Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Deliberate practice
2017/04/02 - 2017/04/06 13:35:50 read this book using deep work method花费了13小时!!!

Title: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Authors: Cal Newport
Edition: 1
Finished Date: 2017-06-25
Rating: 5
Language: English
Genres: Neuroscience, Deliberate Practice
Level: Entry
Publishers: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: 2016-01-05
ISBN: 978-1455586691
Format: ePub, Pdf, Mobi
Pages: 304
Download: ePub Pdf Mobi


Am I replaceable?

automatable eliminatable

author’s definition of 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

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


  • network tools

    • sms
    • social media
    • email

Learning something complex like computer programming requires intense uninterrupted concentration on cognitively demanding concepts


  • 独自一人工作者 e.g.

    • researcher
    • write books
    • 学习 e.g. learn programming


  • rent an apartment across the street from his office allowing him to show up early in the morning before anyone else arrived and work without distraction

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.

从统计的角度, 有了hypothesis,但是却没有验证的方法. 只是用语言去阐述所谓的逻辑, 不代表严密和事实

The book has 2 goals

  1. to convince you that the deep work hypothesis is true
  2. to teach you how to take advantage of this reality by training your brain and transforming your work habits to place deep work at the core of your professional life.


In the ten-year period following my college graduation, I

  • published 4 books
  • earned a PhD
  • wrote peer-reviewed academic paper a high rate
  • was hired as a tenure-track professor at Georgetown University

  • maintained this voluminous production while rarely working past five or six p.m. during the workweek 不代表所有事情的总和就做得多,只是某类活动做得多

    是不是有bias. MIT本身就选拔出来了智商高的人才和汇聚了很多很牛的老师. 公平的比较,i.e.与MIT里的同专业的学生比较.是不是发了更多的paper,是不是paper质量更加高


  • build days around a core of carefully chosen deep work,
  • with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule
  • 3-4 hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output

哪些人真的在”average is over”的世界活得好

  • the high-skilled workers

    work with intelligent machines

    work with big data

  • the superstars (who work remotely)

    • consulting
    • coding
    • marketing
    • writing
    • design
    • etc

      winner-take-all: consumers choose the best, such as, movie stars and musicians

  • the owners

    • investors (venture capitalist)

In summary, the unprecedented growth and impact of technology are creating a massive restructuring of our economy. 3 groups will have a particular advantage:

  1. those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines
  2. those who are the best at what they do
  3. those with access to capital


how to become a winner int he new economy

  1. those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines
  2. those who are the best at what they do
  • 2 core abilities for thriving in the new economy

    1. the ability to quickly master hard things
    2. the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed

      the author’s example of complicated machine: stata, SQL


intelligent machines are complicated and hard to master => require to master hard things
these technologies change rapidly=> the process of mastering hard things never ends: You must be able to do it quickly, again and again

become a superstar

  • you master the relevant skills is necessary, but not sufficient
  • you must transform that latent potential into tangible results that people value

    e.g. David hansson

    Many developers can program well, but David leveraged this ability to produce Ruby on Rails, the project that made his reputation

the two core abilities just described depend on your ability to perform deep work


Deep work helps you quickly learn hard things 但不保证100%能学会. 学会的也不保证在long term memory中. focus mode和diffuse mode都是学习所需要的.这本书只强调focus mode


deliberate practice

deliberate practice本身就说明了作者写的不完整.

除了focus, 还需要flow的状态, flow中包含honest feedback 和所学难度的比自己的能力高但不是高到不能达到的地步

core components of deliberate practice

  1. your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you are trying to improve or an idea your trying to master 作者强调第一条重要. 我认为第二条和第一条一样地重要


    myelin: a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurons, acting like an insulator that allows the cells to fire faster and cleaner

    You get better at a skill as you develop more myelin around the relevant neurons, allowing the corresponding circuit to fire more effortlessly and effectively. To be great at something is to be well myelinated.

    我记得是因为neurons的突出和其他neurons链接地越多,反应速度越快. 这才是学习新知识的本质. 而不是myelin
  2. you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive

From wikipedia

Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow.[2]

1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
1. Merging of action and awareness
1. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
1. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
1. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
1. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

Those aspects can appear independently of each other, but only in combination do they constitute a so-called flow experience. Additionally, psychology expert, Kendra Cherry, has mentioned three other components that Csíkszentmihályi lists as being a part of the flow experience:[3]

1. “Immediate feedback”[3]
1. Feeling that you have the potential to succeed
1. Feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs become negligible
Just as with the conditions listed above, these conditions can be independent of one another.

Adam Grant: youngest professor in Wharton

  • the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches

    • batch teaching in the fall
  • divide the writing of a scholarly paper into 3 discrete tasks

    1. analyze the data
    2. write a full draft
    3. edit the draft into something publishable

      put an out-of-office auto-responder on his e-mail

      law of productivity

      high-quality work produced = (time spent) * (intensity of focus)

    • by maximizing intensity when he works, he maximizes the results he produces per unit of time spent working

作者认为在一个hard task 上集中花费数天. 若累了怎么办. 写paper是个short-term的task. 若碰到那种要长期的project, focus on only project根本就不现实.这就是为什么我喜欢gtd的原因 Jack Dorsey可以multi-tasking. 让我想到, 每个MBTI的工作方式会不一样. 作者没有考虑到性格这个变量

individuals who thrive without depth

If deep work is so important, why are there distracted people who do well?
people who are a high-level executive of a large company

Individuals with such positions play a major role in the category of those who thrive without depth, because the lifestyle of such executives is famously and unavoidably distracted.

