Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Author: Cal Newport
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by Maro   2020-11-21
I really liked Cal Newport's first book, "So Good They Can't Ignore You", published in 2012 [1]. The titular sentence is great advice, one I've been following all my life.

Meanwhile a lot of time went by, I'm almost 40, and I have worked at 8-10 companies (incl. FAANG, my own startup). His later advice, from the book "Deep Work", was not in line with my work experience [2]. The problem is, Cal doesn't have a regular 9-5 job as a tech worker, at a tech company. He's in academia (and self-employed), which is very different --- I know, I also worked in academia! And this shows.

For example, I was reading his book Deep Work while I was at Facebook, where the whole company is on Workplace/Workchat internally, with frequent notification/mention/chat interrupts, and the culture is to have quick response times. So no Deep Work, yet velocity and productivity is very high. It's not true that you need a lot of focused time to get things done, you can manage it in smaller chunks. It'd be convenient, but it's not realistic.

Reflecting on this article, in my experience, the key thing to focus on for companies is not personal productivity but team organization. The topline differentiator between high-velocity and high-productivity organizations versus the rest is that these are a collection of self-sufficient cross-functional product teams. The rest, which is most organizations, usually run "projects" instead of products, and multiple departments and teams, with different reporting lines, goals, OKRs/KPIs, etc. are exptected to work together to make it happen --- the result is the organization becomes one big waiting/blocking graph, with 80% of projects being blocked at any given time. This also makes personal productivity harder, because more "sync" and "alignment" type email threads and meetings are needed. In this model people have to work with more people they don't know/trust, so more people are communicating with each other who don't know how to communicate with each other, they may not even know the other person's exact job description or timezone location.

Having said that, I appreciate Cal's perspective, and I'm happy to support him by buying his books.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Good-They-Cant-Ignore-You/dp/14555091...

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...

by georgex7   2020-10-09
I read Cal Newport's Deep Work (https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...), which explains how to work in a way that maximizes your output. In short, he recommends spending short periods of time hyper-focused on difficult problems with absolutely no distractions.

I applied this way of working to how I approached studying for software engineering and it helped me tremendously. I was able to pick up difficult solutions quite quickly without spending huge amounts of time studying. I've continued to use this way of working over the last couple of years, which has helped me perform well at work + on side projects.

During this time, I had no way to track my deep work hours or what I was getting done in those sessions. This allows you to do just that. You can think of it like Google Analytics for your Deep Work time.

It's in the early stages now, but I'm in the process of adding essential features.

by georgex7   2020-10-09
Background about this project --

I read Cal Newport's Deep Work (https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...), which explains how to work in a way that maximizes your output. In short, he recommends spending short periods of time hyper-focused on difficult problems with absolutely no distractions.

I applied this way of working to how I approached studying for software engineering and it helped me tremendously. I was able to pick up difficult solutions quite quickly without spending huge amounts of time studying. I've continued to use this way of working over the last couple of years, which has helped me perform well at work + on side projects.

During this time, I had no way to track my deep work hours or what I was getting done in those sessions. This allows you to do just that. You can think of it like Google Analytics for your Deep Work time.

It's in the early stages now, but I'm in the process of adding essential features.

by long_warmup   2020-01-20
Looks interesting, I drop link here for future reference. https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...
by sansampersamp   2019-11-17

https://www.amazon.com.au/Deep-Work-Cal-Newport/dp/1455586692

by klimmass   2019-11-17

Thanks for such a large feedback. The "zone" for me is the time when you focus on one problem. No distractions. You will know when you was "in the zone" when 4 hours passed like 10 mins. :)

​

There is one book I can recommend - DeepWork ( https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/dp/1455586692 )

​

TOTALLY AGREE WITH WRITE A LOT OF CODE!!

by [deleted]   2019-11-17

Yes, I learned Java this way and am also learning VBA this way. Have you read "Deep Work" by Cal Newport by chance? I used this method you describe to acquire technical skills and have been surprised by how effective it is. In the past month, I've learned enough HTML/CSS, VBA and Java to make a website at work, write some simple scripts to automate Excel work and am still learning the foundations of Java, but I can also make simple apps with it.

by currentaccount123   2019-07-21

and Deep work https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/dp/1455586692

Both of these books are in sync with what you said in your post, and what you wrote is true.

by Secreteus   2019-07-21

Reading books of course, it will greatly improve your ability to focus which has been really harmed by internet surfing. You may also work on improving some marketable skills, like programming, graphics design, etc., whatever you choose. To dive more into those topics I recommend you to read Cal Newport's books, especially Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, he also has interesting blog: calnewport.com/blog, old posts touch this topic in more depth. Another book that I would like to recommend you is The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains which will show you how damaging internet can be.

by c3rbutt   2019-07-21

Cal Newport says we all need to learn how to do "deep work."

https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/dp/1455586692

by lwilld   2019-05-23
I've been greatly inspired and influenced by the Deep Work [0] approach to my workday, and find myself able to really get into a flow and work effectively when I follow a Deep Work approach. I was also reminded of this when I saw this checklist [1] on HN recently.

