I read through “Deep Work” by Cal Newport this weekend. Admittedly, most of it was a skim as I didn’t need the hard sell that deep, focused work for extended periods of time is the best way to get real, valuable things accomplished. For anyone that has been stuck in shallow work for their career, that stuff is probably really eye-opening.
For me, the second half is where I found the most value. That’s where the practical application advice lives and I took a fair number of notes as I worked my way through it. I’ve included them all below, in case they might be of use to someone else.
For now, I’ve started with getting up significantly earlier and spending the first couple of hours of the day in what I’m terming “deep work”. For me, that means solid time focused, without distractions from family or the internet. The work itself may not be particularly deep, but it will definitely move things forward in the work I’m doing as well as clear the way ahead for deep work to come.
I’ve set down some clarified professional and personal goals, as well as what activities will help me work toward reaching them.
I’m now assessing my network tools to see if any culling can be done. It’s possible that the focus and increased discipline I’m developing will be enough for now.
I’m also working with the questions: What does “deep work” mean to me and what does “shallow work” mean as well?
Deep Work notes
Be patient. It will take time to develop this as a skill.
Deep work pushes you cognitively to your limits. Fatigue is inevitable if you don’t train it like a muscle.
- Where you’ll work and for how long
You don’t want an open-ended slog.
- How you’ll work once you start
Setting a metric (words written, feature complete, etc) can be helpful.
- How you’ll support your work
Be organized and ensure the environment and tools you need are readily available.
Experiment with the ritual if it’s not working. It’s a big deal to develop deep work.
Sometimes grand gestures (renting a hotel room) can help.
Focus on the wildly important goals. Use a weekly review to keep yourself accountable.
Do a formal shut down of work at the end of the day.
- Downtime aids insights
- Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply
- The work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important
Shutdown should include setting up a list of the next day’s tasks.
The ability to concentrate deeply is a skill that must be trained.
Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead take breaks from focus.
Schedule in advance when you’ll use the internet (social media, entertainment, etc).
1. This strategy works even if your job requires lots of internet use.
2. Regardless of how you schedule internet blocks, you must keep the time outside them internet-free.
3. Scheduling internet use at home as well as work can improve your concentration training.
You must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli.
Working like Roosevelt
High intensity bursts of focus can help you accomplish a lot. Set a timer.
Start with once or twice a week and use a specific goal and deadline.
Walking to focus on a single deep problem or task.
Act mindfully but instead of clearing your thoughts, keep them focused singularly.
Once or twice a week for this at first.
Be wary of distraction and looping thoughts.
Stretches your deep thinking.
Quit social media
The craftsman approach to tool selection:
Identify the core function that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.
Apply the law of the vital few to your internet habits.
- Identify the main high-level goals in your professional and personal life. These goals should not be overly specific.
- For each goal, list the top two or three most important activities that help you satisfy the goal. These can be more specific, but should not be one-time activities.
- Consider the network tools you use. Ask if each has a substantially positive, substantially negative, or little impact on your activities.
- Keep the tool only if it has positives that outweigh its negatives.
The Law of the Vital Few:
In many settings, 80% of a given effect is down to just 20% of the possible causes.
Stop using services for 30 days then ask:
1. Would the last month be better if I had used the service?
2. Did people care if I was using it?
If no to both, then quit using it.
Don’t use the internet to entertain yourself. Put thought into your leisure time.
Drain the shallows
Deep work should be built up. An hour or two, but likely no more than 4, with the remainder for more shallow tasks.
Schedule your day by blocks of time and adjust as needed. This isn’t about constraint, but thoughtfulness.
Quantify the depth of every activity.
Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much value in teh world and are easy to replicate.
How long would it take (in months) to train a smart recent college grad with no special training in my field to complete this task?
Create a shallow work budget
How much time (by percentage) should be spent on shallow work?
30-50% in general.
Be conscious about accepting new obligations.
Become hard to reach after hours and during blocks of deep work.