DEEP WORK

Great great book - it started out as a beautiful confirmation of a lot of things I already believe and do, and then proceeded to slap me in the face with where I am exactly going wrong. It was amazing.

Helps you feel a lot less guilty about being a lot more brutal with your time.

I unintentionally read this in the same day as Irresistable, and I feel this has a lot better advice to avoid social media and addiction than that book (there are some techniques he uses in the end of this summary).


Actionable Takeaways:

  • In the new economy, you need to be able to quickly master new things and apply that knowledge at an elite level: for both of which deep work is required, so it is important you learn how to get yourself into flow, do it as often as you can

  • Recognise small no-brainer tasks vs need-to-think-about-this projects; you want to get the no-brainer tasks done as soon as possible, don't let them linger, become distractions or cause ego depletion; on the other hand, use your attention residue productively by keeping big projects in the back of your mind when you shower or go on walks

  • We romaticise relaxation - we overestimate how painful we find work and how fun we find just doing nothing - in order to properly have fun we need to be mentally stimulated/challenged to some extent. As what we consider challenging varies due to endless factors, you can continue to watch 4x speed videos guiltlessly

  • Don't expect inspiration, just get the work done

  • Switch up your environment, ideally make some financial investment (a coffee at a coffehouse for example, student budget) in order to get yourself working well

  • Parkinson's x Roosevelt law helps: halve the time you think you need for a project and try to get it done then, you'd be surprised how much this helps/how often it actually works

  • Group work can be useful, but be cautious of the distractions and depending on it to get work done

  • Be more intentional with your time - emails, social media - a lot of things don't actually need your attention right then; and most of them never actually need your attention

  • When it comes to social media, ask yourself why you are on a certain platform, and if that purpose can be better served, and with less cost in another way (you can keep up with friends via personal texts rather than online-stalking them)

  • Some gold from Tim: “Develop the habit of letting small bad things happen. If you don't, you'll never find time for the life-changing big things.”



What Deep Work Is

  • “Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.”This advice comes from Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges, a Dominican friar and professor of moral philosophy, who during the early part of the twentieth century penned a slim but influential volume titled The Intellectual Life.

Values Of The Modern World

  • If you can create something useful, its reachable audience (e. g., employers or customers) is essentially limitless—which greatly magnifies your reward. On the other hand, if what you're producing is mediocre, then you're in trouble, as it's too easy for your audience to find a better alternative online.

  • Whether you're a computer programmer, writer, marketer, consultant, or entrepreneur, your situation has become similar to Jung trying to outwit Freud, or Jason Benn trying to hold his own in a hot start-up: To succeed you have to produce the absolute best stuff you're capable of producing—a task that requires depth.

  • 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.

  • I argue that the following two core abilities are crucial. Two Core Abilities for 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


You don't need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.


Part 1: What Not To Do


Enemies: Attention Residue

  • People experiencing attention residue after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that next task,” and the more intense the residue, the worse the performance. The concept of attention residue helps explain why the intensity formula is true and therefore helps explain Grant’s productivity.

Enemies: Distractions

  • The rareness of deep work, I’ll argue, is not due to some fundamental weakness of the habit. When we look closer at why we embrace distraction in the workplace we’ll find the reasons are more arbitrary than we might expect—based on flawed thinking combined with the ambiguity and confusion that often define knowledge work. My objective is to convince you that although our current embrace of distraction is a real phenomenon, it’s built on an unstable foundation and can be easily dismissed once you decide to cultivate a deep work ethic.

Enemies: Business as a Proxy For Productivity

  • 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. This mind-set provides another explanation for the popularity of many depth-destroying behaviours.

Enemies: Technopoly

  • We were, he noted, no longer discussing the trade-offs surrounding new technologies, balancing the new efficiencies against the new problems introduced. If it’s high-tech, we began to instead assume, then it’s good. Case closed. He called such a culture a technopoly, and he didn’t mince words in warning against it. “Technopoly eliminates alternatives to itself in precisely the way Aldous Huxley outlined in Brave New World,” he argued in his 1993 book on the topic. “It does not make them illegal. It does not make them immoral. It does not even make them unpopular. It makes them invisible and therefore irrelevant.”

Enemies: Romanticising Relaxation

  • But the results from Csikszentmihalyi's ESM studies reveal that most people have this wrong: 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. When measured empirically, people were happier at work and less happy relaxing than they suspected. (💙)

Enemies: Ego Depletion

  • 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 minimise the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.

  • I’ll work deeply during each week at the beginning of the week, and then refine these decisions, as needed, at the beginning of each day. By reducing the need to make decisions about deep work moment by moment, I can preserve more mental energy for the deep thinking itself.

