Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Summary of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”: In a world brimming with information and distraction, compounded by an increasingly competitive market, deep work is a superpower that, if tapped into, can open a whole new realm of possibilities.

By Cal Newport, 302 pages Note: This guest article was written by Pierre-Christophe from the blog “Entreprendre et Réussir” (Entrepreneurship and Success)

Review and summary of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”

Part 1: The Idea

Deep work relies on your ability to utilize your intellectual capacities to the utmost. In order to improve your results and enhance your faculties, you must have a deep work approach. All those infotainment sites are sources of distractions that are too easily accessible via smartphones and computers and only fragment attention. Sites such as Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others do not foster an environment of deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted work. In an age where all these networking tools reign supreme, deep work is akin to surface activity.

For example, in your workplace, you often need to:

  • Constantly send and receive emails as if you were a human router.
  • Have frequent breaks with fleeting moments of distraction.

All your efforts are divided and become less valuable. A not-so-easily-reversible shift from a superficial activity to a trend. The necessary concentration and your ability to maintain it over time are lost because you remain in a permanent state of distraction.

If you study the lives of influential people in history, you will notice their potential to work deeply:

  • Woody Allen, in 44 years, from 1969 to 2013, wrote and directed 44 films for 23 Oscar nominations.
  • JK Rowling was notable for her absence from social media when writing Harry Potter.
  • Bill Gates was known to come up with his greatest ideas while isolating himself for weeks at a time.

Today, deep work is becoming increasingly rare and valuable. Those who are able to nurture this ability will thrive and succeed. If your goal requires deep thinking, you probably want to change your perception.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

1.1 – Deep work is a valuable experience

Let’s face it, we are spoiled by the simplicity of using tools like Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Distraction tools offer us intuitive functions but are simply consumer products and not serious tools. You won’t be able to get ahead in a world that is being disrupted by new technologies.

Without the ability to work deeply, you will have difficulty producing things at an exceptional level if you are among those who:

  • Constantly succumb to distractions and whom deep concentration makes uncomfortable – if so, don’t expect to grasp increasingly complex systems easily.
  • Are too much of a multitasker and lose focus when you switch from task A to task B. Even when you are doing task B, there is still residual attention left over from task A.

Many people work in a state of semi-distraction. Taking a quick look at your inbox or smartphone may seem harmless, but this repeated toggling throughout the day are detrimental to your performance. If you are not comfortable staying focused, then it will be difficult for you to reach the optimal level of performance both in terms of quantity and quality. You will find it difficult to thrive professionally. Unless you have a talent, those who do deep work will be much more productive than you.

Shallow work of little value is easily duplicated, while conversely, it is invaluable and better rewarded. Nevertheless, it must be recognized that it is still possible to succeed without leveraging this skill, but that door of possibility is quickly closing. Talent is not a commodity that can be easily bought. If you operate in a market, only the best are rewarded and your consumer will choose “the cream of the crop.” We live in an economy where competition is increasingly fierce.

3 groups will have a particular advantage:

  • Those who are able to work well.
  • Those who are the best in their field.
  • And those who have access to capital.

While these are not the only ones who will succeed, the point is to emphasize the importance of observing them closely, at least the first two in the absence of capital. The ability to learn quickly is the key in any field, even those unrelated to technology. However, it is not enough, you must then transform your potential into tangible results that will be appreciated by others.

Your ability to work deeply requires deliberate practice:

  • All your attention must be focused on a specific skill that you will try to hone in the area you wish to master.
  • The feedback you receive will enable you to fine-tune your approach.

Neuroscientists are convinced that “myelin”, a substance made up of lipids, generates a physical mechanism that is responsible for intellectual performance in humans. This is what journalist Daniel Coyle reports in “The Talent Code.” It insulates and protects our nerve fibers, i.e., the “axioms”, which are the extension of the neurons. A bit like a plastic sheath that insulates the electric wire and increases the speed of nerve impulse transmission. The more you improve a skill, the more “myelin” you have around the neurons concerned. You understand better the importance of concentrating intensely on the task, the most crucial one for you, avoiding distractions to help trigger “myelination.”

