Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

One of the most valuable skills in our economy is becoming increasingly rare. If you master this skill, you'll achieve extraordinary results.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 w...

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Title:Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Author:Cal Newport
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World Reviews

  • Adam Zerner

    Overview: the thesis is that deep work is both rare and valuable in todays world. That's about 1/3 of the book. The rest of the book is practical advice on how to pursue deep work.

    Part of me feels like a lot of what was said in the book is common sense. Particularly things that people know but can't find the willpower to do. I think that there is some truth to this. But there's also a difference between "knowing", and *knowing*. I think this book can help take a lot of people from "knowing" to *

    Overview: the thesis is that deep work is both rare and valuable in todays world. That's about 1/3 of the book. The rest of the book is practical advice on how to pursue deep work.

    Part of me feels like a lot of what was said in the book is common sense. Particularly things that people know but can't find the willpower to do. I think that there is some truth to this. But there's also a difference between "knowing", and *knowing*. I think this book can help take a lot of people from "knowing" to *knowing*. Additionally, there were also a good chunk of things that I didn't know before reading this book.

    I gave this book a 5 star rating primarily because of how important I think the topic is. By following the advice, I think it could be genuinely life changing.

    Things I personally am planning to change after reading the book:

    - A rekindled commitment to eliminating distraction/shallow work from my life. I'm willing to be ruthless in this pursuit. Ex. no more reading marginally useful articles.

    - A rekindled commitment to seek out hard things. As Paul Graham puts it, "run uphill".

    - Research says that 4 hours is sort of the limit for how much legitimate deep work a human can do in one day. There are also tons of examples of successful people who only put in ~4 hours of deep work per day. So I don't feel (as) guilty anymore about the amount of actual work I get done each day.

    - Setting a cutoff point each day. "I don't do any work after 7:00pm". Your brain needs to recharge, and before it can recharge, it needs the confidence to know that there won't be any more incoming work requests until morning. I've noticed that being "constantly on" really stresses me out and makes me less productive, so it needs to stop.

    - To end the day, a shutdown ritual is useful. Particularly to make sure there's nothing urgent left to do, and to organize your tasks. This way, your mind won't be worried that it shut down too early and needs to get back to work.

    - Previously I was skeptical about the limits of willpower and thought I could just "wing it". Overall I'm still skeptical, but I'm less skeptical and I plan on taking advantage of things that reduce the need for willpower.

    - In particular, I plan on sticking to a schedule. If I'm explicitly scheduled to be working from 10am-noon, I'll be less inclined to come up with excuses to procrastinate.

    - The idea isn't to constrain yourself though; the schedule can be flexible. The idea is that by putting deliberate thought into what you do, you'll be less inclined to procrastinate.

    - It's important to plan ahead so that things like hunger don't interfere with your work.

    - Perhaps the most important thing I learned from this book is how dangerous it is to constantly cave in to procrastination cravings. Ex. needing to check your phone for the 30 seconds you spend waiting in line. Doing this basically atrophies your willpower muscles and makes it harder to engage in deep work. Next time you're working on something but are tempted to check Facebook, you won't be able to resist. You're too used to caving in. And even if you do resist, the temptation itself will be distracting. I've actually noticed that these sorts of things happen to me and I hate it. So I'm serious about following the advice to cold turkey eliminate procrastination during designated deep work periods, and to not be constantly occupied. Ex. I don't need to watch YouTube videos while I brush my teeth and get dressed in the morning.

    - I'm quitting Facebook. To me, the upside is clearly not worth the downside of having that temptation.

    - Productive meditation: take a period where you’re occupied physically but not mentally - walking, jogging, driving, showering - and focus your attention on a problem.

    Aside from the core content of the book, I really enjoyed all of the stories and anecdotes. There are a lot of interesting tidbits about the lives of famous and successful people.

    Overall, I thought the book was extremely well written. It was very clear and understandable. It was broken down into understandable sections and subsections. And I thought Cal (the author) did a *fantastic* job of using stories to illustrate his points. I've noticed that a lot of writers struggle with this and spend too much time in the abstract. Cal made everything very concrete (in addition to making the abstract point clear).

    I should note that almost none of the arguments in this book are air tight. You could poke holes at them. But if he were to make them air tight, the book would be thousands and thousands of pages long.

