Deep Work – Book Notes

Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport.

Dep 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

Deep Work is a controversial topic. As I was reading it, I keep asking myself, how can this be possible except for a small group? Does it really apply to entrepreneurs? Managers? Leaders in the government?

I have seen “Deep Work” at work from some of my colleagues.

Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity. We now know from decades of research in both psychology and neuroscience that the state of mental strain that accompanies deep work is also necessary to improve your abilities. Deep work.

“Sir, to solve problems 2 and 3, don’t we need more information than what you have taught us?” asked a young student. “Not really. Think about how you can do it with what you know”, was my reply. “the state of mental strain” that they go through to find the solution is going to make them better. I know it because I have gone through that experience. But how do you convey that concept to young learners? How do you help themselves push to the edge of their capabilities?

Learning something complex like computer programming requires intense uninterrupted concentration on cognitively demanding concepts.

Read Peter Norvig’s “Teach Yourself Programming in 10 Years“ helps you get out of “learn it in 24 hours”, culture.

Learning computer programming is not just learning the syntax of the language or a few popular libraries.

Deep work is a skill that has great value today. There are two reasons for this value. The first has to do with learning. We have an information economy that’s dependent on complex systems that change rapidly

We have heard of the legendary personalities who built the core of an operating system in a few weeks (think Unix). When I was first introduced to PDP-11 operating system called RSX-11M, I saw Dave Cutler’s code everywhere. I recall looking at the listings and seeing that he built a device driver a day. He and his team went on to build VAX/VMS and later Windows/NT.

Deep work is so important that we might consider it, to use the phrasing of business writer Eric Barker, “the superpower of the 21st century.”

The superpower of the 21st century. I like that. I like it even more because this superpower can be wielded by people like you and me.

The growing number of fields where technology makes productive remote work possible—consulting, marketing, writing, design, and so on. Once the talent market is made universally accessible, those at the peak of the market thrive.

Talent is not a commodity. It comes through deliberate practice according to performance experts.

In the early 1990s, K. Anders Ericsson, a professor at Florida State University, pulled together these strands into a single coherent answer, consistent with the growing research literature, that he gave a punchy name: deliberate practice.

“we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.” – Ericsson

Learning is an act of deep work. Most of the advanced skills in Maths, Biology, Art, Computer Science requires dedication and large amounts of work.

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 increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy. If you instead remain one of the many for whom depth is

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

Is intensity of focus a trait? Any work that is meaningful, challenging has a power to draw you into it.

The best students understood the role intensity plays in productivity and therefore went out of their way to maximize their concentration—

Leroy introduced an effect she called attention residue.

I havev not heard the term “attention residue” before.

when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task. This residue gets especially thick if your work on Task A was unbounded and of low intensity before you switched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while

the common habit of working in a state of semi-distraction is potentially devastating to your performance.

Working with full concentration for extended periods is something I have not done as much as I would like. That is why no matter how much time I spent, I am not as productive in programming as some of my colleagues. Programming is deep work. That is one reason, programmers need to be left alone most of the time.

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 not comfortable going deep for extended periods of time, it’ll be difficult to get your performance to the peak levels of quality and quantity increasingly necessary to thrive professionally. Unless your talent and skills absolutely dwarf those of your competition, the deep workers among them will outproduce you.

If deep work is so important, why are there distracted people who do well?

Not all good work need to be deep work, though.

A good chief executive is essentially a hard-to-automate decision engine,

To ask a CEO to spend four hours thinking deeply about a single problem is a waste of what makes him or her valuable. It’s better to hire three smart subordinates to think deeply about the problem and then bring their solutions to the executive for a final decision.

There are, we must continually remember, certain corners of our economy where depth is not valued. In addition to executives, we can also include, for example, certain types of salesmen and lobbyists, for whom constant connection is their most valued currency.

Deep work is not the only skill valuable in our economy, and it’s possible to do well without fostering this ability, but the niches where this is advisable are increasingly rare.

Managing attention is another under developed skill. Heck even neural machine architectures are evolving with attention being an important component.

Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling, similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.

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

There is, however, a hidden but equally important benefit to cultivating rapt attention in your workday: Such concentration hijacks your attention apparatus, preventing you from noticing the many smaller and less pleasant things that unavoidably and persistently populate our lives.

You may also want to read four different deep work philosophies.