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[Notes] Deep Work by Cal Newport

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Digital Marketer
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Mar 11, 2011
Planet Earth
The key to developing a deep work has it is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimise the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.

You must be careful to choose a philosophy that fits your specific circumstances, as a mismatch here can derail your deep work habit before it has a chance to solidify.

Bimodal philosophy of deep work - this philosophy asks that you divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else.

Chappell would wake up and start working by give thirty every morning. He would then work until seven thirty, make breakfast, and go to work already done with his dissertation obligations for the day.

Isaacson was methodic: Any time he could find some free time, he would switch into a deep work mode and hammer away at his book.

Waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible plan. In fact, perhaps the single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration.

Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants.

Great minds didn’t deploy rituals to be weird; they did so because success in their work depended on their ability to go deep, again and again.

By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated toward supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task.

There was nothing physically stopping Gates from thinking deeply in his office in Microsoft’s Seattle headquarters, but the novelty of his weeklong retreat helped him achieve the desired levels of concentration.

It’s not the amenities of the cabins that generate their value; it’s instead the grand gesture represented in the design and building of the cabin for the sole purpose of enabling better writing.

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.

Lead measure = time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.

Cadence of accountability is where execution really happens.

Use a weekly review to look over your scoreboard to celebrate good weeks, help understand what led to bad weeks, and most important, figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead.

Tim Greider: “I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know."

Providing your conscious brain time to rest enables your unconscious mind to take a shift sorting through your most complex professional challenges.

To concentrate requires what ART calls directed attention. This resource is finite: if you exhaust it, you’ll struggle to concentrate.

When walking through nature, you’re freed from having to direct your attention, as there are few challenges to navigate.

The work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important.

For a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit, while for experts this number can expand to as many as four hours - but rarely more.

If you’re careful about your schedule, you should hit your daily deep work capacity during your workday. By evening, you’re beyond the point where you can continue to effectively work deeply.

Once your workday shuts down, you cannot allow even the smallest incursion of professional concerns into your field of attention.

We do not need to complete a task to get it off our minds. Committing to a specific plan for a goal may therefore not only facilitate attainment of the goal but may also give free cognitive resources for other pursuits.

You cannot consider yourself as fulfilling this daily obligation unless you have stretched to the reaches of your mental capacity.

The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.

Once your brain has accustomed to on-demand distraction, it’s hard to shake the addiction, even when you want to concentrate.

Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead take breaks from focus.

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.

To succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli.

Your ability to concentrate is only as strong as your commitment to train it.

The great and profound mistake which my typical man makes in regard to his day is that even though he doesn’t particularly enjoy his work, he persists in looking upon those hours from ten to six as “the day” to which the ten hours preceding them and the six hours following them are nothing but a prologue and epilogue. This is illogical and unhealthy.

Put more thought into your leisure time.

One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or leg. All they want is change - not rest, except in sleep.

If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you’ll end the day more fulfilled, and begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semiconscious and unstructured web surfing.

Once you’ve hit your deep work limit in a given day, you’ll experience diminishing rewards if you try to cram in more.

Shallow work in inevitable, but you must keep it confined to a point where it doesn’t impede your ability to take full advantage of the deeper efforts that ultimately determine your impact.

Your goal is not to stick to a schedule at all costs; it’s instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time going forward - even if these decisions are reworked again and again as the day unfolds.

A deep work habit requires you to treat your time with respect.

Deep work is way more powerful than most people understand.
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Silver Contributor
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Oct 4, 2017
I learned a lot from this book. I would highly recommend reading the book.

Adding to the OP:

  • Deep Work can be defined as any activity performed in a distraction-free concentration that pushes our cognitive capabilities to their limit.
  • Why do we need deep work? Advances in technology are creating a systemic restructuring of the economy. On one hand, many low skilled jobs will be automated. On the other, a few subset will thrive in the new economy: (1) High-skilled workers, (2) superstar in their industries and (3) owner of capital

  • Most of us will fall into (1) or (2). With the pace of innovation, it is increasingly necessary to quickly master complex skills and produce at a higher level - quantitatively and qualitatively. Doing so successfully and consistently Deep work.
There are few ways to work deeply:
1. Monastic approach. You seclude yourself and work on one task. You can think of the author that goes into a cabin for 6 months to write a book

2. Bimodal approach: Mixing big stretch of deep works with stretches of shallow work. Say you reserve 3 consecutive days a week to work deeply, and 2-3 others for other types of tasks

3. Rhythmic approach: routinely and religiously block time everyday work deep work. For example everyday from 7 to 8 AM

4. Journalistic approach: Going deep whenever once has free time. Reserved for people who are already used to go deep and who believes strongly in what they are doing

Since reading the book:
  • I have a set amount of time every day when I worked on mentally tasking skills. It did wonder to me.
  • I have tech curfews, no connection, no distraction. Just me and whatever I set to do. (this by itself has been a game changer)


Very Fast on a Bike
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May 16, 2014
I'm reading this book right now. It has confirmed a lot of theories I have thought before. But this book gave me more depth and scientific research to support these ideas.

Already put in practice some deep work rituals in my schedule. It looks like life changing.

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