Deep Work by Cal Newport Book Summary

BusinessMindsetProductivitySuccess
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Do you work very hard and still feel unproductive?

If yes, then this is for you.

Almost everyone today is unable to focus.

In this video, we will understand how to focus amid all the distractions and thrive in the present economy.

Alrighty, without further ado, let’s dive right in.

Lesson #1: Understand the meaning of deep work to eliminate shallow work from your life.

You can’t do deep work if you don’t know the definition of shallow work.

Otherwise, how will you differentiate and prioritize your tasks?

According to the author:

Shallow work includes any task that is a non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style task, often performed while distracted. It doesn’t create much new value in the world and is easy to replicate.

On the flip side:

Deep work includes any task that tests your cognitive capacities and requires high focus and concentration. Most of these tasks require specialists and are thus hard to replicate.

Deep work creates new value in the world, unlike shallow work.

People do shallow work most of the time. But since they look busy, they think that they are being productive.

This is seen a lot in the offices.

Employees try to act busy. And most of them don’t really care about the business goals. So they keep doing random activities to stay busy without any vision

They have to act busy to show that they are contributing.

But the question is: Contributing to what?

When you don’t know or understand the importance of deep work, you spend most of your time doing shallow work.

And shallow work—even if it looks productive, it really isn’t.

Shallow work, as the name suggests, is of low quality.

If you are used to doing shallow work, it’ll be very hard to do deep work.
That’s because you can’t learn things like patience, focus, and delayed gratification in a few minutes.

You need these qualities because any in-demand skill today requires them.
These qualities require deep work.

As most people find shallow work easy, deep work is still very rare and in high demand, regardless of what career you are pursuing.

Also read: The One Thing by Gary Keller [Summary]

Lesson #2: Deep work can make you a superstar in any field.

Most people have become complacent these days.

We prefer easier things and are thus destroying our ability to do deep work.
Furthermore, it’s now even harder to do deep work because of internet distractions

Young people today prefer to scroll through Instagram reels or TikTok over reading a book.

Think about what usually happens when you try to focus.

A single notification pops up on your smartphone, and it destroys all the mood.
A lot of people today waste their time chitchatting with their friends on social media.

This behavior or habit feels good, but it keeps you away from doing deep work.

Most people never realize what they lost because we aren’t good at seeing how our current actions impact our future.

Unless you have strong self-control, chances are you will get lost in the world of internet distractions and waste hours consuming random content.

This is why many people never become superstars in their fields.

If this wasn’t bad enough already, here is more bad news: Even deep work isn’t enough these days. You also need to develop the ability to quickly master hard things.

First, you have to fight distractions so that you can focus on important tasks. This is Level 1.

Level 2 is that you have to learn things quickly so that you don’t lose the competition.

Technology changes rapidly, which means you can’t afford to live without the ability to learn things quickly and do deep work to excel in any field.

Once you reach superstar level in any field, there are always other people who would like to replace you.

In simple words, without deep work, you are guaranteed to lose.
Most people can’t see this and then wonder why they are not making progress in their career.

People who are doing great in their careers and thriving in the current economy realize the importance of deep work. They see “deep work” as one of the most valuable skills.

Also read: So Good They Can’t Ignore You [Book Summary]

Lesson #3: Deep work matters, even if you are talented at a skill.

When we talk about deep work, we can’t leave out the discussion about talent.
Talent or Hard work: What does it take to become successful?

This is an age-old debate.

‘Can you be successful with just hard work?’
‘What if you are talented?’
‘Can’t we simply skip hard work and focus on what we are already talented at?’
People often get lost in these types of questions.

Let’s get some clarity on this.

Talent is something we get from our genes.

It’s a person’s natural ability to do certain things well.

You are either born talented at something or you are not. If you are not talented at X, you might be talented at Y.

Some people discover their talents at a young age, while others discover them later. And some people don’t even bother to discover it.

Usually, people associate talent with fields of sports, art, etc.

Effort or hard work is something that you get to choose.

You can be a talentless person, but you can put in effort and learn something.
You don’t need to be genetically gifted to put in effort.

Anyone can put in effort.

Having talent is nice. But you still need the ability to do deep work to realize your full potential.

A person with no talent can beat you with effort.

So, unless your talent is so great that it outshines all other people, you need to focus on practice.

Being talented only means that your neurons strengthen and fire quickly when you are doing a certain skill.

It doesn’t mean that you have mastered that skill.

To thrive in today’s information economy, you don’t just need the ability to perform the skill; you should be able to do it at an elite level.

And you know, you don’t reach elite level without practice; it’s very rare for a person to reach elite level without practice.

Even the greatest athletes of all time, who are also called born geniuses, have to practice to maintain their great performances.

Yes, talent matters. But hard work is twice as important.

Lesson #4: Most business trends are actually counterproductive and often work against the idea of deep work.

Almost all businesses today require an active social media presence.

