How to Stay Focused – Strategies to Maintaining Deep Work
Cal Newport is known as a very productive and creative person. He earned his PhD from MIT and is now, at the age of 34, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. A proliferate scholar with numerous publications under his belt, Cal uses his spare time writing books as well as maintain the popular Study Hacks Blogs. His secret? ‘Deep work’ — the ability to focus intensely on cognitively demanding tasks. Cal’s philosophy is particularly applicable when it comes to studying and producing intellectually demanding academic work. Learning deep work techniques can help you immensely academically, if you are able to architect the needed systems to engage your mind in this way.
Increasingly people are often revered for their multitasking abilities — but, research shows that if you want to do something well, you need to focus on the task at hand. Therefore, you should try to eliminate multitasking and distractions when engaging in meaningful work; the best work output happens when you dedicate your attention to one thing, and you are able to sustain your attention on that one thing for a considerable amount of time.
Here are some strategies to help you support your practice of deep work:
- When you study or work on your project, make sure to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Turn off your smartphone and log out of social media. Access to outside communication should be nonexistent whilst you work. You will notice that if you can focus on your dissertation or academic project for a set period of time, your progress will be significantly better than if you are constantly switching between different areas of interest.
- Divide your day into chunks of time. Create ‘protected’ time to do deep work and save other time when you do shallow work that is less demanding. For example, get up early and do 2 to 3 hours of deep work before you have breakfast before you open yourself up to the rest of the society. This comes with the added bonus of feeling productive before truly starting the day.
- Schedule chunks of deep work into your calendar and then honor that commitment. You need to allow enough time to produce good quality work. You might have already noticed that it often takes some time, an hour or more, before you get absorbed enough in your work and start making progress with new ideas. Again, protect this time by blocking it on your calendar.
- When you are in the homestretch of your dissertation writing, you may want to consider totally isolating yourself and doing deep work for longer periods of time (a week, or even longer if possible) and get completely focused on your final work.
- Do not forget to include periods of rest when you completely disengage from your work. This is very important for your mental, cognitive, physical and social well-being. According to Cal Newport, as paradoxical as it may sound, having adequate renewal can be one of the best strategies to getting quality work done. Often, forcing yourself to sit at your desk when you are not making any progress can be detrimental. Instead, engage in something you enjoy, and then return to your work, feeling revitalized and more capable of deep work.
Deep work is a skill that is definitely worth practicing if you are serious about finishing your academic project string and making an impact. In the future, your newly acquired ability might be the sought after skill that will distinguish you from others looking for post-graduate employment. At a minimum, mastering deep work with transform you into a more engaged individual and help the quality of your intellectual output.