Engaging in Deep Work for Study


By Shanuka Kadupitiyage

Academics can be challenging, whatever age group or demographic you may be a part of. One of the biggest challenges that many students face in their academic life is finding ‘enough’ time to study.

But of course, asking someone if they have ‘enough’ time to study and keep up with classes is a trick question. It’s never enough, no matter where you are, and what you do. Especially if you’re following an academically challenging programme.

Many students have realised that instead of worrying about the duration they spend studying, they should be considering how effective each study session was for them. Which is where the concept of deep learning comes in.

Gaining in relevance

The concept was a popular topic in discussions on productivity and self-improvement, but has since gained exceptional interest after the publication of Cal Newport’s book; Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. The book has been a game-changer for many who bought it, hoping to find a better way to be more effective with their time.

In the book, Newport explains that thanks to the nature of our daily life in the modern day, we have fallen into a trap of engaging in ‘Shallow work,’ which he categorises as tasks that are “not cognitively demanding, logistical-type tasks that are often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” 

Shallow work is in fact everywhere. This is true for both the workplace and the study table. And more often than not, we aren’t placing ourselves in the deep work mindset while studying.

Of course, it’s not easy to do so. Distractions, exhaustion and the daily stresses of life can all inhibit the little capacity we sometimes might have to engage in deep work. And if you’re not studying a subject you’re inherently interested in, it makes the job even more difficult.

But it’s never in the easy things that success is found. Newport identified this, and points out that the ability to do deep work is becoming increasingly rare, and therefore increasing in demand. Needless to say, what better time to cultivate your ability for deep learning than while pursuing an education.

Have a game plan 

If you’re only beginning your journey into deep work (like me), improving this skill will require having a game plan for yourself. Much like a muscle, your ability to do deep work needs to be exercised and improved with time. And you’re not going to build muscle by overtraining or taking it easy too much.

A great technique that can help you get started is the pomodoro system, where work is compartmentalised into chunks of deep work with short breaks in between. Of course, there are other systems and methods for you to try out, and Newport prescrbes a few ideas as well to try out.

Of course, we have to identify what deep work is to be able to achieve it.

Deep work involves high impact, high intensity work with no distractions allowed. While in deep work, focus on tasks that will bring value to you and your future that will bring tangible results.

The right environment

Of course, having the right environment is crucial to be able to engage in deep learning effectively. That means finding a quiet, dedicated space for your work where you won’t be disturbed. Not only is it about avoiding distractions (like social media of course), it’s also about creating the ideal environment, be it music, the right drink, the right time of day and even the right company (or lack thereof).

Remember, it’s not an ‘I need to do this’ mindset. It is instead an ‘I am now doing this’ frame of mind. Once you realise that, everything falls into place, and you’re ready to take on the world.

Of course, there’s a lot more to be said about deep learning and what it can do to change your life. If you have the chance, I highly recommend you learn more about the concept and how you can make it a part of your life. I am also trying to follow the same.