Book Notes: Deep Work by Cal Newport

Note: These notes are lightly organized and reflect my own takeaways from this book. They’re captured here for my own purposes. If you should find them useful, great!

Rule #1 - Work Deeply

Depth Philosophy - styles of achieving depth


Make Grand Gestures

Don’t Work Alone

Execute Like a Business

Discipline #1 - Focus on the wildly important.

Discipline #2 - Act on Lead Measures

Discipline #3 - Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

Discipline #4 - Create a Cadence of Accountability

Be Lazy

Rule #2 - Embrace Boredom

Boredom is directly related to ability to focus for long periods of time. Distractions, e.g. smartphones, reduce our capacity to be focused because they force stimulation. Focus is not strictly stimulating.

Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead take breaks from focus.

Work Like Teddy Roosevelt

Meditate Productively

Memorize a Deck of Cards

Rule #3 - Quit Social Media

The perceived value of social media is not nearly as deep or meaningful as they’d have us believe. For example - liking a Facebook post is not a replacement for having dinner and conversation with that same person. - Consider: “Any benefit approach” - “If X tool provides any benefit at all, it is worth using.” - This is obviously false, especially with things that consume our attention and willpower. - This is where social media pretty much categorically falls. - Consider: “craftsman approach” - “A tool is worth using only if its benefits substantially outweigh the negative impacts.”

Apply the Law of the Vital Few to Your Internet Habits

The Law of the Vital Few

Quitting Social Media

Don’t Use the Internet to Entertain Yourself

Rule #4 - Drain the Shallows

Schedule Every Minute of Your Day

Quantify the Depth of Every Activity

Ask for a Shallow Work Budget

Finish Work by Five Thirty

Become Hard to Reach

  1. Make People Who Send You Email Do More Work
    • Provide people options for contact with clear expectations.
      • e.g. “Shoot an email here if you have something you think I’d find interesting. I guarantee no response unless I am specifically interested in engaging with you about the topic or opportunity.”
    • “sender filter” - This helps the sender understand they should only send you something they truly feel you’d be interested in.
      • “Most people easily accept the idea that you have a right to control you own incoming communication as they would like to enjoy the same right. More importantly, people appreciate clarity.”
  2. Do More Work When You Send or Reply to Emails
    • Avoid productivity land mines
      • e.g. “Great to meet you last week. Do you want to grab coffee?”
      • They prey on your desire to be helpful and you dash off a quick response. In the short term, feels productive, but in the long term, it just adds a lot of extra noise.
    • Best to consider these messages with requests in them as: “What is the project represented by this message, and what is the most efficient (in terms of messages generated) process for bringing this project to a successful conclusion?”
    • Better response to request for coffee would be process centric, taking the time to describe the process you identified in the message, points out the current step, and emphasizes the next step.
      • e.g. to meet up, specify a place and a couple of times that you’re available to meet. Provide an out in case the details conflict.
    • Process centric email closes the loop and removes it from mental foreground. “You’ve dealt with it, next thing.”
  3. Don’t Respond
  4. “It’s the sender’s responsibility to convince the receiver that a reply is worthwhile.”
  5. Simple rules to “Professorial Email Sorting”
    • 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.
  6. This can be an uncomfortable practice due to common conventions around email with expecting replies. There are also exceptions - e.g. your boss emails you.
  7. “Develop the habit of letting small bad things happen. If you don’t, you’ll never find time for the truly life-changing big things.”
  8. People are adaptable. If they realize you only respond to requests relevant to your interests then they’ll adjust.
    Posted on: 2019-07-24
    Tagged as: books, notes