It makes a strong case that deep work is increasingly rare, valuable, and meaningful. But it goes way beyond the "what" and the "why", providing the "how", in the form of specific, pragmatic, actionable guidance for achieving just that. Anecdotally, it's been very helpful for me.
Yes, his bigger point is entirely valid (and I appreciate him bringing it to our attention), but no—there is not enough material to write three damn books. Take inspiration from Kahneman, he condensed his 40-year work (in collaboration with Tversky) into one book.
As I've noted on HN before, I'd much rather recommend the book by the Hungarian psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's (or Prof. C): Flow—the psychology of optimal experience
Prof. C has defined the idea of "flow" (he discusses it in various contexts, including human well-being), and dedicated his entire life to studying it. IMHO, the signal-to-noise ratio is extremely high in this book—no wonder, it was Prof. C's seminal work.
Just my 2 cents ;-)
I encountered a similar idea in "The New Science of Building Great Teams" by Alex Pentland, where the concept of exploration is introduced: "The best team players also connect their teammates with one another and spread ideas around. And they are appropriately exploratory, seeking ideas from outside the group but not at the expense of group engagement".
Among other things, he goes in detail (with studies backing up his points) on what provides "optimal experience" to humans. And covers topics like "order in consciousness", "sense of self", "entropy", "freedom", "purpose", and so on.
A couple of random quotes from my notes:
(1) "The inevitable consequence of equally attractive choices is uncertainty of purpose; uncertainty, in turn, saps resolution, and lack of resolve ends up devaluing choice. Therefore fredom does not necessarily help develop meaning in life—on the contrary."
(2) "There is one very important and at first apparently paradoxical relationship between losing the sense of self in a flow experience, and having it emerge stronger afterward. It almost seems that occasionally giving up self-consciousness is necessary for building a strong self-concept. Why this should be so is fairly clear. In flow a person is challenged to do her best, and must constantly improve her skills. At the time, she doesn’t have the opportunity to reflect on what this means in terms of the self—if she did allow herself to become self-conscious, the experience could not have been very deep. But afterward, when the activity is over and self-consciousness has a chance to resume, the self that the person reflects upon is not the same self that existed before the flow experience: it is now enriched by new skills and fresh achievements."
Time will tell which book provides durable value.
Expanding an idea into book form helps more people discover that "aha" moment than a single blog post does. Plus, people just take books more seriously in general!
With blog posts, you can surely cover the breath of multiple topics but its totally worth to go repeat an fundamentally important idea with multiple scenarios.
From page 3 of the book, 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.
At least read the book before you trash it.
The book is almost entirely pointless fluff.
Basically, when I'm reading your work explaining your theory, if I go through two full pages without encountering a new idea, your work is bullshit.
This doesn't apply to providing EXAMPLES of your theory, and a theory is often many new ideas so that explaining it will take many pages, but if I read 2 pages of explanation and don't find a single new idea - you're wasting my time and trying to build agreement without specificity.
Now, far too many years later, I am both amazed at the raw audacity of my younger self...and how accurate he was in finding which works would be more or less satisfying to read. While I generally prefer escapism in my reading, my virtual and physical shelves have no shortage of books that I've only read the first few chapters of, because of diminishing returns for the effort of reading them.
I thought it was a great read, fascinating, I learned a lot, it made me think, and I've been recommending it to selected people who I think would benefit as a must read etc. So I'm just wrong? You didn't learn anything, great, doesn't mean it's "complete garbage".
I don't understand this need (that I frequently see expressed on HN) to have the most packed into the absolute least number of lines. Do people hate reading or something? Sure, you could leave out the stories, the anecdotes about various places and styles of work..but what would be the point?! Indeed, leave out almost everything and almost nothing would be left. That is not surprising. That La Rochefoucauld or Mandeville can be summed up in a phrase doesn't make them less worth reading.
Even they are padded out, but at least a bit less so.
The problem is, I don't think people will pay $30 for a 50 page book, even if the ideas inside it are worth the money.
I also highly recommend his book.
Eckhart Tolle has written a dozen+ books about being in the moment, for instance.
Fluff, fluff and more fluff. Repetitive anecdotes, personal experiences etc etc. I just can’t pretend I’m interested.
I'm an average tech worker in an open office. My office is quieter and more peaceful than most, but I can rarely get much "deep work" in. Meetings, Slack, etc. I have no door I can close and isolate myself with. I assume this is the case with most engineering roles so the usual HN advice of "find another job" doesn't apply.
