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125.005 Books - Deep Work Cal Newport

Book - Deep Work, by Cal Newport

Introduction
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Three to four hours a day , five days a week , of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration , it turns out , can produce a lot of valuable output .

PART 2: The Rules

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Roy Baumeister , has established the following important ( and at the time , unexpected ) truth about willpower : You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it .

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The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration .

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( As argued in this rule’s introduction , attempting to schedule deep work in an ad hoc fashion is not an effective way to manage your limited willpower . )

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the monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling . This philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations . Practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have a well - defined and highly valued professional goal that they’re pursuing , and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well . It’s this clarity that helps them eliminate the thicket of shallow concerns that tend to trip up those whose value proposition in the working world is more varied .

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the pool of individuals to whom the monastic philosophy applies is limited — and that’s okay . If you’re outside this pool , its radical simplicity shouldn’t evince too much envy . On the other hand , if you’re inside this pool — someone whose contribution to the world is discrete , clear , and individualized * — then you should give this philosophy serious consideration , as it might be the deciding factor between an average career and one that will be remembered .

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Jung’s approach is what I call the bimodal philosophy of deep work . This philosophy asks that you divide your time , dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else . During the deep time , the bimodal worker will act monastically — seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration . During the shallow time , such focus is not prioritized .

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The bimodal philosophy believes that deep work can produce extreme productivity , but only if the subject dedicates enough time to such endeavors to reach maximum cognitive intensity — the state in which real breakthroughs occur . This is why the minimum unit of time for deep work in this philosophy tends to be at least one full day . To put aside a few hours in the morning , for example , is too short to count as a deep work stretch for an adherent of this approach .

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As Jung , Grant , and Perlow’s subjects discovered , people will usually respect your right to become inaccessible if these periods are well defined and well advertised , and outside these stretches , you’re once again easy to find .

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the rhythmic philosophy . This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit . The goal , in other words , is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep .

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Another common way to implement the rhythmic philosophy is to replace the visual aid of the chain method with a set starting time that you use every day for deep work . In much the same way that maintaining visual indicators of your work progress can reduce the barrier to entry for going deep , eliminating even the simplest scheduling decisions , such as when during the day to do the work , also reduces this barrier .

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The rhythmic philosophy provides an interesting contrast to the bimodal philosophy . It perhaps fails to achieve the most intense levels of deep thinking sought in the daylong concentration sessions favored by the bimodalist . The trade - off , however , is that this approach works better with the reality of human nature . By supporting deep work with rock - solid routines that make sure a little bit gets done on a regular basis , the rhythmic scheduler will often log a larger total number of deep hours per year .

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I call this approach , in which you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule , the journalist philosophy . This name is a nod to the fact that journalists , like Walter Isaacson , are trained to shift into a writing mode on a moment’s notice , as is required by the deadline - driven nature of their profession . This approach is not for the deep work novice .

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I should admit that I’m not pure in my application of the journalist philosophy . I don’t , for example , make all my deep work decisions on a moment - to - moment basis . I instead tend to map out when I’ll work deeply during each week at the beginning of the week , and then refine these decisions , as needed , at the beginning of each day ( see Rule # 4 for more details on my scheduling routines ) . By reducing the need to make decisions about deep work moment by moment , I can preserve more mental energy for the deep thinking itself . In the final accounting , the journalistic philosophy of deep work scheduling remains difficult to pull off . But if you’re confident in the value of what you’re trying to produce , and practiced in the skill of going deep ( a skill we will continue to develop in the strategies that follow ) , it can be a surprisingly robust way to squeeze out large amounts of depth from an otherwise demanding schedule .

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There is a popular notion that artists work from inspiration — that there is some strike or bolt or bubbling up of creative mojo from who knows where … but I hope my work makes clear that waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible , terrible plan . In fact , perhaps the single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration . In a New York Times column on the topic , David Brooks summarizes this reality more bluntly : “ [ Great creative minds ] think like artists but work like accountants . ”

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To make the most out of your deep work sessions , build rituals of the same level of strictness and idiosyncrasy as the important thinkers mentioned previously . There’s a good reason for this mimicry . Great minds like Caro and Darwin didn’t deploy rituals to be weird ; they did so because success in their work depended on their ability to go deep , again and again — there’s no way to win a Pulitzer Prize or conceive a grand theory without pushing your brain to its limit . Their rituals minimized the friction in this transition to depth , allowing them to go deep more easily and stay in the state longer . If they had instead waited for inspiration to strike before settling in to serious work , their accomplishments would likely have been greatly reduced .
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But there are some general questions that any effective ritual must address :

