Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Many modern knowledge workers now spend most of their brain power battling distraction and interruption, whether because of the incessant pinging of devices, noisy open-plan offices or the difficulty of deciding what deserves your attention the most.

When Cal Newport coined the term ‘deep work’ on his popular blog, Study Hacks, in 2012, he found the concept quickly hit a nerve. Most of us, after all, are excruciatingly familiar with shallow work instead - distractedly skimming the surface of our workload and never getting to the important part. Newport began exploring the methods and mindset that foster a practice of distraction-free productivity at work, and now, in DEEP WORK, he shows how anyone can achieve this elusive state.

Through revealing portraits of both historical and modern-day thinkers, academics and leaders in the fields of technology, science and culture, and their deep work habits, Newport shares an inspiring collection of tools to wring every last drop of value out of your intellectual capacity. He explains why mastering this shift in work practices is crucial for anyone who intends to stay ahead in a complex information economy , and how to systematically train the mind to focus. Put simply: developing and cultivating a deep work practice is one of the best decisions we can make in an increasingly distracted world.

Book highlights and notes

“If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.”


(1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master; (2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.”

“By contrast, if you’re trying to learn a complex new skill (say, SQL database management) in a state of low concentration (perhaps you also have your Facebook feed open), you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen.”

“To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.”

“High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)”

“Going from one meeting to the next, starting to work on one project and soon after having to transition to another is just part of life in organizations…”

“To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work.”

“If you’re using busyness as a proxy for productivity, then these behaviors can seem crucial for convincing yourself and others that you’re doing your job well.”

“All it takes is an ideology seductive enough to convince you to discard common sense.”

“The alternative, to not embrace all things Internet, is, as Postman would say, “invisible and therefore irrelevant.””

“Assuming the trends outlined here continue, depth will become increasingly rare and therefore increasingly valuable.”

As Gallagher summarizes: “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”

were instead happier because they had rewired their brains to ignore the negative and savor the positive.

“When you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right.”

“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.”

“Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.

“Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.”

“To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.”

“…the urge to turn your attention toward something more superficial.”

“willpower: You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it”

“To instead have a specific goal that would return tangible and substantial professional benefits will generate a steadier stream of enthusiasm.”

“Once the team notices their success with a lead measure, they become invested in perpetuating this performance.”

“This strategy argues that you should follow Kreider’s lead by injecting regular and substantial freedom from professional concerns into your day, providing you with the idleness paradoxically required to get (deep) work done. There are many ways to accomplish this goal.”

“shut down work thinking completely.”

“Your conscious mind, according to this theory, is like a home computer on which you can run carefully written programs that return correct answers to limited problems, whereas your unconscious mind is like Google’s vast data centers, in which statistical algorithms sift through terabytes of unstructured information, teasing out surprising useful solutions to difficult questions.”

“Walking in nature provides such a mental respite, but so, too, can any number of relaxing activities so long as they provide similar “inherently fascinating stimuli” and freedom from directed concentration.”

“Put another way, trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day.”

“Ericsson notes that for a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit, while for experts this number can expand to as many as four hours—but rarely more.”

§Decades of work from multiple different subfields within psychology all point toward the conclusion that regularly resting your brain improves the quality of your deep work. When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done.”

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

“Goals: improving your ability to concentrate intensely and overcoming your desire for distraction.”

“Deep work requires levels of concentration well beyond where most knowledge workers are comfortable.”

“Like a muscle responding to weights, this will strengthen your general ability to concentrate—allowing you to go deeper with more ease.”

“…to grow your comfort with abandoning the any-benefit mind-set and instead applying the more thoughtful craftsman philosophy in curating the tools that lay claim to your time and attention.”

“They offer personalized information arriving on an unpredictable intermittent schedule—making them massively addictive and therefore capable of severely damaging your attempts to schedule and succeed with any act of concentration.”

tools: They’re not really all that important in your life.

“…no one outside your closest friends and family will likely even notice you’ve signed off.”

“Once everyone has less time to get their stuff done, they respect that time even more.”

“We spend much of our day on autopilot—not giving much thought to what we’re doing with our time.”

“This type of scheduling, however, isn’t about constraint—it’s instead about thoughtfulness.”

“treat your time with respect.”

“…someone who creates things that matter.”

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

“How long would it take (in months) to train a smart recent college graduate with no specialized training in my field to complete this task?”

“behavior: When it comes to e-mail, they believed, it’s the sender’s responsibility to convince the receiver that a reply is worthwhile.”

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

“Deep work is way more powerful than most people understand.”

“To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few, I’m arguing, is a transformative experience.”