Deep Work by Cal Newport

Deep Work by Cal Newport: Rules, Summary & Free PDF 📘

13 minutes read

Since joining tl;dv – a fully remote company, I’ve become immersed into the remote world of asynchronous communication, efficiently recorded and bookmarked meetings, and the concept of deep work!

As somebody used to the prolific fast-and-furious style of communication of many companies, I began to research remote-working concepts.  Eventually, I was down the deep working rabbit hole and stumbled across the book Deep Work by Cal Newport, which focuses on how one can feed their focus by limiting distractions and working towards testing and building their cognitive focusing skills. The author deep-dives into how this concept is useful but rarely found among workers and students.

In this article we’ll tackle some of the key findings of Deep Work by Cal Newport, along with my own personal experiences practicing this at tl;dv. 

In this article

Who is Cal Newport?

Cal Newport’s books have been the talk of the town ever since they were released! In fact, they sold a whopping 200,000 copies all over the world. Newport became a widely known author after the release of “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”. After this initial success, Newport added another feather to his cap with Deep Work, making him a New York Times bestselling author.  

A computer science professor at Georgetown University, Cal has written six more books, translated into over 35 languages. In 2007, Cal rose to prominence thanks to his Study Hacks blog that helped millions efficiently study in a distracted world. Following the same school of thought, Cal Newport introduced the term ‘Deep Work’. He divides this book into two parts: theory and practice. 

Why do we need deep work?

Deep Work by Cal Newport Book
Source: Themightyinkpot

So, why is the world so receptive to Cal Newport’s Deep Work book and concept? Well, the answer is simple – no need to add a flurry of statistics on the number of hours we spend online or the number of daily received emails, or the economic cost to businesses from distractions. We all know this to be true: we live in a distracted world!

Thus, there is a great need for a book such as Cal Newport’s Deep Work rules for focused success in a distracted world!

Cal Newport celebrates the distraction we feed on and motivates readers to build a new skill of absorbing complicated information to produce effective results in a shorter time frame. Cal Newport’s book is known to provide readers with a sense of fulfillment and drive their productivity. Let’s dive into some of the key findings of Deep Work by Cal Newport

Essential rules to follow according to Deep Work by Cal Newport

Switching between different emails, attending pointless meetings, and keeping up with social media is a daily ritual. Yet, some workplaces seem to reward looking busy and haven’t quite figured out how to measure productivity. So how can one escape this vicious circle? That’s when Cal Newport’s Deep Work rules enter! 

We’ve broken down Cal Newport’s Deep Work book into four essential rules that are not that hard to follow but may require some practice. Disclaimer: These rules only work when you intend to make a difference!

Want to download our free Cal Newport PDF, which includes essential rules and a daily schedule to get started? Check it out, here! 👈

Deep Work rule #1: Practice deep work

Cal Newport believes that deep work is a valuable asset that is often rare to find in our day and age. Cal Newport believes (and I also concur) that individuals have lost the ability to focus or immerse themselves in a complex task without being distracted. The Deep Work concept uses cognitive skills to enhance our focus and nurtures meaningful skills in an individual. So, how can you practice deep work? 

For some, this might sound easy, for me personally, as an individual prone to distraction, this seems like a mammoth task, and I’ll definitely need Mr. Newport’s tips! So, according to Cal Newport, you must first decide your deep work strategy. There are four main philosophies that include: Monastic, Bimodal, Rhythmic and Journalistic. This will be an essential part of any Cal Newport daily routine. I personally prefer an organic working approach and find I produce the best results when working without rigid structures. Therefore,  I am looking for a deep work strategy that best allows for this organic approach. 

Monastic philosophy

The Monastic philosophy aims to improve deep work efforts by eliminating all the ‘shallow obligations’ around you. One can solely focus their time on performing deep work via keeping all distractions at bay. 

Rhythmic and Bi-modal philosophy

If you struggle to keep up with the monastic philosophy, then maybe try out the Rhythmic philosophy. This will bring consistency in your life as you spend a smaller chunk of your time exercising deep work and making it a daily habit. The way you allocate your deep working sessions should follow a kind of rhythmic pattern, in accordance with your daily needs, schedule, or sleep-cycle, and so forth. Additionally, Newport says that you may divide your days into deep work and shallow work so it’s a part of your daily routine – this is the Bi-modal philosophy. 

