On the Importance of Deep Work

Constantly learn new things

To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deepwork. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.

Lifelong learning

The ability to perform is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becomingincreasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few whocultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life,will thrive

Attention residue

The problem this research identifies with this work strategy is that when you switch from some Task A to another Task B,your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task. This residue gets especially thick if your work on Task A was unbounded and of lowintensity before you switched, but even if you finish Task A beforemoving on, your attention remains divided for a while.

Part 1

Chapter 1: Deep Work is Valuable

The Intelectual Life

“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.”

Law of productivity

Chapter 2: Deep Work is rare

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 toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.

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 workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner

Chapter 3: Deep Work is Meaningful


As Gallagher recalls in her 2009 book Rapt, as she walked away from the hospital after the diagnosis she formed a sudden and strongintuition: “This disease wanted to monopolize my attention, but as much as possible, I would focus on my life instead.”

Her curiosity piqued, Gallagher set out to better understand the role that attention—that is, what we choose to focus on and what wechoose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life. After fiveyears of science reporting, she came away convinced that she was witness to a “grand unified theory” of the mind:


“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 calls this mental state flow (a term he popularized with a 1990 book of the same title).

Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedbackrules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved inone’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on theother hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.

Part 2

Taking action.

The Rules

Rule #1: Work deeply

Rule #2: Embrace boredom

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

Rule #3: Quit social media

Rule #4: Drain the Shallows


From Top Performer

Why deep work is important for new skills

Cal explains why Deep Work is essential for acquiring new skills and mentions 2 aspects:

SCOTT: You and I have done a lot of deep work, but I think you have done all the research behind it, so I’m interested, what is the reason why doing this kind of concentrated work is just so much more effective, particularly for these deliberate practice projects that the people who are watching this are going to be caring about?

CAL: It’s a good question. If you dive into the research, there are really two reasons why we know that deep work produces a lot of work and helps you learn complicated things in a short amount of time.

The first reason has to do with the neurons in your head. When you’re focusing intensely on a task without distraction, what’s happening in your head is that the neuronal circuit related to that activity is firing again and again very cleanly. There is not a lot of noise that is getting your attention. The way that the neural system works, is that if you fire the same circuit again and again in isolation, some cells come along and begin to build sheaths of a substance called myelin around the cell bodies. This acts like an insulator. Now the neurons can fire easier, and they can fire quicker than they could before.

Doing deep work when you’re trying to learn a hard new task, be it cognitive or even physical, is exactly what is required for the neural process of cementing a new skill in the neurons. The second reason why we know deep work is so effective is exactly how you experienced. There’s an effect called “attention residue” that causes real issues, and I think it’s being overlooked. Essentially the effect is as follows: If you have your attention on one target and then you shift your attention to another target, that original target leaves a residue in your head that can last 10, 20, up to 30 minutes. As long as that residue is there, you’re at a reduced cognitive performance. They can measure the number of IQ points you drop if you have just checked Facebook or if you just checked your email, and it’s a lot. If, like a lot of people, the way you work is you’re mainly focusing on one thing but every 10 or 15 minutes, you check your email or check a browser tab, you’re keeping yourself in a constant state of attention residue, which means you’re keeping yourself working at a reduced capacity.

Deep work really leverages both of those truths from cognitive science and neuroscience to make sure you’re getting the most out of your brain for the time you have to spend on the task at hand.