Deep Work By Cal Newport

Newport introduces the idea of "deep work", long uninterrupted chunks of time in which we can work and develop our ideas. This is bold idea in an age were online communication and busyness are the norm
Published: September 23, 2020 Reading Time: 5 minutes rating: 9


As other Cal Newport books, this one is very concise, and precise. It is divided into two well separated parts. Easy to read and full of nice explanations and research backed reasons to go deep, the book feels, at times a summary of Newport’s blog posts.

The first part describes what deep work is and motivates the need for deep work in our lives, especially in an era where we are bombarded by information and are always prone to being distracted by our ever-connected tools. Moreover Newport makes an argument about technology and focuses a lot on the implications of deep work and the economy: many jobs, many areas of expertise will be overtaken by machines, like it or not, in the next decade. So if our job requires only shallow work, if we don’t try to learn and become better, chances are that we are going to lose our jobs, and find ourselves in a bad position in the near future. His focus on the economy seems to be a very north-american and pragmatic approach, he could have talked about happiness and well being as been benefits of deep work instead?

In the second part he describes approaches that have worked for him and other successful people to practice deep work. Most of these approaches and techniques are already described in his blog and many of them I already adopted or tried to adopt and adapt them.

The book as a whole is about thinking about how we spend our time. If we own our day then we can accomplish great things: do meaningful and deep work and also relax and engage in meaningful activities after the workday ends.

Deep Work: 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.

Notes and Highlights

p. 7

“network tools are distracting us from work that requires unbroken concentration, while simultaneously degrading our capacity to remain focused”

The need to disconnect is real. Going offline is a must. I am trying to get off Facebook but its hard! At least I got rid of Twitter and Reddit.

p. 8

“our work culture’s shift toward the shallow is exposing massive economic and personal opportunity for the few who recognize the potential of resisting this trend and prioritizing depth”

p. 13

“To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.”

p. 31

“If you can’t learn you can’t thrive.”

p. 37

"To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work. If you’re comfortable going deep, you’ll be comfortable mastering the increasing complex systems and skills needed to strive in our economy.


High-quality work = (time spent) x (intensity of Focus)

p. 43

Attention residue: When switching tasks some of our attention remains attached to the previous task, reducing our ability to focus on the new task “the attention residue concept is telling because it implies that the common habit of working in a state of semi-distraction is potentially devastating to your performance”


“Our brains construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to…” “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love - is the sum of what you focus on.”


“Most people assumed (and still do) that relaxation makes them happy. We want to work less and spend more time in the hammock.” “Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.”

The bottom line here is that valuable work is good, if we are doing some activity we feel happy, we don’t feel wasted. This is why, I think, retirement is crap, people shouldn’t retire or at least they should change work or jobs, not simply quit forever.

p. 119

“Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants”. Build rules around deep work habits and routines, manage time very strictly.

p. 143

Remember, the idea is not to work all the time, rather to work intensely for a small amount of hours. Embrace boredom: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets…it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

p. 146 - 148

“Providing your conscious brain time to rest enables your unconscious mind to take a shift sorting through your most complex professional challenges.” Attention restoring theory: Claims that spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate. “The core mechanism of this theory is the idea that you can restore your ability to direct your attention if you give this activity a rest.”

p. 173

Structure your deep thinking

“I suggest starting with a careful review of the relevant variables for solving the problem and then storing these values in your working memory. Once the relevant variables are identified, define the specific next-step question you need to answer using these variables. Assuming you’re able to solve your next-step question, the final step of this structured approach to deep thinking is to consolidate your gains by reviewing the answer you identified.”

p. 191

“The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection: Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.”

p. 212

“Put more thought int your leisure time. When it comes to relaxation, don’t default to whatever catches your attention at the moment, but instead dedicate some advance thinking to the question of how you want to spend your"day within the day”. This helps avoid websites, social media, and engage in relaxing and meaningful activities