Summary Deep Work Rules for Focused Success - Cal Newport.

Summary Deep Work Rules for Focused Success - Cal Newport.



  • Carl Jung built a retreat called Bollingen Tower to focus on deep work - cognitively demanding activities that create value. Deep work was crucial for Jung to develop his theories and gain influence.

  • Despite the rise of distractions and network tools, deep work is shared among influential thinkers and creators, both historical and modern. Examples include Montaigne, Twain, Allen, Higgs, Rowling, Gates, and Stephenson.

  • Most modern knowledge workers are losing the ability to do deep work due to the rise of network tools like email, social media, and distraction sites that fragment attention. A 2012 study found that knowledge workers spend 60% of their time on electronic communication and internet searching.

  • Deep work is replaced by shallow work - logistical tasks performed while distracted that do not create much value. This shift to the shallow reduces one's capacity for deep work. Journalist Nicholas Carr wrote about how the Internet diminishes our ability to focus and think deeply.

  • In summary, deep work is crucial for progress and influence but is increasingly rare. The rise of network tools and shallow work threaten deep work. We must make efforts to prioritize deep work to achieve meaningful results.

Here is a summary:

• The Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr argues that the Internet and digital technologies negatively impact our ability to concentrate and do deep work. Several other books make similar arguments.

• The author of this passage does not want to rehash these arguments but instead focuses on the opportunity for those who can do deep work. Deep work, like concentrated and prolonged thinking, is becoming increasingly rare and valuable.

• Jason Benn is an example of someone who taught himself to do deep work and benefited greatly. Benn started his career as an underpaid financial consultant but realized his job could be automated. He decided to become a computer programmer but had to teach himself to code through deep work: isolating himself to study programming books for hours.

• After months of self-study, Benn attended a coding bootcamp and excelled, landing a high-paying job at a tech startup. He continues doing hours of deep work daily to advance his skills.

• Deep work is valuable for two reasons:

  1. As technology and jobs evolve, it is necessary to learn and master complex and rapidly changing skills quickly. People need to cultivate deep work to stay caught up.

  2. While the Internet provides more access to audiences and rewards for valuable creations, it also means more competition and "noise." Mediocre work and skills should be more balanced. Deep work is required to produce something exceptional that can rise above the noise.

• In summary, deep work is an increasingly rare and valuable skill that allows you to thrive in today's economy. The key to success is not distraction and busyness but the ability to focus intensely without interruption.

Here is a summary:

  • There is an increasing demand for "deep work" - the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Deep work is becoming incredibly valuable as we shift to an information economy. Those who cultivate the ability to do deep work will thrive.

  • The author is a computer science professor who has invested significant effort into developing his ability to do deep work. He has published many papers and books, earned a Ph.D., and become a tenured professor while rarely working past 5 or 6 pm. He can accomplish this by rigorously minimizing distractions and shallow work.

  • Three examples of successful people who do valuable deep work are:

  1. Nate Silver, a statistics expert and blogger who accurately predicted the 2012 election. His work was so valuable that ESPN and ABC News lured him away from the New York Times.

  2. David Heinemeier Hansson is a programmer who created Ruby on Rails and is a partner in the software company Basecamp. He lives a lavish lifestyle and races high-performance cars in his spare time.

  3. John Doerr, a venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins, funded hugely successful tech companies like Google, Twitter, and Amazon. He is worth over $3 billion.

  • The success of people like Silver, Hansson, and Doerr is due not just to their personalities or tactics but to their type of work. They perform cognitively demanding tasks that leverage their expertise - programming, statistics, venture funding - to create vast amounts of value. This "deep work" type is increasingly scarce yet valuable in today's economy.

  • The key takeaway is that deep work - the ability to focus intensely without distraction - is becoming rare but is tremendously valuable. Those who cultivate deep work will thrive. The author aims to detail strategies to help readers develop their ability to do deep work.

Here is a summary:

  • According to economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, digital technology is significantly transforming our economy. As technology improves, companies are replacing human workers with machines. However, this trend is dividing the economy into winners and losers.

  • Three groups will thrive in this new economy:

  1. High-skilled workers: Those who can work with and leverage intelligent machines will be in high demand. People like Nate Silver, who can analyze data and build models are examples of high-skilled workers.

  2. Superstars: Improvements in technology allow companies to access the best talent globally. This means the top performers in a given field will get a larger share of the rewards. People like David Heinemeier Hansson, a top programmer, are examples of superstars.

  3. Owners of capital: Those who invest in and own new technologies will see significant gains. People like John Doerr, a venture capitalist, have significant advantages in this new economy.

  • To join the winners in this new economy, you need two core abilities:
  1. The ability to quickly master hard things.

  2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in other words, become a superstar in your field.

  • While trends like globalization and automation are also impacting the economy, the rise of digital technology and intelligent machines is an especially significant driver of the changes described. The groups that will thrive the most are those that can fully utilize these new technologies.

Here is a summary:

In terms of quality: To master complicated and intelligent machines, you need to develop the ability to learn hard things quickly. This requires intense concentration and focus, known as "deep work." Research on deliberate practice and expert performance shows that sustained undivided attention is critical to mastering complex cognitive skills. The convergence of attention allows you to work through challenging topics and gain a deeper understanding systematically. Distraction inhibits this process.

Regarding speed: Producing at an elite level also depends on deep work. To become highly skilled, you must push yourself to the limits of your ability through deliberate practice. However, more than high skill is required. You must transform that potential into valuable results and concrete outcomes that others care about. Mastery of a field is a lifelong pursuit that requires quickly learning new complex skills. The pace of progress is rapid, so you must be able to do this repeatedly at a fast rate.

In summary, achieving a high level of quality and working at an elite speed depend on your capacity for deep work. The ability to focus without distraction and learn challenging new skills quickly is fundamental. However, deep work is also necessary to transform those skills into meaningful productions that drive progress. Overall, deep work allows people to thrive in a world that increasingly values elite cognitive performance.

• Myelin is a fatty tissue that wraps around neurons and helps signals travel faster in the brain. As you practice a skill, your brain develops more myelin around the relevant neural circuits, allowing those circuits to fire more easily and effectively. Highly practiced skills correspond to well-myelinated neural circuits.

• Deliberate practice—focused, repetitive practice of a specific skill—helps build myelin. You activate the relevant neural circuit by intensely focusing on a skill, triggering cells to wrap myelin around those neurons. This "cements" the skill. Distraction inhibits this process.

• Productivity depends on focus and intensity. The formula is:

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

• Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton, is extremely productive. He achieves this by "batching" focused work into long, uninterrupted periods. He teaches in the fall, allowing him to focus on research in the spring and summer. He also takes several days to isolate himself and work without distraction on a single task, like writing a paper. This maximizes his focus and productivity.

• The most productive students also maximize intensity and focus. They study less but achieve higher results by maximizing their time.

• "Attention residue" refers to how your attention lingers on a previous task after you switch to a new task. This residue impairs your performance on the new task. Minimizing task switching and maximizing focus combats attention residue.

• In summary, developing expertise and achieving high productivity depends on sustained, focused practice and work. Maximizing intensity and minimizing distraction are vital.

Here is a summary:

  • The formula that Grant works for long stretches on a single important task without distraction helps explain his high productivity. He can focus intensely and maximize performance by avoiding task switching and the resulting attention residue.

  • Even brief distractions from semi-multitasking can damage performance due to attention residue. Extended periods of distraction-free concentration or "deep work" are required to achieve peak performance. Cultivating deep work is necessary to reach the highest productivity levels necessary to thrive professionally.

  • There are exceptions, like Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, who maintains a tightly scheduled lifestyle filled with constant meetings and task switching yet is highly successful. However, Dorsey's situation is specific to executives and leaders and does not apply to most jobs. Deep work is still crucial for high performance in many roles.

