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Ep203: Reduce Your Study Time in Nursing School with “Deep Work”

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I get it . . . you are stressed to the max trying to figure out how you are going to get everything done for nursing school this week . . .

  • 5 chapters to read
  • 6 care plans
  • Clinicals
  • Group project
  • 4 tests

It seems impossible to “get it all done”!

Let me ask you a question though: When was the last time you went more than 10 minutes without looking at your phone?  Checking your Snapchat or Instagram feed?  Changing the song on Pandora?

When was the last study session you had that lasted 2 hours without a single interruption?

The truth of the matter is, most of us SELDOM (if ever) spend highly focused stretched of time focused deeply on the assignments at hand.

In this episode I discuss the topic of “Deep Work” a term coined by Cal Newport in his book of the same name.

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Podcast Transcription

A topic that’s really important to me and I think is going to help you guys a lot in your studies. I’m going to try to make this short and make it brief, and give you some real concrete tips. They’re going to help you in your nursing school studies, and not really only that, but they’re going to help you in your life overall to have a more balanced life. I know even just saying that some people are cringing thinking that you can have balance in your life as a nursing student and as a nurse, but I think these tips are going to help you achieve more balance in your life, achieve more happiness while you’re in nursing school, and figure out how to really balance all those things of nursing school, work, family, and all of that.


The topic we’re going to talk about is something called deep work. Deep work was coined by Cal Newport who wrote a book by the same title. Cal Newport is a Computer Science professor at Georgetown University. He specializes in the theory of distributed algorithms, whatever that is. I don’t even really know. He got his PhD from MIT and his Bachelors from Dartmouth College and teaches in this idea of theoretical algorithms with computer science. What he did is he coined this term called deep work.


Let me read you basically what deep work is. He defines deep work as professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration, that push your cognitive abilities to their limits. On the flip-side of that, he defines shallow work as non-cognitively demanding logistical style tasks often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate. What I want to do today is I want to apply that idea of deep work to what we’re doing in nursing school.


To learn these new concepts, these new terms, these new ideas, these new theories, this new science of nursing, it requires deep work. It requires this distraction-free concentration that pushes our cognitive capabilities to their limit. To understand what’s happening here, to understand what we’re learning, we have to get to that zone of distraction-free learning. That really means much more than just putting your phone down or setting a timer for 15 minutes. I talked a little more about Pomodoro Technique, but this deep work requires much more than that. It requires you getting into this zone. The zone of getting your cognitive abilities pushed to their absolute max. That can be hard to do, but once we achieve deep work, we’re able to produce at an elite level.


We can still have this balanced life. You look at really high achievers in life, and they’re not necessarily completely unbalanced. Those people that really get to that point. You know, those people that are able to have a family. They’re able to have time. They’re healthy, they’re fit, but they also produce at a very high level. What he talks about here is that they do this by deep work. Whenever they do produce, whenever they get into this mode of production, they’re able to do it at such a high and deep level, they can do it much faster than other people who try to do it when time fits.


About 4 different ways that you can schedule deep work into your life. Monastic, bimodal, rhythmic, and journalistic. I think that the best 2 ways to get deep work into your life as a nursing student is going to either be what you refer to as bimodal or rhythmic. Basically what he’s saying here is bimodal means that you schedule long stretches of time for isolation and deep work where that’s days or weeks. I think that you can do it in smaller chunks of time, and that’s what the rhythmic is. What the rhythmic way of scheduling deep work is, it’s scheduling time every day to do deep work. Making it a habit.


The goal here is that you’re going to find … Look at your life. Look at our day to day schedule. Look at your weekly schedule. Look at your monthly schedule. Look at your schedule for the semester, and really look at, when do I have time, whether it’s 1 hour or 2 hours everyday where I can get into this deep work state. When we talk about deep work, I want you to think of it as the way you study. These are times that every day you can get to a very deep state of study. You turn Facebook off, you turn Instagram off, you turn Snap Chat off. Turn your phone off. Get it out of the room. Turn your email off. Go as far as letting everyone in your life know that I absolutely cannot be reached at this time of the day.


Then, you take that time, you use that time to really dive as deep as you can into your studies. You don’t use this time to do the ritualistic things; the things like care plans or things like that. You use this time to dive as deep as you can into heart failure or into anemias. To really get deep into these more complex cognitive things. You draw your diagrams, you make your charts, you make your graphs, and you get really, really deep into this stuff so that you start to understand it at a level deeper than you ever could before, deeper than you could with this distraction.


You’re not being interrupted by technology. You’re not being interrupted by other people or by other things. You’re really studying during these times. Everything else goes off. That’s that rhythmic thing. You say, “Every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I have this time scheduled from 7am to 9am where I got into this deep state where I have everything else shut off. There’s no sound around me. I got into a quiet space. My family, my friends know that this is when I have my most focused study time. No one can reach me. I’m not going respond.”


You pull out some paper, you pull out a book, and you study. I suggest that you draw images, you draw pictures. If you are drawing heart failure, you draw an anatomy model, and you draw out what’s happening with heart failure for this patient. You get just as completely deep as you can. He goes as far as saying that people who are high achievers of this deep work, they don’t even have public email addresses. He tells the story of J.K. Rowling when she was writing the last Harry Potter, that she went as far as renting out an entire hotel, and she wrote there. She stayed there, and she locked herself away so that she could produce at this very high level that was required of her to write the Harry Potter series.


