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Deep Work by Cal Newport – Book Review

CalNewport is a professor of computer science at Georgetown University, a blogger,and the author of six different self-improvement books. And he’s only 37 yearsold.

Hesays key to his productivity and success is his ability to do Deep Work—to lockin on intense periods of focused work for long stretches of a time.

Calhas never had a Facebook or Twitter account. Throughout the years, he has impressivelymanaged to avoid getting on social media. He does run a blog. But his authorwebsite features no email address. So he is hard to reach.

Calhas made it nearly impossible for technology like email and social media todistract him from his work. Going deep and staying focused allowed him togenerate powerful results in his life. In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a DistractedWorld, Cal uses personal experience and psychologyresearch to explain why distraction-free and intensely focused work sessionsare so important. And he lays out some principles for how to make Deep Workyour way of life.

Deep Work book review

Calsays the ability to do long stretches of focused high priority work is key forthriving in your career, becoming an elite performer, producing really highquality work, and enjoying more fulfillment on a day to day basis.

Deep Work means locking into important tasks with intense concentrationfor long stretches of time on a daily or weekly basis. Deep Work is increasinglyrare, important, valuable, crucial, life-changing, therapeutic, relaxing, satisfying,and necessary for becoming exceptional at what you do. 

CalDefines Deep Work as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-freeconcentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. Theseefforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

CalNewport is not the only person who has succeeded through a strong commitment toDeep Work. Many highly successful people of thepast and present have used Deep Work to their advantage.

Even though social media was gained tons of popularity during her epic rise to success, J.K. Rowling was completely absent from platforms like Facebook and Twitter during that stretch of time when she wrote her Harry Potter novels. Rowling’s staff finally started a Twitter account under her name in 2009, as she was writing The Casual Vacancy. But for a year and half, her first and only tweet read: “This is the real me, but you won’t be hearing from me often I am afraid, as pen and paper is my priority at the moment.”

Rowling’sbooks have sold more than 500 million copies. Harry Potter is the best selling book series in world history andthe basis for a highly popular movie franchise. J.K. Rowling was only able to make all of that happen through aphilosophy of undistracted Deep Work.

Bill Gates is another highly successful Deep Worker. There was period of time when Bill would leave behind his personal and work obligations on a yearly basis and travel out to an isolated cabin for Think Weeks—for the purpose of reading books, thinking deeply, and pondering big ideas without any distractions.

Caldescribes the striking story of how Bill Gates initially founded Microsoft. In1974, Bill Gates was still a student at Harvard. Young Gates saw the Altair,the world’s first personal computer, on the cover of a magazine called Popular Electronics. Then and there, heknew there was a big opportunity to design software for the Altair. And he was goingto make it happen.

Withinjust 8 weeks, Gates dropped everything, got together with some partners, andworked as hard as possible on hacking together a programming language for theAltair. Bill’s partners Paul Allen and Monte Davidoff were witness to Bill’s intenseand above average levels of focus during that 8-week-period of time.

Gateswould go to work with so much intensity, that he would often fall fast asleep foran hour or two while writing code right on his keyboard, wake up, and getstraight back to work without pausing. Gates was obsessively focused on creatingthat programming language.  

Bill’s intense focus and commitment to long sessions of Deep Work were the key that allowed him and partners to start Microsoft, create a billion dollar industry, and change the world.

The life of director, writer, and actor, Woody Allen is another powerful example of the incredible results that Deep Work can create. Between 1969 and 2013, Woody Allen wrote and directed 44 films that were nominated for 23 Academy Awards! And he accomplished all of this without using a computer. Allen freed himself from distraction by using a typewriter for all of those films. Distraction-free Deep Work allowed Allen to generate an absurd level of productivity and results.

Itdoesn’t stop with J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, and Woody Allen. If you examine anyperson who has consistently maintained a high level of results and success overa long span of years or decades, you will see that Deep Work is the commoningredient in their rises to the top of their fields.

Newport felt the need to write a book about the importance and power of this intense focus, discipline, dedication, and work ethic because Deep Work has become very rare in our society today. Due to distracting technology like the Internet, email, smart phones, text messaging, tablets, and social media, Deep Work has become very uncommon.

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Insteadof going deep, people are doing Shallow Work. Cal defines Shallow Work as non-cognitivelydemanding tasks that are often performed while distracted. These efforts usuallydo not create much value in the world and they are easily replicated.

Dueto email, smart phones, social media, and other technology, doing Deep Work hasreally become a struggle in today’s society. Even when people do manage tofocus in on a project or goal, they will usually check their email or checktheir social media every 15 or 30 minutes to see if they have any new updatesor notifications.

