Read: March 2017
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
I have found myself reading a lot of this topic as I have been feeling extremely distracted and find it difficult to complete anything of meaning. Therefore, more of the techniques and advantage communicated in the book I had already come across. Still, it was great reaffirming the advantages and strategies to increase the probability of getting deep work done.
The book is broken down into two main sections:
Part 1: The Idea
Part 2: The rules
Part 1 has the aim of convincing the reader the value of deep work and why it is so rare in the current era.
Part 2 highlights various strategies to cultivating a habit of deep work.
Part 1: The idea
Deep work – Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.
Shallow work – Non-cognitively 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.
Deep work hypothesis – The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill and then make it the core of their working life will thrive.
Deep work is valuable
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
Deep work assists in both of the above abilities.
High-Quality work produced = (Time spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
Deep work is rare
This chapter talks about the advantages and disadvantages of open office plans. The advantage is the increased collaborative nature and the disadvantage is the difficulty to do deep work due to the increasing number of interruptions.
The principle of least resistance – In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors on the bottom line, we tend toward behaviors that are easiest at the moment.
The chapter also talks about the illusion of busyness as being productive. The idea is to identify the real measure of success. Cal used the h-index to highlight this point from an academic perspective. The h-index is a measure of an academics publications and citation to approximate your impact on your field.
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 or productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.
Deep work is meaningful
I this charter the author aims to convince the reader that deep work is meaningful using three main arguments. Namely, from a neurological perspective, a psychological perspective and then a philosophical perspective.
Neurological argument: Cal uses the story of a science writer, Winifred Gallagher, to put forward his argument. His (Gallagher’s) theory – Your world is what you pay attention too. Nice quote from Gallagher, ‘The idle mind is the devil’s workshop.’
Psychological argument: The research done by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on understanding the psychological impact of everyday behaviors. They need a method to record the subject’s feelings as close to the action as possible.
The theory was that a person’s best moments in a day occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. The outcome of the studied showed that people were happier at work and less happy relaxing than they expected.
Philosophical argument: The author uses the work from Hubert Dreyfus (taught philosophy at Berkeley) and Sean Kelly (Was chair of Harvard’s philosophy department) who argue that craftsmanship provides a key to reopening a sense of sacredness/meaning.
Part 2: The rules
Rule #1 Work Deeply
Greek concept – Eudaimonia – a state in which you’re achieving your full human potential.
Decide on your depth philosophy
The Monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling: The attempt to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or minimizing shallow obligations
The Bimodal philosophy: Dividing your time by dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else. The minimum amount of time is 1 day.
The Rhythmic philosophy: Create a regular rhythm of deep work. Aim to develop a regular habit. Seinfeld – “The best way to create better jokes was to write every day.” Chain method – Everyday that you complete the desired activity cross it off on a visual calendar. After some time you would have created a chain which provides additional motivation to continue as you don’t want to break the chain.
The Journalistic philosophy: Fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule.
There is no one correct deep work ritual. Some questions to consider:
- Where you’ll work and for how long?
- How you’ll work once you start work?
- How you’ll support your work?
Grand gestures: The example of J.K. Rowling and her checking into a hotel in her home city of Edinburgh to complete her final book in the Harry Potter series. By doing a grand gesture like this you increase the perceived value of the task.
Execute like a business: The authors used the 4 Disciplines of Execution that companies use to successfully implement high-level strategies.
- Discipline 1: Focus on the wildly important
- Discipline 2: Act on the lead measure
- Discipline 3: Keep a compelling scoreboard
- Discipline 4: Create a cadence of accountability
Be Lazy: Cal describes the story of an essayist and cartoonist Tim Kreider and how he would retreat to a disconnected location to do his deep work. The author highlights that this may be impractical for most and therefore suggests an end of the workday shutdown process. The purpose is to provide the brain with the required rest.
The why a shutdown will be profitable to your productivity
- Downtime aids insight
- Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply
- The work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important
Create a shutdown ritual.
Rule #2: Embrace boredom
Don’t take breaks from distraction, take breaks from focus.
Internet Sabbath (“Digital detox”): refrain from network technology for 1 day a week. The authors rather suggests taking breaks from focus. The reasoning is that the use of the internet is required for deep work or is need to aim deep work in some instances. Therefore schedule internet blocks into your calendar and adhere to this blocks as much as possible.
Work like Teddy Roosevelt.
He would work with high intensity.
The argument here is to walk or run or use any other low mental activity to use as a method of meditation and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem.
This will require practice to do well. Some of the author’s suggestions:
- Be wary of distractions and looping
- Structure your deep thinking (Relevant variables > Define specific next step question > consolidate > repeat)
Memorize a Deck of Cards (or other memory training)
- Select 5 rooms you are familiar with
- In each of these rooms identify 10 objective (preferably big)
- Practice this mental exercise for a few days
- Identify a memorable person with each of the cards in a deck
- Practice by trying to recall the person for each card in a deck
- Memorize the randomly select card by “pegging” the memorable person for the selected card to the item in the order selected.
Rule #3: Quite Social Media
Internet sabbatical – unlike the internet Sabbath, here to take a long substantial break from online life.
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 it its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.
Law of the Vital Few: In many settings, 80 percent of given effect is due to just 20 percent of the possible causes. (80/20 rule or Pareto principle)
Use the minimalist approach to online digital tools, including social media. By that I mean, do not make use of an application for 30 days and then ask yourself:
- Would the last 30 days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service?
- Did people care that wasn’t using this service?
If “no” then quit service.
Don’t use the internet to entertain yourself
Rule #4: Drain the Shallows
Strategies to reduce shallow work.
Enjoyed the story from 37signals (Basecamp) were they implemented a 4 day week. The theory is if the employees had less hours they would value them more and therefore be more selective on what activities they do at work.
Schedule every minute of your day
Problems: 2 things – Estimates may be wrong or you will be interrupted
If interrupt then spend a few minutes to revise your schedule. The goal is not to stick to a schedule at all costs. It is to maintain a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time.
Make use of overflow conditional blocks in the event that you are either interrupted or underestimate the time required.
Quantify the depth of every activity
Advantage of scheduling your day you can identify the time you actually are spending on Deep work and shallow work.
Ask yourself the question: What percentage of my time should be spent on shallow work? Then aim to adhere to this budget. (Typically 30-50 of your time maybe on shallow work. Aim for 30)
Finish your work by 5:30
Fixed-schedule productivity. Only work in the allocated time for work.
Become hard to reach
- Make people who send you emails do more work – Implement sender filters
- Do more work when you send or reply to emails – be specific and outline the required actions needed. Process-centric responses
- Don’t respond
Success in a distracted world: DEEP WORK by Cal Newport –
J.K. Rowling – checked into a hotel to complete her final book (“The Deathly Hallows”) in the Harry Potter series.
Bill Gates – High intensity over an 8 week period to develop the first version of BASIC. He would often fall asleep at his keyboard. Also, implement a twice a year “Think week”where he would isolate himself to read and think big thoughts
When doing deep work the brain produces more Myelin (White tissue around neurons) which allows the neurons to fire faster and cleaner. Essentially deep work upgrades our brains. Allows for rapid connection of ideas.
Strategies to develop deep work:
- Avoid social media or more broadly distractions- Schedule distractions
- Build up a deep work ritual – At first, aim to get a period of 1 hour in a deep work state and then build this up to 4 hours. The goal is a 4 hour period of deep work per day
- Do an evening shutdown – Plan your uncompleted tasks and the associated actions for the next day and then have a hard complete Que. E.g. “Shutdown complete!”