deep work by Cal Newport book summary

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Summarized by Vishal Kataria

The Book in One Paragraph

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on cognitively demanding tasks that set you apart in a crowded space. This ability makes you better at what you do, helps you achieve more in less time, and offers the sense of fulfillment that accompanies mastering a skill. Deep work is a superpower that will help you thrive in an increasingly competitive economy.

Deep Work Book Summary

This is my book summary of Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s a collection of quotes from the book and my own thoughts. This summary includes key lessons and takeaways from the book.

  • For many years, most people, regardless of whether they’re knowledge workers or creative people who want to sharpen their vision, spend their day in a frantic blur of email, social media, and Netflix, without realizing there’s a better way. The better way is known as ‘Deep Work.’
  • Deep Work is a professional set of activities performed in a state of flow that stretch your cognitive capabilities to their limit. Such efforts create new value, improve your skills, and are hard to replicate.

  • Its polar opposite, Shallow Work, is non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. Such efforts are easy to replicate and don’t create much value apart from achieving banal predefined targets.

  • The reason why knowledge workers are losing touch with deep work is network tools like email, Instant Messenger, social media, etc.

  • Build your day around a core of carefully chosen Deep Work tasks, while batching the shallow but unavoidable activities (like email, meetings, calls) at the peripheries of your schedule. Focus on Deep Work for 3-4 hours each day. Just five days a week of such focus will enable you to produce a lot of valuable output.

  • Removing distractions tones down the background hum of nervous mental energy that we’ve become tethered to. I practice this by leaving my phone in another room and using the Self-Control app to block social media sites from 9 AM to 12 PM when I engage in Deep Work tasks.

  • Engaging in such tasks that create new value lets you feel fulfilled. It also takes your focus away from unproductive actions like office politics, overthinking, or feeling stressed.

  • Technology is racing ahead but many of our skills and organizations are lagging behind. For many workers, this lag predicts bad news as it indicates humans being replaced by machines. This is only partly true. The advent of tech is not driving down all jobs but dividing them. While an increasing number of people are losing their jobs in this new economy as their skills get outsourced or automated, there are others who will not only survive but also thrive, thus becoming more valued than before.

  • In 2018, the World Economic Forum stated that by 2022, 75 million jobs will be displaced by the rapid evolution of machines and algorithms, but 133 million new jobs will get created by them as well.
  • The two core abilities to thrive in the new economy are:

    • Mastering hard things quickly.
    • Producing at an elite level in terms of both quality and speed.
  • To master cognitively demanding tasks requires deliberate practice, the core components of which are as follows:

    • Your attention is focused tightly on the specific skill or idea you’re trying to improve or master.
    • You receive feedback and can correct your approach to keep your attention where it’s most productive.
  • Without clear feedback on the impact of our behaviors and actions, we revert to the behaviors that are easiest at the moment.

  • Quality of Work Produced = Time Spent x Intensity of Focus

  • Maximizing your concentration will radically improve your productivity.

  • Network tools might promise benefits like more exposure, increased serendipity, and faster responses. But they’re dwarfed by the benefits that result from Deep Work.

  • 4 philosophies to inject depth in your work:

    • Monastic: Maximize deep work efforts by eliminating or radically reducing shallow obligations. This is useful to pursue a well-defined goal that brings the bulk of your success.
    • Bimodal: Dedicate clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits while leaving the rest of your time open for everything else.
    • Rhythmic: Transform your deep work sessions into a regular habit.
    • Journalistic: Fit deep work whenever you can in your schedule, much like an expert journalist who can write whenever she gets time. This philosophy takes a lot of time to master.
  • Make grand gestures when you’re repeatedly trying and failing to achieve an important goal. JK Rowling checked into a suite at the 5-Star Balmoral Hotel to finish the final Harry Potter book. Bill Gates practices a “Think Weeks” ritual, where he disconnects from technology and spends all his time reading books and his notes, and building insights on the future. Renowned entrepreneur Peter Shankman booked a round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo to write a manuscript for a book contract that was on a two-week deadline.

  • Strategizing is easy; it’s all brainstorming and talk. Execution is tougher. Here’s a four-step process to master the art of execution:

    • Focus on Wildly Important Goals (WIGs)
    • Act on lead measures that help you take corrective action before things go wrong.
    • Keep a compelling scorecard to track your performance.
    • Create a cadence of accountability.
  • Schedule idle time or downtime in your days. This is time away from gadgets, work, and anything that makes your brain expend energy. The benefits of downtime are:

    • It aids insight that helps you prepare for the future.
    • It recharges your energies to engage in deep work tasks.
    • It helps you identify and replace unimportant work with what’s important.
  • A shutdown ritual at the end of the day is where you examine the day, make a Plan of Action for the following day, and jot it down in a place that can be visited easily. It might feel annoying since it adds an extra 10-15 minutes to your schedule, but it’s essential if you want to reap the benefits of downtime.

  • Boredom is important if we want to remain productive. Many of us think of concentration as flossing — we know it’s important but we can’t find the motivation to do it. But the more we rely on distractions at the slightest sign of boredom, our focus will wane, much like athletes who don’t care for their bodies.

  • Part of social media’s rapid ascent is the ability to shortcut the connection between working hard to produce value and the reward of people paying attention to you. This is why platforms like Twitter, ClubHouse, and Instagram are popular.

  • There are two approaches to choosing a network tool:

    • The Any Benefit Approach: Using a tool if one can identify any possible benefit or anything one could possibly miss out on if they don’t use it. (This approach unwittingly cripples your ability to engage in deep work.)
    • The Craftsman Approach: Identifying the factors that determine your success and happiness, and adopting a tool only if its positive impacts far outweigh the negative ones.

About The Author

Vishal Kataria is a writer and podcaster who shares lessons he has learned about productivity, learning new skills, and self-improvement.

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