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Where you’ll work and for how long . Your ritual needs to specify a location for your deep work efforts . This location can be as simple as your normal office with the door shut and desk cleaned off ( a colleague of mine likes to put a hotel - style “ do not disturb ” sign on his office door when he’s tackling something difficult ) . If it’s possible to identify a location used only for depth — for instance , a conference room or quiet library — the positive effect can be even greater . ( If you work in an open office plan , this need to find a deep work retreat becomes particularly important . ) Regardless of where you work , be sure to also give yourself a specific time frame to keep the session a discrete challenge and not an open - ended slog .

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How you’ll work once you start to work . Your ritual needs rules and processes to keep your efforts structured . For example , you might institute a ban on any Internet use , or maintain a metric such as words produced per twenty - minute interval to keep your concentration honed . Without this structure , you’ll have to mentally litigate again and again what you should and should not be doing during these sessions and keep trying to assess whether you’re working sufficiently hard . These are unnecessary drains on your willpower reserves .

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How you’ll support your work . Your ritual needs to ensure your brain gets the support it needs to keep operating at a high level of depth . For example , the ritual might specify that you start with a cup of good coffee , or make sure you have access to enough food of the right type to maintain energy , or integrate light exercise such as walking to help keep the mind clear . ( As Nietzsche said : “ It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth . ” ) This support might also include environmental factors , such as organizing the raw materials of your work to minimize energy - dissipating friction ( as we saw with Caro’s example ) . To maximize your success , you need to support your efforts to go deep . At the same time , this support needs to be systematized so that you don’t waste mental energy figuring out what you need in the moment .

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Rowling’s decision to check into a luxurious hotel suite near Edinburgh Castle is an example of a curious but effective strategy in the world of deep work : the grand gesture . The concept is simple : By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment , coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money , all dedicated toward supporting a deep work task , you increase the perceived importance of the task . This boost in importance reduces your mind’s instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy .

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When you study the habits of other well - known deep workers , the grand gesture strategy comes up often . Bill Gates , for example , was famous during his time as Microsoft CEO for taking Think Weeks during which he would leave behind his normal work and family obligations to retreat to a cabin with a stack of papers and books . His goal was to think deeply , without distraction , about the big issues relevant to his company .

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In all of these examples , it’s not just the change of environment or seeking of quiet that enables more depth . The dominant force is the psychology of committing so seriously to the task at hand . To put yourself in an exotic location to focus on a writing project , or to take a week off from work just to think , or to lock yourself in a hotel room until you complete an important invention : These gestures push your deep goal to a level of mental priority that helps unlock the needed mental resources . Sometimes to go deep , you must first go big .

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Grove cut him off with a gruff reply : “ You are such a naïve academic . I asked you how to do it , and you told me what I should do . I know what I need to do . I just don’t know how to do it . ”

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Discipline # 1 : Focus on the Wildly Important As the authors of The 4 Disciplines of Execution explain , “ The more you try to do , the less you actually accomplish . ” They elaborate that execution should be aimed at a small number of “ wildly important goals . ” This simplicity will help focus an organization’s energy to a sufficient intensity to ignite real results .

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Discipline # 2 : Act on the Lead Measures Once you’ve identified a wildly important goal , you need to measure your success .

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For an individual focused on deep work , it’s easy to identify the relevant lead measure : time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.

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Discipline # 3 : Keep a Compelling Scoreboard “ People play differently when they’re keeping score ,”

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In the preceding discipline , I argued that for an individual focused on deep work , hours spent working deeply should be the lead measure . It follows , therefore , that the individual’s scoreboard should be a physical artifact in the workspace that displays the individual’s current deep work hour count.

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Discipline # 4 : Create a Cadence of Accountability

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In multiple places throughout this book I discuss and recommend the habit of a weekly review in which you make a plan for the workweek ahead ( see Rule # 4 ) . During my experiments with 4DX , I used a weekly review to look over my scoreboard to celebrate good weeks , help understand what led to bad weeks , and most important , figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead . This led me to adjust my schedule to meet the needs of my lead measure — enabling significantly more deep work than if I had avoided such reviews altogether.

