DEEP WORK: A Book Summary

The Golden Nuggets of the Best Productivity Book

“Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity.”

Welcome to another book summary. This time we will go deep on the topic of productivity and focus.

Now that I finished this book, I can confidently label it as one of the most powerful non-fiction books I have ever read. It’s full of actionable advice, which we will explore today.

But first, let’s get on the same page…

Deep Work — Tasks that create new value and hard to replicate, push cognitive capabilities to their limit, performed free from distractions.

In contrast, we have…

Swallow Work — Tasks that do not create much new value, easy to replicate, often performed while distracted.

The author, Cal Newport, argues that we should all strive to limit swallow work and train ourselves to maximize our potential by focusing on deep work.

Deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable. The few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Chapter 1 is solely dedicated to exploring why we should invest in deep work. Given that you are reading this, you might already know the power behind deep work. Still, here are the main points made by the author:

Deep work is valuable

A distraction free work session allows you to learn a new skill faster and leverage your current skills to produce more valuable work. This enables you to keep up with the current state of your field and allows you to create more quality work by focusing on activities that matter.

“The type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work.”

Deep work is rare

With the rise of network tools and social media, our personal and professional lives are increasingly fragmenting our attention. Activities that save us from the short term discomfort of focusing and planning take priority over deeper work.

Due to the innate difficulty to measure how much value knowledge workers produce, activities with least resistance take center stage.

“ In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back towards an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.”

Deep work is meaningful

By promoting deep work in our life, we are also reinforcing meaning and depth in our daily routines and naturally eliminating shallow activities.

Practicing deep work is also a stepping stone into a flow state, a source of great satisfaction and value.

Finally, deep work is the gateway towards extracting meaning out of seemingly boring task. It elevates the job to a craft that can be mastered.


Now that we understand how important deep work is, let’s dive into the practical lessons of create a deep work environment, the pitfalls and how to avoid them, and how to take full advantage of depth.

How to Work Deeply

1 / Ritualize deep work

Habits take time and effort to stick. By systematizing your actions before, during and after deep work sessions, we are getting out of our way. Create a routine by defining the following beforehand:

  • The time and place (i.e. from 3PM to 5PM at the library)
  • How you will work once you start (read research paper, summarize it, offline)
  • The resources you will need while working (documents, laptop, cup of coffee)

2 / Go out of your way to eliminate distractions

If you feel like you cannot focus at home or that your local coffee shop is just too noisy and crowded with distracting acquaintances, put more effort into finding a place to do deep work.

The more effort you input, the more value you will attribute once you find that perfect place. This will motivate you to take full advantage of your deep work sessions.

3 / Don´t work alone

As previously mentioned, you should protect your deep work time by removing yourself from distracting environment yet, remember how beneficial it can be to exchange ideas with others.

Your next best idea can be sparked by a random conversation, so make sure you still seek for spontaneity in your daily routine.

“Expose yourself to ideas in hubs on a regular basis, but maintain a spoke in which to work deeply on what you encounter.

4 / Execute like a business

During deep work, focus on the widely important: a small set of goals that maximize your deep work efforts. These goals should feel challenging and somewhat intimidating, motivating you to work deeper.

Introduce key performance indicators (KPI’S) to evaluate your productivity. There are two types: lag and lead measures.

Lag measures can only be measured as a result of an activity and cannot be directly influenced (i.e. how many views I get on this blog post).

Lead measures can be measured during an activity and can be directly influenced (i.e. how many hours I spent working on this blog post).

We should always focus on measuring and tracking lead KPI’s because we can directly influence them. Gamify deep work by keeping a scoreboard of your daily KPI’s.

Track how many hours you work deeply per day and strive to beat your own score each day. This will motivate you to improve every day by creating accountability. At the end of the week, review your performance and evaluate how you can improve.

5 / Be lazy

Downtime from work is very beneficial to aid new insights and recharge your mind to work deeply.

Studies show that we can deeply focus during 3 to 4 hours per day, so if you do your best during deep work, you are not missing out on not working deeply during the rest of the day.

Create a shutdown routine at a specific time of the day. Take 30 minutes to close any ongoing tasks by review the to-dos for the next day and guarantee that you stop working at the same time every day.


Embrace the Boredom

“Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction it´s hard to shake the addiction”

But not impossible…

1 / Schedule blocks of time when the Internet IS allowed

Most of us spend the majority of the time online. We now seek Internet for distractions which get in the way of deep work.

By restricting our access to the Internet, we learn to resist those urges and over time, we will rewire our brain to focus during longer periods of time.

2 / Work like Teddy Roosevelt

Commit yourself to a hard deadline. If possible make the deadline public or motivate yourself by setting a countdown timer. This artificial constraint will motivate you to work as intensively as you can while in deep work.

3 / Meditate productively

Train your mind to focus on a particular problem / question while you are occupied physically but not mentally.

With practice, you will be able to explore a problem in your head, which sharpens your concentration and strengthens your distraction-resisting muscles.


Quit Social Media

1 / Use social media like a craftsman uses a tool

If it supports your craft, then use it. Identify the main factors that determine success for your professional and personal life and adopt a tool only if the positives outweigh the negatives.

2 / Use the 80/20 rule ( Pareto Principle)

Identify the 20% of the activities that generate 80% of your results.

How does the use of social media impact your current results? How long are you spending on social media and does it contribute to the completion of your goals?

3 / If it doesn’t help you, quit it.

After looking at social media through the previous two points, do you still need to use these tools? If it doesn’t help you achieve your goals, quit it.

4 / Don’t use the Internet to entertain yourself

Put more thought into your leisure time by spending your time doing something with meaning.

It will preserve your ability to resist distraction and concentrate and it will give you more energy to face the next working day.


Drain the Swallows

1 / Schedule every minute of your day

Respect your time by deciding in advance what are you going to do every minute of your workday.

Take a notebook (or calendar) and roughly assign blocks of time to specific activities. This will be a broad planning of your day therefore you can still remain flexible and adapt to new challenges that appear during the day.

2 / Adopt a fixed-schedule productivity workday

Set time limits for how long you will work in a day. This approach demands more careful thinking about how you organize your day, leading to more value being produced as compared to a longer but unstructured workday.

It lets you focus on what really matters because there is a set amount of hours in a day to truly produce value.

3 / Become hard to reach

  • Make people who send you e-mail do more work: Filter people out by establishing the rules of engagement.
  • Do more work when sending or replying to emails: Be specific and assertive when communicating by email. Try to propose a solution.
  • Don’t respond / You don’t have to reply to every email. If the effort put in producing the email was low but the reply takes a lot of time and effort, consider if it’s worth the reply.

Thank you for reading this summary on Deep Work by Cal Newport.

For the next 30 day, I will follow the advice in this book. Stay tuned for the results by following me here on Medium or on my blog.

You might all enjoy reading this book summary or maybe you are in the mood for a video essay?


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