Book Summary: Deep Work by Cal Newport

I recently finished listening to Cal Newport’s book, “Deep Work”.

My expectation was that it was going to be a bit of a rant by a technophobe on why Snapchat, Facebook and the like is destroying your brain and you have to adopt an Amish-like mindset immediately (maybe not as drastic as this). However, from following Cal’s blog for so long and benefitting from his experiments and blog posts over the years, I gave it a go.

This book it’s definitely not one giant rant – it’s a structured and convincing read in favor of ‘Deep Work’.

I’ve broken down this summary into a few different parts – the first part describes why Deep Work is important, the second part describes the different lengths you can do to adopt a ‘Deep Work’ mindset, the third part explains a framework I particularly enjoyed reading about (The Four Disciplines of Execution), while the last two focus on how to reduce shallowness in your life.

Deep Work photo

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive abilities to their limit.
Shallow Work: Non-cognitively demanding, logistic style tasks often performed while distracted. These efforts are easy to replicate and don’t produce much value to the world.
What you need to master:
  1. Quickly Master hard things;
  2. Produce at an elite level in both quality and speed;
This can only be performed if you commit to deep work.
Key pillars of the book:
  1. In order to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of, you need to commit to deep work.
  2. To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.
  3. 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 minimise the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.
Newport says: “I build my 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, 5 days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output”.
Core components of deliberate practice are usually identified as follows:
  1. Your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve / master;
  2. You receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive;
The Science:
  1. 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.
  2. By focusing intensely on improving a skill, the specific relevant circuits keep firing over and over again. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin around the neutrons in the circuit – effectively cementing the skill.
  • To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.
  • When you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow.
  • People experiencing attention residue after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that next task.
  • To produce at your peak level, you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.
  • 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 at the moment.
Key: “Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not”.
Busyness as 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.
You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.

The different types of Deep Work:
  1. Monastic Philosophy: Maximise deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimising shallow obligations.
  2. Bimodal Philosophy: Divide up your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else.
  3. Rhythmic Philosophy: Easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simply regular habit.
  4. Journalist Philosophy: You fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule.
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.
– Can also radically change up your environment and put some money down to support your deep work task, thus increasing the perceived importance of it e.g. Crazy example of Peter Shankman who booked a 30-hour round trip to Tokyo and came straight back but wrote the entire time, thus finishing his manuscript in only 30 hours.

The Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX):
  1. Focus on the Wildly Important
  2. Act on the Lead Measures
  3. Keep a Compelling Scorecard
  4. Create a Cadence Accountability
  • You have to prioritise and say yes to the finite things that will make the biggest impact. “The Important”.
  • Two types of metrics:
    • Lag Measures – describe the thing you’re ultimately trying to improve;
    • Lead Measures – measures the new behaviours that will drive success on the lag measures.
  • Lead Measures turn your attention to improving the behaviours you directly control in the near future that will then have a positive impact on your long-term goals.
  • At the end of your workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning – no after dinner email check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about tackling an upcoming challenge.
    • Downtime aids insights
    • Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply
  • Jerry Seinfeld example of X’ing off calendar every day he wrote jokes example – ROUTINE.
  • Schedule in advance when you’ll use the internet and then avoid it altogether outside these times.
  • Keep a compelling scorecard: Track hours of deep work in a prominent place (e.g. JK rowling finishing Harry Potter in a specific hotel example).
    Cadence accountability (Regular progress reports example).

Embrace Boredom
– Deep Work Training must involve two goals:
  • Improve your ability to concentrate intensely;
  • Overcome your desire for distraction;
Strategy: Schedule your internet time, avoid it completely all other times. IF I need to do quick responses to email, schedule internet time every 15 minutes but not sooner.
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.
Productive meditation: Focus your attention on a well-defined problem while (walking, jogging, driving, showering). Just like with mindful meditation, except the focus is on a problem instead of breathing.
    – Like all meditation – hard to do and requires a ton of practice.