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Another key commitment for succeeding with this strategy is to support your commitment to shutting down with a strict shutdown ritual that you use at the end of the workday to maximize the probability that you succeed . In more detail , this ritual should ensure that every incomplete task , goal , or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either ( 1 ) you have a plan you trust for its completion , or ( 2 ) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right . The process should be an algorithm : a series of steps you always conduct , one after another . When you’re done , have a set phrase you say that indicates completion ( to end my own ritual , I say , “ Shutdown complete ” ) . This final step sounds cheesy , but it provides a simple cue to your mind that it’s safe to release work - related thoughts for the rest of the day .

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To make this suggestion more concrete , let me walk through the steps of my own shutdown ritual ( which I first developed around the time I was writing my doctoral dissertation , and have deployed , in one form or another , ever since ) . The first thing I do is take a final look at my e - mail inbox to ensure that there’s nothing requiring an urgent response before the day ends . The next thing I do is transfer any new tasks that are on my mind or were scribbled down earlier in the day into my official task lists . ( I use Google Docs for storing my task lists , as I like the ability to access them from any computer — but the technology here isn’t really relevant . ) Once I have these task lists open , I quickly skim every task in every list , and then look at the next few days on my calendar . These two actions ensure that there’s nothing urgent I’m forgetting or any important deadlines or appointments sneaking up on me . I have , at this point , reviewed everything that’s on my professional plate . To end the ritual , I use this information to make a rough plan for the next day . Once the plan is created , I say , “ Shutdown complete , ” and my work thoughts are done for the day .

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if you simply stop whatever you are doing at five p.m . and declare , “ I’m done with work until tomorrow , ” you’ll likely struggle to keep your mind clear of professional issues , as the many obligations left unresolved in your mind will , as in Bluma Zeigarnik’s experiments , keep battling for your attention throughout the evening ( a battle that they’ll often win).

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Shutdown rituals can become annoying , as they add an extra ten to fifteen minutes to the end of your workday ( and sometimes even more ) , but they’re necessary for reaping the rewards of systematic idleness summarized previously . From my experience , it should take a week or two before the shutdown habit sticks — that is , until your mind trusts your ritual enough to actually begin to release work - related thoughts in the evening . But once it does stick , the ritual will become a permanent fixture in your life — to the point that skipping the routine will fill you with a sense of unease .

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Decades of work from multiple different subfields within psychology all point toward the conclusion that regularly resting your brain improves the quality of your deep work . When you work , work hard . When you’re done , be done . Your average e - mail response time might suffer some , but you’ll more than make up for this with the sheer volume of truly important work produced during the day by your refreshed ability to dive deeper than your exhausted peers .

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Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction . Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions , you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom .

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So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do , and the differences are remarkable . People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy . They can’t manage a working memory . They’re chronically distracted . They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand … they’re pretty much mental wrecks . At this point Flatow asks Nass whether the chronically distracted recognize this rewiring of their brain : The people we talk with continually said , “ look , when I really have to concentrate , I turn off everything and I am laser - focused . ” And unfortunately , they’ve developed habits of mind that make it impossible for them to be laser - focused . They’re suckers for irrelevancy . They just can’t keep on task .

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The strategies that follow are motivated by the key idea that getting the most out of your deep work habit requires training , and as clarified previously , this training must address two goals : improving your ability to concentrate intensely and overcoming your desire for distraction

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Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet , and then avoid it altogether outside these times . I suggest that you keep a notepad near your computer at work . On this pad , record the next time you’re allowed to use the Internet . Until you arrive at that time , absolutely no network connectivity is allowed — no matter how tempting .

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the use of a distracting service does not , by itself , reduce your brain’s ability to focus . It’s instead the constant switching from low - stimuli / high - value activities to high - stimuli / low - value activities , at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge , that teaches your mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty . This constant switching can be understood analogously as weakening the mental muscles responsible for organizing the many sources vying for your attention . By segregating Internet use ( and therefore segregating distractions ) you’re minimizing the number of times you give in to distraction , and by doing so you let these attention - selecting muscles strengthen .

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Point # 1 : This strategy works even if your job requires lots of Internet use and / or prompt e - mail replies . If you’re required to spend hours every day online or answer e - mails quickly , that’s fine : This simply means that your Internet blocks will be more numerous than those of someone whose job requires less connectivity . The total number or duration of your Internet blocks doesn’t matter nearly as much as making sure that the integrity of your offline blocks remains intact .

