First, let me make it clear that I’ve read this book by Cal Newport at least three times. It’s not the type of book you read once and forget about. My first time through was after purchasing the hardcover on Amazon. This is a good reference book that provides some great insights into how to get things done in the information age. The second time around I listened to it as an Audible audiobook narrated by Mr. Newport himself which added some value because he reads with conviction and adds emphasis where appropriate for effect (I personally think listening to his voice makes him sound like Yoda with wisdom).
The third time around I listened to it again as an audiobook so my wife could listen too! Also, since having our daughter Isabela, Newport offered his Deep Work Audiobook for free so I grabbed a copy to enjoy re-reading my favorite sections.
Note that the following review is based on having listened to the book three times and also reading it once several months ago. It’s been a few years since I’ve taken classes in college but this here professor isn’t going to sugarcoat things with flowery prose. Get used to me saying something like “in this paragraph, Cal does an excellent job explaining…” or “this section provides some great knowledge” because it’s my style. There will be no mistaking what I think about Deep Work!
#1 The Rules of Deep Work
In order from greatest benefit/least expended to least benefit/greatest expended, the rules of deep work are:
Depth: The Depth Rule is about focusing on tasks that require your full concentration. If it’s not a 2-3 hour-long chunk of time, don’t attempt it. It should be consecutive and uninterrupted by email or social media distractions. Newport estimates 10 hours/week as an absolute maximum for this type of work so plan accordingly! As you’ll see below, this one rule alone is worth more than every other combined…but there are four others so keep reading!
Rule 1: DEEP WORK. Embrace Boring Tasks. Do the Hard Work.
Laser Focus: The laser focus rule proposes to eliminate multi-tasking in order to increase efficiency and quality when working on skills that require your full concentration. Keep distractions to a minimum and work on one thing at a time!
Audience: The audience rule is about leaving our work open to public scrutiny so we can benefit from the feedback of others. This includes things like blogging, speaking at conferences, or publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals. If you’re not getting some constructive comments on your efforts, then perhaps no one cares what you have to say?
Rule 3: MONITOR YOUR RETURNS. Segregate Deep Work Time.
Depth: In order for this message to sink home it’s important to explain why deep work is so valuable…because it produces results. Cal calls depth “the superpower” because going deep generally means going better and faster.
Rule 4: BEWARE OF THE SHALLOW. Embrace Discomfort.
Consequences: The consequences of ignoring this rule are not good and the results will be evident in your work efforts. Your “shallow” time can quickly devolve into a “black hole.” You need to make sure you schedule it, do it, and then get back to what you should be doing! Do NOT fall victim to checking email or jumping on social media.
The biggest takeaway from the rules is DEEP WORK IS VALUABLE AND SHOULD BE TREASURED! It’s hard to appreciate deep work when your day is full of shallow tasks that don’t contribute much other than ticking something off a list because someone else told you to do it!
It takes courage to embrace the discomfort of deep work, but the rewards will be abundant. If you want to become better at what you do (or even learn something new!) then this is mandatory reading/listening because it will show you how!
#2 The Rules of Being a Professional
If you’re working hard and aren’t getting paid for it…you need to read this section.
Rule 1: VALUE AN INTENTIONAL LIFE. Craft A Live that Matters.
People who can produce great things are able to, not necessarily because they have more hours in their day, but because they spend those hours on what matters most. It’s not about long hours or short hours…it’s about being intentional with your time.
Benefits: Does this work benefit you, your employer, or the world at large? If it doesn’t have value then stop doing it! Better yet, delete that Facebook app so no one can contact you for things of little importance…you’ll be happier and more productive because of it.
Rule 2: DEVELOP RUTHLESS PRIORITIZATION SKILLS. Learn to Say No.
People who are great at saying “no” are able to remove themselves from superfluous activities that don’t contribute much to their goals. The obvious reason is they’re not distracted but there’s another advantage as well – by focusing on what matters most they increase their sense of control over their own destiny.
Consequences: If you’re not being deliberate with your time then you have no control over what could happen. The things that are most likely to sabotage your carefully crafted plan are the trivial tasks that just show up in your day and you go about them without much thought because everyone else does which makes it easy to slide down the slippery slope of mediocrity…don’t fall for it!
Rule 3: PERSIST IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY. Do NOT Settle for Less.
We all fail, even when we put forth our best effort, but great professionals will get back up and keep trying until they’ve mastered their craft. This is part of becoming excellent – you’re going to suck at first and that’s ok because no one starts off great and it’s that effort and desire and persistence that is going to help you achieve something significant.
Consequences: You’ll never be as good as those who keep trying, even when they fail, but the biggest consequence of settling for less is a life of mediocrity…and mediocrity can sure feel comfortable! It’s easier to stay on the couch watching TV than it is to do what needs to be done. And don’t forget about everyone else that will end up benefiting from your success!
Rule 4: EDUCATE YOURSELF. Just Because You’re an Expert Doesn’t Mean You’re Right.
It’s important to remember that just because you’re an expert on a topic does not mean you’re always right – it doesn’t even mean you’re mostly right. This is important to realize during these days of “fake news” because the information (and disinformation) that’s out there can be hard to navigate. It’s critical to make sure what you believe is correct, not just because you’ll lose credibility without doing so but…
Benefits: When you learn something new your brain will strengthen and form new connections which mean increased intelligence! You need to expand your knowledge base if you ever want to become great at anything.
Consequences: If what we know about a topic isn’t accurate then we’re all worse off for it because the decisions made based on faulty data are unlikely to benefit us or anyone else who is affected by them.
Rule 5: REFLECT ON YOUR WORK. The Best Professionals are Really Good Self-Reflectors.
Great professionals are able to see their weaknesses and improve upon them, but if they can’t then they’ll seek help from someone who is good at that thing. If you’re not good at project management, why not hire someone who is instead of trying to do it all yourself? You need to remember that your time would be better spent doing something else…your money would be better spent too! And if you don’t know what else to do, this rule has two parts…
Benefits: Hiring an expert means no more frustration with things that aren’t your suit – let the people who are great at what they do handle it…after all, aren’t you paying them?! This will free up time for you to focus on the things that really matter. And if you’re successful this will provide an income source which is very helpful in life!
Consequences: Trying to be good at everything not only wastes your resources both personally and professionally but will lead to dissatisfaction because no one can be excellent at everything…not even Superman!
Rule 6: DIVE DEEP. Focus Most of Your Time and Energy on Deep Work.
While there are many distractions vying for our attention – emails, meetings, texts, etc – great professionals don’t give much consideration to these trivial things because their mind is focused on solving the most difficult problems. They know this is the only way to make something truly great. If you want to be an expert in your field you need to do what it takes…
Benefits: Deep work means better performance, more productivity, and creativity. It’s also a whole lot less frustrating because deep work gets rid of distractions! In addition, if you’re working hard on something important enough then others will become interested too which could lead to greater opportunities. And remember, everyone needs encouragement from time to time so there’s that as well.
Consequences: Of course, no one can have their mind focused on solving complex problems all day every day but if you choose not to then don’t expect anything significant out of life just take a look at your surroundings – everything that’s great was created by someone who decided to do what it takes.