Three Things I Learned from Deep Work

I strategically picked Cal Newport’s Deep Work to be my first read of 2020.

After listening to Newport share his philosophies and a general synopsis of the book in 2017-2018, I added the title to my “must read” list.

After spending most of 2019 in a digital fog, it felt appropriate to renew a commitment to focus with the help of a few proven strategies. Like Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and The One Thing, Deep Work seeks to encourage a mindset shift backed by rules and guidelines for increasing the value one can provide through their work.

Deep work is a catalyst for creation

If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive – no matter how skilled or talented you are.

Cal Newport, Deep Work

This quote cut through. I’ve been a seeker of knowledge my entire life, but words in my head simply won’t move the needle. I feel encouraged to explore what “producing” means for me, personally and professionally, and use deep work as a catalyst for shipping meaningful output.

Social networks are built to cannibalize my time and attention

The Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection: You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.

Cal Newport, Deep Work

What am I missing out on if I bail from Facebook and Twitter? Are the relationships I’ve formed on those sites deep or shallow? Is the information I gleam from those interactions moving me or my work forward? Are the sites a cheap stand-in for real human interaction?

Newport reminded me that these are for-profit company-built networks designed to suck up our time, calling for a Craftsman’s approach to choosing a network, “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.

Leisure is a serious thing

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.

Cal Newport, Deep Work

I’ve been spending my waking hours outside of work fairly aimlessly. Each year since a record-high 43 books in 2016, I’ve read fewer and fewer books. I’ve found myself zombified in front of the laptop, going down the endless click tunnel from one fast and easy article to the next.

This year, I’m recommitting to intentional leisure just as much as I’m recommitting to deep and focused work. This aligns with my 2020 theme: don’t waste any time.

We’ll see how I do.


Tom Tate

I'm a suburban polymath living just outside Philadelphia with my wonderful wife and three kids. Digital marketing nerd for a SaaS company by day. Rabid movie, music, game, and book consumer by morning, noon, and night. I share life hacks and learnings via email at Weekly Coffee. I also host Power Time Podcast, a Nintendo retrospective. Sometimes I write stuff. Most of the time, it's on the internet.