deep-work-book-summary

Actionable Book Summary: Deep Work by Cal Newport

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The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

Our current world is full of distractions and complications. The only way we can get more done and finally reach our goals is through performing deep work. This book will inspire you to ditch your social media existence. Motivate, and show you how to block all near distractions so you can finally focus on what matters for you most.

The Core Idea:

Deep work is the superpower of the 21st century. It’s the necessary work condition to wring every last drop of value out of yourself in the limited amount of time you have. Because, if you want to achieve something in your life you can only do so by embracing depth over shallowness. The author describes deep work as a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. Or in other words, only by working deeply you can get more done in less time.

5 Key Lessons:

Lesson #1: You Think You Don’t Have Enough Time Because Your Attention is Fragmented

The main reason you can’t finish your book report on time, assignment, actually do the job they pay you to do is usually this one: network tools. The communication services we use nowadays – email, SMS, social media networks – are preventing us from doing the work we need to do. It’s quite a paradox. The tools that allow us to do our job faster are the same tools that are distracting us and fragmenting our time. And fragmented time is the destroyer of productivity. It’s a state where you hop from one social media channel to the other, constantly sending and receiving emails thinking you’re doing something where in reality you’re just producing and consuming unimportant information.

Your focus is like a progress bar. Every time you interrupt the task you’re currently doing to reply to an email or to check social media you’re draining your focus points. While every minute of concentration fills an invisible bar. The more you stay focused the more you’ll get involved in the work you do, thus produce more high-quality work. However, if something interferes with your concentrations the progress in the bar will immediately vanish and you need to start all over again. And this costs you time.

That’s the main reason we feel busy nowadays but in reality we don’t do a lot. We’re more involved in performing distracting activities that offer instant pleasures (like checking your email) but unfortunately, these type of activities brings little value to our future progress.

Lesson #2: There Are Two Core Abilities for Thriving in The Current Economy

Cal Newport suggests that there are only two abilities that will help you blossom in the current competitive market. Let’s look at them one by one:

  1. The ability to quickly master hard things: The world is evolving. Flying drones delivering pizza and autonomous cars are right around the corner. If you don’t want to lend your paycheck to the fellow robots you need to start learning new skills, now. Because, to become a world-class designer, for example, requires you to constantly improve your skill set. That’s the only way you can stay on top of your game.
  2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed: Learning new skills is not enough. I mean, you can read all the books in the world and still be miserable and not satisfied with your finances. You need to put into practice what you learn. Transform the knowledge into some sort of product that can support you. That’s when the second core ability comes into play. Besides quickly mastering new skills you also need to produce quality work (products), fast.

Do you know how you achieve the above two? That’s right! The two core abilities mentioned by Cal Newport can be acquired only by performing deep work.

Lesson #3: To Be Great At Something You Need To Focus – Perform Deep Work

How do you think successful people become, well, successful? They progress. Whether they’ll improve their results if they’re athletes or they’ll produce more content if they’re writers. The outcome is different based on the type of field but the action is always the same – their ability to get better at what they’re doing over time is essential.

This is where deep work helps.

Time is scarce these days. And even though the information published online is helpful, it’s impossible to read it all: to watch all the videos, to listen to all podcasts, to check all the tweets. You need to be picky, but not only. Because the Net is chipping away our capacity for concentration and contemplation you need to focus on your one thing in life and discard everything else.

You need to teach your mind to go deep. That’s the only way you can reach your full potential. And drastic times call for drastic measures. That’s what Jason Benn (mentioned in the book) did when he was trying to learn how to code: “I locked myself in a room with no computer: just textbooks, notecards, and a highlighter.” The only way he could learn this material was to remove everything in the room that was distracting him.

Lesson #4: Deep Work Often Requires The Rejection Of Much Of What is New And High-Tech

What do you do when tech giants announce their new products? You want them. Hell, you’ll most probably even buy them. But do you really think that Alexa or a robot cleaning slave can actually save you time? In most of the cases, the opposite happens.

New tech is exciting and desirable but great musicians, writers, leaders, are usually satisfied with fewer things. Because more tech brings only distraction in your life. For instance, if you buy a new tablet or a new video game you’ll spend hours using these tools. In contrast, if you don’t have a tablet you won’t watch TV series while you’re laying on your coach, you might instead grab a book.