  • Rachel Bayles

    If you do one thing to improve your life this year, subscribe to Dr. Newport's blog and start reading his books. I would suggest starting with "So Good They Can't Ignore You" and then read "Deep Work." They compliment each other. The first helps you sort out what you should be focusing on, and the second one tells you how to make sure what's important gets done. Over the years I've read lots of productivity books, and the related literature. But his approach to work impacts me everyday, and noth

    If you do one thing to improve your life this year, subscribe to Dr. Newport's blog and start reading his books. I would suggest starting with "So Good They Can't Ignore You" and then read "Deep Work." They compliment each other. The first helps you sort out what you should be focusing on, and the second one tells you how to make sure what's important gets done. Over the years I've read lots of productivity books, and the related literature. But his approach to work impacts me everyday, and nothing has done more to change how I work and how I define success.

  • Peter

    Cal Newport offers a very compelling argument as to the value of

    organising those periods when we all need to focus on the work/knowledge we need to obtain to further our professional goals and ambitions. Newport cites examples of key influential and high

    Cal Newport offers a very compelling argument as to the value of

    organising those periods when we all need to focus on the work/knowledge we need to obtain to further our professional goals and ambitions. Newport cites examples of key influential and high achieving individuals such as JK Rowling and Bill Gates where they each notoriously became obsessively focused when they needed to achieve the important deliverables or direction they needed in their professional goals.

    In a world where information is coming at us in greater variety, velocity and volume, we find ourselves unable to consume enough of or the right information, amidst all the noise. In a contrary way, as the information availability accelerates the less we effectively absorb as valuable and usable content. To be expert or at least highly capable in our work area, we need to build on strong learned foundations so we can deal with the inevitable problems with much more confidence and resourcefulness.

    I would be a strong advocate for subconscious processing of information, and deep though periods, as long as we can secure the undistracted downtime for it to be properly embedded into our thinking and rationalisation processes. Newport provides a framework for achieving this way of deep life, but it does require drastic changes to your lifestyle. This may not be for everyone and certainly seems to be more geared towards those in pursuit of academic accomplishment or specialised achievement.

    Newport does suggest that to live the life of Deep Work we need to put the distraction of social media aside so we can deploy our minds to its fullest capacity to create things that matter. While I accept that social media can consume considerable time that is of little value, there are many roles in today’s society and workplace that require constant engagement with customers, suppliers, colleagues and online audiences. Like many things in life, it’s all about balance and I would recommend the Deep Thought approach as part of a daily regime but not to the exclusion of all other interactions. It is difficult to account for every minute of the day and attribute it towards a valuable contribution and I can imagine this will lead to frustration rather than reconciliation.

  • SR

    Worth reading. Helped me make some drastic changes in my schedule. I will post an update how these changes went after six months.

    What I learned: (spoiler alerts)

    1. Figure out what is most valuable to your success.

    2. Spend most of the time on it, mostly in the early hours of your day where your attention span is long.

    3. Try to spend at least 3 deep sessions on it approx. 90 min each.

    4. Almost anything other than your main task is a shallow task.

    5. Bunch all the shallow tasks into one deep task.

    6.

    Worth reading. Helped me make some drastic changes in my schedule. I will post an update how these changes went after six months.

    What I learned: (spoiler alerts)

    1. Figure out what is most valuable to your success.

    2. Spend most of the time on it, mostly in the early hours of your day where your attention span is long.

    3. Try to spend at least 3 deep sessions on it approx. 90 min each.

    4. Almost anything other than your main task is a shallow task.

    5. Bunch all the shallow tasks into one deep task.

    6. Nature helps to retain your attention span.

    7. Email and Internet in general is a huge attention sucker.

    What I disliked:

    1. It is hard to remember what the rules are after reading the whole book. "So good they cannot ignore you" did a better job at this.

    2. I did not like the way the content is organized. Three/four huge chapters.

    3. Some places it felt like fillers.

  • Scott

    OVERVIEW:

    Deep Work was a solid self-help/productivity book. Being a podcast junkie, I had heard the majority of things that Newport preaches in his book. However, I really appreciated his practical applications of how to enter into Deep Work, or 'the zone' as I call it.

