Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
Deep Work by Cal Newport is one of the most impactful books I have ever read. I have since read it more than two times, and with each reading, I get more perspective on focus and concentration in the hyper-connected we live in. Deep Work is an essential skill in our hyper-connected world, and the major differentiator in the future would be producers of high-value work.
Here are my favourite takeaways from read Deep Work by Cal Newport:
The Need for Deep Work Knowledge Workers:
As intelligent machines improve, and the gap between machine and human abilities shrinks, employers are becoming increasingly likely to hire “new machines” instead of “new people.” And when only a human will do, improvements in communications and collaboration technology are making remote work easier than ever before, motivating companies to outsource key roles to stars—leaving the local talent pool underemployed.
Deep work is not some nostalgic affectation of writers and early-twentieth-century philosophers. It’s instead a skill that has great value today.
There are two reasons for this value.
- The first has to do with learning. We have an information economy that’s dependent on complex systems that change rapidly. Some of the computer languages for example, didn’t exist ten years ago and will likely be outdated ten years from now. Similarly, someone coming up in the field of marketing in the 1990s probably had no idea that today they’d need to master digital analytics
To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.
- The second reason that deep work is valuable is because the impacts of the digital network revolution cut both ways.
If you can create something useful, its reachable audience (e.g., employers or customers) is essentially limitless—which greatly magnifies your reward. To succeed you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing—a task that requires depth.
The real rewards are reserved not for those who are comfortable using Facebook (a shallow task, easily replicated), but instead for those who are comfortable building the innovative distributed systems that run the service (a decidedly deep task, hard to replicate). Deep work is so important that we might consider it, to use the phrasing of business writer Eric Barker, “the superpower of the 21st century.”
Deep Work vs Shallow Work
- Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
- Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate
The Deep Work Hypothesis
The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
The reason knowledge workers are losing their familiarity with deep work is well established: network tools. This is a broad category that captures communication services like e-mail and SMS, social media networks like Twitter and Facebook, and the shiny tangle of infotainment sites like BuzzFeed and Reddit. In aggregate, the rise of these tools, combined with ubiquitous access to them through smartphones and networked office computers, has fragmented most knowledge workers’ attention into slivers.
In an age of network tools, in other words, knowledge workers increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative—constantly sending and receiving e-mail messages like human network
This state of fragmented attention cannot accommodate deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking. At the same time, however, modern knowledge workers are not loafing. In fact, they report that they are as busy as ever.
Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate
Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy:
1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
To join the group of those who can work well with these machines, therefore, requires that you hone your ability to master hard things. And because these technologies change rapidly, this process of mastering hard things never ends: You must be able to do it quickly, again and again.
In a 2009 paper, titled, intriguingly, “Why Is It So Hard to Do My Work?,” Sophie 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 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 witched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while.
Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.
The Principle of Least Resistance
When it comes to distracting behaviors embraced in the workplace, we must give a position of dominance to the now ubiquitous culture of connectivity, where one is expected to read and respond to e-mails (and related communication) quickly. In researching this topic, Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow found that the professionals she surveyed spent around twenty to twenty-five hours a week outside the office monitoring e-mail—believing it important to answer any e-mail (internal or external) within an hour of its arrival.
The Principle of Least Resistance: In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment
Busyness as Proxy for Productivity:
In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.
Approaches to Deep Work
The Monastic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
The Monastic philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations
Practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have a well-defined and highly valued professional goal that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well. It’s this clarity that helps them eliminate the thicket of shallow concerns that tend to trip up those whose value proposition in the working world is more varied.
The Bimodal Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
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 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.
The Rhythmic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling – Habitual
The Rhythmic philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into simple regular habits.
This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habits. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep.
The Journalistic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
In this approach, you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule, This approach is not for the deep work novice
I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is. – Winifred Gallagher
Strategies for Deep Work
- 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.
- Rule #1: Work Deeply – Ritualize your Work Flow
- Rule #2 – Embrace Boredom – Don’t Take Breaks from Distraction. Instead Take Breaks from Focus.
- Rule #3: Quit Social Media – Apply the Law of the Vital Few to Your Internet Habits
- Rule #4: Drain the Shallows – Schedule Every Minute of Your Day, Quantify the Depth of Every Activity, Become hard to Reach,
All the Best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.