During the past couple of months I have been thinking and reading about deep work. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, it is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task (1). Deep work helps create neuron pathways in the brain, which when exercised can create new understanding and ability in this particular domain. In other words, in order to learn hard things one must focus without distractions for a period of time. This is not easy in our fast-paced world. I came across this fun short video from the BBC; it shows one example of how the iGen is creating environments for themselves that help one complete deep work. I love this solution as it provides not only a distraction-free environment but also opportunity for social contact and stretch breaks as well:)
This summer I have been reading Cal Newport’s Book called “Digital Minimalism.” (He also wrote a book called Deep Work.) In Digital Minimalism one of his main idea is that technology should work for you and not the other way around. He suggests a thoughtful way of looking at the apps on your smart phone and considering which ones bring positive benefits into your life and how to structure usage so these apps or websites do not encroach on your life by consuming your attention and time. I liked the idea that my smart phone would be a tool that enriches my life without consuming my time and attention. One small take-away that I can easily implement and that I did not even consider until reading his book is that I have been using my phone as a watch. Newport points out that each time I check my phone to find out the time, I get sucked into checking other apps whereby distracting me from those around me at the present time. NewPort also suggests we reclaim our leisure time and really think about what we want out of this time, maybe learning a new skill. My favorite part of the book was the conclusion and also the summaries of other books. He starts with Henry David Thoreau and the importance of quiet time alone to process, reflect and gain new insight into learning and ones’ own life. Then he moves on to Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation and many other authors I am now intrigued to read.
A recent blog post caught my eye – the blogger had read Newport’s book and tried what he suggested. The blogger took a month break from screens and wrote this blog post about her experience. What I loved about (the author) Tsh Oxenreider’s article was how she noticed both immediate and longer term benefits in her life. I could relate to her experience as a parent where I have moments when I am playing or reading to my children and I will check or answer emails or texts which could wait, slipping into not being presence to those with me in the moment. Awareness has helped me fight the reaction to respond immediately.
I do believe that at school, college and beyond we are asking our students to do deep work that is hard. Changing neurons pathways is not something that people can do while attending to other things. Students with ADD, ADHD and/or learning disabilities have to work even harder to do the deep work of learning novel information. Being a parent of one such student I know first-hand how much effort and dedication this takes on the learner’s part. I also recognize the positive and powerful role technology will play in helping my child to access curriculum and share their learning. I would love to close with this interesting article written from the perspective of a college professor who teaches about the theory and practice of social media. Love to hear what you think…