“Deep work” uses distraction-free focus to complete difficult-to-replicate tasks that create valuable output. Though deep work is gaining value in our modern economy, it is becoming less common. The few who foster it will thrive. This book is its manifesto.
Deep Work reads, in some ways, like a manifesto written by its prophet. It approaches the realm of religion—a view for what’s wrong with the world, a philosophy for salvation, and a liturgy for the philosophy’s practice. The whole first third of the book motivates the deep work doctrine. Our modern workplace is distracted, but deep work promises escape. With it, you will master difficult skills, perform at elite levels, stand out among your peers. Deep work will even provide meaning to your life. It will make you happy.
Motivations aside, Deep Work follows its indoctrination with strategies for its pursuit. Reorganize your schedule to prioritize deep work. Second, develop your ability to concentrate. Third, purge your tools—keep only the most potent. (For many, this means quitting social media.) Fourth, purge your tasks—push “shallow work” to your schedule’s fringes.
Each of these strategies comprises a handful of pithy tactics. Pick your favorite few, diligently apply them, and you’ll be well along your deep work journey. This journey may not live up to its religion, but it will teach you focus and reorient you towards valuable pursuits.
You may guess that I found Newport’s motivation a bit overzealous. He practically promises existential meaning from deep work; much more than it can deliver, and overkill for inspiring the reader.
Let me attempt, rather, a more reasonable motivation. Deep work will help you prioritize quality. You will produce more value in less time with fewer distractions than your peers. The real upshot—greater contribution, reduced stress, and more enjoyable downtime. Motivation aplenty.
I’ll stop splitting hairs—I appreciate Deep Work for formalizing a mindset that I resonate with but haven’t verbalized. Newport ennobles deep work with convincing research. His arguments encourage me to unabashedly embrace deep work, defend it from naysayers, and—dare I say— proselytize others to its virtues.
Deep Work gives much more than motivation, however, and the latter two-thirds teach powerful tactics. Here are my favorite two takeaways:
Downtime matters. Our brain evolves in response to stimuli. If we unconsciously amuse your boredom with internet entertainment, our brain will crave the same instant diversions when our work hits a snag. This is why our work regularly devolves into watching funny cat videos. Stop using the internet for entertainment—use it only as a tool. Use downtime, instead, to improve your focus—read, memorize music by ear, turn your phone off and have a conversation.
Schedule your whole day. Update your schedule regularly to allow spontaneity, but give all of your time a purpose. When our time is predetermined, we discourage distracting shallow work and give deep work a time to happen.
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