the right person. In fact, multitasking is not a good way to be productive or connected with others in your social network. It’s better for you to focus one thing at a time and avoid distractions like emails that pop up while working.
For example, a study found that the average worker spends over 60% of their time on online communication tools and surfing the internet. Only 30% is spent reading and answering emails.
Despite the fact that people are working more, they feel like they’re not getting enough done. That’s because when we’re doing busy work and moving information around, it makes us feel like we’re accomplishing something even though we aren’t really focusing on anything important.
Big Idea #2: There are different ways to accomplish deep work. Some of them require intention, while others don’t.
You know the obstacles that get in your way of deep work, but how can you overcome them? Here are a few strategies to help:
There are two ways to do this: either by eliminating distractions or taking time out of your schedule for focused work.
The first one is to work in a quiet place. The next is to have good concentration skills. The third one is to be able to do deep work for long periods of time and track your progress through calendars.
Finally, a journalist will use any free time to do deep work. However, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t just pick one of these techniques at random; they’re all methodical and deliberate.
In fact, that’s the difference between being in the zone and deep work. Deep work is intentional and desired, whereas zoning out is usually a byproduct of procrastination.
One way to help focus on your work is to get away from the distractions of open office spaces. You can do this by setting up a designated space that you will go to when you need some quiet time, or going somewhere outside of the office like a library or coffee shop.
In order to be successful, you need to have a routine. JK Rowling is one of the most successful authors in history, and she has her own rituals that help her stay productive. For example, when she was writing the last Harry Potter book, she would go away from home so as not to distract herself by being around family members who wanted her attention. Another ritual is defining boundaries for yourself so you can focus on your work without being distracted; this includes disconnecting from the internet or turning off your phone while working. Finally, it’s important to take care of yourself if you want to maintain long-term productivity; otherwise, you’ll never have enough energy for deep work sessions.
Big Idea #3: Focus your brain when using technology.
Our brains are accustomed to distraction because we’re surrounded by people who can’t focus. We have games, social media sites and other things that keep us distracted. Therefore, it’s hard for us to be focused on one thing at a time.
But don’t worry, you can meditate and it will help you focus. It’s simple: use your time to think about something important by taking a walk or shower, but do not let your mind change subjects.
To get started, you need to identify the different issues in solving a given problem and then figure out what you need to accomplish your goal.
Think of this as a mental workout routine. It will help build your focus and concentration!
It’s also important to remain aware of how you use social media and the internet. For instance, if you’re using Facebook to keep in touch with friends, then use it for that purpose, but try spending more time with them in person as well.
If you can’t quit cold turkey, try to reduce the time spent on social media. After 30 days of not using it, ask yourself if your life was better without social media in it. If the answer is no, then you should probably go back to using it.
Big Idea #4: It’s important to schedule both work and free time.
When we get home from work, we don’t want to do anything. We just want to relax and have no fixed time slots where we have to complete tasks.
We end up doing the same thing every night: watching TV, scrolling through our phones or staring at our computers. Then when it’s finally time to go to bed, we feel tired and exhausted for the next day.
In order to avoid wasting time, schedule everything you do. This will allow you to be mindful of how you spend your time. At the start of every workday, create a schedule divided into blocks of at least 30 minutes for both work and personal tasks like eating or relaxing. If your schedule changes during the day, rearrange it accordingly so that you can stay aware about how you’re spending your time.
It’s important to plan your days in advance so you can take actions toward specific goals. For example, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of time you spend on email and other work-related tasks after hours. By doing this, you’ll give yourself more space within your mind to relax.
To relieve stress, it’s important to plan your evenings and weekends around activities that don’t involve the internet. Maybe you’ll read a book or go for a run. Spending time with family is also beneficial.
“Deep Work” and Why It Matters
Deep work is the kind of work that requires your full attention. It’s not easy to do, but it can be extremely rewarding. To understand deep work, compare it to shallow work, which doesn’t require much from you mentally and is often done while distracted.
Current trends push people to do shallow work. People want to network, tweet and respond quickly. This is dangerous because they might automate or skip important tasks that have limited value. Deep work offers profound value and it’s becoming increasingly important as technology advances.
Technology is changing the economy. Many people can’t keep up with technology, but this doesn’t mean they’re not competing in today’s world. Technology has created a new type of worker: high-skilled workers who are good at using complex technology to compete and succeed in business.
In the past, companies hired locally or paid people to relocate. In that environment, local experts reaped rewards. Now companies might ask specialists to telecommute. This displaces local workers while validating superstars and pushes job markets toward a “winner-take-all” model. Information technology lets superstars multiply their influence and rewards in any field; you need to master hard things and learn complex material quickly for those jobs, which requires deep work (i.e., focused attention).
Deep work is a state of intense focus. It requires you to concentrate on one task and not switch between tasks. You can achieve deep work by practicing a skill repeatedly until it becomes second nature, which helps you get better at it. The more elite work you produce equals the time spent on your task multiplied by how intensely focused you are while working on that task. If you’re distracted often or switch tasks frequently, your performance level will suffer because part of your attention will be stuck in the previous task, making it harder to concentrate fully on the next one.
