Matt Franz : Zealous For Knowledge

Deep Work

I read Deep Work by Cal Newport in August and still find myself dwelling on the ideas. So I’ve decided to revisit my notes. They are below.

1. What Is Deep Work?

Deep work is when you focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. You work on it as hard as your brain is capable for an extended amount of time without any distractions.

2. Why Is Deep Work Important?

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.

In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital.

Deep work is not only more productive, but also feels better. Sure, it’s difficult. But when you’re not switching between tasks or being bombarded by stimuli you can achieve a enjoyable state of calm and relaxed feeling of flow.

3. Deliberate practice is how we master a craft.

The core components of deliberate practice are: (1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master; (2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive. The first component is of particular importance to our discussion, as it emphasizes that deliberate practice cannot exist alongside distraction, and that it instead requires uninterrupted concentration.

Deep work is a pre-requisite to deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is the pre-requisite to mastery. Deliberate practice is more than just showing up. It’s leaning into the dip.

4. Deep work doesn’t happen on accident.

Deep work needs to be prioritized. It needs to be scheduled in advance. In the beginning you may not be able to handle more than an hour or two of deep work. Over time, your “deep work muscle” will strengthen and you will be able to handle multi-hour sessions.

In addition to a designated time you should also have a designated place. It should be quiet and secluded.

Your ritual needs rules and processes to keep your efforts structured. For example, you might institute a ban on any Internet use, or maintain a metric such as words produced per twenty-minute interval to keep your concentration honed. Without this structure, you’ll have to mentally litigate again and again what you should and should not be doing during these sessions and keep trying to assess whether you’re working sufficiently hard. These are unnecessary drains on your willpower reserves.

One rule that works well for me is to put my phone on silent and, importantly, out of sight. I keep anything potentially distracting, which is everything, out of my peripheral vision. I even close the curtains.

5. Deep work is the opposite of multi-tasking.

In Why is it so hard to do my work? Sophie Leroy explains that when we switch tasks there is “attention residue” left over. Though we have consciously changed our focus, a part of our brain continues to hold onto the old information. So less than 100% brain capacity is free for the new task.

Tim Ferriss writes:

A recent study at The British Institute of Psychiatry showed that checking your email while performing another creative task decreases your IQ in the moment 10 points. That is the equivalent of not sleeping for 36 hours—more than twice the impact of smoking marijuana.

Josh Waitzkin agrees with Cal Newport. He wrote:

We obviously live in a world that bombards us with information, and we feel the need to respond to stimulus as it comes in. The problem with this is that we get stretched along the superficial outer layers of many things. I believe in depth over breadth in the learning process. Let’s say we have three skills to learn. The typical approach is to take them all on at once. It is much more effective to plunge deeply into one, touch Quality, and then transfer that feeling of Quality over to the others. A martial artist, for example, should internalize one technique very deeply instead of trying to learn 10 or 15 superficially.

This approach engages the unconscious, creative aspects of our minds, and we start making thematic connections which greatly accelerate growth. It is also important to point out that deep presence is required for a state of neural plasticity to be triggered—our brain does not re-map effectively when we are skipping along the surface.

Waitzkin suggests using triggers to put you into “the zone” at will. This is what Newport means by having a ritual. Waitkin continues:

One of many problems with multi-tasking is that the frenetic skipping leaves little room for relaxation, and thus our reservoir for energetic presence is constantly depleted.

This is exactly what I have experienced. When I multi-task I spin my wheels but go nowhere. Yet I feel exhausted. This is why so many office workers come home so worn out despite sitting in a chair all day and having done little of consequence..

Jeff Bezos is also against multi-tasking. In an interview:

“When I have dinner with friends or family, I like to be doing whatever I’m doing. I don’t like to multi-task. If I’m reading my email I want to be reading my email” with his full attention and energy. Jeff exhibited this resistance to multi-tasking early in life. At Montessori school, he’d refuse to move on to the next task as the day progressed, so the teacher would literally pick up him and his chair and move him to the next project. Instead of constantly switching back and forth, Jeff says he sequentially focuses. “I multi-task serially.”

At the 2016 Daily Journal annual meeting Charlie Munger said:

And that brings me to the subject of multitasking. All you people have gotten very good at multitasking. And that would be fine if you were the chief nurse in a hospital. But as an investor, I think you’re on the wrong road. Multitasking will not be the highest quality thought man is capable of doing.

Juggling two or three balls at once, where people come at you on their schedule, not yours, is not an ideal thinking environment. Luckily a lot of you are so obscure that you have plenty of time to think.

And I was in that position for a long time and it helped me, and I hope it works well for you. If it doesn’t, I think you’re going to have to be satisfied with life in the shallows.

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