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  • 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.
  • A 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.
  • It’s a skill that has great value today. There are two reasons for this value. The first has to do with learning. The second reason that deep work is valuable is because the impacts of the digital network revolution cut both ways.
  • We have now seen two strands of thought—one about the increasing scarcity of deep work and the other about its increasing value—which we can combine into the idea that provides the foundation for everything that follows in this book.
  • 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 One - Deep Work Is Valuable

  • Why have Silver, Hansson, and Doerr done so well? There are two types of answers to this question. The first are micro in scope and focus on the personality traits and tactics that helped drive this trio’s rise. The second type of answers are more macro in that they focus less on the individuals and more on the type of work they represent.
  • In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: 1) those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, 2) those who are the best at what they do, and 3) those with access to capital.
  • 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.
  • To summarize these observations more succinctly: If you can’t learn, you can’t thrive . . .This provides another general observation for joining the ranks of winners in our economy: If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.
  • “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.” - Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges
  • This new science of performance argues that you get better at a skill as you develop more myelin (a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurons, acting like an insulator that allows the cells to fire faster and cleaner) around the relevant neurons, allowing the corresponding circuit to fire more effortlessly and effectively.
  • By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin around the neurons in the circuits—effectively cementing the skill.
  • Law of productivity: High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

Chapter Two - Deep Work Is Rare

  • Richard Feynman explaining in an interview one of his less orthodox productivity strategies: 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. If anyone asks me to be on a committee for admissions, “no,” I tell them: I’m irresponsible.

Chapter Three - Deep Work Is Meaningful

  • The small-scale details of how you spend your day aren’t that important, because what matters are the large-scale outcomes, such as whether or not you get a promotion or move to that nicer apartment.
  • Your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to, so consider for a moment the type of mental world constructed when you dedicate significant time to deep endeavors.
  • ‘The idle mind is the devil’s workshop’… when you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right.”
  • Csikszentmihalyi’s work with ESM helped validate a theory he had been developing over the preceding decade: “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.”
  • 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.
  • Santiago Gonzalez describing his work to an interviewer: Beautiful code is short and concise, so if you were to give that code to another programmer they would say, “oh, that’s well written code.” It’s much like as if you were writing a poem.
  • You don’t need a rarefied job; you need instead a rarefied approach to your work.

PART 2 The Rules

Rule #1 - Work Deeply

  • The machine, which takes its name from the ancient Greek concept of eudaimonia (a state in which you’re achieving your full human potential), turns out to be a building. “The goal of the machine,” David explained, “is to create a setting where the users can get into a state of deep human flourishing—creating work that’s at the absolute extent of their personal abilities.”
  • People fight desires all day long. As Baumeister summarized in his subsequent book, Willpower (co-authored with the science writer John Tierney): “Desire turned out to be the norm, not the exception.” The five most common desires these subjects fought include, not surprisingly, eating, sleeping, and sex. But the top five list also included desires for “taking a break from [hard] work… checking e-mail and social networking sites, surfing the web, listening to music, or watching television.”
  • The Monastic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
    • The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent and why I very rarely accept speaking engagements. If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.
    • Jung’s approach is what I call the bimodal philosophy of deep work. This philosophy asks that you 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. This division of time between deep and open can happen on multiple scales. For example, on the scale of a week, you might dedicate a four-day weekend to depth and the rest to open time.
  • The Rhythmic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
    • The rhythmic philosophy. This philosophy argues that 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 decision between rhythmic and bimodal can come down to your self-control in such scheduling matters. If you’re Carl Jung and are engaged in an intellectual dogfight with Sigmund Freud’s supporters, you’ll likely have no trouble recognizing the importance of finding time to focus on your ideas. On the other hand, if you’re writing a dissertation with no one pressuring you to get it done, the habitual nature of the rhythmic philosophy might be necessary to maintain progress.
  • The Journalistic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
    • This approach is not for the deep work novice. As I established in the opening to this rule, 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. This type of conviction is typically built on a foundation of existing professional accomplishment.
    • 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.
  • Make Grand Gestures
    • 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.
  • Don’t Work Alone . . . Execute Like a Business
    • Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important: “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
    • Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures: For an individual focused on deep work, it’s easy to identify the relevant lead measure: time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.
    • Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard: It follows, therefore, that the individual’s scoreboard should be a physical artifact in the workspace that displays the individual’s current deep work hour count.
    • Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability: Kreider’s explanation: Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence, or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets… it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
  • Observations from experiments such as this one led Dijksterhuis and his collaborators to introduce unconscious thought theory (UTT)—an attempt to understand the different roles conscious and unconscious deliberation play in decision making. At a high level, this theory proposes that for decisions that require the application of strict rules, the conscious mind must be involved. For example, if you need to do a math calculation, only your conscious mind is able to follow the precise arithmetic rules needed for correctness. 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 hypothesizes 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 centers of thinking. Your conscious mind, according to this theory, is like a home computer on which you can run carefully written programs that return correct answers to limited problems, whereas your unconscious mind is like Google’s vast data centers, in which statistical algorithms sift through terabytes of unstructured information, teasing out surprising useful solutions to difficult questions.
  • 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.

Rule #2 - Embrace Boredom

  • 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.
  • The goal of productive meditation 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. Depending on your profession, this problem might be outlining an article, writing a talk, making progress on a proof, or attempting to sharpen a business strategy.

Rule #3 - Quit Social Media

  • 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.
  • Once the packing was done, Nicodemus then spent the next week going through his normal routine. If he needed something that was packed, he would unpack it and put it back where it used to go. At the end of the week, he noticed that the vast majority of his stuff remained untouched in its boxes. So he got rid of it.

Rule #4 - Drain the Shallows

  • Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate. Some
  • Finish Your Work by Five Thirty: I call this commitment fixed-schedule productivity, as I fix the firm goal of not working past a certain time, then work backward to find productivity strategies that allow me to satisfy this declaration.
  • Become Hard to Reach


  • A commitment to deep work is not a moral stance and it’s not a philosophical statement —it is instead a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.