  • Some argue that their jobs require constant connectivity and task switching. However, in many cases, this belief is misguided. Studies have found that reducing distractions canperformance, and methodologies like Scrum show how structured practices can increase deep work time and value.

  • Deep work is rare and becoming increasingly valuable in the economy. Unless there is clear evidence that distractions are critical for a given job, deep work should be a priority for high productivity and performance. While encouraging collaboration, the open office designs of companies like Facebook and Square make deep work difficult. Deep work requires isolation and freedom from distraction.

In summary, deep work is vital for peak productivity and performance in many jobs, even as increasing connectivity and open work environments make it harder to achieve. Executives like Dorsey are an exception, and beliefs that specific roles require constant distraction are often misguided. Deep work should be a priority for anyone seeking to maximize their value and thrive professionally.

Here is a summary:

  • Many recent business trends prioritize collaboration, rapid communication, and social media presence over deep work. These trends actively reduce people's ability to focus intensely.

  • Determining the impact of distractions and deep work on productivity and the bottom line is difficult. This difficulty places these metrics in an "opaque region" that the author calls the "metric black hole."

  • Because of the metric black hole, businesses may irrationally prioritize shallow behaviors over deep work. Although deep work is valuable, its benefits take time to measure.

  • A company analysis found that shallow work like processing emails costs a media company over $1 million per year in labor. However, even this analysis required extensive data gathering and modeling, demonstrating the difficulty of measuring the impact of distractions.

  • Knowledge work is increasingly complex, making individuals' contributions harder to measure. This can lead to irrational outcomes like disproportionately high executive pay.

  • The rarity of deep work is not due to inherent weaknesses. Instead, it results from flawed thinking and the ambiguity of knowledge work. The embrace of distraction is unstable and can be changed by cultivating deep work.

The key reasons deep work is undervalued are:

  1. The metric black hole: The impacts of deep work and distractions are hard to measure.

  2. Irrational thinking: There is flawed logic behind embracing distractions over deep work. This thinking can be corrected.

  3. The ambiguity of knowledge work: Knowledge work is complicated, making it hard to determine best practices. This confusion contributes to the undervaluing of deep work.

  4. Instability: The current prioritization of distraction over deep work could be more stable and stable. It can easily change if individuals and businesses decide to adopt deep work.

Does this summary accurately reflect the key points and arguments the author is making? Let me know if you want me to clarify or expand the summary further.

Here is a summary:

The passage discusses how certain unproductive business behaviors thrive despite reducing effectiveness. This is because companies often need more precise metrics to evaluate the impact of different practices. In the absence of evidence, people default to what seems most accessible in the moment.

For example, a culture of constant connectivity is common even though it likely reduces well-being, productivity, and business outcomes. It persists because getting quick responses and running your day reacting to emails makes life easier. Likewise, excessive meetings are more accessible than active time management and planning. Sending cursory "Thoughts?" emails is more accessible than crafting thoughtful messages, even though it wastes more time overall.

This "principle of least resistance" leads to shallow, distracted work. Busyness and activity are often used as proxies for productivity because they are easier to measure than the actual impact or depth of work. For instance, academics have a clear success metric in publications and citations. This provides clarity in avoiding distractions and focusing on meaningful work. Most jobs lack this clarity, so people default to seeming productive by being busy.

In summary, lacking valuable metrics allows unproductive behaviors to thrive if they reduce the short-term difficulty, even if they undermine long-term outcomes. Busyness is commonly mistaken for productivity without insight into what matters for impact and value. Clear metrics, like in academia, help avoid this trap by providing focus and discouraging distractions.

Here is a summary:

  • Knowledge workers today inhabit a "bewildering psychic landscape" with vague imperatives and unclear productivity measures. This creates anxiety over whether they are doing their job well.

  • In response, many knowledge workers turn to visible busyness as a proxy for productivity, similar to the efficiency movement of the industrial era that measured productivity by several widgets produced. Constant emailing, meetings, and messaging make workers seem publicly busy.

  • This busyness as proxy for productivity is anachronistic for knowledge work, which depends more on depth and concentration. However, the "metric black hole"—the lack of clear metrics—allows this behavior to persist.

  • Even those with a clear sense of their job, like journalist Alissa Rubin, can get caught up in shallow, distracting behavior due to the "cult of the Internet"—the belief that all things technological are necessarily good. This "Internet-centrism" makes alternatives like avoiding social media "invisible and therefore irrelevant."

  • Writers like Neil Postman and Evgeny Morozov have warned against this "technopoly" in which technology is seen as an unalloyed good and "the Internet" becomes an ideology more than a tool. In a technopoly, trade-offs of new technologies are ignored.

  • The uproar over Jonathan Franzen's suggestion that novelists avoid tweeting shows how deeply this cult of the Internet and technopoly have taken hold. The alternative seems invisible and intolerable.

  • In summary, knowledge workers today are prone to shallowness and distraction due to a lack of clear productivity metrics, a tendency to equate busyness with productivity, and the dominant ideology that more technology and Internet connectivity are necessarily good. Escaping these forces requires recognizing them and making a deliberate effort to cultivate depth.

Here is a summary:

The author argues that deep work can be meaningful and satisfying for knowledge workers, similar to craftwork. There are three main arguments made:

  1. Neurological: Paying close attention to challenging tasks that engage your skills can activate your brain's reward circuit, releasing dopamine and making you feel good. Winifred Gallagher found this connection after being diagnosed with cancer and realized that focusing intensely on her work and hobbies made her feel happier and more satisfied.

  2. Psychological: A sense of progress and agency comes from pushing your cognitive capacities to their limit in a deliberate and focused manner. As Ric Furrer, the blacksmith, says, "It is that challenge that drives me." Producing things that require depth provides a sense of purpose.

  3. Philosophical: Depth enables you to cultivate your full human potential and creativity. As Frederick Nietzsche argued, "One has to have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star." Depth is required to generate new insights and create meaningful work. In an age of increasing automation and standardization, the ability to go deep becomes increasingly crucial for human development and flourishing.

The key message is that deep work should not be thought of just as a means to economic success but also as a path to a meaningful and purposeful life. Avoiding shallow behaviors and cultivating the ability to focus deeply on demanding tasks can lead to a sense of progress, creative fulfillment, and human flourishing. Though the connection between depth and meaning may be less obvious for knowledge work compared to craftwork, it is no less accurate. Dedication to depth, therefore, is beneficial for productivity and career advancement, well-being, and happiness.

Here is a summary:

  • Winifred Gallagher, an author who was diagnosed with cancer, discovered that focusing on positive aspects of her life during treatment led to a surprisingly pleasant experience, despite the difficulties. This piqued her interest in the role of attention and focus in shaping our experiences and perceptions.

  • After researching the topic, Gallagher concluded that our subjective experience of life is largely determined by what we choose to pay attention to and focus on. This is supported by research showing that our emotions and attitudes can be significantly shaped by subtle shifts in what we focus on, even when external circumstances remain the same.

  • Neurological research shows that our brains construct our worldviews based on our focus on attention. By directing attention skillfully, we can reframe our experiences and emotions. For example, elderly study participants were found to activate emotional centers of the brain in response to positive images but not negative ones, suggesting they had learned over time to focus on the positive.

  • Applying this to knowledge work, dedicating significant time to "deep work" helps construct a worldview dominated by meaning and purpose. It also prevents us from focusing on the many minor frustrations and annoyances that fill our daily lives. On the other hand, constantly checking email and social media ensures these shallow concerns remain the primary focus of our attention, leading to a more stressful and irritating workday experience.

  • The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi similarly found that idle, unfocused attention tends to fixate on what is wrong in life rather than right. Spending more time engaged in deep work is the key to experiencing more meaning and satisfaction in our work lives, as it leverages how our brains operate. As Gallagher puts it, "living the focused life" is the best approach.

