You might be transitioning from a hectic summer at home with the kids, or a colorful sabbatical out of the country. Or maybe you aren’t really transitioning at all, but have been leading presentations at conferences and professional development sessions all summer long.
In whatever workflow you find yourself leaving — lazy river style or white water rafting — the reality is that it is time to head back to school and get ready for some deep work.
So, what is deep work?
According to Cal Newport in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, deep work is “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.” In our 24-hour, always connected society, it can sometime be hard to make time for focused time to engage in challenging, thought-provoking work.
The classroom can be a reflection of the world —in its highest form and also its lowest. Students are plugged in all the time and social media has created habits of constant, instantaneous connectivity. Being connected and online provides universal access to vast amounts of information, however it may, as Newport argues, be created more distractions and less concentrated time to think deeply.
Here are 3 easy steps to developing a practice of deep work to get your brain ready to roll this school year.
1) Practice being bored.
Sounds funny, right? But boredom is a healthy state of mind for your brain to be in. Idle thinking engenders deeper emotional processing, higher conceptual thinking and opens doors for new, innovative thoughts that a constantly occupied mind tends to deflect. Rebuild the capacity of your boredom muscle by:
2) Block schedule your time.
Try scheduling chunks of time in your day dedicated to one specific task, like writing your class blog or reflection, reading, grading or brainstorming your next assignment. Start with a half hour of uninterrupted dedication to that one task, and grow into larger increments of time from there. Try really, really hard not to give in to distraction during this dedicated hour — but we give you permission to take a bathroom break here and there.
3) Prepare a physical space for your deep work.
Our environment can set us up for failure or success. If you know you have students that tend to hang in your classroom during lunch, scheduling your “deep work” time at your desk during the lunch hour might not be the best idea. You could be inviting a distraction. Instead, choose a time and place each day that you know you can depend on being left alone. Make sure it’s comfortable. Frame your favorite mantra in the space. Choose a chair you love that will make you feel comfortable and at home. Make sure the lighting is just right.
A runner doesn’t go from walking to running a marathon in a week. If you did, your body would take a brutal beating and shut down. The secret to big successes is little successes every day. Don’t try to jump into the new school year with too much expectation on yourself — take baby steps toward more sustained, deep work and you’ll surprise yourself where you’ll be by parent-teacher conferences.