There are, we must continually remember, certain corners of our economy where depth is not valued.

ch2 deep work is rare

current trend of office: magnify distraction, decrease deep work

  • open office
  • the rise of instant messaging
  • maintain a social media presence

business world prioritize more other ideas than deep work

  • serendipitous collaboration
  • rapid communication
  • an active presence on social media

deep work为了employee个人, 学习更快, 工作更快

business考虑的是所有人和所有的方方面面, 而不是某些人的priority


why business adopts these

  • the principle of least resistance

    lack of metrics => do least resistance

    The Principle of Least Resistance: In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment

    1. If you work in an environment where you can get an answer to a question or a specific piece of information immediately when the need arises, this makes life easier.
    2. it creates an environment where it becomes acceptable to run your day out of your inbox

      David Allen’s GTD task-management methodology: propose a fifteen-element flowchart for making a decision on what to do next!!!! 这就是为什么我觉得clarify难的原因之一.

  • busyness as a proxy for productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner

  • the cult of the Internet

    说实话, GitHub也在这个category. 通过这个来hire人. 我的其他的distraction也都来源于此

    Neil Postman, NYU professor, in 1993: “Technology eliminates alternatives to itself in precisely the way Aldous Huxley outlined in Brave New World. It does not make them illegal. It does not make them immoral. It does not even make them unpopular. It makes them invisible and therefore irrelevant.”

    invisible and therefore irrelevant

    deep work is at a severe disadvantage in a technopoly because it builds on values like quality, craftsmanship, and mastery that are decidedly old-fashioned and non-technological. Even worse, to support deep work often requires the rejection of much of what is new and high-tech.

In summary,

  • deep work is hard and shallow work is easier
  • in the absence of clear goals for your job, the visible busyness that surrounds shallow work becomes self-preserving
  • our culture has developed a belief that if a behavior relates to “the Internet”, then it’s good – regardless of its impact on our ability to produce valuable things

But for you, as an individual, good news lurks. The myopia of your peers and employers uncovers a great personal advantage.

Ch. 3 deep work is meaningful

  • it can be hard to define exactly what a given knowledge worker does and how ti differs from another
  • deep work can generate as much satisfaction in an information economy as it so clearly does in a craft economy

    because (from conceptually narrow to broad)

    1. (neurology)

      your wold is the outcome of what you pay attention to

      deep work => if you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance

    2. (psychology)

      Csiksgentmihalyi’s work with the experience sampling method (ESM) validate a theory: “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”. Call this mental state flow . 也就是说, 我若做difficult的task, 我应该觉得开心才是. 可是, 今天安装hulo失败了,我一点都不开心

      At the time, this finding pushed back against conventional wisdom. Most people assumed (and still do) that relaxation makes them happy. 也就是我想relax和happy的时候, 就去做deep work

      most people are wrong

      Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.

      When measured empirically, people were happier at work and less happy relaxing than they suspected.

      the more such flow experiences that occur in a given week, the higher the subject’s life satisfaction.

      作者的逻辑 deep work => flow => satisfaction/happy

      若deep work没法产生flow,那么也就没有happiness了. 那么作者的argument也就是错的. 谁说deep work 一定要产生flow了? 我觉得也就是这个才是真正为什么部分的deep work能让人开心的原因
    3. (philosophy)

Part 2 the rules

rule 1: work deeply

People fight desires all day long.

  • eating
  • sleeping
  • sex
  • taking a break from (hard) work
  • check e-mails and social networking sites
  • surfing the web
  • listening to music
  • watching television

You can expect to be bombarded with the desire to do anything but work deeply throughout the day. Usually the competing desires will win

You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.

=> 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

decide on your depth philosophy

1. monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling

monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling

  • attempt to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations
  • suitable for people
    • 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
    • contribute to the world is discrete, clear and individualized


  • Knuth explains his professional goal as follows:

    “I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don’t have time for such study.”

* no email address
* a postal mailing address

    * administrative assistant give him urgent mails promptly
    * handle in a big batch, once every three months or so
  • Neal Stephenson, the acclaimed science fiction writer

    wrote an essay titled “Why I Am a Bad Correspondent”

    • see 2 mutually exclusive options

      1. He can write good novels at a regular rate
      2. he can answer a lot of individual em-mails and attend conferences, and as a result produce lower-quality novels at a slower rate

        He chose the former option.

2. the bimodal philosophy of deep work scheduling

the bimodal philosophy of deep work scheduling

  • value

    • the productivity of the monastics
    • the value from the shallow behaviors in their working lives
  • divide time & dedicate some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else

    eliminated distraction and shallow work only during the periods he spent at his retreat

  • during the deep time: act monastically, i.e., seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration
  • during the shallow time, such focus is not prioritized
  • this division of time between deep and open can happen on multiple scales

  • obstacle: even short periods of deep work require a flexibility that many fear they lack in their current positions


    • on the scale of a week, dedicate a four-day weekend to depth and the rest to open time
    • on the scale of a year, dedicate one season to contain most of your deep stretches (as many academics do over the summer or while on sabbatical)
  • 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 nit of time for deep work in this philosophy tends to be at least one full day.