By dedicating yourself to very intense work without any interruption, you will take advantage of the following law of productivity:

Excellent quality work = [Time spent] x [Intensity of concentration]

2 groups are accessible:

  • Those who are able to work creatively with intelligent machines.
  • Those who are superstars in their field.

Among them, 2 abilities are crucial:

  • The ability to quickly master difficult things.
  • The ability to produce work at an exceptional level in terms of quality and speed.

Mastering complex tools is a never-ending process.  You need to be able to do it quickly and repeatedly over and over again. In your field, you must take ownership of the associated topics to discover the truth within each of them. To learn quickly, you must adopt intense concentration for your deep work. You will maximize the results produced by the time you spend working. For example, if you spend several days alone doing something like writing, you will be more effective. Your deep work optimizes your performance.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

1.2 – Deep work is a rare experience

Companies prefer to follow trends that actively lower people’s ability to work deeply and allow for distractions:

  • The cult of the Internet: Deep work has been supplanted by distracting behaviors such as the use of social networks in the workplace.
  • Trying to showcase one’s productivity: Many workers do a lot of things in a flashy way, in the absence of clearly defined productivity indicators and values.
  • Taking the easy way out: In the absence of clear feedback on the impact that behavior has on performance, there is a tendency to copy behaviors that are the easiest to exhibit in the moment.

When it comes to distracting behaviors at work, the culture of connectivity is pervasive. You are expected to read and respond to emails quickly. There are also project meetings that can multiply and fragment schedules. It becomes difficult to sustain focus on a project during the day. Every easy way out leads to shallow work in an economy that values in-depth focus. Lastly, many workers act like they’re doing a lot because they have no better way to prove their worth.

Here are some examples of behaviors that are detrimental to deep work:

  • Answering emails at all hours.
  • Participating in meetings all the time.
  • Responding to a text within seconds of receiving it.

Deep work is set aside in favor of modern distracting habits. Deep focus cannot compete with tweets, likes, walls, posts, and tagged photos. These are superficial behaviors that we are supposed to engage in simply because they exist. On closer inspection, the reasons we get distracted reflect poor reasoning coupled with the ambiguity and confusion that often characterizes work.

Our cultures of connectivity persist because “it’s easier!”:

  • Getting the answer to a question or piece of information immediately, makes life easier, at least in the moment.
  • It is perfectly legitimate to schedule your day according to what arrives in your inbox.

Superficial work is easier for 3 reasons:

  • Lack of clear objectives with regard to your position at work.
  • The visible busyness characterizes superficial work and is driven by an instinct for self-preservation.
  • The belief that internet-related behavior is good regardless of its impact on your ability to deliver valuable output.

The impact on work is aided by the difficulty in directly measuring the value of in-depth focus or the cost of ignoring it. This appetite for distractions could be eradicated after deciding to foster an ethic based on deep work. Knowing that distracting behaviors are not self-imposed will empower you to confidently pursue the goal of developing your personal ability to emphasize in-depth focus for extraordinary results. You must strive to develop it in every way because it will become increasingly scarce and therefore increasingly valuable.

1.3 – Deep work is a rich experience

We live in an age where all things internet related are considered innovative and essential. Those behaviors that are destructive to your deep work such as responding immediately to emails and staying highly active on social networks are recognized and praised. Having the habit of constantly checking your inbox is taking up your attention, which is a reckless way to organize your workday because your mind will perceive it as stressful, futile, irritating, and frustrating. The world depicted by your inbox is not a good place to be.

