Is your day full of shallow work?

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My journey into the world of productivity started with the classic Getting Things Done by David Allen. I devoured and immediately applied the book, and over time got really good at Getting Things Done.

Soon I discovered Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Workweek, which put my productivity system on steroids with its 80/20 rule, batching and outsourcing guidelines.

Despite applying the best systems and processes, something wasn’t adding up. I was being productive, but it didn’t seem to amount to much. My start-up was trudging along – neither a spectacular success nor an outright failure.

When I read Cal Newport’s Deep Work, my entire view of productivity changed.

I realised that my productivity system had been focused on ‘Shallow Work’ as opposed to ‘Deep Work’. Cal Newport describes shallow work as:

‘More logistical/basic tasks that don’t require tremendous amounts of attention or skill.’

Cal Newport

As opposed to Deep Work which is: 

Cognitively-demanding, requires focus without distraction, and you apply hard-to-replicate skill sets.

Cal Newport

This book made me realise that there was barely any deep work in my schedule. No wonder I wasn’t seeing much success as an entrepreneur.

Only when I started taking time out for working deeply and prioritising important but non-urgent work, I started seeing some success as an entrepreneur.

One overlooked aspect of Deep Work is that it uses ‘hard to replicate’ skill sets. This means that it the type of work that you cannot delegate. Its work that you are uniquely suited to do. This means that true deep work requires working in an area of relative competitive strength.

Deep work a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy.

Cal Newport

Shallow work by contrast is work everyone can do. Its work you can delegate. Shallow work by its very nature means you’re not creating much competitive leverage.

But how does one work ‘deeply’?

By deciding to work deeply – with focus and concentration on one problem, over a period of 1-2 hours till your head hurts. By ensuring that nothing that pulls you out of focus.

The initial 5-10 minutes are hard – but once you start focussing, without distraction, you get into ‘the zone’. And that is where all the magic happens. This is where one minute is as effective as five.


One tiny distraction can knock you out of your focus and it can take almost 15 mins to get back into ‘the zone’ so make sure you’ve set yourself up in a way that nothing can distract you – no phone and no internet!

Deep Work gave me the confidence and tools needed to achieve more while living a sane, normal, balanced life, with a 35-40 hours work week and enough quality time with family and friends.

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