Learning to Lead from the Inside Out: Productivity Hack – Deep Learning

In Aspen's doctoral programs, Dr. Zimmerman lectures on deep learning and on being intentional with how you spend your time. For this post, Dr. Z gives a general outline of that lecture and provides some insight into Cam Newport’s bestselling book called Deep Work. 

Productivity Hack- Deep Learning - a woman sitting at her desk working hard

Deep work

As students and busy professionals, we are all saturated with so many minor tasks like checking emails and social networks – watch the reel, get a snack, make the bed, etc. 

Deep Work, Newport is trying to instill the idea of working in blocks of time when you are most productive, away from all the distractions. This means identifying a time during the day when you are fresh and full of thought and can concentrate. This may be early in the morning or late at night, depending on your style. For me, it is early, early in the morning. I organize the day, do my reading, engage in professional development. It feels like I get more done in a 2-3-hour period than I did sitting at my desk from 9 to 5 consistently being distracted by emails, social media, and co-workers. 

Why is deep work so valuable?

Have you ever been in the zone? When you are so deep in concentration that you lose track of time, and before you know it, the task is done? Nothing else mattered during that time, and no one could stop you from completing this task. That should be your goal every day regarding your critical projects. Being in the zone only lasts a few hours, so you must select the right time to work deep.  

There are rules associated with deep work that Newport discusses.

  1. Work deeply – this means you must fully engage in what you are doing. Turn off all social media, email, and phones. It will just be you and your project for a set amount of time. 
  2. You will be tempted to check your email – don’t. We have been trained to jump at the first chance available when we hear the ping of an email. Don’t. Embrace the boredom and do not feel that you are not being productive. You are being more productive and practicing willpower, discipline, and time management. 
  3. Here is a controversial rule (but I understand his point) – quit social media. We have become conditioned to endlessly scroll through newsfeeds, which can be a big waste of time. What value do you get from social media besides wasting time and being entertained by a cat video? If you cannot quit social media, then turn it off for most of the day, and when you finish your work, turn it back on and use it as an escape if needed. Do you really need Facebook, Insta, TikTok, Snap, and Twitter?
  4. Analyze the tasks that take up your time. For tasks that are unproductive –– postpone or cancel if they are a waste of time. Answer emails later in the day or when your mind is reenergized. These activities do not require you to be on your A-game and are considered low-value activities. 

I use the Finisher’s Journal, which allows you to schedule your deep learning. (You can Google that if you like.)  

Deep work takes time, patience, and commitment. It is a valuable tool, and your productivity will skyrocket. If you want more information on Deep Work, check out Cam Newport’s book. 

Next week

 Dr. Z discusses the Individual Development Plan (IDP) which is a tool that leaders use in corporate America and beyond to establish a talent development program. 

Dr. Daniel Zimmerman is the Dean of the School of Business and Technology at Aspen University. He is also an external consultant and international professor of management and organizational development. He resides in Illinois with his wife, three boys, and three cats. Dr. Zimmerman can be reached at daniel.zimmerman@aspen.edu.

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