Journalistic philosophy

Then lastly, we have the journalistic philosophy that opportunistically adds deep work into one’s day, whenever possible or desired!

🔔🔔🔔🔔 Ding, ding, ding, ding! It sounds like we have a winner! As somebody who is naturally a little more unstructured, leans towards variety, and can sporadically enter into intense deep work sessions at any given time, the journalistic philosophy seems to be the best fit. In fact, I believe I may have already been exercising this philosophy unknowingly. 

So, have a read into the four Deep Working philosophies by Cal Newport to find out which one will suit you best and how to implement it!

A Deep Work checklist: 

  • Strategy? Check 
  • Decide on a routine? Check 
  • Practice Daily? Promise to do so!
  • Reduce burnouts? Yes, you are a step closer to your goal! 
  • Smaller concentrated intervals? You’ve got this! 

Deep Work rule #2: Bye-bye social media!

Source: Hal Hefner.

Social media has slowly plagued our daily lives! Studies suggest that over 70% of adults in the US use a social media platform daily. This isn’t astonishing considering that Instagram and Twitter have new users every day. On average, we spend 142 minutes a day on social media!

It’s time to cut Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media app that keeps you glued to your phone for hours out of your life. These activities fail to provide fruitful results in our life as we end up mindlessly scrolling our social media feeds instead. 

Cal urges his readers to build the ‘Craftsmanship’ concept that helps you focus on only those tools that draw you some concrete benefits, whether they be social media tools or not. For instance, you can use Twitter if you set concrete goals, such as only checking the news for 10 minutes or less. Or perhaps, you can use YouTube, but only to watch your competitors’ videos for no more than an hour weekly.

Essentially, this forces you to add a goal or for each social media tool used to prevent unwanted distractions.

Deep Work rule #3: Don’t shy away from your boredom 

We are all aware that concentrating isn’t an easy task. While some struggle to concentrate for even an hour, others simply ace their work within stipulated timelines. How often has your mind wandered in a parallel world while working? If the answer is far too many times then fret not! Studies suggest that one can develop this skill at any stage of their life with regular practice. Thank God! 🙏🙏

This notion is also advocated by Cal Newport too. We need to cultivate this skill to practice deep work. Additionally, adding an element of pressure and time helps in gaining this desired result. Moreover, the author addresses memory games that also help in improving one’s focus. For instance, playing Chess or Sudoku can help increase your concentration. A favorite game of mine is the Shopping list game where you need to build your memory to recall all the items on your shopping list! 

However, we are all humans who are likely to be enticed by our old habits. Thus, Cal recommends scheduling in a distraction, rather than trying to avoid it. One can make use of all the unproductive time by practicing meditation or, as Cal calls it, ‘productive meditation’. Another suggestion is to use your commute time, daily chores, or exercise time to engage in building deep work concepts for long-term benefit and habit building.

Deep Work rule #4: Let the shallows go away

Shallow obligations can keep you away from your goal and reduce your time at deep work. The aim here is to significantly reduce these obligations, especially in your professional space. Instead, you must tackle the remaining ones with better efficiency. The reason? Too many obligations often lead to burnout. Hence, losing time to perform deep work.

Newport mentions some tactics such as setting strict limits on the hours of deep work verses shallow work and tracking and measuring this over time.  Factors to track and measure can include hours, outcome, energy levels, or even happiness and motivation. 

tl;dv’s experience deep working

Cal Newport silent library and deep working

At tl;dv we have scheduled deep working sessions, where everyone is welcome to join on Google Meet (optional) called the ‘Silent Library’. People collaborating in our Silent Library session often have their videos on, however, their microphones must be turned off. The purpose is to have a communal feeling, similar to the feeling of being in a busy yet quiet state or university library. This communal feeling can produce enhanced motivation, whilst muting one’s microphone limits audio distractions.