I'm lucky enough to be work remotely with most of my colleagues in the US (I'm based in the Philippines), so I have a lot of control over my interruptions and can get a lot of work done in the morning while everyone else sleeps.

However, every time I get back into a deep work routine, I get distracted while waiting for builds to build, tests to run, etc. Sometimes it can just be 1 - 10 minutes, and in that time I can find myself on HN, instincively checking twitter or my email, and getting completely out of the flow.

For example, right now I'm waiting for a rather large Dockerfile to build and decided to write this post. I normally struggle the most when I have to do DevOps tasks (e.g. setting up CI pipelines, waiting for terraform to deploy only to tear down a deployment again).

Does anyone have advice for how to maintain a deep work "flow state" while waiting for random amounts of time? What do you do to maintain your focus?

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/dp/1455586692

[1] https://doist.com/blog/complete-guide-to-deep-work/#Choose_Your_Deep_Work_Strategy

by sgdread   2018-11-10
There is another great book written by Cal: Deep Work [1].

Don't follow your passion. Instead, become really good at something. Apply methodical approach to improve your craft skills. Once you got mastery, you might actually like it.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...

edit: formatting

by jonathanfoster   2018-11-10
The author references Cal Newport's Deep Work [1]. I recently read this book and I can't recommend it enough. It's not just a productivity fluff piece about the importance of focus. He brings an academic rigor to the debate and backs up his claims with legitimate evidence. Best of all, the book is not just theory, it's 100% actionable.

I used Newport's recommendations to reclaim 4+ solid hours of deep focus and it's had a tremendous impact on my productivity and general quality of life.

Here are a few strategies I found successful:

* Create a TODO list each day and separate tasks into shallow and deep categories

* Block off each hour of the day and and fill it with one of the TODO items

* Restrict shallow work to 2 hours (after 2 hours, say no to everything shallow)

* Create a scorecard and track the number of deep hours each day (this number should increase)

* Experiment with Newport's recommendations for two weeks and see which ones increase your deep hours

* Become comfortable saying no

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...

by Omnius   2018-10-21
You should read "Deep Work" i found it very enlightening and have put a lot of it into practice to make sure i have time for deep and creative work.

https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...

by thisisananth   2018-08-06
I was addicted to browsing during my work. I knew I was wasting my time and it is not helping. I would resolve to not so it again. Then slowly I would fall back into my old ways. What helped was realizing that it is easy to do something 100% of the time than 95% of the time. Previously rationalized when I was getting distracted by telling myself it is just for 5 mins which inevitably resulted in more rationalising and realizing only after an hour. Now when I get distracted and realize it, I just stop it there and then and get back to work. I also made some changes like having specific internet time and strictly avoiding it during other time also helped. Read the book deep work by Cal Newport. It has these and various other ways to focus more. https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...
by jawns   2018-02-27
One step is to acknowledge that you're not supposed to be good at task switching. It takes a negative toll on everybody. Our brains just aren't very good at it. Because of this, your employer, if you have one, should take steps to minimize the amount of task switching required, or at least try to give you blocks of time you can dedicate to focused tasks.

That said, task switching is a practical reality, so coping strategies are important, too.

For help with that, check out Cal Newport's "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World" (https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...). Full disclosure: He and I share a literary agent.

by yuribro   2017-12-25
Cal Newport - Deep Work

While following the advice in the book did push my productivity up, sadly I didn't manage to keep up those habits. But it does appear to work, just need to make the right adjustments to make it easier to follow.

https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...

by antoaravinth   2017-11-25
Yes, that precisely what I wanted to say. For newbies, I would recommend to read this fantastic book on Deep work [1]

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...

by markdog12   2017-10-09
Loved the book and highly recommend, especially to hn crowd.

https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...

by beat   2017-09-04
For those interested in managing online time and getting ourselves offline regularly, the book Deep Work, by Cal Newport, has some very useful ideas. One that I plan to start experimenting with is the idea of scheduled internet access - allow yourself to get online only at certain times of day. This isn't just for work. Even if you're, say, standing in line at the grocery store, you don't get to pull your phone out and check your email.

As the author points out, we've forgotten how to be bored. We need to learn to engage that part of our brain again.

https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...