Deep Work Summary

One Paragraph Summary Be honest, do you answer your phone when you meet a friend in a café? Do you check your messaging applications when you are in a meeting? The immersion of technology in our lives has wrecked our ability to concentrate. Kate Murphy states in her book, You're Not Listening, that humans now have an attention span lower than that of a goldfish. Luckily Cal Newport provides some great tips on how we can bring back some of the lost attention. He will teach us how we can improve our work habits and enhance our productivity.

Deep Work Summary

Deep Work—Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
A book by Cal Newport

Read more about Cal Newport on his website.

Books by Cal Newport

TitleYear of Publication
How to Win at College2005
How to Become a Straight-A Student2006
How to Be a High-School Superstar2010
So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion In The Quest For Work You Love2012
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World2016
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World2019

Deep Work Summary—Key Ideas

Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.―Cal Newport

Avoid multitasking if you want to be productive

If you want to be productive, work on one task only, and avoid any distractions. The temptation to multitask might be there, but do not give in because multitasking is harmful to your ability to concentrate.

Studies show that when you switch from one task to another, your attention is still associated with the first task. This divided attention is the reason that multitasking is less productive than single-tasking.

Although we feel productive most of the time, we are not. The average worker spends 60% of his workweek surfing or communicating online. Do not waste your precious time like this.

Strategies to do deep work

Our lives are full of distractions. We need to find a way to avoid these digressions and allow ourselves to work deeply. Everybody is in a unique situation. Therefore there is no universal solution to how one can enter deep work. But the author recommends that you try these four strategies:

  • the monastic strategy
  • the bimodal strategy
  • the journalistic strategy
  • the rhythmic strategy

The monastic strategy, as you might expect, tries to eliminate all distractions. Go to a location where you are alone, and no one will disturb you. Turn off any notifications, including your phone.

Following the bimodal strategy, you would set a fixed period where you seclude yourself to work. In the rest of your available time, you would do everything else.

When you follow the journalistic approach, you allot any unexpected free time to do deep work.

Following the rhythmic method, you would block fixed slots of time where you do deep work. You should block these time slots in your schedule to ensure you have the time at your disposal.

All four methods are not random but follow a fixed ritual. This ritual distinguishes deep work from working in the zone. Deep work is intentional. Therefore it is essential to make it a habit in your daily routine.

Productive meditation

Our brains yearn for distractions because any distraction can hold risks or opportunities. Evolution designed us that way. The good news is that we can program ourselves to overcome this yearning for distractions. To rewire our brains, the author recommends a technique he calls productive meditation.

Productive meditation is the act of using the unproductive time to think about the solution to a problem you have without allowing yourself to change the subject.

Say you are taking a shower. Before you enter the bathroom, think about some of the problems you have at the moment. Pick one and concentrate on the solution to this specific problem. Ask yourself questions like, "What are the next steps I can take to tackle the problem?". If you realize having changed the subject, then return to the problem you set yourself.

You can exercise your productive meditation skill when commuting to work, in the shower, or when you go for a walk in the park.

Create awareness on how you spend your time

The author recommends that you plan how you want to use your available time, both your work time and your leisure time.

Start your day by planning your activities and allocating time slots of 30 minutes to the various tasks you want to complete. Yes, it will be impossible to stick to the plan without having to change it. Adhering to your planned list religiously ist not the point. The point is to create awareness on how you want to spend your time.

This awareness will help you to use your time wisely and not to squander it with activities that drain your energy levels.

By writing this book summary, I learned the following three things:

  • The difference between flow and deep work
  • You can't do it all
  • Planning your free time is as essential as planning your work time 

First Insight: The difference between flow and deep work

This, ultimately, is the lesson to come away with from our brief foray into the world of experimental psychology: To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.―Cal Newport

Flow is the experience you have when you are so concentrated on what you do that you forget about all the things around you. You might remember having been in the zone as a kid playing with your favorite toys when the environment becomes blurred, and the feeling of time passing vanishes.

I sometimes get into the flow when developing software or while I write book summaries.

Flow is something you cannot force. It is a state you fall into. But what you can do is to create a strategy to do deep work. And deep work can produce flow more often.

Second Insight: You can't do it all

If you service low-impact activities, therefore, you're taking away time you could be spending on higher-impact activities. It's a zero-sum game.―Cal Newport

Not being able to everything is certainly not a new insight I gained by writing this summary, but it is good to get a reminder of how important it is to allocate your time wisely. If you do not plan, both your free time and your work time, you will spend your time on random things.

Take Cal Newport's advice and make it a habit to plan your time.

Third Insight: Planning your free time is as essential as planning your work time

It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.―Nietzsche

I'm not sure why, but I have never tried planning my leisure time the same way I plan my work. Planning my free time is one takeaway from the book that I will try to apply to my life.


Distractions are all around us. Worse, our brain craves distraction because it sees in it either opportunities or risks that we need to focus our attention on. This is why we tend to multitask or switch randomly between different tasks - needless to say, this behavior reduces our productivity.

But Cal Newport shows us how we can escape this trap by rewiring our brains to focus on single tasks only.


  • Avoid multitasking as it makes you less productive
  • Singletask if you want to be productive
  • To avoid distractions while you work, close all browser tabs and applications you do not need for your task at hand.
  • Turn off notifications on your computer and smartphone while you work.
  • Eliminate all distractions to allow yourself to work deeply.
  • Use a strategy that fits your needs and which allows you to work deeply.
  • Use rituals that prepare your mind for deep work
  • Find a good location for working intensely.
  • Turn off the internet and your smartphone to avoid distractions.
  • Ensure you have enough mental energy for your work by using exercise, food, water, and coffee (if you like coffee).
  • Be selective about your use of technology.
  • Train productive meditation to learn to ignore distractions
  • Stop using social media for a month and see if you miss something.
  • Manage your free time and your work time.
  • Create awareness on how you spend your time.

If you liked reading the Deep Work Summary, you should also read the Get Smart! Book Summary.

Posted on CuteMachine in productivity and self-improvement.

Jo's Profile ImageWritten by Jo who lives and works in Frankfurt building digital doodah. Stalk him on Twitter.

TOS • Privacy • Disclaimer