Nowadays, social media is causing a lot of distractions for the majority of people, leading them to engage in shallow work.

Constant notifications and emails make it impossible to concentrate.
People thought that they could solve communication issues within businesses with instant messaging. It did help to some extent.

But the convenience has backfired. Since it’s very easy to send messages, it’s also easy to give in to the urge to get attention from other people.

Moreover, businesspeople today love to collaborate. And this often works against the idea of deep work, as it’s difficult to focus when there are too many people to deal with.

This doesn’t mean business collaborations don’t help businesses.

The point is that many trends tend to discourage us from deep work and are often bad for businesses as they don’t consider deep work. Thus, deep work is rare in business.

And we already know how important deep work is for the growth of an individual or any business.

To stay focused on skill development and avoid distractions from new technology, rejecting trends is essential.

But today, businesses are forced to follow trends.

It’s a paradox: If businesses don’t follow trends, they fall behind. And if they do, they have to sacrifice the depth of the work they do.

You can both sit and run at the same time.

Deep work demands depth and patience in the work you do. As “trends” themselves often don’t last for a long time, they act against them.

This is why the author predicts that deep work is only going to become rare in the future.

In other words, individuals or businesses that don’t monkey branch on every trend bandwagon all the time will thrive in the long term.

Lesson #5: You don’t need a glamorous career or job to derive meaning from your work. It’s more about how you approach it.

If you have a mundane job and you think that it’s impossible to derive any sort of meaning from it, you should consider the point the author makes in the book.

The author talks about how some craftsmen didn’t have a glamorous job, and yet they still derived a lot of meaning from their work.

For example: Blacksmith can take pride in their work by thinking that they will create the best tools using iron.

Although their work sounds generic, it can be the source of great depth and meaning if you approach it with a different mindset.

So it’s not always about what kind of work you do.

You can still find depth in your work if your mindset is right.

Seeking depth in your work is crucial. You can’t find long-term happiness or satisfaction in your life if your work is shallow.

We need to stop giving excuses like most people who complain that they don’t have the career of their choice.

Deep work is not just hard work. It’s a mindset we must adopt.

Lesson #6: Don’t wait for magical inspiration to strike to be able to do any kind of creative work. 

If you are someone who waits for inspiration to strike and thinks that you can’t work without inspiration, then it’s possible that you aren’t working as hard as you should.

The less you care about inspiration, the more productive you will be.
Having inspiration is cool. It feels good when you are feeling strong emotions pushing you to work hard.

But relying too much on inspiration will waste your time. Because you can’t draw inspiration as you wish. Either you have it or you don’t.

The reason you think too much about inspiration is that you don’t have any deep work rituals.

You should have a clear plan of what you must do to achieve your goals.

You should be able to clearly answer questions like: Where you will work, what you will do, and for how long, etc.

Create a deep work ritual to avoid distractions.

Lesson #7: Learn to say “no” to shallow work or things, and embrace boredom if necessary.All rare skills require some kind of sacrifice.

Most of the time, you have to sacrifice fun or pleasure temporarily, also known as delayed gratification.

You can’t become very good at something if you aren’t willing to sacrifice pleasure.

A lot of people can’t sacrifice their so-called fun. That’s why they have to settle for less.

They can never understand the joy of achieving mastery over a craft that craftsmen experience.

Imagine if Mohammad Ali spent his time partying and chasing women all the time, like most men on the planet do. Would he be able to achieve mastery in boxing?
Of course, not.

To be able to do deep work, you must become comfortable rejecting anything that is shallow.

Shallow work is often tempting and requires less effort.

Partying with your business partners and chatting on social media is shallow work. It’s tempting to substitute deep work with shallow work and convince ourselves that we are making progress.

Most of us are not comfortable with boredom.

The more you run away from boredom, the more likely you are to accept shallow work over deep work.

Learn to say no to those party invitations if necessary so that you can focus on your craft.

People today spend time on social media watching videos and miss the opportunity to do deep work.

They don’t realize the joy of stretching the capacities of our minds.

Our minds are one of the most beautiful things on the planet. Unfortunately, most people never use it. They never see their minds as a gift.

Thanks to social media, most people can’t even concentrate on one thing today for an extended period of time. They are always distracted.

If you think that today you will enjoy your life and do the hard things later, then you are training yourself to be undisciplined.

Most people think that they can’t focus. But this is not because they can’t. It’s because they never train themselves to focus.

You learn to focus by stimulating your mind every day.

If you can’t focus for even 5 minutes, it’s fine. Try focusing for 30 seconds every day, and then, when you get good at it, try stretching the duration.

If you don’t train for it, you won’t be able to do it.

Shami Manohar


The Brain Behind Wizbuskout.com

I am Shami Manohar, the founder of WizBuskOut. My obsession with non-fiction books has fueled me with the energy to create this website. I read at least one book every week on topics such as business, critical thinking, mindset, psychology, and more.

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