Deep Work by Cal Newport Book Summary

Book Summary — Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

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#1 – Deep work is our ability to productively work on a task using our full focus of mental energy, without any distractions. Research shows that people are capable of doing 4 hours of deep work per day, but this is an extremely rare and valuable skill. The opposite of deep work is shallow work, which is work done while you’re distracted and isn’t as high-quality as deep work. The difference between deep work and shallow work can be often seen in how long a certain task took to finish and how much attention to detail was devoted to it. If you can train yourself to perform all your tasks while in deep work mode, it will become one of your greatest assets!

#2 – If you don’t commit yourself to fully focus on the task at hand, your capacity to perform deep work will significantly reduce. Since this is a skill that is becoming increasingly rare due to distractions of the 21st century, it is extremely important that you cultivate your ability to do deep work in order to stand out among others who can’t do it. For example, one of the main distractions nowadays is social media… which is deliberately designed to make you stay on their platforms as long as possible and to come back as often as possible. The best option is to allocate a certain amount of time to use social media each day in order to increase your productivity and lower procrastination.

Each and every distraction in our day makes it harder for us to regain focus on the task at hand. While training yourself to exclusively work without distractions isn’t easy, it is the key ingredient in order to work faster and output higher quality work.

#3 – There are four different strategies that can be used in order to do “deep work”.
1st: The monastic approach. This is where you completely shut yourself off from distractions until you finish your task.
2nd: The bimodal approach. This is where you choose a chunk of your day, typically about 4 hours, and work until the time is up.
3rd: The rhythmic approach. This is where you plan out your time in advance, choosing to work in smaller chunks of time… such as 1-hour increments. I personally use this deep work strategy and practice the Pomodoro Technique, which means working for 25-minutes, then taking a 5-minute break, and then repeat. This is perfect for me as I can use those 5-minute breaks for any distraction I want… social media, chat with a co-worker, do some pushups, anything! But when that 25-minute clock is running, I know it is deep work time.
4th: The journalistic approach. This is where you focus on your task whenever you have spare time to do so throughout your day.

But again, for any of these deep work strategies to work, you have to intentionally commit yourself to be distraction free. A great first step is to carry a journal with you for a week to track how you spend your time day-to-day. This will give you great insight on where you can implement any of these strategies.

#4 – The best approach to deep work is to test all of these deep work strategies and see what works best for you. Everyone has different routines and schedules in their daily lives so insisting that one strategy works better than the other is simply not true. Some people can even benefit from combining two different strategies if it suits their lifestyles.

#5 – A great way to sharpen your focus and problem-solving skills is to devote your non-mentally taxing time to improving your professional skills and increasing your productivity. For example, while you are doing the dishes, or folding laundry, or even commuting to work… use this time to advance yourself. Whether if that is listening to an audiobook or podcast, to even thinking about small changes you could make to optimize your daily routines and deep work; making use of every minute in your day will add up to a significant impact on your life!

#6 – You must decide on a time when you will stop working every day and commit to it. Our brains need downtime to rest and recharge in order to keep being productive. There’s only a certain amount of time every day where our brains can remain focused and distraction-free. Working outside of your set time will most definitely result in less productive work. Set a cut-off time for each day (for example 6:15 PM) and don’t get back to your deep work until the next day. Don’t read any e-mails or respond to them outside of your set work time and turn off all your work-related notifications on your personal phone. Also, make sure you get enough sleep (8 hours is perfect), and try not to bring your cell phone to bed or at minimum look at any screen at least one hour before bedtime since it really affects your ability to fall asleep and have a restful night.

#7 – In order to see how far you’ve advanced with your work, you should set milestones to track your progress. Another great way to keep yourself motivated is to set deadlines for each milestone. Don’t overcomplicate your milestones and tracking. Something as simple as making a weekly review of what has been completed or even a discussion with your accountability partner or co-worker can truly make a world of difference with your progress. Getting this feedback from a mentor, boss, co-worker, or expert in your field, is crucial so you can quickly identify your strengths and weaknesses to know where you need more practice.

Even if a job seems too big to grasp, breaking it up into smaller pieces is much easier to do than attacking the entire thing. Making yourself accountable for the task with set deadlines has proven to increase productivity… plus these deadlines add a sense of urgency. Think back to when you were in school and you had a paper due the next day you forgot about… What did you do? You pulled an all-nighter to get that paper done! Now procrastination is never suggested, but it did give you a preview of how you are capable of distraction-free, deep work when you add a deadline to your work!

#8 – Focus only on the activities that will help you become a master in your industry. Being aware of the skills you need to focus on growing is key for you to establish a competitive edge. Once aware of these required skills, you will need to focus on growth activities, whether it be reading, making sales calls, practicing an instrument… you need to focus on these activities daily. Then you can work on mastering a skill by using a deep work strategy, such as time blocking these growth activities into smaller chunks with set deadlines. Also remember, focus requires eliminating ALL distractions during these deep work sessions.

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