“Hey Michael, if there’s one piece of advice that you could give to me as a fresh Year 12 student, what would it be?”
“No seriously, I’m already starting to panic and it has only been 3 weeks in.”
“I’m being dead set with you.”
“What on earth is deep work?”
In Year 12 we’re told that in order to achieve a “good” ATAR, whatever that might mean in your personal context, we need to be studying ridiculous amounts of hours everyday, drop all intensive extra-curricular activities, and kiss goodbye to social life. Why? Because it’s Year 12! It’s serious! Do you really think you have time for anything else?
“And that’s terrible advice. There is a very common mistake that threads together a majority of the Year 12 students that I’ve come across in my time as both a high-schooler and tutor. They’re wildly, wildly unproductive.”
With a high degree of confidence, I can assert that most senior high school students head straight to the library (or cafe) every time they plan on having a super productive study session. Oh, but they’ll never be alone because who wants to go on a solo trip down study lane on a beautiful Saturday morning? Let’s ask our good friend Jane to come along too. And that marks the start of havoc.
Before you throw in the white flag and surrender to the tortures of Year 12 study, please understand that it doesn’t have to be as painful and mournful as people make it out to be.
“The only reason that it seems like the mountain of work is insurmountable is because you spend 80% of your time in a multi-tasking, hyper-distracted, pretending-to-study state – what Dale Carnegie (a bestselling author of the book “Deep Work”) describes as shallow work.”
Just rewind back to the last time you tried to study. If you’re like most of your high school peers, you were probably active on Facebook juggling between 3 conversations on messenger, checking out your friend’s addictive Instagram story featuring poached eggs which they’ve eaten for the 300th time this year, and accidentally overhearing the epic conversation going on behind you about the recent breakup someone went through. And of course, on top of all that, being the diligent Year 12 student that you are, you have your Chemistry notes laid out in front of you as you try to digest the all-too-complicated theory of conductometry titration curves.
Year 12s, please listen to this piece of advice I’m about to give you if you’re serious about building the right habits and shaving away hours of unproductive time spent mindlessly studying. Most of us, myself being a victim, are ‘shallow workers’. We enjoy the comfort of visible busyness as a proxy for real productivity. We enjoy non-cognitively demanding tasks such as robotically typing out notes from a textbook to feel accomplished. But that just doesn’t cut it and we have to be brutally honest with ourselves.
“So what’s the advice then hot shot?”
I said it at the start of this article and I’ll say it again: Deep work.
Deep work is described as performing activities in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skills, and are hard to replicate.
“Decades of research all allude to the same conclusion that single-tasking in a state of intense focus for extended periods of time will maximise your productive output. Always.”
Just earlier this year, I was sharing this exact piece of advice to my class. The week after, I had a student come up to me and tell me that he went home, put his phone in the living room, locked his door, and completely zoned in to his work. Funnily enough, when he finished his essay and felt the stress of hunger overtake him, he walked out ready for dinner just to find out that his entire family was already asleep. Turns out, it was already 10 pm and he smashed out 3 hours of non-stop studying.
“Was it productive?”
“No joke, it was the most work I’ve ever done in 3 hours.”
There’s a whole plethora of advice floating around when it comes to Year 12 students because everyone suddenly seems to be an expert (even your good mate Jake). And we’ve heard it all before: make a timetable, write notes, do lots of past papers, balance your life… the list goes on. But I can confidently say that none of this advice will bear any fruit if you don’t start with the habit of deep work.
So here are the two key rules that I want you to adhere to the next time you commit to a study session:
Quit social media (by quit I mean log out of all social media platforms and turn your phone to “Do Not Disturb”)
Sit in a quiet and private space (either you are completely alone, or at least sufficiently bounded)
It’s really that simple. Obsessively following these two rules every time you study will help you develop a strong deep work habit and move beyond good intentions to real, functional routines and rituals so that you minimize the amount of limited willpower you have necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.
By now you might be thinking: “If it’s really that easy, then why isn’t everyone doing it?”
Remember the student that I mentioned to you earlier who self proclaimed he had the most productive 3 hours in his life when he listened to my advice and entered a state of deep work? The other, objectively sadder, half of the story is that he basically never did it again after that.
“What? How does that make any sense?”
I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you. The fact of the matter is that living and working deeply is a massive pain in the backside. Especially for us 21st century social bees who are constantly living in a world of connectivity and can’t bear a single moment’s worth of boredom.
To enter a state of deep work, you need to constantly fight distractions, spend less time on social media and the internet, and be completely focused on the single piece of study material at hand. It takes grit. And for most of us, it’s just too much – the comforts of artificial busyness is far too tempting.
Deep work is just like any skill that we develop in life. You need to nurture it overtime, not overnight. But I promise that as you continue to practice it, your concentration and energy will grow from 30 minutes to an hour, and an hour to two, and that’s when you will reap all the benefits. And here’s a note of comfort. This isn’t some encrypted, unfamiliar secret that has been engraved in the manuscripts of a tribe somewhere in the depths of the Australian outback. You know it already. Heck, you’ve probably done it once or twice in the past and can personally attest to the productive magic it sprinkles over you. All you have to do now is take it a step further and make it the ONLY way you study.
Yes, that means the next time you head to the library you’re sitting independently, away from your friends. Yes, that means you have to suffer the all-too-shameful backlash of being a “bad responder” on social media. But practicing deep work will boost your productivity so much that you’ll have all the hours in the world to enjoy the things you love, guilt-free.
If you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back. Then pull out your timer app and set a reminder to read this blog again in a week’s time. It’s not easy but I promise it’s absolutely the best advice I can give to you as a Year 12 student.
Best of luck!
Loved this ‘Deep Work’ article? All our HSC mentors at Hero Education are here to teach you more than just syllabus content. Every week in class, we spend a small portion at the end of the lesson giving you tips and tricks to support you through your Year 11 & 12 journey. We pride ourselves in being able to provide you with opportunities, advice and mentorship that can’t be found anywhere else. Click the button below to check out how classes at Hero Education are run, and book your 2-week trial today. If we’re not Hero material, you pay zero!