Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World - by Cal Newport

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World – by Cal Newport

How strongly I recommend it: 8/10
See my lists of books for more.

Go to the Amazon page for details.
Cal Newport shows several reasons to choose the depth life, techniques and examples of successful people.It’s an interesting book, but the main struggle you’d find is to put it into practice. Are you willing to quit social media for a month? Or reduce drastically the time you spend with your phone? If so, good for you. If not, even getting one of two points of the book and put them into practice, it will make a difference in what you accomplish.

Highlights

Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.
In an age of network tools, in other words, knowledge workers increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative—constantly sending and receiving e-mail messages like human network routers, with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction.
To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, 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.
To succeed you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing—a task that requires depth.
The real rewards are reserved not for those who are comfortable using Facebook (a shallow task, easily replicated), but instead for those who are comfortable building the innovative distributed systems that run the service (a decidedly deep task, hard to replicate). Deep work is so important that we might consider it, to use the phrasing of business writer Eric Barker, “the superpower of the 21st century.”
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.
Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.

Chapter One: Deep Work Is Valuable

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.

Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy

  1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
  2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

To join the group of those who can work well with these machines, therefore, requires that you hone your ability to master hard things. And because these technologies change rapidly, this process of mastering hard things never ends: You must be able to do it quickly, again and again.
If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.
To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work. If you’re comfortable going deep, you’ll be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy.
Grant also batches his attention on a smaller time scale. Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods where his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods where he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task.
[W]hen you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task. This residue gets especially thick if your work on Task A was unbounded and of low intensity before you switched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while.
When we step back from these individual observations, we see a clear argument form: To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work. If you’re not comfortable going deep for extended periods of time, it’ll be difficult to get your performance to the peak levels of quality and quantity increasingly necessary to thrive professionally. Unless your talent and skills absolutely dwarf those of your competition, the deep workers among them will outproduce you.

Chapter Two: Deep Work Is Rare

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 in the moment.
If you believe in the value of depth, this reality spells bad news for businesses in general, as it’s leading them to miss out on potentially massive increases in their value production. But for you, as an individual, good news lurks. The myopia of your peers and employers uncovers a great personal advantage. Assuming the trends outlined here continue, depth will become increasingly rare and therefore increasingly valuable.

Chapter Three: Deep Work Is Meaningful

“Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.” —Winifred Gallagher
[Y]our world is the outcome of what you pay attention to.
[T]he habit of frequently checking inboxes ensures that these issues remain at the forefront of their attention.
Even if your colleagues are all genial and your interactions are always upbeat and positive, by allowing your attention to drift over the seductive landscape of the shallow, you run the risk of falling into another neurological trap.
Flow generates happiness.
The act of going deep orders the consciousness in a way that makes life worthwhile.

Rule #1: Work Deeply

You might not have access to your own Eudaimonia Machine, but the strategies that follow will help you simulate its effects in your otherwise distracted professional life. They’ll show you how to transform deep work from an aspiration into a regular and significant part of your daily schedule.
You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.
Your will, in other words, is not a manifestation of your character that you can deploy without limit; it’s instead like a muscle that tires.
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 minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.
You must be careful to choose a philosophy that fits your specific circumstances, as a mismatch here can derail your deep work habit before it has a chance to solidify. This strategy will help you avoid this fate by presenting four different depth philosophies that I’ve seen work exceptionally well in practice.

