Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new values, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.
Deep Work is valuable, rare and meaningful
Current economic thinking, as I’ve surveyed, argues that the unprecedented growth and impact of technology are creating a massive restructuring of our economy. In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital.
Two core abilities for thriving in the new economy:
The ability to quickly master hard things.
The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive — no matter how skilled or talented you are.
To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.
In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend towards behaviors that are easiest in the moment.
“To do real good physics work, you do need absolute solid lengths of time… it needs a lot of concentration… if you have a job administrating anything, you don’t have the time. So I have invented another myth for myself: that I’m irresponsible. I’m actively irresponsible. I tell everyone I don’t do anything. I f anyone asks me to be on a committee for admissions, “no,” I tell them: I’m irresponsible.” - Feynman
In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.
“…concentration so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems.” - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
“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
Deep Work Rules
The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.
The Monastic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling: attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations.
“Email is a wonderful thing for people whole role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration.” - Donald Knuth
The Bimodal Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling: asks you to divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else. During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically — seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration. During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritized.
The bimodal philosophy believes that deep work can produce extreme productivity, but only if the subject dedicated enough time to such endeavors to reach maximum cognitive intensity — the state in which real breakthroughs occur. This is why the minimum unit of time for deep work in this philosophy tends to be at least one full day.
The Rhythmic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling: the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep.
The Journalistic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling: you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule. This approach is not for the deep work novice. The ability to rapidly switch your mind from shallow to deep mode doesn’t come naturally. Without practice, such switches can seriously deplete your finite willpower reserves. This habit also requires a sense of confidence in your abilities — a conviction that what you’re doing is important and will succeed.
Where you’ll work and for how long.
How you’ll work once you start to work.
How you’ll support your work. Your ritual needs to ensure your brain gets the support it needs to keep operating at a high level of depth.
Focus on the Wildly Important
The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish. Execution should be aimed at a small number of “wildly important goals.”
“If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.” - David Brooks
Act on the Lead Measures
Lag measures describe the thing you’re ultimately trying to improve. The problem with lag measures is that they come too late to change your behavior: “When you receive them, the performance that drove them is already in the past.”
Lead measures measure the new behaviors that will drive success on the lag measures. Lead measures turn your attention to improving the behaviors you directly control in the near future that will then have a positive impact on your long-term goals.
Lead measure for deep work: time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.
Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
People play differently when they’re keeping score.
…when attempting to drive your team’s engagement toward your organization’s wildly important goal, it’s important that they have a public place to record and track their lead measures. This scoreboard creates a sense of competition that drives them to focus on these measures, even when other demands vie for their attention. It also provides a reinforcing source of motivation.
Create a Cadence of Accountability
To help maintain a focus on lead measures, put in place “a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings of any team tat won a wildly important goal.”
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.
People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. The can’t manage a working memory, They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand… they’re pretty much mental wrecks.
Instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction.
Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times.
Identify a deep task that’s high on you priority list. Estimate how long you’d normally put aside for an obligation of this type, then give yourself a hard deadline that drastically reduces this time. Motivate yourself by setting a countdown times on your phone and propping it up where you can’t avoid seeing it as you work.
Productive Meditation: the goal is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally — walking, jogging, driving, showering — and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem. As in mindfulness meditation, you must continue to bring your attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders or stalls.
Quit Social Media
The Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection: you’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.
The notion that identifying some benefit is sufficient to invest money, time, and attention in a tool is near laughable to people in his trade.
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 significantly outweigh its negative impacts.
Put more thought into your leisure time. In other words, this strategy suggests that when it comes to your 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 a day.”
…mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change — not rest, except in sleep.
Drain the Shallows
Schedule every minute of your day.
We spend much of our day on autopilot — not giving much thought to what we’re doing with our time. This is a problem.
Deep work habit requires you treat your time with respect. Decide in advance what you’re going to do with every minute of your workday.
Quantify the depth of every activity: How long would it take to train a smart recent college graduate with no specialized training in my field to complete this task?
“Develop the habit of letting small bad things happen. If you don’t, you’ll never find time for the life-changing big things.” - Tim Ferriss