Sunday, July 28, 2019

Deep Work

The sun is shining through my windows.  The day is starting well.  I turn on my computer, and outlook starts.  The barrage of emails then piles into my inbox.  I methodically answer questions about internships, class selection, the bar exam, exam taking, and other student concerns.  As I finish my hour slog through email, my first student appointment comes in.  We talk about life and law school.  I finish the meeting and plan to work on my upcoming class.  After pulling up the class schedule, I start planning the next class period.  My phone vibrates (which also vibrates my watch).  I get a text message about the half-price deals at Top Golf this week.  I get back to thinking about my next class when my phone vibrates again.  This time a group text about a kids activity.  9 messages later, I am back to thinking about class.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see that my email box now has 12 emails.  3 of them can be immediately deleted, and 3 can be answered in 1 sentence.  The rest take more time, so I will let them sit for now.  Back to working on class, and a student needs to see me.  By the end of the day, my class exercise still isn't done.  Maybe tomorrow, or I may just do the same thing as last year.

Am I the only one that has this experience?  Probably not.  I am sure everyone has similar problems.  Technology is infiltrating every second of my day, so my day includes tons of small breaks.  The breaks cause me to lose focus, which in turn means I take longer to accomplish any task.  

The book Deep Work by Cal Newport addresses this topic.  He states that we are all so inundated with constant beeps and buzzes that our brains are being trained for only small tasks.  We are addicted to the immediate need to respond or help that we can't accomplish more difficult and meaningful tasks.  Deep work is when someone takes long uninterrupted time to contemplate a project.  Hours of preparation and thought to innovate.  Hours?  I hope I get double-digit uninterrupted minutes to work on a task.  His book is great at illustrating the problems with the constant interruptions and how societal breakthroughs are more difficult without high levels of focus.

Newport advocates for everyone to engage in deep work.  He concedes that most people can't spend 4-5 uninterrupted hours on a project every day.  However, we can only look at email at specific times.  Creating routines that eliminate distractions for set periods of time can help.  The goal is to not let anyone intrude on deep work time to enable quality thinking.  The more time, the more we can accomplish.

Our students could use this information as well.  I went to law school prior to smart phones, so I didn't have that distraction.  However, the internet was enticing.  One of the best things I did in law school was not connect my computer to the wifi my first 2 years.  When I was studying, I couldn't check email, browse facebook, or do anything online.  I read and briefed cases.  I would check email when I got home.  My focus during law school was probably my best focus ever.  Most people don't have the willpower to not use technology.  Putting phones in the other room or turning everything off is good.  Eliminate distractions to improve focus.

I am working on trying to block out more time during the day for focus.  Finding the time is difficult, but if I want to continually improve my programming, I need the time to think about it.  Just like I tell my students, I must intentionally create quality time.

(Steven Foster)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2019/07/deep-work.html

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