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‘Deep Work’ (increase your work productivity) by Cal Newport. Book review - Pt 2

March 25, 2019



Last post I did a book review on Cal Newport's, 'Deep Work'. I've never done a book review in a post before but I think it's something I'll continue to do as a subscriber stated, 'it's your best blog yet'. Thanks subscriber!


Because there was a lot in this book, I've decided to break it down into two blog posts. 


In the first half, Newport revealed his strong dislike for the career advice 'do what you love'. He believes passion is over-rated and hard work under-rated. You can read more about my thoughts on this career philosophy in the book review pt 1 post here.


In today's post I'll be focusing on Newport's productivity hacks. Being a university professor who gets more done in three months than most people do in one year, I believe he has a lot of wisdom to share with us. I've taken a small number of my key takeaways from the book and shared them with you below. Enjoy!



Deep Work: Part #2 The Rules


The second half of Newport’s book moves away from his work philosophy and towards the practical implementation of 'Deep Work'.


Newport’s strategies and reasons behind them are so compelling that it led me to get serious about eliminating various distractions from my life. Distractions that are preventing me from achieving what I want to achieve in my career and personal life. To the extent that after reading the book I kept my phone on airplane mode for a week, only checking it three times a day. More about how this changed my work habits later.


The amount of practical tips in this book is endless and so for the sake of time I will focus on eight pages of the book that I found the most hard hitting, compelling and implementable. The section is titled 'Execute Like A Business' and is an adaptation from The Four Disciplines of Execution by Stephen Covey and Chris McChesney‎.



Discipline #1 - Focus on the Wildly Important


When I speak to people who are feeling lost and confused about their career direction, it’s rarely due to them not having any ideas about what they want to do, it’s that they have TOO MANY ideas. Just yesterday I was speaking with a client who wants to develop an app, get more clients in her business, read more personal development books, do more yoga, all while continuing to study full time and work part time in a foreign country.


If you are reading this blog post about increasing your productivity, chances are you are not short of ideas, but struggling to find the time to implement them all!?


Stephen Covey says, ‘The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish’.


I have found this to be the case in my own life. When I first started my coaching business I posted on every social media platform available. Using lots of energy and achieving very few real outcomes. By saying ‘yes’ to everything, I ended up distracted and overwhelmed.


What I did enjoy doing, and have continued to commit to doing, is blogging. Once I decided that this would be my priority and that social media could take a back seat, life and work became a lot clearer. Also the quality of my content became a lot better. Client’s started to find me via Google SEO and I got word of mouth referrals. To this day, social media has not been a significant source of getting clients.


Focusing on one thing and ignoring the rest is not easy. FOMO is rampant and if you’re a creative type I’m sure you’d like to go with the flow. But the truth is, if you want to see results from your hard work, channel that energy into one place and do it to the best of your ability.



Discipline #2 - Act on the Lead Measures


It’s fun to dream about writing a blog, creating a podcast or becoming a photographer. I get warm fuzzies just thinking about writing a book and self-publishing it on Kindle. The dreaming phase is fun. The implementation phase is a lot harder. Overwhelm, fear and procrastination kick in and stop us in out tracks.


To reduce overwhelm and overcome procrastination Newport recommends focusing on what is required to be achieved today, in order to get the greater outcome tomorrow. Action taken today is known as a lead measure and the ultimate outcome is the lag measure.


For example, doing three hours of deep work today on that novel you are writing is a lead measure which if done consistently, over time, will inevitably result in the lag measure of a novel. 


Newport suggests that we get too focused on lag measures, the novel, the thesis, the podcast with 10,000 subscribers. This can be overwhelming and at times disheartening if we are not reaching our end goal fast enough. Instead of keeping our eyes on the end result, instead it’s a better strategy to narrow our focus on what we are doing today, and doing that efficiently and effectively. 


Be consistent with lead measures, and the lag measures will follow, it’s inevitable.


Discipline #3 - Keep A Compelling Scoreboard


If you don’t measure it, you can’t measure it. 


If you want to be productive you must keep track of how much you are producing. You know why? Because we can’t be trusted. We lie to ourselves, we make excuses for ourselves, and we convince ourselves that we are working hard or being productive, whether we have evidence for that or not. The truth of the matter is, numbers don’t lie. Therefore it is imperative that you have a method to track your lead measures.


Newport states that the ‘scoreboard should be a physical artifact in the workplace that displays the individual’s current deep work hour count’. 

Jerry’s Seinfeld’s don’t break the chain strategy is famous amongst aspiring writers. When asked by a young and upcoming comedian how his joke writing got so good, Jerry replied, I write everyday. The young comedian was interested and asked, how do you stay motivated to write everyday. Seinfeld replied, I keep a calendar on my wall and everyday I write I mark the day with a big red cross. Over time the only goal is not to break the chain. 


There is something compelling about a visual scoreboard. It’s there in black and white (and red). We can’t argue with it, we can’t convince ourselves we have done the work if we haven’t. The writing is on the wall, literally.


I’ve used visual scoreboards long before I knew this was a productivity strategy. I did it in high school when I was a runner. I did it when I started my business with social media posting. I do it now with blog content creation. This is what is currently hanging on my wall.




As you can see it’s not fancy, it’s not pretty, but it gets the job done. What you can also notice is that I don’t track hours like Cal Newport does. It’s too easy for me to cheat. I can spend hours on a blog but whether it’s ready to be published is the outcome I’m aiming for. This is a lead measure, the lag measure is new client’s and income generation. As long as I keep publishing blogs and sharing new content, the lag takes care of itself.



Discipline #4 - Create a Cadence of Accountability


Looking at some of the greatest content producers of all time it’s amazing how many of them were known to each other and mentored one another in their field of expertise. For example; CS Lewis and JR Tolkien were both members of the Inklings, a literary discussion group that has produced some of the greatest modern literary work. 

Stephen Spielberg, one of the greatest directors of all time attributes his early professional development to his close knit group of his director friends consisting of George Lucas, Coppola, Martin Scorsese and de Palma.


I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that these amazing minds all sprung up at the one time. What made them so amazing is that they were surrounded by like minded individuals who spurred them on in their craft. 


Likewise, if we want to get better, excel and become the best in our field at a particular craft, then we must go out and find our people. Not only to hold us accountable to our goals but to learn from, be inspired by and push us to our greatest limits.


History has proved that excellence breeds excellence, so if we want to be excellent at something we must go out and find those who are also excellent.


Are you looking for your tribe of people to help you be more productive? Have you been thinking about wanting to make a career change but not sure how? Are you looking for someone to mentor you to take the next step? I can help. Simply book in a call with me to learn how I can help you step out of procrastination and into productivity.


Speak soon,



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