How Deep Work Makes You Smarter | How to Study Part 1

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If you prefer videos, watch the youtube video where we cover our 3 part series on how to study smart. I only revise 9-5 and I’m not joking, I do whatever I want after 5pm pretty much right up until exam time and that’s because whenever I study, I’ve trained myself to be so intensely focused for 3 hours that I don’t need to revise anytime after 5pm.

In this first blog of the series, I’m going to explain why it’s best to study using this technique called ‘Deep work’ in 3 hour blocks. In the second blog, Zoh will talk about HOW you should actually revise in those 3 hours to make them as effective as possible and in the third blog I’ll discuss how to remain focussed in these study sessions.

Photo blank book cover on textured wood background; Shutterstock ID 177425480

What is ‘Deep Work’?

Soo.. what is deep work? Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work defines it as “Professional activities performed in a state of a distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.”.

Basically, for students, it’s studying intensely with no distractions for certain periods of time to create the best possible work that you can create. The author uses the formula: High-quality work produced = Time spent x Intensity of focus

To produce high quality work, you can either spend a lot of time with a low intensity of focus, and that’s what most students tend to do, OR you can spend much less time but with a very high intensity of focus, and still produce the same high quality work.

Cal Newport, the author of this book, is a professor at MIT and when he started implementing these rules of deep work, he went from publishing 4 academic papers one year, which is already difficult to achieve, to publishing 9 papers in just one year while writing this book, teaching and making time for his family every day after 5pm. Studies show that the highest achieving students study less than those who are scoring just below them in terms of GPA rankings in America’s top colleges and that is because a lot of them are utilising deep work.

Deep work professor Cal Newport – MIT

I use the same methods to be able to study for my final year as a dental student, run this YouTube channel, maintain a social life and play video games for a few hours every single day. Before I move and discuss shallow work, I’d really appreciate it if you guys gave the video a thumbs up, it really helps the channel grow and reach more people. Thank you!

What is ‘Shallow Work’?

On the opposite end he describes shallow work to be “Non-cognitively demanding tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value and are easy to replicate.”. This is basically when you randomly decide to sit down and study but you also have your phone notifications on and you’re distracted every now and then.

You can spend a whole lot of effort studying in shallow work and not really achieve a quarter of what you would in deep work. That said, there are certain tasks which shallow work is perfect for and there’s no need to put in all that focus and energy, like replying to emails for example or dealing with social media or planning your next days work schedule

So let’s say you’re studying alone and you get a notification on your phone, you check it and bob’s commented on your new IG post. You read the comment, you briefly think about what you want to reply and then remember oh damn, i don’t want to lose what i was studying, let me reply later. Now for the rest of the duration while you’re studying, you’ll have a small part of your brain which is focussed on what you’re going to reply to bob, which means you wouldn’t be able to study with 100% focus. Now let’s say more things pop up while you’re studying. Your mum tell you to do the dishes and you also receive an email from uni that you need to reply to at some point. The more and more things that you allow to distract you, the more divided your attention would be and now you might only be putting in 50% into studying even though you decided not to do anything about bob, the dishes or your email straight away.

This is a phenomenon called attention residue. It’s the idea that the shallower you study, the more fragmented your attention would be between all the tasks. The intensity of focus here has reduced, so to be able to produce the high quality of work needed for you to pass that exam, you will have to spend a lot more time studying. This is the struggle most students go through.

How to ‘Deep Work’?

Hopefully by now you can see why you’d be better off working in a state of undistracted concentration. It saves you time and the work you produce is of a higher quality.

In 1985, Bill Gates took 8 weeks to build the Operating System which changed the course of existence for Microsoft and made him over 100B$’s today. He did this in a cabin in complete isolation from everyone working in a state of deep work. That kind of quality of work just isn’t possible with shallow work. Even until today, Bill Gates continues to have think weeks where he isolates himself and completely disconnects. I can appreciate most students don’t have that kind of luxury and so the way we get around that is by developing a routine – this is the Rhythmic approach

That is, you schedule 1-4 hour blocks of deep work into your week. For me it’s everyday either at 9-12 or 2-5 depending on which block I’m free for based of my clinical rota. Every Sunday night, I check my calendar for the week ahead and I add these block in wherever I can. This creates a routine. Imagine without a routine like this, on a random afternoon after watching some tik toks you decide to stop and start revising. This switching of attention & focus will draw heavily from your finite willpower to be able to resist the urge to watch more tik toks. Attempts like this most often fail. On the other hand, if you implement a routine and schedule deep work blocks into your calendar, you require much less willpower to start and keep going. And so in the long run, your deep work attempts will succeed more often.

That is, you schedule 1-4 hour blocks of deep work into your week. For me it’s everyday either at 9-12 or 2-5 depending on which block I’m free for based of my clinical rota. Every Sunday night, I check my calendar for the week ahead and I add these block in wherever I can. This creates a routine. Imagine without a routine like this, on a random afternoon after watching some tik toks you decide to stop and start revising. This switching of attention & focus will draw heavily from your finite willpower to be able to resist the urge to watch more tik toks. Attempts like this most often fail. On the other hand, if you implement a routine and schedule deep work blocks into your calendar, you require much less willpower to start and keep going. And so in the long run, your deep work attempts will succeed more often.

So now let’s say it’s time for you to do some deep work. The main idea with deep work is that you want to be working at your maximum intensity of focus. And as mentioned before, the best and only way to do this is to create a distraction-free environment for yourself. The main things to consider are the location, making sure no one will interrupt your flow, knowing what you’re going to study, and finally removing sources of distraction like your phone. Now I’ll cover this in a lot more depth in the third video of the series where I’ll also give you ideas on how to remain distraction-free even when you HAVE TO use your laptop or phone for studying. Once you’ve started deep work, set your timer and aim to study for the scheduled amount of time.

Cal Newport says in the book that experts claim a novice can enter deep work for about an hour a day while experts can enter deep work and truly be intensely focussed for up to 4 hours. In his book he discusses the myelinated pathway where the longer you train yourself, the more myelin sheaths are made and so you can last even longer the next time you do it. In my short 3 years of experience entering a state of deep work, I found it takes a little while to build up the stamina and I’m averaging out about 3-hour sessions now but try it out for yourself to see how long you last.

I’m literally giving you the tip of the iceberg with this book, it honestly changed my life and everyone who’s read it says the same thing. I strongly recommend reading the full book and I’m going to leave a link for it and it’s audiobook in the description. Next week Zoh will talk to you about how to make the most of your deep work session using principles layed out in the book “make it stick”. So make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss it and ill see you soon, take care

Deep work book and audiobook link: https://amzn.to/3bos0dd

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