Deep Work by Cal Newport — Part I

“ Men of genius themselves were great only by bringing all their powers to bear on a point on which they had decided to show their full measure “ — Antonin Sertillanges.

Often times when I read a great book, I find myself distraught that I can only vaguely remember the premise and the arguments that were made by the author. Within this in mind , I wanted to take the opportunity to digest the fantastic “Deep Work” by Cal Newport and summarise the main points. Hopefully you will enjoy.

The premise of this book is that the ability to go deep, performing activities in a state of distraction free concentration in a way that creates new value and improves skills is becoming increasingly rare. Those who are able to cultivate these skills will thrive professionally and in their personal lives.

The author outlines that our economy is undergoing a seismic shift, not seen since the Industrial Revolution. Jobs are being automated, workers are able to engage with companies remotely with winner take all effects and small groups of individuals are able to create massive amounts of value as software continues to eat the world.

At the same time, the rise of the internet culture — with increased proliferation of consumer products, social media and open plan offices, is creating increased distractions for the knowledge worker.

In order to “win” in this modern society, we need to cultivate the ability to increase our capacity to perform activities in a manner that pushes our cognitive abilities to their limits. High quality work is an output of both time spent and intensity of focus or as Newport labels it — Deep Work.

This may seem like alot of effort just to be good at our jobs. However Deep Work’s benefits are not solely limited to economic outputs. Deep Work is also meaningful at the individual level. Who you are, what you think, feel and love — is the sum of the what you focus on. The best moments in our lives are not those spent on the beach with a margarita but rather those moments when we are stretched to our limits , mentally, physically or emotionally, to accomplish something difficult.

Challenging the perception that we should all follow our passions, Cal suggests that meaning is not something that can be passed down from on high or generated by the individual but rather we need to develop the ability to discern the meaning that is already there. Your work is a craft and if you hone your abilities , you will find meaning in your professional life. So cultivate your skills and reap the benefits both economically and psychologically.

Overall I thought that Cal makes a compelling argument for the benefit of prioritising deep work and benefits that this brings. He backs his points with a wide range of research and presented this case with a number of historical examples and personal stories. He also called out some of the limitations to this argument. The fact that people can thrive without going deep — using Jack Dorsey , CEO of both Twitter & Square as an example of someone who is doing well without applying these principles.

The second part of his book delves into how you can apply the principles of Deep Work to your own life. See you back here for the second part.