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Point # 2 : Regardless of how you schedule your Internet blocks , you must keep the time outside these blocks absolutely free from Internet use . This objective is easy to state in principle but quickly becomes tricky in the messy reality of the standard workday . An inevitable issue you’ll face when executing this strategy is realizing early on in an offline block that there’s some crucial piece of information online that you need to retrieve to continue making progress on your current task . If your next Internet block doesn’t start for a while , you might end up stuck . The temptation in this situation is to quickly give in , look up the information , then return to your offline block . You must resist this temptation !

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It’s crucial in this situation , therefore , that you don’t immediately abandon an offline block , even when stuck . If it’s possible , switch to another offline activity for the remainder of the current block ( or perhaps even fill in this time relaxing ) . If this is infeasible — perhaps you need to get the current offline activity done promptly — then the correct response is to change your schedule so that your next Internet block begins sooner . The key in making this change , however , is to not schedule the next Internet block to occur immediately . Instead , enforce at least a five - minute gap between the current moment and the next time you can go online . This gap is minor , so it won’t excessively impede your progress , but from a behavioralist perspective , it’s substantial because it separates the sensation of wanting to go online from the reward of actually doing so .

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Point # 3 : Scheduling Internet use at home as well as at work can further improve your concentration training . If you find yourself glued to a smartphone or laptop throughout your evenings and weekends , then it’s likely that your behavior outside of work is undoing many of your attempts during the workday to rewire your brain ( which makes little distinction between the two settings ) . In this case , I would suggest that you maintain the strategy of scheduling Internet use even after the workday is over .

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One place where this strategy becomes particularly difficult outside work is when you’re forced to wait ( for example , standing in line at a store ) . It’s crucial in these situations that if you’re in an offline block , you simply gird yourself for the temporary boredom , and fight through it with only the company of your thoughts . To simply wait and be bored has become a novel experience in modern life , but from the perspective of concentration training , it’s incredibly valuable .

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To summarize , to succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli . This doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate distracting behaviors ; it’s sufficient that you instead eliminate the ability of such behaviors to hijack your attention .

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Meditate Productively

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The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally — walking , jogging , driving , showering — and focus your attention on a single well - defined professional problem . Depending on your profession , this problem might be outlining an article , writing a talk , making progress on a proof , or attempting to sharpen a business strategy . As in mindfulness meditation , you must continue to bring your attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders or stalls .

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Suggestion # 1 : Be Wary of Distractions and Looping

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When you notice your attention slipping away from the problem at hand , gently remind yourself that you can return to that thought later , then redirect your attention back .

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A subtler , but equally effective adversary , is looping . When faced with a hard problem , your mind , as it was evolved to do , will attempt to avoid excess expenditure of energy when possible . One way it might attempt to sidestep this expenditure is by avoiding diving deeper into the problem by instead looping over and over again on what you already know about it .

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Suggestion # 2 : Structure Your Deep Thinking

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“ Thinking deeply ” about a problem seems like a self - evident activity , but in reality it’s not . When faced with a distraction - free mental landscape , a hard problem , and time to think , the next steps can become surprisingly non - obvious . In my experience , it helps to have some structure for this deep thinking process . I suggest starting with a careful review of the relevant variables for solving the problem and then storing these values in your working memory .

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Once the relevant variables are identified , define the specific next - step question you need to answer using these variables .

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With the relevant variables stored and the next - step question identified , you now have a specific target for your attention .

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Assuming you’re able to solve your next - step question , the final step of this structured approach to deep thinking is to consolidate your gains by reviewing clearly the answer you identified . At this point , you can push yourself to the next level of depth by starting the process over .

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Schedule Every Minute of Your Day

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Here’s my suggestion : At the beginning of each workday , turn to a new page of lined paper in a notebook you dedicate to this purpose . Down the left - hand side of the page , mark every other line with an hour of the day , covering the full set of hours you typically work . Now comes the important part : Divide the hours of your workday into blocks and assign activities to the blocks .

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When you’re done scheduling your day , every minute should be part of a block . You have , in effect , given every minute of your workday a job . Now as you go through your day , use this schedule to guide you .

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Two things can ( and likely will ) go wrong with your schedule once the day progresses . The first is that your estimates will prove wrong . You might put aside two hours for writing a press release , for example , and in reality it takes two and a half hours . The second problem is that you’ll be interrupted and new obligations will unexpectedly appear on your plate . These events will also break your schedule . This is okay .