Attention and focus are crucial in shaping our experiences, emotions, and perceptions. By cultivating deep focus and meaningful attention, especially through deep work, we can reframe our work lives to be centered around purpose and meaning rather than shallow concerns and frustrations. Skillfully managing our attention this way is the key to a good and satisfying life.

Here is a summary of the key ideas:

  • In the 1970s, Csikszentmihalyi and Larson developed the experience sampling method (ESM) to study people's psychological experiences during everyday activities. They gave people pagers that would beep at random intervals, prompting them to report their actions and feelings. This method provided insights into people's experiences that took time to gain through traditional self-reporting.

  • A key finding from Csikszentmihalyi's work was the idea of "flow"—the mental state of being deeply immersed in an activity. Flow occurs when a person's skills fully engage in a challenging activity. Csikszentmihalyi found that people reported being happier during flow states, even at work. This contradicted the common belief that relaxation and leisure make people happiest.

  • There are two ways to understand why flow and depth are so psychologically rewarding:

  1. The content of our focus matters. When we focus on meaningful work, we perceive our lives as more meaningful. (This is Gallagher's view.)

  2. The state of being intensely focused on itself produces reward and satisfaction. Our minds find the challenge engaging, regardless of the subject or task. (This is Csikszentmihalyi's theory of flow.)

  • Dreyfus and Kelly argue that in modern times, we have lost a sense of inherent meaning or "sacredness" in the world. They see craftsmanship as a way to recover meaning not derived from an individual's choice or preferences. The craftsperson comes to recognize and cultivate the subtle qualities and meanings already present in the materials and skills of the craft.

  • This suggests that any pursuit that allows for a high degree of skill and mastery, whether physical or cognitive, can be a source of meaning. Complex knowledge work, like programming, exhibits the same potential for cultivating a sense of meaning through depth and skill that traditional crafts do.

  • In summary, depth generates meaning and satisfaction through several mechanisms: (1) by directing our attention to meaningful challenges; (2) by producing flow states; and (3) by allowing the cultivation of skill and mastery that reveal inherent meaning. A deep life is good, partly because depth leads to meaning.

  • Gonzalez compares computer programming to traditional craftsmanship. Well-written and concise code can be an artistic form of expression, just like poetry.

  • The book The Pragmatic Programmer compares code to cathedral building, arguing that programmers should aim to create things that will stand the test of time through craftsmanship.

  • Many types of knowledge work, not just programming, can achieve the meaning and satisfaction that comes from craftsmanship. It is about the skill and care put into the work, not the specificity of the work itself.

  • Cultivating craftsmanship requires deep work. Embracing deep work and skill mastery can turn an ordinary job into a source of meaning.

  • There are practical and philosophical reasons to pursue a "deep life." It leads to professional success but also connects us to something fundamentally human.

  • Rule #1: Work deeply. In an ideal world, we'd have environments designed specifically to enable deep work, like the proposed "Eudaimonia Machine." However, most people have to adapt to distracting open offices.

  • The strategies in this rule aim to help people make deep work a regular part of their daily schedule despite unfavorable environments. The subsequent rules provide ways to improve concentration and overcome distractions.

The key ideas are cultivating craftsmanship through deep work to find meaning, adapting to make deep work possible even in suboptimal workplaces, and building the skill of depth to thrive.

The key idea is that developing a deep work habit requires more than just good intentions. It requires implementing routines and rituals to minimize the willpower needed to start and maintain deep work. Research shows that willpower is finite and depletes with use, so relying on willpower alone will likely lead to failure.

The author presents four "depth philosophies" for scheduling deep work:

  1. The monastic philosophy maximizes deep work by eliminating as many shallow obligations as possible. It works best for those with a clearly defined professional goal, like Donald Knuth, who avoids email and focuses intensely on his work.

  2. The rhythmic philosophy: This philosophy involves scheduling deep work in a rhythm, such as Chappell's habit of deep work from 5 am to 7:30 am daily before work. This philosophy acknowledges the need to balance deep and shallow work.

  3. The journalistic philosophy: This philosophy involves aggressively reserving time for deep work each day, akin to a journalist's deadline. While less structured than the rhythmic philosophy, it shares the assumption that deep work must be a daily habit.

  4. The bimodal philosophy: This philosophy involves dividing time between periods of depth and periods of shallowness, such as when teaching. It allows for longer stretches of deep work at the cost of time recapturing intellectual momentum.

In summary, choosing a philosophy that fits your circumstances is vital. The philosophies offer different ways to make deep work a habit given different types and amounts of shallow obligations. The important thing is to decide on an approach, as an ad hoc approach is prone to fail due to limited willpower.

  • The science fiction writer Neal Stephenson is committed to deep work and avoids distractions. He rarely answers emails or makes public appearances so he can focus on writing high-quality novels. He sees communication and shallow work as mutually exclusive with deep work and productivity.

  • Carl Jung employed a "bimodal" philosophy of deep work, dividing his time between deep work and open, shallow time. During deep work periods, he was intensely focused. The rest of the time, he was active in his clinical practice, socializing and lecturing. The bimodal approach believes deep work requires extended periods of focus but also leaves room for necessary shallow work and open time.

  • Adam Grant, a Wharton professor, is a modern example of the bimodal philosophy. He stacks his teaching into one semester so he can focus the other semester on deep work. He occasionally takes two to four days to work without interruption during deep work periods. The rest of the time, he remains open and accessible. The bimodal approach values both deep work and shallow behaviors.

  • Jerry Seinfeld employs a "rhythmic" philosophy of deep work, making a habit of deep work through regular scheduling. He told a young comedian to write jokes daily and cross off days on a calendar to build a "chain" of consistency. The longer the chain, the more motivation to not break it. The rhythmic approach believes short, regular periods of deep work can be highly productive when built into a routine.

  • In summary, the three philosophies of deep work scheduling are:

  1. The monastic philosophy - eliminate shallow work and distraction

  2. The bimodal philosophy - divides time between deep and shallow work.

  3. The rhythmic philosophy - build regular routines of deep work into your schedule.

The rhythmic philosophy argues for transforming deep work into a simple regular habit. An example is the chain method, where you do deep work every day and mark it visually on a calendar. This reduces the barrier to going deep by eliminating scheduling decisions.

Brian Chappell, a busy doctoral candidate, adopted this approach out of necessity. His initial vague commitment to deep work could not have been more productive. So he made a rule to work from 5:30 to 7:30 am daily, which was "astronomically productive and guilt-free." This produced 4-5 pages daily and 1 chapter every 2-3 weeks.

The rhythmic philosophy may not achieve the intensity of bimodal but supports more total deep hours. The choice depends on your self-control and job flexibility. Rhythmic is suitable for dissertation writing, but bimodal works if you can disappear for days. Rhythmic also suits standard office jobs.

The journalistic philosophy fits deep work wherever possible into your schedule. This suits journalists who can switch into a writing mode quickly. It requires willpower and confidence in professional accomplishment.

Walter Isaacson wrote The Wise Men this way, using any free time to work deeply. My uncle recalls Isaacson retreating to work for 20 minutes to an hour, then rejoining friends relaxed. This methodic approach produced an epic biography while becoming a top journalist.

I mainly use the journalistic philosophy. I am not monastic, do not do multiday deep binges, and my schedule thwarts a daily rhythm. To write this book, I seized any free time to work deeply - if the kids napped, my wife was away, or meetings were canceled. I plan some deep work each week, but I am also spontaneous. The journalistic philosophy requires the ability to switch mind states rapidly, which takes practice. However, when mastered, it is a flexible and potent approach.

  • Define your deep work decisions at the beginning of each day to preserve your mental energy for the deep work itself. The journalistic philosophy of deep work scheduling is complicated but effective if you value what you produce and are skilled at deep work.

  • Great creative minds have strict routines and rituals to maximize their depth and productivity. Waiting for inspiration is an evil plan. Effective rituals specify:

  1. Where and for how long will you work? A separate space is best, with a fixed time limit.

  2. How you will work once you start. Rules like no internet use and output metrics keep you focused.

  3. How you will support your work. Things like coffee, food, and walking help your mind do deep work. Systematize this support to avoid wasting mental energy figuring it out each time.

