Patton's Picks from the PMA Library: Deep Work

May 2020

"Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World" by Cal Newport

If you're looking for book recommendations in the productivity and professional development genre, Patton offers a weekly summary of some of the essential and emerging titles from the PMA Library. 


Inspired by Carl Jung's isolated and incredibly productive Swiss retreats, Cal Newport's "Deep Work" emphasizes the importance of performing focused and effortful tasks for extended periods of time, all the while avoiding hindrances and distractions. The book serves as both an argument for making focused, intentional, and undistracted effort (which he coins "deep work"), and as an instruction manual for incorporating helpful techniques into one's daily life. Newport outlines the ways to avoid "shallow" work in one's professional life, specifically explaining the ways in which multitasking and distraction are exacerbated by technological advances. 

Three takeaways:

  1. Schedule Deep Work. There are many methods through which one can practice deep work in their daily lives. The forms outlined by Newport range from monastic (a lifestyle of almost entirely isolated and mentally committed work), to bimodal (occasionally partaking in isolated deep work sessions like Jung's retreats), to ritualistic (designating daily chunks of one's day specifically for deep work). Newport suggests that experimentation should help people determine which option works best for them, finding that these deep work modes prove successful for very different lifestyles.

  2. Wane yourself OFF of your shallow lifestyle. Newport suggests "batching" one's necessary but menial tasks into specific blocks of time and devoting others specifically to deep work, never allowing oneself to submit to the inherently addictive nature of sporadic digital communications. While Newport admits that some individuals quit social media cold turkey, he understands that for many this sort of digital isolation proves to be unrealistic. He suggests that instead, one should intentionally schedule internet time/breaks, delete unnecessary distractions, and generally avoid at all other times.

  3. Value your time off. Just as menial tasks should be scheduled, leisure time should also be scheduled and strictly upheld. Allowing oneself to be content with boredom and available to really shut down and relax after work to avoid addiction to distraction and make the most of one's personal life (no checking emails!). Newport references the ways in which the human mind is limited: willpower eventually runs out and even the most advanced practitioners generally can't exceed four hours of continuous work. Strategy is vital for designing deep work time.

The key component of "deep work" is to avoid all forms of distraction to reach a more advanced state of thinking and productivity, and to do so requires intentional scheduling. Newport's method suggests that in order to best enjoy your personal time and do your most profound thinking, you must strictly separate these realms of your life and abstain from multitasking in all of its forms. 


Cal C. Newport is an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University and the author of six self-improvement books. He writes the Study Hacks blog, which is focused on academic and career success.