Book notes: Deep Work - Cal Newport

14 June 2021

Deep Work = activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration + push cognitive ability to the limit

DW is becoming more valuable at the same time it is becoming rare. More distractions = harder to attain

In the absence of an intentional way of working, the path of least resistance wins.

DW tricks our mind to believe we have meaning + purpose.

In the state of ‘flow’ we have zero attention left for negative/trivial thoughts

If you focus on triviality (Slack, emails, ...) your mind will equate your life as trivial

Avoiding distractions/desires requires will power

Will power is a finite daily resource, avoid draining it

Don’t DW for the sake of it. Have a specific goal that will have tangible benefits. A goal that “arouses a terrifying longing” - is ambitious + will drown everything out

Track hours of DW. Better than measuring external metrics i.e. “lag” metrics.

Collaboration not necessarily anti-DW. But be mindful of its effectiveness.

Walking through nature restores limited concentration / will power.

Same effect occurs with other tasks (cooking, listening to music, running) if an explicit “shut down” from work has been carried out.

Post-work “work” usually of little value + can inhibit DW capacity for the next day.

Ensure no post-work open loops

Make tasks for next day if necessary

When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done.

4 hours max capacity of DW is typical.

Allow yourself to be bored. Regain your ability to concentrate.

Don’t respond to every stimuli, or urge to check something online.

Wait 5 mins. Rewire your brain from instant gratification. Use physical activity to practise concentrating on deep thinking + problem solving.

Avoid mental loops. Brain wants to avoid excess effort for deeper thinking. Be alert for loops of “easier” thoughts.

Time blocking:

Allocate every minute a job.

Shallow work will creep in whenever you need to ask “what should I be doing now?” Not intended to be strict. Should be updated as required.

Reduces cognitive load of working out what to do right now.

“Shallow work” = non-cognitively demanding logistical tasks, often performed whilst distracted which are easy to replicate by anyone + add little value.

Shallow rule of thumb - how long would it take a graduate to fill your role at that task? A meeting = couple of months - often non-committal, low technical posturing. A specific code feature = many months or more. The lower the figure, the more shallow the work and the less we are leveraging expertise.

Don’t work past a fixed time.

Default answer to requests should be No. Raise the bar of requirements for interrupting your schedule.

Be hard to interrupt.

The idea that every incoming message carries equal priority is very counterproductive.

Do more work with the messages you send. Avoid vague questions (e.g. “Thoughts?”). For arranging appointments, list some options for times rather than deferring with “when is good for you?” Be very specific with messages in terms of actions to be taken. Vague, non-committal answers are pointless. “lets revisit soon” or “one to follow-up”. Make specific actions.

In terms of actions, be like a robot. If it helps, explicitly divide pleasantries from specific logistics in your emails / messages.

Avoid the comfort of artificial busyness via emails, Slack and social media.

“Live the focused life because it’s the best kind there is”

Any questions or suggestions? Please feel free to get in touch --