I find Cal Newport’s focus on producing meaningful work highly inspiring and loved reading this book. There are a lot of examples from real-life persons and ideas on how to integrate a practice of deep work into life.
My notes from the book
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.
„Although he had many patients who relied on him, Jung was not shy about taking time off.“ Deep work, though a burden to prioritize, was crucial for his goal of changing the world.
„If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. If I instead get interrupted a lot what replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time … there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons.“ (Neal Stephenson)
Deep work stands in sharp contrast to the behavior of most modern knowledge workers.
A 2012 McKinsey study found that the average knowledge worker now spends more than 60 percent of the workweek engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching, with close to 30 percent of a worker’s time dedicated to reading and answering e-mail alone.
Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.
Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.
To succeed you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing—a task that requires depth.
As we shift to an information economy, more and more of our population are knowledge workers, and deep work is becoming a key currency—even if most haven’t yet recognized this reality.
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.”
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.
I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule. Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.
A deep life is a good life.
In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital.
If you can’t learn, you can’t thrive.
This new science of performance argues that you get better at a skill as you develop more myelin around the relevant neurons, allowing the corresponding circuit to fire more effortlessly and effectively. To be great at something is to be well myelinated.
To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work.
Batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches.
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
The type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work.
Even though you are not aware at the time, the brain responds to distractions.
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.
Deep work is at a severe disadvantage in a technopoly because it builds on values like quality, craftsmanship, and mastery that are decidedly old-fashioned and nontechnological.
Assuming the trends outlined here continue, depth will become increasingly rare and therefore increasingly valuable.
Ric Furrer is also someone who clearly finds great meaning in his profession. This connection between deep work and a good life is familiar and widely accepted when considering the world of craftsmen.
“The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy,” explains Matthew Crawford.
Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling, similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.
„Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.” (Winfried Gallagher)
By skillfully managing their attention, they improved their world without changing anything concrete about it.
Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.
Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.
To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.
Eudaimonia: a state in which you’re achieving your full human potential.
You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it. (Not sure about this anymore)
„Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important
„If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”
Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures
Time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.
Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets … it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
Reason #1: Downtime Aids Insights
The implication of this line of research is that providing your conscious brain time to rest enables your unconscious mind to take a shift sorting through your most complex professional challenges. A shutdown habit, therefore, is not necessarily reducing the amount of time you’re engaged in productive work, but is instead diversifying the type of work you deploy.
Reason #2: Downtime Helps Recharge the Energy Needed to Work Deeply
Spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.
Walking in nature provides such a mental respite, but so, too, can any number of relaxing activities so long as they provide similar “inherently fascinating stimuli” and freedom from directed concentration.
Having a casual conversation with a friend, listening to music while making dinner, playing a game with your kids, going for a run—the types of activities that will fill your time in the evening if you enforce a work shutdown—play the same attention-restoring role as walking in nature.
Reason #3: The Work That Evening Downtime Replaces Is Usually Not That Important
“The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,”
The concept of a shutdown ritual might at first seem extreme, but there’s a good reason for it: the Zeigarnik effect. This effect, which is named for the experimental work of the early-twentieth-century psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, describes the ability of incomplete tasks to dominate our attention.
Instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction.
Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times.
Point #1: This strategy works even if your job requires lots of Internet use and/ or prompt e-mail replies.
Point #2: Regardless of how you schedule your Internet blocks, you must keep the time outside these blocks absolutely free from Internet use.
Point #3: Scheduling Internet use at home as well as at work can further improve your concentration training.
To succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli. This doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate distracting behaviors; it’s sufficient that you instead eliminate the ability of such behaviors to hijack your attention. The simple strategy proposed here of scheduling Internet blocks goes a long way toward helping you regain this attention autonomy.
Identify a deep task (that is, something that requires deep work to complete) that’s high on your priority list. Estimate how long you’d normally put aside for an obligation of this type, then give yourself a hard deadline that drastically reduces this time.
The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally—walking, jogging, driving, showering—and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem.
One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change—not rest, except in sleep.
Unbroken deep work that generates true breakthroughs. “I’d take 5 days in a row over 5 days spread out over 5 weeks,” he explained. “So our theory is that we’ll see better results when people have a long stretch of uninterrupted time.”
For those familiar with the rigors of such activities, the limit expands to something like four hours, but rarely more.
We spend much of our day on autopilot—not giving much thought to what we’re doing with our time. This is a problem.
Schedule every minute of your day.
This type of scheduling, however, isn’t about constraint—it’s instead about thoughtfulness.
How long would it take (in months) to train a smart recent college graduate with no specialized training in my field to complete this task? Take this as a measurement of the shallowness of the work.
I call this commitment fixed-schedule productivity, as I fix the firm goal of not working past a certain time, then work backward to find productivity strategies that allow me to satisfy this declaration.
There’s also an uneasiness that surrounds any effort to produce the best things you’re capable of producing, as this forces you to confront the possibility that your best is not (yet) that good. It’s safer to comment on our culture than to step into the Rooseveltian ring and attempt to wrestle it into something better.
„I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.“ (Gallagher)