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Deep Work - Book summary

Deep work is about focusing without distraction on cognitively-demanding tasks. It’s vital for mastering hard things and delivering high-value outcomes. Yet, in our high-tech, hyper-connected society, people are constantly distracted by emails, social media and infotainment, losing their capacity for intense focus. In this book, Cal Newport explains how to nurture this valuable but increasingly-rare skill.  In our free Deep Work summary, we’ve distilled and reorganized the key ideas into 2 parts: “Why deep work is important” and “Rules and strategies for deep work”.

What is Deep Work and Why is it Important?

Deep work is performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your skills and abilities to the limit. Such work creates real value and is hard to replicate.On the other hand, shallow work is cognitively undemanding and is often performed in a state of distraction. Such work doesn’t typically create much value and is easily replicated. Sadly, technological and societal changes are pushing us increasingly toward a shallow work culture.

Deep Work has Value

Many famous works are the result of deep work. Mark Twain wrote the bulk of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in a secluded shed. Screenwriter and director Woody Allen did all his writing manually on a typewriter to stay free from digital distractions. Great strategies and breakthrough solutions are all the output of deep work.

In our full 13-page summary, we explain in more detail (i) how intelligent machines are changing the economy, (ii) what it takes to win in this new economy and (iii) why deep work is vital for developing the key abilities to learn quickly, deliver superior results and win.

Deep Work is Uncommon

Although deep work is valuable and should be a business priority, it’s becoming increasingly uncommon at the workplace. In our complete summary, we explain why this so, including (i) the 3 business trends that hinder deep work and (ii) our natural human biases for shallow work.

Deep Work Improves your Quality of Life

Deep work can also improve your levels of happiness and fulfillment, from a neurological, psychological and philosophical perspective.  We explain all 3 perspectives in our full book summary.

Deep Work Summary_Why Deep Work is Important

In a nutshell, deep work is valuable, enriches your life yet is increasingly scarce. By mastering the rare skills and abilities for deep work, you can significantly increase your value in the new economy

Rules and Strategies for Deep Work

In the book, Cal Newport breaks down 4 rules for deep work and their associated strategies. We’ll now briefly outline what they entail. Do get a detailed overview in our complete 13-page summary.

Deep Work Summary_Rules and Strategies

1. Build Rituals and Routines for Working Deeply

Even if you want to work deeply, it’s not easy to do so because most office setups and work cultures are not ideal for deep work. You’d also have to overcome your natural instinct to switch to easy, distracting activities (e.g. checking emails or surfing social media sites). Build rituals and routines so it’s easier to overcome obstacles and move into states of intense focus. Our full summary cover various strategies to do so, including how to (i) tailor your depth approach to match your circumstances, (ii) build rituals to transit smoothly into your deep work sessions, (iii) make “grand gestures” to get things done, etc.

2. Train your Mind

Our mental muscles grow strong with use and weak with disuse. People who constantly multi-task have been found to become chronically distracted, i.e. they can’t concentrate even when they want to. Our complete summary explain how to resist distractions and improve your capacity for intense focus by (i) making focus your default state of mind, (ii) compressing your timelines, (iii) meditating productively and (iv) using memory training.

3. Use Digital Media Selectively

Network tools can be useful for your success and happiness, yet most of them are counter-productive. Instead of using any tool that offers a benefit, Newport advocates selecting your tools carefully to use only tools that bring a huge net positive impact on your goals. Our complete summary elaborate on strategies to (i) focus on the vital few, (ii) use leisure time wisely and (iii) do a social media embargo.

4. Limit Shallow Work

It’s not necessary nor possible to eliminate all shallow work. In any case, the average person only has enough cognitive capacity for about 4 hours of intense deep work a day. The key is to take control of your shallow work, so they don’t hijack your time/energy for deep work. Our complete summary elaborate on several strategies to do so, such as strategies to (i) schedule and adjust your day, (ii) quantify depth, (iii) take control of your emails, etc.

Getting the Most from Deep Work

In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights and strategies you can use to achieve desired change. For more examples, details, and actionable tips to apply these strategies, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 13-page text summary, and a 27-minute audio summary.Deep Work summary - book summary bundle

Deep work involves hard work and massive changes to your work habits. However, by going deep, you can drastically improve your levels of productivity and fulfillment to become much more valuable in the modern economy. Newport also shares many of his personal experiences, observations and other references to support his theories and recommendations. You can purchase the book here for the full details, or visit

About the Author of Deep Work

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is written by Cal Newport–an author and associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University. He completed his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College and received a Ph.D. from MIT in in computer science. He spent 2 years as a post-doctoral associate at the MIT before joining Georgetown University as an assistant professor of computer science. Dr. Newport also runs a blog, Study Hacks, which focuses on academic and career success. He’s an advocator of “deep work” and “digital minimalism”.

Deep Work Quotes

“To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few…is a transformative experience.”

“Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.”

“You don’t need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.”

“When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done.”

“The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.”

Click here to download the Deep Work summary & infographic

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