    STORIES TOLD:

    In Deep Work, the author tells a story of a young consultant who automates his work responsibilities using Excel macros. He then studied computer programming to increase his worth in the workforce. I, too, am a cons

    OVERVIEW:

    Deep Work was a solid self-help/productivity book. Being a podcast junkie, I had heard the majority of things that Newport preaches in his book. However, I really appreciated his practical applications of how to enter into Deep Work, or 'the zone' as I call it.

    STORIES TOLD:

    In Deep Work, the author tells a story of a young consultant who automates his work responsibilities using Excel macros. He then studied computer programming to increase his worth in the workforce. I, too, am a consultant, and this is exactly what I'm doing with UX design. I'm getting myself out of the mundane work of project management, and moving toward the thought-provoking and challenging field of design.

    TRUTHS TAUGHT:

    - Deep work is a skill that can and must be developed to be successful in knowledge work. Leaders in the next generation will have the power to put away distraction and enter into deep work.

    - Working creatively with machines is one of the three types of people who will success in the new economy. UX designers are right in line with this thinking. AN added benefit is being able to work remote and control your work environment.

    - Knowledge work is not supposed to be shown through producing X amount of widgets. It shouldn't be solely measured by quantity of hours worked or public messages/deliverables sent. Quality is what really matters.

    - When telling people that you're busy, they will respect it. Deep work stretches are always understood if they are well defined, and well communicated to those trying to get your attention.

    -3 Methods of Deep Work:

    The habitual 'rhythmic method' of deep work is more sustainable and actually produces more hours of deep work cumulatively. It becomes engrained in us as scheduled thinking time. Try waking up early and starting your day with a few hours of deep work. Over times, this habit will increase your ability to think deeply (work it out just like a muscle).

    By and large, most jobs don't allow you to disappear for large chunks of time. The 'monastic method' of deep work is rarely doable.

    Fitting in deep work whenever you can into your schedule is called the 'journalistic approach'. Walter Isaacson exemplified this method in writing his novels on the side of his job as the NY Times lead editor.

    ACTIONABLE STEPS:

    - To learn quickly, you need to study for long periods of time consistently. This is neurologically proven.

    - Force yourself to concentrate by locking away digital distractions. To write comprehensive thoughts, put away and limit distractions, interruptions, and constant checking of messages.

    -Perform a 'shut down' complete action that signifies the end of your professional work day

    -Regularly rest your mind to improve frequently and intensity of deep work (e.g. short walks, water breaks)

    - Embrace boredom - Don't flee from being bored! Allow your mind to relax and be un-stimulated. Your mind cannot come up with creative solutions and personal insights if it is constantly bombarded with digital stimulus. If you cannot allow yourself to be bored for more than a few minutes without mindlessly swiping around on your phone, then you are not ready for deep work. Your mind has been conditioned for distraction. It's being rewired.

    - Study like Theodore Roosevelt - Focus in short intense bursts of deep work, not long drawn out marathon study sessions filled with interruptions

    - The 'any benefit' reason for using social media platforms is not a good reason for using them. This reason essentially says that if something provides 'any benefit' then it is worth using. This is a trick! We must focus on the best uses of our time, not merely on good uses of our time.

    - Get off social media, cold turkey. Don't announce it. See who actually notices that you're gone. You'll be surprised by how many won't miss you from social networks. Sad, but true.

    QUOTES:

    "I'll live the focused life, because it's the best life to live." - Winfield Gallagher

  • Chris

    This had a lot of valuable ideas about the importance of deep work and how to do it. Most people are going to buy into this concept easily enough, but Cal did a nice job further arguing it with some examples, various research, and so on...but this book also felt like a very good 100-page book that was stretched into a mediocre 260-page book. It's repetitive. And his research often relies on the "correlation = causation" mistake. For example, someone gives up social media, so instead of writing 4

    This had a lot of valuable ideas about the importance of deep work and how to do it. Most people are going to buy into this concept easily enough, but Cal did a nice job further arguing it with some examples, various research, and so on...but this book also felt like a very good 100-page book that was stretched into a mediocre 260-page book. It's repetitive. And his research often relies on the "correlation = causation" mistake. For example, someone gives up social media, so instead of writing 4 papers in a year, they now can write 9 papers, so the clear reason is because they gave up social media (and other shallow things), right?

