Read On: May 2017
Reading Time: 8 hours
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.
- Deep work- Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive abilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
- Knowledge workers are losing their familiarity with deep work because of network tools like email and Social media, as well as smartphones.
- Deep work requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking and is not possible in a state of fragmented attention.
- To remain valuable in our economy, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.
- Technology growth is creating a massive restructuring of our economy. In the 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. The first two groups are more accessible.
- 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.
- Busyness as proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their job, many knowledge workers turn back toward one industrial indicator of productiviy - doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.
- A deep life is not just economically lucrative, but also a life well lived.
- Our brains instruct our world view based on what we pay attention to.
- On best moments usually occur when our body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile (This is the mental state of Flow)
- Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which enourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.
- Human beings are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.
- To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.
- The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimise the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.
- Choose a depth philosophy for Deep Work:
- The Monastic Philosophy: - Maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations. Practitioners of this philosophy tend to have a well-defined and highly refined professional goal that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well.
- The Bimodal Philosophy: You divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else. During the deep time, the bimodal worker will work monastically- seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration. During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritised. This is typically used by people who cannot succeed in the absence of substantial commitments to non-deep pursuits.
- The Rythmic Philosophy: This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The goal is to generate a rythm for the work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep. This approach works better with the reality of human nature. By supporting deep work with rock solid routines that make sure a little bit gets done on a regular basis, the rythmic scheduler will often log a larger total number of deep hours per year.
- The Journalistic Philosophy: You fit deep work whenever you can into your schedule. This habit requires a sense of confidence in you abilities- a conviction that what you’re doing is important and will succeed.
- The 4 disciplines of execution by Clay Christensen:
- Focus on the Wildly Important: The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish. Execution should be aimed at a small number of “wildly important goals”.
- Act on the lead measures: There are two types of metrics to measure your success. Lag measures describe the thing you’re ultimately trying to improve. The problem with lag measures is that they come too late to change you behavior. Lead measures, on the other hand, mean the new behaviors that will drive success on the lag measures. Tracking your time spent in a state of deep work dedicated towards your wildly important goal is a good lead measure.
- Keep a compelling scoreboard: A public scoreboard to record and track lead measures creates a sense of competition that drives the team to focus on those measures.
- Create a Cadence of Accountability: Do a weekly review to understand what led to a good or bad week, and make a plan for the next week.
- Spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.
- At the end of your workday, shutdown your consideration of work issues until the next morning. If you keep interrupting you evenings to check email or work, you’re robbing your directed attention centers of the uninterrupted rest they need for restoration. The work dashes prevent you from reaching the levels of deeper relaxation in which attention restoration can occur. Also, your capacity for deep work in a given day is limited. If you’re careful about your schedule, you should hit your daily deep work capacity (less than 4 hours) during your workday. Therefore you can probably only work on shallow tasks in the evening anyway.
- To maintain a strict endpoint to your workday, have a shutdown ritual where you review and capture your pending tasks to release work related thoughts for the rest of the day.
- The ability lo 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. If every moment of potential boredom in your life is relieved with a quick glance at you smartphone then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where its not ready for deep work.
- Instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction.
- Productive Meditation: 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. As in mindfulness meditation, you must continue to bring you attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders or stalls. This improves you ability to think deeply.
- Memory training can improve your ability to concentrate.
- Network tools like Social Media fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate. They have benefits, but also a high opportunity cost.
- Confine shallow work to a point where it doesn’t impede your ability to take full advantage of the deeper efforts that ultimately determine your impact.
- Try to schedule your time daily. Without structure, it’s easy to allow you time to devolve into the shallow -email, social media, web surfing. This type of shallow behavior is not conducive to creativity.
- Committing to a fixed schedule (stopping work by 5:30) forces you to reduce the shallow work, and frees up more energy for deep work. It shifts you in a scarcity mindset with your time, and your default answer to shallow distraction becomes No.