Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

by Cal Newport

Deep Work offers plenty of practical tools and meaningful insights on how to be more productive, efficient, and successful in our rapidly changing economy. It emphasizes the importance of deep work based on scientific evidence and shows how great achievers like Bill Gates have used it in their lives. By taking the actions in this book, you’ll be able to reclaim your time lost in meaningless activities, intensify your focus, squeeze more creative juices out of your life, and achieve more by working less!

Summary Notes

The Idea

“This ability to learn hard things quickly plays a key role in the attempt to become a superstar in just about any field.”

We all live in a society with a fast-changing, ever-evolving economy. Today, technological advancements are causing low-level jobs to be either automated or outsourced to remote locations. If we want to thrive in this new economy, we must be able to adapt quickly to the needs of our time and be as valuable as we can in our chosen field. Deep work can help us achieve this. 

Deep work includes all the professional activities we perform in a state of distraction-free concentration, pushing our cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve our skills, and are hard to replicate.

This is different from shallow work, which includes a low level of focus and consists of logistical-style tasks that can be performed while distracted. These tasks don’t create new value and can easily be copied. 

If we want to become superstars or highly skilled workers who are always sought after in our field, we must be capable of performing deep work. This means specializing in a task that no one else can do except you, such as working with technology and producing elite results—-that is, a work that others will find difficult to replicate and is so valuable to the people we work with. To achieve this, we must gain mastery of the work we do, especially in the most difficult areas ofit. 

Attaining mastery of our work is not a quick and easy process. We must be willing and persistent enough to consistently immerse ourselves in honing our skills and learning more about our work until we become experts in one area considered ‘hard’ in our field. Then, we move on to the next area, and the learning process repeats. 

The path to mastery is a never-ending cycle of immersing ourselves in the challenging and unfamiliar areas in our work and learning more about them. This is because our world is constantly changing; the tools we know how to use now might not be the tools needed tomorrow. Similarly, the area of the work we specialize in now might not be needed in the near future. Therefore, we must adapt to these changes quickly and learn about the hard things that we think will be in demand in our field soon. 

One work that will always be needed is in the field of intelligent machines. After all, the real rewards are reserved not for those who are comfortable using Facebook, a shallow task that is easily replicable, but instead for those who can build the innovative distributed systems that run the service, a deep task that is hard to replicate. 

However, you can still climb to the top even without working with intelligent machines. This can be accomplished by becoming the best in your field. Remember that a hundred mediocre people cannot create something that a master can. So, focus on working towards becoming the best in your field, and you will be extremely valuable.

Actions to take

Work Deeply

“Your will is not a manifestation of your character that you can deploy without limit; it’s instead like a muscle that tires.”

To successfully integrate deep work into our lives, we need a philosophy aligned with it. Following a deep work philosophy will help us push through our limits and achieve great success in life. 

There are different types of deep work philosophies we can choose from: 

  • The Monastic Philosophy - maximizes deep work by eliminating or reducing the time spent on shallow work. Being a practitioner of this philosophy means focusing only on your work for a very long period and ignoring everything else completely. In this philosophy, you have a clearly defined and highly valued professional goal (e.g., writing a book), and you succeed when you do this one thing exceptionally well.
  • The Bimodal Philosophy - a philosophy in which you divide your time into long stretches of deep work followed by a certain duration of shallow work. However, the long stretch of deep work must be at least one day long so that you reach your highest intensity of concentration.
  • The Rhythmic Philosophy - argues that you must make deep work a daily habit, creating a daily rhythm.  You can implement it with the chain method, in which you schedule the deep work daily and put an X on your calendar for every successful deep work session. A second way to implement the rhythmic philosophy is to set a fixed time during which you’ll work deeply.
  • The Journalistic Philosophy - a philosophy in which you fit deep work into your days on the go without any prior scheduling.

