Cal Newport is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, who specializes in the theory of distributed algorithms. According to Newport, the unprecedent growth and impact of technology are creating a massive restructuring of our economy. Deep Work is a book about thriving in this new economy, where jobs that can be automated will be replaced by software or outsourced. “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.”
How does one join one of these groups? Leaving those with access to capital aside, Newport argues that there are two core abilities that are crucial for thriving in the New Economy: the ability to quickly master hard things; and, the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed. These two abilities, explains Newport, depend on your abillity to perform deep work. “If you haven’t mastered this foundational skill, you’ll struggle to learn hard things or produce at an elite level.”
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.
Newport defines Deep Work as 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. In contrast, Shallow Work consists of noncognitevely 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.
The book is divided in two parts. The first part explains what deep work is about, why it’s important, and how it will set people appart in the New Economy. The second part of the book contains several strategies for trainning your brain and transforming your working habits. The goal is “to place deep work at the core of your professional life.” The underlying strategies are valuable, but you’ll probably have to adapt the rules the author proposes to suit your needs.