    For example, a few hours in the morning are too short to count as a deep work stretch for an adherent of this approach.

  • suitable for

    • people who cannot succeed in the absence of substantial commitments to non-deep pursuits

      Carl Jun needed his clinical practice to pay the bills


  • Carl Jung

    • lived in a house
    • locked himself every morning into a minimally appointed room to write without interruption 心理学家也要有思考吧…不只是写作.为什么总把思考不包含在写作里
    • then mediate and walk in the woods to clarify his thinking in preparation for the next day’s writing
    • bimodal

      • monastic when in Zurich
      • active

        • ran a busy clinical practice that often had him seeing patients until late at night
        • he was an active participant in the Zurich coffeehouse culture
        • he gave and attended many lectures in the city’s respected universities
  • Adam Grant, the Wharton Business School professor

    • on the scale of the academic year, he stacked his courses into one semester, so that he could focus the other on deep work
    • During these deep semesters he then applied the bimodal approach on the weekly scale.

      • once or twice a month, take a period of two to four days to become completely monastic

        • shut door
        • put an out-of-office auto-responder on his e-mail
        • work on his research without interruption

4. the rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling

the rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling

  • the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit

    我用这种方法,除非是和我inner goal相连接,比如初中时候每天学习, 否则,只是为了做某件事情而做某件事, 从来就没有成功过
  • goal: generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you are going to go deep

  • example:

    • chain method: do hard things consistently

      • combine a simple scheduling heuristic (do the work every day) with an easy way to remind yourself to do the work: the big red Xs on the calendar
    • set starting time that you use every day for deep work


  • Brian Chappell, the busy doctoral candidate + full time job

    • make a rule: deep work needed to happen in ninety-minute chunks
    • he decided he would try to schedule these chunks in an ad hoc manner whenever appropriate openings in his schedule arose

      not surprisingly, this strategy did not yield much productivity

    • In a dissertation boot camp Chappell attended the year before, he’d managed to produce a full thesis chapter in a single week of rigorous deep work

    • after he accepted his full-time job, he managed to produce only a single additional chapter in the entire first year he was working
    • made a rule: wake up and start working 5:30am - 7:30 => make breakfast => go to work => push to start work from 4:30am

      4-5 pages per day

      generate drafts of thesis chapters at a rate of one chapter _every 2 or 3 weeks)

comparison between the rhythmic philosophy and bimodal philosophy

  • the rhythmic philosophy fails to achieve the most intense levels of deep thinking sought in the daylong concentration sessions favored by the bimodalist

    用好几天的时间处理notes vs 每天处理5个notes
  • trade-off: rhythmic philosophy works better with the reality of human nature 为什么和我的nature不相符…

4. the journalistic philosophy of deep work scheduling

journalistic philosophy of deep work scheduling: you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule 这才是我最想达到的. 初三时候我随时随地都能做英语题目, 在车上也能做.


  • not for deep work novice
  • require a sense of confidence in your abilities – a conviction that what you are doing is important and will succeed

    This type of conviction is typically built on a foundation of existing professional accomplishment


  • Cal Newport: “I face each week as it arrives and do my best to squeeze out as much depth as possible.”


not use inspiration to do the work

the rituals minimized the friction in transition to depth, allowing to go deep more easily and stay in the state longer

no correct deep work ritual: the right fit depends on both the persona and the type of project pursued

any effective ritual must address some general questions

  • where you will work and for how long

    • location
  • how you will work once you start to work 不理解怎么回答这种问题. 我觉得更像是flow里的feedback loop

    • ban on any Internet use
    • maintain a metric such as words produced per 20-min interval to keep concentration honed
  • How you will support your work


    • start with a cup of a good coffee
    • have access to enough food of the right type to maintain energy
    • integrate light exercise such as walking to help keep the mind clear

make grand gestures

a radical change to normal environment + (a significant investment of effort or money) e.g., rent a hotel room

The dominant force is the psychology of committing so seriously to the task at hand

deep work and collaboration

the theory of serendipitous creativity: allow people to bump into each other smart collaborations and new ideas, such as, open office

  • based on the conclusion that deep work (an individual endeavor) is incompatible with generating creative insights (a collaborative endeavor)
  • this conclusion is flawed because of an incomplete understanding of the theory of serendipitous creativity

good ways

  • the combination of soundproofed offices connected to large common areas yields a hub-and-spoke architecture of innovation in which both serendipitous encounter and isolated deep thinking are supported

  • whiteboard effect: collaboration between all people who do deep work

=> collaborative deep work can yield better results

  • guidelines

    1. distraction remains a destroyer of depth

      use the hub-and-spoke model

      optimize each effort separately, as opposed to mixing them together to impedes both goals

    2. even when you retreat to a spoke to think deeply, when it’s reasonable to leverage the whiteboard effect, do so. 这才是phd和导师的关系

      By working side by side with someone on a problem, you can push each other toward deeper levels of depth


4DX framework

Discipline #1: Focus on the wildly important
我一直纠结于打扫卫生,洗澡这种事情.其实这些事情对于事业来说不那么重要. 只要我在外面别人觉得我干净就可以了.

