December 29, 2016

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

The two core abilities for thriving in the information economy are the ability to master hard things and to produce at a high level.

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What’s it about?

Cal Newport looks at the need for ‘deep work,’ the ability to focus for uninterrupted periods of time and gain a deep understanding of a subject, while forming connections and improvisations. He argues that deep work is rare, valuable and meaningful, and harder to achieve in an age of increasing distractions.

Deep Work:

  1. The two core abilities for thriving in the information economy are the ability to master hard things and the ability to produce at a high level, in terms of both quality and speed. Both depend on your ability to do deep work.
  2. Deliberate practice needs your attention to focus on a specific skill you are trying to master or improve. You receive feedback so you can correct your approach and keep focusing your attention where its most productive.
  3. Within the world of business, open-plan offices, meetings, chance encounters and intrusive communication technologies are favored over the ability to do deep work. Many of these decrease a person’s ability to do deep work. Connections and collaboration often come at the expense of being able to focus. As do social media or similar technologies.
  4. Research suggest human beings are at their best when immersed  in something challenging. Deep work can lead to the development of skills that will make a career rewarding.
  5. It’s possible to train yourself to do deep work in snatches throughout the day, between other tasks.
  6. A societal belief that new technology must be good, combined with extensive marketing by big technology firms means that technologies are often adopted without critical reflection on their utility.


Discipline 1: Focus your most energy on the most important, reduce time on ‘shallow’ work.

Discipline 2: Reserve and record time spent in deep work

Discipline 3: Undertake weekly reviews, to work out what went well and what didn’t

Be Lazy: Give yourself downtime after work. Switch off.


  • a) aids insight
  • b) helps recharge energy
  • c) usually replaces work that is not that important anyway.

Avoid new technology: Schedule time on the internet and social media both at work and at home.

Meditate: Focus your attention on a problem while undertaking physical activity.

  • a) be wary of distractions (thinking of easier things) and looping (going over and over what you already know).
  • b) structure your deep thinking
    • i) identify the relevant variables to the problem and keep them in mind,
    • ii) identify and work on your next step question (the next thing you need to do),
    • iii) assuming you’ve solved the problem, review and consolidate your answer.

Quit Social Media

While social media have some benefits, the downsides may outweigh these. A tool should only be adopted if its positive impacts outweigh its negative impacts on reaching your goal. Not every new technology is good, and consideration is needed before we decide if and how we are to adopt them in our lives. Even when technologies are adopted we should be careful to use them not so much for entertainment, but to further our career and life goals.

Take Away Points and Context

  • Deep work is not for everyone. It requires hard work and difficult habits. It may involve confronting that your best is not (yet) that good and doing away with an artificial sense of purpose that comes from being ‘busy’.
  • For some it can, however, be rewarding and productive. Learning about deep work and the many obstacles to undertaking it seems useful.


Full Article:

This is my own review of So Good Can’t Ignore You, for more on this topic and other subjects see, or see the book below.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

by Cal Newport

Hatchet Book Group, 256 pp, $14.60.


Deep Work. Comments welcome below

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