  • Experiment to find an effective ritual. It should feel right for you, and acknowledge that deep work is difficult but important. The ritual provides the structure and commitment your mind needs to focus.

  • Make "grand gestures" by radically changing your environment or investing significant effort/money to do deep work. This signals importance to your mind, reducing procrastination and boosting motivation.

  • Examples: J.K. Rowling checked into a luxury hotel to finish a Harry Potter book. Bill Gates took isolated "Think Weeks." Physicist Alan Lightman retreats to a remote island each summer. The novelty and investment in these gestures facilitate depth.

In summary, define a structured routine, build strict rituals, and deploy grand gestures to maximize your ability to do deep, creative work. The strategies may seem strange, but they are surprisingly effective.

The author discusses the complex relationship between deep work and collaboration. On the one hand, open office spaces that encourage collaboration and "serendipitous creativity" are terrible for deep work and concentration. However, some limited collaboration does help generate new ideas and insights.

The theory of "serendipitous creativity" — that chance encounters, and interactions between people with different areas of expertise can lead to breakthrough ideas — has been used to justify open office space designs. However, this theory is flawed and incomplete. Insights often emerge from deep work, not just chance encounters.

The author points to Building 20 at MIT and Bell Labs as the origins of the theory of serendipitous creativity. Building 20 housed many disciplines together, leading to the cross-pollination of ideas. Bell Labs also purposefully designed long hallways to encourage interaction between scientists and engineers from different fields. While these designs did yield substantial innovation, they still depended on individuals doing deep work. Interaction and collaboration are built on a foundation of depth.

So, do not fully isolate yourself, but make time for deep work. Focused work and collaboration can co-exist and build on each other. Some level of interaction helps generate new insights, but not constant distraction. The key is balancing depth and serendipity.

Here is a summary:

  • Innovation often emerges from creative collaboration in shared spaces ('hubs') but requires isolated deep thinking ('spokes'). Building 20 and Bell Labs exemplified this 'hub and spoke' model.

  • Even when in the 'spoke,' collaborative deep work can be useful, as seen in the invention of the transistor at Bell Labs. Working together at the 'proverbial shared whiteboard' can push individuals to a greater depth. However, distraction remains an enemy of depth, so the 'hub and spoke' model is key.

  • There is a crucial distinction between identifying 'what' needs to be done and figuring out 'how' to execute it. Companies often struggle with the 'how.' The 4 Disciplines of Execution framework aims to address this and can be adapted for personal use in pursuing deep work.

  • The 4 Disciplines of Execution are:

  1. Focus on the wildly important: Identify the goal or strategy that is most critical to your success, and reinforce that focus. For deep work, this is prioritizing depth.

  2. Act on the lead measures: Do not focus on lagging measures (like results) but on the actions that drive those results. For deep work, this means tracking time spent working deeply.

  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard: Create a simple visual measure to track progress on the lead measures. For deep work, this could be a calendar tracking deep work time.

  4. Create a cadence of accountability: Meet regularly to review the scoreboard and progress and hold each other accountable. For deep work, this could involve an accountability partner.

In summary, to execute deep work like a 'business,' identify it as wildly important, focus on the lead measure of time spent in-depth, track progress with a visual scoreboard, and maintain an accountability cadence. The 4DX framework, though created for companies, can also effectively drive progress on personal goals.

The author adopted the 4 Disciplines of Execution framework to help develop a deep work habit. He describes how he adapted each discipline:

Discipline 1 (Focus on wildly essential goals): The author identified the goal of publishing five high-quality academic papers to provide motivation and focus for deep work.

Discipline 2 (Act on lead measures): The author used hours spent in deep work as the lead measure to track progress toward the goal. This provided short-term motivation and feedback to impact behavior.

Discipline 3 (Keep a compelling scoreboard): The author created a physical scoreboard to track deep work hours by week. Circling key milestones helped provide motivation and calibrate expectations.

Discipline 4 (Create a cadence of accountability): The author conducted weekly reviews to look at the scoreboard, understand what is working/not working, and make commitments to improve. This accountability drove significantly more deep work.

Using this framework, the author doubled his academic paper publication rate. Regular deep work was crucial to his success, not just intense periods.

The author also discusses Tim Kreider's argument for being "lazy" - retreating from busyness and distraction to focus on deep work. Kreider fled to an isolated location without the Internet to escape obligations and focus on reading, writing, and other deep work. The author notes that Kreider did this not to make a social point but because it made him better at his job. Idleness and freedom from distraction are indispensable for creative, high-quality work.

The author found that applying the 4 Disciplines of Execution and embracing "laziness" by avoiding distraction and busyness were vital in developing and sustaining a deep work habit. The critical elements were specific goals, tracking progress, accountability, and extended periods of uninterrupted deep work.

Here is a summary:

  • An essayist and artist, Tim Kreider, argues that leisure and idleness are paradoxically necessary to accomplish deep work and creative efforts.

  • The author recommends ending all work-related thoughts and tasks after the workday to provide downtime and idleness that aid insight and recharge your mental energy.

  • Three reasons are given to support this argument:

  1. Downtime aids insights by giving your unconscious mind time to connect and find solutions. Experiments show that unconscious thought can outperform conscious deliberation for complex decisions with lots of information.

  2. Downtime helps recharge the mental energy needed for deep work. Attention restoration theory says that directed attention is a finite resource that can be depleted but restored during leisure activities that occupy your mind without demanding focus, like walking in nature. Enforcing work shutdown provides this restorative leisure.

  3. The work that is replaced by evening downtime is not very important. Deliberate practice theory says systematic skill improvement requires intense focus, not shallow tasks often occupying evening work hours. Ending work in the evening helps ensure daytime hours are spent on the deep work that matters.

In summary, quitting work thoughts in the evening provides downtime that aids insight, recharges your mental focus, and helps ensure the essential deep work gets done during the day. Regular leisure is paradoxically required to accomplish the creative and cognitive efforts that produce lasting value.

  • Deliberate practice refers to cognitively demanding activities aimed at improving performance. Research shows people can typically only sustain 1-4 hours of deliberate practice per day.

  • This suggests you have a limited capacity for "deep work" daily. If you schedule your time well, you should be able to reach this limit during a typical workday. Work done in the evening is less likely to be deep or meaningful.

  • Commit to ending your workday at a strict time to benefit from this. Avoid checking email or doing any work-related tasks after ending your workday.

  • Use a "shutdown ritual" to end your workday. Review incomplete tasks, schedule the next day, and say "Shutdown complete" to signal you are done working for the day. This helps avoid the "Zeigarnik effect" where incomplete tasks dominate your attention.

  • While the shutdown ritual may seem extreme, studies show that committing to a plan for completing tasks can free up your mental resources. The ritual ensures no tasks are forgotten but releases your mind from constantly tracking them.

  • With practice, the shutdown ritual can become a habit. Skipping it can make you feel uneasy. Regularly resting your mind leads to higher quality deep work. Work intensely during work hours, then rest completely when done.

  • To better understand deep work mastery, consider orthodox Jews who study religious texts intensely each morning. One example spends hours deciphering a single page of the Talmud, pushing himself cognitively. This requires "deep work" and is "the hardest brain strain" in his day, even compared to running a business.

  • This practice aims to study these complex texts in depth, stretching "to the reaches of your mental capacity." Some do this for hours each morning in study groups, reading, discussing, and debating the texts.

Here is a summary:

  • Adam Marlin practiced daily intense concentration exercises for years. He found that his ability to think deeply and creatively improved over time. This shows that concentration is a skill that requires training.

  • Most people wrongly assume concentration is just about motivation and habit. However, it requires gradual strengthening of your "mental muscles" through regular practice. Sporadic efforts to focus will not work. You have to commit to consistent training.

