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20 Quotes from “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport

The following quotes are taken from Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

  1. 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. 3

  2. Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate. 6

  3. The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive. 14

  4. This ability to fully disconnect, as opposed to the more standard practice of sneaking in a few quick work e-mail checks, or giving in to frequent surveys of social media sites, allows me to be present with my wife and two sons in the evenings, and read a surprising number of books for a busy father of two. More generally, the lack of distraction in my life tones down that background hum of nervous mental energy that seems to increasingly pervade people’s daily lives . . . A deep life is a good life. 17-18

  5. High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus) 40

  6. People experiencing attention residue after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that next task. 42

  7. When we step back from these individual observations, we see a clear argument form: To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work. 44

  8. Depth will become increasingly rare and therefore increasingly valuable. 71

  9. 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 . . . To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction. 84, 86

  10. Craftsmanship, Dreyfus and Kelly argue in their book’s conclusion, provides a key to reopening a sense of sacredness in a responsible manner. 87

  11. “We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals.” . . . Whether you’re a writer, marketer, consultant, or lawyer: Your work is craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skilled wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life. 89, 90

  12. This brings me to the motivating idea behind the strategies that follow: 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 minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration. 100

  13. Four Rules:

    1. Rule #1: Work Deeply 95

    2. Rule #2: Embrace Boredom 155

    3. Rule #3: Quit Social Media 181

    4. Rule #4: Drain the Shallows 215

  14. Four Disciplines:

    1. Discipline # 1: Focus on the Wildly Important 136

    2. Discipline # 2: Act on the Lead Measures . . . Lead measures turn your attention to improving the behaviors you directly control in the near future that will then have a positive impact on your long-term goals. 137-38

    3. Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard (that measures the hours of deep work). 138

    4. Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability. 140

  15. Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day to follow. Put another way, trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown . . . To succeed with this strategy, you must first accept the commitment that once your workday shuts down, you cannot allow even the smallest incursion of professional concerns into your field of attention. 149, 151

  16. When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done. 154

  17. There is, however, an important corollary to this idea: Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction. Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions, you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom. 157

  18. The strategies that follow are motivated by the key idea that getting the most out of your deep work habit requires training, and as clarified previously, this training must address two goals: improving your ability to concentrate intensely and overcoming your desire for distraction. 159

  19. To summarize, the motivation for this strategy is the recognition that a deep work habit requires you to treat your time with respect. A good first step toward this respectful handling is the advice outlined here: Decide in advance what you’re going to do with every minute of your workday. 227

  20. For many, there’s a comfort in the artificial busyness of rapid e-mail messaging and social media posturing, while the deep life demands that you leave much of that behind. There’s also an uneasiness that surrounds any effort to produce the best things you’re capable of producing, as this forces you to confront the possibility that your best is not (yet) that good. 263


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