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In other words , I not only allow spontaneity in my schedule ; I encourage it . Joseph’s critique is driven by the mistaken idea that the goal of a schedule is to force your behavior into a rigid plan . This type of scheduling , however , isn’t about constraint — it’s instead about thoughtfulness . It’s a simple habit that forces you to continually take a moment throughout your day and ask : “ What makes sense for me to do with the time that remains ? ” It’s the habit of asking that returns results , not your unyielding fidelity to the answer .

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To summarize , the motivation for this strategy is the recognition that a deep work habit requires you to treat your time with respect . A good first step toward this respectful handling is the advice outlined here : Decide in advance what you’re going to do with every minute of your workday . It’s natural , at first , to resist this idea , as it’s undoubtedly easier to continue to allow the twin forces of internal whim and external requests to drive your schedule . But you must overcome this distrust of structure if you want to approach your true potential as someone who creates things that matter.

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Quantify the Depth of Every Activity An advantage of scheduling your day is that you can determine how much time you’re actually spending in shallow activities .

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make clear and consistent decisions about where given work tasks fall on the shallow - to - deep scale . To do so , it asks that you evaluate activities by asking a simple ( but surprisingly illuminating ) question : 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 ?

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As argued earlier , tasks that leverage your expertise tend to be deep tasks and they can therefore provide a double benefit : They return more value per time spent , and they stretch your abilities , leading to improvement . On the other hand , a task that our hypothetical college graduate can pick up quickly is one that does not leverage expertise , and therefore it can be understood as shallow .

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What should you do with this strategy ? Once you know where your activities fall on the deep - to - shallow scale , bias your time toward the former .

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What percentage of my time should be spent on shallow work ?

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For most people in most non - entry - level knowledge work jobs , the answer to the question will be somewhere in the 30 to 50 percent range ( there’s a psychological distaste surrounding the idea of spending the majority of your time on unskilled tasks , so 50 percent is a natural upper limit ,

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If you work for yourself , this exercise will force you to confront the reality of how little time in your “ busy ” schedule you’re actually producing value . These hard numbers will provide you the confidence needed to start scaling back on the shallow activities that are sapping your time .

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Finish Your Work by Five Thirty

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I call this commitment fixed - schedule productivity , as I fix the firm goal of not working past a certain time , then work backward to find productivity strategies that allow me to satisfy this declaration . I’ve practiced fixed - schedule productivity happily for more than half a decade now , and it’s been crucial to my efforts to build a productive professional life centered on deep work .

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A commitment to fixed - schedule productivity , however , shifts you into a scarcity mind - set . Suddenly any obligation beyond your deepest efforts is suspect and seen as potentially disruptive . Your default answer becomes no , the bar for gaining access to your time and attention rises precipitously , and you begin to organize the efforts that pass these obstacles with a ruthless efficiency .

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Fixed - schedule productivity , in other words , is a meta - habit that’s simple to adopt but broad in its impact . If you have to choose just one behavior that reorients your focus toward the deep , this one should be high on your list of possibilities .

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Become Hard to Reach No discussion of shallow work is complete without considering e - mail . This quintessential shallow activity is particularly insidious in its grip on most knowledge workers ’ attention , as it delivers a steady stream of distractions addressed specifically to you .
Conclusion

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Deep work is important , in other words , not because distraction is evil , but because it enabled Bill Gates to start a billion - dollar industry in less than a semester .

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I refined my ability to work deeply . Among other methods , I began to more carefully block out deep work hours and preserve them against incursion . I also developed an ability to carefully work through thoughts during the many hours I spent on foot each week ( a boon to my productivity ) , and became obsessive about finding disconnected locations conducive to focus .

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I became ruthless in turning down time - consuming commitments and began to work more in isolated locations outside my office . I placed a tally of my deep work hours in a prominent position near my desk and got upset when it failed to grow at a fast enough rate . Perhaps most impactful , I returned to my MIT habit of working on problems in my head whenever a good time presented itself — be it walking the dog or commuting . Whereas earlier , I tended to increase my deep work only as a deadline approached , this year I was relentless — most every day of most every week I was pushing my mind to grapple with results of consequence , regardless of whether or not a specific deadline was near . I solved proofs on subway rides and while shoveling snow . When my son napped on the weekend , I would pace the yard thinking , and when stuck in traffic I would methodically work through problems that were stymieing me .


