“Deep Work” is a bestselling self-help book written by computer science professor Cal Newport. I finished reading it recently, and so I thought of writing an article on it, given how tremendously valuable I found this book to be. Firstly, I will attempt to distil the essence of the book into a few key actionable insights to immediately begin implementing in your own life. Secondly, I will write about my impression of the content in the book, plus my experience in. implementing Newport’s recommendations.
Newport divides the book into two parts- the first part explaining the importance of deep work and the second part guiding the reader in implementing deep work in their own lives.
I won’t go too in depth into the first part here- mostly because it mainly propagates three main ideas and does not offer much in terms of actionable steps- but it is important to understand nevertheless. The main three ideas are, quoting Newport, “deep work is valuable, deep work is rare, and deep work is meaningful.” He advances many arguments in favour of these ideas, relying principally on scientific studies and anecdotal evidence. While there is something to be said about bias in the data he presents, the first part mainly forms a coherent argument for the above-mentioned ideas. Even though Part 1 is not necessarily as useful as Part 2, I still recommend those of you that have the book or plan on buying it read it thoroughly. It offers great insight into the nature of deep work in our current busy-work world.
This section is bursting with good practices and recommendations, but for the sake of brevity, I will only be listing the most useful ones below.
Follow the rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling- In the book, he actually presents four different methods of deep work scheduling, but based on the schedule of the general public, I’ve adopted the one that is most suitable. The rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling will be the best one for you unless you have an extraordinarily flexible schedule or are a deep work wizard, in which case I recommend you read the book in its entirety. Back to the point, the rhythmic philosophy in essence suggests that you schedule regular times in your day at which you decide to focus intensely and do deep work, the rationale being that it becomes easier and easier for you to work at the depth needed as the time goes on and you get accustomed to concentrating intensely in that part of the day.
Ritualise- Newport suggests being very particular and firm about the specifics of your deep work sessions, as they help you “go deep” easier and for longer periods of time. He identifies four main factors to enumerate while scheduling a deep work session: the location, duration, physical environment (Internet use, your phone being near, etc.), and how you’ll keep yourself motivated during the session.
Make Grand Gestures- If you really have trouble engaging with intense focus, he suggests making a grand gesture before you start your work, such as announcing your intention to do deep work publicly, or locking yourself in your room until you finish the task. He hypothesises that by doing this, you not only increase the sense of importance you attach to the task at hand, but also provide a sense of novelty and risk to your brain that helps you concentrate more easily.
Act on the Lead Measures- This principle is part of a larger subtopic known as the 4DX Framework, but it is the most important one (at least in my opinion). It posits that you should focus on tallying the lead measures (those metrics that will increase immediately as you start doing work, and whose increase also means an advancement to your overall goal) instead of values that won’t change in the short term (called lag measures). For example, the number of hours you do deep work versus the grades you get in the next exam cycle. While studying deeply increases both, it takes a while for your grades to start increasing, which is why Newport suggests this rule. If you focus on your deep work hours, not only will your main goal start to become closer, but it will also provide you immediate motivation as you see the number of hours begin to increase.
Schedule Downtime- Downtime may seem antithetical to the idea of deep work, but Newport argues that it is, in fact, vital to the existence of deep work in other parts of your day. He provides three main reasons for advancing this argument: downtime aids insights, downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply, and the work that evening downtime replaces is not usually that important anyways.
Embrace Boredom- He argues that if you relieve every second of potential boredom with a quick glance at your phone or a scroll through social media, your “deep work muscle” atrophies, and it becomes much harder to engage in deep work after that. To combat this, he suggests limiting the use of the Internet to only certain times of the day (when you anticipate that you need it) and never using it beyond that. This helps you break your dependence on the constant novelty provided by your phone and allows you to embrace boredom, which is essential when committing to long hours of deep work. He also recommends learning how to memorise a deck of cards as a handy tool for exercising your ability to concentrate and increasing focus.
Use the Craftsman Approach to Technology Use- To summarise Newport, the Craftsman Approach is the practice of being deliberate about the technology you use, making sure that you are only using it if its positive benefits outweigh its negative impacts. Know that social media and technology in a larger sense is often distracting and can have (as discussed in the earlier point) a great impact on your ability to resist temptation and concentrate.
Drain the Shallows- Since we all have shallow obligations that we need to get done, he suggests scheduling every minute of your day to ensure that certain blocks of time are solely dedicated to deep work and some are solely dedicated to shallow work. Obviously, having such a rigid schedule isn’t possible, which is why the main point of this kind of timetable is to make you aware of your obligations and deliberate about your time, not necessarily to follow it exactly. Significantly, he suggests the idea of “tasks batching”, which is the concept of batching all your shallow work into one or two blocks in which you finish all your shallow work. This ensures that the quality of your deep work isn’t compromised while allowing you to meet your shallow obligations as well. Though it is unassuming, this point is what arguably helped me most in this entire book, as I have been able to implement this in my daily life, and nowadays create timetables for every day the night before. My productivity has also risen by realising exactly how I use my time.
As I said before, I have been able to implement these tips to some success in my daily life, becoming more deliberate about my work and my time. However, while this book is helpful for structuring your work, it isn’t actually very helpful in terms of helping you actually get the work done. I would also like to give the disclaimer that although I did not focus much on the first part, it is a vital component to the book and the second part loses much of its effectiveness if you have not read the preceding chapters. There are also a lot more points than I mentioned here, some of which could be very valuable for you. Overall, I would rate this book 4 on 5 stars, and I recommend it to everyone reading this article.