The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish

execution should be aimed at a small number of “wildly important goals”

for individual

  • identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours
我的ambitious goal是毕业和在我研究的领域发表多篇paper
discipline #2: act on the lead measures
flow的一条之一, feedback loop


  1. identify a wildly important goal
  2. measure success natural planning model里的brainstorm里的milestone
2 types of metrics

1. `lag` measures: describe the thing your are ultimately trying to improve

    cons: they come too late to change your behavior
1. `lead` measures: measure the new behaviors that will drive success on the lag measures

    turn your attention to improving the behaviors your directly control in the near future that will then have a possibility to have a positive impact on long-term goals

    example: bakery

    the number of customers who receive free sample

* individual

    * lead measure: time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal

    author's experience

    * in the past: focus on lag measures, such as, papers published per year

    * now: track deep work hours, relevant to day-to-day
discipline #3: keep a compelling scoreboard

“People play differently when they are keeping score” <= motivation <= competition motivation 会减少inner joy, i.e. joy from deep work

the individual’s scoreboard should be a physical artifact in the workspace that displays the individual’s current deep work hour count 我不认为Donal Knuth和作者之前提到的人会设置scoreboard

discipline #4: create a cadence of accountability

a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings of any team that owns a wildly important goal

use a weekly review to replace the meeting

meditation或者exercise都不是直接的deep work. deep work是最好的mediation, 而且是直接产生outcome的
#### be lazy

At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning – no after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you will handle an upcoming challenge

If you need more time, then extend your workday free to encounter

3 reasons

1. downtime aids insights 也就是diffuse mode, i.e., unconscious mind
tasks involve

* large amounts of information
* multiple vague, even conflicting constraints

need both conscious mind and unconscious mind

<font color="blue">知道原理后,就推断出不一定要用作者的这个建议. 而是可以利用各种方法短时间shut down conscious mind, 然后再做deep work. 我发现我上厕所就会用unconscious mind</font>
  1. downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply


    attention fatigue

    • resource is finite
    • to concentrates requires directed attention
    • => if exhausted, you will struggle to concentrate

      walking on busy city streets requires you to use directed attention 这就是为什么走34街从地铁站走到系里好累

      15 min walk through nature => replenish directed attention resources => restore concentration


* have a casual conversation with a friend
* listen to music while making dinner
* play a game with your kids
* going for a run

trying to squeeze a little more work our 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
  1. the work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important

    deep work vs deliberate practice. deliberate practice 是deep work的一种

    Anders Ericsson, the inventor of deliberate practice theory

    • seminal 1993 paper: 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 每天可以有多个4小时session

    Your capacity for deep work in a given day is limited. Hit your daily deep work capacity during your workday

    In evening, you are beyond the point where you can continue to effectively work deeply.

    • do low-value shallow tasks (executed at a slow, low-energy pace)
  • shutdown ritual: ensure that every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed an that for each you have confirmed that either

    1. you have a plan you trust for its completiongtd的clarify and organize
    2. it has captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right gtd的capture

      author’s example

    3. take a final look at e-mail inbox to ensure that there is nothing requiring an urgent response before the day ends

    4. transfer any new tasks that are on the mind or ere scribbled down earlier in the day into the official tasks lists
    5. quickly skim every task in every list (goal: no urgent)
    6. look at the next few days on calendar (goal: no urgent)
    7. make a rough plan for the next day
    8. say, “Shutdown complete”

      比kourosh dini的workflow多了最后一步. 但kourosh dini更加完整. 可是我一直做不到 Cal Newport’s awesome blog post

      As a graduate student, I didn’t need better lists of next actions. I needed instead to be training my ability to focus hard on meaningful things for long periods of time — even after it becomes uncomfortable.

      Deep work is fundamentally different from the shallow (though still important) work of keeping on top of the little things required to function personally and professionally.

      At least, this is the compromise I’ve adopted. I embrace GTD for organizing shallow work. It is, as many will attest, devastatingly effective for this purpose. But I think of deep work as something different altogether. A philosophy of life that requires its own strategies.

      in summary,

    • deep work
    • shallow work by GTD
<font color="blue">一个回复

GTD needs to be modified for a ‘creator’ schedule. It is then not about ‘getting things done’ but rather about maximizing empty time in your calendar so that you are free to focus on ‘creating’.

I spend half an hour a day on GTD postponing tasks or rapidly finishing them so that the rest of the day I have no work, no commitments and no meetings – Just empty time so that the most important thoughts can flow in and out without any interruptions.</font>

<font color="blue">一个回复

TesTeq wrote: “You provide no examples to prove your thesis but I give you an example which disproves your thesis”

None – and I mean none — of the entrepreneurs and artists I know use GTD. Whenever I discuss my interest in productivity topics, they dismiss my hobby as “make work” projects, all designed to avoid getting important/deep work done.