LIT NOTES

Three or four hours per day of focused, uninterrupted work, is enough to produce enough valuable output to be satisfied with.
source:
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- Three to four hours a day , five days a week , of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration , it turns out , can produce a lot of valuable output .

Schedule your day. 109.20 Productivity - Schedule your day.
It might be best to pre-schedule an entire week on Monday morning and move stuff around as necessary when conflicts come up.
As part of the Monday scheduling session, make yourself accountable to the previous week - what worked, where did you waste time, how can you adjust the schedule this week to do better?
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- ( As argued in this rule’s introduction , attempting to schedule deep work in an ad hoc fashion is not an effective way to manage your limited willpower . )
- I instead tend to map out when I’ll work deeply during each week at the beginning of the week , and then refine these decisions , as needed , at the beginning of each day ( see Rule # 4 for more details on my scheduling routines). By reducing the need to make decisions about deep work moment by moment , I can preserve more mental energy for the deep thinking itself .
- I used a weekly review to look over my scoreboard to celebrate good weeks , help understand what led to bad weeks , and most important , figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead . This led me to adjust my schedule to meet the needs of my lead measure — enabling significantly more deep work than if I had avoided such reviews altogether .

When scheduling calendar items, add specific blocks for checking the Internet. DO NOT LOOK AT ANYTHING CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET during sessions that aren't dedicated to it. If you run across a need to look something up on the net, write yourself a note to do it later.
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- Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet , and then avoid it altogether outside these times . I suggest that you keep a notepad near your computer at work . On this pad , record the next time you’re allowed to use the Internet . Until you arrive at that time , absolutely no network connectivity is allowed — no matter how tempting.
- Point # 2 : Regardless of how you schedule your Internet blocks , you must keep the time outside these blocks absolutely free from Internet use . This objective is easy to state in principle but quickly becomes tricky in the messy reality of the standard workday . An inevitable issue you’ll face when executing this strategy is realizing early on in an offline block that there’s some crucial piece of information online that you need to retrieve to continue making progress on your current task . If your next Internet block doesn’t start for a while , you might end up stuck . The temptation in this situation is to quickly give in , look up the information , then return to your offline block . You must resist this temptation!
- It’s crucial in this situation , therefore , that you don’t immediately abandon an offline block , even when stuck . If it’s possible , switch to another offline activity for the remainder of the current block ( or perhaps even fill in this time relaxing ) . If this is infeasible — perhaps you need to get the current offline activity done promptly — then the correct response is to change your schedule so that your next Internet block begins sooner . The key in making this change , however , is to not schedule the next Internet block to occur immediately . Instead , enforce at least a five - minute gap between the current moment and the next time you can go online . This gap is minor , so it won’t excessively impede your progress , but from a behavioralist perspective , it’s substantial because it separates the sensation of wanting to go online from the reward of actually doing so.

Try to maintain consistency in your schedule. Starting at the same time every day makes it easier to drop into deep work.
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- Another common way to implement the rhythmic philosophy is to replace the visual aid of the chain method with a set starting time that you use every day for deep work . In much the same way that maintaining visual indicators of your work progress can reduce the barrier to entry for going deep , eliminating even the simplest scheduling decisions , such as when during the day to do the work , also reduces this barrier .

An isolated, private, quiet location, with clear social rules in place, is required to do deep work. Deep work requires focus and focus is impossible with distractions.
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- Where you’ll work and for how long . Your ritual needs to specify a location for your deep work efforts . This location can be as simple as your normal office with the door shut and desk cleaned off ( a colleague of mine likes to put a hotel - style “ do not disturb ” sign on his office door when he’s tackling something difficult ) . If it’s possible to identify a location used only for depth — for instance , a conference room or quiet library — the positive effect can be even greater .

Make rules for your focus sessions such as "no internet" and phone on "do not disturb", and set the proper 109.10 Productivity - Your environment and systems makes success easier to ensure you can comply. If you don't do this, the brain always wants to switch to something easier, check email, check the news, etc.
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- Your ritual needs rules and processes to keep your efforts structured . For example , you might institute a ban on any Internet use , or maintain a metric such as words produced per twenty - minute interval to keep your concentration honed . Without this structure , you’ll have to mentally litigate again and again what you should and should not be doing during these sessions and keep trying to assess whether you’re working sufficiently hard . These are unnecessary drains on your willpower reserves .

