Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

by Prof. Cal Newport


The key takeaways from the Deep Work hypothesis:

  1. Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.

  2. I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule.

  3. Two core abilities for thriving in the new economy:

    1. The ability to quickly master hard things.

    2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

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

  5. 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.

  6. Depth-destroying behaviors such as immediate e-mail responses and an active social media presence are lauded, while avoidance of these trends generates suspicion.

  7. "Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love — is the sum of what you focus on."

  8. You don't need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.

  9. You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it. ... 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.

  10. ... the minimum unit of time for deep work in this philosophy tends to be at least one full day. To put aside a few hours in the morning, for example, is too short to count as a deep work stretch for an adherent of this approach.

  11. Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets... it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

  12. At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning — no after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you'll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely. If you need more time, then extend your workday, ...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.

  13. For a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit, while for experts this number can expand to as many as four hours — but rarely more.

  14. The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.

  15. So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can't filter out irrelevancy. They can't manage a working memory. They're chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand... they're pretty much mental wrecks.


A worth to read book for our social media or email burdened generation. I think, it's quite a practical self-improvement book for transforming our habits and mind to support intense focus to accomplish challenging and important work.