Study Hacks Blog

On Technology and Focus: ASMR, VR, and the First Steps Toward Immersive Single Tasking

November 23rd, 2020 · 24 comments

Around 2010, a curious new term arose in obscure but energetic internet chatrooms: autonomous sensory meridian response. ASMR, as it was soon abbreviated, described a peculiar form of paresthesia experienced as a tingling that starts in the scalp and then moves down the back. It’s often triggered by specific sounds, like soft whispering or a paintbrush scraping canvas. Not surprisingly, those sensitive to ASMR sometimes found Bob Ross reruns to be a reliable source of the effect.

What makes ASMR relevant to our interests here is that it happened to emerge as a topic of discussion just as YouTube emerged as a cultural force. Soon a cottage industry arose of AMSR videos featuring meticulously recorded trigger sounds. One such video opens on a straw stirring seltzer water. A little later it zooms in on a knife scraping dried blush on a make-up tray. It’s been viewed over four and a half million times.

The reason I know about ASMR is that as these “tingle videos” grew in popularity, they spawned a sub-genre called ASMR rooms. The goal in these videos was no longer to trigger the classical tingling response, but instead to invoke a sense of meditative calm and focus.

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When Did Productivity Become Personal?

November 17th, 2020 · 16 comments

My latest article for The New Yorker, published on Tuesday, is titled “The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done.” It’s not, however, really about David Allen’s productivity system, which longtime readers (and listeners)  know I really admire. It’s instead about a deeper question that I hadn’t heard discussed much before: Why do we leave office workers to figure out on their own how to get things done?

With the notable exception of agile software development teams, companies in this sector largely leave decisions about how work is assigned, reviewed, and organized up to individuals. We promulgate clear objectives and construct motivating corporate cultures, but when it comes to actually executing these tasks, we just hook everyone up to an email address or Slack channel and tell them to rock and roll. This has led to a culture of overload and fragmented attention that makes everyone involved miserable.

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The Time Blocking Revolution Begins…

November 10th, 2020 · 33 comments

I’m excited to announce that my new Time-Block Planner is now available everywhere books are sold online.

I first described my time blocking practice on this blog back in 2013. The idea began to gain traction after I popularized it in my 2016 book, Deep Work. In the years since, it’s been featured in publications such as the New York Times, the New Yorker, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Lifehacker.

I often claim time blocking is the secret to my productivity. In my experience, time blockers accomplish roughly twice as much work per week as compared to those who use more reactive methods, and enjoy a much clearer separation between work and non-work time, significantly reducing professional stress and anxiety.

Now for the first time, this system has been captured in a daily planner that makes it easy for anyone to implement these ideas in their own professional life. (To learn more about the system and exactly how the planner works, check out the dedicated site I launched at TimeBlockPlanner.com.)

There are two reasons why I decided to publish my own planner:

  • The first was convenience. I was tired of hand-formatting blank notebooks. I was also frustrated by paper quality issues and the lack of page marker ribbons that help quickly identify the current page. This planner solves those problems, reducing the friction required to implement daily planning.
  • The second, and more important, was motivational. It’s one thing to read about a productivity system, but it’s another thing to actually invest in and own an artifact that’s dedicated to implementing that system. I want more people to time block. Buying this planner signals to yourself that you’re a time blocker. It’s also an attractive aesthetic object, with nice paper and detailing. It’s a pleasure to use, especially with a micro-ball liquid ink pen (like this one). These factors might sound small, but they make a big difference when it comes to the challenge of consistently overcoming your mental resistance to stay organized. I think of the planner like a gym membership or Peleton subscription for your time and attention.

To find our more about the planner check out the dedicated site. You can buy the planner at the standard places: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells, Hudson Booksellers, Books-a-Million, etc., and for readers in the UK, it’s available at Amazon UK.

Staying Productive on Distracted Days

November 4th, 2020 · 31 comments

I don’t normally spend much time reading information online, so I definitely noticed this morning the unusual degree to which I was distracted by breaking election news. This points to an interesting question that I’ve seen discussed in some articles in recent days: what’s the best way to keep getting things done on truly distracting days?

My answer: don’t.

