Book Summary: Deep Work by Cal Newport

Book Cover for Deep Work by Cal Newport

This summary of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is split into two parts. The first half sets out the theory: what is deep work and why should you care? The second half highlights some of the key techniques to help you do more deep work.

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Key Takeaways from Deep Work

  • What is deep work?
    • Deep work is work that pushes you to your limits and requires long, uninterrupted periods of concentration.
    • There’s much overlap between deep work and deliberate practice.
    • Shallow work by contrast consists of logistical-style tasks that are not mentally demanding and can be done while distracted.
  • Why should you care about deep work?
    • Deep work is rare because in most knowledge work, people prioritise responsiveness and busyness (where it’s easy to show value) over long-term value (which is harder to show).
    • It is becoming increasingly valuable as our world rewards (1) those who can work well with machines and (2) those who can produce at an elite level. Deep work helps with both of these.
    • Deep work is also meaningful and rewarding.
  • We can incorporate deep work into our lives in different ways. While some are drastic (e.g. not having an email at all), there are alternatives that fit deep work into a more “normal” life.
  • Newport sets out a variety of practical suggestions to incorporate deep work into your life. Key ones include:
    • Time-blocking (schedule every minute of your day).
    • Set a clear stopping time for your work and enforce it with a shutdown ritual.
    • Train your concentration by embracing boredom and resisting the urge to seek distractions online.
    • Be more picky in your use of social media tools, such as by trying a 30-day social media ban.

Detailed Summary of Deep Work

Like the book itself, this summary is divided into two parts: the theory and the practice.

The first part of the book explains what deep work is and why you should care about it. Newport lays out a Deep Work Hypothesis, which states that deep work is becoming increasingly rare at the same time it’s becoming increasingly valuable, so there are massive economic opportunities for those who successfully prioritise it. In addition, he argues that deep work is meaningful and intrinsically rewarding.

The Theory: What is deep work and why should you care?

Deep work is basically work that requires long, uninterrupted periods of concentration and pushes you to your limits. Newport’s precise definition is:

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.

Deep work can be contrasted with shallow work, which Newport defines as:

Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

One way to check whether a task is shallow or deep is to ask how long it would take (in months) to train a smart recent college graduate with no specialised training in your field to complete this task. If the answer is just a month or two, the task is likely shallow.

Deliberate practice

Throughout the book, Newport uses “deliberate practice” as a proxy for “deep work”, because mastering a cognitively demanding tasks usually requires this type of practice.

One of the core components of deliberate practice is that it focuses your attention tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or idea you’re trying to master. At the neurological level, the intense focus forces the relevant circuit to fire repeatedly in isolation, locking in the skill. You simply cannot do this if distracted. When you’re distracted, many circuits fire at the same time, so the circuit you actually want to strengthen cannot be isolated.

Deep work is rare

Deep work is rare because of the Principle of Least Resistance:

In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.
— Cal Newport in Deep Work

Not doing deep work is easier in the short-term because concentration and planning is uncomfortable:

  • Being responsive feels easier in the moment because it allows people to get answers to questions immediately.
  • Running your day out of your inbox is easier than planning and being thoughtful about what you should be working on and for how long.
  • Recurring meetings force people to take action on a project each week, which may be easier than actually trying to manage your own time and obligations.

This is exacerbated by our “culture of connectivity”, where open offices, email and social media prioritise responsiveness over long-term quality output. For knowledge workers, meetings and email responses are visible, public signs of “busyness”. It’s easier to demonstrate your value by being responsive than by producing quality work.

Newport doesn’t debate whether these shifts away from deep work are “good” or “bad” — his point is simply that these shifts have made deep work more valuable.

Open offices vs Hub-and-Spoke buildings

One of the rationales for open office plans is to increase collaboration and increase the chance of serendipitous encounters that lead to it. However, open offices are full of distractions, making it impossible for most to perform deep work.

Newport argues that a hub-and-spoke building design is much more conducive to both serendipitous encounters and isolated deep thinking. Under a hub-and-spoke design, many small, soundproofed offices connect to large common areas. The key is it tries to optimise the two separately, instead of mixing them together.

A “spoke” may contain more than one person. That is, it’s possible to do deep work with others. Having another person holding you accountable and waiting for your next insight can actually motivate you to pursue depth.

