The clips below are taken directly from my highlights as I read this book. Reference below to ‘I’ is referring to the author. I will mark any comments I add as my own thoughts in bold beginning with Note:.
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.
This book has two goals, pursued in two parts. The first, tackled in Part 1, is to convince you that the deep work hypothesis is true. The second, tackled in Part 2, is to teach you how to take advantage of this reality by training your brain and transforming your work habits to place deep work at the core of your professional life.
Chapter One: Deep Work Is Valuable
Why have Silver, Hansson, and Doerr done so well? There are two types of answers to this question. The first are micro in scope and focus on the personality traits and tactics that helped drive this trio’s rise. The second type of answers are more macro in that they focus less on the individuals and more on the type of work they represent.
“We are in the early throes of a Great Restructuring,” Brynjolfsson and McAfee explain early in their book. “Our technologies are racing ahead but many of our skills and organizations are lagging behind.”
The High-Skilled Workers Brynjolfsson and McAfee call the group personified by Nate Silver the “high-skilled” workers.
Intelligent machines are not an obstacle to Silver’s success, but instead provide its precondition.
The Superstars The ace programmer David Heinemeier Hansson provides an example of the second group that Brynjolfsson and McAfee predict will thrive in our new economy: “superstars.”
An increasing number of individuals in our economy are now competing with the rock stars of their sectors.
The final group that will thrive in our new economy—the group epitomized by John Doerr—consists of those with capital to invest in the new technologies that are driving the Great Restructuring.
With so little input from labor, the proportion of this wealth that flows back to the machine owners—in this case, the venture investors—is without precedent.
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.
How to Become a Winner in the New Economy I just identified two groups that are poised to thrive and that I claim are accessible: those who can work creatively with intelligent machines and those who are stars in their field.
Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy 1. The ability to quickly master hard things. 2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
intelligent machines are complicated and hard to master. To join the group of those who can work well with these machines, therefore, requires that you hone your ability to master hard things. And because these technologies change rapidly, this process of mastering hard things never ends: You must be able to do it quickly, again and again.
If you want to become a superstar, mastering the relevant skills is necessary, but not sufficient. You must then transform that latent potential into tangible results that people value.
The two core abilities just described depend on your ability to perform deep work.
Deep Work Helps You Quickly Learn Hard Things “Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.”
To learn requires intense concentration.
Ericsson opens his seminal paper on the topic with a powerful claim: “We deny that these differences [between expert performers and normal adults] are immutable… Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”
This brings us to the question of what deliberate practice actually requires. Its core components are usually identified as follows: (1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master; (2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
these scientists increasingly believe the answer includes myelin—a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurons, acting like an insulator that allows the cells to fire faster and cleaner.
To understand the role of myelin in improvement, keep in mind that skills, be they intellectual or physical, eventually reduce down to brain circuits. 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.
Deep Work Helps You Produce at an Elite Level
I argue that his approach to batching helps explain this paradox. In particular, by consolidating his work into intense and uninterrupted pulses, he’s leveraging the following law of productivity: High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus) If you believe this formula, then Grant’s habits make sense: By maximizing his intensity when he works, he maximizes the results he produces per unit of time spent working.
The problem this research identifies with this work strategy is that when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task. This residue gets especially thick if your work on Task A was unbounded and of low intensity before you switched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while.
the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work.
What About Jack Dorsey?
Jack Dorsey is important to our discussion because he’s an exemplar of a group we cannot ignore: individuals who thrive without depth.
Jack Dorsey’s success without depth is common at this elite level of management. Once we’ve stipulated this reality, we must then step back to remind ourselves that it doesn’t undermine the general value of depth. Why? Because the necessity of distraction in these executives’ work lives is highly specific to their particular jobs. A good chief executive is essentially a hard-to-automate decision engine, not unlike IBM’s Jeopardy!-playing Watson system.
Deep work is not the only skill valuable in our economy, and it’s possible to do well without fostering this ability, but the niches where this is advisable are increasingly rare. Unless you have strong evidence that distraction is important for your specific profession, you’re best served, for the reasons argued earlier in this chapter, by giving serious consideration to depth.
Chapter Two: Deep Work Is Rare
I mention these three business trends because they highlight a paradox. In the last chapter, I argued that deep work is more valuable than ever before in our shifting economy. If this is true, however, you would expect to see this skill promoted not just by ambitious individuals but also by organizations hoping to get the most out of their employees. As the examples provided emphasize, this is not happening. Many other ideas are being prioritized as more important than deep work in the business world, including, as we just encountered, serendipitous collaboration, rapid communication, and an active presence on social media.