That said, I still get things done fairly well, so I'm not complaining. I've used his techniques and ideas in my free time when I read, program, etc.
Details: desk facing a wall or window. Failing that, a 3-sided divider. Earplugs plus headphones. Skim my emails once every hour or so and leave notifications off otherwise. When I'm not trying to do deep work, headphones off so people know they can approach me. Nuclear option: work from home one or two days a week.
If you really think you can't get away with these things, then maybe you do need to find a new job where you're less micromanaged and more evaluated on results.
Making good evaluations on 'opportunity costs' is key. As I get older I allow more fun time than I used to (I am almost 68).
"Newport's book "Deep Work" is excellent"
Newport's book "Deep Work" makes excellent points.
I've benefited meaningfully from reading it, but also agree w/ many commenters' view that it could've been much more concise.
I think the point of reading the book is you will see the ideas in the summary, but may not believe they are true. The book is there to convince you through data, logical arguments, and stories that the ideas are true. In addition, repetition is one of the most valuable techniques for actually remembering things.
I agree with him about the smartphone cancer that has crept into all our lives though I imagine there will be much worse distractions in the near future like deep learning phones that can tell us everything going on in a room the moment we enter it (since everybody else also has the same device). Permanent HUD like a James Cameron scifi
What information would be on this HUD? Do you mean real-time voice analysis?
And I would also argue that the phone itself is not the problem. The problem is the reliance on the endorphin hit that comes from a new IM, like, post, etc. Some app makers have optimized their platform for engagement and have consequently made this highly addictive for many people.
But this addiction is much easier to break for most people than an addiction to something like say cigarettes (or even sugar).
I don’t think that’s really true. The health effects of a cigarette a week would be indistinguishable from background noise.
The fundamental problem with cigarettes is that they are addictive, and convenient (at one time very convenient), and so it’s easy to smoke more and more. That’s actually very similar to smartphones: their use is addictive, and convenient (you can get a hit at work, in line, in the car, at the store, walking down the street, in bed).
As with tobacco, I believe that the answer is to responsibly use smartphones. Chain-smoking is bad; so too is constantly getting a hit from your smartphone. Smoking a pipe a couple of times a week (or a cigar a couple of times a month) isn’t a problem, and neither is using a smartphone intentionally & deliberately.
Also, I am guessing that most doctors would not recommend smoking a pipe a couple times a week. I doubt it's harmless.
My dad's doctor didn't quite recommend he start smoking his pipe again, but he didn't really try to dissuade him, either. It enhances his experience and he's old enough that any remaining cares about cancer are moot.
Is this true? Can you provide a source?
Brb running to the corner store...
But keep in mind cigarette studies use the metric "pack-years" where 1 pack-year means smoking 20 cigarettes a day, for a year. "Heavy" smokers are generally considered as 2+ pack-year smokers. And it's not like _every_ heavy smoker gets lung cancer. In fact "only" 25% of heavy smokers get lung cancer, 5% of "former smokers", and 0.5% of non-smokers get lung cancer. And 40 cigarettes a day is a LOT!
So you can do an extrapolation with the numbers above to estimate a conclusion. I'd be hard-pressed to believe that 1 cigarette per WEEK is even as harmful as living in a big city like NYC or SF.
Smoking greatly increases risks of literally every possible health condition.
(This is why the first question you'll be asked by a doctor is if you smoke or not, no matter what your complaint is.)
Is that actually true? Somehow I doubt it, but I'm open to reading research (or whatever) on the question. (I'm taking you literally because you specifically wrote "literally", but maybe you didn't mean it...literally)
Actually, cigarette smoking can reduce the incidence of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, endometrial cancer, and Parkinson's, to name a few.
No, I'm not claiming cigarette smoking is good for you. I acknowledge it's very bad for you.
But if you point me towards two people, one who smokes "one cigarette a week" and does light exercise, and a second individual who is sedentary, and drinks alcohol and soda regularly, I'd wager most of my net worth that the 1-cigarette-per-week individual is far healthier. It's possible for something to be very bad for you AND also for the dangers to be overblown.
The basic idea is that you can perform some interventions at various doses, score the response, and then extrapolate to the origin. In most cases, simple linear regression gets you close to the origin, suggesting a linear response where even small doses has small harmful effects.
The trouble with this is that the data is rarely good enough to really support that model directly, instead you have to extrapolate the data to these smaller doses. This is simply due to variance in the data and errors in experimentation that make small effect sizes extremely hard to suss out. So you're always extrapolating from more extreme data.