Deep work is valuable

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.
— Cal Newport in Deep Work
Deep work helps you remain relevant in the face of technological disruption

As technology reduces the need for workers in many industries, those who manage to remain valuable can reap substantial rewards. MIT economists, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee identified 2 types of workers that stand to benefit the most from technological disruptions in the labour market:

  1. High-Skilled Workers. These are people who can work with, and get valuable results from, increasingly complex machines. For example, Nate Silver is highly skilled in mathematical modelling.
  2. Superstars. As technology transforms local talent markets into global ones, there’ll be more “winner-take-all” markets. The very best will earn outsized returns, even if they’re not that much better than the second-best options.
Hearing a succession of mediocre singles does not add up to a single outstanding performance.
— Sherwin Rosen, economist

To become highly-skilled or a superstar, you must be able to master hard things quickly and produce at an elite level. Newport argues that these abilities require deep work.

Deep work reduces attention residue and leads to higher performance

Sophie Leroy, a business professor, found that when you switch from one task to another, your attention doesn’t immediately follow. Some “attention residue” remains stuck thinking about the first task. This leads you to perform poorly on your next task. [This seems similar to the idea of context-switching.]

Focusing on one task for a long time without switching helps maximise performance by minimising the costs of attention residue.

But not all roles require depth

That being said, not all roles require deep work and it’s certainly possible to succeed without it.

For example, distraction is unavoidable for high-level executive management positions. Their job is to make lots of decisions, and they don’t have the time to think deeply about each one — it’s far more efficient to delegate that deep thinking to smart subordinates. Similarly, for salesmen and lobbyists, constant connection and availability may be more valuable than the ability to block out distractions.

But the niches where deep work is are increasingly rare, and you shouldn’t be too quick to conclude that your job is necessarily “shallow”, simply because it’s hard to fit deep work in your current schedule.

Deep work is meaningful

Managing your attention is the key to improving your experience and your happiness. For example, despite receiving a cancer diagnosis, Winifred Gallagher found her life was actually quite pleasant. During that period, she focused on good things in her life—“movies, walks, and a 6:30 martini”.

Deep work effectively monopolises your attention, leaving little left over to focus on the petty and unpleasant problems. Put another way, “the idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. (Occupying your idle mind with your inbox isn’t any better, either, as it’s likely full of petty problems too.)

Contrary to conventional wisdom that relaxation makes us happy, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on “flow” found that the best moments of life usually occur when your mind or body is (voluntarily) stretched to its limits to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Deep work is an activity well-suited to generate flow. Many jobs naturally have challenges, goals, and feedback — conditions ideal for flow. Free time, by contrast, is unstructured and requires more effort to feel rewarding.

That said, the deep life is not for everybody — many find comfort in the artificial busyness of rapid email and social media. Trying to produce the very best things you’re capable of can also create a sense of unease as it forces you to confront the possibility that your best is not (yet) that good. But deep work is very valuable and rewarding for those that make it work.

The Practice: How to do more deep work?

Even if you accept that deep work is valuable and meaningful, it’s not simply a matter of forcing yourself to do more of it. We frequently underestimate the strength of the urge to turn towards an immediately gratifying distraction and willpower is limited. Therefore the key is to establish routines and rituals that make deep work easier, instead of relying on willpower.

Four different deep work philosophies

There are various ways you can incorporate deep work into your life. Four ways that Newport has seen work well are:

  1. Monastic philosophy. This approach drastically minimises your shallow obligations by disconnecting from the world almost completely. For example, Donald Knuth, a world-renowned computer scientist, doesn’t use email at all.
  2. Bimodal philosophy. This is where you sometimes live a normal, hyperconnected life and sometimes disconnect completely. For example, Carl Jung usually lived a “normal” connected life, but would occasionally retreat to a small town, lock himself in a room, and write for days or weeks. Adam Grant, a Wharton professor, similarly stacks his courses into one semester so that he could focus the other on deep work. You can do this on a smaller scale, too — e.g. dedicate half the week to deep work and the rest to open time.
  3. Rhythmic philosophy. Deep work sessions become a regular habit under the rhythmic philosophy. For example, Brian Chappell, a busy father with a full-time job does deep work on his doctoral dissertation by carving out 2.5 hours every morning before work. To help establish such a habit, you can try ticking off a calendar or using the same start time each day. [See Tiny Habits and Atomic Habits for more advice on building habits.]
  4. Journalistic philosophy. Fit deep work into your schedule wherever you can. Like a journalist, you must shift to “writing mode” very quickly. This is Newport’s main approach to incorporating deep work into his life.

The monastic approach may be too difficult for most and Newport does not recommend the journalistic one for novices. Bimodal and rhythmic are likely more viable — people usually respect your right to disconnect if these periods are well-defined and well-advertised. Which one worksbetter for you may come down to your self-control.


