Deep work: Work deeply

Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World (2016), written by Cal Newport is a practical guide on how to achieve laser sharp focus in a highly distracted world. In the first part of the book, Cal discusses why deep work is the demand of the age we are living in and to give actionable advises, he has written the second part of the book in which he talks about some practical step which should be taken to do some “deep work”.

Are you easily distracted by overwhelming Facebook feeds, innumerable WhatsApp messges and they are hampering your personal and professional life? Then this book is for you! If you want your digital detox to turn into a success, then read the book.

Can’t read the book? Don’t worry we got all lessons from the book in this blog post.


Deep work written by Cal Newport


About the author

Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University who studies the theory of distributed systems. In addition to his academic work, he writes about the intersection of technology and culture. He is the author of six books, including, most recently, the New York Times bestseller, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.

This book is of interest for

  • Digital minimalists
  • Productivity hackers
  • Self improvement enthusiasts
  • People looking for time management hacks.

Premise of the book

We all do our works. Work on a project, write a book, pitch an article, attend calls at office, but despite doing different jobs, we all have a common problem: lack of deep work. When was the last time when you worked on a project for 3-4 hours without checking your e-mail or whatsapp messages for even once?

Hard to remember, right?


“Deep Work” is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Most people, whether knowledge workers in a noisy open-plan offices or creatives struggling to sharpen their vision, have lost the ability to go deep- spending their days instead in a frantic blur of email and social media, not even realizing there is a better way.

As quoted from the book, Deep Work


Part 1: The idea

The book introduces us to the style of working of one of the greatest psychologists of all times, Carl Jung. He was a man on a mission. A mission to provide a critique to the works of his one-time friend and friend, Sigmund Freud. To counter Freud is not an easy task, it requires deep focus and attention towards details.

Jung used to lock himself up in a two-story building which he called “tower” and work without interruptions. After a year, he published Psychological Types which provided a base for his differences he had been developing with Freud. Deep work is actually a necessity to bring out the best out of your current intellectual capacity.


“We are in the early throes of a great restructuring”, Brynjolfsson and McAfee explain. “Our technologies are racing behind . As intelligent machines improve, and the gap between machine and human abilities shrink, shallow work would be rendered meaningless”

As quoted from the book, Deep Work

So how do we make ourselves relevant? By working deep! The shallower works have almost no value in today’s or future markets. Imagine watching YouTube along with writing a blog post and compare it with 4 hour of deep work on a blog post with complete focus. Which would be better in quality?

You got the answer!

Two core abilities are a must to thrive in this new economy which ensure you gain a membership to the club of highly skilled workers:


  1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
  2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

Both indicate towards a common requisite: the ability to do deep work.

Also read: Two rules to rule: lessons from 4 hour work week

Accept it or not, we all have a habit of switching our attention every now and then from one task to another and it might seem like fun but there is something called “attention residue” which hampers our ability to focus on either of tasks that we switch in between. But what is attention residue?

Suppose you are solving a puzzle while reading an article about latest developments in politics and you keep switching in between. While you jot down the variables in the puzzles and think about them and start reading about Narendra Modi in between, you will be thinking about variables in between and after you come back to your puzzle from the news, you’d have Modi in your mind. This hampers your intensity to focus.

Even after realizing all this, what stops us from working deep? Easiness of shallow work!

Let’s set the facts straight. Deep work is tough and demands dedicated focus and time blocks to be completed however, shallow work is easier to do though it has lower productivity. Most of shallow work in today’s time comprises of the Internet. It provides us visible busyness through which we might appear to be working but we are not, and it reinforces out notion that any behavior that is related to Internet is good. But the question is, why pursue deep work at all when it’s tough? May be it’s not.


Ironically, jobs are 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 than can be enjoyed.

As quoted from the book, Deep Work

Did you notice the word “flow”? Our brain works in that manner, in a flow. So when we are working deeply, we are letting our brain to work properly, in a flow. While distracting it every other hour, we are obstructing its flow. Going deep is in itself very rewarding as mind loves challenges, irrespective of the subject of deep work.

Another conception that people have is that deep work is irrelevant in today’s knowledge economy where craftsmanship has taken a back seat and there is a rise of short, information loaded products. Ummm, may be not.


Beautiful code is short and concise, so if you were to give that code to another programmer they would say, “oh, that’s a well written code”. It is much like as if you were writing a poem.

As quoted from Deep Work


Part 2: The rules

Now that we have seen why deep work matters, its time to learn the rules to do deep work. Deep work has one demand: uninterrupted flow of thoughts!

You can achieve that by taking break for days, or keep a particular time block in the day for your deep work, suppose from morning 5 to 8 everyday and if you remain quite busy at work and at home, you can indulge in deep work whenever you find time.

The only precondition is to keep distractions at bay and not break the flow of your thoughts. We all have limited attention spans and if you will break it by watching youtube videos or retweeting on twitter, it will consume an attention span that can be used for deep work. This is world where deep work is rare and if add craftsmanship to your work through deep work, you will irreplaceable! Isn’t that what you’ve been trying to be all your life?


All activities, regardless of of their importanc consume your same limited store of time and attention. If you service low-impact activities, you’re taking away time you could be spending on high-impact activities. It is a zero sum game.

As quoted from the book, Deep Work

Also read: The art of war by Sun Tzu

The major portion in this part of the book is to dissociate yourself from social media. It consumes your time that should be utilized in deep work. Assess this, nobody would pay for your credential which includes 100 hours of YouTube watching but anybody would pay you for practicing java for 100 hours.

Mind your time and half of your job is done. If you get stuck and feel like you have enough skills and achievements by your side, ask this simple question to yoursef:

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?

If the answer is in years, well and good. If not, you are in trouble and need some deep work! While I can go on and write so many good things from the book, I will stop my pen here (or rather my fingers, since I am typing. Poor joke I know) Now I will talk about not so good things in the book.


Not so good things about the book

So I liked the book though it is hard to implement. I understand the utility of deep work but for many people, its impossible to stay away from phone either for work or anything else. Suppose you are an HR Manager in a company, your phone will keep buzzing and you are compelled to answer it because employees are waiting for a response from you.

Books aren’t the only source of knowledge in today’s world. There is plethora of knowledge available on the internet which is unparalleled. When I was learning Python, I found all the books to be outdated and only the online resources were of use, in such a scenario, deep work without internet means no progress.

That’s only down side of the book. Rest the book is amazing! It is not like regular self help books which will either not tell you why self-improvement is important or will not tell ways to improve yourself but this one has comprehensive coverage. A good read indeed!

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There is 1 comment
  1. Well I sincerely liked reading it. This information provided by you is very helpful Thank you.

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