Deep Work Summary

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Author: Cal NewPort

Deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there's a better way.

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Deep Work by Cal NewPort sheds light on lost ability of doing deep work in today’s world. The book is a combination of author’s personal experience along with gist from research by other authors.


5 key take-aways

  • Deep work = brain intensive work (Writing, Programming)
  • The key to developing a deep work habit is to add routines and rituals.
  • Attention is the realm of contemporary society. Save your attention by being selective about the media consumption.
  • Use time-blocking everyday to instill deep work habits.
  • Have a shutdown ritual.
  • Don’t Use the Internet to Entertain Yourself. Rather, have pre-defined offline activies (Reading)

Favourite Quote

To remain valuable in our economy, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things.



Cal NewPort starts with the work schedule of famous psychologist Carl Jung.

  • Jung would wake at 7 a.m and sleep by 10 pm.
  • He would spend two hours of un-distracted writing time in his private office.
  • His afternoons would often consist of meditation or long walks in the surrounding countryside.
  • There was no electricity at the Tower, light came from oil lamps and heat from the fireplace.
  • Although he had many patients who relied on him, Jung was not shy about taking time off.

Mark Twain’s study was so isolated from the main house that his family took to blowing a horn to attract his attention for meals.

Shallow Work

What is 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.

▪ Learning something complex like computer programming needs intense uninterrupted concentration on cognitively demanding concepts.

To remain valuable in our economy, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things.

Chapter 1: Deep Work Is Valuable

Pioneering growth and impact of technology are creating a massive restructuring of our economy.

  • To survive you need,
    1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
    2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

▪ The reason, therefore, why it’s important to focus intensely on the task at hand while avoiding distraction is because this is the only way to isolate the relevant neural circuit enough to trigger useful myelination

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

▪ People experiencing attention residue after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that next task,” and the more intense the residue, the worse the performance

▪ semi-distraction is potentially devastating to your performance.

▪ If you’re a high-level executive at a major company, you probably don’t need the advice in the pages that follow

Chapter 2: Deep Work Is Rare

The trend on the rise is open office along with rise of instant messaging. A third trend is the push for content producers of all types to maintain a social media presence.

▪ Also consider the frustratingly common practice of forwarding an e-mail to one or more colleagues, labeled with a short open-ended interrogative, such as: “Thoughts".

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity

▪ Knowledge workers are tending toward increasingly visible busyness because they lack a better way to demonstrate their value.

▪ It’s this propensity to view ‘the Internet’ as a source of wisdom and policy advice that transforms it from a fairly uninteresting set of cables and network routers into a seductive and exciting ideology—perhaps today’s uber-ideology.

Chapter 3: Deep Work Is Meaningful

The goal of this chapter is to convince you that deep work can generate as much satisfaction in an information economy as it so clearly does in a craft economy.

▪ Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to.

If you focus on a cancer diagnosis, you and your life become unhappy and dark, but if you focus instead on an evening martini, you and your life become more pleasant—even though the circumstances in both scenarios are the same

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, emphasizes the advantage of cultivating “concentration so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems.

▪ The idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ when you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right.

You don’t need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.

Rule #1: Work Deeply

▪ The most common desires people fight include eating, sleeping, sex, taking a break from [hard] work, checking e-mail and social networking sites, surfing the web, listening to music, or watching television.

▪ You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.

▪ The key to developing a deep work habit is to add routines and rituals.

Monastic philosophy

Donald Knuth follows this philosophy and is not easily accessible via email. He values his time and knows the importance and impact of his work.
▪ In author’s experience, the monastic philosophy makes many knowledge workers defensive.

Bimodal philosophy

▪ During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically—seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration.
▪ During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritized.

▪ The minimum unit of time for deep work in this philosophy tends to be at least one full day.

▪ If even an hour away from your inbox makes you uncomfortable, then certainly the idea of disappearing for a day or more at a time will seem impossible

Rhythmic philosophy

▪ This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit.

▪ There are methods like don’t break the chain.

▪ It perhaps fails to achieve the most intense levels of deep thinking sought in the daylong concentration sessions favored by the bimodalist.

