Deep Work, Cal Newport

Title: Deep Work
Author: Cal Newport
Link: Goodreads

Start: 9 November 2020
End: 5 December 2020

Introduction to Deep Work

Book looks at some history and gives an overview of why Deep Work is important, not only in the past but also in the future. We are so easily distracted that focus, and our time, are becoming a commodity.

People used to go to the mountains, or retreats/caves to get away from the hustle and bustle of continuously being interrupted and shifting focus from one task or area to the next. This might sound like multitasking, but each time we shift from one item to another, our brain has to put in an extra effort.

Think back to a day when you were continuously going from one thing to the next, did you feel exhausted at the end of it?

From people writing articles to people learning to code, Deep Work should be used whenever possible. A story which struck me was the learning a programming language. From nothing, someone took a few textbooks and focused intensely on learning to program with no distractions from the computer or other. After about six months, this person attends a dev boot camp and won. He saw people struggled to focus and were easily distracted by the noise and the hustle and bustle of the boot camp whilst he had learned to shut everything else out – I need to learn this for my Python learning.

The three main areas that can really get someone to succeed are:

  1. Ability to master something hard
  2. Ability to produce something at an elite level in both quality and speed
  3. Have funds to invest in something

The first two are generally the attainable ones, but we have to be disciplined and master many steps to get there. The ability to produce something at an elite level also requires dedication and we need to be sure to produce a result. Without producing, there is no gain.

The core components of learning can usually be identified as follows:

  1. Our attention is focused tightly on a specific skill we are trying to improve or an idea we are trying to master;
  2. We receive feedback to correct our approach and keep our attention exactly where it’s most productive.

It is important to focus when learning something so that myelin gets added to the brain neurons to cement the learning. Having a book and a social media application open means that too many neurons are firing at the same time and not cementing what you are reading from either the book or social media.

To learn hard things quickly or generate meaningful results, we must focus intensely without distraction. Learning is an act of deep work. If we are comfortable going deep, we will be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy in today’s world. If instead, we remain one of the many for whom depth is uncomfortable and easily distracted, we should not expect these systems and skills to come easily to you.

Deep Work Philosophies

The main types of deep work philosophies are:

  • Monastic Philosophy. This philosophy maximises deep efforts by eliminating or minimising shallow obligations. Practitioners tend to have a well-defined and highly valued professional goal that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well
    • In essence, removing all shallow work and distractions
  • Bimodal Philosophy. This philosophy asks that you divide your time, dedicating defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else. During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically, seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration. During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritised.
    • In essence, removing shallow work and distractions only at particular times. Good but could mean you disappear for a period of time which might not work for everyone.
  • Rhythmic Philosophy. This philosophy is where you transform the act of carrying out deep work sessions into a regular habit. The goal is to generate a rhythm for and remove the need for an injection of energy when deciding if and when you’re going to go deep. Like a habit, you want to have a check against each day which pushes you.
    • In essence, setting up a routine and sticking to it. Adhoc deep work does not work.
  • journalist Philosophy. This philosophy is where you implement the deep work approach whenever you can. Any time that you can find some free time or non urgent meetings, go deep and focus on the objective in hand.
    • In essence, any spare moment you have, try to go deep.

Given the world we live in, it is not easy to turn off emails and phone calls and disappear for hours or days on end. We also live in a constantly changing work and demands can be made at the last minute which makes planning very difficult. This is why I believe that to implement deep work, we must choose a combination of the above philosophies.

Deep Work is Rare

Even though it seems that deep work is important, it is becoming a rare skill. So many companies seem to go the opposite way. Deep work is the act of focusing and shutting off as many distractions as possible whereas companies seem to be making it more and more difficult by doing things like:

  • Open-plan offices (the brain subconsciously gets distracted by chat and phones)
  • Email and instant messaging pressures. We need to be constantly connected and answer things as soon as possible
  • Social media presence (pushing you to be more social online).

All these are the opposite of deep work but as their impact on the bottom line is difficult to gauge companies implement and encourage them.

The other key reason why people do not practise deep work is laziness and ease. Doing shallow work and giving the impression of acting busy is much easier than doing deep work and getting somewhere.

We must choose what we get distracted by and not let everything distract us. If not we risk living in in a state of being constantly unfocused. It is important to both shut off the external distractions, but also to have the internal determination aligned.

Implementing Deep Work

To implement deep work, we need a ritual. We need to give ourselves a location and duration. We also need to define what rules and procedures we will have when deep working to keep our efforts in line and avoid internal conflicts and energy drain. For example, we might implement a ban on Internet use, or maintain a metric such as words produced per twenty-minute interval.

The environment is important but we can supplement this by making grand gestures. Psychology suggests that the act of committing so seriously to the task at hand can be a game-changer. To put yourself in an exotic location to focus on a project, or to take a week off from work to think, or to lock yourself in a hotel room until you complete an important invention: These gestures push your deep goal to a level of mental priority that helps unlock the needed mental resources. “Sometimes to go deep, you must first go big”.

Another step we can take is to avoid working alone. For some types of problems, working with someone else can push you deeper than if you were working alone, when appropriate. The other party’s presence waiting for your next insight, whether physically in the same room or collaborating virtually, can intensify the instinct to go deep.

It is important that we shut down our thoughts on work issues at the end of the workday until the next morning. This means, no after-dinner email check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you’ll handle an upcoming challenge. Completely shut down your work thinking On occasions where more time is needed, we can extend our workday, but once we shut down, our mind must be left free.

Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day to follow. Put another way, 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.

Steps to take to shutdown:

  • Review the workday and any tasks that still need to be completed
  • Review the calendar for any upcoming things to make sure these are on the task list of not forget
  • Prepare plan for net day
  • Shutdown

To make sure we do not fall in the trap of thinking of work issues or seeing our leisure time disappear before us, we need to put thought into how we spend our personal time. When it comes to your relaxation, we should avoid defaulting to whatever catches our attention in that particular moment, but rather dedicate some advance thinking of how we want to spend our day. “Addictive websites of the type mentioned previously thrive in a vacuum: If you haven’t given yourself something to do in a given moment, they’ll always beckon as an appealing option.” If instead we fill our free time with something meaningful, the grip we feel from social media and websites will loosen.


  1. Focus on the important – Generally, the more you do the less you accomplish
  2. Act on lead measures – lead measures turn your attention to improving the behaviors you directly control in the near future that will positively impact your long-term goals
  3. Keep a scoreboard – bit like habit tracking, makes you want to improve and keep going.
  4. Have a proper environment and have accountability.
  5. Properly shutdown
  6. Plan your leisure time