We live in a very busy and distracted world, which makes Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World a perfect book choice for anyone trying to improve their productivity. We recommend reading or listening to the whole book, but we also broke down the concepts so you can get a head start on your new productive strategies.
Who it works for:
Anyone wanting to increase their productivity, especially knowledge workers
Anyone who wants to get more done, but in less time
Anyone interested in the science of multitasking, attention, and productivity
What is Deep work?
Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
“The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”
According to Newport, most workers today succumb to something he calls increasingly visible busyness or busyness as proxy for productivity. In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be valuable and productive at work, many knowledge workers turn toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.
Deep work is valuable because it maximizes the amount of productivity you can squeeze out of a certain amount of time.
Deep work is single-tasking
Multi-tasking just causes you to take longer to complete many tasks simultaneously.
Multi-tasking causes attention residue:
Attention Residue: everytime you’re switching from one task to another, a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the previous task. This makes it hard to work with the necessary focus and intensity required for deep work on the new task. As a result, you lose a little bit of productivity every time you switch tasks.
Focusing on one task at a time maximizes productive output.
Productive meditation can help you work deeper, even while you’re taking a break
Stop working at the same time each day
Your brain needs space at night to wind down. Quit work, stop checking email, turn off computer, etc. at the same time each day.
“…getting the most out of your deep work habit requires training, and as clarified previously, this training must address two goals: improving your ability to concentrate intensely and overcoming your desire for distraction.”
Practice a few and track your habits. Find out which works best and continue its use.
The monastic approach: Monastic comes from monastery – the place where monks live. It means shutting yourself off completely, for example by moving to a cabin in the woods to write a novel, and not come back until it’s finished.
The bimodal approach: This prioritizes deep work above everything else. You could set a 4-6 hour block each day for deep work, for example, where you lock yourself in your office, similar to the monastic approach. However, once that block is over, you’re free to do everything else that might be on your plate.
The rhythmic approach: This chunks down your work into time blocks, similar to the Pomodoro technique, and uses a calendar to track your progress. For example you’d plan your week ahead of time and put 10 blocks of 90 minutes on your calendar, and make working with timed blocks a habit.
The journalistic approach: If you have a busy daily routine, this works well. What you do is to simply dedicate any, unexpected free time to deep work.
Four Rules of Deep Work:
Rule #1: Work Deeply. Working deeply, due to its effortful nature, is the very thing most of us don’t want to do. Add to this an environment and culture that makes deep work difficult, and a finite amount of willpower that gets depleted as we use it, and you have a recipe for shallow work. To make deep work a staple in our day-to-day lives, we need to create rituals and routines that make things easier and more automatic for us.
Rule #2: Embrace Boredom. Intense concentration is a skill that must be trained. Much like athletes who must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions, you’ll need to take care of your concentration outside of your deep work sessions. If, throughout your day-to-day life, you give in to distractions at the slightest hint of boredom, you’ll struggle to develop the type of intense concentration necessary for deep work.
Even worse, you’ll literally train and rewire your brain for on-demand distraction. The result? You’ll be wired for getting distracted over and over again even if you want to concentrate and work deeply.
The solution? Embrace boredom. Stop checking your inbox or looking at your smartphone at every opportunity you get. Train your ability to resist distractions.
- Rule #3: Quit Social Media. Social media is the prime example for shallow living. Just because it offers a little benefit, doesn’t mean it’s worth the time we give it. You simply can’t work deeply if you feel the need to hop on social media every couple of minutes. Due to its addictive nature, social media and deep living don’t go well together.
- Rule #4: Drain the Shallows. The Shallows is the name of a book written on the effects of the Internet on our brains and lives. Shallow work, refers to answering emails, making phone calls, attending to meetings, and other inevitable but ultimately low-value tasks. If you’re serious about working deeply, you need to drain the Shallows – you need to schedule time for deep work and spend as little time on shallow work as possible. Don’t let shallow work get in the way of deep work.