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Deep Work - Book review

1 October 2019

Dr. Moria Levy

"Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World" was published in 2016 by Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University. Newport introduces a concept he developed during his time as a postdoctoral researcher, emphasizing focused thinking, streamlined processes, and heightened productivity. Supported by explanations, studies, and real-world examples, the book presents ideas that may seem extreme, yet it offers valuable insights and merits consideration.


The book delves into the following key areas:

1. Understanding Deep Work

2. Rules for Effecting Change

3. Planning Deep Work Activities

4. Training for Deep Work

5. Minimizing Social Media Engagement

6. Reducing Shallow Work


In our intricate reality, absolutes are seldom found. While immediate detachment from social media and full adoption of proposed activities might appear drastic, the book encourages reflection and potential implementation at varying levels. I am dedicated to exploring and enriching the domain of deep work, seeking ways to integrate its principles into my approach. Indeed a worthwhile endeavor!



Understanding Deep Work

"Deep Work," the practice of engaging in focused professional activities devoid of distractions, propels cognitive prowess to its limits. This mode not only nurtures creativity and adds value but also enhances skills and resists replication. By inducing the state of "flow," it amplifies productivity and contributes to overall well-being. An environment conducive to deep work, exemplified by practices such as Bill Gates' biannual "thought weeks," is beginning to emerge. In contrast, shallow work—comprising routine, mindless tasks often accompanied by distractions—fails to deliver the transformative impact of deep work.


The significance of deep work is twofold:

1. Flourishing in an information-driven, ever-evolving economy mandates honed learning skills—deep work is their foundational bedrock.

2. The digital age necessitates the creation of substantial value; failure risks obsolescence as technology advances. Swift specialization and the delivery of high-quality, timely output are pivotal.


Author's Argument: Despite the growing demand, deep work practice is diminishing. However, it is a skill attainable by all. To achieve this:

1. Cultivate prolonged concentration without diversions to refine cognitive, creative, and valuable skills. Recognize that multitasking does not equate to success.

2. Embrace feedback for iterative learning, breaking through comfort zones, and nurturing adaptable behaviors.


Rules for Effecting Change


Planning Deep Work Activities

Cultivating the skill of delving deep requires an initial step: acknowledging the value and importance of in-depth work and its pursuit.

The process of integrating deep work into one's routine involves several planning stages:

1. Choosing how to incorporate deep work: This encompasses strategies such as reducing time spent on shallow tasks, establishing fixed intervals for deep work, gradually cultivating deepening habits, seizing opportune moments, and more.

2. Establishing routines for deep work: Crafting schedules for time and location, ensuring an environment conducive to concentration (e.g., closed doors), tracking and evaluating progress, and incorporating supportive elements like a cup of coffee.

3. Creating optimal conditions: Designing an external or psychological environment that fosters and facilitates deep work, rendering it enjoyable.

4. Balancing collaboration: While deep work is usually solitary and requires dedicated spaces (not open offices), occasional collaborative thinking sessions can yield productivity.

5. Treating deep work as a business endeavor: Concentrating solely on vital tasks, gauging advancement, maintaining consistent supervision, and continually refining the process.

6. Embracing strategic idleness: Temporarily setting aside routine duties during deep work to prioritize cognitive rejuvenation. This aligns with point 3 by showing compassion for tasks that may be less appealing.


Avoid excessive exertion; upon completion, disengage completely to allow both the mind and body to rest, nurturing connections with loved ones and family.


Training for Deep Work

Merely adopting deep work falls short; it demands a deliberate decision and a meticulously crafted action plan. Success hinges on active practice and training the mind for effective and sustained implementation. Here are recommendations for such training:

1. Avoid taking breaks due to distractions; schedule breaks within focused work sessions. Allocate specific time for shallow tasks.

2. During concentrated periods, altogether avoid distractions like reading emails or messages.

3. Implement a clear demarcation between periods designated for shallow activities (such as internet browsing) and deep tasks, especially at home.

4. Set ambitious deadlines to stimulate optimal productivity and efficiency.

5. Integrate intervals akin to meditation for your brain—partake in activities like walking, driving, swimming, or showering, while exclusively focusing on a defined professional matter.

6. When distractions arise, remind yourself of your ongoing focus and postpone other matters for later.

7. Break down your professional objectives into constituent components; concentrate on one element at a time.

8. Engage in exercises to enhance memory; incidentally, this also enhances your ability to concentrate.



Minimizing Social Media Engagement

Newport refrains from furnishing a direct definition of social media activity; instead, he implies the encompassing nature of interactions with internet platforms, encompassing actions such as perusing Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other online venues. A more well-rounded option involves pinpointing the factors that demarcate achievement and contentment in both your vocational and personal domains. Embrace social media tools judiciously, weighing the advantages against the disadvantages. Implement a structured strategy to govern their utilization, safeguarding against falling prey to media addiction.


Reducing Shallow Work

Creating favorable conditions for deep work falls short. Endeavors should also be channeled into diminishing shallow work and its draining repercussions. Complete eradication of shallow work is not the objective, as deep work can be mentally taxing, and a certain degree of shallow work remains necessary. Here are several recommendations:

•  Honor your time: Pre-allocate and plan the time allocated to each work type in advance.

•  Dissect activities: Deconstruct each task into its deep and shallow constituents.

•  Evaluate necessity: Ascertain which shallow work can be eliminated. If you have a manager, collaborate with them to pinpoint dispensable tasks.

•  Set daily constraints: Limit the daily work hours, compelling, efficient task completion, and curtail time spent on shallow tasks.

•  Manage emails adeptly: Exercise discernment in addressing emails. Engage in thoughtful correspondence with colleagues, centering on the communication's intent to enhance clarity and brevity. While handling emails, abstain from multitasking to minimize time expenditure.


Committing to deep work isn't merely a philosophical principle; it functions as a pragmatic tool for navigating the evolving professional terrain. Ponder this and make a judicious decision for yourself.

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