For instance, a great deal of fuss has been made about alcohol, and whether moderate consumption (on the order of one drink a day) is actually beneficial. More broadly, this is related to the idea of hormesis, where small exposure to a poison actually confers a benefit, generally explained as coming from a compensatory response in the body. Every so often someone comes out with a new study or meta analysis that claims to be authoritative, but I still remain unconvinced one way or the other about alcohol.
The other issue here is the idea of relative risk. Even if you posit a non-zero harm from infrequent smoking, there are still many 'acceptable' risks that are likely far greater, such as that of road travel, air quality hazards, poor diet, lack of exercise, etc. These are all well understood and clearly outweigh the risk of infrequent smoking, but are 'business as usual', while a great deal of attention is paid to something like smoking, however infrequent.
In that sense, I would agree that it indistinguishable from background noise. But I would also say that there is likely real harm that results from this. In a broader decision-making sense, such minor harms do have a cumulative impact.
I prefer reading emails on my way. I'm distracted anyway and when I arrive at work, no emails anymore.
Physically? I presume you're right. But here's the problem; you don't need cigarettes to accomplish any other expected, daily task in your life. You need your phone for a whole bunch of useful tasks that aren't health-depleting. I once read someone explain eating disorders in a similar way. You still need to eat, so you can't simply kick the root of your problem out of your life forever.
Obesity has skyrocketed as cigarette and other tobacco use has declined. Obesity also increases the risk for most types of cancer, so it is just trading increased lung cancer risk for some people for increased risk of both heart disease and cancer.
In general nature does not like free lunches. There are costs and trade-offs in everything and smart phones are not an exception to that.
As far as I can tell most low wage / manual labor jobs are plagued with cigarette smoking because it allows more breaks / and it's a way to kill time.
Here in germany a lot of 30s people picked up smoking during their mandatory military service (cigarettes were free to avoid creation of black markets, people who smoked had more breaks + herd behavior)
There are better ways to regulate mood and stress but most of them can’t be packaged and sold for $5, which makes them unlikely to proliferate under capitalism.
I doubt people go out of there way to start new addictions voluntarily, but maybe I'm too hopeful.
Alas, I guess we'll just have to leave that hard problem to the scientists and philosophers.
I can tell you that in my experience most barely-processed foods don't do any better at filling me than most processed foods. And some of the worst candidates for appetite control are nuts. So I hope "less processed food" was supposed to be an effect, not the cause.
+ Inhaling any burned matter / fumes will have an impact the lungs.
"Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemical compounds, including arsenic, formaldehyde, cyanide, lead, nicotine, carbon monoxide, acrolein, and other poisonous substances. Over 70 of these are carcinogenic." 
That said, it doesn't mean it's not dangerous. For instance, Opiates were once thought of as a "perfect anesthetic" because they achieve the desired effect with little to no toxicity, but we've all seen how that played out over the last few decades.
I was fortunate to have a childhood without phones, and if I ever have kids myself I want to give them the same experience no matter what it takes.
Hopefully by the time you have kids wisdom highlights why the above is a destructive mentality. So many children are set up for anxiety and pain by their parents imposing so much of their own bullshit on them.
By all means adopt principles that align with your beliefs, but for the love of god numb your ego a touch and realize if you love your children you have to let go of yourself and free them as much as corral and influence them.
Be reasonable, understanding, compassionate, loving and unselfish, and see how 'no matter what it takes' holds up when considering those virtues.
> no matter what it takes
That's an effort on my part to sort out of my life to a point where I feel comfortable raising kids. I live a very humble/spiritual life and have no intention of imposing bullshit on my kids or anyone else for that matter.
I do know how that works though because a lot of it happened to me personally in my own family during my upbringing.
If my home is a remote village someplace in South America, then that's just how it is going to be for my kids. I guess, right?
You'll understand better when you have kids. I hope.
Everybody generally wants a few core services from their smartphone: send and receive brief messages, directions, ride hailing, listen to a podcast or some streaming service, mobile payments, take photos (perhaps most importantly).
Sometimes some people want the distractions available on a smartphone: watch video, read the news, social media, browse the web, read a book.
Sometimes some people want to Do Work™ on their phone, but the vast majority of the people don't want that, at least outside of their preferred work hours.
