Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

This book had made the rounds recently and I decided to give it a go. I’d previously read a book by the same author that I didn’t like at all, but I was willing to give him another shot.

I’m somewhat glad I did. This was a good book. It captures something that’s been on my mind lately — the constant switching between the many, many browser tabs as well as the projects I’d been working on had left me in a bit of a shallow state. I’d be physically present in the meetings and the brainstorming sessions, but mentally absent.

However, in many places, it did sound like a stale sermon. It felt like he spent half the time talking about the benefits of disconnecting, something he continued to describe till the topic was savagely beaten to death.

Lessons learned

Doing deep work allows you to develop your depth, and become an expert. It’s increasingly difficult to do today’s distracted world, but also increasingly valuable (for most knowledge professionals). To attain depth: eliminate distractions, set goals, schedule them into your day and stop when you’re done. There are no secrets here, nothing revolutionary.


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.

Read this book: Race Against the Machine

talent is not a commodity you can buy in bulk and combine to reach the needed levels: There’s a premium to being the best.

Current economic thinking, as I’ve surveyed, argues that the unprecedented growth and impact of technology are creating a massive restructuring of our economy. 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.

To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work.

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

This specificity is important because it tells us that if you’re a high-level executive at a major company, you probably don’t need the advice in the pages that follow.

Is it just high level execs that are exempt from deep work? or is this part of a greater chasm forming between academics and industry

There are, we must continually remember, certain corners of our economy where depth is not valued.

None of these behaviors would survive long if it was clear that they were hurting the bottom line, but the metric black hole prevents this clarity and allows the shift toward distraction we increasingly encounter in the professional world.

Essentially because the same medium (email) is used for both productive and nonproductive work

If you work in an environment where you can get an answer to a question or a specific piece of information immediately when the need arises, this makes your life easier—at least, in the moment.

Hello, chat and email!

The second reason that a culture of connectivity makes life easier is that it creates an environment where it becomes acceptable to run your day out of your inbox—responding to the latest missive with alacrity while others pile up behind it, all the while feeling satisfyingly productive (more on this soon). If e-mail were to move to the periphery of your workday, you’d be required to deploy a more thoughtful approach to figuring out what you should be working on and for how long.

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.

Having clear goals with complete disregard for appearances is crucial to an effective meritocracy

These elderly subjects were not happier because their life circumstances were better than those of the young subjects; they were instead happier because they had rewired their brains to ignore the negative and savor the positive. By skillfully managing their attention, they improved their world without changing anything concrete about it.

Gallagher teaches us that this is a foolhardy way to go about your day, as it ensures that your mind will construct an understanding of your working life that’s dominated by stress, irritation, frustration, and triviality. The world represented by your inbox, in other words, isn’t a pleasant world to inhabit.

‘the idle mind is the devil’s workshop’… when you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right.”

Csikszentmihalyi and Larson’s breakthrough was to leverage new technology (for the time) to bring the question to the subject right when it mattered.

You can learn to apply this random reactive approach in the future

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.

Your work is craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skilled wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life.

You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.

the pool of individuals to whom the monastic philosophy applies is limited—and that’s okay. If you’re outside this pool, its radical simplicity shouldn’t evince too much envy. On the other hand, if you’re inside this pool—someone whose contribution to the world is discrete, clear, and individualized — then you should give this philosophy serious consideration, as it might be the deciding factor between an average career and one that will be remembered.

Jung’s approach is what I call the 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.

the minimum unit of time for deep work in this philosophy tends to be at least one full day.

By supporting deep work with rock-solid routines that make sure a little bit gets done on a regular basis, the rhythmic scheduler will often log a larger total number of deep hours per year.

“[Great creative minds] think like artists but work like accountants.”

the grand gesture. The concept is simple: 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. This boost in importance reduces your mind’s instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy.

First, distraction remains a destroyer of depth. Therefore, the hub-and-spoke model provides a crucial template. Separate your pursuit of serendipitous encounters from your efforts to think deeply and build on these inspirations. You should try to optimize each effort separately, as opposed to mixing them together into a sludge that impedes both goals.

Have open areas plus private rooms

At a high level, this theory proposes that for decisions that require the application of strict rules, the conscious mind must be involved. For example, if you need to do a math calculation, only your conscious mind is able to follow the precise arithmetic rules needed for correctness. On the other hand, for decisions that involve large amounts of information and multiple vague, and perhaps even conflicting, constraints, your unconscious mind is well suited to tackle the issue.

idea that you can restore your ability to direct your attention if you give this activity a rest. Walking in nature provides such a mental respite,

The concept of a shutdown ritual might at first seem extreme, but there’s a good reason for it: the Zeigarnik effect.

Empty the todo ist in your head on paper

“Committing to a specific plan for a goal may therefore not only facilitate attainment of the goal but may also free cognitive resources for other pursuits.”

When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done.

If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the “mental wrecks” in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.

Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times. I suggest that you keep a notepad near your computer at work. On this pad, record the next time you’re allowed to use the Internet. Until you arrive at that time, absolutely no network connectivity is allowed—no matter how tempting.

The key here isn’t to avoid or even to reduce the total amount of time you spend engaging in distracting behavior, but is instead to give yourself plenty of opportunities throughout your evening to resist switching to these distractions at the slightest hint of boredom.

A side effect of memory training, in other words, is an improvement in your general ability to concentrate.

With structure, on the other hand, you can ensure that you regularly schedule blocks to grapple with a new idea, or work deeply on something challenging, or brainstorm for a fixed period—the type of commitment more likely to instigate innovation.

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

Decide in advance what you’re going to do with every minute of your workday. It’s natural, at first, to resist this idea, as it’s undoubtedly easier to continue to allow the twin forces of internal whim and external requests to drive your schedule.

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?

to distinguish shallow from deep work

Another tactic that works well for me is to be clear in my refusal but ambiguous in my explanation for the refusal. The key is to avoid providing enough specificity about the excuse that the requester has the opportunity to defuse it.

A commitment to fixed-schedule productivity, however, shifts you into a scarcity mind-set. Suddenly any obligation beyond your deepest efforts is suspect and seen as potentially disruptive.

It s actually beneficial to adopt a scarcity mindset with respect to time

Herbert enforces a small fee you must pay before communicating with him. This fee is not about making extra money, but is instead about selecting for individuals who are serious about receiving and acting on advice.

Pretty smart

Professorial E-mail Sorting: Do not reply to an e-mail message if any of the following applies: • It’s ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response. • It’s not a question or proposal that interests you. • Nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t.

Pay special attention to the first point

Changes I’ve made