The Bimodal Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling

This book opened with a story about the revolutionary psychologist and thinker Carl Jung. In the 1920s, at the same time that Jung was attempting to break away from the strictures of his mentor, Sigmund Freud, he began regular retreats to a rustic stone house he built in the woods outside the small town of Bollingen. When there, Jung would lock himself every morning into a minimally appointed room to write without interruption. He would then meditate and walk in the woods to clarify his thinking in preparation for the next day’s writing. These efforts, I argued, were aimed at increasing the intensity of Jung’s deep work to a level that would allow him to succeed in intellectual combat with Freud and his many supporters.
Jung’s approach is what I call the bimodal philosophy of deep work. This philosophy asks that you divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else. During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically—seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration. During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritized. This division of time between deep and open can happen on multiple scales. For example, on the scale of a week, you might dedicate a four-day weekend to depth and the rest to open time. Similarly, on the scale of a year, you might dedicate one season to contain most of your deep stretches (as many academics do over the summer or while on sabbatical).
The bimodal philosophy believes that deep work can produce extreme productivity, but only if the subject dedicates enough time to such endeavors to reach maximum cognitive intensity—the state in which real breakthroughs occur. This is why the minimum unit of time for deep work in this philosophy tends to be at least one full day. To put aside a few hours in the morning, for example, is too short to count as a deep work stretch for an adherent of this approach.
This chain method (as some now call it) soon became a hit among writers and fitness enthusiasts—communities that thrive on the ability to do hard things consistently. For our purposes, it provides a specific example of a general approach to integrating depth into your life: the rhythmic philosophy. This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep. The chain method is a good example of the rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling because it combines a simple scheduling heuristic (do the work every day), with an easy way to remind yourself to do the work: the big red Xs on the calendar.
Consider the example of Brian Chappell, the busy doctoral candidate I introduced in the opening to this strategy. Chappell adopted the rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling out of necessity. Around the time that he was ramping up his dissertation writing he was offered a full-time job at a center on the campus where he was a student. Professionally, this was a good opportunity and Chappell was happy to accept it. But academically, a full-time job, especially when coupled with the recent arrival of Chappell’s first child, made it difficult to find the depth needed to write thesis chapters.
Chappell began by attempting a vague commitment to deep work. He made a rule that deep work needed to happen in ninety-minute chunks (recognizing correctly that it takes time to ease into a state of concentration) and he decided he would try to schedule these chunks in an ad hoc manner whenever appropriate openings in his schedule arose. Not surprisingly, this strategy didn’t yield much productivity. In a dissertation boot camp Chappell had attended the year before, he’d managed to produce a full thesis chapter in a single week of rigorous deep work. After he accepted his full-time job, he managed to produce only a single additional chapter in the entire first year he was working.
It was the glacial writing progress during this year that drove Chappell to embrace the rhythmic method. He made a rule that he would wake up and start working by five thirty every morning. He would then work until seven thirty, make breakfast, and go to work already done with his dissertation obligations for the day. Pleased by early progress, he soon pushed his wake-up time to four forty-five to squeeze out even more morning depth.
When I interviewed Chappell for this book, he described his rhythmic approach to deep work scheduling as “both astronomically productive and guilt free.” His routine was producing four to five pages of academic prose per day and was capable of generating drafts of thesis chapters at a rate of one chapter every two or three weeks: a phenomenal output for someone who also worked a nine-to-five job. “Who’s to say that I can’t be that prolific?” he concluded. “Why not me?”
The rhythmic philosophy provides an interesting contrast to the bimodal philosophy. It perhaps fails to achieve the most intense levels of deep thinking sought in the daylong concentration sessions favored by the bimodalist. The trade-off, however, is that this approach works better with the reality of human nature. By supporting deep work with rock-solid routines that make sure a little bit gets done on a regular basis, the rhythmic scheduler will often log a larger total number of deep hours per year.
For many, however, it’s not just self-control issues that bias them toward the rhythmic philosophy, but also the reality that some jobs don’t allow you to disappear for days at a time when the need to go deep arises. (For a lot of bosses, the standard is that you’re free to focus as hard as you want… so long as the boss’s e-mails are still answered promptly.) This is likely the biggest reason why the rhythmic philosophy is one of the most common among deep workers in standard office jobs.
What interests me about Isaacson, however, is not what he accomplished with his first book but how he wrote it. In uncovering this story, I must draw from a fortunate personal connection. As it turns out, in the years leading up to the publication of The Wise Men, my uncle John Paul Newport, who was also a journalist in New York at the time, shared a summer beach rental with Isaacson. To this day, my uncle remembers Isaacson’s impressive work habits:
It was always amazing… he could retreat up to the bedroom for a while, when the rest of us were chilling on the patio or whatever, to work on his book… he’d go up for twenty minutes or an hour, we’d hear the typewriter pounding, then he’d come down as relaxed as the rest of us… the work never seemed to faze him, he just happily went up to work when he had the spare time.
Isaacson was methodic: Any time he could find some free time, he would switch into a deep work mode and hammer away at his book. This is how, it turns out, one can write a nine-hundred-page book on the side while spending the bulk of one’s day becoming one of the country’s best magazine writers.
I call this approach, in which you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule, the journalist philosophy. This name is a nod to the fact that journalists, like Walter Isaacson, are trained to shift into a writing mode on a moment’s notice, as is required by the deadline-driven nature of their profession.
By reducing the need to make decisions about deep work moment by moment, I can preserve more mental energy for the deep thinking itself.
Charles Darwin had a similarly strict structure for his working life during the period when he was perfecting On the Origin of Species. As his son Francis later remembered, he would rise promptly at seven to take a short walk. He would then eat breakfast alone and retire to his study from eight to nine thirty. The next hour was dedicated to reading his letters from the day before, after which he would return to his study from ten thirty until noon. After this session, he would mull over challenging ideas while walking on a proscribed route that started at his greenhouse and then circled a path on his property. He would walk until satisfied with his thinking then declare his workday done.
There is a popular notion that artists work from inspiration—that there is some strike or bolt or bubbling up of creative mojo from who knows where… but I hope [my work] makes clear that waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible, terrible plan. In fact, perhaps the single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration.
There’s no one correct deep work ritual—the right fit depends on both the person and the type of project pursued. But there are some general questions that any effective ritual must address:

  • Where you’ll work and for how long. Your ritual needs to specify a location for your deep work efforts. This location can be as simple as your normal office with the door shut and desk cleaned off (a colleague of mine likes to put a hotel-style “do not disturb” sign on his office door when he’s tackling something difficult). If it’s possible to identify a location used only for depth—for instance, a conference room or quiet library—the positive effect can be even greater. (If you work in an open office plan, this need to find a deep work retreat becomes particularly important.) 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.
  • How you’ll work once you start to work. 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.
  • How you’ll support your work. Your ritual needs to ensure your brain gets the support it needs to keep operating at a high level of depth. For example, the ritual might specify that you start with a cup of good coffee, or make sure you have access to enough food of the right type to maintain energy, or integrate light exercise such as walking to help keep the mind clear. (As Nietzsche said: “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.”) This support might also include environmental factors, such as organizing the raw materials of your work to minimize energy-dissipating friction (as we saw with Caro’s example). To maximize your success, you need to support your efforts to go deep. At the same time, this support needs to be systematized so that you don’t waste mental energy figuring out what you need in the moment.

These questions will help you get started in crafting your deep work ritual. But keep in mind that finding a ritual that sticks might require experimentation, so be willing to work at it. I assure you that the effort’s worth it: Once you’ve evolved something that feels right, the impact can be significant. To work deeply is a big deal and should not be an activity undertaken lightly. Surrounding such efforts with a complicated (and perhaps, to the outside world, quite strange) ritual accepts this reality—providing your mind with the structure and commitment it needs to slip into the state of focus where you can begin to create things that matter.
Rowling’s decision to check into a luxurious hotel suite near Edinburgh Castle is an example of a curious but effective strategy in the world of deep work: the grand gesture. The concept is simple: By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated toward supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task. This boost in importance reduces your mind’s instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy.
Writing a chapter of a Harry Potter novel, for example, is hard work and will require a lot of mental energy—regardless of where you do it. But when paying more than $1,000 a day to write the chapter in a suite of an old hotel down the street from a Hogwarts-style castle, mustering the energy to begin and sustain this work is easier than if you were instead in a distracting home office.
 