Letting your attention drift to the attractive world of superficiality puts you at risk of falling into the trap of idleness, and as the saying goes, ‘the devil makes work for idle hands.’ By losing focus, your mind tends to focus on something that is irrelevant to your life. A day of superficial work is likely to be upsetting and exhausting even if the superficial elements and distractions initially seem fun and harmless. A craftsman like a blacksmith must spend most of his time in deep concentration. In their world, the link between deep work and fulfillment is common and widely accepted. It is a source of satisfaction found in workers. It is not only economically beneficial, but it is also meaningful and worthwhile.

1.3.1 – The neurological argument

The brain builds a vision of the world based on “what we pay attention to.” Scientists using functional MRI of the brain, by presenting positive and negative images, have discovered (For more information, see the following article: “At the Intersection of Emotion and Cognition: Aging and the Positivity Effect”):

  • In young people, the amygdala activates for both types of imagery.
  • In the elderly, the amygdala only activates for positive imagery.

Older people have conditioned their brains to ignore the positive. It is by managing their attention that they improve their worlds without actually changing anything. Deep work is imbued with a sense of importance and gravity. Thus, your attention control center can prevent you from noticing the many less pleasant details that constantly pollute your life. By increasing the amount of time spent in a state of deep concentration, you will influence your brain, which for neurological reasons will find meaning and bring you great job satisfaction.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

1.3.2 – The psychological argument

Most people think that it is the state of relaxation that makes them happy. In general, we would like to work less in order to lounge in a hammock.

In reality, however, it is easier to enjoy deep work than free time because provides:

  • Goals
  • Feedback
  • Challenges

All of these elements encourage you to:

  • Invest
  • Focus
  • Process

You are at your best when you are deeply immersed in a challenging activity. The sense of profundity is gratifying because the mind enjoys a challenge no matter what the subject. Moreover, your consciousness organizes itself in a manner that gives meaning to your life.

1.3 The philosophical argument

In a post-Enlightenment world, we have made it our mission to identify what makes sense and what does not. Its origins in the concept of human rights have lifted many people out of oppression. Although positive in the political sphere, in the metaphysical universe, this way of thinking made the world of order and the sacred essential for creating meaning. At that time, the craftsman discovered something crucial: a source of meaning independent of the individual. His task is not to create meaning but to cultivate existing meaning. Whether you are already a writer, marketer, lawyer, consultant, etc., your work is also a craft. If you harness your skill with great care and respect, then you can generate meaning in your day-to-day work efforts.

It’s as if our species has evolved to do two things:

  • Either thrive in the deep.
  • Or wallow in the shallows.

A deep life is satisfying from any perspective.

Part 2 – The Rules

2.1 – Rule #1: Work deeply

In an ideal world, deep work would be accepted and even celebrated. We could work in an environment that would help us extract the maximum value from our brain. Unfortunately, most of the time our focus is disrupted by distractions such as:

  • landscaped offices
  • inboxes
  • constant meetings

Most people underestimate how regular and strong the desire for the superficial is, which makes it difficult to concentrate on the hard stuff. Some studies have shown that willpower is limited and diminishes the more it is used. It is not infinitely suppliable but rather a muscle that gets tired. Nevertheless, there are strategies to help you energize yourself when you are constantly under threat from distractions. Make it so that deep work is no longer just an aspiration but a real, consistent, and important part of your schedule. It is difficult at first to replace distractions with focus. This difficulty is caused by the strong desire to have to focus on something superficial. Instead, throughout the day, you are bombarded with the desire to do anything but deep work.

You must:

  • Adopt the habit of scheduling tasks.
  • Set up a routine to strengthen your focus.

These strategies will help you to:

  • Hijack your brain’s motivational center.
  • Refill your willpower tank as quickly as possible.

By applying them, you will considerably increase the chances of success of your project and put deep work at the heart of your professional life. Choose a philosophy that is consistent with your situation in order to develop your habit of working deeply.

2.1.1 – The philosophy of depth

It could also be called the monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling. It aims to achieve depth by greatly reducing superficial obligations. And it could concern a writer who is writing a novel for example. Most of the success of this strategy lies in your ability to do a task exceptionally well.

