Deep Work Book Summary
By Cal Newport
those with the oracular ability to work with and tease valuable results out of increasingly complex machines will thrive. Tyler Cowen summarizes this reality more bluntly: “The key question will be: are you good at working with intelligent machines or not?”
talent is not a commodity you can buy in bulk and combine to reach the needed levels: There’s a premium to being the best. Therefore, if you’re in a marketplace where the consumer has access to all performers, and everyone’s q value is clear, the consumer will choose the very best.
As digital technology reduces the need for labor in many industries, the proportion of the rewards returned to those who own the intelligent machines is growing.
In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital.
Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy The ability to quickly master hard things. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.
deliberate practice actually requires. Its core components are usually identified as follows: (1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master; (2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
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. By contrast, if you’re trying to learn a complex new skill (say, SQL database management) in a state of low concentration (perhaps you also have your Facebook feed open), you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen.
By contrast, if you’re trying to learn a complex new skill (say, SQL database management) in a state of low concentration (perhaps you also have your Facebook feed open), you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen.
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
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.
Feynman was adamant in avoiding administrative duties because he knew they would only decrease his ability to do the one thing that mattered most in his professional life: “to do real good physics work.”
Knowledge work is not an assembly line, and extracting value from information is an activity that’s often at odds with busyness, not supported by it.
Among them are the realities that deep work is hard and shallow work is easier, that in the absence of clear goals for your job, the visible busyness that surrounds shallow work becomes self-preserving, and that our culture has developed a belief that if a behavior relates to “the Internet,” then it’s good—regardless of its impact on our ability to produce valuable things.
Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to.
A workday driven by the shallow, from a neurological perspective, is likely to be a draining and upsetting day, even if most of the shallow things that capture your attention seem harmless or fun.
And as the ESM studies confirmed, the more such flow experiences that occur in a given week, the higher the subject’s life satisfaction. Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.
He imagines a process in which you spend ninety minutes inside, take a ninety-minute break, and repeat two or three times—at which point your brain will have achieved its limit of concentration for the day.
You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.
The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.
The bimodal philosophy believes that deep work can produce extreme productivity, but only if the subject dedicates enough time to such endeavors to reach maximum cognitive intensity—the state in which real breakthroughs occur. This is why the minimum unit of time for deep work in this philosophy tends to be at least one full day. To put aside a few hours in the morning, for example, is too short to count as a deep work stretch for an adherent of this approach.
I call this approach, in which you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule, the journalist philosophy.
To put yourself in an exotic location to focus on a writing project, or to take a week off from work just 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.
The key is to maintain both in a hub-and-spoke-style arrangement: Expose yourself to ideas in hubs on a regular basis, but maintain a spoke in which to work deeply on what you encounter.
a collaborative form of deep work (common in academic circles) that leverages what I call the whiteboard effect. For some types of problems, working with someone else at the proverbial shared whiteboard can push you deeper than if you were working alone. The presence of the other party waiting for your next insight—be it someone physically in the same room or collaborating with you virtually—can short-circuit the natural instinct to avoid depth.
People play differently when they’re keeping score
At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning—no after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you’ll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely.
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.
attention restoration theory (ART), which claims that spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.
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.
Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, Nass discovered, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate.
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.
The main motivation for this strategy is straightforward. Deep work requires levels of concentration well beyond where most knowledge workers are comfortable. Roosevelt dashes leverage artificial deadlines to help you systematically increase the level you can regularly achieve—providing, in some sense, interval training for the attention centers of your brain.
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.
we increasingly recognize that these tools fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate.
If you don’t attempt to weigh pros against cons, but instead use any glimpse of some potential benefit as justification for unrestrained use of a tool, then you’re unwittingly crippling your ability to succeed in the world of knowledge work.
you’ll soon realize that network tools are not exceptional; they’re tools, no different from a blacksmith’s hammer or an artist’s brush, used by skilled laborers to do their jobs better (and occasionally to enhance their leisure).
Throughout history, skilled laborers have applied sophistication and skepticism to their encounters with new tools and their decisions about whether to adopt them. There’s no reason why knowledge workers cannot do the same when it comes to the Internet—the fact that the skilled labor here now involves digital bits doesn’t change this reality.
Not so. On the contrary, it will assuredly increase the value of the business eight. One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change—not rest, except in sleep.
In my experience, this analysis is spot-on. If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you’ll end the day more fulfilled, and begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semiconscious and unstructured Web surfing.
Deep work is exhausting because it pushes you toward the limit of your abilities. Performance psychologists have extensively studied how much such efforts can be sustained by an individual in a given day.* In their seminal paper on deliberate practice, Anders Ericsson and his collaborators survey these studies. They note that for someone new to such practice (citing, in particular, a child in the early stages of developing an expert-level skill), an hour a day is a reasonable limit. For those familiar with the rigors of such activities, the limit expands to something like four hours, but rarely more.
treat shallow work with suspicion because its damage is often vastly underestimated and its importance vastly overestimated. This type of work is inevitable, but you must keep it confined to a point where it doesn’t impede your ability to take full advantage of the deeper efforts that ultimately determine your impact.
scheduling, however, isn’t about constraint—it’s instead about thoughtfulness. It’s a simple habit that forces you to continually take a moment throughout your day and ask: “What makes sense for me to do with the time that remains?”
Decide in advance what you’re going to do with every minute of your workday. It’s natural, at first, to resist this idea, as it’s undoubtedly easier to continue to allow the twin forces of internal whim and external requests to drive your schedule. But you must overcome this distrust of structure if you want to approach your true potential as someone who creates things that matter.
For most people in most non-entry-level knowledge work jobs, the answer to the question will be somewhere in the 30 to 50 percent range (there’s a psychological distaste surrounding the idea of spending the majority of your time on unskilled tasks, so 50 percent is a natural upper limit, while at the same time most bosses will begin to worry that if this percentage gets too much lower than 30 percent you’ll be reduced to a knowledge work hermit who thinks big thoughts but never responds to e-mails).
By ruthlessly reducing the shallow while preserving the deep, this strategy frees up our time without diminishing the amount of new value we generate. Indeed, I would go so far as to argue that the reduction in shallow frees up more energy for the deep alternative, allowing us to produce more than if we had defaulted to a more typical crowded schedule.