As I tend to lean towards the journalistic philosophy, I don’t join these Silent Library sessions, as they are too scheduled for my liking. However, one tactic I have employed is the use of ‘scheduled distractions’. In my case, they’re ‘semi-scheduled’. Whenever I feel I need a break, I take it when I feel I have earned it by setting myself a mini-goal to achieve before my scheduled distraction break!

However, one philosophy that we hold throughout our organization is to only attend essential meetings. The rest are tl;dved. This enables us to maximize our Deep Work time and to catch up on “live” meetings later, in minutes.

Deep Work: Best quotes

Deep Work by Calnewport Quotes


Cal Newport
made several remarkable statements in his book: Deep Work, that struck a chord with his audience. Here are the most impactful Deep Work by Cal Newport quotes:

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

Cal Newport uses Nate Silver’s machine intelligence example to convey that having the skills is not enough unless you make the right use of them. What is this? Nate, with the help of Stata software, conducted several interlocking analyses with complicated parameters that cannot be learned quickly and are hard to master. While Nate could manipulate large data sets and conduct statistical analyses, it was important that he produce some tangible results so his effort is not in vain.

“Our quality of life is decided by what we choose to focus on and what we can choose to ignore.” 

Life is all about the decisions you make. Cal Newport says that it is important to distinguish between what you want and what you can do without in your life. He believes that having this clarity can get you closer to your goals in life. Why? It allows us to be more self-aware with our goals, time and be more focused. 

“The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”

Here, Cal Newport explains the importance of adding routines and rituals to your daily life without draining your willpower. Using the example of Hofmann and Baumeister’s study, he suggests that we have a finite amount of willpower to deploy at any given point, and having routines can help attain a state of unbroken concentration. If we deal with things as it comes, we might deplete our willpower as it is difficult to switch from a relaxing task to a cognitively demanding task.  

“Four hours a day of uninterrupted and focused concentration can produce a lot of valuable results.”

Deep work brings to our attention that we don’t have to be productive eight hours every day of the week. He suggests that if we separate four hours a day and dedicate this time to the most high-value tasks, that this can allow you to maximize your energy and bring the most fruitful output. 

Deep Work by Cal Newport: RSS, PDFs & podcasts

For some of us (such as myself), we might need an extra nudge to get over the deep working cliff. We’ve developed our own Deep Work by Cal Newport PDF, which includes a summary, daily routine scheduler, and some simple tips and rules to get you started. You can download the Deep Work PDF below, or view our Deep Work PDF on Google Drive here.

Mockup of tl;dv Cal Newport Deep Work Book PDF
You can download our Deep Work Book/PDF here

If you’re looking for something a little different, here are some of the best Deep Work by Cal Newport PDFs, podcasts, and other resources. You can download or purchase Cal Newport’s book from sites such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Shopclues. You can also get a podcast dose of Deep Work rules for focused success in a distracted world via Calnewport.com, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

Cal Newport daily routine planner

Wondering what a Cal Newport daily routine might look like? If you want the Cal Newport Deep Work daily routine scheduler on its own, you can use this one below, or duplicate this Google sheet.

TimeDeep or Shallow work?Desired Goals
08:00
09:00
10:00
11:00
12:00
13:00
14:00
15:00
16:00
17:00
18:00
19:00
Download or duplicate the Cal Newport Deep Work Daily Routine Planner here. This is also a part of our Deep Work free PDF


Phew! That’s a lot of deep work!

Final Thoughts on Deep Work by Cal Newport

There is a lot to unpack from Cal Newport’s book, especially for those used to the fast synchronous style of work and communication, so prevalent in many offices before Covid-19. Since this pandemic, many have been questioning, altering, and making attempts to improve their working habits and routines for greater efficiency and happiness, and deep working is certainly on the rise.

I personally am going to continue on my journey to greater ‘journalistic’ deep work, and may just report on the results in the near future. Stay tuned!

Just in case you missed it, our Deep Work Book/PDF is here. This Deep Work by Cal Newport PDF includes a summary, a Cal Newport daily routine schedule, and helpful hints and tricks. You can also check out our Digital Minimalism PDF! Grab yours here. 👈