Welcome to Episode 8 of the CPA Exam Experience podcast from SuperfastCPA. I’m Nate, and today, we’re going to talk about “deep work” and the CPA study process.
Based on the book “Deep Work” by Cal Newport
The book is from 2016. As I read this, though, and went looking back through it. This is so directly applicable to the CPA study process, hence why I’m covering it in this kind of detail. And we will leave a lot of the book out because, you know, it’s a full sized book and we’re going to shorten this down to however long this takes, 10 or 15 or 20 minutes.
This Episode Covers:
- deep work versus shallow work, and the difference
- The four different types of deep work and how to apply them to your CPA study process, and then the one type that doesn’t really apply
- how to identify and achieve your “BPO”
- the secrets of making “deep work” actually work
- how to be extremely productive when it counts
- why you should set a stop time each day or a “recharge time”
- “Parkinson’s Law”, and how that applies to CPA study
- a few other tidbits from the book that apply to CPA study for our purposes
Welcome to Episode 8 of the CPA Exam Experience podcast from SuperfastCPA. I’m Nate, and today, we’re going to talk about “deep work” and the CPA study process. So what we’re going to cover this is based on the book Deep Work by Cal Newport. And as I read this, I mean, I read this a while ago.
The book is from 2016. As I read this, though, and went looking back through it. This is so directly applicable to the CPA study process, hence why I’m covering it in this kind of detail. And we will leave a lot of the book out because, you know, it’s a full sized book and we’re going to shorten this down to however long this takes, 10 or 15 or 20 minutes. So what we’re going to cover is deep work versus shallow work. And the difference. The four different types of deep work and how to apply them to your CPA study process. And then the one type that doesn’t really apply.
We’re going to identify or we’re going to cover how to identify and achieve your BPO.
We will talk about the secrets of making deep work, actually work and then how to be extremely productive when it counts. Again, specifically to your daily C.P.A study process. We’ll also cover why you should set a stop time each day or a recharge time. And we’ll talk about that.
We will cover a thing called Parkinson’s Law, how that applies to C.P.A study. And then a few other tidbits from the book that apply to C.P.A study for our purposes. So this is the book, Deep Work by Cal Newport. He is a professor and an author. He’s written several books. Another one of his books that is very, very good that you need to listen to or read both of these books when you’re done with the CPA study process. The other book is called So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
And then, of course, the book we’re covering today, deep work.
So one quote from his book, Deep Work, “The difference between expert performers and normal adults reflects a lifelong period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”.
Now, you don’t need to dedicate a lifelong effort to passing the CPA exams, but I think you get the point. A dedicated, deliberate effort to performance in a specific domain. That is very clearly what we’re trying to do with the CPA study process. So we will start at the top.
So deep work defined.
“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.” And I think you would agree that especially certain lessons in the CPA material, tests your, or pushes your cognitive limit.
So shallow work would be non-cognitively demanding or logistical style tasks often performed while distracted. Now another thing that is, this is just important to be aware of or think about – I guess throughout your whole life, as he claims in the book, that if you spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness, so constantly kind of multitasking, never being deeply focused on one demanding task, you can permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work. So by focusing this is another direct quote, by focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant circuit to fire again and again. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called a oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin around the neurons in the circuits, effectively cementing the skill. So he’s a PhD, so we’ll just take his word on what that means. I’m pretty sure what he means is it’s just being solidified into your actual memory and your realm of understanding, to where you kind of deeply understand whatever it is you’re trying to learn. He mentions it being repetitive, so performing this act of deep work over and over.