  • At the same time, you have to limit distraction. Constant switching between high-stimuli and low-stimuli activities rewires your brain to crave distraction and novelty. It weakens your ability to focus.

  • The strategy of occasional "Internet Sabbaths" or digital detoxes is not enough. If you only avoid distraction once a week but give in the rest of the time, you will not overcome your brain's craving for distraction.

  • A better strategy is to schedule distraction and avoid it the rest of the time. Only allow yourself to use the Internet and check email at scheduled times. The time in between becomes concentration training.

  • This strategy works even for those who need to use the Internet for their jobs. You have to schedule more frequent distraction periods. However, the total time avoiding distraction is what matters for retraining your brain.

  • It will be hard at first, as your brain craves its usual distractions. However, as you strengthen your mental focus "muscles over weeks and months," concentration will become more accessible and automatic. You have to be patient and consistent.

  • The benefits of improved concentration and deeper thinking are well worth the effort. Strengthening your attention skills will enhance your productivity, creativity, and ability to thrive in an increasingly distracted world.

  1. Scheduling and adhering to Internet blocks is critical to training your brain to resist distraction. Keeping offline blocks distraction-free is essential, even temporarily abandoning what you are working on or adjusting your schedule. Extending this strategy to your non-work time can further help rewire your brain.

  2. To succeed with deep work, you must retrain your brain to resist distractions. This does not require eliminating distractions but eliminating their ability to hijack your attention. Scheduling Internet blocks helps build this attention autonomy.

  3. You can work intensely as Theodore Roosevelt did as a Harvard student. Identify an essential deep work task and give yourself a tight deadline to complete it, ideally committing to the deadline publicly. Remove all distractions and work with total concentration to beat the deadline. This "interval trains" your attention and helps you resist distraction. Start with 1-2 Roosevelt dashes a week and build up from there while keeping deadlines challenging but feasible.

  4. The main benefits of Roosevelt dashes are:

  • They systematically increase your ability to concentrate intensely.

  • They are incompatible with distraction, providing practice resisting distracting urges.

  • Completing them gives you practice overcoming boredom and the desire for novelty.

In summary, the strategies aim to help you avoid distraction, focus intensely, and stay focused even when bored or craving stimulation. Building these mental skills through scheduling, practice, and habit formation can help significantly improve your ability to do deep work.

Here is a summary:

After adopting a productive meditation strategy for a few months, your ability to focus intensely will likely strengthen dramatically. This can free up time for leisure, as it did for Theodore Roosevelt.

Productive meditation focuses your mind on a specific problem during physical activity like walking, jogging or driving. This helps build your ability to avoid distractions and concentrate intensely. With regular practice, productive meditation can significantly boost your productivity and problem-solving skills.

Two suggestions for effective productive meditation:

  1. Watch out for distractions and looping. Gently redirect your mind back to the problem when it wanders. Also avoid repetitively rehashing what you already know.

  2. Structure your deep thinking. Identify the relevant variables for solving the problem. Determine the next specific question you need to answer. Solve it, then review and consolidate your gains. Repeat this cycle to strengthen your concentration.

Daniel Kilov, an Australian memory champion, used intensive memory training to transform from a struggling student with ADHD into a Ph.D. candidate at a top university. Research shows that memory athletes have a superior working memory, mental flexibility, and the ability to avoid distractions compared to ordinary people. Intensive memory training, like productive meditation, can boost these cognitive abilities and academic performance.

Here is a summary:

  • The ability to memorize a deck of cards is not a direct measure of one's memory but of one's attentional control, which is maintaining focus. Improving this ability, however, can strengthen one's memory as a side effect.

  • The strategy described here involves memorizing a shuffled deck of cards, which can help improve one's concentration and attentional control. Ron White, a former world record holder in card memorization, developed this strategy.

  • White's technique involves mentally visualizing, walking through familiar rooms in one's home, and memorizing items in a set order in each room. One then associates each card in a deck with a memorable person or thing and, while mentally walking through the rooms, imagines each person or thing interacting with the items memorably. This technique allows one to memorize an entire deck very quickly.

  • Practicing techniques like this that require intense focus and concentration can strengthen one's ability to avoid distractions and work sincerely. While card memorization is an example, any structured activity demanding sustained attention can have the same effect. The key is committing to activities that train one's concentration.

  • In 2013, Baratunde Thurston conducted an experiment where he disconnected from social media and email for 25 days. He quickly adjusted to this disconnected life, felt less stressed, and could focus better. His story illustrates how network tools like social media fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate. Overcoming distractions from these tools is essential for improving one's ability to work deeply.

  • We increasingly recognize how network tools hamper our concentration, but we have yet to address this issue seriously. Real progress will require acknowledging these tools' damaging effects and taking concrete steps to limit their influence, such as quitting social media. The benefits include improved concentration, reduced stress and FOMO (fear of missing out), and more time for connecting with real people. Overall, quitting social media can liberate and help cultivate an environment conducive to deep work.

  • The notion that the only options are a drastic "internet sabbatical" or accepting distraction is too extreme. There is a middle ground.

  • The default decision process most people use to choose internet tools is the "any-benefit mindset": if there is any possible benefit, no matter how small, use the tool. However, this ignores the downsides and negatives. Tools can be addictive and distracting, harming your ability to focus.

  • Looking at how skilled artisans choose tools provides insight. Farmers like Forrest Pritchard deploy sophisticated thinking to tool selection. For example, Pritchard chose to sell his hay baler after weighing the costs and benefits. The costs were high: cost to operate and maintain, time spent operating and fixing it, and cost to store it when not in use. The benefits were minor: small savings on buying some hay. The costs far outweighed the benefits.

  • Knowledge workers should apply similar sophisticated thinking to internet tool selection. Do not use the "any-benefit mindset." Weigh pros and cons and only use tools with significant benefits relative to their "costs," like distraction and addiction. Most people would benefit from using far fewer internet tools.

  • There is a middle ground between drastic measures like quitting the Internet and accepting constant distraction. Be selective and intentional about which tools you use based on carefully weighing costs and benefits. The net result will be less distraction and more ability to focus.

Here is a summary:

The author argues that we should apply the "craftsman approach" to tool selection. This means carefully considering how tools impact the most critical factors in our lives and only using tools if the benefits outweigh the costs. The author contrasts this with the "any-benefit approach," where people use any tool that offers any potential benefit.

To apply the craftsman approach, the author recommends three strategies:

  1. Apply the "law of the vital few" to your internet habits. This means identifying your most important life goals and the key activities that achieve them. Then consider how each tool impacts those activities and only keep using tools with substantial positive impacts that outweigh the negatives. The author uses the example of Michael Lewis, whose goal might be "to craft well-written, narrative-driven stories that change the way people understand things." For Lewis, activities to achieve this might be regularly reading cutting-edge work and conducting research. If a tool like Twitter did not positively impact those activities for Lewis, he would not use it, as is the case.

  2. Use tools in moderation and avoid "network tools". Only use tools occasionally and in a limited fashion. Avoid tools designed primarily for communication and sharing with others, as they can be highly distracting and addictive.

  3. Do a periodic review of your tools. Regularly re-evaluate which tools still positively impact your key life goals and activities. Get rid of tools that no longer do or that you do not use. Pruning unused tools will reduce distraction and help focus your efforts.

In summary, the key message is that we should be very selective and intentional about which tools we adopt and use based on carefully considering how they align with what matters to us. We should avoid using tools for their own sake or just because others use them. This more thoughtful approach to technology will support greater focus and well-being.

Here is a summary:

The key argument is that you should focus your limited time and attention on the vital few activities that substantially impact your most important goals. For any goal, many possible activities could provide some benefit. However, according to the Law of the Vital Few, 80% of the benefit will typically come from the top 20% of these activities.