What you really have to take away from all this is you have to realize that distraction is the destroyer of depth. Okay? Distraction is the destroyer of depth. For you to grasp these complex topics, learning human anatomy and physiology, learning pharmacology, learning all this stuff is very complex. No one is going to ever argue that. You have to start applying concepts of physics and chemistry and biology and anatomy to be able to understand how to be a nurse. To be able to compete or function as a member of a healthcare team in real role, you have to understand these things at a very deep role. You have to understand that distraction is the destroyer of depth.


If you want to get to a level that you understand these things as deep as you need to and as deep as I want you to understand these things, you have to understand that distractions are only going to hurt that. Now, of course it’s fine to have Pandora, it’s fine to have Snap Chat and all those things, but when it’s time to study, you have to allow yourself and create an environment for yourself to get a deep as you need to do. What I do and what I find to be very effective for me is, you know, I have 2 kids. I have a wife, I have 2 kids, I have a family. What works for me the best is to have routine.


Prior to get into this state of deep work, what works best for me is waking up before everybody wakes up. If I can wake up at 5:30, that’s best. It doesn’t always happen. I’m not saying I always do that, but when it does happen, I’ll wake up at 5:30, I’ll grab a glass of water, I’ll grab a coffee, something like that. Then, I’ll go into a quiet space in our home, a small space, nothing big. I’ll try to meditate or read positive affirmations, journal for a minute, and then I’ll pull out the computer, and I’ll get to a state where I start creating the courses that we teach you guys here at NRSNG.


For those just 2 hours, even just 2 hours of that, it really gets my day started off in the right path. I’ve already done something incredibly productive, and I know it’s going to be very helpful to people. I’ve focused my mind. I’ve honed my mind. I’ve done it before I look in my email. I never look at my email before I get into those states. I don’t look at my phone. I don’t even bring my phone with me. I have no music on. I really try to get into this state where I can really focus. That’s what really it is. What he says is to get to this state of deep work, is you have to embrace boredom. That sounds really weird, but you have to get yourself to this place where you’re okay with quiet. You’re okay with nothing happening around you, and that can really hard for all of us and for me included. There are some days where I’ll probably look at my phone 180 times, I don’t know, looking for distraction.


What he says is to get to this state of deep work, we have to be able to embrace boredom. All right, guys. What I really want you to take from this episode is to just really understand what deep work is. It’s our ability to get to this state of being able to produce at a very high level and being able to work distraction-free, and push ourselves to our cognitive capabilities to their limit. As we do that, we get better and better with this. I want you to understand what deep work is. I want you to see the value of it in your nursing education. As you allow yourself to get into these modes of deep work, you’re going to start achieving so much more. Your mind is going to start opening up, and you’re going to just be able to apply difficult concepts that you’re learning. I know that going to find more success.


I want you to try to look at your schedule this week, and schedule out 3 times that you can focus for 2 hours. Put your phone away, put your email away, put your laptop away, and dive into something that’s very complex without any sort of distraction whatsoever. Then, come out of that, and see how it works after a week. I promise this will help you guys. I want you guys to be highly effective nurses, and I really think this will help you. Guys, that’s really all I want to share with you today. I know this is a shorter episode, but I really think this is going to be valuable for you. I’m almost done with this book, and I highly recommend it.


If you want to learn more about this topic, it’s called deep work. Whether or not you decide to learn more about this topic, take this little bit from what we talked about and start to apply it in your life. I really think it will help you guys a lot. With that said, if you guys need additional help, if you want additional resources, you guys know where we are all over social media. You know how to get a hole of us. We want to help you guys. We want to see you succeed. As always, you can go over to nrsng.com. Get started with some of our cheat sheets. Get started with all the free podcast episodes, all the free articles and everything that are over there. We want you guys to succeed. We love you guys. We appreciate you being part of the NRSNG family. You guys know what time it is now. It’s time to go out and be your best self today. Happy nursing.


Date Published - Jun 26, 2016
Date Modified - Apr 17, 2019

Jon Haws RN

Written by Jon Haws RN

Jon Haws RN began his nursing career at a Level I Trauma ICU in DFW working as a code team nurse, charge nurse, and preceptor. Frustrated with the nursing education process, Jon started NRSNG in 2014 with a desire to provide tools and confidence to nursing students around the globe. When he's not busting out content for NRSNG, Jon enjoys spending time with his two kids and wife.


  1. Joelle Campbell

    Definitely going to try this technique as I’m studying for the NCLEX in the next two months. Distraction kills depth!

  2. polycarp

    Thank you so much.I’m applying this principle right away!

  3. Olivia Johansen

    LOVE this! Nursing school starts tomorrow and I am excited to try this deep work studying. It is so easy to have my phone next to me if my nursing school friends, parents, husband, etc need me but it is more important that I can focus when I need to focus and I know that is what they would want for me too. Definitely going to learn how to silence email notifications! That’s important! As well as learn to study without a laptop. It’s okay to study solely from the textbooks I spent hundreds on. Thanks for the podcast!!