Working out what you need to achieve is one thing; execution is another. Newport credits a book called The 4 Disciplines of Execution for helping him execute on his goal of working more deeply.

In short, the 4 disciplines are:

  1. Focus on the wildly important. Identify a small number of wildly important goals to pursue with your deep work time.
  2. Act on the lead measures. Lagging measures directly assess what you’re trying to improve, while lead measures look at the behaviours that will drive success. Lagging measures are what you ultimately care about, but they come too late to change your behaviour in the moment so it’s better to focus on lead measures day-to-day. For example, how many hours of time you’re spending on deep work towards your goal is a lead measure; the number of papers you publish each year is a lagging measure.
  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard. A physical scoreboard that tracks your lead measures can increase motivation. This could be a calendar you check off or a simple handwritten tally. You can also record milestones alongside that tally.
  4. Create a cadence of accountability. Build in a weekly review to look over your scoreboard. Celebrate good weeks and troubleshoot bad ones. If you’re working in a team, you could set up regular meetings where team members confront their personal scoreboards.


When we spend the bulk of our days on autopilot, it’s hard to prevent trivial things from creeping into our schedules. Most people spend far more time watching TV and doing “shallow” work or activities than they realise.

To remedy this, Newport suggests you should schedule every minute of your day (“time-block”):

  1. Get a notebook dedicated to this. [Newport now sells a time-block planner just for this].
  2. At the beginning of each workday, turn to a new page and divide the hours of your workday into blocks of at least 30 minutes.
  3. Assign activities to each block — e.g. deep work, shallow work, lunch and relaxation. You can batch a bunch of similar small things into more generic task blocks (you can list out all the small tasks you plan to accomplish in that block to the right-hand side of the page, if you wish).

Many worry that this level of scheduling is too extreme and burdensome. But the goal is not to constrain your behaviour into a rigid plan — it’s to treat your time with respect and make you more thoughtful about how you spend it.

… 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.
— Cal Newport in Deep Work

Newport himself builds in time for speculative thinking and discussion. He also has a rule that if he stumbles onto an important insight, he can ignore his schedule for the rest of the day and stick with the insight until it loses steam.


When you start scheduling, you’ll likely find your plans interrupted and new obligations turn up. This is fine. Just take some time when you can to revise it for the rest of the day.

Even if you have to revise your schedule many times in one day, you haven’t “failed”. The goal isn’t to stick to a schedule, but to be thoughtful about how you spend your time going forward.

Inaccurate estimates

Another problem is that people almost always underestimate how much time they need for tasks, putting down an estimate that is more wishful thinking than realistic.

One way to mitigate this is by using overflow conditional blocks. If you’re not sure how long an activity might take, block off the expected time, then add an overflow block after it. The overflow block has a split purpose: if you need more time for the first activity, use the overflow block for it; if you’ve finished the first activity, you’ll have some non-urgent tasks already lined up.

Find the balance between deep and shallow work

Although Newport believes deep work is vastly more valuable than shallow work, the fact is most jobs require a nontrivial amount of shallow work. And, on a practical note, deep work is exhausting because it pushes you to your limits. A novice can only handle about an hour of intense concentration per day. Experts can do better — up to four hours, but rarely more.

Newport recommends spending no more than 30-50% of your time on shallow work. If you have a boss, you may have to talk to them and show them a record of your time spent on deep work vs shallow work to get their buy-in. While most bosses don’t want their staff spending all their time on shallow work, it may be different for entry-level employees, who are expected to be more responsive. So you may have to wait until you’ve built up enough skills to demand more freedom to do deep work. [Newport elaborates on this idea of building career capital to demand more autonomy in So Good They Can’t Ignore You.]

Shutdown and downtime

Deep work does not mean spending more time on work. It’s about doing more valuable work, with greater intensity, during the hours you already work. But to be able to have the energy and focus to do deep work, you need to shutdown properly and have downtime.

Fixed-schedule productivity

As a rule, Newport does not work after 5:30pm and rarely works weekends. This is unusual for professors, who are notorious for working long hour. He calls this a commitment to fixed-schedule productivity and believes that it’s one of the best ways to focus more on deep work.

Newport believes that much of his fellow professors’ excessive hours are self-imposed. They say “yes” to too many projects, especially those that create lots of shallow work. Richard Feynman by contrast tells everyone he’s “irresponsible” so he doesn’t get asked to sit on committees or do other administrative tasks.

