Intro

Deep Work

“Professional activities 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.”

Shallow Work

“Non-cognitively 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.”

Part 1

Chapter 1

“An increasing number of individuals in our economy are now competing with the rock stars of their sectors.”

I found this to be really fascinating. The idea that, in nearly any sector, you’re competing with world-class people is both awesome and terrifying.

Chapter 2

“Goal: To systematically develop your personal ability to go deep and by doing so, reap great rewards.”

Chapter 3

“We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals.”

“A wooden wheel is not noble, but it’s shaping can be.”

This section talked about finding worth in (perceived or not) menial tasks.

Part 2

Rule #1

Work Deeply

“Finite willpower means you need to use routines and rituals.”

Cal references other studies in this section, but I was reminded of the videos on YouTube where children are asked to resist eating a marshmallow sitting on the table for several minutes with the (later) reward of more marshmallows.


  • Plan:
    • Where you’ll work, and for how long.
    • How you’ll work once you start.
    • How you’ll support your work (coffee, snacks, walks, etc).

This is covered in a later chapter, but the essence is scheduling your day ahead of time. I’ve started being more purposeful in supporting my tasks, in order to avoid being interrupted by the need for a drink, snack, etc.


4 Disciplines

  1. Focus on the wildly important.
  • Small goals
  1. Act on the lead measures
  • Lag: The thing you’re trying to improve.
  • Lead: New behavior driving success on Lag.
    • Time spent in a state of deep work on wildly important goals.
  1. Keep a compelling scoreboard.
  • Tally marks of deep work hours and highlight success.
  1. Cadence of accountability.
  • Review scoreboard (like an Agile sprint retrospective)

I need to go back and re-read this section, as I didn’t quite pickup the overall meaning here.


  • Be Lazy
    • Shut down after work
    • Log tasks and have a rough plan for next steps.

I’ve been making an effort to do both of these, including not logging into work chat/email (critical alerts will still arrive), and making a note of where I’ve left off at the end of the day (or even when taking a longer break).

Rule #2

Embrace Boredom

  • Don’t take breaks from distraction, take breaks from focus.
    • Schedule distractions
      • Get used to boredom.
    • Productive meditation
      • Mindfulness, but focused on problem
      • 2-3x week
    • Memorize a deck of cards
      • Imagine 5 rooms
      • Imagine 10 items in each room
      • Imagine big items (a desk, not a pencil)

While I’ve generally avoided this issue, as I don’t do social media, I did have to kill my Hacker News app (:sob:). I’ve also gone through and removed the distracting apps on my phone to further avoid the habit of pulling out my phone when waiting anywhere. I’ve increased my habit of reading as well.
I am interested in the ability to rapidly memorize things, and Cal even mentions Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking With Einstein (which I have), but I want to finish that book before tackling this interesting ability.

Rule #3

Quit Social Media

This generally isn’t a problem for me, as I don’t do social media, but I did delete my Twitter account. I primarily used it to complain to companies, and I don’t believe that’s a good habit/use of time.


  • Value is value -> any benefit
    • Any benefit found, FOMO

The idea here is that people perceive a thing as being useful if it has any value or benefit at all. This plays into both the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), as well as the Sunk Cost Fallacy.


  • Adopt a tool, only if it’s pluses are greater than it’s minuses
  • Apply the law of the vital few to your internet habits.

“A lot of communication that is not enriching is impoverishing.”
– Michael Lewis

This quote reminded me of Dr. Emmerson Eggerich’s book Before You Hit Send and his checklist for communicating digitally:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it clear?

  • Identify high-level goals (personal/professional)

This section asked the reader to create goals for themselves, specifically goals that are not so generic that they can’t be acted on (“Be a better person”), but also not so specific that it’s tied to a particular outcome (“Donate $100 to the Boise Rescue Mission”). You would then identify some steps for each that would work in that direction.

Mine can be seen below:

  • Professional
    • To write code well
    • To study good code
    • Self review code
    • Slow down
  • To lead by example
    • Be encouraging
    • Ask questions
    • Get things done
  • To be healthy
    • Gym every Day (except Sunday)
    • Log food
    • Document healthy choices
  • To grow in Christ
    • In the Word daily
    • Dedicated prayer time
  • Be Christ to others
    • Sacrifice
    • Show grace
    • To lead by example

  • Tools
    • Habitica
      • Easy (+)
      • Not free (-)
      • Spouse uses (+)

I struggled a but on this section, because I don’t (generally) have a lot of tools that I use, at least in the way he describes. In particular, email is mentioned as one that needs to be tamed, but my job (generally) doesn’t see me using it very often. That being said, I am trying out a few other tools having read the book, including RescueTime and Exist.


  • The Law of the Vital Few
    • “In many settings, 80% of a given effect is due to just 20% of possible causes”
      • 80% of profits are the result of 20% of clients
      • 80% of (software) crashes are the result of 20% of bugs

  • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

  • (Hard Work -> Real Value) <-> Attention (before)
  • No value <-> Real Value (after)

The gist of this section was that social media has made what would previously have been the free exchange of hard work (e.g. writing these notes) for attention into a new exchange of “I’ll follow your blog, if you follow mine” (regardless of their comparative values).


  • Don’t use the internet to entertain yourself
  • Put more thought into your leisure time
    • Many believe free time needs to be free from schedule.
  • Mental faculties want change, not rest (except in sleep)

I’m still struggling to enact this one, but I am reminded of what I told my daughter when we were shopping in Target a few days ago. She asked if she could get something, and I asked her what it was. She said “I don’t know” and I explained how the desire to buy something (anything) was not a great habit in which to indulge. I feel that way about my entertainment habits from time to time (and it’s the reason I left Reddit).

Rule #4

Drain The Shallows

  • Tame, not eliminate
  • Schedule every minute of your day
  • Min: 30-mins; revise as needed
  • Over estimate
  • Important interruption can take over your day, reschedule afterwards
  • Treat time w/ respect

I’ve started to use this every day at work, and I love it. I had a drawing in my notes, but the essence is that it’s a 3×5 index card with lines drawn horizontally to mark 30-minute increments for the day. I then write down each thing I’m going to do in that increment. A Jira task number, the name of a meeting, my lunch hour, etc.