The strategy proposed is to identify your most important 2-3 goals, list the possible activities that support each goal, and then determine which of these provide the most significant impact. Focus on those and ignore the rest. This may seem extreme but your time is limited, and low-impact activities take time away from high-impact ones. For most people, tools like Facebook and Twitter do not significantly help with their most important goals and critical activities, so the strategy suggests not using them.

Some examples show how this could stop using popular tools and services for some, but not all, people. For a writer like Michael Lewis, Twitter does not help with deep research or careful writing, his key activities, so the strategy suggests not using it. For a college student, however, Facebook could help establish new friendships, a key goal, so it may make sense to use it. For a deployed soldier, lightweight social contact may be vital, again suggesting keeping Facebook.

Applying this filtering strategy based on your unique personal goals and critical activities is critical. It will suggest avoiding distractions and focus for some but embracing useful tools for others. The overall message is that you have limited time and attention and will accomplish more by investing in what matters to you rather than diffusing your efforts.

Here is a summary:

  • Ryan Nicodemus decided to simplify his life by eliminating most of his possessions. He packed up all his belongings as if he were moving and then continued his routine for a week. He found he did not need most of the stuff, so he got rid of it.

  • This strategy can be applied to social media by quitting all social media services for 30 days. After 30 days, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Would the last 30 days have been better if I had been able to use the service?

  2. Did people care that I was not using the service?

  • If the answer is no to both questions, quit the service permanently. If the answer is yes to either question, return to using the service or quit at your discretion.

  • Social media is particularly damaging to deep work and concentration. These services provide intermittent personalized information that is highly addictive. Many people continue to use them because they fear missing out and believing that people care about their social media activity.

  • In reality, most social media audiences are shallow and undeserved. Before social media, gaining any substantial audience required producing valuable content. Social media short-circuits this process by creating a collectivist exchange where people will pay attention to you if you pay attention to them, regardless of the quality or value of the content.

  • Dropping off social media for 30 days helps test your audience's reality and your status as a content producer. Only some people will notice they left, showing how unimportant most social media activity is. Social media services are products designed to capture people's information and attention to sell to advertisers.

Here is a summary:

  • Social media and entertainment websites are designed to capture your attention and keep you engaged for as long as possible. They thrive on distraction and idle time.

  • An early 20th-century writer, Arnold Bennett, argued that people should deliberately use their leisure time instead of defaulting to mindless activities. He suggested cultivating hobbies, reading, exercising, socializing, etc.

  • Following Bennett's advice, you should plan how to spend your free time in advance instead of reacting to whatever catches your attention. Structured activities like hobbies, reading, and socializing are good options.

  • While some believe relaxation requires complete freedom, Bennett argued that giving your mind meaningful daily activities increases energy and focus. On the other hand, idle web surfing leaves you drained and distracted.

  • The software company 37signals implemented four-day workweeks in the summer so employees could enjoy the nice weather. Some critics argued that longer workdays would reduce productivity and work-life balance. However, 37signals found that employees accomplished the same amount in four days as in five.

  • In summary, you should avoid defaulting to mindless web surfing and social media in your leisure time. Instead, plan engaging activities like reading, hobbies, and socializing. Giving your mind purposeful things to do throughout the day increases your energy, focus, and ability to do deep work. Reducing idle time and cultivating meaningful leisure activities drains the shallows of distraction and helps you avoid being pulled into the addictive loops of entertainment websites.

  • Jason Fried, CEO of 37signals, implemented a four-day workweek and found that it did not reduce productivity. Employees were able to focus better and avoid distraction, improving work.

  • Fried then gave employees a month off to work on their projects. This led to new ideas and projects that benefited the company.

  • The shallow work that dominates many schedules is less critical than it seems. Eliminating it often has little impact on results but creates more valuable profound work opportunities.

  • However, some shallow work is necessary for most jobs, and deep work is cognitively taxing, limited to around 4 hours a day for most people. The goal should be to limit shallow work, not eliminate it.

  • People need to be better estimators of how they spend their time. Studies show we underestimate time spent on leisure activities like TV and overestimate time spent working or sleeping.

  • Not closely tracking how you spend your time makes it harder to avoid distraction and shallow work. The first strategy to limit shallow work is to schedule every minute of your day and stick to that schedule. This makes you aware of how much time you have and how it is being used.

The key insights are that shallow work should be limited as much as possible to create room for deep work, but some shallow work is still necessary, and we need more awareness of how we spend our time to make the most of the time we have. Scheduling each day in detail is a good first step toward developing that awareness and using your time more deliberately.

The key idea is to schedule every minute of your workday to avoid trivial and shallow activities creeping into your schedule. This forces you to pause and ask what is most important at any given moment. While scheduling every minute may seem extreme, it helps build the habit of thoughtfully allocating your time.

To implement this strategy:

  1. At the start of each day, map out your work hours on a sheet of paper, blocking off time for activities. Assign at least 30 minutes for each block. Include breaks and leisure time.

  2. Revise your schedule throughout the day as needed. Feel free to cross out or redraw blocks. The goal is to maintain control and thoughtfulness over how you spend your time, not rigidly stick to a schedule.

  3. Add extra task time and use overflow blocks for uncertainty to avoid frequent rescheduling. Have alternative uses for overflow blocks in case extra time is not needed.

  4. Include many recurrent blocks throughout the day to handle surprises. Leave time unscheduled.

  5. Allow spontaneity and deviation from your schedule. If a critical insight arises, abandon the rest of your schedule to pursue it. Then rebuild your schedule for the remaining time.

The purpose of this strategy is not to constrain your behavior but to cultivate thoughtfulness. Regularly asking how to spend your time yields benefits, not rigidly following a schedule. With structure, you can ensure time for depth and avoid the shallow. However, abandoning your schedule when needed also allows for insight and creativity.

To determine how much time you spend on shallow work, quantify the depth of each activity. While some tasks are deep or shallow, others are ambiguous. The key is considering the mental effort required and whether or not the work creates lasting value. If the answer is no, consider it shallow. Regularly evaluating activities helps build an accurate assessment of how you spend your time each day.

Here's a summary:

The critical strategy this passage suggests is to quantify the shallowness or depth of your various work tasks by determining how long it would take an intelligent college graduate with no specialized training to learn to do each task. Tasks that would take many months to learn are "deep" tasks that leverage your expertise. Tasks a new graduate could pick up quickly are "shallow."

Once you have analyzed your tasks this way, you should spend more time on the deep tasks. To help achieve this, the author suggests:

You ask your boss (or yourself if self-employed) what percentage of your time should be spent on shallow work. For most knowledge workers, 30-50% is typical. Sticking to this "budget" can help limit shallow work and open more time for deep work.

Having this conversation makes the amount of shallowness in your schedule explicit so you can make targeted changes to reduce it, like dropping unnecessary meetings or not replying quickly to every email. Your boss will likely support these changes once the economic reality is apparent.

For entrepreneurs, this exercise reveals how little time is spent producing value. It provides confidence to say no to opportunities that seem reasonable in isolation but sap much time. Focusing on maximizing the time spent on shallow work within constraints leaves more room for the deep work that really moves the business forward.

Of course, the analysis could reveal nearly 100% of the time is spent on shallow work, indicating a need for significant changes. The key is determining an optimal ratio of shallow to deep work based on your job and priorities, then taking steps to achieve it. Regularly analyzing the depth of your tasks can help ensure you stay on track.

In summary, quantifying the depth of your work and setting budgets and constraints around shallow activities help maximize the time spent on work that matters. The strategies suggested are conversing with your boss or yourself to set shallow work budgets, making targeted changes to reduce shallowness, and gaining confidence to avoid distracting opportunities. Regular analysis ensures optimal balance.

Here is a summary:

  • The author practices "fixed-schedule productivity," defined as fixing a firm goal of not working past a specific time, then working backward to find strategies to satisfy this goal.