Quit Social Media
The Any-Benefit approach to network tool selection: You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything that might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it. The flaw with this: it ignores all the negatives that come along with the tools!!
The Craftsman approach to network tool selection: Identify the core factors 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.
  • First step: identify the main high-level goals in both your professional and personal life.
    • Keep the list limited to what’s most important and keep it high-level.
    • Result: A small number of goals for both the personal and professional areas of your life.
  • Second step: List for each 2-3 most important activities that can help you satisfy the goal. These activities should be specific enough to allow you to clearly picture doing them.
  • Third step: Consider the network tools you 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.
    • Important decision: Keep using the tool only if you concluded that it has substantially positive impacts that these outweigh the negative impacts.
  • Fourth step: After 30 days of this self-imposed network isolation, ask yourself the following two questions about each of these services you temporarily quit:
    • Would the last 30 days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service?
    • Did people care that i wasn’t using this service?
  • Fifth step: If your answer is ‘no’ to both questions, quit the service permanently. If your answer was a clear ‘yes’, then return using the service.
Above can be easily applied to internet habits (e.g. Snapchat, Instagram etc).
• The Law of the Vital Few (Pareto Principle): 80% of a given effect is due to just 20% of the possible causes (e.g. unproductive customers, clothes you wear, food you eat, tasks you spend time on etc).
• Put thought into your leisure time: If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you’ll end the day more fulfilled, and begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semi-conscious and unstructured Web surfing.

Drain the shallows
  • Schedule every block of time that you can (e.g. every 30 minutes of your day).
    • Doesn’t mean you can’t change as things come up.
    • The goal of a schedule is about thoughtfulness on what you’re actually working on and if it’s the most important thing.
    • “What % of my time should be spent on shallow work”.
  • A job that doesn’t support deep work is not one that will help you succeed in the information economy.
  • Most dangerous word in one’s productivity vocabulary: “Yes”.
  • Become hard to reach – or generally, don’t be afraid to disconnect.
  • Do more thinking when you send or reply to emails (make it easy for the other side to subsequently save you time).
    • “What is the project represented by this message, and what is the most efficient process for bringing this project to a successful conclusion. How long can deep work be sustained by an individual in a given day?
How long does can someone spend on deep work?
– “For someone new to such a practice, an hour a day is a reasonable limit. For those familiar with the rigours of such activities, the limit expands to something like 4 hours, but rarely more”.
Summary:
  • We spend much of our day on autopilot – not giving much thought to what we’re doing with our time.
  • To perform Deep Work, you must concentrate for extended periods of times. This is hard in the 21st-century information economy, but it’s what will separate you from 99% of the people who can’t concentrate due to the overwhelming information and ‘notification addiction’ they subscribe to.
  • Structure, routines and habits will help you maintain a state of focus and intense concentration so you can perform challenging and thoughtful tasks.

Quotes part 2 by TuckerMax

These came from TuckerMax’s blog, I thought it would be worth reblogging for both your – and my own- sake. 

 

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
-Carl Jung

“Those who write clearly have readers. Those who write obscurely have commentators.”
-Albert Camus

“If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.”
-W. Somerset Maugham

“It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you’re in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you’re dealing with someone who can’t.”
-Josh Olson

“Imagine a large corporate machine mobilized to get you to buy something you don’t need at a tremendously inflated cost, complete with advertising, marketing, and branding that says you’re not hip if you don’t have one, but when you get one you discover it’s of poor quality and obsolete in ten months. That’s a BA.”
-The Last Psychiatrist

“There is a big difference between danger and fear.”
-Paulo Coelho

“You cannot discourage a writer. If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you’re not a writer. If I can talk you out of being a writer, I’ve done you a favor, because now you’ll be free to pursue your real talent, whatever that may be. And, for the record, everybody has one. The lucky ones figure out what that is. The unlucky ones keep on writing shitty screenplays and asking me to read them.”
-Josh Olson

“He who feeds a Chaos will raise a Demon.”
-The Last Psychiatrist

“Middle-aged people–like me–often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin. What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.”
-Dan Gilbert

“History repeats because the passions of man never change, but it is like lightening – it never strikes in the same manner and place twice.”
-Martin Armstrong

“Irrationality lies not in failing to conform to some preconceived notion of how we should behave, but in persisting with a course of action that does not work.”
-John Kay

“Critics stopped being relevant when they stopped writing to inform and contextualize, and when they started writing to signal who they are, to display their identity by their stance on what they are writing about. Criticism should never be about the critic, but thats what it has become, and that’s why no one cares about them anymore.”
-Tucker Max

“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”
-Martin Buber

“When we gawk at the illusion of stability dissolving, it’s a reaction to the wrong half of the equation. If things need to change, it means that what we do becomes incredibly more important. Do. Action suddenly becomes more valuable. It means that there is opportunity, if one can perceive everyone else’s blind spot and find some white space for themselves. If everyone is getting together and complaining, it means that there’s a lot of unoccupied space somewhere. Basically, it means that your contribution matters. And if you can muster up the strength to push against your fear, you might be able to do something that changes the game, just like Eva did. It isn’t about being Anti. It’s about being pro-something-good and making and acting and moving towards Pre-something-incredible.”
-Frank Chimera

Quotes

 

TuckerMax recently posted this, and I thought the best place to store this information would be in my blog, so that others can also read some of these amazing quotes.

