Be honest, over the course of these book summary, how many notifications, emails and texts do you think you’ll get? Chances are there might be quite a few. The question is: How will that impact your understanding of these book summary?
Most likely you’ll be less focused and probably miss some of the details. In an age where technology is evolving at a pace we could have once only dreamed of, we must acquire the skills and ability to focus on one task at a time in our daily work without interruption. We must learn to practice deep work.
What does that mean and how can it be achieved? For starters, you’d better turn off your notifications and then you’ll find out.
In this summary of Deep Work by Cal Newport, you’ll discover
- how multitasking makes you less productive;
- the difference between deep work and being in the zone; and
- how taking a shower can be a good time for focusing on a specific issue.
“My commitment to depth has rewarded me. In the ten-year period following my college graduation, I published four books, earned a PhD, wrote peer-reviewed academic papers at a high rate, and was hired as a tenure-track professor at Georgetown University.” – Cal Newport
non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks that can be completed in a semi-distracted state. Shallow work includes answering email, sorting documents, and running errands. The less engagement your work requires, the more shallow it is.
“In an age of network tools, knowledge workers increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative—constantly sending and receiving e- mail messages like human network routers, with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction. Larger efforts that would be well served by deep thinking, such as forming a new business strategy or writing an important grant application, get fragmented into distracted dashes that produce muted quality.” – Cal Newport
Any task that you complete while in a semi-distracted state will likely be automated in the near future (completed by software programs and/or robots). Or the task will be completed by several thousand people around the world who are willing to do it for far less money than you are doing it for. The more shallow work you do, the less rare and valuable your skills are, and the more likely you’ll be replaced by a cheaper alternative.
hard but important intellectual work completed during long uninterrupted periods of time. Deep work requires a state of distraction-free concentration to push your cognitive capabilities to their limit and create new value that is hard to replicate. Here are 3 Examples of Deep Work:
- Writer Mark Twain worked in a cabin isolated from the main house, requiring his family to blow a horn to attract his attention for meals.
- While writing the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling’s only tweet for the first year and a half after joining Twitter was: “This is the real me, but you won’t be hearing from me often I am afraid, as pen and paper is my priority at the moment.”
- CEO Bill Gates famously conducted “Think Weeks” twice a year, during which he would isolate himself in a lakeside cottage to do nothing but read and think big thoughts. One think week led to the famous “Internet Tidal Wave” memo which led to development of Microsoft’s powerful web browser.
If you want to develop skills and produce work that the world considers rare and valuable, you need to develop a daily deep work ritual.
4 Deep Work Ritual Requirements
“Your ritual needs to specify a location for your deep work efforts. This location can be as simple as your normal office with the door shut and desk cleaned off (a colleague of mine likes to put a hotel-style “do not disturb” sign on his office door when he’s tackling something difficult). If it’s possible to identify a location used only for depth—for instance, a conference room or quiet library—the positive effect can be even greater.” – Cal Newport
Exact end time
“Give yourself a specific time frame to keep the session a discrete challenge and not an open-ended slog.” – Cal Newport
By establishing a clear end time for each deep work session, you give yourself permission to focus intensely and experience discomfort because you know exactly when the discomfort will end.
Easy starting sequence
“Your ritual needs rules and processes to keep your efforts structured. Without this structure, you’ll have to mentally litigate again and again what you should and should not be doing during these sessions and keep trying to assess whether you’re working sufficiently hard. These are unnecessary drains on your willpower reserves.” – Cal Newport
“Your ritual needs to ensure your brain gets the support it needs to keep operating at a high level of depth. For example, the ritual might specify that you start with a cup of good coffee, or make sure you have access to enough food of the right type to maintain energy, or integrate light exercise such as walking to help keep the mind clear.” – Cal Newport
“If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.” – Cal Newport
Multitasking and distraction are the enemies of productivity.
A lot of people think that doing tons of things at once is the most productive use of their time, but this logic is dead wrong. That’s because multitasking does not equal productivity. Sophie Leroy, a business professor at the University of Minnesota who conducted research on this phenomenon in 2009, shows why.
