On deep work

Fear not the man who knows 10000 different kicks, fear the man who has practiced 1 kick 10000 times.

Bruce Lee

I’m a huge fan of author Cal Newport. If you have read some of his books, you will know that they all have a common theme. Going deeply into a craft, like the sword-maker mentioned in Deep Work, who finds meaning in doing his work with excellence, is the recipe for a rewarding career and a rich life. You don’t really have to find your ‘passion’ per se. Any work that gives you meaning and a chance to excel at and distinguish yourself as one of the best can give you meaning. This idea is further expanded in Newport’s previous best-seller So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

Shallow work

Far too many people are busy doing shallow work. Attending meetings, checking emails, constant mobile notifications, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and so on. As Robin Sharma says, we are busy being busy. The surprising part is that doing too much shallow work not only eats into our valuable time but they also prevent us from attaining deep levels of concentration even when we are trying to focus. Our mind is like a muscle. If we train it for strength and power it will become strong and powerful, if we train for endurance it will become toned and consume less energy for more endurance. And if we don’t train it, it starts becoming weak from lack of stimulus.

Why deep work matters

Deep work is increasingly becoming rare. In a world distracted by advertisements, Netflix, and 24-hour connectivity, few people can seem to focus very deeply nowadays. Today’s school children often have the attention span of a Tweet. So another reason to cultivate deep work is to become valuable. All things of value that we consume are the result of deep work. For example, the programmers who build and maintain Facebook are driven by deep work. On the other hand, most of us consume Facebook in a shallow manner: passively scrolling through the news feed, with some likes and shares thrown in apart from the occasional status updates. Another example would be music. We can listen to music while we commute or go for a run, but composing good music requires deep work.

Winner takes all

The book also mentions the emergence of the winner-takes-all market. A prime example of an already existing winner-takes-all market is the movie industry. In this industry, few really good (or good-looking) people make most of the money. Most average actors become broke before they even get old.

The same thing is happening in the tech industry as well. Instead of employing a large number of permanent employees with mediocre salaries, companies are more than willing to pay top dollar to consultants who are recruited ad hoc for working on a specific project. Many consultants are paid by the hour and share their time with multiple companies. There is, it appears to be, no limit in terms of pay for expert level talent; the top AI engineers draw compensations breaching into the brighter side of 7 figure US Dollars. Where will the garden-variety engineers go now? Who will pay them to appear busy in the future?


The book Deep Work also goes on to tell us about strategies for cultivating deep work in our lives and also managing the very essential shallow work more efficiently. I really recommend reading the entire book at least once since, in today’s time, deep work is perhaps the most valuable skill a person can have. We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, the age of machine intelligence. Most shallow work will eventually be automated while experts of machine intelligence will thrive, and to become an expert in anything, you need to be working deeply.

That’s all for today’s post. If you have any opinion or feedback, please put a comment below. Thanks for reading.


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