2.1.2 – The bimodal philosophy of deep work scheduling

The main obstacle in this approach is that periods of deep work require an investment that many fear in their current positions. It involves devoting time (a portion) to deep activities and leaving the rest for any other task. The minimum unit of time to devote is at least a full day to achieve maximum cognitive intensity. It will usually be applied by people who cannot succeed without devoting themselves fully to deep work activity. You must be inaccessible for well-defined periods of time. People will respect this requirement if you tell them that you will be reachable again outside these periods. In concrete terms, you can devote a four-day weekend to deepening your concentration and the rest to anything else. Over a whole year, you can dedicate one season to a major part of your quest for depth.

2.1.3 – The rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling

In this philosophy, the easiest way to begin regular depth work sessions is to simply make them a habit. Like a real workout, it requires a certain amount of confidence in your abilities. This belief will be based primarily on past professional success. Despite a particularly tight schedule, this can be an effective way to do long sessions.

2.1.4 – Ritualization

Those who use their minds to create things of value rarely have a messy way of working. There is really no one ritual for deep work. The right recipe will depend on the type of project being undertaken as well as the person.

However, an effective ritual includes the following parameters:

  • A clear place to conduct your deep efforts while avoiding distractions.
  • Processes and rules to keep your efforts structured.
  • Support for your ritual, such as starting with a cup of coffee.

You can thoughtfully find your ritual beforehand by conducting experiments so that you are motivated to adhere to them. Give your mind the commitment it needs to shift into a favorable state of concentration for creating something meaningful. Your rituals should minimize any friction in order to enter a state of concentration more easily and stay there as long as possible.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

2.1.5 – Take drastic measures

This consists in radically changing your familiar environment in order to facilitate the in-depth execution of a task. The importance given to your task will reduce your tendency to procrastinate, to succumb to distractions and will boost your motivation and energy. Seeking calm along with a change in environment is not the only factor to promote in-depth focus.

It can also be:

  • Choosing an exotic location to focus on your project.
  • Taking a week off to think.
  • Locking yourself in a hotel room to finish an ambitious project.

These are just a few examples to help you find the mental resources you need to achieve your goals. You have to know how to prioritize in order to achieve your goals.

2.1.6 – Do not work alone

The relationship between collaboration and depth of focus may seem tricky. However, knowing how to take advantage of it can increase the quality of your deep work. Especially if you are looking to innovate, collaborative deep work can yield better results. By working together with someone on a problem, you will be able to challenge each other to think more deeply. This way you will get better results than working alone.

2.1.7 – Operate like a business

The distinction between the “what” and the “how” is crucial but often overlooked in the business world. Even though the strategy to adopt may seem simple, the difficulty for a company is how to implement it.

There are 4 disciplines that you can adapt to your work habits to help you take action against annoying distractions and numerous obligations:

  1. Focus on what is paramount: It should be about a small number of important goals. You need to define a specific goal that can provide you with noticeable and tangible benefits to maintain your enthusiasm.
  2. Act on your lead measures: Once you have identified your primary goal, you can measure your success. For a person focused on deep work, your lead measure will be primarily the amount of time spent in this state of working towards your goal. There are 2 types of criteria:
    • Lag measures: They describe what you are trying to improve.
    • Lead measures: They assess new behaviors that will lead you to success based on your lag measures.
  3. Have a compelling scoreboard: This physical medium located in your workspace shows you the number of hours spent in deep work. This can lead you to create more hours of deep work for yourself each week. This method has 2 objectives:
    • To concretely connect your accumulated deep work hours with tangible results achieved.
    • To help you calibrate the number of hours of deep work needed per result.
  4. Create a cadence of accountability: If you are operating as a team, you can set up frequent and regular meetings with an overarching goal. A review that may only take a few minutes but should be done regularly to produce results. Even a single person can regularly review what they are doing. Otherwise, team members should:
    • Compare their scoreboard.
    • Take specific actions to improve the score before the next meeting.
    • Review the commitments made at the last meeting.