 

 

“As a startup CEO, I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours and cried.”
-Ben Horowitz

“Men sometimes confess they love war because it puts them in touch with the experience of being alive. In going to the office every day, you don’t get that experience, but suddenly in war, you are ripped back into being alive. Life is pain; life is suffering; and life is horror — but, by God, you are alive.”
-Joseph Campbell

“You can only know a good wine if you have first tasted a bad one.”
-Paulo Coelho

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”
-Leo Tolstoy

“Even in that most important area of her life, love, she had failed to commit herself. After her first romantic disappointment, she had never again given herself entirely. She feared pain, loss, and separation. These things were inevitable on the path to love, and the only way of avoiding them was by deciding not to take that path at all. In order not to suffer, you had to renounce love. It was like putting out your own eyes in order not to see the bad things in life.”
-Paulo Coelho

“The best way to learn is to do.”
-Paul Halmos

“It isn’t explanations that carry us forward, it’s our desire to go on.”
-Paulo Coelho

“What I’ve learned most clearly from blogs is that the majority of them write about the problems from the outside for a reason—because they are missing the abilities that allow people to move to the inside.”
-Ryan Holiday

“Maybe strength in the 21st century isn’t about dominance. My hunch is that it’s about the very opposite — it’s about the capacity to evoke. It’s about the willingness to serve a bigger purpose than yourself, the capacity to subordinate yourself to a larger goal than your own gain, the ability to spark the enduring bonds of shared values, intrinsic motivation, and mutually committed perseverance. It is, in short, not the power merely to command, subordinate, demean, insult — and then crow about it with impunity. It’s the power to inspire, animate, infuse, spark, evoke — and then connect, link, and collaborate, to be a force multiplier.”
-Umair Haque

“All that is clever eschew. Do not do.”
-Anne Herbert

“This is the value for me of writing books that children read. Children aren’t interested in your appalling self-consciousness. They want to know what happens next. They force you to tell a story.”
-Philip Pullman

“But you know what I learned from this? Nothing. I learned nothing. It’s just something that happened. Life is crazy.”
-Chuck Klosterman

“Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy. It’s like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can’t control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you. If you can control your fear, it makes you more alert, like a deer coming across the lawn.”
-Mike Tyson

“Design is the last great competitive advantage.”
-Seth Godin

“If you want to be seen as courageous by some and hated by others, just say what you really think.”
-Tucker Max

“Seeking advice is addicting and can become a proxy for action.”
-Frank Chimero

“The moment in the account of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis is when they realize they’re naked and try and cover themselves with fig leaves. That seemed to me a perfect allegory of what happened in the 20th century with regard to literary modernism. Literary modernism grew out of a sense that, “Oh my god! I’m telling a story! Oh, that can’t be the case, because I’m a clever person. I’m a literary person! What am I going to do to distinguish myself?…a lot of modernism does seem to come out of a fear of being thought an ordinary storyteller.”
-Philip Pullman

“I have no idea what I’m doing, and everyone is just making it up as they go along. This about sums up everything I know.”
-Frank Chimero

“Stop trying to be cool: it is stifling.”
-Frank Chimero

Start-up Weekend Manchester

Start-up Weekend Manchester: 9th-11th November

“The biggest and steepest learning curve I will ever have in a set time-frame of a measly 54 hours”. My best description of Start-up Weekend.

Embarking now on my third Start-up Weekend I’d like to think I’m a bit of a veteran; the not-so-fresh-faced individual barking in the background “Back when I first did Start-up Weekend, we were struggling with Hosting servers and dealing with how we’re going to get any food!”. I was ambivalent to hear that an excessive amount of pizza will be provided at the event- I think it worth speaking to the Start-up Weekend organisers about breaking tradition and pursuing the “Healthy” agenda for once.