  • For the past 5+ years, the author has not worked past 5:30 pm, and rarely works weekends, yet has published 20+ peer-reviewed articles, won two grants, published two books, etc. This contradicts the conventional wisdom that professors must adopt grueling schedules to succeed.

  • The author cites Radhika Nagpal, a computer science professor at Harvard, as an example of someone else who succeeded with fixed-schedule productivity. Nagpal limited herself to 50 hours/week and set limits on shallow work like travel to focus on deep work.

  • The author also limits shallow work, is cautious about saying "yes," provides ambiguous explanations when refusing requests, and carefully manages time to avoid missing deadlines or wasting time.

  • Fixed-schedule productivity leads to success because of it:

  1. Frees up time by reducing shallow work while preserving deep work, allowing more energy for deep work.

  2. It necessitates careful time management and planning to maximize the limited time available.

  • The benefits of fixed-schedule productivity apply to most knowledge work fields. It helps shift to a mindset where shallow work is suspect, the default answer becomes "no," and work is ruthlessly organized and efficient. It can also test assumptions about work culture, e.g., checking email at night is always expected.

In summary, the key ideas are that limiting work hours and shallow obligations frees up time and energy to focus on the deep work that matters and that careful management of limited time amplifies productivity. Challenging conventional wisdom about grueling schedules and work expectations can help make this approach successful.

  • Fixed-schedule productivity is an effective meta-habit that helps focus your attention on deep work. Adopting artificial limits on your workday can make you more successful.

  • Radhika Nagpal is an example of someone who has achieved professional success despite using a fixed schedule. Her research was featured on the cover of Science magazine.

  • Email is a significant source of distraction and shallow work. We have more control over email than we realize.

  • Use "sender filters" to make email senders do more work. This reduces the number of messages in your inbox and resets expectations that you will respond to everything.

  • The author uses a sender filter on his website. It specifies an email for "interesting offers" and says he will only respond to ones that match his schedule and interests. This reduced his inbox volume and obligation to respond.

  • Other examples of sender filters: -- Clay Herbert: People have to go through an FAQ, fill out a survey, and possibly pay a fee before emailing him. This reduces volume and selects for serious inquiries. -- Antonio Centeno: People post questions publicly first. If emailing him, they must check boxes promising no easily Googleable questions, no spam, and to do a good deed if he responds within 23 hours.

  • The notion that all emails deserve a timely response could be more productive. Sender filters help fix this and give control of time and attention back to the recipient.

  • Do more work when sending or replying to emails. Keep emails short and open-ended, referencing prior or future conversations instead of repeating information. This saves a lot of time and mental energy.

Here is a summary of the key points:

  1. Respond to emails strategically using a "process-centric" approach. This means:
  • It identifies the underlying project or task implied by the email.

  • We are determining the most efficient process for completing that project with the fewest emails.

  • It responds with an email outlining that process and the next steps.

  1. Taking the time to craft process-centric emails will save time by reducing unnecessary follow-up emails. It also provides mental relief by "closing the loop" on open projects in your mind.

  2. Don't respond to every email. Apply "professorial" rules to determine which emails require a response:

  • Respond only if the email is straightforward or uninteresting or if something excellent/wrong happens from responding/not responding.

  • There are exceptions, e.g., for important people. However, in general, be more ruthless in deciding not to respond.

  1. Responding to only some emails may be uncomfortable initially, as it breaks the convention that all emails require a reply. However, it can significantly reduce distraction and wasted time.

The key benefits of these strategies are gaining more control over your time and attention, reducing mental clutter, and focusing on high-impact work. The process-centric approach and selective non-response to emails are two concrete ways to move in that direction.

Here is a summary:

  • The author argues that ignoring unimportant emails and not responding to all messages can be beneficial. While some people may initially find this unconventional approach uncomfortable, they will likely adjust their expectations. Focusing on high-impact activities like deep work will lead to greater rewards and productivity.

  • Bill Gates provides an example of the power of deep work. While developing the first version of Microsoft BASIC, Gates worked with intense focus for eight weeks, often working through the night and collapsing from exhaustion. This "prodigious feat of concentration" demonstrated Gates's ability to work deeply and was crucial to completing the software.

  • The author has personally relearned the importance of deep work many times. As a graduate student, deep work allowed him to be very productive while rarely working nights or weekends. When he became a professor, he implemented constraints on his time and improved his ability to work deeply. This allowed his research productivity to increase despite greater demands on his time.

  • The author recommitted to deep work in his third year as a professor. He was writing a book, approaching his tenure review, and wanted to compensate for losing a grant application. He became ruthless in limiting distractions and spent more time working in isolation. He tracked his deep work hours, worked on problems whenever possible, and doubled his academic productivity, publishing nine papers a year while avoiding work in the evenings. The author acknowledges that this level of extreme depth may have been too much but demonstrates the power of deep work.

In summary, the author argues that deep work is an important skill that allows for greater productivity and rewards. The author's experiences and Bill Gates's development of Microsoft BASIC demonstrate how deep work can enable major accomplishments, even under significant time constraints or demands. By tuning out distractions and focusing intensely, deep work allows you to achieve more in less time.

  • Deep work refers to activities performed in a distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

  • Deep work is becoming increasingly rare and valuable in our economy as technology distracts more people from being able to focus. People who can thrive in a deep work state will succeed.

  • To become someone who can do deep work, you must master the ability to learn hard things quickly. This requires embracing a "lens" mindset that focuses your attention and deliberative practice - focused repetition of a skill. The deliberate practice utilizes focused attention and feedback to improve skills.

  • Deep work also helps you produce at an elite level. Productive and influential figures like writer Adam Grant employ deep work to generate high volumes of high-quality work. Doing deep work for extended periods leads to a "flow" state in which you are fully immersed in a task.

  • To thrive in the new economy, you must master skills that AI and automation cannot easily replicate, such as creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and complex problem-solving. It would help if you embraced deep work to build these skills.

  • Successful individuals like Nate Silver, David Heinemeier Hansson, and Adam Grant rely on a small number of powerful tools and techniques to produce valuable work. To emulate them, focus your time and attention on a few things that matter to generate results. Say no to the unnecessary and superficial.

Here is a summary of the sources:

  • E High While Studying Less by Cal Newport discusses techniques to improve focus and productivity.

  • An article by Sophie Leroy examines the challenge of switching between tasks and the resulting "attention residue."

  • Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter and Square, works standing up and has an intense daily routine focused on a few critical tasks.

  • Workplaces with open floor plans, like Facebook and Square headquarters, aim to increase collaboration but can also lead to distraction and reduced productivity.

  • Instant messaging was originally seen as a tool for teenagers but has been adopted by many workplaces. It can improve communication but also serve as an interruption.

  • George Packer and Jonathan Franzen have criticized aspects of social media and the Internet as distracting and damaging to society. Jennifer Weiner disagrees with Franzen's perspective.

  • A study by Market al. found that fragmented work involving frequent task switching can reduce productivity and lead to unfinished tasks or "task residue."

  • An experiment by Tom Cochran found that dealing with email leads to a "request-response" cycle that is hard to escape and reduces the time for more meaningful work.

  • The "h-index" aims to measure the productivity and influence of academics based on their publications and citations. However, productivity is hard to measure for many types of knowledge work.

  • Richard Feynman argued that doing high-quality work in physics requires long stretches of uninterrupted time. Many managers and workers today feel pressured into a counterproductive "busyness" and constant responsiveness.

  • Marissa Mayer's decision as Yahoo CEO to ban working from home aimed to address the concern that remote workers were less productive. But mandatory office work only sometimes improves productivity.

  • Some journalists, like Alissa Rubin of The New York Times, feel pressure to establish a social media presence as part of their jobs, even though the benefits could be more apparent. Neil Postman warned against technology leading to a "surrender of culture."

  • Ric Furrer, a blacksmith, finds meaning in the intensive, skillful work of forging metal by hand. Matthew Crawford argues that "manifesting oneself concretely" through physical work can be deeply satisfying.