As aresult, we generally aren’t doing long stretches of work in a distraction-freestate of concentration. Many people are doing distracted work, because it’s super-difficultnot to.

Sinceour culture is shifting towards the shallow work, there is now a hugeopportunity for those who can resist the distraction and commit to going deep.Since we are surrounded by shallow activity, prioritizing depth can turn youinto one of the most productive and successful people at your company or inyour field.

DeepWork is the key to standing out among your peers, producing amazing results,becoming an elite performer, and rising to the top. Going deep is necessary foranyone, in any career field, who is looking to climb the ladder of success andrise above mediocrity: “Whether you’re a computer programmer, writer, marketer,consultant, or entrepreneur . . . To succeed you have to produce the absolutebest stuff you’re capable of producing—a task that requires depth.”

Thepractice of Deep Worker is increasingly rare and increasingly valuable. Thosewho cultivate the ability to do Deep Work and who make it the core of theirprofessional life will thrive.

Thisis especially true because of the times we are living in. Automation,artificial intelligence, and intelligent machines are poised to replace a largepercentage of human jobs within the coming decades and throughout the rest of the21st century.

Calsays that in this coming age of automation, there are 2 abilities that willhelp anyone thrive in the New Economy:

  1. The ability to master things quickly.
  2. The ability to produce results at an elite level, in terms of quality and speed.

Toavoid getting replaced by machines, you will need the ability to quickly gainnew information, skills, talents, and knowledge. You’ll need to master newthings within a short time-frame.

Regardlessof whether automation is a threat to your job or not, a strong capacity forlearning is crucial character-trait for becoming a superstar in anycareer-track. To reach an elite level at anything, you need to learn theinformation, knowledge, and skills that will allow you to rise to the top.

AsCal says, “If you can’t learn, you can’t thrive.”

Inaddition to learning quickly, top performers need to be able to produce resultsconsistently with speed, quality, and consistency.

Bothof these core abilities above depend on Deep Work. Without Deep Work, it isn’tpossible to master things quickly or produce consistent results with qualityand speed.

Youneed to go deep to gain knowledge and acquire new skills. Deeply focusedlearning will keep you competitive, employed, valuable, and successful, evenwhen automation is replacing jobs all around us.

And goingdeep is a must for producing high quality results consistently. Cal explains thisLaw of Productivity to help prove his point:

High Quality Work Produced =(Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

Highquality work isn’t just about the amount of time you spend hammering away atthe project. It’s about the quality andintensity of your focus.

Deep,uninterrupted, and intense focus iscrucial. Because no matter how great you think you are at multi-tasking, it’simpossible to do two things well at the same time.

Researchshows that when switch from one task into another, your full attention doesn’timmediately go from Task A to Task B. Instead, “a residue of your attentionremains stuck thinking about the original task.” That attention residue is whatmakes multi-tasking so much less effective than doing Deep Work.

When peoplemulti-task, they tend to perform poorly on each task because their attention isunfocused, divided, and distracted. The previous task always distracts attentionfrom the current one.  

Digitaldistraction is commonplace nowadays and you might think it isn’t doing anyharm. But checking your social media or email every 5, 10, or 15 minutes duringwork your will distract your attention, bring down the quality of your work, andhurt your results.

Toproduce at peak levels you need to work for extended periods of time with fullconcentration on a single task free from interruptions. Without that, it isreally challenging to produce high quality work at an elite level.

That’swhy Deep Workers almost always outperform their distracted competition.

DeepWork isn’t just a powerful way to become a superstar at what you do in yourcareer. Deep Work is also inherently satisfying, meaningful, and fulfilling. Itcan lead to lots of profit and success in your professional life and it’s alsoa powerful path to feeling consistently happy and satisfied.

“Adeep life is not just economically lucrative, but also a life well lived.”

Forthose who do shallow and unfocused work, distraction, stress, irritation,frustration and trivial concerns dominate their days because small issues areconstantly at the forefront of their attention. And when you lose focus, yourmind tends to switch focus to what’s going wrong rather than what’s right. So shallowwork can actually drive unhappiness.

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DeepWork does the opposite. A psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has spenthis career studying a state of mind called Flow, a mental state that manyexpert-level workers and performers tend to experience while they are at work.

Flowis a type of work where there are goals, feedback, challenges, deepconcentration, and a loss on oneself in the task at hand. Flow is synonymouswith Deep Work. 

And it is a powerful way to set yourself up for happiness. Going deep into your work is, in itself, very rewarding because our minds love the challenge. Flow and Deep Work order your consciousness in a way that makes your life more meaningful and enjoyable.

