Deep Work Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: Deep Work proposes that we have lost our ability to focus deeply and immerse ourselves in a complex task, showing you how to cultivate this skill again and focus more than ever before with four simple rules.

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I’m still digesting all the valuable lessons from So Good They Can’t Ignore You, but I couldn’t help taking a peek at what Cal Newport is up to now. He’s been talking about the idea of deep work for quite some time on his blog (a way for him to test potential book topics), and now the accompanying book is out.

Given that we now suffer from an 8-second, less-than-goldfish attention span, Cal’s call to focus is more than appropriate. Digging deeper into deliberate practice, a concept he described in his last book, Deep Work suggests that being able to completely immerse yourself in a complex task is a rare, valuable and meaningful skill. The second part of the book then outlines four rules you can use to cultivate a deep work ethic.

Here are 3 lessons from Deep Work to help you go from busy to brilliant:

  1. There are four strategies for deep work, all of which require intention.
  2. Productive meditation can help you work deeper, even while you’re taking a break.
  3. Stop working at the same time each day.

I hope you brought your scuba diving gear, ’cause we’re about to go deep!

Deep Work Summary

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Lesson 1: Use one of these four deep work strategies, but be intentional about it.

I’m glad that Cal isn’t one of those “one-size-fits-all-advice” kind of people. He knows that different things will work for different people, so when making his case for deep work he suggests four different strategies:

  1. The monastic approach. Monastic comes from monastery – the place where monks live. It means shutting yourself off completely, for example by moving to a cabin in the woods to write a novel, and not come back until it’s finished.
  2. The bimodal approach. This prioritizes deep work above everything else. You could set a 4-6 hour block each day for deep work, for example, where you lock yourself in your office, similar to the monastic approach. However, once that block is over, you’re free to do everything else that might be on your plate.
  3. The rhythmic approach. This chunks down your work into time blocks, similar to the Pomodoro technique, and uses a calendar to track your progress. For example you’d plan your week ahead of time and put 10 blocks of 90 minutes on your calendar, and make working with timed blocks a habit.
  4. The journalistic approach. If you have a busy daily routine, this works well. What you do is to simply dedicate any, unexpected free time to deep work.

I’m currently alternating between 2 and 4, depending on the kind of day that’s ahead of me, but would love to move completely to 2 over time. Being intentional about your deep work approach requires monitoring how you spend your time, so one of your first steps in making this decision should be to track your habits. You’ll quickly be able to separate productive from unproductive time and spot patterns.

Speaking of which…

Lesson 2: Make the most of unproductive time with productive meditation.

This is an idea I really like and have recently been using more and more, without knowing I’d find it in this book. Cal calls it productive meditation, and it comes down to using your “unproductive” time to do deep thinking.

For example, if you’re taking the subway to work each morning, and know you have 30 minutes to and from work, in which you can’t do much else, use this time to try solving a complex problem in your mind. Commuting, showering, household chores, buying groceries and taking a walk (with or without your dog) are all great opportunities to think.

Ever since getting an activity tracker, I try to walk 10,000 steps per day, which is why I often end up taking a long 1-2 hour walk in the evening. I often spend this time thinking about how I can make Four Minute Books more remarkable, what I could create that is so new and unfamiliar that it takes things to a whole new level, and so on.

The next time you have some “down time”, in which you do menial tasks, latch on to a big problem, try to see sub-problems of it, break it down and solve it.

Lesson 3: Quit work at the same time each day, and stick to it.

Cal has a habit of ending his work day at 5:30 PM, every day. No emails, no internet, no to-do lists, no computer after that. He describes his practice in this 7-year old blog post, and while his systems evolve, planning both work and free time have remained a constant factor.

Your brain needs some space each night to wind down, and it won’t get that if you have an as-much-as-possible work ethic. Limit yourself by quitting work and not checking email, or, even better, shutting down your computer, at the same time each day. This way, you’ll have a fixed slot of free time every day to recuperate.

Your mind will keep working below the surface, but you won’t burn yourself out by working around the clock.

For example, I let Inbox Pause move my email to my inbox at 11 AM and 6 PM. After I check it for the second time at 6 PM, I wrap up work and shut down my laptop (most days, it’s a work in progress), so I can then exercise and have a proper dinner, and I feel much better for it.

Deep Work Review

I’ve only checked out some previews, read excerpts, interviews with Cal, articles on his blog, and the summary on Blinkist for this one so far, but I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I’ve been moving towards a deep work mindset already, and I’m feeling more productive than ever. I highly recommend you explore the concept of Deep Work.

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Who would I recommend the Deep Work summary to?

The 19 year old, who aspires to a career as a creative, the 35 year old consultant, who’s bombarded with notifications every day, and anyone who thinks their attention span is too short.

Last Updated on August 1, 2022

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Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!