The Search for Deep Work

One of the hardest contemplations one may face in their professional life is deciding to spend two years going back to school to earn a master’s degree. Some people decide to jump right into graduate school after earning their bachelor’s degree, while others wait until their life is established – working a full-time job, raising children and paying bills. Once the decision is made, though, the hectic schedule of life will become an obstacle, so coming up with a plan to address the challenge is crucial to one’s success in becoming a master of their craft.

Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, presents a way for people, whether in graduate school or in the professional world, to acknowledge a state of mind that will help them focus and succeed in whatever they are trying to accomplish. The topic, as the title notes, is Deep Work, which Newport describes in his book as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.”

But how can one get fully engulfed into a state of deep thought to create deep and effective work, when distractions and technology are everywhere a person looks?

The advancement of technology is astonishing to watch, and those captivated by the show need to only get their hands on the latest gadgets to feel like they are part of the evolution. Take smartphones, for instance.

The original flip phone brought a coolness to the world that only members of the Star Trek fleet of the Enterprise had been able to experience prior. After its invention, people were able to go around and contact anyone they needed to, from practically anywhere. But that technology evolved, and eventually incorporated a camera, texting, social media and just about everything else you can do from a computer. Everywhere you look, people are on their phones.

Jane Brody, a writer for the New York Times, wrote an article for The Seattle Times in 2017 titled, How smartphone addiction is affecting our physical and mental health, and in it, she described a scenario where a toddler was at the park sitting in his or her stroller, playing on a tablet instead of taking in the surroundings. Like the toddler, it is not uncommon to see couples or friends having a meal together in a restaurant and staring at their phones instead of being fully engaged with each other. The need to have a phone within arms reach can be described as an addiction.

In fact, Kristen Duke, Adrian Ward, Ayelet Gneezy, Maarten Bos published the results from a study they conducted in an article titled, Having Your Smartphone Nearby Takes a Toll on Your Thinking (Even When It’s Silent and Facedown.) During the study, people were asked to complete a set of tasks with their phones one of three places: Either on their desk in front of them face down, in their pocket or in the other room. In all instances, the phones were turned off. The people who completed the tasks the best had their phones in the other room, while the people who did the worst had their phones face down in front of them.

Cal Newport suggests that for a person to create valuable output through deep work, they should set aside three to four hours a day, five days a week, of “uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration.” Doing so, he said will help people learn hard things quickly and help them produce at an elite level.

Pursuing a graduate degree is something that I have decided to do – even with a full-time job as a reporter for The Southampton Press. At times, my job is demanding, and even as I write this blog post, I am faced with being on call and reporting on an active fire. But with the knowledge of how to manage my time to ensure nearly 20 hours of deep thought, I am confident that I will succeed in my quest for a better me.

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