▪ The trade-off, however, is that this approach works better with the reality of human nature.

Journalist philosophy

This approach is not for the deep work novice.

▪ This type of conviction is typically built on a foundation of existing professional accomplishment.

  • There’s no one correct deep work ritual—the right fit depends on both the person and the type of project pursued.
  • Where you’ll work and for how long -This location can be as simple as your normal office with the door shut
  • How you’ll work once you start to work
  • you might institute a ban on any Internet use How you’ll support your work.

Cal NewPort also suggests 4DX approach.

Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important

▪ Identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours.

Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures

▪ You need to measure your success.

  • Note: Create KPI(Key performance indicator) to measure if your progressing or not.

lag measures and lead measures

▪ Lag measures describe the thing you’re ultimately trying to improve.

▪ lead measures turn your attention to improving the behaviors you directly control in the near future that will then have a positive impact on your long-term goals.

Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

“People play differently when they’re keeping score,” the 4DX

Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability

▪ Do a weekly review in which you make a plan for the workweek ahead.

▪ You could, for example, use Kreider’s approach of retreating from the world of shallow tasks altogether by hiding out in an “undisclosed location,” but this isn’t practical for most people.

Downtime Aids Insights

▪ Only your conscious mind is able to follow the precise arithmetic rules needed for correctness.

▪ On the other hand, for decisions that involve large amounts of information and multiple vague, and perhaps even conflicting, constraints, your unconscious mind is well suited to tackle the issue.

▪ Having a casual conversation with a friend, listening to music while making dinner, playing a game with your kids, going for a run—the types of activities that will fill your time in the evening if you enforce a work shutdown—play the same attention-restoring role as walking in nature.

▪ 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.

▪Make a plan on paper for how you would later complete the incomplete task. Thus, Your mind is released from its duty to keep track.

▪ It should take a week or two before the shutdown habit sticks.

Rule #2: Embrace Boredom

▪ If having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the “mental wrecks” in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work.

  • Deep work habit training must address two goals
    1. improving your ability to concentrate intensely.
    2. overcoming your desire for distraction.

Rules for Internet Use

#1: Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet

Then avoid it altogether outside these times.

▪ I suggest that you keep a notepad near your computer at work. On this pad, record the next time you’re allowed to use the Internet. Until you arrive at that time, absolutely no network connectivity is allowed—no matter how tempting.

#2: Regardless of how you schedule your Internet blocks, you must keep the time outside these blocks absolutely free from Internet use.

#3: Scheduling Internet use at home as well as at work can further improve your concentration training.

▪ To simplify matters, when scheduling Internet use after work, you can allow time-sensitive communication into your offline blocks (e.g., texting with a friend to agree on where you’ll meet for dinner), as well as time-sensitive information retrieval (e.g., looking up the location of the restaurant on your phone). Outside of these exceptions, however, when in an offline block, put your phone away.

▪ Try this experiment no more than once a week at first—giving your brain practice with intensity, but also giving it (and your stress levels) time to rest in between.

▪ The goal of productive meditation is to 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.

Suggestion #1: Be Wary of Distractions and Looping

▪ When you notice your attention slipping away from the problem at hand, gently remind yourself that you can return to that thought later, then redirect your attention back (similar to: mindfulness)

Suggestion #2: Structure Your Deep Thinking

▪ The first thing White emphasizes is that professional memory athletes never attempt rote memorization.

▪ The key to this strategy is not the specifics, but instead the motivating idea that your ability to concentrate is only as strong as your commitment to train it

Rule #3: Quit Social Media

▪ Another commenter cited making friends in a writing forum. I don’t doubt the existence of these friends, but we can assume that these friendships are lightweight—given that they’re based on sending short messages back and forth over a computer network.

▪ These services are engineered to be addictive—robbing time and attention from activities that more directly support your professional and personal goals.

In the context of network tools, we’ve become comfortable with the any-benefit mind-set.

Steps to decide about leaving n/w tools.

▪ Identify the main high-level goals in both your professional and your personal life.

▪ Consider the network tools you currently use. Go through the key activities you identified and ask whether the use of the tool has a substantially positive, negative, or little impact on your regular and successful participation in the activity.