If you’re not Richard Feynman, you may find it easier to strictly fix the hours you’ll work. That will shift you to a scarcity mindset in which the default answer becomes “no”.

Shutdown rituals

Newport recommends a strict shutdown “ritual” at the end of each workday. It’s pretty simple:

  • First, make sure you review every outstanding task or project and confirm that you either (1) have a plan for doing it; or (2) have captured it somewhere to be revisited at the right time.
  • Then, say a phrase such as “Shutdown complete” to indicate you’re done.

Shutdown rituals may feel annoying, as they add 10-15 minutes to the end of your workday, but they work. There’s a thing called the Zeigarnik effect which shows that incomplete tasks dominate our attention. And though there are always tasks left incomplete, research has shown that making a plan for them significantly reduces the Zeigarnik effect. Even the cheesy “Shutdown complete” phrase helps by providing your mind with a cue that it’s safe to release work-related thoughts.

The shutdown habit should take 1-2 weeks before it sticks and your mind trusts your ritual enough to let the work-related thoughts go.


Downtime is important because:

  • it aids insights (see also A Mind for Numbers);
  • it helps you replenish energy; and
  • work that you could’ve done in the evening is usually not that important anyway.

In the 1980s, University of Michigan psychologists Rachel Kaplan and Stephen Kaplan came up with the attention restoration theory, based on the idea of attention fatigue. The theory states that concentration requires “directed attention”, a finite resource. You can replenish this resource by doing things that only requires a modest amount of attention, such as going for a walk in nature or chatting to a friend, which restores your ability to direct your attention later.

Train your concentration

People often think of concentration like flossing—something they know how to do, but just haven’t been motivated enough to. They’ll say, “look, when I really have to concentrate, I can be laser-focused.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be true. The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained. We constantly turn to distractions at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge, and doing this too often can permanently reduce your capacity to do deep work.

Clifford Nass, a Stanford communications professor, found that constant attention switching has a lasting negative effect on our brains, making it hard to concentrate even when we want to. Chronically distracted people can’t filter out irrelevant things or manage a working memory. They also engage much larger parts of their brain that are not relevant to the task at hand. If you can’t stand waiting in line for 5 minutes without looking at your phone, your brain probably can’t do deep work even if you schedule time for it.

In response, Newport suggests several ways to train your concentration:

  • Schedule your Internet times, so you don’t use it as a distraction;
  • Roosevelt dashes; and
  • Productive meditation.
Schedule your Internet times

Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and avoid it outside these times. Keep a notepad by your computer and write down when you can next use the Internet Don’t use the Internet until then. If you find yourself having to wait during an offline block (e.g. standing in a line), fight through the boredom and resist going online.

By minimising how often you give in to distraction, you practise your ability to focus. You can do this at home as well as at work to further train your concentration.

Common issues:

  • But I’ll be slower to respond to emails! Yes, but you’ll more than make up for it by producing truly important work.
  • My job requires me to be online a lot! That’s fine — you can schedule more, or longer, Internet blocks. The point isn’t to reduce the amount of time spent online, but to practise resisting the urge to switch to online distractions in response to boredom
  • What if I need to look up something online to make progress on a task in an offline block? This is a common stumbling block. Try to switch to another offline activity until your next scheduled Internet block starts, or even spend the time relaxing. Resist the urge to look it up, because it’ll be hard not to glance at your inbox when you go online. If your task is too urgent to wait for the next Internet block, change your schedule to bring forward the next block. Just don’t schedule it to begin immediately — make sure there’s at least a 5-minute gap.
Roosevelt dashes

One reason why Theodore Roosevelt was so incredibly productive was because he leveraged artificial deadlines to work at high levels of intensity. A Roosevelt dash is like interval training for your brain.

To perform a Roosevelt dash:

  1. Identify a high-priority task that requires deep work
  2. Estimate how long you’d normally put aside for such a task
  3. Give yourself a hard deadline drastically shorter than this estimate. If possible, commit publicly to the deadline.
    Try this no more than once a week at first. Increase the frequency only after you’ve become confident in your ability to concentrate.

Such tight deadlines force you to work with great intensity, without breaks or daydreaming, because it’s the only way to accomplish the task by the deadline.

Productive meditation

Newport suggests engaging in productive meditation at least two or three times per week:

  • Find an activity that occupies you physically but not mentally. Examples include showering, walking or jogging.
  • Pick a single, well-defined professional problem to focus on during that activity.
    It took Newport around a dozen sessions before he experienced real results. He even managed to work out the chapter outlines for one of his books while doing this.