And that is one of the main tenants or concepts that I talk about constantly is repetition going through questions constantly, always immersing yourself in the, in the material. So you have your main study session the mornings and then the whole idea of mini sessions. Is this constant rereview you’re reading the review notes from start to finish over and over. You’re listening to the audio notes whenever you can. And then you’re taking mini quizzes. So you’re just constantly rehashing and re-performing or re-reviewing the information that you’re trying to learn versus the normal approach where you just go through one lesson or one lesson at a time and you don’t look back at anything until your final review. And as we all know, that approach results in the 50 percent fail rates. So four deep work strategies, this is kind of how he defines the four different ways of performing deep work. You have the monastic approach. I think he’s referring to a monastery in that word that would be something like going to a cabin in the woods and not coming back until you’ve written your book or whatever your big task was that you were going to the cabin for. So that approach doesn’t really apply, the second approach is the bimodal approach. This is where you go into lockdown for maybe a four, six, four to six hour period each day. Isolate completely from anyone else or other distractions. And you’re spending this four to six hours on your deep work for the day and then you’re free to do whatever else you have going on or you go to those low priority kind of urgent tasks. After you’ve performed your deep work session, so we’re trying to do this with the CPA study with that two hour main session in the morning. And then on the weekends, this is almost exactly what I recommend. On Saturdays and Sundays, you want to aim for a four to six hour session. And like the other days of the week, you want to do that first thing. I mean, ideally you lock yourself away from anyone else in your house or your apartment. And that’s all you do is this four to six hours. Then you emerge from your big session and you do whatever else you want to do on those two days Saturday and Sunday. But if you prioritize it, you do that very first thing, you have performed a very high value task and you feel great about yourself that you were really productive. You got a lot of things done and then you just enjoy the rest of those two days and then you’re back to the grind on Monday. The second approach, or, sorry, the third approach is the rhythmic approach. So you chunk your deep work into time blocks to kind of fit it in with whatever else you need to do that day. Now, this this is basically, I mean, to me a different way of saying the bimodal approach. I mean, I guess it’s, you’re… you’re trying to chunk your deep work into maybe one or two hour sessions and fit several of those in throughout the day. This is also tightly related to the SuperfastCPA study approach, the two hour main session in the morning, the mini sessions all throughout the rest of your day. The fourth approach is the journalistic approach. And again, this is just kind of describing this in a different way. You dedicate any unexpected free time to deep work. Now that idea is directly or exactly what I’m always preaching about with the mini sessions. Any unexpected free time that pops up throughout your day, even as small as like three to five minutes, you pull out your phone, you read the review notes for a few minutes or you take a few mini quizzes. So when you are diligent about doing that. Day after day, it makes an absolutely huge difference in your retention and understanding. You just start to deeply understand these concepts you’re going over and you know, he, he mentions that same idea over and over in the book. It’s that this repetition of this kind of deep focus and just reviewing what you’re trying to learn over and over is so powerful. So the next big idea is to identify a big picture outcome. And so he he’s talking more about these abstract things that you’re trying to identify what’s important in your life and you identify a big picture outcome for each of those things. And I mean, you can do this, too, with whatever it is, your work goals, what you want to accomplish over the next year in your career, which again would right now would come back to the first thing you want to do is pass your CPA exams, but you might apply it to your relationships, whether that’s with a significant other or with your kids, your family life, whatever it is. For our purposes, that outcome is very defined. You want to pass your CPA exams and as an accounting professional, it’s the single highest value thing that you can do for your career. I mean, especially at this point in your career, as soon as possible. There’s no better time than today. You fast track this to being your number one priority and you just get these done. Once you’ve identified the big picture outcome, you would think through each task tool or activity that you spend time on each day and evaluate if it is helping you achieve that goal or not. And if it’s not, you stop using or doing that tool task or activity. Now, in the book, he talks about this test to kind of, or an experiment to run on yourself for 30 days for whether or not you should give up a certain social media service or not.
And I don’t mean a certain one. I mean, he means doing this with all of the different ones that you might use, whether it’s Tik Tok or Instagram or Reddit or or whatever.
But what you should do, which again is something I talk about all the time, is you should give those things up for the most part for a few months while you pass these exams. So again, instead of when you walk across the office, you’re walking to the bathroom or at the end of your lunch break instead of scrolling through Instagram. You switch that for a few months, just a few months with reading review notes or taking quizzes on your phone. That will make it much, much easier and more likely that you pass each section. You avoid failing sections when you’re constantly just, every spare second you have, you’re dedicating it to the big picture outcome that you’re trying to achieve at the time, which again, for us or for you right now is passing your CPA exams. So then you would think through each segment of your day and think, OK, how do you actually use your phone when you are in your car? Do you listen to music or do you listen to audio notes? I mean, how much TV do you watch in the evenings? Could you take some of that time and go to bed earlier so you can wake up earlier and do your main session in the morning? Things like that. You have to be willing to rearrange and optimize all of your time based on this big picture outcome. One thing you can do is you might not even be aware of how much time you’re spending on the different apps on your phone. Check your screen time report and you can go into it specifically and look at it unlike a weekly basis or break it down, you know, and it was just tell you, you spent 10 hours this week on Reddit.
