[Best Of] Deep Work: Ditch Cognitive Junk Food with Cal Newport

As I get up to speed in my first semester at Union Theological Seminary, I’m re-launching a few of my favorite podcast episodes from four years of archives: I hope you enjoy some of these oldies but goodies, particularly if you missed them the first time around! Here’s a conversation I loved with Cal Newport from April 2016.

When was the last time you were in the zone?There’s nothing I love more than working with time flying. The sun rises and sets and I barely notice because I’m so engrossed in my work. Cal Newport calls this deep work, and says that contrary to what many assume, it is a skill, not a habit. That means it takes deliberate practice, and is a cognitive muscle that can atrophy with disuse—something we are all prone to as we get sucked into network tools like social media and email. I loved this conversation and I know you will too! Enjoy 

“At the exact point that deep work is becoming increasingly valuable, it is also becoming more rare.”

—Cal Newport


Cal Newport is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, and the author most recently of Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, a book which argues that focus is the new I.Q. in the modern workplace, and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a book which debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is good advice. He has also written three popular books of unconventional advice for students. Cal runs the popular advice blog, Study Hacks, which attempts to decode “patterns of success” in both school and the working world.


  • Deep work as the base-level skill you need to navigate this economy

  • Defining deep versus shallow work

  • The rising value of deep work, but why it’s becoming more rare

  • How to identify what deep work to focus on

  • Productive meditation for coming up with ideas

  • Deep work is a skill, not a habit. It takes deliberate practice.

  • How deep work helped Cal double his productivity, making it the most prolific year in addition to welcoming a second baby and writing a book.

  • Eliminating cognitive junk food like social media . . . and email!

  • Any benefit mindset vs. the craftsman approach to selecting (social media) tools

  • It is possible and desirable to have a deeper life. Be respectful of your attention.

  • The background-hum of anxiety from too much time on social media, shallow work

  • How to reclaim your time and attention to live beyond anxiety

  • Cal’s average deep work day

  • What an evening shutdown ritual is and why everyone should have one

  • Run your own deep work experiments: try eliminating social media for 30 days (without announcing it to anyone)

  • The hyperactive hive mind created by frictionless communication, and why it is time to eliminate email


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Check out other episodes of the Pivot Podcast here. Be sure to subscribe via iTunesAndroid or SoundCloud, and if you enjoy the show I would be very grateful for a rating and/or review! Sign-up for my twice monthly behind-the-business newsletter to receive curated round-ups of what I’m reading, watching, listening to, and new tools I’m geeking out on.