Deep Work Razor

Principle
Problem-solving principle for deciding when to opt for a Deep Work approach. Although Deep Work is not the only valuable skill in our economy, we ought to prioritize the selection of Deep Work whenever another approach is not blatantly more advantageous.
Here’s Cal Newport’s explanation: “Deep work is not the only skill valuable in our economy, and it’s possible to do well without fostering this ability, but the niches where this is advisable is increasingly rare. Unless you have strong evidence that distraction is important for your specific profession, you’re best served…by giving serious consideration to depth” (48, Deep Work)
Source
Deep Work by Cal Newport

Immeasurable Intangible Labor

Principle

The work of knowledge work is often difficult to measure and its value is therefore hard to determine.

Economist Thomas Piketty made this point when arguing that that the general inability to measure the value of work enables executives to claim salaries that greatly succeed an executive’s marginal productivity.

Explanation

“Generally speaking, as knowledge work makes more complex demands of the labor force, it becomes harder to measure the value of an individual’s efforts.” (55, Deep Work)

Source

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Worker Groups Who Will Inherit the Earth

Framework

In Race Against The Machines, economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAffee explain that as machines becomes intelligent, companies are more likely to hire new machines rather than new people. Consequently, to succeed as a worker in economy of the future, Brynjolfsson and McAffee suggest that one would be best served by falling into three groups

  1. Highly-Skilled Workers
  2.  Superstars
  3. The Owners

Highly-Skilled Workers

Those who build machines and the software that runs them or those who are able to augment their own capabilities with the assistance of intelligent machines. Cal Newport describes how famed statistician augments his analysis through machine assistance: “Nate Silver, of course, with his comfort in feeding data into large databases, then siphoning it out into his mysterious Monte Carlo simulations, is the epitome of the high-skilled worker. Intelligent machines are not an obstacle to Silver’s success, but instead provide its precondition” (24, Deep Work)

The Superstars

This group benefits from the power of technology to more widely distribute their products or communicate across long distances. This group possesses a skill or product of high value and is high demand. In the past, these superstars ability to sell their talents was limited to their immediate geography, which meant that their competitors could still sell their talents to the areas where the superstars were not; markets were more localized. Now, the Internet has made it possible for the best within a given area to displace the local monopolies. As a result, superstars can now sell their value at unprecedented scale at the expense of the non-superstars.

The Owners

Those with capital to invest in technology will be capable of rapidly growing their capital. Cal Newport explains the implications of McAfee / Brynjolfsson’s ‘Great Restructuring’ theory:

“The Great Restructuring, unlike the postwar period, is a particularly good time to have access to capital. To understand why, first recall that bargaining theory, a key component in standard economic thinking, argues that when money is made through the combination of capital investment and labor, the rewards are returned, roughly speaking, proportional to the input. As digital technology reduces the need for labor in many industries, the proportion of the rewards returned to those who own the intelligent machines is growing. A venture capitalist in today’s economy can fund a company like Instagram, which was eventually sold for a billion dollars, while employing only thirteen people” (27, Deep Work)

 

Zeigarnik Effect

Term

Tendency of incomplete tasks to dominate one’s attention when one has moved onto another task.

Explanation

“This effect, which is named for the experimental work of the early-twentieth-century psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, describes the ability of incomplete tasks to dominate our attention. It tells us that if we simply stop what we’re 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 they’ll often win).” (153, Deep Work)

Source

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Shutdown Ritual

Term
A ritual designed to assist in ‘shutting down’ at the end of a day containing deep work. Assuming that one has exerted himself or herself to her fullest in a given day, he or she will need a de-stressing / cognitive recovery period. Shut downs ease the transition into a recovery period and recover in a mindset free of distractions.
Process
Goals for period:
     1) Capture all incomplete tasks in a place where they can be revisited when the time is right
     2) Have plans you trust for capturing all incomplete tasks
          “As any busy knowledge worker can attest, there are always tasks left incomplete. The idea that you can ever reach a point where all your obligations are handled is a fantasy. Fortunately, we don’t need to complete a task to get it off our minds. Riding to our rescue in this matter is our friend from earlier in the rule, the psychologist Roy Baumeister, who wrote a paper with E.J. Masicampo playfully titled ‘Consider It Done!’ In this study, two researchers began replicating the Zeigarnik effect in their subjects (in this case, the researchers assigned a task and then cruelly engineered interruptions), but then found that they could significantly reduce the effect’s impact by asking how the subjects, soon after interruption, to make a plan for how they would later complete the incomplete task. To quote the paper: ‘Committing to a specific plan for a goal may therefore not only facilitate attainment of the goal but may also free cognitive resources for other pursuits’ “(153, Deep Work)
The Cal Newport Approach:
1) Take a final look at e-mail inbox to ensure that there’s nothing requiring an urgent response before the day ends
2) Transfer any new tasks into official task list (New tasks are compiled a piece of scrap paper throughout the day)
3) Quickly skim entire task list and review calendar for the next couple of days
     -Ensure that there’s nothing urgent you’re forgetting or any important deadlines or appointments sneaking up on you
4) Make a rough plan for the next day
5) Say ‘Shut down’ complete
Source
Deep Work by Cal Newport

Deep Work

Term

“Professional activities performed in the state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and hard to replicate” ( 3, Deep Work)

Source

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Deep Work Hypothesis

Principle

As the world becomes more distracted in the aggregate, the ability to focus and work deeply on a task becomes increasingly more scarce and consequently, increasingly more valuable.

Explanation

“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at 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, Deep Work)

“Our work culture’s shift toward the shallow (whether you think it’s philosophically good or bad) is exposing a massive economic and personal opportunity for those few who recognize the potential of resisting this trend and prioritizing depth” (8, Deep Work)

“There are two reasons for this value. The first has to do with learning. We have an information economy that’s dependent on complex systems that change rapidly….To remain valuable in our economy, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.

The second reason that deep work is valuable is because of the impacts of the digital network revolution cut both ways. If you can create something useful, its reachable audience is essentially limitless — which greatly magnifies your rewards. 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….To succeed, you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing — a task that requires depth” (13, Deep Work)

Source

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Interval Work

Principle

Working with great intensity for short periods of time. It’s goal is maximize aggregate productivity per a unit of time.

This strategy acknowledges that a given day is either largely commandeered by shallow work or that there’s only a finite amount of time during the day in which a person can be maximally productive (physiologically-limited productivity) . The solution this strategy seeks is to apply the interval training philosophy of athletic trainers to the scheduling of work throughout a given day. One must work hard in intervals, either between periods of shallow work or deliberately selected rest periods.

Teddy Roosevelt Example

“He would then remove the time spent in recitation and classes, athletic training (which was once a day), and lunch. The fragments that remained were then considered time exclusively for studying. As notes, these fragments didn’t usually add up to a large number of total hours, but he would get the most out of them by working only on schoolwork during these periods, and doing so with blistering intensity. ‘The amount of time he spent at his desk was comparatively small,’ explained [biographer Edmund Morris], ‘but his concentration was so intense, and his reading so rapid, that he could afford more time off [from schoolwork] than most.’ “(167, Deep Work)

Source

Deep Work by Cal Newport