All right. Now getting down to work to learn hard things quickly, you must focus intently without distractions. So that’s a direct quote from the book. To preface this now, I’m talking about the, your main study session each day when you go to sit down and study. It is critical that you get straight to work. You eliminate distractions and you don’t allow yourself to be distracted during that session. Now, especially if you’re going to follow the approach we teach to our customers, where your main session each day is only two hours long. If you’re only studying for two hours, you cannot afford distractions. You have to make the most of every minute of those two hours. So to do that, make yourself hard to reach. Turn off notifications of all kinds. Whether that’s, if you have desktop notifications, you can turn those off. Go into do not disturb mode on your computer, on your phone. The best thing that I’ve found with my phone when I really need to get something done… Even if you have notifications turned off, we are so programed to like reach over and press the lock screen button constantly to just see if something, if we’ve gotten a notification. You know, even if you’re on, do not disturb. Or at least I do. As a matter of fact, this is how I work, the first like four or five hours of each day. I come in here, into the office, I will set my phone across the room.
And so that’s what you should do for your main session. He also talks about working in a quiet place, working at a quiet time. Again, I’ve been saying this since the beginning. Studying in the mornings, early in the morning automatically accomplishes all these things. I mean, you don’t have to go to the public library and rent out a room to find a quiet spot. When you wake up two hours before everyone else in your house, this is all taken care of for you. It’s so much easier to be focused. Your brain is at its peak. You know, you just woke up from sleeping, ideally. It’s just the best time in every respect to do your main study session. Then he also talks about within these multiple hour periods of deep work, you want to work in chunks with tiny breaks in between.
So this is something I’ve also been teaching our customers for years. So for every hour that you have to sit and study, you want to work in little chunks with little breaks. So, in the morning for example, you have the two hour main session: you’re going to do 50 minutes on and then 10 minutes off. So again, if you set your phone across the room like I recommend, anything can wait for 50 minutes. So you turn off all notifications, you put your phone across the room, you won’t be responding to any calls or texts, but anything can wait for 50 minutes. So you have 50 minutes where you just focus on your review course – the lesson in front of you, you don’t let your mind go anywhere else except for what you have in front of you. And then you take 10 minutes fully away from your desk, walk away from your computer, spend 10 minutes going to the bathroom, getting a drink of water, looking at your phone, responding to anything critical. And then within 10 minutes, you’re back on the clock for the last 50 minutes of your morning session. And it’s just so much easier when you have a format like that to stay focused and just to know that, OK, I can just focus on this. I will forget about everything else for 50 minutes and I can look at it after that. Deal with whatever it is, send a text back, whatever. And then I’m back on for 50 minutes. You did two of those in the morning and you’re done for the day with your review course. Everything else would be the mini sessions. Again on the weekends, you want to try for four to six hours of this uninterrupted study. And we already said this, shut off or hide any kind of notifications. Put your phone across the room.
Now, here’s another idea that he talks about.
I didn’t necessarily, well, I did kind of do this when I was studying. I didn’t think of it in this way at the time. But he talks about stopping at the same time each day.
So he’s referring to work. And what he’s saying is, you pick a time where you will be done with your work for the day period so that you can be present with your family, with your kids, you know, whatever it is, or even to just recharge on your own. There is value in this idea.
Now, this this might seem like it goes against what I’m always harping on, to just be constantly studying on your phone once you’re done with your main session. But there is a lot of value in this idea, mostly for your relationships. You know, you don’t want to fracture during this process. But for example, maybe you set a rule that from 7 to 9 p.m., you’re home from work. You’ve done your main session in the morning, you’ve done your mini sessions all day, 7 to 9 p.m. You have dinner, you’re 100 percent present for your family, your significant other whatever the situation is, and the benefit of this, you treat this as religiously as you treat your morning session. And when you do that, you don’t let that door open in your mind of like, oh, I’m so tired, I can’t get up and do my morning session. I just, I’ll just fit it in later today. When you don’t have that option, it just helps you prioritize your CPA study at the time when it should happen. Again, ideally very first thing in the morning. So you, when you have your time kind of divvied up in this way, and you’re going to take take it serious that these, this part of the day is for this this part of the day is for this. You have those segmented. It helps you maintain your rituals or your routines that you want to have in place to move towards your goal. So Parkinson’s law, he talks about this in the book, Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law. It’s just the idea that any task expands to fill the time available for its completion. What he’s talking about is you should have a very defined time for when you will do your main session each day. Again, if you leave it open ended. If you even have that door open in your head mentally, like just I’m I’m tired. I don’t feel like it. I just I can do it another time. Like just today, I’ll do it after work. It’s very likely that that just won’t happen. What he’s talking about is having a very defined time for when you will do your deep work each day and you try to stick to that same time, same place.