To summarize, big trends in business today actively decrease people’s ability to perform deep work, even though the benefits promised by these trends (e.g., increased serendipity, faster responses to requests, and more exposure) are arguably dwarfed by the benefits that flow from a commitment to deep work (e.g., the ability to learn hard things fast and produce at an elite level). The goal of this chapter is to explain this paradox.
The Metric Black Hole
The Principle of Least Resistance
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 a Proxy for Productivity
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.
The Cult of the Internet
A foundation for our answer can be found in a warning provided by the late communication theorist and New York University professor Neil Postman. Writing in the early 1990s, as the personal computer revolution first accelerated, Postman argued that our society was sliding into a troubling relationship with technology. We were, he noted, no longer discussing the trade-offs surrounding new technologies, balancing the new efficiencies against the new problems introduced. If it’s high-tech, we began to instead assume, then it’s good. Case closed. He called such a culture a technopoly, and he didn’t mince words in warning against it. “Technopoly eliminates alternatives to itself in precisely the way Aldous Huxley outlined in Brave New World,” he argued in his 1993 book on the topic. “It does not make them illegal. It does not make them immoral. It does not even make them unpopular. It makes them invisible and therefore irrelevant.”
Bad for Business. Good for You.
Deep work should be a priority in today’s business climate. But it’s not. I’ve just summarized various explanations for this paradox.
Among them are the realities that deep work is hard and shallow work is easier, that in the absence of clear goals for your job, the visible busyness that surrounds shallow work becomes self-preserving, and that our culture has developed a belief that if a behavior relates to “the Internet,” then it’s good—regardless of its impact on our ability to produce valuable things.
Chapter Three: Deep Work Is Meaningful
The thesis of this final chapter in Part 1, therefore, is that a deep life is not just economically lucrative, but also a life well lived.
A Neurological Argument for Depth
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.
A Psychological Argument for Depth
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Csikszentmihalyi calls this mental state flow
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.
A Philosophical Argument for Depth
The task of a craftsman, they conclude, “is not to generate meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill of discerning the meanings that are already there.” This frees the craftsman of the nihilism of autonomous individualism, providing an ordered world of meaning.
Beautiful code is short and concise, so if you were to give that code to another programmer they would say, “oh, that’s well written code.” It’s much like as if you were writing a poem.
Whether you’re a writer, marketer, consultant, or lawyer: 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.
The second key observation about this line of argument is that cultivating craftsmanship is necessarily a deep task and therefore requires a commitment to deep work.
Homo Sapiens Deepensis
Whether you approach the activity of going deep from the perspective of neuroscience, psychology, or lofty philosophy, these paths all seem to lead back to a connection between depth and meaning. It’s as if our species has evolved into one that flourishes in depth and wallows in shallowness, becoming what we might call Homo sapiens deepensis.
Rule #1: Work Deeply
The Eudaimonia Machine is a good example of this intersection. The machine, which takes its name from the ancient Greek concept of eudaimonia (a state in which you’re achieving your full human potential), turns out to be a building. “The goal of the machine,” David explained, “is to create a setting where the users can get into a state of deep human flourishing—creating work that’s at the absolute extent of their personal abilities.” It is, in other words, a space designed for the sole purpose of enabling the deepest possible deep work. I was, as you might expect, intrigued.
how to transform deep work from an aspiration into a regular and significant part of your daily schedule. (Rules #2 through #4 will then help you get the most out of this deep work habit by presenting, among other things, strategies for training your concentration ability and fighting back encroaching distractions.)
You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.
The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.
Decide on Your Depth Philosophy
philosophies for integrating this depth into their work lives. As I’ll detail in the next section, Knuth deploys a form of monasticism that prioritizes deep work by trying to eliminate or minimize all other types of work. Chappell, by contrast, deploys a rhythmic strategy in which he works for the same hours (five to seven thirty a.m.) every weekday morning, without exception, before beginning a workday punctuated by standard distractions.