  • Sharon Begley summarizes research showing that neural pathways in the brain are strengthened through intensive, prolonged, and repetitive practice of skills. Less intensive superficial thinking provides different benefits. Mastery requires depth.

Here are the summaries:

"This disease wanted to"; and "movies, walks": Page 3 of Rapt mentions "stimuli of moderate intensity— background music, chatting with friends over a glass of wine, strolling through art at a museum, walks in nature, movies" that provide mental breaks.

"Like fingers pointing to the moon": An analogy on page 2 of Rapt comparing words to reality.

"Who you are": The first page of Rapt discusses how the ability to focus reflects "who you are, whom you aspire to be."

"reset button": Page 48 of Rapt describes positive emotions as a "reset button" that can help overcome negativity.

"Rather than continuing to focus": Page 49 of Rapt suggests shifting focus away from negative emotions to more positive ones.

Though Rapt provides a good summary of Barbara Fredrickson's research on positivity (see pages 48–49), more details can be found in Fredrickson's 2009 book Positivity. Laura Carstensen's research was featured in Rapt (see pages 50–51). For more information, see the article "At the Intersection of Emotion and Cognition: Aging and the Positivity Effect."

"concentration so intense": Quote from Flow (page 71) describing the focused state of "flow."

"Five years of reporting": Winifred Gallagher spent five years reporting and writing Rapt (page 13).

"I will choose my targets with care": The author describes her intent to focus more and selectively in Rapt (page 14).

A Psychological Argument for Depth: The experience sampling method, developed by Reed Larson and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is used to study concentration and flow states. More details on this method can be found in their 1983 article "The Experience Sampling Method."

"The best moments usually occur": Quote from Flow (page 3) on the conditions that enable the state of Flow.

"Ironically, jobs are easier to enjoy" and "jobs should be redesigned": quotes from Flow (pages 162 and 157) arguing that jobs should be restructured to enable more Flow.

A Philosophical Argument for Depth: All Things Shining discusses how meaning was more readily available in the premodern world compared to the modern "disenchanted" world (page xi). It examines craftwork as an example of skill and meaning (pages 210 and 209).

"Beautiful code is short and concise": Quote from a video interview on what makes great code.

"We who cut mere stones" and "Within the overall structure": Quotes from The Pragmatic Programmer on finding meaning in work.

Homo Sapiens Deepensis: The final section of the summary imagines a future "focused human" who can strategically apply attention.

Rule #1: This rule recommends limiting distractions and temptations to conserve willpower based on research studies referenced.

Decide on Your Depth Philosophy: These examples show different philosophies on achieving depth and meaning in work, referencing Donald Knuth, Neal Stephenson, Jerry Seinfeld, and others.

Ritualize: This section gives examples of focused rituals and routines from Charles Darwin, Robert Caro, Mason Currey, Friedrich Nietzsche, and others.

Make Grand Gestures: Examples of grand gestures to facilitate deep work from J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Alan Lightman, Michael Pollan, and Peter Shankman.

Don't Work Alone: This section discusses the pros and cons of open office spaces based on references from various articles and research studies. Examples of successful collaborative work environments like Building 20 at MIT are also given.

Here is a summary:

The article "Groupthink" discusses how emphasizing group consensus and harmony can lead to poor decision making and a lack of creativity. The information on Bell Labs's Murray Hill campus shows how an environment optimized for innovation led to the invention of the transistor. A history of the transistor's invention is also provided.

To execute like a business, focus on one goal at a time and measure progress regularly. Setting goals and making specific plans to achieve them is key. Limit distractions and pay attention to important things. Meet frequently to review progress. People work harder when there are concrete targets and ways to track success.

Downtime is essential for recharging and boosting creativity. Idle time provides cognitive benefits. Research shows that time in nature restores depleted attention. Deliberate practice requires rest periods to be most effective.

The Talmud is studied daily, adding up to a lot over time. Multitasking reduces productivity, so avoid it. Take breaks from focusing, not from distractions. Unplugging technology and constant stimulation lead to benefits.

Theodore Roosevelt was very productive by focusing on one thing at a time, whether serving in political roles, writing books, or other pursuits. His time was structured and disciplined.

Memorizing a deck of cards is a powerful mnemonic exercise. Mnemonists use visual imagery, associations, and memory palaces to memorize information. With regular practice, this type of memorization can translate to better memory in daily life.

Baratunde Thurston unplugged from technology for 25 days. He reported feeling less distracted, focused, and closer to friends and family. Many social media users report becoming disillusioned with the platforms over time as the initial novelty and social connections fade. Applying the "law of the vital few" to internet use means focusing on the few most important tools and connections rather than constant distraction and superficial relationships.

In summary, focus, limit distractions, take regular breaks, unplug from technology at times, apply disciplined routines and schedules, set concrete goals to work toward, and spend time connecting deeply with a few high-value people and activities. Productivity depends on rest and rejuvenation as well as hard work. Environment and habits are as important as willpower for achieving an innovative and meaningful life.

Here is a summary of the fundamental principles and supporting information:

Quit Social Media

  • Ryan Nicodemus quit social media and held a "packing party" to celebrate

  • The average Twitter user has 208 followers, although a small number of users with huge followings skews this statistic

  • Social media is designed to be highly entertaining but could be a more productive use of time.

Do not use the Internet to Entertain Yourself.

  • An early 20th-century self-help book argued that people waste much of their leisure time and should use it better.

  • Jason Fried instituted a four-day workweek at his company 37signals to give employees more leisure time, though critics argue this will not work for most companies.

  • Research shows most knowledge workers are only productive for a few hours per day. The four-day week aims to condense work into the most productive periods.

Schedule Every Minute of Your Day

  • People vastly overestimate how much time they spend working and underestimate leisure time.

  • Some productivity experts recommend scheduling each portion of your day to avoid wasting time, though this level of scheduling may be unnecessary and difficult to sustain for most people.

  • Research shows world-class experts in a field must engage in deliberate practice for many hours—up to 4 hours a day, five days a week—to achieve expertise.

Finish Your Work by Five Thirty

  • Concerns about overwork and burnout in demanding jobs like academia are overblown, according to one professor who maintains a fixed schedule.

  • While expectations of overwork persist, much productivity loss comes from inadequate scheduling and time management.

  • Fixed schedules promote better work-life balance and prevent work from expanding to fill the available time.

Become Hard to Reach

  • Constant connectivity via email and messaging is damaging our ability to focus and do meaningful work.

  • Productivity experts recommend filters and limited availability to control information overload from email and reduce distraction.

  • Allowing minor disruptions and unimportant issues to go unaddressed promotes focus on priorities and meaningful work.

The key ideas in the passages are:

  1. Deep work, defined as focused work without distractions, is valuable, rare, and meaningful. It leads to progress and innovation.

  2. "Deep work" applies well to independent workers and creators who can focus on clear goals without obligations to a larger group. Supporters of open offices think chance encounters spur creativity, but deep work is crucial for breakthroughs.

  3. There is a limited amount of attention and mental energy, so it must be conserved. Deep work requires substantial time and effort.

  4. To perform deep work, one must follow specific rules:

  • Work deeply by focusing for long periods without distraction.

  • Embrace boredom by avoiding distraction and spending idle time daydreaming or reflecting.

  • Quit social media and limit internet use. The Internet reduces attention spans and meaningful social interaction.

  • Drain the shallows by limiting shallow work and idle chitchat. Focus on the most critical tasks.

  1. Evidence shows that deliberate practice, which overlaps deep work, is critical to mastery and progress. While social media and multitasking bring minor benefits, deep work is more valuable and impactful.

The key takeaway is that cultivating the ability to do deep work is valuable for productivity, meaning, and innovation. By following certain rules around limiting distraction and focusing your attention, you can train yourself to work more deeply.



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