The Habitual Ritual of Studying That Works For Me

Trying to find a way to study without any sort of distractions is challenging, but it can be done.

The onslaught of readings this semester that smashed the habit of looking at my phone because it contained every answer and status update from people I know at my fingertips, have only continued this week, but interestingly enough, it is all beginning to make sense.

In order to take on this mountain called graduate school, sacrifices need to be made and new habits need to be formed before taking the first, then second and step that comes after on this journey.

The biggest habit is being able to get the mindset into a state that deep work can occur.

All week long, I report and write about happenings in the Town of Southampton, and at times, the work goes hours into the night after leaving the office.

Over the past few weeks, I have slowly been taking some of that time back so that I can focus on school work and life outside of my job; it’s a sacrifice, but the benefits will come.

The time has already been designated for other things pertaining to school, whether for reading the weekly articles or hammering the keys to push out blogs.

When Donald Knuth — who is famous for many innovations in computer science, including the development of a rigorous approach to analyzing algorithm performance — takes time to seek deep work, he does so using the Monastic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling (Newport, 2016).

Rather than use email to get messages from people, he gives them a physical address, and the list of those with the address is short. He also minimizes his shallow obligations.

“If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels,” Knuth said (Newport, 2016). “But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.”

To me, the monostatic philosophy seems a bit extreme for my lifestyle, and while there are a handful of other philosophies that people use, I choose the one that is mixed between the ritualistic and journalistic philosophies.

As a journalist, I have the ability to turn on a switch and just start writing. Knowing I have a deadline, procrastination comes into play severely, but somehow I always seem to get the work done.

Just this week, I had to push out a 3,000-word story in one day. During that day, I transcribed two-thirds of a two hour meeting, organized the material and vomited the words in a single run – my editors loved the story.

Newport’s uncle, John Paul Newport shared a summer cottage with Walter Isaacson, a journalist with Time magazine in the 1980s. Newport said his uncle shared a story that Isaacson would retreat from socializing, go up to his room and type away on his story (Newport, 2016).

Newport describes the Journalistic Philosophy as one “in which you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule, the journalist philosophy” (Newport, 2016).

“Journalists, like Walter Isaacson, are trained to shift into a writing mode on a moment’s notice, as is required by the deadline-driven nature of their profession,” he said. “This habit also requires a sense of confidence in your abilities—a conviction that what you’re doing is important and will succeed.”

The other philosophy I play by is ritualize, which Newport suggests is when a person builds rituals to study.

When I study, my ritual is to put headphones on and play classical music, which puts my mind at ease. I also like to find a quiet place, whether it is at the library down the street from my house or the one up island at Stony Brook University – I am convinced the stacks on the second floor is the quietest room on all of Long Island.

My ritual also includes setting a timer for two hours so that I can ensure myself a break, purchasing two sugar-free Monster energy drinks, laying my notes all over the place and putting my phone where I cannot see it.

The latter is the most important piece of my puzzle because the phone is my biggest distraction.

Adam Greenfield gave a nearly complete breakdown of the smartphone in a bit he did in 2017 called The Sociology of the Smartphone. He begins the bit by saying,

“The are the last thing we look at before sleep each night, and the first thing we reach for upon waking up” (Greenfield, 2017).

Nothing could be more true, but those glances at the inanimate object continue all day long.

Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen wrote Remedies for the Distracted Mind for Behavioral Scientist in 2018, and they hit on an important aspect regarding distractions.

“Research showing that a large portion of our interruptions come not from outside alerts but from internal pulls to check in with our virtual world – it’s no wonder why we all struggle to stay focused” (Gazzaley & Rosen, 2018).

There are so many distractions around me, and taking the time to just focus on school work, whether it is one hour or four hours a day, distraction-free, is how I am going to succeed.

I am not sure whether or not I actually hit a state of deep work, but I am able to focus on nothing but the school work during these periods of time.

But when I’m done, I completely shut down — and that goes for my job as well.

Newport said giving yourself downtimeaids insights,” “helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply,” and “replaces work that evening that is usually not that important.

Instead of working, I find myself doing mindless things, like playing video games or watching television.

There are other times, like this morning, when I go fishing. Although I did not catch anything, just being near the largest body of energy on the planet is rejuvenating enough.


References:

Newport, C. (2016). Deep work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world.

Greenfield, A. (2017) A Sociology of the Smartphone. Retrieved September 16, 2019, from https://longreads.com/2017/06/13/a-sociology-of-the-smartphone/ 

Gazzaley, A. and Rosen, L. D. (2018) Remedies for the Distracted Mind – Behavioral Scientist. Retrieved September 17, 2019, from https://behavioralscientist.org/remedies-distracted-mind/

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