Book Notes – Deep Work by Cal Newport

Pretty good read overall – a lot of this is speaking to the choir with me in terms of the idea of working deeply on things, and applying focus. For someone not familiar with the benefits of something like deep work, it makes for a good explanation, and for someone already familiar, it provides some exercises and things to figure out the important things to work on.

By the time I read this, I was already doing a few of these things, like scheduling all of my time on a calendar, and weighing everything on a pro/con list. Some of the exercises (memorizing a deck of cards) seems extreme, and I think you can get a lot of this benefit with the calendar scheduling tactic alone.

I think the main theme I get from this book is the concept of deliberation, or being specific on how you use your time, alongside how you design your lifestyle.

The main thing I’m going to try is to cut down on social media even more than I already do. I already don’t use a lot of social media, but I’m going to try removing it completely for a month or two and see how I feel after.

Importance of Deep Work

We’re in a society that is grabbing shallow attention, and being able to work deeply will become a defining trait that will help make one valuable in the economy.

More focus on high-skilled workers being valuable (especially with automation on the horizon), and talents pools increasing with remote work capabilities.

Learning complex systems quickly is a deep work trait, which will become valuable over time.

Deliberation in Activity Selection

The book describes two approaches when selecting a new tool/process:

To work with this, an exercise is provided to determine those activities:

  1. Identify the main high-level goals in life (family, career, friendships, etc.)
  2. Identify 2-3 most important activities for achieving said goals.

The important activities tend to provide in the 80/20 sense, in that they are much more productive uses of time, and should be focused on. Since your time and energy is a zero-sum game, it makes more sense to put as much time and effort as possible into those activities.

Planning Ahead

The book promotes a methodology of planning ahead, or scheduling every minute of your day (including leisure time) on your calendar which looks something like:

This reinforces the zero-sum idea above, that you can really only do one thing at a time, and doing things bring an opportunity cost for other activities. It’s also recommended to do this with leisure time, meaning you choose ahead of time how you’ll spend your off-time.

Other Points of Interest