Deep Work

Producing At Your Peak Level With Full Concentration

Reframing the discipline of applied concentration for the millenial digitally distracted age


Deep Work. Book cover.

What Is Deep Work?

Deep Work is a reframing for the millenial digitally distracted age of the good old fashioned discipline of applied concentration.

The phrase "Deep Work" was coined by Cal Newport who is a computer science professor at Georgetown University. He has a background in writing articles and producing materials for students to aid and assist their study process.

Aside from his professional academic work, Newport writes a lot about how digital technology impacts people's capacity for focused attention - in terms of reduced capacity to perform because of the endless digital distractions of the modern workplace and our personal use of smart phones and social media.

In this context Newport positions deep work as:

“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

He has published a popular and well received book on this subject.

His extra-curricular activity in this area  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”

The concept of deep work has been rapidly adopted as a useful counter-measure to the prevailing modern working practices which are inundated with unrewarding and unproductive distractions – leading to overwhelm with  emails, meetings, instant communication, constant connectivity, and social media.



Shallow Work

The counterpoint to deep work is what Newport has framed as "Shallow Work"  and which he defines as work or mental activity that is non-cognitively demanding and that can be performed while distracted.

These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate


Deep Work As An Acquired Competence

Newport argues that the capacity to rapidly mentally get to grips with hard things and the resultant ability to produce at a consistently high-quality level, are core prerequisites for surviving and prospering in the current economy.

“The differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

“To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.”

Newport sees deep work as a competence that can be acquired with practise and application and his book outlines a series of experience based practical tips  on how to do this.


Removing [or Reducing] Digital Distractions

A secondary focus of Newport's approach in "Deep Work" is the application of several practical strategies for removing (or reducing) the digital distractions that erode the quality time needed to develop and benefit from deep work.






Summary - DEEP WORK by Cal Newport






Deep Work - Key Point Book Summary

Samuel Thomas Davies has produced an excellent 15 page book summary which you can review online or download.







Criticisms Of Deep Work

I recently wrote a piece on Elon Musk in which I noted his reflection that:

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.

I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”

“Don’t tell me what you like, tell me what you don’t like.”

Following Musk's observation I have read a number of in-depth reviews of Newport's "Deep Work", all of which had many positive things to say about the book and his approach. I have curated the following perspectives of what  cross-section of reviewers did not like:

Ana Canhoto

  • "The book equates value (and therefore success) with achievements that are directly beneficial to the individual.
  • There is no mention of contributing to the organisation that employs him, for instance by taking up a leadership role.
  • This book is written from a position of privilege. Newport is a straight, white man, with a full-time job at an Ivy League university (and probably from a privileged background, too).
  • The third thing that I do not like in this book is that the vast majority of examples of successful professionals provided in this book are of males.
  • The fourth and final criticism that I have concerns the writing style. In my opinion, the last two chapters are about 30% too long. They get a bit repetitive, and go on and on about the same message"


Kelly Dombroski - The Invisible Gender of Deep Work

  • "Newport Ignores Power Relations  - Some people are able to do longer stretches of deep work more easily than others. These are normally people who have someone to take care of much of the shallow work in their lives.
  • Newport Creates a False Dichotomy - To lump social media in with care-work is really not accurate or helpful.
  • Beyond Deep Work for Men - My point? Well, this style of work is a) familiar to mothers with time-scarcity since we have no choice but to focus intensely in the hours we have away from our children and b) relies on the care-work of others oftentimes — either others taking up administrative loads we cannot meet due to our stretched schedules, or others taking up care-work for a period to free us up.
  • Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge Travis Dombroski for folding all the washing (non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style work that does not produce value) while simultaneously entertaining the three kids (distracted, but perhaps not easily replaced) while I wrote this blog post in bed on a public holiday with the door mostly shut. He also did the dishes and hung out the washing, he adds.  I dedicate this post to Cal Newport’s partner."