I try to do more and more with my Apple Watch/AirPods only, and it's starting the feel like the future depends less and less on having a smartphone. In our Star Trek utopia, your wearable would let you go up to any screen and access your stuff, and these would be in convenient locations, like a public transit stations, cafes, etc.
You'd do work on a purpose built machine for the work you do, one with a lot of buttons if you type a lot, one with a stylus and weird knobs if you do precision work.
The personal smartphone as it currently exists is this weird mandatory liability we're all burdened with, costly in time, attention, and money. They're worse than cigarettes because at least you can carry on a conversation while smoking.
People (in physics grad school in the 90s mind you) made fun of me when I had an HP100LX (a pocket sized DOS-5 machine you could carry around) for writing fortran code in microemacs or doing Derive/mathematica trace formulas while away from the terminals. It was also a good PDA and had an ebook reader for killing time on the bus. When I saw people with the early smart phones doing vastly worse than me nerding out on my HP, I knew there was no way I'd get one of those things. I'm on the bloody internet all day as it is for work; no reason to be more connected.
Complete access to a large % of Western civilization's collective knowledge is also kind of nice.
Mostly used for restaurant open hours and random Wikipedia articles. But still.
Knowing where nearby gas stations are, checking when a store closes, comparison price shopping, checking nutrition facts, there are many uses for a smart phone outside of the ones you listed. And, as always, the long tail is long.
Linguistic barriers prevent lots of information from East Asia from being accessible to westeners.
Large portions of the world don't yet have super organized repositories of knowledge.
I don't waste time with my Apple Watch + AirPods: I just process calls/texts/emails and listen to pad casts or music.
> But if you ask yourself who's the healthiest person you know, almost certainly they subscribe to some sort of named philosophy that helps them make consistent and value-driven decisions about what they eat and how they move. Maybe they're vegan or paleo.
Maybe I’m an outlier, but that tends to be more true of the least healthy people I know.
Named philosophies with strict rules give you far more opportunities to measure your failures. It’s too easy to slip, notice you’ve slipped, and figure, “well, I’ve done that much, I guess I’m just off the wagon today.” (Not to mention that vegan and paleo both leave room for some wildly unhealthful decisions without breaking the rules.)
It seems like his philosophy isn’t as strict as that, though. I like the approach in large part because it isn’t like going vegan or paleo. As with so many things, it’s all about finding moderation and an approach that you can stick to sustainably.
She was Catholic and she was practicing the virtue of temperance every day.
We often adopt lifestyles, we do certain things, in order to become healthier, fitter, smarter, richer...
She wasn't doing it because who she wanted become. She was doing it because of who she was.
So she would have had no problem stopping such behavior without fear of repercussion? If not then the motivation is not solely self directed. Many people are engaged in virtuistic pursuits because of fear or selfishness. Their outward actions can't always be taken at face value.
I believe a better title would be about “today’s smart phone” assuming we will still have smart phones in the future but they won’t be designed to be addicting anymore.
I take transit and cycle everywhere. Even with the bike and bus there's lots of walking to and from bus stops.
When I am out with colleagues and we want to go somewhere even a half a mile away people are all "that's soooo far..."
No wonder e-scooters are so popular. (And I suspect lots of their user base are smokers.)
> You can probably take it as a rule of thumb from now on that if people don't think you're weird, you're living badly.
In fact, even FB/Twitter/IG aren't "real-time". They don't show all the likes as they're coming in. They specifically delay showing the full number so you have a reason to come back and re-check. If you see a higher number of likes, you're going to come back again to re-check.
They definitely do. Not to the same degree that people shun cigarette smoking as a vice though. There's a reason that the phrase 'binge-watching' includes the word binge, as opposed to saying 'marathoning' or something that would communicate the same thing.
If we all work really hard we can come up with dumb reasons to ban almost anything. Politicians make careers out of this sort of thing.
I don't see how it's any different than eating, smoking, reading, or whatever else people do in their car that makes it harder to drive.
From a practical standpoint, how about if your car is weaving back and forth they Get checked out.
eating food doesn't leave the same digital trail. if a person crashes or gets pulled over for driving erratically and there's half a sandwich in the passenger seat, there's no way to know whether they were eating while driving or whether they just ate half of it in a parking lot 30 minutes ago.
- Probably more damaging to our ears than we expect
- Damage is cumulative and takes a while to show the effects
Something very useful but with negative externalities we did not predict.
Not a judgement, just a stark contrast from ~10 years ago.
It's especially damaging for kids (still growing + somewhat more malleable bones / joints).