Study Hacks Blog Posts from September, 2009 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

The Ice Bath Method: Easing Into Painful Projects

September 22nd, 2009 · 22 comments

A Difficult Talk

Bailey Next week, I’m giving the Theory Colloquium lecture here at MIT’s computer science laboratory. This means I’m facing one of the most common and most dreaded tasks of academic life: writing a talk.

Constructing good talks slides is grueling. The task is not so large that it can become a harmless background task in your life, and it’s not so small that it can be dispatched in a single inspired dash. In other words, like all medium-sized hard projects, it’s a catalyst for procrastination.

Here’s how I’m handling it…

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Three Ways to Help Spread the Word

September 16th, 2009 · 8 comments

Update: Based on a reader suggestion, I want to sweeten the deal here. E-mail me your stories of spreading the word. I’ll choose the student who I think did the most to disseminate our philosophy, and award him or her a signed copy of the rare “yellow version” of the red book (an early edition of the red book that featured a gaudy yellow cover).

Spread the Word

The first month of a new semester is the perfect time to motivate students to overhaul their study habits. With this in mind, I want to humbly ask you to consider helping me spread the word to the stressed out, unhappy, pseudo-workers among you.

Here are three specific ways you can help…

  1. Leave an Honest Review on Amazon.
    Students take Amazon reviews seriously when considering book purchases. If you had a good experience with my books, please consider leaving an honest review (click here for the red book and here for the yellow book). The most useful reviews tend to include specific details about how the book helped.
  2. Mention the Books to Your Academic Skills Center.
    Several students have reported mentioning the books to their academic skills center on campus. In many cases, the centers subsequently started recommending the books to students who are struggling. This is a great way to impact a lot of your classmates.
  3. Buy a Copy for a Friend.
    Do you have a friend who seems overwhelmed by college? Buy him a copy of the red or yellow book. I suggest writing my e-mail address on the inside cover and letting him know that he can always e-mail me with questions about applying the advice to his situation.

If the Study Hacks philosophy of doing less, doing better, and knowing why has improved your life, please consider taking a few moments to spread those same benefits to others.


The Definitive Guide to Acing Your Schedule

September 14th, 2009 · 26 comments

Peer PressureCommon Studying

In the summer of 2000, a Dartmouth economist named Bruce Sacerdote published a paper titled Peer Effects in Randomly Assigned Roommates. His premise was interesting: Incoming students at Dartmouth are assigned to rooms at random. He knew, therefore, that when two roommates first arrive on campus, their behavior should have no more in common than any other pair of students.

Sacerdote’s insight was to wait until the end of the year and then look for traits that roommates had become more likely to share than random pairs. The idea was that these shared traits would be due to the roommates’ influence on each others’ behavior.

Sacerdote found that for some behaviors, such as major choice, roommates didn’t affect each other. But for one trait in particular, GPA, they had a lot in common. He attributed this finding to a simple idea: students’ study habits are heavily influenced by their peers.

It’s important that you recognize this reality, because these peer influences shape more than you might imagine about your own habits. Like a pair of behavioral blinders, carefully slipped into place without you noticing, peer influence may have prevented you from seeing a variety of radical strategies that could greatly simplify your student life.

In this post, I want to describe one such strategy…

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Are You Living Well or Preparing to Live Well?

September 9th, 2009 · 24 comments

Note: I started writing this article last April, when I was down in Rio de Janeiro. After my recent return from the similarly contemplation-inducing Bologna, I decided to finish it.

Ancient WisdomRio

When I began writing this article I was sitting on the balcony of a hotel room in Rio, looking over the beach pictured to the right. To my ear, the waves in Brazil are absurdly loud, which had the effect of miring me in a haze of tropic contemplation. It was in this state that I happened onto a thought that I couldn’t shake: perhaps the students who are feeling the most run down and worn out by college should take a moment to ask themselves a simple question…

Am I living well now or preparing to live well later?

This question is not new. In tribute to the death of a good friend, Tim Ferriss posted a full length translation of Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life. I read this translation around the same time that I was thinking about this post, and one passage in particular caught my attention:

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