She demonstrates that when switching from task A to task B, our attention stays attached to the first activity, which means we can only half-focus on the second, which hurts our performance. Her experiments utilized two groups: group A worked on word puzzles until she interrupted them to go on to reading resumes and making hypothetical hiring decisions; Group B got to finish their puzzles before moving on to the resumes.
In between the two tasks, Leroy would give a quick test to see how many keywords from the puzzles were still stuck in the participants’ minds.
Group A was much more focused on the puzzle and therefore less focused on the important task of hiring the right person.
The long and short of it? Multitasking is no good for productivity. Neither is being electronically connected all the time. In fact, while it might seem harmless to keep social media and email tabs open in your web browser, the mere fact of seeing things pop up on your screen is enough to derail your focus, even if you’re not immediately addressing notifications.
For instance, a 2012 study by the consulting firm McKinsey found that the average worker spends over 60 percent of the workweek using online communication tools and surfing the internet with just 30 percent devoted to reading and answering emails.
Despite this data, workers feel like they’re working more than ever. That’s because completing small tasks and moving information around makes us feel busy and accomplished – but it’s actually just preventing us from truly focusing.
There are different strategies for achieving deep work – all of which require intention.
So now you know some of the roadblocks that get in the way of deep work, but how can you overcome them? While there’s no universal strategy, here are a few you might find helpful:
The first is the monastic approach. This strategy works by eliminating all sources of distraction and secluding yourself like a monk.
The second is called the bimodal approach, which involves setting a clearly defined, long period of seclusion for work and leaving the rest of your time free for everything else.
The third is the rhythmic approach. The idea here is to form a habit of doing deep work for blocks of, say, 90 minutes and using a calendar to track your accomplishments.
And finally, the journalistic strategy is to take any unexpected free time in your daily routine to do deep work. But regardless of which technique you employ, it’s key to remember that they’re methodical, not random.
In fact, that’s exactly the difference between being in the zone and deep work. After all, you get in the zone by chance and often only after hours of procrastination. On the other hand, deep work is intentional and desired, which makes it essential to have rituals that prepare your mind for it.
One ritual might be to define your space. It can be as simple as placing a “do not disturb” sign on your office door, or going to a library or coffee shop. The latter is especially helpful if you work in an open office.
Just take J.K. Rowling, who, while finishing her last Harry Potter book, stayed at a five-star hotel just to escape her hectic home environment and cope with the pressure so she could get into deep work.
Another ritual is to define boundaries, for example, by disconnecting the internet or turning off your phone.
And finally, make your deep work sustainable. Because, whether it’s light exercise, food, or a caffeine pick-me-up, it’s essential to give your body what it needs if you want to focus. If you don’t, you’ll never have the mental energy you need to stay in deep work.
Focus your brain and be selective about your use of technology.
In the modern world, our brains have grown accustomed to craving distraction. After all, everywhere we look, people are glued to their screens, playing games, messaging or refreshing their Facebook pages on repeat.
The problem is that our brains are wired to be easily distracted. That’s because, evolutionarily speaking, these distractions could pose risks or opportunities. As a result, it’s hard for us to deeply focus on one task.
But don’t worry, productive meditation can rewire your brain and help you focus. Here’s how it works:
Use moments that would otherwise be unproductive – like walking your dog, taking a shower or commuting to work – to consider a problem you need to take care of without letting your mind change subjects.
To get started, ask yourself questions that identify different issues in solving a given problem. Then, once you’ve landed a specific target, ask yourself action questions like, “What do I need to accomplish my goal?”
Think of it as a hardcore workout routine for your brain that will help build your focus!
It’s also key to be mindful of your intentions when using social media and the internet. For instance, if you use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, then use it to communicate with them, but also make an effort, when possible, to spend more time with them in person.
And, if you can’t manage to do that, try going cold turkey: quit social media for 30 days and afterward, ask yourself:
Would the past month have been that much better with social media in my life? Did anyone care that I stopped using it?
If you answer no to both, give it up for good. But if you answer yes, then it’s probably for the best to return to it.
Scheduling both work and free time is essential to restoring energy.
When you get home from work or running errands all day, often all you want to do is, well, nothing. And for lots of us, that means having no fixed time slots where we have to complete tasks.