Enemies: Expecting Inspiration

  • The journalist Mason Currey, who spent half a decade cataloging the habits of famous thinkers and writers, summarised this tendency toward systematisation as follows: There is a popular notion that artists work from inspiration—that there is some strike or bolt or bubbling up of creative mojo from who knows where…but I hope [my work] makes clear that waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible, terrible plan. In fact, perhaps the single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration.


Part 2: What To Do


Formulas For Success: Go To Scotland

  • Rowling's decision to check into a luxurious hotel suite near Edinburgh Castle is an example of a curious but effective strategy in the world of deep work: the grand gesture. The concept is simple: By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated toward supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task. This boost in importance reduces your mind's instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy.

Formulas For Success: Switch Off

  • You could, for example, use Kreider's approach of retreating from the world of shallow tasks altogether by hiding out in an “undisclosed location,” but this isn't practical for most people. Instead, I want to suggest a more applicable but still quite powerful heuristic: At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning—no after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you'll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely. If you need more time, then extend your workday, but once you shut down, your mind must be left free to encounter Kreider's buttercups, stink bugs, and stars.

Formulas For Success: Productive Procrastination

  • On the other hand, for decisions that involve large amounts of information and multiple vague, and perhaps even conflicting, constraints, your unconscious mind is well suited to tackle the issue. UTT hypothesises that this is due to the fact that these regions of your brain have more neuronal bandwidth available, allowing them to move around more information and sift through more potential solutions than your conscious centres of thinking.

  • This study, it turns out, is one of many that validate attention restoration theory (ART), which claims that spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate. This theory, which was first proposed in the 1980s by the University of Michigan psychologists Rachel Kaplan and Stephen Kaplan (the latter of which coauthored the 2008 study discussed here, along with Marc Berman and John Jonides), is based on the concept of attention fatigue. To concentrate requires what ART calls directed attention. This resource is finite: If you exhaust it, you'll struggle to concentrate.

  • 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.
  • If you eat healthy just one day a week, you're unlikely to lose weight, as the majority of your time is still spent gorging. Similarly, if you spend just one day a week resisting distraction, you're unlikely to diminish your brain's craving for these stimuli, as most of your time is still spent giving in to it. I propose an alternative to the Internet Sabbath. 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.

Don't Take Breaks from Distraction. Instead Take Breaks from Focus.

Formulas For Success: Parkinson's Roosevelt

  • In particular, identify a deep task (that is, something that requires deep work to complete) that's high on your 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. If possible, commit publicly to the deadline—for example, by telling the person expecting the finished project when they should expect it.

  • Roosevelt dashes leverage artificial deadlines to help you systematically increase the level you can regularly achieve providing, in some sense, interval training for the attention centres of your brain.

Formulas For Success: Shutdown Rituals

  • To quote the paper: "Committing to a specific plan for a goal may therefore not only facilitate attainment of the goal but may also free cognitive resources for other pursuits.” The shutdown ritual described earlier leverages this tactic to battle the Zeigarnik effect. While it doesn't force you to explicitly identify a plan for every single task in your task list (a burdensome requirement), it does force you to capture every task in a common list, and then review these tasks before making a plan for the next day. This ritual ensures that no task will be forgotten: Each will be reviewed daily and tackled when the time is appropriate. Your mind, in other words, is released from its duty to keep track of these obligations at every moment—your shutdown ritual has taken over that responsibility.

Formulas For Success: Cautious Group Work

  • Therefore, the hub-and-spoke model provides a crucial template. Separate your pursuit of serendipitous encounters from your efforts to think deeply and build on these inspirations. You should try to optimise each effort separately, as opposed to mixing them together into a sludge that impedes both goals. Second, even when you retreat to a spoke to think deeply, when it's reasonable to leverage the whiteboard effect, do so. By working side by side with someone on a problem, you can push each other toward deeper levels of depth, and therefore toward the generation of more and more valuable output as compared to working alone. When it comes to deep work, in other words, consider the use of collaboration when appropriate, as it can push your results to a new level. At the same time, don't lionise this quest for interaction and positive randomness to the point where it crowds out the unbroken concentration ultimately required to wring something useful out of the swirl of ideas all around us.

Formulas For Success: 80/20 Rules

  • This argument, however, misses the key point that all activities, regardless of their importance, consume your same limited store of time and attention. If you service low impact activities, therefore, you're taking away time you could be spending on higher impact activities. It's a zero-sum game. And because your time returns substantially more rewards when invested in high-impact activities than when invested in low impact activities, the more of it you shift to the latter, the lower your overall benefit. The business world understands this math. This is why it's not uncommon to see a company fire unproductive clients. If 80 percent of their profits come from 20 percent of their clients, then they make more money by redirecting the energy from low revenue clients to better service the small number of lucrative contracts—each hour spent on the latter returns more revenue than each hour spent on the former.