2.1.8 – Be lazy

An intellectual break can be beneficial for your ability to produce quality results. There are 3 possible explanations for this:

  1. You have more ideas: Your subconscious mind can make certain decisions. By giving your conscious mind a rest, you may be able to unravel complex problems.
  2. You are re-energized: You will restore your ability to direct your attention. You can engage in relaxing activities as long as they do not require directed concentration such as:
    • Cooking dinner.
    • Playing with your children.
    • Playing sports.
  3. Your daily capacity is limited: Your capacity for deep work, on a daily basis, is limited. In the evening, you will probably not be able to work effectively. Once your day is over, you should not:
    • Check your email.
    • Browse websites related to your job.

You may want to adopt a stop-go ritual at the end of your day where you review any unfinished tasks, goals, or projects in order to have:

  • A plan to complete it.
  • A place to find it when the time comes.

You can simply review the tasks on a list before planning the next day’s activities.

2.2 – Rule #2: Embrace boredom

We often think of concentration as just a “habit.” It is thought to be a state of mind to go from distraction to concentration from one day to the next, with minimal motivation. This is a misunderstanding that overlooks the difficulties and training required to strengthen one’s mental machinery. Diverting attention to the internet has a negative and lasting effect on the brain. Once it becomes accustomed to falling into distractions, the addiction is difficult to shake. The ability to focus is a skill that must be honed. Deepening your focus requires teaching your mind to break its addiction to distraction.

To get the most out of your deep work, you need to practice 2 things:

  1. Improving your ability to focus intensely.
  2. Overcoming your desire to succumb to distractions.

2.2.1 – Take a break after a period of concentration rather than a period of distraction

If you spend just one day a week resisting distractions, your brain will most likely give in to the urge. This is the act of constantly switching, at the slightest sign of boredom or cognitive difficulty: from high-value activities with little stimuli to low-value activities with lots of stimuli. This is how your brain learns never to tolerate the absence of novelty. It’s a constant flip-flop that weakens the mental muscles that sift through the many sources that compete for your attention. Instead, take a break between two periods of concentration. You can schedule your internet time in advance and avoid it later. By isolating Internet-related distractions, you will not give in to them as often. You will strengthen the muscles responsible for selecting that which requires your attention.

To implement your strategy, here are 3 important elements to take into account:

  • First element: This strategy works even if in your job, you are often required to use the internet and respond quickly to emails. The important thing is to make sure that your offline time slots are perfectly respected.
  • Second element: No matter how you schedule your internet time slots, the offline periods must absolutely remain free of internet use.
  • Third element: By scheduling its use, both at home and at work, you will improve your concentration.

Deep work requires reprogramming your brain so that it no longer has difficulty resisting distractions. The idea is not to completely get rid of all distracting behaviors but simply to eliminate their ability to divert your attention.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

2.2.2 – Work like Teddy Roosevelt

Like Roosevelt, get on with the job! Using all your neurons, you will work with great intensity:

  • No breaks to check your emails.
  • Zero daydreaming.
  • No social networking.
  • No multiple trips to the coffee machine.

After following this strategy for several months, you will be able to reach unprecedented levels of intensity.

At first, try it just once a week by:

  • Getting your brain used to intense concentration.
  • Allowing the necessary rest time to lower your stress levels.

With time, you will be able to increase the frequency of sessions.

2.2.3 – Meditate productively

This strategy aims to take advantage of a period when you are physically busy rather than mentally busy.

For example, you will:

  • Walk
  • Run
  • Drive
  • Shower

Simple ways to focus exclusively on a given problem. This strategy can increase your work productivity. You need to shift your attention to your problem when your mind tends to wander or drift. Your goal will be to do 2 or 3 sessions per week. Like all forms of meditation, its practice must be regular.