But ironically enough, we end up stuck in the same routine every night: we watch TV, scroll through our phones or stare at our computers. Then, when it’s finally time to go to bed, we feel more tired than when we got home, leaving us depleted of energy for the next day.
How can you avoid that situation?
By scheduling everything you do, you’ll free up time for being mindful of how you spend it. At the start of every workday, create a schedule that’s divided into blocks of at least 30 minutes. In this schedule you should set both work and personal tasks like time to relax, eat or catch up on email.
It’s inevitable that your schedule will change during the day, but if this happens, just rearrange your blocks. The idea isn’t to strictly abide by your itinerary, but to cultivate awareness about how you spend your time.
That means it’s also key to plan your evenings and weekends ahead so you can take actions toward specific goals. So, try to leave your work at the office, for instance, by imposing limitations and not checking your email after a certain time. By doing so, you’ll give your mind the space it needs to shut down.
Finally, planning your evenings and weekends around activities other than those involving the internet can help you revitalize your mind and body. Maybe it’s reading, exercise or just some quality time with loved ones.
The key message in this book:
Distractions are everywhere in the modern world where multitasking has become our default state and is killing our productivity. The good news is we can take back control of our time by eliminating distractions and letting our brains focus on one task at a time.
The next time you feel completely exhausted at the end of an unproductive day, consider taking an “internet sabbath.”
Just take a notepad to work in which you write specific time slots when you’re allowed to use the internet and avoid using it outside these time blocks. This will increase your productivity because you’ll unconsciously want to take more advantage of the time you have allowed yourself to use the internet. You’ll be amazed at how your focus skyrockets, merely by being present when browsing the web instead of in a half-conscious state where time slips by.
About the author
Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University and a New York Times bestselling author of seven books, including, A World Without Email, Digital Minimalism, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and Deep Work, which have been published in over 35 languages. He is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, the New York Times, and WIRED, a frequent guest on NPR, and the host of the popular Deep Questions podcast.
Time Management, Job Hunting and Career Guides, Success Self-Help, Business Life, Cognition, Memory Improvement, Organization Management Skills, Stress and Anxiety Management, Motivation and Self-Esteem, Productivity, Psychology, Personal Development, Leadership, Philosophy
Table of Contents
Part 1 The Idea
Chapter 1 Deep Work Is Valuable 21
Chapter 2 Deep Work Is Rare 49
Chapter 3 Deep Work Is Meaningful 72
Part 2 The Rules
Rule #1 Work Deeply 95
Rule #2 Embrace Boredom 155
Rule #3 Quit Social Media 181
Rule #4 Drain the Shallows 215
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 what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, 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.
In DEEP WORK, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four “rules,” for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill.
1. Work Deeply
2. Embrace Boredom
3. Quit Social Media
4. Drain the Shallows
A mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice, DEEP WORK takes the reader on a journey through memorable stories — from Carl Jung building a stone tower in the woods to focus his mind, to a social media pioneer buying a round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo to write a book free from distraction in the air — and no-nonsense advice, such as the claim that most serious professionals should quit social media and that you should practice being bored. DEEP WORK is an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.