Finding the deep work philosophy that works best for you based on the distractions and current circumstances you have to deal with is very important. It will help you find the best approach to integrating deep work into your professional life, making you more productive and efficient in getting your important projects done. 

Once you’ve chosen your philosophy, it’s time to support your work with rituals. These rituals should help you easily transition to deep work and stay in that state for longer periods. Some things that you may include in your ritual are choosing a place and time for work and then sticking with it, tracking your productivity, and doing other activities that help you maintain focus. One example is scheduling a short walk to remain energetic throughout the day. 

Aside from incorporating rituals, we can implement another technique to make the most out of our deep work: leveraging grand gestures. This means investing a significant amount of effort or money in strengthening your commitment to deep work. It could be moving into a hotel, working from a library, or simply turning off your phone—-as long as it eliminates all distractions and allows you to fully focus on your work.

Take the renowned actor Heath Ledger, for example. To master his role as Joker in the film The Dark Knight, he decided to move into a hotel room.  

After knowing the importance of rituals and grand gestures, the final and most important step is to execute the deep work strategy. There are four disciplines underlying it: focusing on wildly important tasks, acting on lead measures, keeping a compelling scoreboard, and creating a cadence of accountability.

When these disciplines are applied correctly, we’ll become highly productive and efficient people capable of getting more important things done in less time.

Actions to take

Embrace Boredom

“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.”

Our ability to focus intensely on the task at hand is one essential skill for working deeply. However, this can’t be attained overnight. It requires dedication and commitment to regularly train our mental muscles to achieve the deepest level of concentration, even in the face of boredom. 

One helpful way to achieve this is by limiting our interactions with the biggest distraction of today’s time – the internet. By scheduling internet time, we train our minds to focus for long hours and avoid distractions. We build strong mental muscles for focus and concentration, just like how we build physical muscles in the gym.

Moreover, meditating and solving an important work-related problem in our minds are the best ways to utilize our idle time, leading us to more productive outcomes.

Actions to take

Quit Social Media

“Stuff accumulates in people’s lives, in part, because when faced with a specific act of elimination, it’s easy to worry, “What if I need this one day?” and then use this worry as an excuse to keep the item in question sitting around.”

Spending excessive time on the internet affects not only our work but also our relationships. By cutting down your internet time, you will be more productive at work, and your relationships will deepen and become more meaningful.

Instead of sending excessive time on the internet, spending more time on structured hobbies will lead you to a quality life as they have specific actions dedicated to quality goals. These hobbies include reading books, socializing with loved ones, exploring music, exercising, etc. Remember that our minds can perform continuous hard activities, so taking up mindless hobbies is not the best thing to do.

Actions to take

Drain the Shallows

“Once you’ve hit your deep work limit in a given day, you’ll experience diminishing rewards if you try to cram in more.”

Most of us tend to run our day on autopilot, completely unaware of how we spend each minute of our lives. This prevents us from working on what truly matters to us and balancing work and leisure. The best solution to this is scheduling your day. 

By creating an effective schedule for your day, you’ll make powerful progress as your day unfolds. It is a great tool to supercharge your productivity and achieve massive success. 

Measuring the depth of tasks helps you determine which ones to prioritize each day. This entails determining the shallowness of each activity by asking yourself one question: How long (in months) would it take to train a smart recent college graduate with no specialized training in my field to complete this task?

If a college graduate needs to go through months of training before they can replicate your task, it simply means that the task has the most depth; thus, you should work on it first, as it will provide you with more rewards in the future.

By measuring the depth of a task, you’ll be able to focus your energy like a sharp laser. This will boost your productivity and chances of success.

Actions to take

Don’t just read. Act.
Read comprehensive summaries and discover carefully compiled action lists for active learning
Phone Phone

Our site saves small pieces of text information (cookies) on your device in order to deliver better content and for statistical purposes. You can disable the usage of cookies by changing the settings of your browser. By browsing our website without changing the browser settings you grant us permission to store that information on your device.