Derek Sivers
Deep Work - by Cal Newport

Deep Work - by Cal Newport

ISBN: 1455586692
Date read: 2016-04-10
How strongly I recommend it: 7/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Crucial subject, dear to me: shutting out distractions for deep productive concentrated work. No huge surprises but great supporting thoughts. I liked the point of considering the downside of the internet, instead of only the positives.

my notes

Deep Work = Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.

These efforts create new value and improve your skill.

Although he had many patients who relied on him, Jung was not shy about taking time off. Deep work, though a burden to prioritize, was crucial for his goal of changing the world.

Neal Stephenson: “If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. If I instead get interrupted a lot, what replaces it? A bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons.”

Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.

Our work culture’s shift toward the shallow is exposing a massive personal opportunity for the few who recognize the potential of resisting this trend and prioritizing depth.

“A succession of mediocre singers does not add up to a single outstanding performance.” In other words, talent is not a commodity you can buy in bulk and combine to reach the needed levels: There’s a premium to being the best.

What deliberate practice actually requires:
(1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master
(2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.

Why deliberate practice works: By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers the wrapping layers of myelin around the neurons in the circuits - effectively cementing the skill. The reason, therefore, why it’s important to focus intensely on the task at hand while avoiding distraction is because this is the only way to isolate the relevant neural circuit enough to trigger useful myelination. By contrast, if you’re trying to learn a complex new skill in a state of low concentration, you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen.

To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.

If you’re comfortable going deep, you’ll be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy. If you instead remain one of the many for whom depth is uncomfortable and distraction ubiquitous, you shouldn’t expect these systems and skills to come easily to you.

Batch hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches.

Grant performs this batching at multiple levels. Within the year, he stacks his teaching into the fall semester, during which he can turn all of his attention to teaching well and being available to his students. Then turns his attention fully to research in the spring and summer, and tackle this work with less distraction. Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods where his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods where he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task.

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

By maximizing his intensity when he works, he maximizes the results he produces per unit of time spent working.

To ask a CEO to spend four hours thinking deeply about a single problem is a waste of what makes him or her valuable. It’s better to hire three smart subordinates to think deeply about the problem and then bring their solutions to the executive for a final decision. This specificity is important because it tells us that if you’re a high-level executive at a major company, you probably don’t need the advice in the pages that follow. On the other hand, it also tells us that you cannot extrapolate the approach of these executives to other jobs.

There are corners of our economy where depth is not valued: executives, salesmen.

Even though you are not aware at the time, the brain responds to distractions.

In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.

Eudaimonia (a state in which you’re achieving your full human potential)


THE EUDAIMONIA MACHINE IS A BUILDING by David Dewane - an architecture professor

A space designed for the sole purpose of enabling the deepest possible deep work. Create a setting where the users can get into a state of deep human flourishing - creating work that’s at the absolute extent of their personal abilities.

The structure is a narrow rectangle made up of five rooms, placed in a line.

You have to pass through one room to get to the next.

First the gallery, to inspire.

Next the salon, to debate, “brood,” and work through the ideas.

Beyond the salon you enter the library.

Next the office space, for low-intensity activity, to complete the shallow efforts required by your project.

The final room: deep work chambers. Each chamber is conceived to be six by ten feet and protected by thick soundproof walls for total focus and uninterrupted work flow. You spend ninety minutes inside, take a ninety-minute break, and repeat two or three times - at which point your brain will have achieved its limit of concentration for the day.

The Eudaimonia Machine exists only as a collection of architectural drawings, but even as a plan, its potential to support impactful work excites Dewane. “This design remains, in my mind, the most interesting piece of architecture I’ve ever produced,” he told me.


Once you accept that deep work is valuable, isn’t it enough to just start doing more of it? People fight desires all day long. The five most common desires fought include eating, sleeping, and sex. But also “taking a break from [hard] work… checking e-mail and social networking sites, surfing the web. You can expect to be bombarded with the desire to do anything but work deeply throughout the day, unless, that is, you’re smart about your habits.

Move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life.

Minimize the amount of willpower necessary to maintain unbroken concentration.

Commit to a particular pattern for scheduling this work and develop rituals to sharpen your concentration before starting each session.