<font color="blue">一个回复

The problem with GTD is that once you’re into a deep focus, trying to maintain it becomes too cumbersome and it loses its usefulness.

I’m definitely not processing my next action when I’m in the middle of a project that requires me to lose myself in it, or completely engage myself with it. And I don’t need to be — the momentum of obsessive focus is enough replace the need for the system. If you need a system like GTD to accomplish deep work, you’re not accomplishing deep work.

However, the system has helped me with two things: 1. It functions as a support structure, like Cal said, to keep track of tasks that don’t require hard focus. Personally, if I didn’t have that, I would be into my focus so much that the rest of the world would slip by. 2. It is part of my ritual that allows me to get into a deep focus and do deep work. But once I’m there, it’s done. There’s no use for it until I’m done with that work for the day.</font>

<font color="blue">一个回复

Cal, thanks for the great post. I feel the most important point you make concerns the seductiveness of Allen’s idea, that hard problems can be made easy by breaking them down into actionable steps. This is true in many cases, maybe even most cases, where straightforward problems can feel intractable simply because we have failed to do the straightforward thinking to break them down to actionable steps.

But as you have found out in your career and in your life, there comes a point where some problems are JUST PLAIN HARD, and require deep work. Another facet I have encountered is that breaking down complex problems into actionable tasks can be deep work itself, and even then solutions are as often emergent and therefore do not follow the plan of actionable tasks I had plotted at the start.
As you have pointed out, most of us are very unfamiliar with deep work, whether problem solving or deliberate practice, and therefore flee from it with rewarding tasks such as shallow work or time fillers such as email.

<font color="red">

<b>I think the limitation Cal highlights is this; the purpose of GTD is to take a large-scale project and remove all ambiguity about what steps need to be taken in order to accomplish the project so that those steps can be accomplished mechanically. The removal of ambiguity and confusion makes work simple and much less stressful. “Cranking widgets” is the term that Cal used. But in the case of the deep-work tasks that Cal talks about, the act of sifting through all that ambiguity is the same as actualizing the task, or so close to it that GTD is rendered unnecessary.

Here’s an example; I’m working on my master’s thesis. How do I break this down into widget-style, mindless next-steps? I could try breaking it into sections (write introduction, conduct literature review, etc…) but each of those requires its own small amount of deep-work thinking, still. So I’d have to take each section and break it down further. Perhaps I take the introduction and break it down into paragraphs, deciding what I want to accomplish with each one? But that still requires more deep-work style thinking to determine exactly how I want to do that. So do I break each paragraph down into sentences? What if they don’t go together the way that I want? I have to backtrack and try multiple options until I find a set of sentences that work well together in accomplishing what I want. More deep work — sifting through problems that are ambiguous, using focus, judgment, and creativity – until clarity is achieved.

By the time I’ve envisioned the thesis clearly enough (let’s say at the sentence level) to work through it as if I were cranking out widgets, I’ve already accomplished the task of composing the thesis. What’s left? Writing? Hopefully by this point I’d have already written it; an entire thesis, sentence by sentence, is a lot to keep in one’s memory. So really, there’s no work left for the GTD system to help organize except things like formatting, printing, submitting, etc…

The GTD system’s “hiccup,” then, is that it can’t account for accomplishing tasks that are too similar to the planning phase of the system itself. I think this should seem intuitive to people who use GTD regularly; anybody who has tried to take an extremely large task and break it down into actionable next-steps probably recognizes that the act of breaking the task down is, itself, a form of deep thinking. This isn’t a flaw; it just means that people who practice GTD have to accept that it won’t completely reduce every task to thought-free “next steps” all the time. Thought is still required.

Where GTD excels is in reducing thought-load by collecting all of the stray thought we waste trying to navigate our day and centralizing it into a planning and review session. This reduces stress and, ideally, saves our focused, deep thought for more important tasks instead of scattering it throughout our schedule in the form of a million small, stressful choices. In that sense, I think GTD is a resounding success, and I think that it forms a good foundation for a deep-thinking lifestyle as long as it’s not over-applied. Several people have already mentioned this, but perhaps the best way to account for the tasks that GTD can’t handle is simply to allocate large blocks of time where you’re fresh and alert and have the ability to deal with them on the level you need to.

rule#2 embrace boredom

The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.

wrong idea: treat undistracted concentration as a habit, i.e., something that you know ho to do and know is good for you, but that you have been neglecting due to a lack of motivation. This understanding ignores the difficulty of focus and the hours of practice necessary to strengthen your “mental muscle”

  • once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, it is hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate

    i.e., If every moment of potential boredom in you life, e.g., having to wait five minutes in line or sit along in a restaurant until a friend arrives, is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where it’s not ready for deep work – even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration

    • rule #1: teach how to integrate deep work into schedule and support it with routines and rituals designed to help consistently reach the current limit of your concentration ability
    • rule #2: help significantly improve this limit

      strategies motivated by the key idea that getting the most out of deep work habit requires training

      training have 2 goals

      • improve ability to concentrate intensely
      • overcome desire for distraction

Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead take breaks from focus

The assumption is not right: human can switch between a state of distraction and concentration as needed

Wrong: find occasional time to get away from the Internet, etc, such as, 1 or 2 month a year, one-day-a-week advice, an hour or 2 every day

wrong because brain wiring. Example, if you eat healthy just one day a week, you are unlikely to lose weight

Method: you should schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus 我初中的时候就是这么做的. 规定自己什么时候能休息, 休息几分钟. 大多数时间都是focus和做deep work.

use Internet as example

  1. schedule in advance when you will use the Internet
  2. avoid it altogether outside

suggestion: keep a notepad near computer at work. On this pad, record the next time you are allowed to use the Internet. Until you arrive at that time, absolutely no network connectivity is allowed – no matter how tempting.