There are many reasons why people don’t focus deeply on important tasks. The modern business environment makes it easy to get distracted, and the easiest way for most people is to respond quickly to messages. People tend not to prioritize their work or make sure they’re doing what’s most important. They just plunge in without thinking about whether they’re working on something that’s really worth their time, which leads them to do busywork because it can be measured easily—but not necessarily well.
“Cult of the Internet”
People act as if using the Internet is revolutionary, but it’s not. They invite people to like them on Facebook and use Twitter. This pulls their attention away from doing real work that matters to society.
What You “Pay Attention To”
Studies show that deep work is valuable. Winifred Gallagher, a science writer, spent years researching attention and its effects on our lives. She found that the way you manage your attention shapes how good your life is; it’s more important than circumstances. Your brain creates experiences based on what you pay attention to and where you focus your energy; focusing on positive things trains your prefrontal cortex to keep negative stimuli from affecting you as much. In deep work, we focus on topics that matter most to us in order to reshape our reality positively—deep work itself becomes its own reward because of the challenges associated with it and its structured nature.
In their 2011 book, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly argue that deep work is a solution to the problem of meaning in our lives. They trace this idea back to the Enlightenment and René Descartes, who made us think for ourselves instead of relying on tradition. The authors suggest that we can solve this issue by doing what we love (craftsmanship).
Focus allows artists to be more creative, whereas deep work helps knowledge workers focus on their tasks. Four rules that will help you embrace deep work are:
- “Work Deeply”
Deep work is important to develop in your life. It means being able to focus without distractions and getting into a flow state more often. Some of these distractions are internal, like basic desires for food and sex. Other distractions come from the outside world, such as social media or television. You can get rid of some of these distractions by creating a routine that helps you focus on deep work more often than not.
Others find that this doesn’t work for them because of their professional obligations. They follow a bimodal philosophy and alternate between periods of deep work and periods in which they focus on other things. For example, academics might teach during one period and then research the rest of the year.
Other people find that a rhythmic philosophy works best. They schedule deep work at the same time daily and add a new link every day. People who lack control over their schedules or who easily switch into deep work mode, find the journalistic philosophy useful. These thinkers take advantage of any breaks in their schedules to focus on core projects.
If you want to do deep work, you need to build a routine for it. Think about where and when you’ll focus on your task, how long it will take, and what tools or resources you’ll need. Also think about the distractions that might be in your way and how to eliminate them or minimize their impact. You can also make “grand gestures” that will help solidify your commitment to focusing on one thing at a time—for example, J K Rowling checked into hotels so she could write without distractions; Bill Gates would go away from Microsoft for weeks at a time so he could read books and focus on his ideas.
- “Embrace Boredom”
In today’s world, people are addicted to distraction. They’re easily distracted and they suffer from boredom when trying to concentrate on something. However, if you stop fighting the boredom and recognize it as proof that you’re focused, then you can make focused concentration a habit because it’s good for your brain.
- “Quit Social Media”
Social media are a way to keep in touch with people and be entertained. However, they cost you much more than the benefits they provide. When deciding whether or not to use social media, identify which factors create success and happiness in your life. If a tool offers more benefits than negatives, then it is worth using; otherwise do not use it at all.
Think of this as the law of the vital few, or 80/20 rule. Name your top goals in both personal and professional areas. Identify what activities contribute to reaching those goals. Review the tools you use now and evaluate their impact on achieving those goals. Use the internet for a substantive purpose, not entertainment.
- “Drain the Shallows”
In today’s world, most people are busy. They don’t have time to do the things they want to do or need to do. If you’re always busy, then you probably aren’t doing enough deep work. Deep work is hard and takes a lot of energy because it pushes your limits and makes you tired. It also requires an investment in time at first—you have to build up your capacity for deep work before you can start doing it regularly. You should schedule every minute of your day so that nothing gets left out and no one wastes any time on unimportant tasks or activities (such as watching TV). This might seem like a difficult task at first, but if you keep trying, eventually this process will become easier as you get better at estimating how long certain activities take. Over time, scheduling each minute of the day will help make sure that everyone has enough free time for spontaneous inspiration too!
Deep Work Tools
“Quantify how much time you spend on shallow work.” Determine if it takes one month to train a new employee to do what you do or if it takes three months. Then, try to quantify the amount of effort that goes into your job and place yourself on a depth spectrum. For example, some jobs require more deep work than others and vice versa. If most of your job requires shallow work then plan out how long you will be doing this kind of work before transitioning into something else.
To be more productive, you should finish all of your work by 5:30 p.m. instead of working long hours and on the weekends. You should also be selective about what tasks you tackle and what meetings you attend in order to succeed at work.
Protect Your Time
It is becoming harder to get in touch with people, especially because emailing has become so easy. People want to answer emails as soon as they get them, but this can be distracting and time-consuming. To avoid this problem, it’s best to respond selectively when you receive an email. You should also ask the sender of an email for more information about what he or she wants from you before replying. For example, rather than giving a general address like “email@example.com”, use a preface such as: “I am only available for opportunities related to X”.
When you answer emails, do more work. Don’t just express general interest or agreement; push forward with specifics. If someone requests a meeting with you, agree and list specific times that you’re available and ask the person to choose one of them. If a project needs help, give the help and define what’s next so there aren’t any back-and-forth emails. Answer questions only if they are clear, interesting to you,and benefit your career in some way.