Book Summary: Deep Work by Cal Newport

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

Depp work cover

In "Deep Work", Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, argues that deep work is a valuable and increasingly rare skill in our attention-starved society. As Newport puts it, "Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task". This skill allows one to produce high-quality results quickly, in contrast to shallow work, which is characterized by tasks that are less cognitively demanding and can be easily completed while being distracted. Newport posits that deep work is essential for achieving success in today's knowledge economy and offers a framework for cultivating this skill.

Part 1: The Idea

1. Deep Work Is Valuable

Newport contends that deep work is an invaluable skill in the 21st-century economy because it enables individuals to produce high-quality work at a faster rate. He states, "To remain valuable in our economy, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things". Knowledge workers who are capable of performing deep work can quickly master complicated information, develop innovative ideas, and solve complex problems. As an example, Newport cites the work of computer programmer and entrepreneur David Heinemeier Hansson, who created the popular web application framework Ruby on Rails within just six months. Heinemeier Hansson attributes his rapid success to his ability to engage in deep work, saying, "All of my biggest wins have come from leveraging long periods of uninterrupted thought".

2. Deep Work Is Rare

Despite its value, deep work is becoming increasingly scarce due to the rise of the Internet, social media, and constant connectivity. Newport writes, "The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy". These distractions lead to a fragmented workday, with knowledge workers constantly switching between tasks and never truly engaging in deep work. Newport cites a study by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which found that knowledge workers spend more than 60% of their workweek on electronic communication and Internet searching. This leaves little time for cognitively demanding tasks and hinders productivity.

3. Deep Work Is Meaningful

Newport argues that deep work is intrinsically rewarding because it allows individuals to immerse themselves in their work and experience a state of flow. He quotes psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who described flow as "the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it". In addition, deep work can lead to a sense of craftsmanship, as workers take pride in producing high-quality results.

Part 2: The Rules

Newport outlines four rules for integrating deep work into one's life:

1. Work Deeply

To cultivate the habit of deep work, individuals must actively schedule and protect their time for focused work. Newport recommends several strategies for doing so:

  • Create a daily schedule: Newport suggests, "Decide in advance what you're going to work on and for how long". Plan your day in advance and allocate specific blocks of time for deep work, shallow work, and breaks. This allows you to take control of your time and ensures that you dedicate enough time to deep work.

  • Embrace boredom: Train your mind to tolerate boredom by avoiding distractions during periods of shallow work or downtime. Newport explains, "The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained".

  • Develop a deep work ritual: Establish a consistent routine for initiating deep work sessions, such as setting a specific time and location, preparing your workspace, or engaging in a pre-work ritual.

  • Use the "grand gesture" technique: Leverage a significant or unique action to signify the importance of deep work and create a sense of commitment. For example, author J.K. Rowling rented a hotel room to complete the final Harry Potter book, allowing her to focus on her writing without distractions.

2. Embrace Boredom

To become proficient at deep work, one must resist the urge to switch to distractions whenever boredom arises. By training oneself to embrace boredom, it becomes easier to maintain focus during deep work sessions. Newport suggests setting specific times for engaging with distractions, such as checking social media or email, and strictly adhering to those limits. He also recommends practicing productive meditation, which involves focusing on a single problem or question while performing a physically active task, such as walking or running. This helps to strengthen one's ability to concentrate on a single task without succumbing to distractions.

3. Quit Social Media

Newport argues that social media is a major source of shallow work and distraction, which can hinder one's ability to engage in deep work. He suggests adopting the "craftsman approach" to tool selection, in which individuals only use tools that directly contribute to their professional goals and personal values. Newport writes, "Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts". By critically evaluating the benefits of social media and other digital tools, individuals can minimize distractions and create an environment more conducive to deep work.

To help make the decision to quit social media, Newport recommends conducting a 30-day experiment in which individuals remove themselves from social media platforms and observe the impact on their work and personal lives. After the experiment, they can make an informed decision about whether to reintegrate social media or maintain their distance.

4. Drain the Shallows

To make room for deep work, individuals must eliminate or minimize shallow work from their daily routines. Newport suggests several strategies for doing so:

  • Schedule every minute of your day: By allocating specific blocks of time for deep work, shallow work, and leisure, individuals can ensure that they are dedicating enough time to cognitively demanding tasks and avoiding the trap of constant busyness. Newport advises, "Treat your time with respect".

  • Quantify the depth of every activity: Assign a score to each task based on its cognitive demands, which can help individuals recognize the difference between deep and shallow work and prioritize their time accordingly.

  • Ask your boss for a shallow work budget: Discuss with your employer the need for deep work and establish a clear understanding of the amount of shallow work that is expected of you. This can help create a supportive environment for deep work and prevent an excessive focus on shallow tasks.

  • Become hard to reach: Implement strategies for reducing the time spent on email and other communication platforms, such as setting specific times for checking messages, using autoresponders, or establishing clear communication guidelines with colleagues.


In "Deep Work", Cal Newport presents a compelling case for the importance of deep work in today's knowledge economy. He argues that deep work is valuable, rare, and meaningful, and offers a practical framework for cultivating this skill. By working deeply, embracing boredom, quitting social media, and draining the shallows, individuals can increase their productivity, achieve professional success, and experience a greater sense of satisfaction in their work.

By implementing the strategies outlined in the book, readers can begin to develop the habit of deep work and maximize their potential in an increasingly competitive and distracted world. Ultimately, "Deep Work" serves as a guide to not only improving one's professional life but also enhancing one's overall sense of fulfillment and well-being.

1 email / week to learn how to (ab)use technology for fun & profit: Programming, Hacking & Entrepreneurship.
I hate spam even more than you do. I'll never share your email, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Tags: entrepreneurship, book, focus

Want to learn Rust, Cryptography and Security? Get my book Black Hat Rust!