Here are 2 tips:

  • Beware of distractions and loops: When you notice your attention drifting away from the problem at hand, refocus your attention on the topic of your choice. You can always come back to your thought later.
  • Structure your deep thinking: Start by carefully reviewing “relevant variables” for solving the problem, then store it in your short-term memory. For example, in developing a chapter outline for a book, the relevant variables may be the main points to work on for that chapter. Once you have identified the relevant variables, define the corresponding question to be answered using the variables.

2.2.4 – Memorize a deck of cards

This is a classic but quite impressive skill in the arsenal of most mental athletes. The ability to memorize a shuffled deck of cards. Your mind is capable of retaining a lot of material if stored properly. Your brain is like a muscle that responds to the weight of dumbbells. This strategy strengthens your ability to focus and facilitates a greater depth of concentration. To prepare yourself to memorize a large volume of information, you can start by imprinting in your mind a mental walkthrough of 5 rooms in your home.

The second step is to associate a memorable person or thing with each of the 52 cards. Once you have completed these steps, you are ready to memorize the order of the 52 recently shuffled cards as quickly as possible. It is thanks to your mental walkthrough, by associating each person or thing that you easily remember with the corresponding card.

3.1 – Rule #3: Quit social media

If you are trying to improve your ability to work deeply, then the problem of social media as the main source of distraction will emerge. As willpower is limited, the more attractive tools you bring to your attention, the harder it will be to stay focused on something important. For most people, the idea of escaping the internet is of course unthinkable. Social networks are designed to be addictive. They take your attention and time away from activities that are directly related to your professional and personal goals.

These are all distractions that can wear you down. It is becoming increasingly apparent that social networking fragments our time and interferes with our ability to focus. The idea of an internet sabbatical as the only alternative is widespread, but selecting networking tools based on their benefits is justified if you are able to identify any associated benefits. They are merely tools in the same way as a blacksmith’s hammer or an artist’s brush. They are simply used by skilled workers to perform their craft better. To master the art of deep work, you must regain control of your time and attention.

You will be able to accept that these tools are not all bad and can contribute to your success. There is a middle ground if you want to get into the habit of deep work. You can select your tools with the same degree of care as a craftsman. Only adopt a tool if its positive influences far outweigh its negative influences. There is no simple formula — only practice and experimentation.

3.1.1 – Apply the Pareto principle

By concentrating on activities where the influence is less, you cut down on the amount of time you could spend on more important activities. This strategy aims at structuring a thinking process to make the choice of tools less complex according to their importance to you.

An example of a personal outcome at the end of this reflection is as follows:

  • Personal Goal: Maintain close and rewarding friendships with a group of people.
  • Key activities:
    • Regularly make time to connect with people who are important to me.
    • Making myself available to those who are important to me.

Here is an example of a professional outcome:

  • Personal Goal: Create stories in which the narrative can change people’s understanding of the world.
  • Key activities:
    • Conduct research with depth and patience.
    • Write with a sense of purpose.

The first step in this strategy is to identify the main goals in your personal or professional life. Your list should include what is most important to you and have a description. Once you have done this, you will have a small number of goals for both your professional and personal life. In the second step, define for each goal 2 or 3 important activities that will help you achieve it. They should be specific enough that you can clearly imagine yourself doing them and general enough that they are not tied to a single outcome. For example, regularly read and understand the latest results in my chosen field. In the third step, you will review key activities with networking tools to ask yourself for each tool:

  • Does its use have a significantly positive influence with little influence on your regular and successful use in productivity?

Now comes the decision: Decide whether or not you will use this tool. In order to continue using it, it must have significant positive influences offsetting the negative influences. This is how you identify the 20% of activities that bring the most benefit (Pareto principle).

Deep Work by Cal Newport

3.1.2 – Withdraw from social media

This strategy requires you to stop using social media for 30 days. You just have to stop using all social media all at once.

