Deep Work

Nov 25, 2022

Cal Newport highlights the importance of 'deep work' - focused work free from distraction - and discusses various implementations and accessory inclusions to improve productivity and performance.


Deep Work highlights the value of intense focus and concentration on a single task for improved performance—deep work. Deep work is becoming increasingly rare due to the increase of mediums vying for your attention. Improved performance on what matters and increasing rarity result in the ability to perform deep work makes it increasingly valuable.

Attention residue incurs temporarily diminished performance and is borne from switching tasks. By maintaining focus on a single task for an extended period of time, you are able to forgo any attention residue. This allows for the concentration of efforts to a single purpose without distraction to yield maximal results, producing more and of a higher quality. This is a necessity where globalization is prevalent and you are competing with more people than ever before.

What matters most in your career is not what you focus on but what your efforts amount to. And so, the ability to produce more value through higher performance results in increased satisfaction and meaning found in your work.

The opposite of deep work is shallow work. This entails tasks that are simpler and need less focus. These tasks are a necessity in all areas and cannot be completely avoided. Their prevalence however should be minimized in accordance with the value they produce. This enables increased time to allow for deep work and higher value tasks.

Actionable Takeaways

  1. Maximize your efforts toward deep work tasks (diminishing returns occur after 1-4 hours dependent on experience level).
  2. Be selective in the tools you use. Define your goals and identify the activities which lend most to them. Assess tools based on their capacity to deliver you positive results in relation to these.
  3. Embrace boredom as a practice to be more engaged with, and have increased capacity for, deep work.
  4. Supplement deep work efforts through adequate play and rest. Downtime helps to recharge energy and make previously unseen connections.

Favourite Quotes

If you can’t learn, you can’t thrive. […] If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.

Cal Newport

For many, there’s a comfort in the artificial busyness of rapid email messaging and social media posturing, while the deep life demands that you leave much of that behind. There’s also an uneasiness that surrounds any effort to produce the best things you’re capable of producing, as this forces you to confront the possibility that your best is not (yet) that good. […] But if you’re willing to sidestep these comforts and fears, and instead struggle to deploy your mind to its fullest capacity to create things that matter, then you’ll discover, as others have before you, that depth generates a rich life with productivity and meaning.

Cal Newport

Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.

Cal Newport

Men of genius themselves were great only by bringing all their power to bear on the point on which they had decided to show their full measure.

A.G. Sertillanges

The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The satisfaction of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy.

Matthew Crawford

Develop a habit of letting the small bad things happen. If you don’t, you’ll never find time for the life-changing big things.