An even more extreme example of a onetime grand gesture yielding results is a story involving Peter Shankman, an entrepreneur and social media pioneer. As a popular speaker, Shankman spends much of his time flying. He eventually realized that thirty thousand feet was an ideal environment for him to focus. As he explained in a blog post, “Locked in a seat with nothing in front of me, nothing to distract me, nothing to set off my ‘Ooh! Shiny!’ DNA, I have nothing to do but be at one with my thoughts.” It was sometime after this realization that Shankman signed a book contract that gave him only two weeks to finish the entire manuscript. Meeting this deadline would require incredible concentration. To achieve this state, Shankman did something unconventional. He booked a round-trip business-class ticket to Tokyo. He wrote during the whole flight to Japan, drank an espresso in the business class lounge once he arrived in Japan, then turned around and flew back, once again writing the whole way—arriving back in the States only thirty hours after he first left with a completed manuscript now in hand. “The trip cost $4,000 and was worth every penny,” he explained.
In all of these examples, it’s not just the change of environment or seeking of quiet that enables more depth. The dominant force is the psychology of committing so seriously to the task at hand. To put yourself in an exotic location to focus on a writing project, or to take a week off from work just to think, or to lock yourself in a hotel room until you complete an important invention: These gestures push your deep goal to a level of mental priority that helps unlock the needed mental resources. Sometimes to go deep, you must first go big.

Don’t Work Alone

Expose yourself to ideas in hubs on a regular basis, but maintain a spoke in which to work deeply on what you encounter.
Brattain and Bardeen worked together during this period in a small lab, often side by side, pushing each other toward better and more effective designs. These efforts consisted primarily of deep work—but a type of deep work we haven’t yet encountered. Brattain would concentrate intensely to engineer an experimental design that could exploit Bardeen’s latest theoretical insight; then Bardeen would concentrate intensely to make sense of what Brattain’s latest experiments revealed, trying to expand his theoretical framework to match the observations. This back-and-forth represents a collaborative form of deep work (common in academic circles) that leverages what I call the whiteboard effect. For some types of problems, working with someone else at the proverbial shared whiteboard can push you deeper than if you were working alone. The presence of the other party waiting for your next insight—be it someone physically in the same room or collaborating with you virtually—can short-circuit the natural instinct to avoid depth.
We can now step back and draw some practical conclusions about the role of collaboration in deep work. The success of Building 20 and Bell Labs indicates that isolation is not required for productive deep work. Indeed, their example indicates that for many types of work—especially when pursuing innovation—collaborative deep work can yield better results. This strategy, therefore, asks that you consider this option in contemplating how best to integrate depth into your professional life. In doing so, however, keep the following two guidelines in mind.
First, distraction remains a destroyer of depth. Therefore, the hub-and-spoke model provides a crucial template. Separate your pursuit of serendipitous encounters from your efforts to think deeply and build on these inspirations. You should try to optimize each effort separately, as opposed to mixing them together into a sludge that impedes both goals.
Second, even when you retreat to a spoke to think deeply, when it’s reasonable to leverage the whiteboard effect, do so. By working side by side with someone on a problem, you can push each other toward deeper levels of depth, and therefore toward the generation of more and more valuable output as compared to working alone.
When it comes to deep work, in other words, consider the use of collaboration when appropriate, as it can push your results to a new level. At the same time, don’t lionize this quest for interaction and positive randomness to the point where it crowds out the unbroken concentration ultimately required to wring something useful out of the swirl of ideas all around us.

Execute Like a Business

Grove recognized that Intel faced this threat from low-end processors produced by upstart companies like AMD and Cyrix. Fueled by his newfound understanding of disruption, Grove devised the strategy that led to the Celeron family of processors—a lower-performance offering that helped Intel successfully fight off the challenges from below.
There is, however, a lesser-known piece to this story. As Christensen recalls, Grove asked him during a break in this meeting, “How do I do this?” Christensen responded with a discussion of business strategy, explaining how Grove could set up a new business unit and so on. Grove cut him off with a gruff reply: “You are such a naïve academic. I asked you how to do it, and you told me what I should do. I know what I need to do. I just don’t know how to do it.
As Christensen later explained, this division between what and howis crucial but is overlooked in the professional world. It’s often straightforward to identify a strategy needed to achieve a goal, but what trips up companies is figuring out how to execute the strategy once identified. I came across this story in a foreword Christensen wrote for a book titled The 4 Disciplines of Execution, which built on extensive consulting case studies to describe four “disciplines” (abbreviated, 4DX) for helping companies successfully implement high-level strategies. What struck me as I read was that this gap between what andhow was relevant to my personal quest to spend more time working deeply. Just as Andy Grove had identified the importance of competing in the low-end processor market, I had identified the importance of prioritizing depth. What I needed was help figuring out how to execute this strategy.
Intrigued by these parallels, I set out to adapt the 4DX framework to my personal work habits and ended up surprised by how helpful they proved in driving me toward effective action on my goal of working deeply. These ideas may have been forged for the world of big business, but the underlying concepts seem to apply anywhere that something important needs to get done against the backdrop of many competing obligations and distractions. With this in mind, I’ve summarized in the following sections the four disciplines of the 4DX framework, and for each I describe how I adapted it to the specific concerns of developing a deep work habit.

Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important

As the authors of The 4 Disciplines of Execution explain, “The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish.” They elaborate that execution should be aimed at a small number of “wildly important goals.” This simplicity will help focus an organization’s energy to a sufficient intensity to ignite real results.
In a 2014 column titled “The Art of Focus,” David Brooks endorsed this approach of letting ambitious goals drive focused behavior, explaining: “If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”
For example, when I first began experimenting with 4DX, I set the specific important goal of publishing five high-quality peer-reviewed papers in the upcoming academic year. This goal was ambitious, as it was more papers than I had been publishing, and there were tangible rewards attached to it (tenure review was looming). Combined, these two properties helped the goal stoke my motivation.

Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures

Once you’ve identified a wildly important goal, you need to measure your success. In 4DX, there are two types of metrics for this purpose:lag measures and lead measures. Lag measures describe the thing you’re ultimately trying to improve. For example, if your goal is to increase customer satisfaction in your bakery, then the relevant lag measure is your customer satisfaction scores. As the 4DX authors explain, the problem with lag measures is that they come too late to change your behavior: “When you receive them, the performance that drove them is already in the past.”
Lead measures, on the other hand, “measure the new behaviors that will drive success on the lag measures.”
lead measures turn your attention to improving the behaviors you directly control in the near future that will then have a positive impact on your long-term goals.
For an individual focused on deep work, it’s easy to identify the relevant lead measure: time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal. Returning to my example, this insight had an important impact on how I directed my academic research. I used to focus on lag measures, such as papers published per year. These measures, however, lacked influence on my day-to-day behavior because there was nothing I could do in the short term that could immediately generate a noticeable change to this long-term metric. When I shifted to tracking deep work hours, suddenly these measures became relevant to my day-to-day: Every hour extra of deep work was immediately reflected in my tally.

Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

In the preceding discipline, I argued that for an individual focused on deep work, hours spent working deeply should be the lead measure. It follows, therefore, that the individual’s scoreboard should be a physical artifact in the workspace that displays the individual’s current deep work hour count.
In my early experiments with 4DX, I settled on a simple but effective solution for implementing this scoreboard. I took a piece of card stock and divided it into rows, one for each week of the current semester. I then labeled each row with the dates of the week and taped it to the wall next to my computer monitor (where it couldn’t be ignored). As each week progressed, I kept track of the hours spent in deep work that week with a simple tally of tick marks in that week’s row. To maximize the motivation generated by this scoreboard, whenever I reached an important milestone in an academic paper (e.g., solving a key proof), I would circle the tally mark corresponding to the hour where I finished the result.* This served two purposes. First, it allowed me to connect, at a visceral level, accumulated deep work hours and tangible results. Second, it helped calibrate my expectations for how many hours of deep work were needed per result. This reality (which was larger than I first assumed) helped spur me to squeeze more such hours into each week.

Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability

The 4DX authors elaborate that the final step to help maintain a focus on lead measures is to put in place “a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings of any team that owns a wildly important goal.” During these meetings, the team members must confront their scoreboard, commit to specific actions to help improve the score before the next meeting, and describe what happened with the commitments they made at the last meeting. They note that this review can be condensed to only a few minutes, but it must be regular for its effect to be felt. The authors argue that it’s this discipline where “execution really happens.”
For an individual focused on his or her own deep work habit, there’s likely no team to meet with, but this doesn’t exempt you from the need for regular accountability. In multiple places throughout this book I discuss and recommend the habit of a weekly review in which you make a plan for the workweek ahead (see Rule #4). During my experiments with 4DX, I used a weekly review to look over my scoreboard to celebrate good weeks, help understand what led to bad weeks, and most important, figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead. This led me to adjust my schedule to meet the needs of my lead measure—enabling significantly more deep work than if I had avoided such reviews altogether.
In retrospect, it was not so much the intensity of my deep work periods that increased, but instead their regularity.

Be Lazy

This strategy argues that you should follow Kreider’s lead by injecting regular and substantial freedom from professional concerns into your day, providing you with the idleness paradoxically required to get (deep) work done. There are many ways to accomplish this goal. You could, for example, use Kreider’s approach of retreating from the world of shallow tasks altogether by hiding out in an “undisclosed location,” but this isn’t practical for most people. Instead, I want to suggest a more applicable but still quite powerful heuristic: At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning—no after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you’ll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely. If you need more time, then extend your workday, but once you shut down, your mind must be left free to encounter Kreider’s buttercups, stink bugs, and stars.
The implication of this line of research is that providing your conscious brain time to rest enables your unconscious mind to take a shift sorting through your most complex professional challenges. A shutdown habit, therefore, is not necessarily reducing the amount of time you’re engaged in productive work, but is instead diversifying the type of work you deploy.