▪ Don’t formally deactivate these services. Don’t mention online that you’ll be signing off: Just stop using them, cold turkey.

  • After thirty days of this self-imposed network isolation, ask yourself
    1. Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service?
    2. Did people care that I wasn’t using this service?
  • If your answer is “no” to both questions, quit the service permanently.
  • If your answer was a clear “yes,” then return to using the service.
  • If your answers are qualified or ambiguous, it’s up to you whether you return to the service, though I would encourage you to lean toward quitting.

These websites offer personalized information arriving on an unpredictable intermittent schedule—making them massively addictive

companies that profit from your attention have succeeded with a masterful marketing coup: convincing our culture that if you don’t use their products you might miss out.

▪ As of this writing, for example, the average number of followers for a Twitter user is 208. When you know that more than two hundred people volunteered to hear what you have to say, it’s easy to begin to believe that your activities on these services are important.

▪ You “like” my status update and I’ll “like” yours. This agreement gives everyone a simulacrum of importance without requiring much effort in return. Note: Reciprocity Principle

Don’t Use the Internet to Entertain Yourself

▪ Accordingly to Bennett, the typical man should instead use the time after work hours as an aristocrat would: to perform rigorous self-improvement—a task that, according to Bennett, involves, primarily, reading great literature and poetry.

▪ Every available trick of human psychology, from listing titles as “popular” or “trending,” to the use of arresting photos, is used to keep you engaged.

▪ To summarize, if you want to eliminate the addictive pull of entertainment sites on your time and attention, give your brain a quality alternative.

Rule #4: Drain the Shallows

▪ The shallow work is less vital than it often seems in the moment.

▪ This doesn’t mean that you must quixotically pursue a schedule in which all of your time is invested in depth.

▪ You might be able to avoid checking your e-mail every ten minutes, but you won’t likely last long if you never respond to important messages.

  • Schedule Every Minute of Your Day
    • Turn to a new page of lined paper in a notebook.
    • Mark every other line with an hour of the day, covering the full set of hours you typically work.
    • Divide the hours of your workday into blocks and assign activities to the blocks. To do so, actually draw a box that covers the lines corresponding to the hours
    • The minimum length of a block should be thirty minutes.
    • you can batch similar things into more generic task blocks.
    • You can write task on right page and draw a line to time on left page.

Your goal is not to stick to a given schedule at all costs; it’s instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time going forward—even if these decisions are reworked again and again as the day unfolds.

Become Hard to Reach

▪ Ubiquitous e-mail access has become so ingrained in our professional habits that we’re beginning to lose the sense that we have any say in its role in our life

▪ The default social convention surrounding e-mail is that unless you’re famous, if someone sends you something, you owe him or her a response.

The notion that all messages, regardless of purpose or sender, arrive in the same undifferentiated inbox, and that there’s an expectation that every message deserves a (timely) response, is absurdly unproductive

Don’t Respond

▪ Do not reply to an e-mail message if

  • It’s ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response.
  • It’s not a question or proposal that interests you.
  • Nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t.


▪ The one trait that differentiated [Gates from Allen] was focus. Allen’s mind would flit between many ideas and passions, but Gates was a serial obsessor.

The deep life, of course, is not for everybody. It requires hard work and drastic changes to your habits. For many, there’s a comfort in the artificial busyness of rapid e-mail messaging and social media posturing, while the deep life demands that you leave much of that behind.

7 Practical Questions

  • How can I integrate deep work in my daily life?
  • What are my top 3 sources of information consumption? How can I be selective with information consumption?
  • How can I build a routine or ritual to complete deep work as first thing in the morning?
  • How can i build a system for managing emails?
  • How can i schedule relaxing time/shutdown ritual?
  • How would i deal with uncompleted tasks before sleeping?
  • How can i batch schedule the shallow work?

Mental Models mentioned

  • Attention Residue
    • The mental switching between 2 tasks creates fragmented attention.
  • Deep work
    • cognitively demanding work.(programming, writing)
  • Shallow work
    • Non-cognitive demanding work (Walmart cashier)