The ability to focus deeply on complex and difficult ideas is the hallmark of Deep Work. We live in a time where Deep Work is rare and those who are able to engage in Deep Work will thrive. Practice and hone your ability to engage in Deep Work and you will not only have a productive life, but a fulfilled and meaningful one.

Pragmatic Application

Implementing Deep Work

Techniques for increasing the amount of Deep Work we can do in a day.

“Productive Meditation”

Book Notes


Deep 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

Networking tools are inhibiting deep work in today’s jobs.

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.

The fact that today’s work culture is shifting towards more shallow work creates an opportunity for us who cultivate deep work. We will be more successful.

Deep work is cultivable, and essential.

“Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.”

Part 1 – The Idea

Chapter 1 

Two Core Abilities of Thriving in the New Economy

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

“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.”

These two core abilities depend in deep work.

“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.”

What we call genius is a process of 10,000+ hours of deep work.

Batch hard intellectual work together in large chunks of uninterrupted time.

High Quality work produced = (time spent) x (intensity of focus)

Don’t multitask

Chapter 2 – Deep Work is Rare 

Modern work culture creates environments that make deep work nearly impossible

The Principle of Least Resistance: 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.”

Cal doesn’t cite any evolutionary psychology here but from what I know, Evo Psych agrees and shares this claim about human nature.)

“Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.” Great fucking quote

Create clear measurable goals that can provide you feedback on whether or not you are making progress

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge works turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

Summary: Due to the rarity of deep work, you learning how to go deep will set you up for success.

Chapter 3 – Deep Work is Meaningful 

“The goal of this chapter is to convince you that deep work can generate as much satisfaction in an information economy as it so clearly does in a craft economy.”

“a deep life is not just economically lucrative, but also is a life well lived.”

Winifred Gallagher in Rapt (get this book), says

Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse fields 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.

“Our brains construct out worldview based on what we pay attention to.”

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

Next he introduces flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (It is important to not that most of these great books I read reference something from the positive psychology literature.) Study the literature.

Gallagher ends her book Rapt as such:

I have a plan for living the rest of my life. I’ll choose my targets with care…then give them my rapt attention. In short, I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”

To say another way, pick your goals with care, and work towards them everyday.

Csikszentmihalyi gave people beepers that randomly asked them how happy they were. People thought they’d be happiest while relaxing, what Csikszentmihalyi found is people are most happy when they are working (or having sex.) He says;

The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mid 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 guilt-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.”

Gallagher’s and Csikszentmihalyi’s research show that deep work provides meaning and value.

Deep work is ideal to trigger flow, and flow needs goals, feedback, and challenges. Implement these into your deep work.

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

Medieval quarry worker’s creed, “We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals.” Great fucking quote!

“Whether you’re a writer, marketer, consultant, or lawyer: your work is craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skilled wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life.”

This reminds me of Dharma as explained in the GIta.

Part 2 – The Rules

Rule 1 – Work Deeply 

You have a finite amount of willpower, structure your mental and physical environment to make default choices for you.

“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.”

aka, create implementation intentions around your life.

He is going to offer 6 strategies

Decide Your Depth Philosophy – Choose the kind of depth that works for you.

Monastic – Days or Weeks at a time of deep work (Most of us don’t have lives that would allow this,)

Bimodal – schedule one or two days a week or a week every 4-6 weeks where you can commit all day to Deep work (think vacations.)

Rhythmic – pick a time slot everyday that you can deep work for 3-4 hours (this is my approach)

Journalistic –  Whenever you have a spare moment, dive into deep work.

Ritualize – rituals are essentially behavioral algorithms we can leverage to trigger deep work. (I do all creative work on one computer, wear headphones, leave a song on repeat, remove my phone from the room, drink the same drink, etc. All of this triggers my brain to start sinking into deep work.)

This approach does not care about inspiration. We engage in our work every day. Cal recommends

  • Determine where and how long you work
  • Know how you’ll work when you start (track metrics)
  • How you’ll support your deep work (noise cancelling headphones, coffee, work out before

Make Grand Gestures

Do something for yourself that shows you are committed. (J. K. Rowling spent $1,000s on a fancy hotel to cure writer’s block.)

Don’t Work Alone

This one is tricky. Basically, have a place where you can deep work alone, but ideally, you’d interact with other very smart people while not in deep work. (having to walk to bathroom you’d walk by a coworker’s office and hear something interesting, etc.)

Execute Like a Business

Move from What to How

Introduces 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX)

Discipline #1) Focus on the Wildly Important – aka, know your Big Why/Life Purpose/ Life Task

This highly connects with The One Thing.

Discipline #2) Act on the Lead Measures – aka define the most important data point that represents progress towards goal

Lag measures – the actually thing you’re seeking to improve (example. Improve people’s self-reported life satisfaction)

Lead measures – measures the actions you need to take now to achieve lag measures (example, number of hours per day in deep work.)

Disciple #3 – Keep a Compelling Scoreboard – I like a white erase board that I put a big red X on for days I do 3-4 hours of deep work)

Discipline #4 – Create A cadence of Accountability (A review day where you look back on the week and see how you performed and how you can improve it.) The effectiveness of this is boosted if you have people you report progress too who you respect.

Be Lazy – Cultivate space in your day and week where you are not trying to do anything. You’re relaxing. Ah-ha moments can rise from these moments and the recharging allow for better deep work.

Reason 1 – Downtown aids insight (Unconscious Thought Theory)

Reason 2 – Downtime Helps Recharge the Energy Needed to Work Deeply (Attention Restoration Theory)

Reason 3 – THe Work That Evening Downtime Replaces is Usually Not That Important – Ericsson finds that our capacity for deep work in a day is between 1-4 hours. So if you use your work day accordingly, you aren’t doing any deep work at night.

Create an evening ritual that tells your body that you are done working for the day.

  • capture all todays
  • create plan of action for tomorrow
  • turn off your computer for the night

Rule 2 – Embrace Boredom

Learning to wean your mind from the compulsion to seek distractions aids in you deepening your Deep Work.

Self reported chronic multitaskers are worse at pretty much everything compared to people who report not multitasking a lot.

The purpose of rule 2 is to help us increase the duration of deep work we can do in a day.

Technique – Schedule the times in the day you are allowed to be on the internet. Do not go on the internet if it is not your scheduled block. We seek the internet automatically when we have a moment of boredom or we start to hit something challenging in our work.

Meditation and “Surf-The-Urge” are great techniques to aid in this practice

He introduces the idea of Productive Meditation;

  • go for a walk and train your mind to only focus on a deep work challenge
  • Review the variables and hold them in working memory
  • then define the specific next step action
  • consolidate your gains by reviewing clearly the answered you identify

Rule #3 – 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.

This is how most people rationalize and its flawed.

Rather, adopt the craftsmen approach to network 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 substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

Identify what your highest professional goal is; then use that as a guide to determine whether a given networking tool will substantially help you achieve that goal.

Put more thought into your leisure time.

Rule #4 – Drain The Shallows 

Plan every minute of your day (just to see how much time you really waste.)

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

This is an uncomfortable technique, but doing it is very illuminating.

Quantify the Depth of every activity

Once you have planned your day, look at what is shallow and what is not.

a good question to ask to determine if something is shallow or deep work

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

If it takes more than a couple month, consider it deep work.


Deep work is way more powerful than most people understand.