How to develop stronger focus: “Deep Work”
In this post, I talk about a book which I think is essential for any university undergraduate and post-graduate student… and in my opinion, could even help hardcore researchers at the forefront of their respective subject specialism. This book is for those that want to overcome the distracted mind many of us suffer from, and overcome the toughest of intellectual challenges.
Deep Work is a technique talked about by Carl Newport, a non-fiction writer and computer science associate professor at Georgetown University. His book covers a technique of focus becoming increasingly scarce in a world where social media and emails are leading to shorter attention spans and more dangerously, distracted work.
I have included some of the key takeaways I got from the book below, but as with any book, I recommend you taking a read of it yourself as he offers some inspiring stories along with the explanations to inspire how you might want to apply the techniques. Also, I recommend the audiobook as I found I was able to get through this much quicker.
- You can only do 4 hours of deep work a day and that’s if you’re an expert. This will not be while you’re checking your phone or people-watching in the library. Instead, this intense focus will probably be early in the morning or late at night when everyone has gone home or you’re in the zone.
- You need to optimise technology to facilitate deep work e.g. I would turn my phone on Do Not Disturb for the morning during exams where not even notifications would show up on the screen. I strongly recommend learning how to turn your phone on do not disturb so that you cannot see pop-up notifications, with the exception of calls in case of emergencies.
- Signal to others when trying to undertake deep work e.g.:
- Wear Headphones and have Deep Work music like Deux Ex Ante, Ludocivo Einaudi, Alexis Ffrench, or Mozart depending on your taste.
- Shut the door for the duration of Deep Work whether it is 90 mins in the morning, or 3 x 1-hour sessions partitioned with breaks in-between.
- Exercise as a break instead of looking at your phone
- Schedule a run during intense revision days or some other form of exercise since exercise increases blood flow and hence the size of the hippocampus which is crucial for learning and memory.
- Have a goal for the session of Deep Work.
- Maintaining momentum through focusing on one broken down, sizeable target will massively boost focus during your deep work session.
- Remember that deep work leads to the greatest levels of success e.g. Carl Newport cites examples of his own work not to mention the invention of the semi-conductor and solar cell at MIT, which has utterly transformed solutions to critical problems faced in modern society.
- Also remember that society rewards deep work which is so scarce, yet this same society does not foster an environment that supports it.
- Finally, as with most things, deep work is more of a muscle that becomes easier with practice.
Whether you’re looking to pursue academia in the future, or like me, you’ll be finishing studies after graduation, you’ll probably face the challenge of writing your dissertation in your final year of university and this is where I believe Carl Newport can offer some invaluable insights for you so hopefully this book recommendation will help you in that way.