The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Deep Work: A Book That Can Change You

I received my copy of Deep Work on Jan. 11 and I finished it on a flight to Philadelphia on Jan. 24. I don’t share this to brag about my ability to read books; quite the opposite, I’m fairly slow to finish books due to a lack of time.

The difference here was that Deep Work is a great read and a topic that is timely and of great interest to me. It was easy to pick up the book in the spare moments instead of my phone (a nice change and one of my areas of focus for 2016).

How was the book overall? Fantastic. As mentioned above, the topic is a great interest to me at this time. But an author could write on this topic and end with a much less enjoyable book. I find Cal’s writing to be almost as engaging as it is informative, a nice combination. He does an excellent job of integrating stories and personal anecdotes into each chapter and referring to them throughout the book. Last, Deep Work is well laid out so that you never lose yourself in the overall outline when digging into the depths of a particular sub-topic.

But what about that title? Can this book truly change you? That’s a strong statement, but in the case of Deep Work, it fits. There are only so many books you’ll read in your life that will have a large impact on how you think and live your life. For me, that is probably once every 3–4 years.

But when it happens, it’s such a good feeling. When an author’s thinking resonates, aligns with your own, when s/he says something that takes thoughts that have been half-formed and rolling around in your head and verbalizes them far better than you have, when you have that “eureka” moment, when the ideas in the book challenge and inspire you … this is what makes reading so fun. This is the power of the written word.

I was so glad that Deep Work was one of those books for me!

The Purpose

If taken in the right light, one could read this book and come away with a sense that the purpose is solely to advance your career. That taking Cal’s ideas and techniques and applying will benefit you … and that’s all that matters. And since the application is akin to craftsmanship, it’s not a horrible impression to walk away with.

However, I personally don’t get inspired by books of that sort. And since I did come away inspired, I’ll make the case that the book is pointing to more than just personal gain, even if you have to look for it. Although he focuses on career advancement when making the case for deep work in the early chapters, the latter half of the book makes several allusions to how a focus on deep work and the changes Cal’s advocating will benefit in one’s personal life. That a deep life is a life well lived.

Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to.

This quote encapsulates for me what the books is all about. Training ourselves to put our attention that which is most important, will lead to our best work, in all areas of life.

And, as with any book, the reader must give their effort to both understand what the writer is saying, then decide how to apply it themselves. So whatever you purpose is in life, whether career advancement or something far more altruistic, Deep Work can help!

Application to the World of Tech

If there was one area of the book that was weak, it may have been to the world of design and technology. In opening the book, Newport uses David Heinemeier Hansson (or DHH) as an example of excelling through deep focus. For those of us more familiar with DHH and his strong opinions, how he’s portrayed in the book my seem ever so slightly off kilter.

And it was the same for most references to the world of design and tech, the startup culture. It becomes apparent that Cal Newport is aware of this world, but not overly familiar with it (perhaps due to his lack of use of social media). This does not detract from the book overall, but it did have me chuckling from time to time.

The Details

The book is broken into two primary sections. In the first, he makes the case for Deep Work itself; why it’s important and how it can benefit the modern knowledge worker. The second section is the meat, where he shares his ideas on how people can train themselves to consistently perform this kind of work. This is where I found the most enjoyment in reading the Deep Work.

Cal listed 4 rules that form the outline of his methods: Work Deeply, Embrace Boredom, Quit Social Media, and Drain the Shallows. But within each rule, there are several sub-topics (and some of those are further broken down). In the end, the book itself is both easy to read, but also easy to come back to.

Example of Deep Work's outline

This was a book that ended with me making outlines and re-reading many sections. That is exactly what I want from books; not reading, putting aside, then moving on, but truly digesting and meditating what I’ve read, then applying in my life if I concur with what the author had to say.


The content, the writing, and the format itself make Deep Work one of those books that can sit on your desk for months, fraying on the edges, close at hand to refer to at anytime. As you slowly adopt some of the practices in your own life, you can grab the book and open it to the desired topic quickly. Again, this was a non-fiction book I consumed in less than 3 weeks. I can’t make a recommendation stronger than that.

If topics like Drain the Shallows, Embrace Boredom, Meditate Productively, and Make Yourself Hard to Reach resonate with you and jiggle the pleasure centres of your grey matter, get yourself a copy of this book.

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