Cal Newport

Finding Focus In An Age Of Digital Distraction

The Deliberate Cultivation Of Attention Management Skills


Cal Newport - Introduction and Overview

Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University, who in addition to his academic research writes about the intersection of digital technology and culture:

"I’m particularly interested in our struggle to deploy these tools in ways that support instead of subvert the things we care about in both our personal and professional lives."

The overarching themes of his work can be summarised as:


  1. Finding focus in an age of digital distraction and cultivating digital minimalism.
  2. The deliberate cultivation of attention-management skills.
  3. The practice of “deep work”

Deep Work

Deep work is the ability to perform activities in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.

Deep Work is done without the constant autonomous checks that most of us do throughout our day: checking email; a quick look at the phone, and the too frequent indulgence of sneaking a peak at social media.

“We know from the research and experience that these quick checks actually significantly reduce your cognitive capacity…

Deep work is a trainable skill.

Most people think about intense concentration like a habit, like flossing their teeth, something they know how to do; they really just need to make some more time to do it.

The reality is it’s much more like a skill, like playing the guitar [i.e. …if you haven’t been practicing, you won’t be very good at it.]"

Cal Newport describes his formula for success as:

“You need to do less, and do what you do better...”




    Outcome Achieved = Time Spent x Intensity of Focus  







He summarises his current ideas as:

The Deep Work Hypothesis

Cal Newport believes that the ability to focus intensely without interruption or distraction on a cognitively demanding task is increasingly rare. Yet, in his view, it is becoming increasingly valuable in the knowledge sector.

As a result, those individuals and organizations who put in the hard work to cultivate this skill will thrive.








Digital Minimalism

In Cal Newport's view:

"The services delivered through your devices have become so alluring and addictive that they can significantly erode the quality of your life and your sense of autonomy.

My solution is a philosophy I call digital minimalism, which argues that you should radically reduce the time you spend online, focusing on a small number of activities chosen because they support things you deeply value, and then happily miss out on everything else








Attention Capital Theory [A World Without Email]

"In modern knowledge work, the primary capital resource is human brains; or, more specifically, these brains’ ability to create new value through sustained attention.

At the moment, most individuals and organizations are terrible at optimizing this resource, prioritizing instead the convenience and flexibility of persistent, unstructured messaging (e.g.,  email and IM).

I predict that as this sector evolves, we’ll get better at optimizing attention capital, and accordingly leave behind our current culture of communication overload."








Cal Newport has written 7 books:

...and a blog called: Study Hacks








The Significance & Importance Of Cal Newport's Work

Cal Newport is a millenial with a counter-cultural/counter-generational message:

  • Re-framing the old skills of focused and sustained attention  and
  • Reducing - if not eliminating - your reliance [addiction?] to digital distraction

We have discussed at length on this site the way in which Elon Musk and Charlie Munger advocate and use mental models and the full range of critical thinking skills.

Cal Newport's unique contribution is to add tools and resources to  enable you to apply these thinking skills.

Truly inspirational people are those who breath life into something specific and in such a way that we are moved to take action on it.

By this criteria Cal Newport qualifies for inclusion on this site as an inspirational person.

Further Reading: Deep Work






Return to: Inspirational People

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