The Monastic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
The Bimodal Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
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 bimodal philosophy believes that deep work can produce extreme productivity, but only if the subject dedicates enough time to such endeavors to reach maximum cognitive intensity—the state in which real breakthroughs occur. This is why the minimum unit of time for deep work in this philosophy tends to be at least one full day. To put aside a few hours in the morning, for example, is too short to count as a deep work stretch for an adherent of this approach.
The Rhythmic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
The Journalistic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
“[Great creative minds] think like artists but work like accountants.”
This strategy suggests the following: To make the most out of your deep work sessions, build rituals of the same level of strictness and idiosyncrasy as the important thinkers mentioned previously.
There’s no one correct deep work ritual—the right fit depends on both the person and the type of project pursued. But there are some general questions that any effective ritual must address:
Where you’ll work and for how long.
Regardless of where you work, be sure to also give yourself a specific time frame to keep the session a discrete challenge and not an open-ended slog.
How you’ll work once you start to work.
• How you’ll support your work.
Make Grand Gestures
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.
In all of these examples, it’s not just the change of environment or seeking of quiet that enables more depth. The dominant force is the psychology of committing so seriously to the task at hand. To put yourself in an exotic location to focus on a writing project, or to take a week off from work just to think, or to lock yourself in a hotel room until you complete an important invention: These gestures push your deep goal to a level of mental priority that helps unlock the needed mental resources. Sometimes to go deep, you must first go big.
Don’t Work Alone
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. Second, even when you retreat to a spoke to think deeply, when it’s reasonable to leverage the whiteboard effect, do so. By working side by side with someone on a problem, you can push each other toward deeper levels of depth, and therefore toward the generation of more and more valuable output as compared to working alone.
Execute Like a Business
Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important
For an individual focused on deep work, the implication is that you should identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours.
Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures
lead measures turn your attention to improving the behaviors you directly control in the near future that will then have a positive impact on your long-term goals.
For an individual focused on deep work, it’s easy to identify the relevant lead measure: time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.
Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
I argued that for an individual focused on deep work, hours spent working deeply should be the lead measure. It follows, therefore, that the individual’s scoreboard should be a physical artifact in the workspace that displays the individual’s current deep work hour count.
Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
this review can be condensed to only a few minutes, but it must be regular for its effect to be felt. The authors argue that it’s this discipline where “execution really happens.”
The 4DX framework is based on the fundamental premise that execution is more difficult than strategizing.
Instead, I want to suggest a more applicable but still quite powerful heuristic: At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning—no after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you’ll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely.
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
attention restoration theory (ART), which claims that spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.
To concentrate requires what ART calls directed attention. This resource is finite: If you exhaust it, you’ll struggle to concentrate. (For our purposes, we can think of this resource as the same thing as Baumeister’s limited willpower reserves we discussed in the introduction to this rule.)
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,
Note: how is having a conversation different from reading philosophy ? Edit Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day to follow. Put another way, trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown.
Reason #3: The Work That Evening Downtime Replaces Is Usually Not That Important
To succeed with this strategy, you must first accept the commitment that once your workday shuts down, you cannot allow even the smallest incursion of professional concerns into your field of attention.
Another key commitment for succeeding with this strategy is to support your commitment to shutting down with a strict shutdown ritual that you use at the end of the workday to maximize the probability that you succeed.
In more detail, this ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right.
Rule #2: Embrace Boredom
The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.
There is, however, an important corollary to this idea: Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction. Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions, you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom.
we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand… they’re pretty much mental wrecks.
Rule #1 taught you how to integrate deep work into your schedule and support it with routines and rituals designed to help you consistently reach the current limit of your concentration ability. Rule #2 will help you significantly improve this limit.
Don’t Take Breaks from Distraction. Instead Take Breaks from Focus.
I propose an alternative to the Internet Sabbath. 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.
For example, if you’ve scheduled your next Internet block thirty minutes from the current moment, and you’re beginning to feel bored and crave distraction, the next thirty minutes of resistance become a session of concentration calisthenics. A full day of scheduled distraction therefore becomes a full day of similar mental training.
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 summarize, 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.
Work Like Teddy Roosevelt
Roosevelt dashes leverage artificial deadlines to help you systematically increase the level you can regularly achieve—providing, in some sense, interval training for the attention centers of your brain.
productive meditation. 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.
Suggestion #1: Be Wary of Distractions and Looping
Suggestion #2: Structure Your Deep Thinking
Memorize a Deck of Cards
The ability in question is called “attentional control,” and it measures the subjects’ ability to maintain their focus on essential information.
