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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

4 Hours of Deep Work Each Day


Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport, is one of those books that is profoundly simple, yet compoundingly insightful. On the surface, the cover suggests it all: focus more and free yourself from all the distractions of a modern mobile, social world.

Freeing ourselves from distractions is in the category of ‘simple, not easy’. And here is where the book offers real insight: HOW to make this work for you.

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 replicate.

Newport likens Deep Work to the work you achieve when you’re in Flow State. In fact, he seems to suggest that Deep Work and Flow State are one-in-the-same, just described from two different lenses.

By contrast.

Shallow Work is: Non-cognitively demanding and logistical – style tasks, often performed while distracted . These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Newport says we have about four hours of ‘Deep Work’ in us each day. He examines literary giants, creative types, and other great thinkers. All of their schedules support the theory; many wrote for a very short / concentrated time.

Further, he overlays Dr. Anders Ericsson’s research (popularized in Outliers and The Talent Code). Ericsson says it it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert in anything. In looking at virtuoso musicians, Ericsson observed that they compiled about four hours of ‘deep practice’ each day (for 50 weeks per year x 10 years).

I’ve found the ‘four hour threshold’ be instructional as I approach each day. I know my brain will probably be able to kick out about four hours of deep work. That could be four hours in the morning. It could be four one-hour blocks throughout the day. However I block my ‘deep work’, I also have a realistic parameter to work with: I know I’m probably not going to get six hours of good deep thinking in a day, so I had better plan accordingly.

Think about your ‘flow state’ – the work you do where time disappears. In sharing this with others I’m noticing most of us start out with about 3-4 hours of ‘Deep Work’ PER WEEK (not per day). See if you can identify your deep work and maximize your time for your greatest value and contribution to the world.