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.

Deep Work Tally

Cal suggests using a deep work tally (in your notebook or digitally). Some benefits:

Depth Work Rituals