Imogen Mathew

  • "Titles like these make me feel uncomfortable and reinforce my reservations about the genre as a whole: in my view, self-help books operate on the assumption of deficiency, they are prescriptive and often read as clumsy attempts to deal with complex problems.
  • Newport’s disdain for social media will not be for everyone, nor his advocacy of a purposefully distant approach to email and administration. He concedes that this type of shallow work is inescapable but urges readers to limit it to the absolute periphery of their schedule.
  • The strategies promoted by Newport may appear to contradict findings from the Thesis Whisperer on academic employability: that to be a successful academic today you need to be as strong in the ‘shallows’ as you are in the deep. And this means using social network tools to connect and engage within the academy and beyond.
  • A far more disturbing element to the book for me was its gender politics. Almost every example featured a male protagonist to illustrate the virtues of deep work. Male scholars provided the primary theoretical ballast to Newport’s argument. I couldn’t help feeling that Newport had imbibed and regurgitated the unhelpful equation that deep work equals brilliance equals male. Women were present on the periphery, stranded in the shallows of Newport’s consciousness."






How Does "Deep Work" Align With The Themes Of This Site?

Here are a number of touch points:





Return to: How To Think





English Chinese (Traditional) Russian French German Italian Spanish Vietnamese


LATEST ARTICLES

  1. The Challenges Of The Road Less Traveled

    Issues You'll Face When Playing The Long Game. The challenges of the road less traveled is loosely based around the phrase popularised by M.Scott Peck with his book "The Road Less Traveled". This arti…

    Read More

  2. How To Benefit From the Unseen Margins - 5 Key Tips For Success

    These Unseen Margins Can Have A Very Dramatic Impact On Your Life. To understand how to benefit from the unseen margins we need to start by understanding what they are and where we find them. In this…

    Read More

  3. The Art Of Thinking Clearly - How To Do More Than Just Survive And Reproduce

    3 Key Tips The art of thinking clearly starts with the sobering realisation that our brains are designed to achieve two things: Survival and Reproduction! 98% of our thinking is unconscious, automatic…

    Read More

  4. Algorithms to Live By - 5 Useful Rules Of Thumb

    5 Useful Heuristics From Algorithms To Live By The thesis of the book "Algorithms to Live By" is that algorithms developed for computers can be used by people in everyday life in a wide range of situa…

    Read More

  5. Finding Signal In The Noise - How To Avoid The Noise Bottleneck

    The Art Of Being Wise Is The Art Of Knowing What To Overlook. We are blessed and cursed to live in the digital age. We have access to more information than we can possibly handle yet we struggle to fi…

    Read More

  6. The Checklist Manifesto - Your Personal Safety Net

    A Checklist Is A Safety Net That Encourages Better Results And Prevents Avoidable Mistakes. The volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correc…

    Read More

  7. How Not To Be Stupid - 4 Key Tips

    How To Avoid The 7 Causes Of Everyday Stupidity. We are all capable of everyday stupidity as we undertake routine tasks in our business and working lives and also in our personal lives. This is not ab…

    Read More

  8. Beginners Mind And The Voice Of Experience

    Only The Experts Survived Evolution. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." These are the famous words of Shunryu Suzuki in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Min…

    Read More

  9. The Art Of Being Alone Is A Skill

    Let's Make Today A Good Day. You may not have chosen the condition of being alone, and it may have been imposed upon you by circumstances beyond your control, but your response to the situation is wit…

    Read More

  10. Intuition & Anxiety - Are There Angels Or Devils Calling Here?

    How To Tell The Difference Between Intuition and Anxiety. How do you know whether the voice of your intuition is real or just the product of your inner anxiety? We all struggle with these inner voices…

    Read More

  11. Like A Prayer - Life Is A Mystery

    It Isn't The Process Of Prayer That’s The Problem, It’s The Way It’s Framed. Regardless of what we feel about Madonna or her song the topic of prayer often arouses strong reactions. Usually, it is som…

    Read More

  12. Fear Of Missing Out - "I'll Have What She's Having!"

    We Follow The Herd - We Mimic Other People's Choices. Fear of missing out - or FOMO as it is popularly referred to - is the feeling that everyone else in your peer group is having much more fun than y…

    Read More

  13. Free - Self Improvement Resources

    Exercising Balance and Discernment. I have just updated these self improvement resources with a number of additional sources of material that are practical and can help you change your life. Check it…