Formulas For Success: Batching

  • Though Grant’s productivity depends on many factors, there’s one idea in particular that seems central to his method: the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches. Grant performs this batching at multiple levels. Within the year, he stacks his teaching into the fall semester, during which he can turn all of his attention to teaching well and being available to his students. (This method seems to work, as Grant is currently the highest-rated teacher at Wharton and the winner of multiple teaching awards.) By batching his teaching in the fall, Grant can then turn his attention fully to research in the spring and summer, and tackle this work with less distraction. Grant also batches his attention on a smaller time scale. Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods where his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods where he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task. (He typically divides the writing of a scholarly paper into three discrete tasks: analyzing the data, writing a full draft, and editing the draft into something publishable.) During these periods, which can last up to three or four days, he’ll often put an out-of-office auto-responder on his e-mail so correspondents will know not to expect a response. “It sometimes confuses my colleagues,” he told me. “They say, ‘You’re not out of office, I see you in your office right now!’” But to Grant, it’s important to enforce strict isolation until he completes the task at hand. My guess is that Adam Grant doesn’t work substantially more hours than the average professor at an elite research institution (generally speaking, this is a group prone to workaholism), but he still manages to produce more than just about anyone else in his field. I argue that his approach to batching helps explain this paradox. In particular, by consolidating his work into intense and uninterrupted pulses, he’s leveraging the following law of productivity:

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
  • If you believe this formula, then Grant’s habits make sense: By maximising his intensity when he works, he maximises the results he produces per unit of time spent working.

  • The very best students often studied less than the group of students right below them on the GPA rankings. One of the explanations for this phenomenon turned out to be the formula detailed earlier: The best students understood the role intensity plays in productivity and therefore went out of their way to maximise their concentration—radically reducing the time required to prepare for tests or write papers, without diminishing the quality of their results.

Formulas For Success: Be More Intentional With Your Time

  • It’s crucial, therefore, that you figure out in advance what you’re going to do with your evenings and weekends before they begin. Structured hobbies provide good fodder for these hours, as they generate specific actions with specific goals to fill your time. A set program of reading, à la Bennett, where you spend regular time each night making progress on a series of deliberately chosen books, is also a good option, as is, of course, exercise or the enjoyment of good (in-person) company.

  • We spend much of our day on autopilot—not giving much thought to what we're doing with our time. This is a problem. It's difficult to prevent the trivial from creeping into every corner of your schedule if you don't face, without flinching your current balance between deep and shallow work, and then adopt the habit of pausing before action and asking, “What makes the most sense right now?”

  • I would go so far as to argue that someone following this combination of comprehensive scheduling and a willingness to adapt or modify the plan as needed will likely experience more creative insights than someone who adopts a more traditionally “spontaneous” approach where the day is left open and unstructured.

  • Fixed-schedule productivity, in other words, is a meta-habit that’s simple to adopt but broad in its impact. If you have to choose just one behaviour that reorients your focus toward the deep, this one should be high on your list of possibilities. If you’re still not sure, however, about the idea that artificial limits on your workday can make you more successful.

Part 3: Internet

Why Emails Are Bad For You

  • And in an ironic twist, Neal Stephenson, the acclaimed cyberpunk author who helped form our popular conception of the Internet age, is near impossible to reach electronically—his website offers no e-mail address and features an essay about why he is purposefully bad at using social media. Here's how he once explained the omission: "If I organise my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. [If I instead get interrupted a lot] what replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time... there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons.”

  • Replies are assumed, regardless of the relevance or appropriateness of the message. There's also no way to avoid that some bad things will happen if you take this approach. At the minimum, some people might get confused or upset—especially if they've never seen standard e-mail conventions questioned or ignored. Here's the thing: This is okay. As the author Tim Ferriss once wrote:

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

Just How Much Do We Procrastinate Online

  • 2012 McKinsey study found that the average knowledge worker now spends more than 60 percent of the workweek engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching, with close to 30 percent of a worker's time dedicated to reading and answering e-mail alone.

  • Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work. “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation,” admitted journalist Nicholas Carr, in an oft-cited 2008 Atlantic article. “[And] I'm not the only one.”

Want To Think About Your Online Time?

  • 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 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 substantially outweigh its negative impacts. Notice that this craftsman approach to tool selection stands in opposition to the any-benefit approach. Whereas the any-benefit mind-set identifies any potential positive impact as justification for using a tool, the craftsman variant requires that these positive impacts affect factors at the core of what’s important to you and that they outweigh the negatives.

  • To find out if social media is worth it for you: what is your goal? If it is to connect to specific people, then surely there are better, more personal ways to do it?

  • Professorial E-mail Sorting: Do not reply to an e-mail message if any of the following applies: It's ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response. • It's not a question or proposal that interests you. • Nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn't.

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