At the end of 30 days, ask yourself the following 2 questions for each platform you walked away from:

  • Would the last 30 days have been much better if I had continued using the platform?
  • Did it do any good to anyone when I stopped using it?

If the answer is “no” to both questions, get off the platform for good. If the answer is “yes,” resume use. And if the answer is mixed, it is up to you to choose whether to reuse it or not.

3.1.3 – Do not use the Internet for entertainment

All entertainment-oriented websites are designed to capture and hold your attention for as long as possible. They are particularly harmful when your work day is over. A time of freedom where they are central. They weaken your mind’s ability to resist distractions and make deep work difficult. To make matters worse, these tools do not require any registration, are readily available and easily accessible. This strategy aims to utilize your free time in the manner of an aristocrat, which is to rigorously focus on improving yourself. By giving your mind something serious to do, you will end your day more fulfilled and start the next one more relaxed. So, you need to put yourself at ease and not give in to whatever catches your attention in the moment but think beforehand about what you really want to do.

It is crucial that you know in advance what you are going to do with your evenings and weekends:

  • Structured hobbies
  • A reading program
  • Physical exercise
  • A pleasant evening in good company

Give your brain a quality alternative to foster a sense of living, not just existing.

4.1 – Rule #4: Avoid superficiality

Superficial work that demands your attention is less useful than it seems at the time. Many time-consuming activities in many jobs leave you little time to work on your most important tasks. Even the most dedicated deep workers can’t spend more than 4 hours at this level of intensity and focus. Once you reach the limit of deep work in a day, the benefits diminish if you want to continue to work on the task in question. A person’s amount of effort is limited during the day. The goal is to control the influence of deep work, not to eradicate it. The following strategies will help you identify the superficiality in your schedule and reduce it to a minimum. You will have more time for the deeper efforts that are more important.

4.1.1 – Plan every minute of your day

A very large part of the day is spent on autopilot without really thinking about what we do with our time. An unstructured day is prone to unforeseen events.

We readily surrender the time we have towards the superficial and distractions with:

  • Emails
  • Social media
  • Internet browsing

The goal is not to stick to your schedule at all costs, but to plan and think about what you will do with the time you have left for the day. Spontaneity is allowed and even highly recommended. If a momentous idea comes to you, it is a valid reason to ignore your scheduled tasks for the rest of the day.

Use a fresh notebook page (with lines), at the beginning of each day, to record all of the day’s work hours. Divide the day’s hours into time slots to which you assign activities. Draw a frame around your activities. Slots can also include lunch or relaxation breaks. The minimum length of a slot should be 30 minutes. Over time, you should try to accurately predict how much time the various tasks will take you. If you are unsure of how long an activity will take, set a longer time than expected. This strategy enables you to maintain a certain consistency in the course of your day.

4.1.2 – Quantify the depth of each activity

Planning your day has the advantage of being able to determine the time spent on superficial activities. These are all those logistical tasks that are not cognitively demanding and are often performed while distracted — efforts that tend not to create much value and are easily duplicated. This strategy will help you make clear and consistent decisions about your work tasks, which can range from shallow to deep. Once you have determined your shallow tasks from your deep tasks, prioritize the time to spend on the deep tasks.

4.1.3 – Ask your boss for a time budget for the shallow tasks

You will ask yourself the following question: “What percentage of my time should I spend on superficial tasks? If you have a boss, raise this question with him/her. Decisions should be preceded by a conversation with your boss because you need the support of your structure:

  • If you work for someone, this covers you when you reject an obligation or restructure a project to minimize superficiality.
  • If you are your own boss, this exercise forces you to see how little time you have to create value in your “busy” schedule.

4.1.4 – Finish your work by 5:30 pm

This strategy is based on the happiness of the principle of productivity with fixed hours. You can start by setting strict quotas on the main sources of superficial tasks. For example, you can decide not to travel more than 5 times a year. Any obligation that is not part of your deep work efforts becomes suspect. Considered potentially disruptive, your default answer is “no.” The bar for accessing your time and attention is set much higher. You will be able to organize the efforts necessary to overcome the obstacles with great efficiency.