Reason #2: Downtime Helps Recharge the Energy Needed to Work Deeply

This study, it turns out, is one of many that validate attention restoration theory (ART), which claims that spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate. This theory, which was first proposed in the 1980s by the University of Michigan psychologists Rachel Kaplan and Stephen Kaplan (the latter of which co-authored the 2008 study discussed here, along with Marc Berman and John Jonides), is based on the concept of attention fatigue. To concentrate requires what ART calls directed attention. This resource is finite: If you exhaust it, you’ll struggle to concentrate. (For our purposes, we can think of this resource as the same thing as Baumeister’s limited willpower reserves we discussed in the introduction to this rule.*) The 2008 study argues that walking on busy city streets requires you to use directed attention, as you must navigate complicated tasks like figuring out when to cross a street to not get run over, or when to maneuver around the slow group of tourists blocking the sidewalk. After just fifty minutes of this focused navigation, the subject’s store of directed attention was low.
Walking through nature, by contrast, exposes you to what lead author Marc Berman calls “inherently fascinating stimuli,” using sunsets as an example. These stimuli “invoke attention modestly, allowing focused-attention mechanisms a chance to replenish.” Put another way, when walking through nature, you’re freed from having to direct your attention, as there are few challenges to navigate (like crowded street crossings), and experience enough interesting stimuli to keep your mind sufficiently occupied to avoid the need to actively aim your attention. This state allows your directed attention resources time to replenish. After fifty minutes of such replenishment, the subjects enjoyed a boost in their concentration.
The core mechanism of this theory is the idea that you can restore your ability to direct your attention if you give this activity a rest. Walking in nature provides such a mental respite, but so, too, can any number of relaxing activities so long as they provide similar “inherently fascinating stimuli” and freedom from directed concentration. Having a casual conversation with a friend, listening to music while making dinner, playing a game with your kids, going for a run—the types of activities that will fill your time in the evening if you enforce a work shutdown—play the same attention-restoring role as walking in nature.
Reason #3: The Work That Evening Downtime Replaces Is Usually Not That Important
The implication of these results is that your capacity for deep work in a given day is limited. If you’re careful about your schedule (using, for example, the type of productivity strategies described in Rule #4), you should hit your daily deep work capacity during your workday. It follows, therefore, that by evening, you’re beyond the point where you can continue to effectively work deeply. Any work you do fit into the night, therefore, won’t be the type of high-value activities that really advance your career; your efforts will instead likely be confined to low-value shallow tasks (executed at a slow, low-energy pace). By deferring evening work, in other words, you’re not missing out on much of importance.
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The three reasons just described support the general strategy of maintaining a strict endpoint to your workday. Let’s conclude by filling in some details concerning implementation.
To succeed with this strategy, you must first accept the commitment that once your workday shuts down, you cannot allow even the smallest incursion of professional concerns into your field of attention. This includes, crucially, checking e-mail, as well as browsing work-related websites. In both cases, even a brief intrusion of work can generate a self-reinforcing stream of distraction that impedes the shutdown advantages described earlier for a long time to follow (most people are familiar, for example, with the experience of glancing at an alarming e-mail on a Saturday morning and then having its implications haunt your thoughts for the rest of the weekend).
Another key commitment for succeeding with this strategy is to support your commitment to shutting down with a strict shutdown ritual that you use at the end of the workday to maximize the probability that you succeed. In more detail, this ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right. The process should be an algorithm: a series of steps you always conduct, one after another. When you’re done, have a set phrase you say that indicates completion (to end my own ritual, I say, “Shutdown complete”). This final step sounds cheesy, but it provides a simple cue to your mind that it’s safe to release work-related thoughts for the rest of the day.
To make this suggestion more concrete, let me walk through the steps of my own shutdown ritual (which I first developed around the time I was writing my doctoral dissertation, and have deployed, in one form or another, ever since). The first thing I do is take a final look at my e-mail inbox to ensure that there’s nothing requiring an urgent response before the day ends. The next thing I do is transfer any new tasks that are on my mind or were scribbled down earlier in the day into my official task lists. (I use Google Docs for storing my task lists, as I like the ability to access them from any computer—but the technology here isn’t really relevant.) Once I have these task lists open, I quickly skim every task in every list, and then look at the next few days on my calendar. These two actions ensure that there’s nothing urgent I’m forgetting or any important deadlines or appointments sneaking up on me. I have, at this point, reviewed everything that’s on my professional plate. To end the ritual, I use this information to make a rough plan for the next day. Once the plan is created, I say, “Shutdown complete,” and my work thoughts are done for the day.
The concept of a shutdown ritual might at first seem extreme, but there’s a good reason for it: the Zeigarnik effect. 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 you simply stop whatever you are 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 that they’ll often win).
The shutdown ritual described earlier leverages this tactic to battle the Zeigarnik effect. While it doesn’t force you to explicitly identify a plan for every single task in your task list (a burdensome requirement), it does force you to capture every task in a common list, and then review these tasks before making a plan for the next day. This ritual ensures that no task will be forgotten: Each will be reviewed daily and tackled when the time is appropriate. Your mind, in other words, is released from its duty to keep track of these obligations at every moment—your shutdown ritual has taken over that responsibility.
Shutdown rituals can become annoying, as they add an extra ten to fifteen minutes to the end of your workday (and sometimes even more), but they’re necessary for reaping the rewards of systematic idleness summarized previously. From my experience, it should take a week or two before the shutdown habit sticks—that is, until your mind trusts your ritual enough to actually begin to release work-related thoughts in the evening. But once it does stick, the ritual will become a permanent fixture in your life—to the point that skipping the routine will fill you with a sense of unease.
Decades of work from multiple different subfields within psychology all point toward the conclusion that regularly resting your brain improves the quality of your deep work. When you work, work hard. When you’re done, be done. Your average e-mail response time might suffer some, but you’ll more than make up for this with the sheer volume of truly important work produced during the day by your refreshed ability to dive deeper than your exhausted peers.

Rule #2

Embrace Boredom

Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction. Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions, you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom.
So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand… they’re pretty much mental wrecks.

Don’t Take Breaks from Distraction. Instead Take Breaks from Focus.

