Deep Work for Product Managers

Tim Woods
8 min readMar 16, 2022

The ability to consistently do deep work is a valuable advantage for many jobs in the knowledge economy, but for product managers, it’s a superpower that will quickly set you apart from the pack.

The role of a product manager is distracting and varied by default. it makes cultivating deep work habits challenging, but this also makes it one of the most important skills you can develop. If you’re a PM and haven’t read Cal Newport’s book yet, I’d recommend it — I’d say it’s a foundational read. But here’s a run through of the key points, and why it matters so much for product managers in particular.

Deep work is so important that we might consider it the superpower of the 21st century.”

Cal Newport and his book

What is deep work?

“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

To excel at anything you need to master hard skills. That takes focused deliberate practice. Hours at a time, with no distractions. This is true for learning the piano, becoming a gymnast, being a great chess player. And it’s the same for being a top product manager — you need to go deep and produce high value output.

The challenge is that our environment today is not conducive to deep work. We’ve become distracted, both at work and at home with social media. Somewhere along the road the average person has lost the ability to focus for prolonged periods of time, to learn something hard, to create something of value.

Instead, most people are doing shallow work throughout their day. Answering emails, responding to Slack messages, jumping between meetings. Logistical work, and a lot of context switching. It keeps the wheels moving, but how much value are you really creating? Cal’s definition of shallow work:

Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not

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Tim Woods

Building Product at TryHackMe. Previously YouCanBookMe, PatSnap, HYPE Innovation, Imaginatik, IBM. Love all things PM. South Coast, England.