Deep Work

By  Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

The author of this book, Cal Newport, gave credit to his commitment to “deep and focused work” for his good number of scholarly achievements in the last ten years.  In one decade, after his college graduation, he published four books, earned a PhD, wrote peer‐reviewed academic papers at a high rate, and was hired as a tenure‐track professor at Georgetown University.  That’s what “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” can do for you, the title of his best-selling book.  It’s all about how to achieve mental focus that will help you achieve tremendous success in your career, studies or any other endeavor amidst the distracting world we are in.

First, he differentiates shallow work from deep work.  Shallow work is non‐cognitively demanding logistical‐style tasks that can be completed in a semi‐distracted state.  Shallow work

includes answering email, sorting documents, and running errands. The less engagement your work requires, the more shallow it is.  There is a big bad side to shallow work because if that is your main job, you can be easily replaced and the pay is low.  Deep work on the other hand is hard but important intellectual work completed during long uninterrupted periods of time. Deep work requires a state of distraction‐free concentration to push your cognitive capabilities to their limit and create new value that is hard to replicate.  The author mentions some examples of the habit of deep work by famous people that contributed to their being famous:

(1) Writer Mark Twain worked in a cabin isolated from the main house, requiring his family to blow a horn to attract his attention for meals.

(2) While writing the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling’s only tweet for the first year and a half after joining Twitter was: “This is the

real me, but you won’t be hearing from me often, I am afraid, as pen and paper is my priority at the moment.”

(3) CEO Bill Gates famously conducted “Think Weeks” twice a year, during which he would isolate himself in a lakeside cottage to do nothing but read and think big thoughts. One think week led to the famous “Internet Tidal Wave” memo which led to development of Microsoft’s powerful web browser.

If you want to develop skills and produce work that the world considers rare and valuable, you need to develop a daily deep work ritual.  Here are the author’s Four Deep Work Ritual Requirements:

Dedicated Workspace

A quote from the author, “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.”

The idea is to find a place for regular deep work that you can go to on a daily basis that allows you to work for three straight hours for instance with no distractions.

Exact End Time

It’s good to have a specific beginning and end time with your deep work.  Say in the morning that would be from 9am to 12nn rather than working straight for 5 hours with no lunch break because it helps you conserve energy by alternating work and rest period.  Working straight for hours would drain your entire energy for that day, leaving you exhausted with no energy left for family time and other activities.

Have a Routine

The 9am to 12 noon daily scheduling is an example of a monastery routine as the author would call it.  It’s straight three hours of deep work akin to what Mark Twain would do in his isolated cabin.  It’s called monastery routine because you are like a monk that isolates yourself totally from the world.  Another routine is called the bi-modal which is basically alternating deep work with small activities such as 10-minute rest periods while listening to music, or that 10 minutes might just be cutting your nails or flossing your teeth.  The alternating activity should be mundane and non-distracting from your deep work.  And the third is called the journalistic routine, which is doing deep work on the fly.  It refers to the work of a journalist that is trying to catch a deadline because the story has to be published the following day.  The work scheduling for deep work in the journalistic routine would be any time you have a free time. I personally would do this myself at times.  You can choose from among the three routines that fits your work style.


The author says, “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.”  In the book, Charles Darwin, the founder of the science of evolution, would go through some sort of a maze walking that leads to his study cabin as his ritual before doing deep work.