Before diving into the details, let’s start by considering a popular suggestion for distraction addiction that doesn’t quite solve our problem: the Internet Sabbath (sometimes called a digital detox). In its basic form, this ritual asks you to put aside regular time—typically, one day a week—where you refrain from network technology. In the same way that the Sabbath in the Hebrew Bible induces a period of quiet and reflection well suited to appreciate God and his works, the Internet Sabbath is meant to remind you of what you miss when you are glued to a screen.
A lot of advice for the problem of distraction follows this general template of finding occasional time to get away from the clatter. Some put aside one or two months a year to escape these tethers, others follow Powers’s one-day-a-week advice, while others put aside an hour or two every day for the same purpose. All forms of this advice provide some benefit, but once we see the distraction problem in terms of brain wiring, it becomes clear that an Internet Sabbath cannot by itself cure a distracted brain. If you eat healthy just one day a week, you’re unlikely to lose weight, as the majority of your time is still spent gorging. Similarly, if you spend just one day a week resisting distraction, you’re unlikely to diminish your brain’s craving for these stimuli, as most of your time is still spent giving in to it.
I propose an alternative to the Internet Sabbath. Instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction. To make this suggestion more concrete, let’s make the simplifying assumption that Internet use is synonymous with seeking distracting stimuli. (You can, of course, use the Internet in a way that’s focused and deep, but for a distraction addict, this is a difficult task.) Similarly, let’s consider working in the absence of the Internet to be synonymous with more focused work. (You can, of course, find ways to be distracted without a network connection, but these tend to be easier to resist.)
With these rough categorizations established, the strategy works as follows: Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times. I suggest that you keep a notepad near your computer at work. On this pad, record the next time you’re allowed to use the Internet. Until you arrive at that time, absolutely no network connectivity is allowed—no matter how tempting.

Point #1: This strategy works even if your job requires lots of Internet use and/or prompt e-mail replies.

Point #2: Regardless of how you schedule your Internet blocks, you must keep the time outside these blocks absolutely free from Internet use.

If your next Internet block doesn’t start for a while, you might end up stuck. The temptation in this situation is to quickly give in, look up the information, then return to your offline block. You must resist this temptation! The Internet is seductive: You may think you’re just retrieving a single key e-mail from your inbox, but you’ll find it hard to not glance at the other “urgent” messages
The key in making this change, however, is to not schedule the next Internet block to occur immediately. Instead, enforce at least a five-minute gap between the current moment and the next time you can go online. This gap is minor, so it won’t excessively impede your progress, but from a behavioralist perspective, it’s substantial because it separates the sensation of wanting to go online from the reward of actually doing so.
Point #3: Scheduling Internet use at home as well as at work can further improve your concentration training.
It’s crucial in these situations that if you’re in an offline block, you simply gird yourself for the temporary boredom, and fight through it with only the company of your thoughts. 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.
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To summarize, to succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli. This doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate distracting behaviors; it’s sufficient that you instead eliminate the ability of such behaviors to hijack your attention. The simple strategy proposed here of scheduling Internet blocks goes a long way toward helping you regain this attention autonomy.
One might expect therefore that Roosevelt’s grades would crater. But they didn’t. He wasn’t the top student in his class, but he certainly didn’t struggle either: In his freshman year he earned honor grades in five out of his seven courses. The explanation for this Roosevelt paradox turns out to be his unique approach to tackling this schoolwork. Roosevelt would begin his scheduling by considering the eight hours from eight thirty a.m. to four thirty p.m. He would then remove the time spent in recitation and classes, his athletic training (which was once a day), and lunch. The fragments that remained were then considered time dedicated exclusively to studying. As noted, 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 a blistering intensity. “The amount of time he spent at his desk was comparatively small,” explained Morris, “but his concentration was so intense, and his reading so rapid, that he could afford more time off [from schoolwork] than most.”
This strategy asks you to inject the occasional dash of Rooseveltian intensity into your own workday. In particular, identify a deep task (that is, something that requires deep work to complete) that’s high on your priority list. Estimate how long you’d normally put aside for an obligation of this type, then give yourself a hard deadline thatdrastically reduces this time. If possible, commit publicly to the deadline—for example, by telling the person expecting the finished project when they should expect it. If this isn’t possible (or if it puts your job in jeopardy), then motivate yourself by setting a countdown timer on your phone and propping it up where you can’t avoid seeing it as you work.
At this point, there should be only one possible way to get the deep task done in time: working with great intensity—no e-mail breaks, no daydreaming, no Facebook browsing, no repeated trips to the coffee machine. Like Roosevelt at Harvard, attack the task with every free neuron until it gives way under your unwavering barrage of concentration.
Try this experiment no more than once a week at first—giving your brain practice with intensity, but also giving it (and your stress levels) time to rest in between. Once you feel confident in your ability to trade concentration for completion time, increase the frequency of these Roosevelt dashes. Remember, however, to always keep your self-imposed deadlines right at the edge of feasibility. You should be able to consistently beat the buzzer (or at least be close), but to do so should require teeth-gritting concentration.

Meditate Productively

The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally—walking, jogging, driving, showering—and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem. Depending on your profession, this problem might be outlining an article, writing a talk, making progress on a proof, or attempting to sharpen a business strategy. As in mindfulness meditation, you must continue to bring your attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders or stalls.
By forcing you to resist distraction and return your attention repeatedly to a well-defined problem, it helps strengthen your distraction-resisting muscles, and by forcing you to push your focus deeper and deeper on a single problem, it sharpens your concentration.

Suggestion #1: Be Wary of Distractions and Looping

When you notice your attention slipping away from the problem at hand, gently remind yourself that you can return to that thought later, then redirect your attention back.
Suggestion #2: Structure Your Deep Thinking
If you’re working on the outline for a book chapter, the relevant variables might be the main points you want to make in the chapter. If you’re instead trying to solve a mathematics proof, these variables might be actual variables, or assumptions, or lemmas. Once the relevant variables are identified, define the specific next-step question you need to answer using these variables. In the book chapter example, this next-step question might be, “How am I going to effectively open this chapter?,” and for a proof it might be, “What can go wrong if I don’t assume this property holds?” With the relevant variables stored and the next-step question identified, you now have a specific target for your attention.

