PMI - BOOK REVIEW - by Gregor Nicolas 

Who is the author? 

Cal Newport was born on June 23rd, 1982. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 2004 and earned my Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT in 2009. He specializes and spends more time proving theorems than compiling code. 

He blogs and shares study hacks as pieces of advice for students. He has never had a social media account, and people may feel that he is an electronic minimalist or contrarian. 

He is married and has three sons. He lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, and applies deep work techniques regularly during some sanctuary sessions. Due to Covid-19, he moved his deep work sanctuary to a separate location away from the house. 


Cal has never owned a business and is mostly part of the academic community as a disclaimer. He declares that he does not fully understand the always available CEO phenomenon and respects that some jobs require constant availability or a heavy set of shallow works, as he calls them. He also understands that some of these people are executives where an army of people do the deep work for them, and they need to focus on specific significant decisions. 

Cal Newport defines "deep work" as focused, uninterrupted, undistracted professional activities (or work on a task) that push your cognitive abilities to their limit. In contrast, "shallow work" describes activities that aren't as cognitively demanding—like answering light emails and attending unproductive meetings. These tasks don't create much value, and most people can do them. 

Deep work is like a task-oriented meditation when the focus on the breath, the task in this case, becomes an exercise to master. 

If you have read "think fast, think slow" by Daniel Kahneman, you will understand some points of this book. Think slow joins the deep work stamina. 

For some professions, getting things done requires an exile decision, a retreat from the regular noise of life, to concentrate and focus on meaningful value. However, Cal believes that Deep Work is a valuable skill that will never be obsolete. To his credit, meditation is becoming more and more respected. 

Unveiling this skill in his book, Cal joins most of the authors writing on developing good habits. As we know from James Clear in Atomic Habits, nurturing and keeping good habits takes time, dedication, commitment, practice, and a supportive environment. 

In the first and third chapters, Cal shows that Deep Work matters because it is essential, challenging, and fulfilling. It is essential because it allows you to earn and master new skills and apply them to increase your output. It is challenging because life around us is prone to shallow work. We have adopted open floor plans, we depend on instant communications, and social media engulf us. Cal 

views it as fulfilling because it moves you meaningfully towards happiness. He joins Mihaly in the idea of Flow. 

The second chapter presents some of the practices like planning out time to Deep Work (commitment). You should schedule and respect that time. You can do it by seclusion (some authors) or periodically (Bill Gates). You can do it daily (most working people) or ad—hoc (whenever you can). He also points out that 4 hours a day is for the expert who has an extensive practice. 

Chapter four goes over the planning. You can schedule internet time or blocks. Plan your day and quantify depth. Plan what you need to accomplish during the day and clear out the mind at the end of the day. Reflect and tweak your schedule. 

The other chapters are about building the beep work environment. It would be best if you reflected on and got rid of the distractions. You can also go to the extreme and quit technology for a while. 

Remember, the author is a contrarian. He is reluctant to let tech compete for his attention and he is leading toward being a tech minimalist. Deep work let Cal prefering messages that are well defined and constructed than shallow. The emails that reduce ambiguity. Make sure your emails contain all essential information. He recommends publishing an email policy and urges respecting it. 

Cal, later on, asks to train our focus by letting boredom happen and defining the success metrics. This techniques will support the effort of making the most out of the focus time. To determine the right metrics, you may need to Measure what Matters (John Doerr) and create accountability. 

The ensemble of these practices and techniques is reinforced by saying no to shallow work. It helps to create a strong habit and build an essential ritual for meaningful fulfillment and greater purpose in life. 

A Project Manager will read about Cal's view of Sprint in a good and bad way. Sprint meetings and its whole management process can be shallow. It is the basis of a commitment and collaboration bridging time blocks to value when it is not shallow. 

A Project Manager will need to reserve the time and space to review communications, reports, metrics, and logs. However, waterfall also reserves set time for deeper work aligned with a company's strategy. 

The application of Agile, Lean, or Waterfall does not matter as long as it is aligned with the necessary focus to accomplish the purpose of the projet and complete the deliverables within the defined constraints. 

A few lessons from the book: 

  1. Deep work brings fulfillment and a real sense of accomplishment. 
  2. Clearly define the metrics and be clear on the greater purpose 
  3. It is not easy, and you will need  
    1.  And environment
    2.  Time 
    3.  Commitment 
    4.  Collaboration
  1. Escape technology
  2. Set Policies that fit your life and respect them
    1.  Learn to move closer and regularly to your ambitious goal



It is a good introduction to creating a deeper value in developing purposeful habits. Even if the author is presented as a solid rebel to technology, Cal focuses on reducing the time wasted by distracted motions, which fill our day but do not bring value. 

As a PM you can learn about the best way to improve your work and maintain a deep relationship to your policies by practicing, sharing, committing to the time needed to provide results from a deep work session. The balance between shallow work and deep work will be essential in your everyday activities. 

Check out the 

book review Deep Work Rules 3

Prioritize with the 4DX Framework 

Remember the Eisenhower Matrix? Urgent-important vs urgent-less important, etc? The 4DX framework was developed by business consultants and discussed in The 4 Disciplines of Execution, and to me, it echoes the spirit of the Eisenhower quadrant. 

Newport adapted 4DX to support deep work: 

1. Focus on the wildly important. This means a small number of extremely essential goals. For writers, it's writing that thing you've been noodling on for months, maybe even years. It's cutting out the busywork of say, applying to residencies, writing Tweets, tweaking your website, searching for the perfect combat boots on Zappos — any of the small gophers that pop up. Instead of constructing your house, you're picking weeds in the patch where you should be pouring concrete. 

2. Act on lead measures. As the saying goes, "what gets measured gets managed." Two metrics are used: lag measures and lead measures. For deep work, the lead measure "is time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal." Lag measures describe your output, such as the number of screenplays you completed, songs you composed, or recipes you developed. 

3. Keep a compelling scoreboard. This means a visible tracking system to keep yourself honest about how much time you're spending on your priority project. It can be as simple as a sticky note on your laptop. 

4. Create a cadence of accountability. To keep yourself moving toward your goals, you have to review your progress regularly. That could mean a weekly review, monthly review, and quarterly review where you see how much you've accomplished and make a plan for the upcoming weeks.