Focus on a small number of very important goals. Don't work on anything until you have figured out if it's more important than the other, small number, of important things. If you're not sure, take the time necessary to figure it out, and why.
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- Discipline # 1 : Focus on the Wildly Important As the authors of The 4 Disciplines of Execution explain , “ The more you try to do , the less you actually accomplish . ” They elaborate that execution should be aimed at a small number of “ wildly important goals . ”

Have a way to measure the success of your most important goals. Otherwise, how will you know if you've achieved what you set out to do? How could you know if something else is now more important?
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- Discipline # 2 : Act on the Lead Measures Once you’ve identified a wildly important goal , you need to measure your success.
- For an individual focused on deep work , it’s easy to identify the relevant lead measure : time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.
- Discipline # 3 : Keep a Compelling Scoreboard “ People play differently when they’re keeping score ,”
- In the preceding discipline , I argued that for an individual focused on deep work , hours spent working deeply should be the lead measure . It follows , therefore , that the individual’s scoreboard should be a physical artifact in the workspace that displays the individual’s current deep work hour count.

The shutdown ritual at the end of the day can be an important way to transition from "work mode" to "family time". See the Google Keep note titled "Deep Work: Shutdown ritual" for details on my shutdown ritual.
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- support your commitment to shutting down with a strict shutdown ritual that you use at the end of the workday to maximize the probability that you succeed . In more detail , this ritual should ensure that every incomplete task , goal , or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either ( 1 ) you have a plan you trust for its completion , or ( 2 ) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right . The process should be an algorithm : a series of steps you always conduct , one after another . When you’re done , have a set phrase you say that indicates completion ( to end my own ritual , I say , “Shutdown complete”).
- if you simply stop whatever you are doing at five p.m . and declare , “ I’m done with work until tomorrow , ” you’ll likely struggle to keep your mind clear of professional issues , as the many obligations left unresolved in your mind will , as in Bluma Zeigarnik’s experiments , keep battling for your attention throughout the evening ( a battle that they’ll often win ) .

Focus is a commitment and you have to train your brain to be able to do it. It's not easy to maintain, but it is easy to lapse. The way to get better at focus is not obvious - you must get better at resisting distraction. This is, in part, the environment, being present, and a strict personal rule to avoid distractions like checking email.
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- Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction . Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions , you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom .

Productive meditation

Long walks, runs, and bike rides are a perfect place to think deeply on a vexing problem. You'll need to focus on the problem at hand, because the mind has a tendency to wander when working out, but if you can keep bringing yourself back to the issue at hand, you can gain clarity on difficult issues during these times.
Be sure to notice when the brain is distracted/wandering and put it back on track, when you start looping over the same content again-and-again and move forward.
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- The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally — walking , jogging , driving , showering — and focus your attention on a single well - defined professional problem .
- Suggestion # 1 : Be Wary of Distractions and Looping
- When you notice your attention slipping away from the problem at hand , gently remind yourself that you can return to that thought later , then redirect your attention back .
- A subtler , but equally effective adversary , is looping . When faced with a hard problem , your mind , as it was evolved to do , will attempt to avoid excess expenditure of energy when possible . One way it might attempt to sidestep this expenditure is by avoiding diving deeper into the problem by instead looping over and over again on what you already know about it .

To begin a productive deep thinking sessions, first be clear about what the question you want to answer is, what the "next steps" are. Then identify the variables that make up the components of the issue. Sometimes when I have many components, I'll use the "1 bun 2 shoe" memory trick to put them into memory before I go out.
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- I suggest starting with a careful review of the relevant variables for solving the problem and then storing these values in your working memory
- Once the relevant variables are identified , define the specific next - step question you need to answer using these variables .

When your productive thinking session comes to a conclusion and you've satisfactorily answered the Next Step question, stop whatever you're doing - running, biking - and write/dictate it down. Then you can move to thinking even deeper, or to a different question.
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- the final step of this structured approach to deep thinking is to consolidate your gains by reviewing clearly the answer you identified . At this point , you can push yourself to the next level of depth by starting the process over .

Always shut down email when you're not actively reading/responding to it. Email is an insidious time and attention sucker. It prevents any real work from getting done because you're always switching over briefly to see if anything came in - which is a break in concentration to start with - and on the many occasions where something does come in, then it's game over for whatever was attempting to be accomplished before.
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- No discussion of shallow work is complete without considering e - mail . This quintessential shallow activity is particularly insidious in its grip on most knowledge workers ’ attention , as it delivers a steady stream of distractions addressed specifically to you .


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  • deep-work