Memorize a Deck of Cards

In 2006, the American science writer Joshua Foer won the USA Memory Championship after only a year of (intense) training—a journey he chronicled in his 2011 bestseller, Moonwalking with Einstein.
To prepare for this high-volume memorization task, White recommends that you begin by cementing in your mind the mental image of walking through five rooms in your home.
Once you can easily recall this mental walkthrough of a well-known location, fix in your mind a collection of ten items in each of these rooms. White recommends that these items be large (and therefore more memorable), like a desk, not a pencil. Next, establish an order in which you look at each of these items in each room.
The second step in preparing to memorize a deck of cards is to associate a memorable person or thing with each of the fifty-two possible cards. To make this process easier, try to maintain some logical association between the card and the corresponding image.
If you practice this technique, you’ll discover, like many mental athletes who came before you, that you can eventually internalize a whole deck in just minutes. More important than your ability to impress friends, of course, is the training such activities provide your mind. Proceeding through the steps described earlier requires that you focus your attention, again and again, on a clear target. Like a muscle responding to weights, this will strengthen your general ability to concentrate—allowing you to go deeper with more ease.

Rule #3

Quit Social Media

Willpower is limited, and therefore the more enticing tools you have pulling at your attention, the harder it’ll be to maintain focus on something important. To master the art of deep work, therefore, you must take back control of your time and attention from the many diversions that attempt to steal them.
The Craftsman Approach to 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.
While your goals will likely differ, the key is to keep the list limited to what’s most important and to keep the descriptions suitably high-level
When you’re done you should have a small number of goals for both the personal and professional areas of your life.
Once you’ve identified these goals, list for each the two or three most important activities that help you satisfy the goal. These activities should be specific enough to allow you to clearly picture doing them. On the other hand, they should be general enough that they’re not tied to a onetime outcome.
The next step in this strategy is to 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. Now comes the important decision: Keep using this tool only if you concluded that it has substantial positive impacts and that these outweigh the negative impacts.
Of course Facebook offers benefits to your social life, but none are important enough to what really matters to you in this area to justify giving it access to your time and attention.
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The last strategy provided a systematic method to help you begin sorting through the network tools that currently lay claim to your time and attention. This strategy offers you a different but complementary approach to these same issues, and it’s inspired by Ryan Nicodemus’s approach to getting rid of his useless stuff.
In more detail, this strategy asks that you perform the equivalent of a packing party on the social media services that you currently use. Instead of “packing,” however, you’ll instead ban yourself from using them for thirty days. All of them: Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine—or whatever other services have risen to popularity since I first wrote these words. Don’t formally deactivate these services, and (this is important) don’t mention online that you’ll be signing off: Just stop using them, cold turkey. If someone reaches out to you by other means and asks why your activity on a particular service has fallen off, you can explain, but don’t go out of your way to tell people.
After thirty days of this self-imposed network isolation, ask yourself the following two questions about each of the services you temporarily quit:

  1. Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service?
  2. Did people care that I wasn’t using this service?

If your answer is “no” to both questions, quit the service permanently. If your answer was a clear “yes,” then return to using the service. If your answers are qualified or ambiguous, it’s up to you whether you return to the service, though I would encourage you to lean toward quitting. (You can always rejoin later.)
This strategy picks specifically on social media because among the different network tools that can claim your time and attention, these services, if used without limit, can be particularly devastating to your quest to work deeper. They offer personalized information arriving on an unpredictable intermittent schedule—making them massively addictive and therefore capable of severely damaging your attempts to schedule and succeed with any act of concentration.

Don’t Use the Internet to Entertain Yourself

It’s crucial, therefore, that you figure out in advance what you’re going to do with your evenings and weekends before they begin. Structured hobbies provide good fodder for these hours, as they generate specific actions with specific goals to fill your time. A set program of reading, à la Bennett, where you spend regular time each night making progress on a series of deliberately chosen books, is also a good option, as is, of course, exercise or the enjoyment of good (in-person) company.
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 semiconscious and unstructured Web surfing.
To summarize, if you want to eliminate the addictive pull of entertainment sites on your time and attention, give your brain a quality alternative. Not only will this preserve your ability to resist distraction and concentrate, but you might even fulfill Arnold Bennett’s ambitious goal of experiencing, perhaps for the first time, what it means to live, and not just exist.

