In our ever distracted world of social media and email, the ability to do “deep work,”meaning perform difficult tasks with a with uninterrupted focus for long stretches of time, is becoming increasingly compromised. Part social commentary, part instruction manual, storytelling and candid advice are used to motivate his readers to get the most out of their workday by changing their habits. Newport warns his readers of the professional cost of not having the systems in place to have a strong work ethic.
My key Takeaways from Deep Work by Cal Newport
Takeaway #1 Multi-Tasking Does Not Make You More Productive
Contrary to what you might think and have probably been led to believe, multi-tasking in order to get more done actually makes you less productive. This is because when you switch from task 1 to task 2, whilst your body might be able to switch seamlessly, your brain is still focused on the first task you were doing. You might think of multi-tasking as cooking dinner whilst helping the kids with their homework, but it also comes in the form of checking your email and responding to the pings on your phone when writing that report.
Takeaway #2 4 Ways of Getting Deep Work Done
- The monastic approach: Eliminating all sources of distraction; working in isolation.
- The biomodal approach: Setting clearly defined work time boundaries I.e. the 9-5.
- The rhythmic approach: Getting into the habit of doing deep work for 60 or 90mins.
- The journalistic approach: Using unexpected free time in your day for deep work.
Whichever method you use, it must be made into a habit as the difference between 'deep work' and simply 'being in the zone' is that deep work is scheduled, it's intentional whilst being 'in the zone' usually only comes after hours/days/weeks of procrastination and time-wasting.
Takeaway #3 Rewiring Your Brain for Focus
Technology has changed our lives so much in recent years, making it much easier to get certain things done but also bringing many more distractions as we forever refresh the social media feeds and responding to the pings and beeps of emails and messages, scared that we're going to miss out on something and that we must respond instantly.
There's a way to rewire your brain so that it can focus and that's through productive meditation. This doesn't mean sitting in a room silently contemplating the meaning of life, it means making use of 'unbusy times' when your phone is not in your hand to problem solve without distraction – This could be when you're commuting to work, walking the dog, or taking a shower. Consider the problem, come up with some solutions, weight them up, decide on one and then figure out what you need to do to accomplish that goal.
Takeaway #4 The Work / Life Balance Must Be Scheduled
How many things in your personal life do you keep meaning to do but don't get around to because you're too busy or too tired? The solution to a happy and healthy work/life balance is to schedule everything in using 30 or 60 minute blocks, not just for work and the chores at home but for your hobbies and social life too. This makes you more mindful of how you spend your time so that you don't waste 5 nights a week watching mindless TV, checking work emails at home, or losing time by scrolling through social media posts on your phone when you could be reading a book, working on a hobby, or having a proper conversation with friends and family without other things going on around you. You might even go so far as to turning your phone off for an hour or two to ensure you can focus on your weekend and evening 'me time'.
Key Lessons from Deep Work
- Deep Work is focused and uninterrupted work. Distractions and conflicting demands hinder deep work.
- Deep Work allows people to master complex topics fast. Some of the best ideas and meaningful progress come from deep work.
- The ability to do deep work allows you to feel a sense of meaning and being ‘in flow’.
- Evaluate your habits and actions with the aim of structuring your time to protect your attention and allow time to do the deep work.
- Consider quitting certain social media channels, embracing boredom, and “draining the shallows of your life” in order to get down to deep work.
- The key is to develop your ability to focus more intensely and at the same time, resist distractions. You can train it like a muscle.
- Every time you allow yourself to get distracted, such as checking your mobile phone, you weaken your ability to focus and do deep work.
- Focus ruthlessly on your most important goals. Exclude work that does not add meaning to your life and resist the temptation to justify distractions.
My Favorite Quotes from Deep Work
"trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown."
"think like artists but work like accountants."
"Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not."
"Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on."
"what we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life."
"To simply wait and be bored has become a novel experience in modern life, but from the perspective of concentration training, it’s incredibly valuable."
"We tend to place a lot of emphasis on our circumstances, assuming that what happens to us (or fails to happen) determines how we feel... According to Gallagher, decades of research contradict this understanding. Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to."
"Human beings are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging."
"Your will is not a manifestation of your character that you can deploy without limit; it’s instead like a muscle that tires."
"Less mental clutter means more mental resources available for deep thinking."
"To remain valuable in our economy 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...“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."
"In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital."
"To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work."
― Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World