Rule #3: Quit Social Media
The first point is that we increasingly recognize that these tools fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate.
the impotence with which knowledge workers currently discuss this problem of network tools and attention.
The Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection: You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.
The use of network tools can be harmful. If you don’t attempt to weigh pros against cons, but instead use any glimpse of some potential benefit as justification for unrestrained use of a tool, then you’re unwittingly crippling your ability to succeed in the world of knowledge work.
The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection: Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.
The three strategies that follow in this rule are designed to grow your comfort with abandoning the any-benefit mind-set and instead applying the more thoughtful craftsman philosophy in curating the tools that lay claim to your time and attention.
Apply the Law of the Vital Few to Your Internet Habits
The first step of this strategy is to identify the main high-level goals in both your professional and your personal life.
The Law of the Vital Few: In many settings, 80 percent of a given effect is due to just 20 percent of the possible causes.
Quit Social Media
After thirty days of this self-imposed network isolation, ask yourself the following two questions about each of the services you temporarily quit: 1. Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service? 2. Did people care that I wasn’t using this service?
Don’t Use the Internet to Entertain Yourself
Put more thought into your leisure time. In other words, this strategy suggests that when it comes to your relaxation, don’t default to whatever catches your attention at the moment, but instead dedicate some advance thinking to the question of how you want to spend your “day within a day.”
Bennett, to his credit, anticipated this complaint. As he argues, such worries misunderstand what energizes the human spirit: What? You say that full energy given to those sixteen hours will lessen the value of the business eight? Not so. On the contrary, it will assuredly increase the value of the business eight. 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.
Rule #4: Drain the Shallows
the role of shallow work. As Fried expands: Very few people work even 8 hours a day. You’re lucky if you get a few good hours in between all the meetings, interruptions, web surfing, office politics, and personal business that permeate the typical workday. Fewer official working hours helps squeeze the fat out of the typical workweek. Once everyone has less time to get their stuff done, they respect that time even more. People become stingy with their time and that’s a good thing. They don’t waste it on things that just don’t matter. When you have fewer hours you usually spend them more wisely.
To summarize, I’m asking you to treat shallow work with suspicion because its damage is often vastly underestimated and its importance vastly overestimated. This type of work is 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.
Schedule Every Minute of Your Day
We spend much of our day on autopilot—not giving much thought to what we’re doing with our time. This is a problem.
First, you should recognize that almost definitely you’re going to underestimate at first how much time you require for most things.
The second tactic that helps is the use of overflow conditional blocks. If you’re not sure how long a given activity might take, block off the expected time, then follow this with an additional block that has a split purpose. If you need more time for the preceding activity, use this additional block to keep working on it.
To summarize, the motivation for this strategy is the recognition that a deep work habit requires you to treat your time with respect. A good first step toward this respectful handling is the advice outlined here: 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. But you must overcome this distrust of structure if you want to approach your true potential as someone who creates things that matter.
Quantify the Depth of Every Activity
The purpose of this strategy is to give you an accurate metric for resolving such ambiguity—providing you with a way to make clear and consistent decisions about where given work tasks fall on the shallow-to-deep scale. To do so, it asks that you evaluate activities by asking a simple (but surprisingly illuminating) question: 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?
Shallow Work Budget
Finish Your Work by Five Thirty
I don’t work after five thirty p.m. 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.
I would go so far as to argue that the reduction in shallow frees up more energy for the deep alternative, allowing us to produce more than if we had defaulted to a more typical crowded schedule.
Second, the limits to our time necessitate more careful thinking about our organizational habits, also leading to more value produced as compared to longer but less organized schedules.
Become Hard to Reach
Tip #1: Make People Who Send You E-mail Do More Work
Tip #2: Do More Work When You Send or Reply to E-mails
pause a moment before replying and take the time to answer the following key prompt: What is the project represented by this message, and what is the most efficient (in terms of messages generated) process for bringing this project to a successful conclusion?
Tip #3: Don’t Respond
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.
Welcome Introduction PART 1: The Idea
- Chapter 1: Deep Work Is Valuable
- Chapter 2: Deep Work Is Rare
- Chapter 3: Deep Work Is Meaningful PART 2: The Rules
- Rule #1: Work Deeply
- Rule #2: Embrace Boredom
- Rule #3: Quit Social Media
- Rule #4: Drain the Shallows Conclusion