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The Lever #031 - Creating Deep Work Habits

The ability to learn new things quickly is a modern day superpower.

Apply these Deep Work principles to boost your results today.


But first, thanks to our sponsor for keeping this newsletter free:

Create better boundaries between work and home:

• Better relationships

• More personal time

• Better mental health

And more easily get into flow while working.


I flunked high school.

My friends all graduated at the end of grade 12, while I was left on the sidelines a few credits short.

Later in life, after making up those classes (plus a few more to pull up my grades!), I went off to college.

Except this time it was different. This time I excelled.

I graduated with flying colors and even took home a scholarship for academic performance during that time.

What changed?

I think about this a lot, and how my life would look today if I'd done just a little better in high school (or a little worse in college). In the end the change was the direct result of one thing:


In high school I had none. So I skated by on the bare minimum.

In college my purpose was clear and I was driving relentlessly towards it. But at first, this left me with a new problem.

I didn't know how to learn effectively.

Enter Cal Newport

Cal Newport is a renowned computer science professor, author, and productivity expert known for his insightful ideas on how to navigate the challenges of the modern workplace. With a focus on maximizing productivity and cultivating a deep sense of concentration, Newport's work has garnered widespread attention.

In his groundbreaking book "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World," Cal Newport discusses the concept of deep work and its impact on learning new things quickly.

Deep Work: the ability to focus - without distraction - on cognitively demanding tasks.

Creating Deep Work habits will help you achieve exceptional results in an increasingly noisy and distraction-filled world.

While everyone's journey looks a little different, the principles from "Deep Work" provide guidance and a framework for optimizing learning.

Learning to Learn

Everyone learns at a different speed.

Some people will pick things up faster than others. Others will have a hard time figuring out the fundamentals, but once they do everything else starts falling into place.

Learning progression comes in fits and bursts. Long periods of seemingly stagnant results will suddenly jump forward towards a new understanding.

The trick to learning quickly is to control the things you can, while trying to standardize the things you cannot.


Motivation is the most important factor when it comes to learning new things.

But not just any motivation. Intrinsic motivation.

This is the kind of motivation that comes from within. The kind that powers the self-discipline required to do the work and make progress.

The hard truth about this is that you often have it, or you don't.

When I was in high school I would think about the reasons that I should be working harder. But no amount of rationalization could carry me up motivation mountain.

Later in college, with a clear North Star to guide me, motivation was on tap at all times. It powered the effort required to shoulder a full course load. I'm talking eight classes a day, five days a week.

But motivation alone won't get the work done.

To learn quickly and efficiently you need to systemize the process.

Deep Work Strategies

Here are six principles you can apply to create Deep Work habits:

1/ Emphasize Deep Work

Deep work, which refers to the state of undistracted, concentrated focus on a cognitively demanding task, is crucial for effective learning.

Dedicating uninterrupted, focused time to learning helps individuals develop a state of flow and achieve higher levels of productivity and comprehension.

2/ Minimizing Shallow Work

Shallow work in contrast consists of non-cognitive, logistical, and administrative tasks that do not contribute significantly to learning and skill development.

Minimize shallow work by setting clear boundaries, delegating non-essential tasks, and optimizing productivity systems to create more time and mental space for deep work.

3/ Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is a concept popularized by psychologist Anders Ericsson.

It involves focused, repetitive practice aimed at improving specific aspects of a skill.

Break down complex tasks into smaller components and actively focus on improvement.

This helps accelerate learning progress.

4/ Avoiding Context Switching

Constant context switching has a negative impact on learning.

Rapidly switching between tasks or distractions hinders deep work and disrupts the cognitive processes required for effective learning.

Instead develop routines and dedicated blocks of time for deep work to maintain focus and maximize learning outcomes.

5/ Creating a Learning Ritual

Create a ritual or a structured routine for learning new things.

By establishing a consistent schedule and environment for learning, individuals can condition their minds to enter a focused state more easily and make learning a habitual part of their lives.

6/ Balancing Deep and Active Learning

Deep learning involves focused studying and practice

Active learning involves applying knowledge through practical projects or interactions.

Striking a balance between the two approaches can facilitate a comprehensive and efficient learning experience.

It's important to note that these principles and strategies from "Deep Work" are meant to provide guidance and a framework for optimizing learning. Each person's learning journey may be unique, and adapting these principles to individual preferences and circumstances can lead to more effective and efficient learning outcomes.

Tools of the (Learning) Trade

Each of the points above can be implemented using a single, powerful tool.

Time blocking.

Creating a routine. Single-tasking. Avoiding context switching.

These are all actions that time blocking actively promotes.

My journey into timeblocking started with a printed calendar of my weekly class schedule.

Next, I started adding blocks for things like studying and going to the gym into the blank spaces.

Eventually this ended up as a fully formed system of time management that allowed for educational success.

And those same skills helped drive future successes in my career.


The right motivation - paired with the right system - will empower you to accomplish anything you set your mind to.

Its simple, but not easy.

You still need to put in the work.


When you are ready, here are a few ways I can help:

1. Subscribe to The Lever (if you haven't already)

This covers a science-based productivity concept each week, in about five minutes. Try a free chapter of my new book when you subscribe. And if you like it...

Peaceful Productivity outlines the time-management system I've created over the years as a ship's Captain and business executive. It will help you plan, prioritize, and get more of the right things done. Also available on Amazon  

This short course will teach you the fundamentals of a powerful timeblocking system to make sure you never miss an obligation and always show up prepared. Give yourself the space you need to create the life you deserve.

Smart systems to make you productive, prolific, and profitable | Find me on Twitter @SeanPHogue | Sign up here for the weekly newsletter, The Lever, and create some leverage in your life.


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