Alex Preston / bookshelf

Deep Work by Cal Newport


  • Jason Benn’s story highlights a crucial lesson: Deep work is not some nostalgic affectation of writers and early-twentieth-century philosophers. It’s instead a skill that has great value today.
  • To succeed you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing—a task that requires depth.
  • On the other hand, my commitment to depth has rewarded me. In the ten-year period following my college graduation, I published four books, earned a PhD, wrote peer-reviewed academic papers at a high rate, and was hired as a tenure-track professor at Georgetown University. I maintained this voluminous production while rarely working past five or six p.m. during the workweek.
  • More generally, the lack of distraction in my life tones down that background hum of nervous mental energy that seems to increasingly pervade people’s daily lives.
  • The ubiquity of deep work among influential individuals is important to emphasize because it stands in sharp contrast to the behavior of most modern knowledge workers—a group that’s rapidly forgetting the value of going deep.
  • I’ll try to convince you to join me in the effort to build our own personal Bollingen Towers; to cultivate an ability to produce real value in an increasingly distracted world; and to recognize a truth embraced by the most productive and important personalities of generations past: A deep life is a good life.

Chapter 1: Deep Work is Valuable

  • In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital.
  • Its core components are usually identified as follows: (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.
  • By contrast, if you’re trying to learn a complex new skill (say, SQL database management) in a state of low concentration (perhaps you also have your Facebook feed open), 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. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work. If you’re comfortable going deep, you’ll be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy.
  • The problem this research identifies with this work strategy is that when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task. This residue gets especially thick if your work on Task A was unbounded and of low intensity before you switched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while.
  • It’s not the distraction that is devastating to your productivity. Taking breaks is fine in moderation. It is the residue from the break that is detrimental.
  • This residue gets especially thick if your work on Task A was unbounded and of low intensity before you switched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while.
  • To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.
  • Unless your talent and skills absolutely dwarf those of your competition, the deep workers among them will outproduce you.
  • By reducing the need to make decisions about deep work moment by moment, I can preserve more mental energy for the deep thinking itself.

Chapter 2: Deep Work is Rare

  • Deep work should be a priority in today’s business climate. But it’s not. I’ve just summarized various explanations for this paradox. Among them are the realities that deep work is hard and shallow work is easier, that in the absence of clear goals for your job, the visible busyness that surrounds shallow work becomes self-preserving, and that our culture has developed a belief that if a behavior relates to “the Internet,” then it’s good—regardless of its impact on our ability to produce valuable things.

Chapter 3: Deep work is meaningful

  • deep work can generate as much satisfaction in an information economy as it so clearly does in a craft economy.
  • a deep life is not just economically lucrative, but also a life well lived.
  • they were instead happier because they had rewired their brains to ignore the negative and savor the positive. By skillfully managing their attention, they improved their world without changing anything concrete about it.
  • There’s a gravity and sense of importance inherent in deep work—whether you’re Ric Furrer smithing a sword or a computer programmer optimizing an algorithm.
  • Gallagher’s theory, therefore, predicts that if you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance.
  • A workday driven by the shallow, from a neurological perspective, is likely to be a draining and upsetting day, even if most of the shallow things that capture your attention seem harmless or fun.
  • When measured empirically, people were happier at work and less happy relaxing than they suspected. And as the ESM studies confirmed, the more such flow experiences that occur in a given week, the higher the subject’s life satisfaction. Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.
  • The connection between deep work and flow should be clear: Deep work is an activity well suited to generate a flow state (the phrases used by Csikszentmihalyi to describe what generates flow include notions of stretching your mind to its limits, concentrating, and losing yourself in an activity—all of which also describe deep work). And as we just learned, flow generates happiness.
  • To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.
  • Any pursuit—be it physical or cognitive—that supports high levels of skill can also generate a sense of sacredness.
  • It follows that to embrace deep work in your own career, and to direct it toward cultivating your skill, is an effort that can transform a knowledge work job from a distracted, draining obligation into something satisfying—a portal to a world full of shining, wondrous things.

Rule #1: Work Deeply

  • again—there’s no way to win a Pulitzer Prize or conceive a grand theory without pushing your brain to its limit.
  • To put yourself in an exotic location to focus on a project puts the task at a level of mental priority that helps unlock the needed mental resources.
  • The key is to maintain both in a hub-and-spoke-style arrangement: Expose yourself to ideas in hubs on a regular basis, but maintain a spoke in which to work deeply on what you encounter.
  • Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets… it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
  • At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning—If you need more time, then extend your workday.
  • This study, it turns out, is one of many that validate attention restoration theory (ART), which claims that spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.
  • To concentrate requires what ART calls directed attention. This resource is finite: If you exhaust it, you’ll struggle to concentrate.
  • Walking in nature provides such a mental respite, but so, too, can any number of relaxing activities so long as they provide similar “inherently fascinating stimuli” and freedom from directed concentration.
  • Decades of work from multiple different subfields within psychology all point toward the conclusion that regularly resting your brain improves the quality of your deep work. When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done.

Rule #2: Embrace Boredom

  • The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.
  • There is, however, an important corollary to this idea: Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction. Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions, you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom.
  • To simply wait and be bored has become a novel experience in modern life, but from the perspective of concentration training, it’s incredibly valuable.
  • The simple strategy proposed here of scheduling Internet blocks goes a long way toward helping you regain this attention autonomy.
  • 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.
  • In my experience, productive meditation builds on both of the key ideas introduced at the beginning of this rule. By forcing you to resist distraction and return your attention repeatedly to a well-defined problem, it helps strengthen your distraction-resisting muscles, and by forcing you to push your focus deeper and deeper on a single problem, it sharpens your concentration.
  • The key to this strategy is not the specifics, but instead the motivating idea that your ability to concentrate is only as strong as your commitment to train it.

Rul #3: Quit Social Media

  • To return to where we started, for Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, and George Packer, Twitter doesn’t support the 20 percent of activities that generate the bulk of the success in their writing careers.
  • To summarize, if you want to eliminate the addictive pull of entertainment sites on your time and attention, give your brain a quality alternative. Not only will this preserve your ability to resist distraction and concentrate, but you might even fulfill Arnold Bennett’s ambitious goal of experiencing, perhaps for the first time, what it means to live, and not just exist.

Rule #4: Drain The Shallows

  • We spend much of our day on autopilot—not giving much thought to what we’re doing with our time.
  • Decide in advance what you’re going to do with every minute of your workday. It’s natural, at first, to resist this idea, as it’s undoubtedly easier to continue to allow the twin forces of internal whim and external requests to drive your schedule. But you must overcome this distrust of structure if you want to approach your true potential as someone who creates things that matter.
  • 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?
  • Professorial E-mail Sorting: Do not reply to an e-mail message if any of the following applies: • It’s ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response. • It’s not a question or proposal that interests you. • Nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t.


  • Gates worked with such intensity for such lengths during this two-month stretch that he would often collapse into sleep on his keyboard in the middle of writing a line of code. He would then sleep for an hour or two, wake up, and pick up right where he left off.
  • A commitment to deep work is not a moral stance and it’s not a philosophical statement—it is instead a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.
  • Deep work is important, in other words, not because distraction is evil, but because it enabled Bill Gates to start a billion-dollar industry in less than a semester.
  • To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few, I’m arguing, is a transformative experience.
  • But if you’re willing to sidestep these comforts and fears, and instead struggle to deploy your mind to its fullest capacity to create things that matter, then you’ll discover, as others have before you, that depth generates a life rich with productivity and meaning.