A common obstacle is that you’ll get distracted by unrelated thoughts that seem more interesting in the moment. Just acknowledge it and bring your attention back to the problem you’ve chosen — this will strengthen your distraction-resisting muscles and sharpen your concentration.

Another obstacle you’ll likely encounter is your brain will keep looping over things you already know about the problem to avoid delving deeper into it. Again, if you see yourself doing this, just take a second and direct your focus onto the next step.

It may help to try and structure your thinking during these sessions. Start with the relevant variables of your problem. Then, once you’ve identified them, move onto the specific next-step question you need to answer using these variables.

Be more picky in your use of Internet tools

Many people recognise that social media and infotainment websites are distracting and impair our ability to concentrate. Increasingly, people see an Internet sabbatical, where you abstain from Internet use altogether, as the only alternative. But these tools are not inherently bad, and quitting the Internet is often not feasible.

We simply need to raise the bar for using such Internet tools. The benefits offered by social media and infotainment are usually minor and somewhat random, while the costs are substantial.

Instead of using a tool whenever it offers any benefit, Newport suggests the following approach:

  • First, identify the main high-level goals in your professional and personal life.
  • Second, list the 2-3 most important activities that will help you meet your goals. These should be specific enough that you can picture doing them, but general enough that they’re not tied to a one-time outcome.
  • Finally, assess the positive and negative impacts of each network tool on those activities. Only use a tool if the positive impacts on those factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.
    [The first two steps are similar to the Tiny Habits method of mapping behaviours onto aspirations.]

Most (but not all) people applying this strategy should end up abandoning tools like Facebook or Twitter. For every 10-15 activities that would help achieve a goal, the 80-20 rule suggests that only the top 2 or 3 activities will significantly advance that goal. Any time you spend on low-impact activities just takes away time from higher-impact ones.

By taking the time consumed by low-impact activities—like finding old friends on Facebook—and reinvesting in high-impact activities—like taking a good friend out to lunch—you end up more successful in your goal.
— Cal Newport in Deep Work

[Sure, but time spent on Facebook not always fungible with time spent on high value activities.]

30-day social media ban

To begin sorting through your social media tools, ban yourself from all of them for 30 days. Don’t formally delete your accounts and, importantly, don’t announce online that you’ll be signing off. (This is because part of what makes social media addictive is our delusion that people care what we have to say is. Finding out that most people don’t even notice you’ve dropped off can be very sobering.)

After the 30 days are up, ask yourself for each tool:

  1. Would the last 30 days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service?
  2. Did people care that I wasn’t using this service?

If your answer is “no” to both, quit the service permanently. If your answer was a clear “yes,” then resume using it. If your answers are qualified or ambiguous, exercise your judgement (but leaning towards quitting).

Newport picks on social media because it can be particularly devastating to deep work. Personalised information delivered on an unpredictable, intermittent schedule is already massively addictive. On top of that, the marketing preys on our FOMO. A month without social media reveals just how little you’ll actually miss out on.

Entertainment-focused websites

Like social media, entertainment-focused websites like Buzzfeed, Reddit and the Huffington Post are designed to grab and hold onto your attention. But you can’t “quit” these websites like you can for social media — they’re always a click away.

The solution is to put more thought into your leisure time. Figure out in advance how to spend your evenings and weekends and give your brain high-quality alternatives such as reading. That way, you don’t default to whatever catches your attention in the moment.

Addictive websites of the type mentioned previously thrive in a vacuum: If you haven’t given yourself something to do in a given moment, they’ll always beckon as an appealing option.
— Cal Newport in Deep Work

Newport denies that structuring your leisure time will defeat the point of relaxing and leave you feeling exhausted. He argues that our mental faculties are capable of continuous hard activity — they want change, not rest (except in sleep). [While I agree with his point about structuring your leisure time, this is certainly not true for me. I simply can’t read when I’m mentally tired — I’ll just keep re-reading the same words without any of them registering. And I suspect I’m not alone. If this is true for Newport, that alone may explain a good deal of his success.]