And it just works better that way. I think that’s obvious.
You also want to remember, and he talks about this in the book that will power each day is finite. You only have so much capacity to will yourself to do something, you know, that’s highly productive. But it’s one of those things that takes a lot of mental time and energy. Again, that’s just another reason why studying in the morning works so much better. Now, a few words on this. He talks about rituals in the book. I’ve talked about this for years. OK. So the key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration. That’s just a more profound or eloquent way of saying what I’ve been saying this whole time.
Something becomes a ritual by doing it at the same time each day and in the same place. And it can become something that you look forward to and enjoy. So he talks about how satisfying it is to do this deep work on a daily and then weekly basis and the kind of just leaps and bounds of progress that you will make when you dedicate yourself to this process of deep learning. And it’s also something I’ve been I say a lot as you can get to where you, you actually kind of look forward to your daily main study sessions because it’s very enjoyable to make progress. The next thing you can do to just help kind of groove this whole thing, this process into a daily ritual. You want to keep your study area clean and tidy because it’s very soothing to come in and sit down at a just a neat and tidy workspace, but you never want to spend your study time doing it. When you just have those two precious hours in the morning, you don’t want to spend any time doing anything else. So make sure that it’s ready beforehand. A good thing to do is… And things kind of happen, you end up having your calculator, scratch paper everywhere as the week goes by. So spend each weekend just retouching it, re-cleaning it up before Monday starts. Getting your study process down to a science is the number one way, to get to the point where you can enjoy the study process because it’s very motivating to make progress each day. And I’ve talked so much about this. I won’t go into all that right now. But on the other hand, the fastest way to start procrastinating and really dreading the study process is when you just feel like you’re sitting down and wasting two to four hours at a time because you’re just spinning your wheels constantly getting stuck. And that’s because you don’t have a specific process for breaking down each lesson and just moving through it in a systematic way. The SuperfastCPA approach a few words on this. What we teach our customers is how to have a two hour main study session. When you do this right, it’s much more effective than someone studying four to five hours the normal way. And there’s a bunch of factors that go into that and we explain that on the training. Then what you do is you use study supplements on your phone all throughout the rest of your day, review notes, audio notes, taking quizzes. To get a free overview of our process. You can go to superfastcpa.com/training or you can just text PASSNOW one word, to 44222.
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So to recap what we talked about, view and treat your CPA study as deep work, because at this point in your career, I mean, it doesn’t matter if you’re 10 years out of school or you’re barely out of school. If you’re working on the CPA exams, if you’re at that point, wherever it is on your timeline, this is now the most valuable thing that you can do for your career. So treat it as this deep work, deeply important work. Make a two hour main session in the morning your top priority, four to six hours on the weekends, eliminate distractions during this morning session, eliminate all distractions during this morning session. Be intentional with each part of your day waking up on time, doing the mini sessions instead of social media or other time wasters throughout your day. Stopping at the same time each day, have a recharge session or be fully present. When you follow this approach like we recommend it two hours early in the morning. That’s your main session. You do your mini sessions throughout the day, you get home from work having done like four to six very quality hours of CPA study without having had to set aside an entire four to six hours at one time. And by the time you get home from work, you’ve accomplished a lot. You can go into this recharge period, maybe do it for three or four hours, and then it’s never a bad idea while you’re trying to fall asleep to keep doing some mini quizzes or reading review notes. But that main evening portion where you’ve gotten home from work. Try to be fully present and whatever it is you want to do, your hobbies, playing Madden, just recharge, relax and get ready for the next day. Pretend you’re a monk for a few months and that your gospel is the CPA material. When you treat it like this as like, a religious thing, you’re gonna do these things every day no matter what. It becomes easier because you’re making progress faster. You’ll get better results. It’s more motivating. And, that all just kind of snowballs into you passing your sections faster and avoiding failing sections. So I hope you found this episode useful if you did share it with someone else who is working on their CPA exams. Share the podcast. That’s a lot of really good free information on just improving on the study process itself. And hopefully it’s kind of motivating to you to hear how you can treat your time more effectively and get more done in less time. So again, thanks for watching and watch for the next episode.