Deep Work - Learnings

I read the book Deep Work and found it a pretty nice read. I will try to summarize some of the main points that I found good.

What is shallow work?

It is non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

What is deep work?

Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.

Ideas from the book

  • The central idea in the book is that to produce anything of significant value you have to batch hard but important work into long, uninterrupted chunks.

  • He mentions although deep work is very rare and valuable the environments at work don’t promote it. He criticises Facebook’s open office plan saying that it diminishes all possibility of any deep work. He advocates something called a Bionic office.

  • He says that you can’t perform deep work for more than 4 hours in a day and then you have enough time for shallow work (replying to emails, meetings, browsing internet, social media). So it’s good to get the deep work done early in the day.
    a) He also advocates something called fixed-schedule productivity where you stop working say after 7 pm until next day. That helps drain the shallow things from his schedule.
    b) He mentions how he has been successful publishing papers even though he doesn’t work past 5pm on weekdays (starts at 8am) and on weekdays.
    c) He mentions how fixed-schedule productivity can help you recharge for the next day and how in work done after work hours you are anyway not very productive.

  • Embrace boredom - a) He mentions that when we are stuck on hard problem and can’t make progress, we quickly turn to browsing and other shallow work.
    b) That is because we can’t embrace boredom. This is also true say when you are waiting for a bus for 5 mins and you quickly pull out your mobile phone.
    c) So what he instead mentions is something like a Pomodoro technique or stipulated time (say 45 mins) called internet blocks for which you don’t check the internet when you are working on something. He says take brakes from focus, not from distraction.

  • Quit Social Media - This is a more radical idea though I will still mention his point of view here.
    He says that most people take an any-benefit approach to social media whereas we should be taking more of a craftsman approach.
    a) The any-benefit approach: 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. The problem is this approach ignores negatives.
    b) The craftsman approach: identify the core factors that determine success and happiness for you, adopt a tool only if its positive impacts outweigh its negative impacts.

I feel I have to read it a couple of times more and put these into practice, which is the hard part because of bad habits. :relaxed:


This seems like an interesting book. I’ll probably pick it up as well.

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@pawan This sounds similar to the ideas put forth in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

In my personal experience I can attest to the power of three of the main ideas you listed:

  • fixed-schedule productivity/internet blocks - I think these are different manifestations of the same core idea, namely, wresting back control of your time and attention span from all the different sources competing for it in often
    unseen, and sometimes insidious, ways. I’ve had a good experience with Freedom to limit internet (comes on after 9 am; shuts off at 7pm); I found this internet schedule to be the second biggest factor in my ability to stop working and do other important life things. The first biggest factor was getting rid of my iPhone and replacing it with a state-of-the-art flip phone, the Alcatel OneTouch (has the added benefit of significant pecuniary savings). It also allows room for…
  • embracing boredom - I think “boredom” is more of an empty space than a negative mind state, and it’s unfortunate that the connotation is usually the latter. Empty spaces have been valued aesthetically over time in many cultural traditions, but I think they’ve also been valued in a more poignant way across spiritual traditions. The very idea of meditation is predicated on the concept of creating room in space and time to just sit and breathe.
  • quitting social media - I got off of FB three years ago when I tried to just remove the app from my phone. I noticed that my finger would hover over the place where the icon used to be, and that was the first time I truly considered the effect of social media on our lives. I started noticing this “phantom digit” behavior with myself as well as others. Honestly, getting off FB is much less severe than it seems. I get my news now from people, usually in an exchange that goes something like “Oh my GOD, have you heard about X?” “No, what is it?” and then they tell me a story about X, which is a nice little tidbit of human connection.

The reason I wasn’t a huge fan of Flow is because the author (in a caustic way) puts forth his ideas as if they are novel insights about the human condition. They may be to him and to the Western tradition of the scientific method (most of his ideas were based on psychology research in latter half of 20th century), but they’ve existed and been heeded by cultures across the globe for millennia. I don’t know whether the author of Deep Work presents his findings in a similar light, but I think the academia in general should approach this field with more humility.