“As a presence on the page, Newport is exceptional in the realm of self-help authors.”―New York Times Book Review
“DEEP WORK accomplishes two considerable tasks: One is putting out a wealth of concrete practices for the ambitious, without relying on gauzy clichés. The second is that Mr. Newport resists the corporate groupthink of constant connectivity without seeming like a curmudgeon.”―Wall Street Journal
“As automation and outsourcing reshape the workplace, what new skill do we need? The ability to do deep work. Cal Newport’s exciting new book is an introduction and guide to the kind of intense concentration in a distraction-free environment that results in fast, powerful learning and performance. Think of it as calisthenics for your mind-and start your exercise program today.”―Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and When
“DEEP WORK makes a compelling case for cultivating intense focus, and offers immediately actionable steps for infusing more of it into our lives.”―Adam M. Grant, author of Originals and Think Again
“Cal Newport is a clear voice in a sea of noise, bringing science and passion in equal measure. We don’t need more clicks, more cats, and more emojis. We need brave work, work that happens when we refuse to avert our eyes.”―Seth Godin, author of This is Marketing and The Practice
“Cal Newport offers the most well-informed and astute collection of practical advice I have seen for reclaiming one’s mental powers.”―Matthew B. Crawford, author of The World Beyond Your Head and Why We Drive
“Just when you think you already know this stuff, DEEP WORK hits you with surprisingly unique and useful insights. Rule #3 alone, with its discussion of the ‘Any-Benefit’ mind-set, is worth the price of this book.”―Derek Sivers, founder, Sivers.org
“Here lies a playbook for professionals of all stripes to achieve true differentiation in a crowded talent marketplace. Cal Newport’s latest shows why he is one of the most provocative thinkers on the future of work.”―Ben Casnocha, co-author of The Start-Up Of You
“Deep work is the killer app of the knowledge economy: it is only by concentrating intensely that you can master a difficult discipline or solve a demanding problem.”―The Economist
“This is a deep, not shallow, book which can enrich your life.”―The Globe and Mail
“In this strong self-help book, Newport declares that the habits of modern professionals-checking email at all hours, rushing from meeting to meeting, and valuing multitasking above all else-only stand in the way of truly valuable work.”―Publisher’s Weekly
“[A] worthwhile distraction.”―ValueWalk
“A wonderfully entangled, intertwined, and erudite series of strategies, philosophies, disciplines, and techniques to sharpen your focus and dive deep into your work.”―800-CEO-READ
“DEEP WORK is now one of my all-time favorite books, and I’m not joking when I say it was a life-changing read for me. I think it can be for you too.”―Brett McKay, author of The Art of Manliness
“What emerges most powerfully is the sense that it’s wrong to think of deep work as one more thing you’ve got to try to cram into your schedule. Truly committing to it, Newport suggests, transforms the rest of your time – so you’ll crank through shallow work faster, be more present in your home life, and eliminate time wasted switching between tasks. Depth, in short, isn’t at odds with a full life – it facilitates it. I’m persuaded.”―Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian
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Adam Grant produces at an elite level. When I met Grant in 2013, he was the youngest professor to be awarded tenure at the Wharton School of Business at Penn. A year later, when I started writing this chapter (and was just beginning to think about my own tenure process), the claim was updated: He’s now the youngest full professor* at Wharton.
The reason Grant advanced so quickly in his corner of academia is simple: He produces. In 2012, Grant published seven articles — all of them in major journals. This is an absurdly high rate for his field (in which professors tend to work alone or in small professional collaborations and do not have large teams of students and postdocs to support their research). In 2013, this count fell to five. This is still absurdly high, but below his recent standards. He can be excused for this dip, however, because this same year he published a book titled Give and Take, which popularized some of his research on relationships in business. To say that this book was successful is an understatement. It ended up featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine and went on to become a massive bestseller. When Grant was awarded full professorship in 2014, he had already written more than sixty peer-reviewed publications in addition to his bestselling book.
Soon after meeting Grant, my own academic career on my mind, I couldn’t help but ask him about his productivity. Fortunately for me, he was happy to share his thoughts on the subject. It turns out that Grant thinks a lot about the mechanics of producing at an elite level. He sent me, for example, a collection of PowerPoint slides from a workshop he attended with several other professors in his field. The event was focused on data-driven observations about how to produce academic work at an optimum rate. These slides included detailed pie charts of time allocation per season, a flowchart capturing relationship development with co‑authors, and a suggested reading list with more than twenty titles. These business professors do not live the cliché of the absentminded academic lost in books and occasionally stumbling on a big idea. They see productivity as a scientific problem to systematically solve — a goal Adam Grant seems to have achieved.
Though Grant’s productivity depends on many factors, there’s one idea in particular that seems central to his method:
the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches.
Grant performs this batching at multiple levels. Within the year, he stacks his teaching into the fall semester, during which he can turn all of his attention to teaching well and being available to his students. (This method seems to work, as Grant is currently the highest-rated teacher at Wharton and the winner of multiple teaching awards.) By batching his teaching in the fall, Grant can then turn his attention fully to research in the spring and summer, and tackle this work with less distraction.
Grant also batches his attention on a smaller time scale.
Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods where his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods where he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task. (He typically divides the writing of a scholarly paper into three discrete tasks: analyzing the data, writing a full draft, and editing the draft into something publishable.) During these periods, which can last up to three or four days, he’ll often put an out‑of‑office auto-responder on his e‑mail so correspondents will know not to expect a response. “It sometimes confuses my colleagues,” he told me. “They say, ‘You’re not out of office, I see you in your office right now!’ ” But to Grant, it’s important to enforce strict isolation until he completes the task at hand.
My guess is that Adam Grant doesn’t work substantially more hours than the average professor at an elite research institution (generally speaking, this is a group prone to workaholism), but he still manages to produce more than just about anyone else in his field. I argue that his approach to batching helps explain this paradox. In particular, by consolidating his work into intense and uninterrupted pulses, he’s leveraging the following law of productivity:
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
If you believe this formula, then Grant’s habits make sense:
By maximizing his intensity when he works, he maximizes the results he produces per unit of time spent working.
This is not the first time I’ve encountered this formulaic conception of productivity. It first came to my attention when I was researching my second book, How to Become a Straight‑A Student, many years earlier. During that research process, I interviewed around fifty ultra high-scoring college undergraduates from some of the country’s most competitive schools. Something I noticed in these interviews is that the very best students often studied less than the group of students right below them on the GPA rankings. One of the explanations for this phenomenon turned out to be the formula detailed earlier: The best students understood the role intensity plays in productivity and therefore went out of their way to maximize their concentration — radically reducing the time required to prepare for tests or write papers, without diminishing the quality of their results.
The example of Adam Grant implies that this intensity formula applies beyond just undergraduate GPA and is also relevant to other cognitively demanding tasks. But why would this be? An interesting explanation comes from Sophie Leroy, a business professor at the University of Minnesota. In a 2009 paper, titled, intriguingly, “Why Is It So Hard to Do My Work?,” Leroy introduced an effect she called attention residue. In the introduction to this paper, she noted that other researchers have studied the effect of multitasking — trying to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously — on performance, but that in the modern knowledge work office, once you got to a high enough level, it was more common to find people working on multiple projects sequentially: “Going from one meeting to the next, starting to work on one project and soon after having to transition to another is just part of life in organizations,” Leroy explains.
The problem this research identifies with this work strategy is that when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow — a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task. This residue gets especially thick if your work on Task A was unbounded and of low intensity before you switched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while.
Leroy studied the effect of this attention residue on performance by forcing task switches in the laboratory. In one such experiment, for example, she started her subjects working on a set of word puzzles. In one of the trials, she would interrupt them and tell them that they needed to move on to a new and challenging task, in this case, reading resumes and making hypothetical hiring decisions. In other trials, she let the subjects finish the puzzles before giving them the next task. In between puzzling and hiring, she would deploy a quick lexical decision game to quantify the amount of residue left from the first task.* The results from this and her similar experiments were clear: “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.
The concept of attention residue helps explain why the intensity formula is true and therefore helps explain Grant’s productivity. By working on a single hard task for a long time without switching, Grant minimizes the negative impact of attention residue from his other obligations, allowing him to maximize performance on this one task. When Grant is working for days in isolation on a paper, in other words, he’s doing so at a higher level of effectiveness than the standard professor following a more distracted strategy in which the work is repeatedly interrupted by residue-slathering interruptions.
Even if you’re unable to fully replicate Grant’s extreme isolation (we’ll tackle different strategies for scheduling depth in Part 2), the attention residue concept is still telling because it implies that the common habit of working in a state of semi-distraction is potentially devastating to your performance. It might seem harmless to take a quick glance at your inbox every ten minutes or so. Indeed, many justify this behavior as better than the old practice of leaving an inbox open on the screen at all times (a straw-man habit that few follow anymore). But Leroy teaches us that this is not in fact much of an improvement. That quick check introduces a new target for your attention. Even worse, by seeing messages that you cannot deal with at the moment (which is almost always the case), you’ll be forced to turn back to the primary task with a secondary task left unfinished. The attention residue left by such unresolved switches dampens your performance.
When we step back from these individual observations, we see a clear argument form:
To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.
Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work. If you’re not comfortable going deep for extended periods of time, it’ll be difficult to get your performance to the peak levels of quality and quantity increasingly necessary to thrive professionally. Unless your talent and skills absolutely dwarf those of your competition, the deep workers among them will outproduce you.