Choose a philosophy that fits your circumstances.

Donald Knuth: “I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration.”

“I learn then digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don’t have time for exhaustive study.”

The monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations. To have a well-defined and highly valued professional goal that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well.

Neal Stephenson: “All of my time and attention are spoken for - several times over. Please do not ask for them.”

Two mutually exclusive options: He can write good novels at a regular rate, or he can answer a lot of individual e-mails and attend conferences, and as a result produce lower-quality novels at a slower rate.

Jung did not deploy a monastic approach only during the periods he spent at his retreat. The rest of Jung’s time was spent in Zurich. He ran a busy clinical practice that often had him seeing patients until late at night; he was an active participant in the Zurich coffeehouse culture; and he gave and attended many lectures.

This philosophy asks that you divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else. During the deep time, act monastically - seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration.

The minimum unit of time for deep work in this philosophy tends to be at least one full day. To put aside a few hours in the morning, for example, is too short to count as a deep work stretch for an adherent of this approach.

Bimodal philosophy is typically deployed by people who cannot succeed in the absence of substantial commitments to non-deep pursuits.

Jung, for example, needed his clinical practice to pay the bills and the Zurich coffeehouse scene to stimulate his thinking.

Adam Grant would, perhaps once or twice a month, take a period of two to four days to become completely monastic. Outside of these deep sessions, Grant remained famously open and accessible.

The rhythmic philosophy: transform deep work sessions into a simple regular habit. He would wake up and start working by five thirty every morning. He would then work until seven thirty, make breakfast, and go to work: “both astronomically productive and guilt free.”

This approach works better with the reality of human nature.

If you’re writing with no one pressuring you to get it done, the habitual nature of the rhythmic philosophy might be necessary to maintain progress.

The journalist philosophy: in which you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule. Journalists are trained to shift into a writing mode on a moment’s notice. Any time he could find some free time, he would switch into a deep work mode and hammer away at his book. He could retreat up to the bedroom for a while, when the rest of us were chilling on the patio or whatever, to work on his book… he’d go up for twenty minutes or an hour, we’d hear the typewriter pounding, then he’d come down as relaxed as the rest of us… the work never seemed to faze him, he just happily went up to work when he had the spare time.

^ This approach is not for the deep work novice.

The single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration. Waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible, terrible plan.

A curious but effective strategy in the world of deep work: the grand gesture. A radical change to your normal environment coupled with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated toward supporting a deep work task.

MIT physicist and award-winning novelist Alan Lightman retreats each summer to a “tiny island” in Maine. The island not only lacked Internet, but didn’t even have phone service. “Recover some silence which is so hard to find.”

Building/ writing cabins: the grand gesture represented in the design and building of the cabin for the sole purpose of enabling better writing.


Clayton Christensen book titled The 4 Disciplines of Execution for successfully implement high-level strategies.

Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important

The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish. Don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial Say ‘yes’ to the ambitious and crowd out everything else.

Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures

Measure your success: lag measures and lead measures. Lag measures describe the thing you’re ultimately trying to improve. they come too late to change your behavior Lead measures measure the new behaviors that will drive success on the lag measures. I used to focus on lag measures, such as papers published per year. These measures, however, lacked influence on my day-to-day behavior because there was nothing I could do in the short term that could immediately generate a noticeable change to this long-term metric. When I shifted to tracking deep work hours, suddenly these measures became relevant.

Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

I kept track of the hours spent in deep work, and taped it to the wall next to my computer monitor (where it couldn’t be ignored), circled the hour where I finished an important milestone. It helped calibrate my expectations for how many hours of deep work were needed per result.

Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability

Weekly review in which you make a plan for the workweek ahead.

Execution is more difficult than strategizing. These basic disciplines seem to work particularly well in conquering this difficulty.


Serious efforts that produce things the world values need the support of a mind regularly released to leisure.

Some decisions are better left to your unconscious.

To actively try to work through these decisions will lead to a worse outcome.

For decisions that require the application of strict rules, the conscious mind must be involved.

For decisions that involve large amounts of information and multiple vague, and perhaps even conflicting, constraints, use your unconscious.

