Study Hacks Blog Posts from October, 2008 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

The Science of Student Burnout

October 31st, 2008 · 12 comments

Precursors to College Student BurnoutDeep in Thought

In 2006, professor Richard West of the University of Southern Maine, working with his student Stephanie Cushman, launched a study to find out more about student burnout. They hoped to answer two questions:

  1. How many college students experience burnout?
  2. Why do they burnout?

I recently stumbled across this paper in the Journal of Qualitative Research Reports in Communication. As you might imagine, I was quite interested in what they found…

The Study

Dr. West’s gave 354 students in an introductory communications course the following survey:

  • Please define or interpret what is meant by college “burnout.”
  • Have you experienced burnout in college?
  • What were the factors that contributed to your burnout in college

He discarded the surveys from students who had not experience burnout or who had defined the term to be something different than the phenomenon being studied. A rigorous coding technique was then used to categorize the responses to the third question.

The Results

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Announcing My New Book and Important Changes to Study Hacks

October 31st, 2008 · 8 comments

Third Time’s a CharmBook Deal

I’m happy to announce that my long rumored third book will be published. I can’t share too many details yet because I haven’t actually signed the contract, but I can reveal that it focuses on the Zen Valedictorian approach to high school and college admissions. Expect to hear a lot more about this project in the near future.

As you might imagine, however, work on this new book will eat up much of the time I have set aside for writing, which includes work on this blog. (As a follower of fixed-schedule productivity, the amount of time I spend on this part of my life is fixed in advance. If I add new projects, I have to reduce old work to make room.)

As a result, there will be a few minor changes to Study Hacks:

  1. I can no longer promise three posts a week.
  2. Instead, I will try to have at least one high quality post per week. Many weeks I will still have two or three posts, some weeks, however, I may have no posts.
  3. Because of this more flexible schedule, I will no longer use the “Monday Master Class” header. I will, however, still keep the consistent reporting of tactical study advice a top priority.

I’m hoping that this slightly reduced posting schedule won’t turn away too many readers. If anything, it should improve the quality of posts now that I no longer feel obligated to churn out three a week. My commitment to Study Hacks is unwavering, and I plan to continue my quest to both grow my audience and improve the quality of what I produce here.

I hope you’re willing to stick around for the ride…

[Update: As long I’m writing an administrative post, I should mention that Study Hacks is now being featured on the college category of the Alltop web content aggregator. I recommend checking out the other sites featured there.]

The Goldilocks Strategy for Choosing the Perfect Workload

October 29th, 2008 · 3 comments

The Student Work Saturation Point

Tasting Porridge…

The hardest part of building a quality student lifestyle is figuring out how much stuff you should be doing. Some students are clearly slackers. And some are clearly grinds. But for everyone else, especially those trying to follow the Zen Valedictorian Philosophy, a nagging question lurks: how do I know if I’m doing the right amount of classes and activities?

In this post I want to discuss a simple approach for designing an optimal workload. I call it the Goldilocks Strategy for obvious reasons: we’re looking for the proverbial work porridge that tastes just right.

To understand this strategy, however, we must first touch base with the reality of how our workload interacts with both our impressiveness and our stress…

The Work Saturation Point

Consider the graph at the top of this post. I’ve plotted two lines. The blue line represents your impressiveness and the red line represents your stress level. As you move from left to right, this represents an increase in your workload (both academic and extracurricular). Therefore, the graph shows how both your impressiveness and stress change as your workload increases.

Read more »

Monday Master Class: How to Keep Life Interesting with a Saturday Morning Project

October 27th, 2008 · 20 comments

A Dash of SpiceWeekend Work

Have you finished your mid-semester dash? If not, make a plan to do it! I’m already hearing reports from readers of huge post-dash stress reductions.

Once you’ve completed this purge, return to this post. Below, I will teach you how to keep your newly stripped down student life from becoming too boring.

The Grand Project

Readers of How to Win at College know that I’m a big fan of what I like to call: “Grand Projects.” I introduced the idea on the blog early last winter, but haven’t given it much attention since then.

Let’s change that.

Here’s the basic definition:

A Grand Project is any project that when explained to someone for the first time is likely to elicit a response of “wow!’

The purpose of a grand project is two-fold:

First, it injects excitement and possibility into your student life. As I said in last winter’s post: “[A Grand Project] focuses you through the small ups and downs that litter the standard student grind. It gives you higher purpose.”

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How to Become a Deep Thinker at College

October 24th, 2008 · 26 comments

Seeking WisdomThe Thinker

A reader from Princeton recently asked me an interesting question. He first highlighted a phrase I once used to describe a group of straight-A students:

…they have trained their mind to think hard, produce subtle, nuanced arguments, and find deep connections between ideas.

He then asked: “how do I do that?”

In other words, this reader wants to actually live the promise hastily tagged onto the liberal arts experience by its many defenders: to learn how to think. He wants to know how he can maximize the increased mental sophistication that college can provide (but by no means guarantees).

I want to describe a simple technique that could help this reader — and you, if you’re so inclined — send his brain development into overdrive.

It requires three steps:

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A Greek Philosopher Tackles Student Activities

October 22nd, 2008 · 22 comments

Epictetus: Student Success Guru…Epictetus

I’m intrigued by a second century Greek philosopher named Epictetus. He was a stoic. This means, roughly, that he believed the key to a good life is focusing on what you can control, not lamenting about what you cannot.

In other words: A stoic doesn’t sweat bad stuff happening. His concern is how he behaves when the going gets tough.

Because I’m weird, I recently skimmed two different translations of Epictetus’s The Enchiridion: a handbook describing 52 life lessons. There was one lesson in particular — lesson 29 — that caught my attention. It provides a piercing analysis of an issue that we discuss often on this blog: should you focus on a small number of things or experiment with many?

Here is what Epictetus had to say:

In every affair consider what precedes and follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit; but not having thought of the consequences, when some of them appear you will shamefully desist.

In other words, think carefully before adding a new commitment. Otherwise, your initial energy is likely to flag. Something he calls “shameful.”

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A Humble Request…

October 21st, 2008 · 4 comments

Spread the Good Word

I want to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a brief request from your humble blog guide…

If you read my books How to Become a Straight-A Student or How to Win at College, and you found them useful, would you consider taking a minute to write a succinct, honest review on Amazon?

I’ve heard that the students considering my books really take these reviews seriously. If you enjoy my philosophy, and think it might aid others, it would go a long way if you could help spread the word with your honest review.

The links are here:

Thanks guys!

Monday Master Class: How to Stave Off Stress with a Mid-Semester Dash

October 20th, 2008 · 24 comments

October MadnessMess

For most students, the end of October marks the halfway point of the fall semester. Midterm exams loom. The workload has reached it’s full intensity. Deadlines are overlapping. Stress levels are starting their traditional climb from manageable to insane.

From my experience, you have two options at this point. First, you can give into to the chaos and limp through the rest of semester always behind on work, constantly stressed, suffering through one all-nighter after another while you struggle to keep the wheels on the proverbial bus.

The second option, however, is that you give the middle finger to the chaos: fight back the work onslaught and regain control.

Not surprisingly, this post describes a simple system to help achieve the latter option.

The Mid-Semester Dash

Here’s a simple system to stay in control as your semester progresses:

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