  • point 1: this strategy works even if your job requires lots of Internet use and/or prompt e-mail replies

    Internet blocks will be more numerous than those of someone whose job requires less connectivity

  • point #2: regardless of how you schedule your Internet blocks, you must keep the time outside these blocks absolutely free from Internet use

    Temptation: retrieve important information online during Internet block

    because the Internet is seductive

    • switch to another offline activity for the remainder of the current block
    • get the current offline activity done promptly, then the correct response is to change schedule so that next Internet block begins sooner
  • point #3: scheduling Internet use at home as well as at work can further improve your concentration training

    when waiting, boredom is part of concentrating training

work like Teddy Roosevelt

  1. identify a deep task that is high on priority list
  2. estimate how long you would normally put aside for an obligation of this type
  3. set a hard deadline that drastically reduces this time
  4. work with great intensity

try this experiment no more than once a week at first

The main motivation for this strategy: deep work requires levels of concentration well beyond where most knowledge workers are comfortable

meditate productively

the goal of productive mediation: to take a period in which you are occupied physically but not mentally

  • walking
  • jogging
  • driving
  • showering

and focus attention on a single well-defined professional problem

In mindfulness meditation, you must continue to bring your attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders or stalls 我能用听podcast替代吗? 好吧,不行….作者说他用这个方法写书


  • resist distraction and return attention repeatedly to a well-defined, strengthen distraction-resisting muscles
  • by force you to push focus deeper and deeper on a single problem, it sharpens concentration

    contraction和distraction完全mutually exclusive, 这上面的2条其实肯定同时发生

nee practice

  • suggestion #1: be wary of distractions and looping

    • distraction, such as, think about writing email
    • looping

      When faced with a hard problem, your mind will attempt to avoid excess expenditure of energy when possible.

      One way it might attempt to do is by avoiding diving deeper into the problem by instead looping over and over agin on what you already know about it

  • suggestion #2: structure your deep thinking


    1. review the relevant variables for solving the problem
    2. store these values in working memory

      example: work on the outline for a book chapter

      • the relevant variables can be

        • the main points you want to make in the chapter

        example: solve a mathematics proof

      • the relevant variables can be

        • actual variables
        • assumptions
        • lemmas
    3. define the specific next-action question you need to answer using these variables


      • How am I going to effectively open this chapter?
      • What can I go wrong if I don’t assume this property holds?
    4. if next-step question is solved, consolidate gains by reviewing clearly the answer you identified

    5. start the process over

memorize a deck of cards

a side effect of memory training is an improvement in general ability to concentrate. => apply to any task demanding deep work

Example: Daniel Kilov, who won silver medals in the Australian memory championships

我完全同意作者的观点. 这也是为什么之前我对于练记忆有点不情愿. 我不认为练记忆会直接对处理复杂事情的能力有所提高. 单纯的记忆和提高解决复杂的数学问题的能力没有因果关系. 或者说存在confounding variable

David Kilov did not become a star student because of his award-wining memory; it was instead his quest to improve this memory that (incidentally) gave him the deep work edge needed to thrive academically.

memorize a shuffled deck of cards

  • never attempt rote memorization
  • choose a replacement that makes similar cognitive requires to card memorization

the key to this strategy is not the specifics, but instead the motivating idea that your ability to concentrate is only as strong as your commitment to train it

rule #3 quit social media

  • no Facebook
  • no Twitter
  • no Foursquare
  • no email
  • no instagrams


  1. these tools fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate

some people defense social media

  • entertainment tool

    反驳: we do not lack of entertainment tools before the appearance of Facebook

  • make friends

    反驳: lightweight friendship. We are unlikely to be at the center of this user’s social life

the any-benefit approach to network tool selection: Your are 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 do not use it.

  • 这和我的想法一样: 若只看到一个事物的有点,如何做到断舍离
  • cons of this approach: it ignores all the negatives that come along with the tools

    • social media are engineered to be addictive

      • rob time and attention from activities that more directly support your professional and personal goals (such as deep work)

craftsman approach to tool selection: identify the core factor that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts

craftsman approach就是关注effectiveness, i.e.,the core factor that determine success and happiness in professional and personal life. 而efficiency并不是优先的考虑对象.

in opposition to the any-benefit approach

3 strategies follow craftsman approach to tool selection

1. apply the law of the vital few to your Internet habits

goal: to offer some structure to this thought process – a way to reduce some of the complexity of deciding which tools really matter to you


1. identify the main high-level goals in both your professional and your personal life


parenting run an organized household

professional professor

1. an effective teacher in the classroom and effective mentor to my graduate students