Rule #4

Drain the Shallows

Fried was quick to respond. In a blog post titled “Forbes Misses the Point of the 4-Day Work Week,” he begins by agreeing with Weiss’s premise that it would be stressful for employees to cram forty hours of effort into four days. But, as he clarifies, that’s not what he’s suggesting. “The point of the 4-day work week is about doing less work,” he writes. “It’s not about four 10-hour days… it’s about four normalish 8-hour days.”
This might seem confusing at first. Fried earlier claimed that his employees get just as much done in four days as in five days. Now, however, he’s claiming that his employees are working fewer hours. How can both be true? The difference, it turns out, concerns the role of shallow work. As Fried expands:
Very few people work even 8 hours a day. You’re lucky if you get a few good hours in between all the meetings, interruptions, web surfing, office politics, and personal business that permeate the typical workday.
Fewer official working hours helps squeeze the fat out of the typical workweek. Once everyone has less time to get their stuff done, they respect that time even more. People become stingy with their time and that’s a good thing. They don’t waste it on things that just don’t matter. When you have fewer hours you usually spend them more wisely.
In other words, the reduction in the 37signals workweek disproportionately eliminated shallow as compared to deep work, and because the latter was left largely untouched, the important stuff continued to get done. The shallow stuff that can seem so urgent in the moment turned out to be unexpectedly dispensable.
A natural reaction to this experiment is to wonder what would happen if 37signals had gone one step further. If eliminating hours of shallow work had little impact on the results produced, what would happen if they not only eliminated shallow work, but then replaced this newly recovered time with more deep work? Fortunately for our curiosity, the company soon put this bolder idea to the test as well.
Fried had always been interested in the policies of technology companies like Google that gave their employees 20 percent of their time to work on self-directed projects. While he liked this idea, he felt that carving one day out of an otherwise busy week was not enough to support the type of unbroken deep work that generates true breakthroughs. “I’d take 5 days in a row over 5 days spread out over 5 weeks,” he explained. “So our theory is that we’ll see better results when people have a long stretch of uninterrupted time.”
To test this theory, 37signals implemented something radical: The company gave its employees the entire month of June off to work deeply on their own projects. This month would be a period free of any shallow work obligations—no status meetings, no memos, and, blessedly, no PowerPoint. At the end of the month, the company held a “pitch day” in which employees pitched the ideas they’d been workingon. Summarizing the experiment in an Inc. magazine article, Fried dubbed it a success. The pitch day produced two projects that were soon put into production: a better suite of tools for handling customer support and a data visualization system that helps the company understand how their customers use their products. These projects are predicted to bring substantial value to the company, but they almost certainly would not have been produced in the absence of the unobstructed deep work time provided to the employees. To tease out their potential required dozens of hours of unimpeded effort.
“How can we afford to put our business on hold for a month to ‘mess around’ with new ideas?” Fried asked rhetorically. “How can we afford not to?”
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The shallow work that increasingly dominates the time and attention of knowledge workers is less vital than it often seems in the moment. For most businesses, if you eliminated significant amounts of this shallowness, their bottom line would likely remain unaffected. And as Jason Fried discovered, if you not only eliminate shallow work, but also replace this recovered time with more of the deep alternative, not only will the business continue to function; it can become more successful.
This rule asks you to apply these insights to your personal work life. The strategies that follow are designed to help you ruthlessly identify the shallowness in your current schedule, then cull it down to minimum levels—leaving more time for the deep efforts that ultimately matter most.
Schedule Every Minute of Your Day
We spend much of our day on autopilot—not giving much thought to what we’re doing with our time. This is a problem. It’s difficult to prevent the trivial from creeping into every corner of your schedule if you don’t face, without flinching, your current balance between deep and shallow work, and then adopt the habit of pausing before action and asking, “What makes the most sense right now?” The strategy described in the following paragraphs is designed to force you into these behaviors. It’s an idea that might seem extreme at first but will soon prove indispensable in your quest to take full advantage of the value of deep work: Schedule every minute of your day.
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Here’s my suggestion: At the beginning of each workday, turn to a new page of lined paper in a notebook you dedicate to this purpose. Down the left-hand side of the page, mark every other line with an hour of the day, covering the full set of hours you typically work. Now comes the important part: Divide the hours of your workday into blocks and assign activities to the blocks. For example, you might block off nine a.m. to eleven a.m. for writing a client’s press release. To do so, actually draw a box that covers the lines corresponding to these hours, then write “press release” inside the box. Not every block need be dedicated to a work task. There might be time blocks for lunch or relaxation breaks. To keep things reasonably clean, the minimum length of a block should be thirty minutes (i.e., one line on your page). This means, for example, that instead of having a unique small box for each small task on your plate for the day—respond to boss’s e-mail, submit reimbursement form, ask Carl about report—you can batch similar things into more generic task blocks. You might find it useful, in this case, to draw a line from a task block to the open right-hand side of the page where you can list out the full set of small tasks you plan to accomplish in that block.
When you’re done scheduling your day, every minute should be part of a block. You have, in effect, given every minute of your workday a job. Now as you go through your day, use this schedule to guide you.
This is okay. If your schedule is disrupted, you should, at the next available moment, take a few minutes to create a revised schedule for the time that remains in the day. You can turn to a new page. You can erase and redraw blocks. Or do as I do: Cross out the blocks for the remainder of the day and create new blocks to the right of the old ones on the page (I draw my blocks skinny so I have room for several revisions). On some days, you might rewrite your schedule half a dozen times. Don’t despair if this happens. Your goal is not to stick to a given schedule at all costs; it’s instead to maintain, at all times, a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time going forward—even if these decisions are reworked again and again as the day unfolds.

Quantify the Depth of Every Activity

Ask Your Boss for a Shallow Work Budget

Finish Your Work by Five Thirty

Become Hard to Reach

Tip #1: Make People Who Send You E-mail Do More Work

Tip #2: Do More Work When You Send or Reply to E-mails

Tip #3: Don’t Respond

Conclusion

In his book The Innovators, Isaacson later summarized Gates’s unique tendency toward depth as follows: “The one trait that differentiated [Gates from Allen] was focus. Allen’s mind would flit between many ideas and passions, but Gates was a serial obsessor.”
These training efforts were deployed during my last two years at MIT, while I was a postdoc starting to look for professor positions. My main tactic was to introduce artificial constraints on my schedule, so as to better approximate the more limited free time I expected as a professor. In addition to my rule about not working at night, I started to take extended lunch breaks in the middle of the day to go for a run and then eat lunch back at my apartment.
To compensate for these new constraints, I refined my ability to work deeply. Among other methods, I began to more carefully block out deep work hours and preserve them against incursion. I also developed an ability to carefully work through thoughts during the many hours I spent on foot each week (a boon to my productivity), and became obsessive about finding disconnected locations conducive to focus. During the summer, for example, I would often work under the dome in Barker Engineering library—a pleasingly cavernous location that becomes too crowded when class is in session, and during the winter, I sought more obscure locations for some silence, eventually developing a preference for the small but well-appointed Lewis Music Library. At some point, I even bought a $50 high-end grid-lined lab notebook to work on mathematical proofs, believing that its expense would induce more care in my thinking.