Take George R.R. Martin for example, the author of the fantasy series Game of Thrones. What he said in an interview about tech and social media is not something a lot of people will want to do but it’s surely something a lot of people will have to do: “I am not on Facebook. I am not on Twitter. I will not be on the next new thing to come along, the one that makes Facebook and Twitter as obsolete as GEnie and CompuServe and The Source, those halcyon communities of yore.”

This mind sounds harsh but it needed. The only way to make deep work your priority in our current distraction-rich culture is to numb your desire for shiny tweets, more likes, tagged photos, walls, posts. Understand that these things are shallow and don’t lead to anything productive in the future.

Lesson #5: How to Train Your Mind To Perform Deep Work?

It’s super simple, you only need to block all near distractions. The main problem, however, is not that social media is a click away, is that our desire to check social media is so immensely high.

So, what do you do?

Well, thankfully the author gives us some general guidelines that will help us set the scenery so we can finally concentrate and do our job:

  • Where you’ll work and for how long? Identify a location, in your home or in your office, where you’ll perform deep work sessions. If you’re in an office and you drastically need to focus, set a schedule. For example, from 10:00 to 11:00 are do-not-disturb hours. Now, go and tell everyone else to keep quiet and don’t disturb you between these hours. In essence, you need to train your mind that the set location is your sacred place and that there is nothing else allowed inside.
  • How you’ll work once you start to work? You need some rules. For example, block social media or the Internet during specific intervals. Also, set some sort of a metric system. If you’re a writer, you can aim for words produced per twenty-minute interval to keep the momentum going. The rules and the system will keep you away from doing unproductive things.
  • How you’ll support your work? To maintain a high level of deep work you need some sort of help. You can add rituals in your day-to-day life so you can trigger deep work mode. For instance, preparing a good cup of coffee or playing your favorite music to get you in the mood. Also, making sure that the surrounding environment is distraction-free. These factors have to be systematized so that you don’t waste mental energy figuring out what you need to do in the current moment. Something like this: “Since I’m writing I’m not allowed to tweet.”

These three questions will help you get started in crafting your deep work strategy. Keep in mind though that finding a ritual that sticks might require experimentation, so be willing to try different things.

Actionable Notes:

  • Schedule “Think weeks:” Twice a year, Bill Gates isolate himself to do nothing but read and think about the future. This way he can reflect on the current state of his company and figure out towards where the firm should be headed. If you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed by your to-do list, it’s probably a good idea to disconnect for a while and think about what you should be doing.
  • Lag and Lead measures: A lag measure is essentially the results of certain behavior. For example, a lag measure is customer satisfaction ration. The problem with this measure is that it comes too late to change your strategy. Lead measures, on the other hand, measures the behavior that will lead to an improvement in the previous metric. For example, if we invest in customer support – training sessions – this will lead to better customer satisfaction. Or in other words, you need to focus on improving your lead measures. They have a positive impact on your long-term goals.
  • Keep a scoreboard: It’s useful to keep track of your goals and your progress. A scoreboard creates a sense of competition that can help you focus on the important things. It also provides a visual source of motivation. Once you see how much you’ve accomplished so far, you’ll be more likely to ditch social media and focus on the important tasks.

Commentary And My Personal Takeaway

To be honest, the book can be squished in the following sentence: If you want to become great at something you need to train your mind to perform deep work.

That’s it, nothing fancy. The problem comes when we’re alone in front of the blank piece of paper. An avalanche of thoughts is attacking your mind and making you do things you don’t particularly need to do. That’s when the research in the book comes into play. Cal Newport presents us with various stories, anecdotes, interesting tidbits about the lives of famous and successful people. All of this documented in under 300 pages.

The whole topic about deep work is genuinely life-changing. It’s surely something more people need to read and reflect on. Because, the alternative is scary. Not performing deep work can actually destroy your life. Think about it. How exactly using social media can make you a better and more productive person?

Notable Quotes:

To summarize, to succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli. This doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate distracting behaviors; it’s sufficient that you instead eliminate the ability of such behaviors to hijack your attention.”

There is a popular notion that artists work from inspiration—that there is some strike or bolt or bubbling up of creative mojo from who knows where… but I hope [my work] makes clear that waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible, terrible plan. In fact, perhaps the single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration.” Mason Currey

If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.”

Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”


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Actionable Book Summary of Deep Work by Cal Newport. Key takeaways and actionable notes.

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