    Read More

  14. Your Higher Self - Your Hardwired Portal To The Universe

    This Is The You That Is Beyond Your Thinking Mind. This is the big you, the transcendent you, the you that is often referred to as your higher consciousness or higher self. This is the you that acts a…

    Read More

  15. The Power Of Gratitude - It's Good For You!

    Gratitude And Attitude Are Not Challenges, They Are Choices. The power of gratitude quite simply is that it is good for you! Many of us were raised by parents who instilled in us the social niceties o…

    Read More

  16. Living With Your Thoughts - 4 Tools To Help You

    Develop A Good Working Relationship With Your Mind. The first step in living with your thoughts is to understand and develop a good working relationship with all areas of your mind. The key to develop…

    Read More

  17. You Are Not Your Thoughts - How To Escape This Ferris Wheel Of Suffering

    The 4 Stages To Dealing With Your Thoughts. You are not your thoughts, at least that's what your rational mind tells you most of the time, but that's definitely not how it feels at 3 am when you have…

    Read More

  18. Finish What You Start - Action Will Destroy Your Procrastination

    4 Key Tips To Help You Finish What You Start. So why do you fail to finish what you start? Or in my case, why do I fail to even get started? There is a wealth of information out there about how to avo…

    Read More

  19. Going The Extra Mile - The Power Of One More

    Life Is Non-Linear, Which Makes The Rewards Of Continued Effort Disproportionately Big. In the pursuit of a long term goal you have to go countless extra miles to set yourself up for a big success. Go…

    Read More

  20. Tao Te Ching - Connecting To Your True Source Of Power.

    How To Be Lived By The Tao. The Tao Te Ching is one of those books that many people read, few understand, and even fewer put into practice. The only way to know the Tao is to experience it, and it is…

    Read More

  21. Dying To Self & Dropping The Ego

    Everything Does Not Revolve Around Me. The two phrases dying to self & dropping the ego are Christian and Buddhist expressions of the same fundamental truth - the need to correct the inbuilt, hardwire…

    Read More

  22. The Confident Mind - 4 Keys To Peak Performance

    Peak Performance Is Meditation In Motion. Peak performance is grounded in the Tao practise of Wu Wei which means "doing with out doing". This is all about how you take action by being so immersed in p…

    Read More

  23. Going With The Flow - The Balance Of Being And Doing

    Steer The Boat Each Day Rather Than Plan Ahead Way Into The Future. Going with the flow is about learning to become comfortable with uncertainty, and learning how to exploit the potential hidden withi…

    Read More

  24. 8 Principles For Success

    A Timeless Foundation On Which To Build Your Success. There are Universal laws and processes that work to support us and guarantee that we achieve all our goals. But first we need to know what they ar…

    Read More

  25. The Loving Father

    A Love That Will Not Let You Go. I had a loving father. I knew that I did, but I never felt it. My father was a good man but very damaged and unable to show his feelings. So I grew up knowing in my he…

    Read More

  26. Your Ebenezer Stone Of Help

    How To Stay Connected To Your True Source Of Power. Approximately 2,500 years ago the Israeli town of Kafr Qasim was close to the site of two battles between the ancient Israelis and their neighbours…

    Read More

  27. The Stockdale Paradox

    How To Deal With The Attrition Factor. The Stockdale Paradox is named after the late James Stockdale, former vice presidential candidate, naval commander and prisoner of war during the American-Vietna…

    Read More

  28. Embrace Your Fear Of Failure And Uncertainty

    We Celebrate Success And Ignore Failure. Numerous studies have been undertaken on successful people to understand what it was that they did to become so successful, how they did it and when they did i…

    Read More

  29. The Wilderness Years - 3 Keys To An Exit

    How You Got Into The Wilderness Matters Less Than The Lessons To Be Learnt There. The wilderness years can be described as any lengthy time, longer than a year, that is spend aimlessly; without an imm…

    Read More

  30. Boredom – Your Greatest Threat to Results

    We Live In A World That Glorifies The Results And Not The Process. We all know what we should be doing, but the trouble with that is that sooner of later we get bored. The enjoyment fades, the excitem…

    Read More



Get new posts by email:









Zen-Tools.Net





Support This Site