2. an effective researcher

the key: to keep the list limited to what is most important and to keep the descriptions suitably high-level

too specific, not good, such as

reach a million dollars in sales publish a half dozen papers in a single year

2. list for each the 2 or 3 most important activities that help you satisfy the goal

specific enough to allow you to clearly picture doing them be general enough that they are not tied to a onetime outcome


too general
: “do better research”
too specific: “finish paper on broadcast lower bounds in time for upcoming conference submission”
good: “regularly read and understand the cutting-edge results in my field”

3. consider the network tools your currently use

for each such tool
go through the key activities you identified and ask whether the use of the tool has a substantially positive impact, a substantially negative impact, or little impact on your regular and successful participation in the activity

keep using this tool only if you concluded that it has substantial positive impacts and that these outweigh the negative impacts

the question once again is not whether Twitter offers some benefits, but instead whether it offers enough benefits to offset its drag on your time and attention

personal goal: to maintain close and rewarding friendships with a group of people who are important to me

key activities supporting this goal:

1. regularly take the time for meaningful connection with those who are most important to meet, such as,

    * a long talk
    * a meal
    * joint activity

2. give of myself to those who are most important to me, such as,

    * making nontrivial sacrifices that improve their lives

These 2 activities are offline and effort intensive. 
=> Facebook offers benefits to your social life, but none are important enough to what really matters to you in this area to justify giving it access to your time and attention.
<font color="blue">我的business使用social networking的原因会是和rss一样,作为内容发布</font>

the law of the vital few: in many settings, 80% of a given effect is due to just 20% of the possible causes

Assuming that you could probably list somewhere between 10 and 15 distinct and potentially beneficial activities for each of your life goals, this law says that it’s the top 2 or 3 such activities – the number that this strategy asks you to focus on – that make most of the difference in whether or not you success with the goal

argument: It is true that these less important activities don’t contribute nearly as much to your gal as your top one or two, but they can provide some benefit, so why not keep them in the mix? As long as you do not ignore the most important activities, it seems like it cannot hurt to also support some of the less important alternatives

wrong because

  • all activities, regardless of their importance, consume your same limited store of time and attention.
    • business world: a company fire unproductive clients 所以倩女幽魂的游戏这类的游戏就别抱怨了. 或者说, 所有网络游戏别玩了.公司不会care我这种玩家的

    • personal

      • low-impact activities

        • find old friends on Facebook
      • high-impact activities

        • take a good friend out to lunch

          这和我大学的想法一样, 但是更好. 大学里关注几件事情呢做好, 会有很高的成就. 但是忽略了做的事情要对自己又很大的重要意义

don’t use the Internet to entertain yourself

entertainment-focused websites are designed to capture and hold your attention for as long as possible. for example

  • Huffington Post
  • BuzzFeed
  • Business Insider
  • Reddit

they use carefully crafted titles and easily digestible content, often honed by algorithms to be maximally attention catching

dangerous because

  • it weakens your mind’s general ability to resit distraction, making deep work difficult later when your really want to concentrate 完全同意T_T, 亲身经历. 吃晚饭后,基本上就继续花时间在吃晚饭时候干的事情

when it comes to your relaxation, don’t default to whatever catches your attention at the moment, but instead dedicate some advance thinking to the question of how you want to spend you “day within a day”

figure out in advance what you are going to do with your evenings and weekends before they begin

  • structured hobbies

    • provide good fodder for these hours because they generate specific actions with specific goals to fill your time

      • spend regular time each night making progress on a series of deliberately chosen books
      • exercise
> What? You say that full energy given to those 16 hours will lessen the value of the business 8? Not so. 
> On the country, it will assuredly increase the value of the business 8. One of the chief thing which my typical man has to learn is that <font color="red">the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change -- not rest, except in sleep.</font>

rule #4 drain the shallows

a limit to anti-shallow thinking

  • not mean all of your time is invested in deep work

    • a nontrivial amount of shallow work is needed to maintain most knowledge work jobs

      need to check email but not check frequently

* cognitive capacity

    deep work is exhausting because it pushes you toward the limit of your abilities

    * for someone new to such practice, an hour a day is reasonable limit
    * for those familiar with the rigors of such activities, the limit expands to something like 4 hours, but rarely more

    once you have hit your deep work limit in a given day, you will experience diminishing rewards if you try to cram in more

    then, shallow work does not become dangerous until after you add enough to begin to crowd out your bounded deep efforts for the day

schedule every minute of your day

  1. at the beginning of each workday, turn to a new page of line paper in a notebook
  2. down the left-hand side of the paper mark every other line with an hour of the day
  3. cover the full set of hours you typically work
  4. divide the hours of your work day into blocks
  5. assign activities to the blocks
  6. draw a line from a task block to the open right-hand side of the page where you can list out the full set of small tasks you plan to accomplish in that block
  • not every block need to be dedicated to a work task. time block for lunch
  • to keep things reasonably clean, the minimum length of a block should be 30 min i.e. one line on the page
  • batch similar things into more generic task blocks


    • respond to boss’s e-mail
    • submit reimbursement form
    • ask Cal about report