“Productivity” is a slippery term. It’s often used to refer exclusively to the rate at which you produce value for your business or employer. I tend to apply it more broadly to describe the intentional allocation of your time and attention toward things that matter to you and away from diversions that don’t.

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The Stone Carver in an Age of Computer Screens

October 27th, 2020 · 11 comments

A reader recently pointed me toward a short video titled “A Continuous Shape.” It profiles Anna Rubincam, a stone carver from South London who works alone out of a utilitarian studio; sliding doors open to a tree-lined patio.

The video follows Rubincam’s efforts over three weeks to produce a stone carving of a young woman’s head. It starts with her taking measurements from a live model. These are then translated into a clay figure, and subsequently engraved, one precise chisel hit after another, into a solid chunk of stone.

The reader who sent me the video titled his message: “Epitome of deep work.” I think he’s on to something.

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A Modest Proposal: Deweaponizing Network Effects

October 20th, 2020 · 25 comments

I recently read an important new article titled “Ethics of the Attention Economy: The Problem of Social Media Addiction.” It was written by  Vikram Bhargava and Manuel Velasquez, two professors from Santa Clara University, and published earlier this fall in the journal Business Ethics Quarterly.

The article applies a rigorous ethical analysis to purposefully addictive social media platforms. In one section, for example, the authors deploy Martha Nussbaum’s influential capabilities approach to demonstrate that these platforms impair many of the elements required for a dignified human life. Their conclusion is that from a strictly philosophical perspective, service like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram present a “serious moral problem.”

This article is an important academic adjunct to the topics explored in the recent Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, and I highly recommend reading it.

I was also, however, intrigued by the concluding section, which explored implications and solutions (and cited Digital Minimalism, which I appreciated). This got me thinking about more radical responses to these present moral problems. I thought it might be fun to share one such,  admittedly half-baked, notion here, with advance apologies to the originators of the many similar ideas I’m almost certainly inadvertently overlapping.

What if we got more serious about ceding users ownership over all of their social internet data: both what they’ve posted, but also their links; followers, friends, etc.?

Major legislative responses, such as the European Union’s GDPR, have tried to enforce data ownership, but what I have in mind is both simpler and more extreme.

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My New Planner + The Time Block Academy

October 14th, 2020 · 57 comments

Longtime readers and recent podcast listeners know that I’m a massive advocate of a productivity technique called time-block planning, which is at the core of my strategy for getting important things done in an increasingly distracted world.

After years of hand-formatting generic notebooks to satisfy my time-block planning needs, I decided to design my own planner optimized for exactly this activity.

Here’s the result…

The Time-Block Planner will be available everywhere books are sold online on November 10th and can be pre-ordered today (UK link).

I’ll share more details on the planner and the method it encodes as we get closer to the publication date. In the meantime, however, I wanted to discuss a special event I’m organizing for those hardcore time blockers who pre-order the planner before November 10th.

The event is called Time Block Academy.

It’s a live Zoom webinar that will be held November 13th at 3pm eastern. During the event, I’ll answer both live and pre-submitted questions about time blocking, productivity more generally, or whatever else is on your mind — sort of like a live episode of Deep Questions attended by a select crowd.

To gain admission, pre-order the Time-Block Planner at your preferred retailer, and email your proof of purchase to timeblockplanner@prh.com. My publisher will email you back with details about the webinar, as well as a link to a video tutorial I created that gives you a sneak peak of the planner and how it works.

(US Residents, 18+. Ends November 09, 2020. See terms at this link.)

Churchill’s D-Day Task List

October 6th, 2020 · 23 comments

Last week, I received an email from a reader who had just returned from a trip to the Churchill War Rooms, a London museum housed in the bunkers, built underneath the Treasury Building, where Winston Churchill safely commanded the British war efforts as the Blitz bombarded the city above.

The reader had photographed an artifact he thought I might find interesting: a to-do list labeled “D Day,” written by one of the secretaries serving Churchill.

Here’s a detail shot:

Superficially, I was intrigued because I’ve been consuming a lot of WWII history recently. (At the moment, I’m concurrently reading The Splendid and the Vile along with David Roll’s excellent new George Marshall biography.)

But it also resonated at a deeper level.

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