Start-up Weekend are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers and biz dev guys come together to share ideas, form teams and build products, with the aim to build companies by the end of it.

So why bother going through this insane 54 hours?  

1. Education- I can guarantee that this will be one of the most quickest and most efficient learning experiences you will have. Start-up Weekends are about testing your hypothesis, not sitting in a classroom learning theory but actually formulating strategies and moving fast. Proper Lean.

2. Network- Meeting like-minded people has always been a sincere passion of mine, and by building + working on some truly awesome and eccentric concepts (Feetshot anyone?!), you will build long-lasting relationships and walk away with some potential investor contacts- you may even meet a potential Co-Founder.

3. Moving fast- I hate waiting for stuff to happen. I really do.  My passion for start-up weekend comes from the “Hacker Way” of moving fast and making mistakes. In reference to my first point, the ability to learn from others around you and in other teams can be invaluable.

4. Learn a new skill– It’s very important to have the nerve to step out of your comfort zone. This weekend can be dedicated to let your creative juices flow; you may as well take the opportunity to learn something you’ve been putting off e.g. a new business model into practice, a new programming language, a new website to look at design in a different way- just try something different; you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

5. Free stuff– As a student, I can’t really hammer this point home enough. Discounts on ticket prices, free food, free web-related stuff, access to exclusive resources from sponsors, seven meals and more- an unforgettable weekend in store that’s for sure!

#SWManc is part of the Global Start-up Battle (http://globalstartupbattle.org/) with a chance to win a trip to Rio, San Fran, $25,000 of free stuff and so much more up for grabs.

I’ll attempt to blog throughout the weekend, if my team lets me that is!

 

 

Chasing skills for Life

As the buzz around A-level and GCSE results have now subsided (relief for us “more mature” undergraduate students), it can be hard to think of learning as a source of pleasure and enrichment, rather than just a treadmill focused on achieving qualifications or improving career prospects.
Learning doesn’t begin in pre-school and finish once you leave the formal educational arena. Learning is for life. A life that should be based on the premise of quality, not just on duration.

 

Learning new skills is a fantastic way to be able to explore your options, achieve personal goals, explore new interests and improve your overall sense of well-being. If you are passionate about learning about wide varieties of cooking styles and engaging with different cuisines for example, you can start by enrolling in college and night classes. While this may be something you embark on for personal enjoyment, you may be able develop your interest further, by exhibiting your work, gaining a qualification, or even setting up a business.

 

If we focus on passion and learn what we believe drives us to wake up everyday, instead of a focus on monetary reward or what will pay the bills, we’ll most probably be happier because we’re doing something we love, and more motivated to set our goals and discover a plan that enables us to do what we love, all the time.

 

So don’t wait around till the end of your degree, or education or to when you get that short annual leave to start working on building up your skill-set. Basically, type whatever it is that you want to do/learn in Google, and run with it. No time like the present!

 

In other news, the Manchester Entrepreneurs had an article published on the Independent! A new milestone for us, and the academic year hasn’t even begun- not officially anyway.

Time and organization (Part two)

Roughly a year since I first started blogging on this site, and the title seems to repeat itself. 

But this time, I look at it from a different angle

My last post was about the stress and complexities of normal life and how time itself should be restructured (I was obviously in my rebellious-Marxist days), but this time I would like to focus on the one thing which we all strive for: To get shit organized. 

Filling up our time and doing activities is sometimes the equivalent of running around like a headless chicken without laying any eggs. We all have goals and ambitions, and sometimes they don’t come to fruition even though we feel we are working hard to accomplish them. This is because, we are the headless chicken. 

Having a plan, a list of priorities, a to-do list, its very hard to keep on top of it all. Personally, I can’t tell you the answer to stay on top of it all. No one can. Only you can do it for yourself. Only you can execute on your plan for the day, or month or year. Only you will have the motivation, will-power, discipline and motivation unique to yourself, to justify why it is that you want to say yes to a certain event or activity, and no to countless others. 

The VeggBox Blog

So it has come to the last day of start-up camp in Canberra, and Veggbox has been created and is currently running on a live platform, albeit a basic prototype one. 

It’s been a great experience and we’re nearing the end of our journey, which has definitely been a steep learning curve. We’ve made it work even when the chips were down, and come out with a workable product with good market coverage over the past 24 hours. We want our product to grow further and we’ll be pushing out content on the site itself, as well as updates on how our pitch is progressing. 

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