[Book] Deep work

Deep work is rare

  • Least law of resistance: people tend to find the easies path to get things done. Instead of use deep thinking, instant email and message make their life easier to find the answer.
  • Measuring productivity of knowledge worker is hard
  • Busyness is used as a proxy for productivity

[Book] How to be a Straight A student

Recently I have been reading the book How to be a Straight A Student by Cal Newport. This is an old book published in 2006 and I remembered reading the Chinese version when I was in  secondary school. I remember the red cover, and the lively tone, and it was very inspiring to me. But now I can’t remember a word since that was more than 10 years ago.

I was reminded of this book by a Youtube video and I thought it’s a good time to review it. I just studied my postgraduate study, and unfortunately since I have been working for a few years after my university, I have unlearned a lot of learning skill. The first year in PhD was not easy and I am constantly catching up with all assignments and deadlines. There are a few struggles for me: 1. emotionally it was hard since I am so far (7-8 hours time difference) away from my friends and family; 2. mathematics is hard, especially a physics graduate like me; 3. finding the rhythm in PhD life is hard. I have to admit that reading math notes is painstaking and I need a lot of effort to be in the flow. And I can’t focus for very long, maybe working has hindered my ability to focus and think deeply. For all theses reasons, I feel it is necessary for me to re-read the book and re-learn how to learn.

I found the book very honest and practical. The ideas are simple and solutions are easy to execute. They are very helpful advise to build good study habits.

Here are some takeaways:

  1. Compress work into focused bursts. Work accomplished = time spent x intensity of focus. Work hard when you work, and you will have plenty of time to play hard.

  2. Use 5 min to plan your day
    • Collect things to do during the day
    • Schedule the tasks during the morning
    • Keep it flexible and feasible
  3. Declare war with procrastination
    • Write a work journal to keep track of progress
    • Eat healthy and hydrate to maximise energy level
    • Turn something you don’t want to do into a event
    • Build weekly work routine
    • Choose your hard day and relax before and after to minimise their impact
  4. Choose When, Where and How long
    • From morning to dinner
    • Isolated
    • Take break every hour

Reflections from my personal experience:

  1. Focused session instead of pseudo work. Sometimes even I am not doing any useful work, I try to fill the hours. Sometimes it is because I demand myself to work for enough hours, sometimes it’s because I don’t want to be seen as slacker. More often it is because I have a daunting task, so I allocated a lot of time for it, pushing back all other stuff, but I never had the mental energy to start it either because of being afraid of failure or time pressure. So I keep dragging until the deadline is near. In this case, I definitely need to allocate more focused burst session and also advance the ‘hard day’ to avoid the procrastination.
  2. Make feasible plan and check the tasks you have done. I tried to make a feasible plan that tell me roughly when to do what step and tick the boxes when I am done. I found a feasible plan itself is a reward once you accomplish it. It give you a boost of confidence and self-trust.
  3. Advance your hard day. This is a habit I really want to form. I often get pressure from the deadline and submit last hour. Submitting last hour is stressful. And I also have no choice but to study long hours until the deadline. This may lead to exhaustion and low efficiency. I would like to advance the deadline and schedule the hard day in advance. Put that hard day on calendar, not too late.
  4. Find focus during the day. This is essential to get what you planned done. This could be done by hydrate, eat healthy, and take break every hour.


Bibliography management using Endnote

Do you need a bibliography management tool?

If you find your self

  • Struggling with a growing list of references
  • Couldn’t remember where is that important paper you want to cite
  • Having headache with citing the paper correctly in your paper

you might find bibliography management useful.


Who doesn’t need a bibliography management tool?

If you only have a few papers to cite and working on a short-term project, you may not need it that much. It is not the most user-friendly software, and it still requires some manual work.


Why you need bibliography management?

  1. This help you set up a personal library of all the references and enable you to look them up more easily. You can also annotate the item to make it easier to recall what the paper is about.
  2. EndNote is able to generate citations and save your time editing the citation style manually.
  3. Even when you don’t have the paper by your hand, you can access your bibliography on EndNote online as long as you have internet connection.

What is EndNote?

EndNote is an application that help arrange all your references in a catalogue. You could think of it as a book shelf, where you can put your papers in various category so that you can retrieve them easily when you want to refer to them.

How to start using EndNote?

  1. Download the software or request if from your school. If you are a student or stuff in a university or research institute, check with IT if you could request for a copy.
  2. Register an EndNote account so that you could sync your local library online. This enables you to access it anywhere as long as you could connect to the internet.
  3. YouTube tutorials provided by EndNote official account is a very good place to start learning it. Most videos are less than 10mins and will help you start using it right away. For example, this video help you start using EndNote X9 in 6 minutes!
  4. Practice it right now. Try to find some references you want to archive and add it to your library.


… and you may encounter some common question

How to import a citation?

Importing .ris file into EndNote is easier. You only need to download the .ris file, double click to open it and choose the library it belongs to. Importing a BibTex citation is not that straightforward. But luckily most source will provide a .ris format.


I couldn’t find the paper in the search box

When this happens, you could search the paper in university library and export the citation into the EndNote. You add a few manual steps but at least you got the paper you need.




Literature Review

Why we write literature review?

  • To convince people that the research need to be done
  • To establish the connection of the current research and previous research
  • To identify the research gap in previous work
  • To emphasise the importance and impact of the current research

How to begin to write literature review?

  • Do an overview of the history of the field
  • Build of bibliography of the field
  • Find the key thinker in the field and follow their recent work
  • Read recent survey paper




  1. LinkedIn Learning (2017) Purpose of a literature reviewAvailable at: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/academic-research-foundations-quantitative/purpose-of-a-literature-review?u=50251009 (Accessed: 18 April 2020).
  2. LinkedIn Learning (2017) How to develop a literature reviewAvailable at: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/academic-research-foundations-quantitative/purpose-of-a-literature-review?u=50251009 (Accessed: 18 April 2020).