4.1.5 – Become hard to reach

Just because electronic messaging is inevitable doesn’t mean you have to cede all authority to its presence in your mental landscape. You can control your electronic communication better than you think. Most people will be able to accept this because they wish they had the same right. Above all, they appreciate the clarity of the situation. If you can do so, consider filtering senders as a way to regain control of your time and attention.

Tip #1 – Get people to go the extra mile when they email you

You can use a sender filter to reduce your incoming messages. Make sure your correspondents are well aware that you probably won’t respond to them. The inbox becomes a collection of occasions you can take a look at when you have a little time to yourself searching for causes and content that it makes sense to engage with. A bunch of unread messages can make you feel obligated. If you want, you can ignore them all and most likely no harm will come of it. This will result in a psychological release.

Tip #2 – Do more when sending or responding to emails

You can ask yourself, “What is the project associated with this message and what is the most effective process (in terms of the message being generated) for this project to be successfully completed?” Start by identifying the project that is the subject of the message. For example, announcing work on a research problem, minor logistical difficulties, or scheduling a meeting over coffee. Then take 1-2 minutes to brainstorm a process from the current situation to get to the desired outcome with a minimal number of messages. The final step is to write a response that clearly describes the process and the current situation.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Tip #3 – Do not respond

Sending emails generates more emails. Struggling with ambiguous or irrelevant emails is a major source of inbox stress. In this strategy, the sender must convince the recipient of the need to respond. Without convincing arguments and if you don’t reduce the recipient’s effort to respond sufficiently, you won’t get a response. People are able to adapt quickly to your communication habits. The fact that you don’t respond to their hastily written messages is probably not a central event in their lives. In the end, you send fewer emails and ignore the ones that are difficult to handle. In effect, you significantly reduce the stranglehold your inbox has on your time and attention.

You should not respond to an email if it has any of the following characteristics:

  • It is ambiguous or does not lend itself to a meaningful response.
  • You are not interested in the question or proposal.
  • Nothing good will happen if you respond and nothing bad will happen if you don’t.

Conclusion on ”Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”

We live in a world fraught with omnipresent distractions. Committing to deep work is not a philosophical or moral stance but a matter of acknowledging, pragmatically, that the ability to focus is a skill that gets important things done. Deep work is much more powerful and significant than most people realize. Walking away from the crowd and joining those who are truly focused on their craft is a transformative experience. Of course, this approach is not for everyone because it requires considerable effort and a radical change of habits. You have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone, disengage from distractions, and have the confidence to make the necessary effort to use your mind to its fullest potential.

I originally picked up this book to improve my work efficiency. I discovered that fulfillment comes with working with focus and that repeated effort over time is leverage to create value. After reading the book, I am now able to identify the tools that promote distraction and know how to avoid such distraction. I realized that it is not enough to simply repeat an action. You also have to improve it to make it exceptional. I set aside time slots for deep work while keeping them free of distractions. I’ve become adamant about turning down time-consuming commitments. I use a work hour meter to gauge my progress and focus on fewer things to gain efficiency. Even though I had already banned most social networks long before reading this book, reading it has reinforced my decision and motivates me to continue doing so.

Strong points of Deep Work

  • It includes stories from well-known people in various fields that help support the overall concept.
  • We come away with a better understanding of the effects of exercising our brain. Its fosters a self-introspection concerning our own behaviors, which, in return, helps us to effectuate change.
  • It addresses the serious issue of digital distraction in this new era of technology.

Weak points of Deep Work

  • A slightly more conversational tone would have been welcome.
  • I would have liked to see more specific examples of how to promote focus or deep work such as listening to a certain type of music.

My rating : Deep Work by Cal Newport Deep Work by Cal Newport Deep Work by Cal NewportDeep Work by Cal Newport

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