    ....Hmm, not exactly.

    That probably does play a part, but someone naturally gets smarter as their career progresses (at least in the beginning), so the speed and quality of their work likely improves. Plus, researchers build off their previous research, which I assume makes it easier for them to publish more, more easily. As well, in the world of academic publishing, you might get asked to be a co-author on a paper (such as the 4th or 5th author), especially as your stature in the discipline grows, and when you're a 4th or 5th author, your contribution might be very little, thus taking very little of your time.

    In this book, Cal implies that Bill Gates is as successful as he is, because of his commitment to deep work. Well...sure, but also a "right place at the right time" situation, right (see the Malcolm Gladwell essay about this in "Outliers"), as well as just natural intelligence and aptitude--things that Cal kind of ignores or shrugs off.

    An author like Jonathan Franzen can more easily shrug off Twitter and other social media, and instead engage in mostly deep work, because anything he writes gets a lot of attention already, because he's a famous/popular author. A less well-known author does need to prioritize deep work, but also probably has to tweet and do some of these other "shallow tasks," as that's how people build up attention for their product/brand, when the world won't automatically pay attention to it. Yes, the actual work itself should be more important, but this other component is also (unfortunately) important to the success (money/attention) of their deep work. These are things Cal seems to mostly ignore (in between reminding you every five pages that he published 9 papers in a year).

    So I found some of his conclusions slightly flawed (in their methods or their data to back it up), even if the point of the conclusions (that you will be more productive if you eliminate shallow tasks), I did buy.

  • Kony

    Ideal advice for folks whose top priority is to achieve elite levels of professional success by capitalistic metrics -- namely by jumping through golden hoops very swiftly. The author, for one, is a professor whose goals are to secure tenure, publish a ton of highly cited academic papers, and win the equivalent of a Nobel prize. If your life goals sound similar, he's got tips for making it happen.

    This book is less useful for people whose priorities include critiquing/reforming elitist institutio

    Ideal advice for folks whose top priority is to achieve elite levels of professional success by capitalistic metrics -- namely by jumping through golden hoops very swiftly. The author, for one, is a professor whose goals are to secure tenure, publish a ton of highly cited academic papers, and win the equivalent of a Nobel prize. If your life goals sound similar, he's got tips for making it happen.

    This book is less useful for people whose priorities include critiquing/reforming elitist institutions, cultivating deep and meaningful relationships (and not sacrificing these for worldly success), practicing forms of love that don't necessarily advance one's career, and mentoring others who have grown up with fewer privileges than your typical "knowledge worker." The author isn't offering advice about how to keep and nourish the relationships that, for some, make professional "success" worth pursuing.

    That said, he smartly describes the kind of tunnel vision and hard-nosed decision making that constitute an *efficient* path to capitalistic success for aspiring elite experts.

  • Holger Matthies

    It is easy to lose yourself in shallow work - I'll agree with the author. Other than that, there is very little of value or substance in this book. You might want to review your excessive tweeting. You might stop using Facebook altogether. You might abandon email.

    The problem is that the real ideas (have sender filter their own email, take time away from office, take email sabbaticals) might work for specialists, freelancers, entry-level workers or academics, like the author. But not once does th

    It is easy to lose yourself in shallow work - I'll agree with the author. Other than that, there is very little of value or substance in this book. You might want to review your excessive tweeting. You might stop using Facebook altogether. You might abandon email.

    The problem is that the real ideas (have sender filter their own email, take time away from office, take email sabbaticals) might work for specialists, freelancers, entry-level workers or academics, like the author. But not once does the book mention managers or Cadre positions, who drown in email but are required to respond fast and to use email as the primary tool.

    Another problem is that the author continously touts his own horn. How many grants he got. How many children he fathered. How many books he wrote. How much he travels.

    If you want original ideas, this is the wrong place. Read David Allen instead, whose ideas permeate this book to a degree, but who cannot be quoted every second page although he should be.

  • Paras Kapadia

    File under - Shallow writing that should have been a blogpost at best.

    This book is mostly random commentary on other people's work and content. Almost nothing is original and no studies have been conducted by the author himself. The author's contribution is simply - this researcher found this, I do it this way and you should do it too.

    The irony of this book is that the subject matter expert on deep work has produced such shallow content.

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