Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The Law of Inertia


A rule for deep work 

Deep work is a term popularized by productivity expert and Georgetown University professor Cal Newport. It refers to the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Think of it as the difference between drafting a thoughtful, detailed report and rapidly toggling between email responses and social media updates. The former is deep work; the latter, not so much.

But how does one consistently achieve states of deep work in an increasingly distraction-prone world? One answer might come from a surprising place: the laws of physics. Newton's First Law of Motion, or the law of inertia, provides a powerful metaphor for achieving deep work. This law states that an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an external force.

The Law of Inertia in Deep Work

Applying the law of inertia to deep work involves recognizing that the initial transition into a state of deep work is often the most challenging part. Similar to an object at rest that requires an initial snap to get moving, shifting your brain from a state of shallow work or rest into deep work mode requires an exertion of cognitive "force."

Once in motion—or once deeply focused—the law of inertia suggests it's easier to stay in motion. When you're fully immersed in a task, the momentum keeps you going, and it becomes easier to continue working deeply than to stop and start over again. This is the reason why uninterrupted blocks of time are so critical for deep work. They allow us to build up cognitive momentum and keep going.

Overcoming the Resistance

But what about the external forces that can stop an object in motion? In the context of deep work, these forces are the myriad distractions that our modern world is full of—emails, phone calls, social media notifications, noisy environments, and even our own wandering minds. These forces disrupt our cognitive momentum and snap us out of deep work.

To protect against these external forces, it is important to intentionally design our environment and routines to minimize distractions. This might include turning off notifications, setting boundaries for when and how you will check email or social media, finding a quiet place to work, or using tools and techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique to manage your time and maintain focus.

Cultivating Your Deep Work "Muscle"

Just as it takes time to build physical strength, it takes time to cultivate your deep work "muscle." The more you practice entering a state of deep work, the easier it becomes to make that transition. Over time, the cognitive "force" required to start deep work diminishes. What was once a strenuous push becomes a gentle nudge.

This is where daily habits and rituals come in. By establishing a routine—whether it's a morning meditation, a midday walk, or an end-of-day review—you can create cues that signal to your brain that it's time to transition into deep work mode. Over time, these cues become more powerful, making the transition into deep work smoother and easier.


In a world filled with distractions, achieving states of deep work can feel like an uphill battle. But by applying the law of inertia to your work habits, you can create a powerful tool for staying focused and productive. Remember: the hardest part is often getting started. Once you're in motion, it's easier to stay in motion. And with intentional design and consistent practice, you can cultivate a deep work habit that propels you toward your goals.

About the Author

Alex Sung

Author & Editor

Alex Sung NYC has dealt with learning difficulties, depression, anxiety, and fear for most of his early ed and adult life. But through perspicacity, acquired highly attuned learning skills along with newfound confidence. It took grit and perseverence, but finally, Alex was able to be free! Learn more about your own limitations, and surpass them here.

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