Deep Work by Cal Newport: A Review in Visual Notes

I enjoy books on time management, life balance, and purpose, but I’ve read so many that it’s rare that one stands out. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport definitely stood out. Moving past elementary time management and goal-setting, it focused on creating and protecting the kind of concentrated time needed to create valuable, lasting work. As a college professor, writer, and father, Newport juggles many of same demands I do, so his advice was both practical and usable. I believe it would be helpful for entrepreneurial homeschool families, as well.

Deep Work by Cal Newport review

Deep Work by Cal Newport

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Rather than writing a standard book review, I’m just going to share a few of my Deep Work visual notes. I tend to engage actively with books I’m reading, and visual note-taking (also known as sketchnotes or graphic notes) is one of my favorite ways to remember portions of a book, along with annotating and a commonplace book. These notes were written on a spare page of my planner, so they are cramped and scribbly, but I hope they’ll give you an idea of what Deep Work is about. It’s definitely worth reading if you want to become more focused and productive.

Deep Work review in visual notes

Cal Newport’s Deep Work is packed with excellent advice for accomplishing things that matter, so I wanted to remember the major points. I annotated the book as I was reading, using lines, marginal notes, sticky flags, and notes inside the back cover. Visual notes were a simple way to summarize Newport’s four rules, the core of the book. Here is a look at each of the four rules and some of the sub points, with a focus on things I especially wanted to remember.

Rule 1: Work Deeply

Deep Work Rule 1: Work deeply

The first rule focused on how to structure time and surroundings for concentrated work. After discussing different philosophies of deep work scheduling, Newport looks at strategies such as creating rituals, finishing with an outline of his adaptation of The 4 Disciplines of Execution, a strategy for getting the right things done.

Rule 2: Embrace Boredom

Deep Work Rule 2: Embrace Boredom

Newport sets up the second rule, Embrace Boredom, by explaining that the ability to concentrate must be developed through steady, focused practice. After describing how constant task switching, gazing at a screen in every spare moment, and other distraction practices damage the ability to focus, he explains how to train yourself to concentrate, using simple methods. This is the rule I tweaked the most, choosing slightly different wording that made sense for my work.

(If you are wondering why there is a strange cat face in the notes, it wasn’t planned, nor is it especially related to the rule. I was going to use a circle in this section, but jiggled at the wrong moment and needed to do something with the wonky shape that resulted. That’s the nicest thing about visual notes — they don’t have to be perfect to be memorable!)

Rule 3: Quit Social Media

Deep Work Rule 3: Quit Social Media

This third rule may seem arbitrary, but Newport’s purpose is to enable deep work, which is pretty much the opposite of anything that happens on social media. He makes it clear that a social media presence may be necessary for some types of businesses, but each outlet needs to be carefully thought through, and a time budget created for how long you spend. In the interest of human flourishing, he offers solid advice on how to avoid using the Internet for entertainment.

Rule 4: Drain the Shallows


Deep Work Rule 4: Drain the shallows 

The final rule, Drain the Shallows, focuses on how much time is wasted in an ordinary work day, and describes how to gain more time for deep work while maintaining a happy personal life. This was a good reminder for me, as it’s easy to let work overflow its bounds, displacing what is most real and important in life.

Newport makes it clear that it’s not just about doing less, it’s about doing the right things and eliminating things that are not optimal. Whenever I do this, it works. Being a solopreneur isn’t easy — there’s always more to do than one person can manage, but with decent time management and habit formation, it’s possible to survive (and occasionally thrive). Deep Work contains wise advice, and I recommend it.

Additional resources

A simple schedule from Benjamin Franklin, who didn’t have nearly as many distractions as most moderns.

Cal Newport’s blog

Core77 offers a helpful introduction to visual notetaking

The Sketchnote Handbook: the illustrated guide to visual note taking by Mike RohdeMike Rohde offers more guidance on taking visual notes in The Sketchnote Handbook. It will help you visualize a tidier style of note-taking.

You can get see a slightly different focus and style in The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam.

As always, links to Amazon are affiliate links. You can read all about it in the footer. (Don’t miss Amazon’s Prime Day on July 11th. Sales start at 9 p.m. on the 10th, and it’s a pretty big sale. It might be a good time to buy the books for your next year in Excellence in Literature or start holiday shopping.)

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