Deep Work: How to Develop the Most Valuable Skill That Will Never Be Obsolete
January 04, 2020

Deep work is a concept coined by Cal Newport, a renowned author and computer science professor at Georgetown University, in a 2012 blog post and expanded upon in his 2016 bestselling book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

By Newport's definition, deep work refers to: "Professional activity 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."

This likely isn't the form of work that naturally fills your day. On the contrary, if you aren't intentional about how you spend your time, your work hours slip away towards activities that Newport refers to as "shallow work":

"Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create new value in the world and are easy to replicate."

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. Cal Newport

Unfortunately, as valuable as deep work is, it can't be done indefinitely. Newport suggests the upper limit for deep work per day to be four hours. Beyond this, our ability to direct focused attention diminishes. As such, there is plenty of time in the evening to make room for the downtime that will serve your deep work sessions the following day.

The following are the highlights from the full guide referenced below:

  1. Build a deep work routine and stick to it
  2. Add the pressure of time to enhance deep work stretches
  3. Execute a grand gesture every now and then to invigorate deep work
  4. Schedule shallow work separately after deep work sessions
  5. Prioritize downtime to make space for deep thinking and choose high quality leisure
  6. Minimize digital distractions

Examples of deep work:

  • Drafting a launch plan for a new feature
  • Programming
  • Preparing for an upcoming keynote presentation
  • Researching information on a specific problem

Examples of shallow work:

  • Processing your email
  • Responding to colleagues on team chat tools like Slack
  • Making phone calls to arrange logistics
  • Attending status update meetings

Examples of high quality forms of leisure:

  • Learning a musical instrument
  • Hiking in nature
  • Reading a good book
  • Gatherings with friends and family
  • Gardening
  • Cooking

Examples of low quality forms of leisure:

  • Tuning into television
  • Checking in on your Facebook news feed
  • Browsing entertainment websites
  • Liking photos on Instagram
  • Reading through online forums
  • Binge watching shows on Netflix

You can read The Complete Guide to Deep Work: How to master the #1 job skill that will never be obsolete on the Ambition and Balance by Doist blog.

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Written by
Mario Awad

Founder of SOFTKUBE, lead developer, and getting things done addict. Passionate about open source, user interface design, business development, and the tech world.

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