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
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.
I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep
work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller
bursts at the peripheries of my schedule. 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.
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
Deep Work Helps You Quickly Learn Hard Things
“Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let
your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a
dominant, wholly absorbing idea.”
what deliberate practice actually requires.
Its core components are usually identified as follows: (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. As Ericsson emphasizes, “Diffused attention is almost antithetical
to the focused attention required by deliberate practice” (emphasis mine).
the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work.
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.
The Principle of Least Resistance, protected from scrutiny by the metric
black hole, supports work cultures that save us from the short-term discomfort of
concentration and planning, at the expense of long-term satisfaction and the
production of real value. By doing so, this principle drives us toward shallow
work in an economy that increasingly rewards depth.
Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from
anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling,
similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine
qua non 必要条件 of the good life and the key to improving virtually every
aspect of your experience.
Csikszentmihalyi’s work with ESM helped
validate a theory he had been developing over the preceding decade: “The best
moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in
a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Csikszentmihalyi calls this mental state flow
1. The Monastic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
2. The Bimodal Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
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
3. The Rhythmic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing
that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job
next is to not break the chain.”
Another common way to implement the rhythmic philosophy is to replace
the visual aid of the chain method with a set starting time that you use every day
for deep work.,
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.
The decision between rhythmic and bimodal can come down to your selfcontrol
in such scheduling matters.
4. The Journalistic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling
Any time he could find some free time, he would
switch into a deep work mode and hammer away at his book.
I call this approach, in which you fit deep work wherever you can into your
schedule, the journalist philosophy
“[Great creative minds] think like artists but work like
This strategy suggests the following: To make the most out of your deep work
sessions, build rituals of the same level of strictness and idiosyncrasy as the
important thinkers mentioned previously. There’s a good reason for this mimicry.
Great minds like Caro and Darwin didn’t deploy rituals to be weird; they did so
because success in their work depended on their ability to go deep, again and
again—there’s no way to win a Pulitzer Prize or conceive a grand theory without
pushing your brain to its limit. Their rituals minimized the friction in this
transition to depth, allowing them to go deep more easily and stay in the state
longer. If they had instead waited for inspiration to strike before settling in to
serious work, their accomplishments would likely have been greatly reduced.
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 twentyminute
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.
Make Grand Gestures
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
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
Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important
Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures
Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
Reason #1: Downtime Aids Insights
Reason #2: Downtime Helps Recharge the Energy Needed to Work
Reason #3: The Work That Evening Downtime Replaces Is Usually
Not That Important
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,
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.
The steps of my own shutdown ritual
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.
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.
Zeigarnik effect describes the ability of incomplete tasks to dominate our attention.
Free cognitive resources for other pursuits.
Memorize a Deck of Cards
Quit Social Media
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.
Apply the Law of the Vital Few to Your Internet Habits
The Law of the Vital Few*: In many settings, 80 percent of a given effect is due to just 20 percent of the
Quit Social Media
Don’t Use the Internet to Entertain Yourself
Drain the Shallows
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
E-mail #1: “It was great to meet you last week. I’d love to follow up on some of
those issues we discussed. Do you want to grab coffee?”
E-mail #2: “We should get back to the research problem we discussed during my
last visit. Remind me where we are with that?”
E-mail #3: “I took a stab at that article we discussed. It’s attached. Thoughts?”
Process-Centric Response to E-mail #1: “I’d love to grab coffee. Let’s meet at
the Starbucks on campus. Below I listed two days next week when I’m free. For
each day, I listed three times. If any of those day and time combinations work for
you, let me know. I’ll consider your reply confirmation for the meeting. If none
of those date and time combinations work, give me a call at the number below
and we’ll hash out a time that works. Looking forward to it.”
Process-Centric Response to E-mail #2: “I agree that we should return to this
problem. Here’s what I suggest…
“Sometime in the next week e-mail me everything you remember about our
discussion on the problem. Once I receive that message, I’ll start a shared
directory for the project and add to it a document that summarizes what you sent
me, combined with my own memory of our past discussion. In the document, I’ll
highlight the two or three most promising next steps.
“We can then take a crack at those next steps for a few weeks and check
back in. I suggest we schedule a phone call for a month from now for this
purpose. Below I listed some dates and times when I’m available for a call.
When you respond with your notes, indicate the date and time combination that
works best for you and we’ll consider that reply confirmation for the call. I look
forward to digging into this problem.”
Process-Centric Response to E-mail #3: “Thanks for getting back to me. I’m
going to read this draft of the article and send you back an edited version
annotated with comments on Friday (the 10th). In this version I send back, I’ll
edit what I can do myself, and add comments to draw your attention to places
where I think you’re better suited to make the improvement. At that point, you
should have what you need to polish and submit the final draft, so I’ll leave you
to do that—no need to reply to this message or to follow up with me after I
return the edits—unless, of course, there’s an issue.”
Tip #3: Don’t Respond