Deep Work

May 31, 2023 books notes

“Men of genius themselves were great only by bringing all their power to bear on the point on which they had decided to show their full measure.”

“A deep life is a good life.”


  1. Learn complicated things quickly

  2. Must produce the best stuff you are capable of producing

Both depend on the ability to perform deep work

Three types of successful professionals

  1. High-skilled workers: work with intelligent machines
  2. Superstars: best at what they do
  3. Owners: have access to capital

Rule #1: Work Deeply

Depth Philosophies


Make grand gestures

Don’t work alone


  1. Focus on the wildly important
  2. Act on the lead measures
  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard
  4. Create a cadence of accountability

Execution is more difficult than strategizing

Be Lazy: reasons for downtime

  1. Downtime aids insights
  2. Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply
  3. The work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important

Execution: you need an end-of-day, shut down ritual that ensure every task has…

  1. a plan you trust for its completion, and
  2. a place it will be revisited when the time is right

Rule #2: Embrace Boredom

Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.

Training must address two goals

  1. Improving your ability to concentrate intensely, and
  2. overcoming your desire for distraction

Productive meditation

Take a period when you’re occupied physically but not mentally, and focus your attention on a single, well-defined problem.


  1. Be wary of distractions and looping
  2. Structure your deep thinking

“[…] One of the biggest differences between memory athletes and the rest of us is in a cognitive ability that’s not a direct measure of memory at all but of attention”

Rule #3: Quit Social Media

Take back control of your time and attention from the many diversions that attempt to steal them.

The any-benefit approach to network tool selection

You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.

Throughout history, skilled laborers have applied sophistication and skepticism to their encounters with new tools and their decisions about whether to adopt them.

The craftsmans approach to tool selection

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.

3 strategies for the craftsman approach

  1. Apply the law of the vital few to your internet habits
    1. list broad, high-level goals
    2. list activities done to achieve said goals
    3. list network tools used, and categorize each as: substantially positive impact, substantially negative impact, or little impact. Then continue using only substantially positive impact tools.
    4. the law of the vital few: in many settings, 80% of a given effect is due to just 20% of the possible causes.
  2. Quit social media - social media relies on the fear that “you might miss out”
  3. Don’t use the internet to entertain yourself

Rule #4: Drain the Shallows

Schedule every minute of your day

Quantify the depth of every activity

How long would it take (in months) to train a smart recent college graduate with no specialized training in my field to complete this task?

Use fixed-schedule productivity

default answer becomes “no”

Become hard to reach

  1. Make people who send you email do more work
  2. Do more work when you send or reply to emails
    • What is the project represented by this message?
    • What is the most efficient (in terms of messages generated) process for bringing this project to a successful conclusion? (known as the process-centric approach)
  3. Don’t respond
    • Convince the receiver that a response is worthwhile

“I’ll live the focused life because it’s the best kind there is.” ~Winifed Gallagher