Sofor maximum happiness, satisfaction, fulfillment, and growth, Cal recommendsdoing as much Deep Work as possible in your professional life and in your personal life as well. DeepWork isn’t just for the office. Make sure to find structured, constructive,meaningful, and valuable Deep Work activities and hobbies to fill your freetime with as well.

Don’tjust spend your leisure time on mindlessly surfing social media, the Internet,and television.  Do something meaningfuland constructive with your free time like read self-development books, consumeeducational content, take up painting, learn a new instrument, learn a foreignlanguage, or learn a new skill.

Givingyour mind something meaningful to work on at all hours will actually boost yourfulfillment and peace of mind.

Buildyour work and personal lives around experiencing as much Flow and Deep Work aspossible. It’s a path to more fulfillment, peace of mind, andlife-satisfaction.

Strategiesfor Making Deep Work Your Way of Life

Sowhat are the best ways to fully commit yourself to doing Deep Work on aday-to-day or week-to-week basis?

Firstoff, it’s important to understand that there is a difference between being busyand being productive. Try to establish clear indicators of what it actuallymeans to do high quality work. Without those high performance standards, youmight end up dong lots of activity without any real results. You’ll stay busywithout actually getting anything meaningful done.

Andkeep in mind that as human beings, we go into every day with only a finite amountof willpower. We have a limited supply of willpower that depletes as we use it.So don’t rely on your willpower to stay disciplined with your Deep Work!Instead, make Deep Work a ritual, routine, and habit. Making it a habit willminimize the amount of willpower you need to get started.

Anotherimportant step is deciding what your Deep Work Philosophy is. There are severaldifferent approaches that you can use to make Deep Work into your life.

Eachof them is a viable way to make it happen. You just have to decide which oneworks best for you.

The Monastic Philosophy means completely disconnecting from all shallow obligations and distractions like email and social media forever. So you can focus on Deep Work.

CalNewport is a practitioner of the Monastic Philosophy. He has never joinedFacebook or Twitter. And he doesn’t have an author email address that fans canreach him on. He has almost completely cut himself off from digitaldistraction.

It isan extreme approach. And it’s not for everybody. But it’s powerful way to make ithappen.

The Bimodal Philosophy means disconnecting from shallow activities for long stretches of scheduled Deep Work—dedicating full days, weeks, or months at a time for Deep Work sessions. Then you can spend the rest of your time however you like.

The Rhythmic Philosophy means turning your Deep Work sessions into a consistent habit, getting into a rhythm with your grind sessions. It means doing Deep Work at the same times of the day or night, so you can establish a strong pattern.

Eventually,you will not have to rely on your willpower to get started. As opposed to theBimodal Philosophy, the Rhythmic approach is about consistently spending fullhours, instead of full days or full weeks doing your Deep Work.

Thelast approach is reserved for the fortunate few who have the ability to turn onintense focus and concentration at any time or place. It’s called The JournalisticPhilosophy of Deep Work—because journalists are expected to shift into writingmode at a moment’s notice to meet their deadlines.  With the Journalistic approach, you use anyspare time you can find to do your Deep Work.

But thisJournalistic style of working requires a lot of practice and confidence in yourabilities. So this will not work well for someone who just getting started withtheir Deep Work. This requires a lot of practice and confidence in yourabilities. So for the majority of us, this will not be a viable option.

Onceyou’ve chosen your philosophy, it’s important to ritualize your Deep Worksessions. Create rituals, rules, guidelines, and principles to govern how youdo your work.

Decidewhere you will get your work done and for how long. You need a specifictimeframe for the work sessions and a specific location. If you can identify alocation that you will use only foryour Deep Work sessions, you results will be even better.

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Youshould also have rules, processes, and procedures in regards to how you get your work done. Rules couldinclude typing a certain number of words per minute, shutting off your Internetand social media access during the session, or leaving your smartphone inanother room.

Also,you need to provide the right support and nourishment for yourself, your body,and your brain during the Deep Work sessions. This could mean doing some lightexercise before, during, or after the session; eating the right foods; drinkingthe right type of coffee; drinking some green tea; or setting up the rightamount of lighting.

Here’sanother tactic you can put to use: give yourself a deadline for a high priorityproject that is drastically shorter than usual. Commit yourself to getting thistask done within a short timeframe. Do publicly if possible. Or tell a friend.You can also set a timer up to put the pressure on. This short deadline willforce you to work with more intensity, less procrastination, and lessdistraction.

