The title was so catchy, it grabbed my attention. The importance of focus (sustained attension) does not need any explanation. In Indian context, it is called – “Dhyan”. Dhyan can be applied anywhere – from spirituality or material world. 

Honestly, the book has no revelation. It is more of a reminder. Every successful person consciously or unconsciously does it and we can very well see it / observe it. Cal Newport and scientist whose work has been quoted have done experiments and collected lot of stories to substantiate the points. The first part of the book is emphasize why deep work is essential and how it can change lives. The second part mentions the rules.

One example which anyone can relate to is the night before the exam. One was able to understand the topics which was difficult to grapple in the previous 6 months but easy to understand in some hours that night. The situation involved high stakes. It has all the stress, a kid can imagine. However, in that moment, there was nothing else than the topic and the will to understand it because of the returns expected. The focus amplified if there was insider news that the topic will certainly have a question in the exam!

Many people in the academic field, continue to go through that kind of work but it becomes rare in case of the knowledge worker and due to which the learning acceleration for most becomes slow and career starts to plateau.

Deepwork is important for knowledge workers; in fact, more important because it can provide the much-required differentiation. Deep work has implications everywhere.

The opposite of deep work is shallow work & something in between is flow work.

  • Deep work is of higher complexity, cognitively demanding. During the deep work, one can face a lot of internal resistance from mind and body. Doing this work might not be very interesting too. Only because doing this work will increase the skill, take you to another level and become better in what one does is the reason to get engaged in such exerting task. It is done for a sufficiently long time period.
  • On the contrary, shallow work is not cognitively demanding. Can be done at ease. A good thumb rule to ask yourself : how long (in months) will it take a recent smart graduate to learn to do this task. If its within 2-3 months then it is shallow work.
  • Flow is something in between – slightly higher in complexity, intrinsically rewarding. It is similar to Deep work in terms of being undistracted.

I am summarizing the suggestions into 5 steps to get into deep work as outlined in the book.

  1. The first step is to have a topic which is vital for you. It will create a difference in your life.
  1. Find chunks of time where you can do work un-distracted.
    1. Chunks of time: Need to block either a fixed schedule or whenever possible but sufficiently long i.e. 1 hour or longer.
    2. Un-distracted: you have the environment which minimizes distraction. Phone, notification, alerts out of reach. Headphone / Noise cancellation device etc. Start with a small period of time and gradually increase it. Tea/coffee with you before you enter into this work. Quit social media.
  1. Each time block should have an end goal. You can use Pomodoro timer (an app in your phone).
  1. Track lead measure – i.e. How many hours of deep work every week. Track lag measures – Goal achievement.
  1. Have a visual scoreboard where you can track the hours each week.

Deep work requires focus which is a finite resource with you. You can grow it, but it is fixed at any given time. Between profound work, practice:

  1. Active Restoration Therapy (ART). Walk, do cycling or breathing routines, play with your kid, clean utensils or your almirah. These activities help you gather your thoughts and get prepared.
  2. Meditation / Mindfulness exercise etc.
  3. Write your tasks to make sure the pending tasks doesn’t bother you, unconsciously.

Doing deep work may not be easy given the nature of work you do. So be creative about it.

Some of the suggestions e.g. Shallow work budget, Eudumania machine, Schedule every minute in the book are too radical, atleast to start with are non-essential. I think one must take the learning, adapt to your work and implement in the daily routine to get benefit.