It’s one of Cal Newport’s core ideas which has been very influential to me.
What is it?
When you are focusing without distraction on a cognitively demanding task
You don’t have context shifts during the work, for example swapping to something else (reading about something else, picking up your phone, interrupted by someone else).
Contrast to shallow work when the task is not cognitively demanding.
Why is it important?
In many lines of work, most of the value is produced by deep work tasks. Researching, writing, analyzing.
Deep work is becoming increasingly rare. Recently work has shifted towards being more shallow, often due to low-friction communication tools and highly engaging digital entertainment. If you prioritize deep work you’ll have an advantage.
Shallow work keeps the lights on, deep work moves the needle
How to do it better?
Increase the amount of deep work you are able to do in a standard workweek. What is the deep/shallow ratio to aim for? For me as an academic I probably want to go as high as possible because so much of value is due to deep work.
Schedule deep work ahead of time, don’t wait for it to happen. Get it on your calendar and treat it like protected time.
You need to train your ability to do deep work, if you are constantly looking at your phone at any moment of dullness you are not in shape!