3 min read

Takeaways from "Deep Work" by Cal Newport


Thanks for tuning into my random productivity adventures!

In the last week or so I finished reading the book Deep Work by Cal Newport. It was a total page turner for me! The main idea of the book is the importance of deep, focused work, and not allowing the many distractions of the modern world to interrupt that work.

He defines "Deep Work" as follows:

"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."

He also puts forth this hypothesis around Deep Work:

"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."

I'm in the midst of several large projects, including writing this newsletter, growing a YouTube channel, and building a gamified task management app. I'm doing all of this while working a full time job and taking care of a family. It's important for me to learn how to engage in Deep Work in order to make my limited time as productive as possible.

It's also important to pare down the number of things I'm working on at any given time as I often find myself on the verge of burnout. Cal talks in the book about how the more things we work on at once the less we tend to get done. I see that being the case with my YouTube channel and gamified task manager. I have been able to make progress on both, but it's slow going. My brain is split between them, which makes it hard to master either.

So I'm taking Cal's advice and taking a temporary break from the gamified task manager to focus solely on the YouTube channel. I'm working on creating a batch video creation system that'll help me produce my videos more efficiently. Taking the burden of learning game development off my plate, even for a short time, will make the YouTube learning process so much easier. And once I have a good video creation system in place, I'll be able to switch my focus back to my gamified task manager.

At the same time I was reading Deep Work, I watched a video by Ali Abdaal about focus. In the video he explained his strategy for tracking his Deep Work sessions (something Cal suggests doing). He pulls up an ambience music video on YouTube and has that playing in the background while he works. When he feels his focus waning, he’ll stop the video and write down what he got done during the work session. He'll also record the timestamp of when he stopped the video so he knows how much time he spent working.

I've since adopted this time tracking strategy, and I love it! The instrumental music in the background helps my subconscious brain not wander so much, and I'm able to focus much more on my work (I've been using this Lord of the Rings Shire music the most).

Small things like turning notifications off on your phone, deleting social media apps, leaving your phone in another room while working, etc, are other things he suggests doing. The less accessible distractions are, the easier it is to get into a Deep Work state. I've been doing these types of things for years, and they too have helped me focus more on things that matter most.

Deep Work is a treasure trove of strategies and advice on how to focus and work distraction free. I've chosen these two, focus on one thing and tracking my deep work sessions, to start with, and I'll continue to implement more strategies as I go along. I'd love to try everything right now, but I can't do everything all at once. Just trying out these two strategies has already made a big impact, though. As we learn from Atomic Habits: small things compound over time and lead to big results.