  • block 9 a.m. - 11 a.m. for writing a client’s press release

2 things can go wrong with schedule once the day progresses

  1. your estimates will prove wrong
  2. you will be interrupted and new obligations will unexpectedly appear on your plate

    at the next available moment, you should take a few minutes to create a revised schedule for the time that remains in the day

    several ways

    • turn to a new page
    • erase and redraw blocks
    • cross out the blocks for the remainder of the day and create new blocks to the right of the old ones on the page

the goal is not to stick to a given schedule at all costs; it is instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you are doing with your time going forward

  • almost definitely you are going to underestimate at first how much time you require for most things
  • overflow conditional blocks: if you are not sure how long a given activity might take,

    1. block off the expected time
    2. follow it with an additional block that has a split purpose

      • if you need more time for the preceding activity, use this additional bock to keep working on it
      • if you finish the activity on time, an alternate use already assigned for the extra block
  • If you stumble onto an important insight, then this is a perfectly valid reason to ignore the rest of the schedule for the day.

    stick with this unexpected insight until it loses steam. At this point, step back and rebuild schedule for any time that remains in the day

the goal of a schedule is not to force your behavior into a rigid plan. However, this type of scheduling is not about constraint; instead it is about thoughtfulness.

quantify the depth of every activity

an advantage of scheduling day: determine how much time to actually spend in shallow activities

shallow work: 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

  • some activities clearly satisfy the definition

    • check e-mail
    • schedule a conference call
  • ambiguous

    1. edit a draft of an academic article that you and a collaborator will soon submit to a journal
    2. build a PowerPoint presentation about this quarter’s sales figures
    3. attend a meeting to discuss the current status of an important and to agree on the next step
question to 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?

analyze examples

  1. 55-75 months

    require cutting-edge knowledge of an academic filed, need graduate study and beyond

  2. 2 month


    1. knowledge of how to make a PowerPoint presentation
    2. an understanding of the standard format of these quarterly performance presentations within your organization
    3. an understanding of what sales metrics your organization tracks and how to convert them into the right graphs

      hypothetical college graduate

      • already know how to use PowerPoint
      • learn the standard format for your organization’s presentations should not require more than a week
      • take more time

        • understand the metrics your track
        • where to find the results
        • how to clean those up and translate them into graphs and charts that are appropriate for a slide presentation
  3. 3 months

Tasks that leverage your expertise tend to be deep tasks and they can therefore provide a double benefits: They return more value per time spent; and they stretch your abilities, leading to improvement

do deep work more

ask your boss for a shallow work budget

important question that is rarely ask: What percentage of my time should be spent on shallow work?

in most non-entry-level knowledge work jobs: 30 to 50% range

If boss reply: “as much shallow work as is needed for you to promptly do whatever we need from you at the moment”

the answer tells you that this is not a job that supports deep work, and a job that does not support deep work is not a job that can help you succeed in our current information economy. You should, in this case,

thank the boss for the feedback and then promptly start planning how you can transition into a new position that values depth.

finish your work by five thirty

fixed-schedule productivity

Radhika Nagpal, the Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University

her rules

  • travel only 5 times per year for any purpose

    because trips can generate a surprisingly large load of urgent shallow obligations

    for junior faculty, usually travel 12 to 24 times a year

technique to say no: avoid provide enough specificity about the excuse that the requester has the opportunity to defuse it

example: “Sounds interesting, but I can’t make it due to schedule conflicts.”


  • ruthlessly reduce the shallow while preserving the deep
  • fixed-schedule commitment


  • tip #1: make people who send you e-mail do more work

    • not put e-mail address on the author website to open invitation to send them any request or suggestion that comes to mind

      if you want to interview me, or have an offer, opportunity, or introduction that might make my life more interesting, e-mail me at interesting [at] For the reasons stated above, I’ll only respond to those proposals that are a good match for my schedule and interests.

      sender filter

  • tip #2: do more work when you send or reply to emails

    take the time to answer the following key prompt:

    • what is the project represented by this message
    • what is the most efficient (in terms of messages generated) process for bringing this project to a successful conclusion?

      process-centric approach

    • describe the process you identified

    • point out the current step
    • emphasize the step that comes next


Bill Gates

worked intensity for such lengths during two-month stretch that he would often collapse into sleep on his keyboard in the middle of writing a line of code. He would then sleep for an hour or two, wake up, and pick up right where he left off

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.

GTD的next action是physical visible action.

deep mental work需要的是在脑子里想, physical的action是写下来或者数学公式打草稿, 或者mind map. 这些都是在脑子里进行的,而不是physical的. 并且这些physical action是不可预测的. 比如,在做project之前不知道是不是这个project简单到不需要打草稿, 不知道project是否复杂到要打很多草稿


正如Cal Newport所说, 整个deep work就是clarify的过程, clarify做完的时候也就是整个project都做完的时候, i.e., clarify和do的工程是合并为一体的. 我之前自责自己不擅长clarify, 就因为如此. 现在想来, 我的大多说工作都是需要intensive mental工作, 即使是熟练工也需要花很长时间clarify.

写在project list里的deep work的next action只是一个trigger, 能引发思考更多的mental next action. 整个做deep work的过程就是做mental next action的过程.

在做deep work的时候写下next action, 往往会让自己更加难进入flow的状态