Two groups. One group was asked to take a walk on a wooded path. The other group was sent on a walk through the bustling center of the city. Both groups were then given a concentration-sapping task. The nature group performed up to 20 percent better on the task. Spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.

You can restore your ability to direct your attention if you give this activity a rest.

If you keep interrupting your evening to check e-mail, you’re robbing your directed attention centers of the uninterrupted rest they need for restoration.

Trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day.

Hit your daily deep work capacity during your workday.

You’re beyond the point where you can continue to effectively work deeply.

Once your workday shuts down, you cannot allow even the smallest incursion of professional concerns into your field of attention.

Even a brief intrusion of work can generate a self-reinforcing stream of distraction that impedes the shutdown advantages.

Shutdown ritual: every incomplete task, goal, or project either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right. Sounds cheesy, but it provides a simple cue to your mind that it’s safe to release work-related thoughts for the rest of the day.

Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.

People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy.

Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate.

If every moment of potential boredom is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where it’s not ready for deep work - even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.

An Internet Sabbath cannot by itself cure a distracted brain. If you eat healthy just one day a week, you’re unlikely to lose weight. If you spend just one day a week resisting distraction, you’re unlikely to diminish your brain’s craving for these stimuli, as most of your time is still spent giving in to it.

Instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction.

Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times.

The constant switching from low-stimuli/high-value activities to high-stimuli/low-value activities, at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge, that teaches your mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty.

Keep your self-imposed deadlines right at the edge of feasibility. You should be able to consistently beat the buzzer (or at least be close), but to do so should require teeth-gritting concentration.

These dashes are incompatible with distraction (there’s no way you can give in to distraction and still make your deadlines).

The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally - walking, jogging, driving, showering - and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem.

Structure Your Deep Thinking: careful review of the relevant variables for solving the problem

For example, the main points you want to make in the chapter. Define the specific next-step question you need to answer using these variables. Example “How am I going to effectively open this chapter?,” you now have a specific target for your attention. The final step is to consolidate your gains by reviewing clearly the answer you identified.

Facebook: justifications for their use of the service are surprisingly minor. Facebook added one more entertainment option to many that already existed.

You might reply that value is value: If you can find some extra benefit in using a service like Facebook - even if it’s small - then why not use it? I call this way of thinking the any-benefit mind-set, as it identifies any possible benefit as sufficient justification for using a network tool. This approach ignores all the negatives that come along with the tools.

The craftsman approach to tool selection: Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

Small number of goals for both the personal and professional areas of your life. Once you’ve identified these goals, list for each the two or three most important activities that help you satisfy the goal.

** Using social media for promotion: Imagine that our hypothetical author diligently sends ten individualized tweets a day, five days a week - each of which connects one-on-one with a new potential reader. Now imagine that 50 percent of the people contacted in this manner become loyal fans who will definitely buy the author’s next book. Over the two-year period it might take to write this book, this yields two thousand sales - a modest boost at best in a marketplace where bestseller status requires two or three times more sales per week. The question once again is not whether Twitter offers some benefits, but instead whether it offers enough benefits to offset its drag on your time and attention.

Put more thought into your leisure time.

Schedule every minute of your day.

You’re going to underestimate at first how much time you require for most things.

People tend to use their schedule as an incarnation of wishful thinking.

If I stumble onto an important insight, then this is a perfectly valid reason to ignore the rest of my schedule for the day.

How long would it take (in months) to train a smart recent college graduate with no specialized training in my field to complete this task? This question is meant as a thought experiment (I’m not going to ask you to actually hire a recent college graduate to take over tasks that score low). But the answers it provides will help you objectively quantify the shallowness or depth of various activities.

Bias your time toward depth.

Herbert enforces a small fee you must pay before communicating with him.

Centeno’s sender filter lays out a two-step process. If you have a question, he diverts you to a public location to post it. Centeno thinks it’s wasteful to answer the same questions again and again in private one-on-one conversations.

Interrogative e-mails generate an initial instinct to dash off the quickest possible response that will clear the message - temporarily - out of your inbox. What is the most efficient (in terms of messages generated) process for bringing this project to a successful conclusion?

“I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”