Cal’smost outside-the-box strategy for doing Deep Work is called the Grand Gesture.The Grand Gesture involves creating a drastic and dramatic change to yournormal work environment by investing a significant amount of effort or moneyfor the purpose of getting your Deep Work done.

Goingabove and beyond to get your Deep Work done increases your mind’s perceived importance of your task and itreduces your natural tendency to procrastinate. The Grand Gesture strategy candeliver “an injection of motivation and energy.”

Whenyou take lots of time off, travel to a distant location, spend lots of money,put in lots of effort, or go to extreme measures for the Deep Work, thecommitment signals to your brain that this is a high priority. Since your brainunderstands the importance of the task, it unleashes mental resources needed toget it done!

Forexample, when J.K. Rowling was writing DeathlyHallows—the last of the Harry Potter books—therewas too much commotion going on at her house. She couldn’t focus.

So inorder to get herself in the right frame of mind to get the work done, shechecked herself into a suite at a 5-star luxurious hotel purely for the purposeof finishing up her writing. On her first day there, she got so much writingdone, that she actually wound up finishing the book at the hotel suite. 

BillGates had his Think Weeks where he would travel out to an isolated cabin toread books and think big thoughts. Author Dan Pink took that idea a stepfurther by actually building a cabin on his property for the sole purpose ofdoing his writing there. It’s an extreme strategy. But it worked in his favor.

Entrepreneurand author Peter Shankman once had 2 weeks to write an entire book manuscript,a feat that would require intense focus and concentration. To get this done,Peter actually booked a round trip flight to Tokyo, Japan.

Buthe didn’t actually spend any time in Japan. He spent a few hours at the airportin Tokyo, then immediately hopped on another flight to come back. He spent theentire flight to Tokyo and the whole flight back working on his book. Withinjust 30 hours, Peter finished writing the entire book, a task that may neverhave been possible without this epic Grand Gesture.

Eventhough Deep Work can be very therapeutic, joyful, exciting, and relaxing, it’simportant to know when to give it a rest. Research shows that, like will power,direct attention is a finite resource. If you use your direct attention forlong enough, you’ll eventually start to lose your focus. So it is veryimportant to give your mind some uninterrupted downtime when your Deep Work isover to restore and rejuvenate your ability to pay focused attention.

Onceyou’re done with the Deep Work, it’s best to shut off the work completely andgive your brain sometime to replenish those mental resources. Shutting downcompletely means avoiding checking or responding to emails and avoiding allwork-related activities. Any work that you try to tackle in the evening is mostlikely a low value task that isn’t going to move our career forward and itshould wait until the next day.

Hesays: “When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done.”

Leavethe Distracted Masses Behind. Join the Focused Few.

Cal ends Deep Work by saying: “To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few is a transformative experience.”

Basedon my personal experience, I have to agree.

Thisbook really resonated because I was in a state of Deep Work as I read it. And Iwas in a mental state of deep concentration as I wrote this book review as well.As I reflect back on the past 7 years of my life, Deep Work has actuallychanged, transformed, and improved my life in numerous ways.  

Somecall it Flow. Some call it the Zone. Some call it Locking In. Cal Newport callsit Deep Work.

Whateveryou want to call it, doing intense sessions of focused work, reading, writing, creativity,and video editing, has put me on a path to success and given me a daily sourceof constant happiness. Watching television used to be the highlight of my days.Now, writing, editing, and reading have become the most relaxing and happiestmoments of my weeks.

Eventhough Deep Work has boosted my productivity, my improved happiness, mentalhealth, fulfillment, and relaxation are the most important rewards for my DeepWork sessions. Because when it comes down to it, happiness is more importantthan success.

As Tony Robbins often says, “Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.”

So eventhough technology like social media have given billions of people a voice,connected humanity in new and amazing ways, and improved our lives. Technology,smart phones, email, social platforms, and tablets have distracted us more thanever, damaged our ability to focus in on our work, and have decreased ourhappiness.

Ifthere is one thing that can help you reverse this problem, it’s Deep Work.

Chooseconcentration over distraction. Unplug from the technology. And jump in to acommitment to regular distraction free work sessions on a daily or weeklybasis.

Leavebehind the distracted masses. And join the focused few. Doing so could mean thedifference between an average and unhappy life versus a fulfilled andphenomenal one.

Tolearn more information about the benefits of deep focus, check out Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

If you enjoyed this book review and you are looking to learn more key lessons and insights from all of the best self-development and non-fiction books without sacrificing too much time from your schedule, try Blinkist. Blinkist is a service that provides quick breakdowns of the key ideas and insights from the world’s best books within 15 minutes of text and audio.

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