The 4 Disciplines of Execution of Deep Work

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Deep Work" by Cal Newport. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do you engage in deep work? What are the 4 disciplines of execution?

“Deep work” is focused, uninterrupted, undistracted work on a task that pushes your cognitive abilities to their limit. The 4 disciplines of execution of deep work are: focus on the wildly important, act on leading metrics, keep a scoreboard, and create a cadence of accountability.

Continue on to learn how to engage in deep work using the 4 disciplines of execution.

Deep Work Practices

Once you have the schedule and the environment, what do you actually do to engage in deep work? The book offers a few suggestions using the 4 disciplines of execution.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution

These 4 principles come from a book of the same name.

1. Focus on the Wildly Important

  • Rationale: Choosing what to work on is important. You should spend time on things that have the largest impact.
  • Instead of trying to say no to trivial distractions, say yes to the “subject that arouses a terrifying longing.” This will crowd out everything else.
  • Choose only a small number of such goals. This way you’re forced to remove the trivial tasks, rather than maintaining a large to-do list.

2. Act on the Leading Metrics

  • Rationale: Metrics are useful to figure out how well you’re doing and how you can improve.
  • Definition: Leading metrics are immediately measurable. Lagging metrics measure the long-term thing you’re ultimately trying to improve. Lagging metrics are the real result, but they take too long to measure, and so they don’t give feedback in time to change your behavior.
  • For deep work, consider leading metrics like the number of hours you’ve spent in deep work, the number of pages you’ve written, the number of new ideas you’ve generated, etc. These are all easily measurable and help you see how effective you are at deep work.

3. Keep a Scoreboard

  • Rationale: Making your leading metrics visible will motivate you to keep up the habit and allow celebration of successes.
  • Keep a physical artifact in the workspace that shows your leading metric, like hours spent in deep work.
  • If you work with other people, show metrics across your team and allow friendly competition to increase the metric.
  • Each hour, mark off major accomplishments you achieved. This will make clear what concrete goals you’ve achieved in deep work.

4. Create a Cadence of Accountability

  • Rationale: Periodically analyzing your deep work will keep you honest about how well you lived up to your goals. It’ll show opportunities to improve.
  • Set up a weekly review to make a plan for the week ahead.
  • Review good and bad weeks and what led to each.
The 4 Disciplines of Execution of Deep Work

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Here's what you'll find in our full Deep Work summary:

  • How deep work is critical for performance and productivity
  • Why focus is like a mental muscle
  • Why willpower isn't as good as a ritual

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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