“Deep Work” Quotes

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 2.02.14 AMI recently read “Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World” by Cal Newport. This is one of the most useful and insightful books I’ve read in a while. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. If you like them, buy the book here.

“Deep Work: 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.” (3)

“Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity. We now know from decades of research in both psychology and neuroscience that the state of mental strain that accompanies deep work is also necessary to improve your abilities.” (3)

“Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” (6)

“Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.” (7)

“If you create something useful, its reachable audience is essentially limitless – which greatly magnifies your reward. On the other hand, if what you’re producing is mediocre, then you’re in trouble, as it’s too easy for your audience to find a better alternative online.” (13)

“The Deep Work Hypothesis: 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.” (14)

“The lack of distraction in my life tones down that background hum of nervous mental energy that seems to increasingly pervade people’s daily lives.” (17)

“Once the talent market is made universally accessible, those at the peak of the market thrive while the rest suffer.” (25)

“Talent is not a commodity you can buy in bulk and combine to reach the needed levels: There’s a premium to being the best. Therefore, if you’re in a marketplace where the consumer has access to all performers, and everyone’s q value is clear, the consumer will choose the very best. Even if the talent advantage of the best is small compared to the next rung down on the skill ladder, the superstars still win the bulk of the market.” (26)

“An increasing number of individuals in our economy are now competing with the rock stars of their sectors.” (26)

“Current economic thinking argues that the unprecedented growth and impact of technology are creating a massive restructuring of our economy. In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital.” (28)

“The complex reality of the technologies that real companies leverage to get ahead emphasizes the absurdity of the now common idea that exposure to simplistic, consumer-facing products – especially in schools – somehow prepares people to succeed in a high-tech economy. Giving students iPads or allowing them to film homework assignments on YouTube prepares them for a high-tech economy about as much as playing with Hot Wheels would prepare them to thrive as auto mechanics.” (31)

“Another general observation for joining the ranks of winners in our economy: If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive – no matter how skilled or talented you are.” (32)

“High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)” (40)

“By working on a single hard task for a long time without switching, Grant minimizes the negative impact of attention residue from his other obligations, allowing him to maximize performance on this one task.” (43)

“There are, we must continually remember, certain corners of our economy where depth is not valued. In addition to executives, we can also include, for example, certain types of salesmen and lobbyists, for whom constant connection is their most valued currency.” (47)

“If e-mail were to move to the periphery of your workday, you’d be required to deploy a more thoughtful approach to figuring out what you should be working on and for how long.” (59)

“We no longer see Internet tools as products released by for-profit companies, funded by investors hoping to make a return, and run by twentysomethings who are often making things up as they go along. We’re instead quick to idolize these digital doodads as a signifier of progress and a harbinger of a new world.” (68)

“the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.” (77)

“Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. If you focus on a cancer diagnosis, you and your life become unhappy and dark, but if you focus instead on an evening martini, you and your life become more pleasant – even though the circumstances in both scenarios are the same. As Gallagher summarizes: “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love – is the sum of what you focus on.”” (77)

“Elderly subjects were not happier because their life circumstances were better than those of the young subjects; they were instead happier because they had rewired their brains to ignore the negative and savor the positive.” (78)

“Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.” (84)

“To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.” (86)

“The task of a craftsman, Dreyfus and Kelly conclude, “is not to generate meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill of discerning the meanings that are already there.” (88)

“The meaning uncovered by such efforts is due to the skill and appreciation inherent in craftsmanship – not the outcomes of their work.” (91)

“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.” (100)

“Mason Currey says, “the single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration.” (119)

“David Brooks summarizes this reality more bluntly: Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants.” (119)

“Any effective ritual must address: Where you’ll work and for how long… How you’ll work once you start to work.. How you’ll support your work.” (119-120)

“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.” (123)

“Focus on the Wildly Important: identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours. The general exhortation to “spend more time working deeply” doesn’t spark a lot of enthusiasm. To instead have a specific goal that would return tangible and substantial professional benefits will generate a steadier stream of enthusiasm.” (137)

“When I shifted to tracking deep work hours, suddenly these measures became relevant to my day-to-day: Every hour extra of deep work was immediately reflected in my tally.” (138)

“Downtime aids insights.” (144)

“Providing your conscious brain time to rest enables your unconscious mind to take a shift sorting through your most complex professional challenges.” (146)

“Attention restoration theory (ART) claims that spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.” (147)

“Trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown.” (149)

“Ericsson notes that for a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit, while for experts this number can expand to as many as four hours – but rarely more.” (150)

“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.” (151)

“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.” (154)

“The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.” (157)

“Don’t take breaks from distraction. instead take breaks from focus.” (159)

“Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times.” (161)

“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. The simple strategy proposed here of scheduling Internet blocks goes a long way toward helping you regain this attention autonomy.” (166)

“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.” (173)

“Michael Lewis notes, “It’s amazing how overly accessible people are. There’s a lot of communication in my life that’s not enriching, it’s impoverishing.” (193)

“This strategy picks specifically on social media because among the different network tools that can claim your time and attention, these services, if used without limit, can be particularly devastating to your quest to work deeper. They offer personalized information arriving on an unpredictable intermittent schedule – making them massively addicted and therefore capable of severely damaging your attempts to schedule and succeed with any act of concentration.” (205)

“To take full advantage of the value of deep work: Schedule every minute of your day.” (222)

“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.” (226)

“Without structure, it’s easy to allow your time to devolve into the shallow – email, social media, web surfing. This type of shallow behavior, though satisfying in the moment, is not conducive to creativity. With structure, on the other hand, you can ensure that you regularly schedule blocks to grapple with a new idea, or work deeply on something challenging, or brainstorm for a fixed period – the type of commitment more likely to instigate innovation.” (227)

“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.” (227)

“To evaluate where given work tasks fall on the shallow-to-deep scale ask: 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.” (229)

“Here’s an important question that’s rarely asked: What percentage of my time should be spent on shallow work?” (232)

“It’s incredibly wasteful to pay a highly trained professional to send email messages and attend meetings for thirty hours a week.” (234)

“The key is to avoid providing enough specificity about the excuse that the requester has the opportunity to defuse it.” (239)

“The ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.” (258)

“There’s also an uneasiness that surrounds any effort to produce the best things you’re capable of producing, as this forces you to confront the possibility that your best is not (yet) that good.” (263)

Liked the quotes? Click here to buy the book.

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