Other practical tips

  • 3 tips to reduce your volume of emails:
    1. Make people who send you email do more work. Newport has a “sender filter” where he asks that people only email him if they meet certain requirements. He also explains that he’ll only respond to proposals that seem like a good match.
    2. Do more work when sending or replying to emails. For example, when responding to a lunch request, use a process-centric response that “closes the loop” by proposing a venue and suggesting several time options. In contrast, a vague response like “Sounds good. What time suits you?” provides short-term relief but inevitably requires more follow-up emails. [Newport’s suggestion is also computationally kind, as it reduces the work the other person has to do.]
    3. Don’t respond. Many famous academics’ default approach to emails was not to respond unless the sender convinced them a response was merited. Because replies are generally assumed, this approach can feel uncomfortable and can make some people confused or upset. But this is okay. In fact, it’s good to practise letting small bad things happen and people will adjust their expectations. [I think this is fine for famous people who receive a plethora of emails from Internet randoms. But it’s kinda a dick move to do to people you know if they’re clearly expecting a response.]
  • Grand gestures can help you focus on your deep work goals. For example, J K Rowling checked herself into a luxury to finish writing the Harry Potter series. One guy, Peter Shankman, even flew business-class to Tokyo only to immediately fly back, writing both ways. [This is certainly memorable but is incredibly wasteful.]
  • Card memorisation techniques can increase your ability to concentrate.
  • You could replace a “shallow” weekly status meeting, by asking people to report to you only when they’ve made significant progress on something. [Only works if you can trust the people to make progress without a status meeting to keep them accountable.]

My Thoughts

The core ideas in Deep Work are pretty simple: Deep work is good. You can’t do deep work with distractions. Stop checking your e-mail all the time. I’d already heard these ideas a lot, thanks to the incredible success of this book since it was published in 2016. But I kinda enjoyed being distracted by my emails, was broadly happy with the amount of deep work I did, and didn’t feel the need to change what wasn’t broken. So I put off reading this book for a long time.

One day, I listened Newport’s podcast and tried out his time-blocking suggestion. After a few days, I was sold. For me, time-blocking did much more than merely facilitate deep work. Keen to learn more about this strategy, I finally decided to read the book. But to my disappointment it did not discuss time-blocking very much. That’s not a criticism — it is, after all, called Deep Work, not Time-Blocking — it just wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

Instead, Deep Work offers a hodgepodge of tips, all aimed at increasing deep work. While I picked up a few useful ideas, I’m not a huge fan of this approach. It doesn’t provide an underlying “framework” or try to distinguish truly important advice from the “worth a shot” tips, making it hard for a reader hard to know where to begin. In that sense, it’s similar to James Clear’s Atomic Habits. But both Atomic Habits and Deep Work were mega-successful, so I’m probably in the minority here.

What did you think of my summary Deep Work? Do you find it hard to focus? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Buy Deep Work at: Amazon | Kobo <– These are affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase. I’d be grateful if you considered supporting the site in this way! 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Book Summary: Deep Work by Cal Newport

  1. Does Newport delve more into how much deep work one can do in a given day? I see you write in your summary that “a novice can only handle about an hour of intense concentration per day. Experts can do better — up to four hours, but rarely more.” I think providing more detail about the deep work ramp-up would serve well for people that want to start applying the lessons of this book to their lives.

  2. I think Newport’s advice about scheduling your Internet time, practising being bored instead of turning to your phone for distraction and productive meditation are all intended to train your brain to get more comfortable with doing deep work.

    He doesn’t explicitly discuss the “ramp up” process, though – the implication just seems to be that regularly practising deep work will help you do more of it over time.

  3. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the concept of deep work and how it differs from other types of work, but it’s disconcerting to hear that even experts can only manage a max of 4 hours per day. I interpret this as saying that only half of my work day can be dedicated to diving deep into problems. If I don’t have any administrative work, what do I do the rest of the time?

    1. Why is it disconcerting? I wouldn’t treat it as a hard, or very scientific limit. If you feel capable of more than 4 hours, by all means go for it. Yet if you struggle to do just 1 hour, then it might be comforting to know that even experts can only do about 4 hours. And because deep work is rare and valuable, you don’t have to do tons of it to outperform most people. I think the key takeaway from that observation is just that deep work is mentally taxing, so you need to make sure you don’t overtax your brain.

      Also, while Newport treats deep work and shallow work as a dichotomy, I think that in real life, work falls into more of a spectrum. Newport’s definition of “deep work” is that it pushes your cognitive capacities “to their limit” and sometimes he uses deliberate practice as a proxy for deep work. Personally, I think 4 hours per day pushed to your cognitive limits like a reasonable limit. But that’s a very high bar. There are many forms of work (e.g. writing an article, reading books or academic papers) that are not exactly “shallow” admin tasks, yet don’t quite push you to your cognitive limits. I expect people can do more than 4 hours of that kind of work.

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