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

Resolve to Make 2010 a Year of Radical Simplicity

December 31st, 2009 · 30 comments

A New Year TraditionOrganized

It’s a tradition here at Study Hacks to greet the New Year with ambitious resolutions. In 2008 I listed five habits students should resolve to avoid, including skipping classes and studying without a plan. By 2009 I could trust that my readers were beyond such basic mistakes, so I presented instead three advanced habits students should resolve to adopt: commit to full capture, use assignment folders, and finish major assignments early.

Now that 2010 looms, I want to continue the evolution of my New Year’s advice. This year, I want to throw caution to the wind and try to convince you to transform your student lifestyle. (Though this advice is college-specific, elements of it should resonate for a variety of situations, so it’s a worth a read for anyone who is feeling overworked or under-inspired.)

Specifically, I want you to make 2010 the year that you seriously consider radical simplicity…

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If You’re Nervous About Quitting Your Boring Job, Don’t Do It

December 26th, 2009 · 55 comments

Weekend WorkThe Courage Fallacy

In 2005, Lisa Feuer quit her marketing job. She had held this same position throughout her 30s before deciding, at the age of 38, that it was time for something different.

As the New York Times reported in an article from last summer, she wanted the same independence and flexibility that her ex-husband, an entrepreneur, enjoyed. Bolstered by this new resolve, Lisa invested in a $4000 yoga instruction course and started Karma Kids Yoga — a yoga practice focused on young children and pregnant women.

Lisa’s story provides a pristine example of what I call the choice-centric approach to building an interesting life. This philosophy emphasizes the importance of choosing better work. Having the courage to leave your boring but dangerously comfortable job — to borrow a phrase from Tim Ferriss — and instead follow your “passion,” has become the treasure map guiding this philosophy’s adherents.

But there’s a problem: the endings are not always so happy…

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The Grade Whisperer: Karen’s Overbearing Parents

December 17th, 2009 · 19 comments

The Grade Whisperer is an occasional feature in which I use the Study Hacks philosophy of do less, do better, and know why, to help students overcome their academic problems.

The Parent TrapAdvice

I recently received an e-mail from a student whom I’ll call Karen. She is a sophomore at a top-20 university and is struggling with her parents’ ambitious plans for her college career.

As Karen explained: “Deep down my parents just want to make sure I have a better life than they do.”

But their relentless pressure for Karen to become a doctor (“they argue that doctors have stable jobs”) eventually became too much to handle.

“Second semester of my freshman year I put my foot down,” Karen recalls. “After a tearful and hurtful argument they finally relented and said I should try economics instead.”

But this compromise hasn’t gone well.

“I’m struggling…because I’m simply not interested in my economics courses,” Karen told me.  “My history of human rights course, however, is absolutely fascinating and actually made me seriously consider going to law school and maybe getting an MPA in Public Affairs, or even going to business school.”

Karen reduced her woes to three questions:

  1. “Should I stay at my school? And if so, should I change my major?
  2. “Should I transfer?”
  3. “Should I take a gap semester or year off?”

“I’m just sick of trying to be someone I’m not, but I have this deep-seated fear of being a starving person on the street if I follow my passions.”

Sounds like a job for the Grade Whisperer…

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Two Quick Notes: Volunteers and Steroids

December 10th, 2009 · 9 comments

Please excuse a brief interruption from our normally scheduled programming. I have two quick notes that I think might interest many of you…

Looking for a Few Good Volunteers

One of my eventual goals for Study Hacks is to support student groups on college campuses around the world. These groups would meet regularly and use the Study Hacks canon to help figure out their college life. They would also blog about their experience, providing a wealth of examples for other students to follow.

I want to launch a few small pilot groups during this upcoming semester. If you’re interested in starting one of these groups on your campus, send me an e-mail.

Among other benefits, you and your group members will get a lot of one and one interaction with me regarding your personal overhaul efforts.

Learning on Steroids

One of my favorite bloggers, Scott Young, recently announced a program called Learning on Steroids.  The goal is to help you implement what he calls rapid learning strategies in your student life. The program “fills the gap between [information] consumption and action,” and provides “detailed implementation strategies, personal help and a kick in the ass to get started.”

In other words, it’s meant to help you go from reading about being a better student to actually becoming one.

You can read more about it here. I’m mentioning it now because he’s launching a limited beta test of the program in January. If you think you might be interested, click here to sign up for his pre-launch mailing list while space still remains.

Are You a Guitar Player or Club Owner?

December 8th, 2009 · 29 comments

A Bluegrass SlogBluegrass

I recently began taking bluegrass guitar lessons.

It hasn’t been easy.

The style is precise, which means that it requires an abundance of repetitious practicing.  A typical session might proceed as follows:

  1. Listen to the same 10 – 30 second stretch of a song again and again, deconstructing the lead painfully, note by note, using your ear and a lot of trial and error.
  2. Play this section of the lead again and again for another 30 minutes to an hour — rarely getting through more than a few phrases without a mistake that forces you to start over.

Repeat this enough times, with an increasingly complicated progression of songs, and a weekly check-in with a teacher to correct subtle mistakes in your technique, and you’ll eventually be able to make your way through some basic bluegrass tunes without embarrassing yourself. In other words, the path to becoming even a passable amateur is long and demanding.

I’m sharing these observations because I think they provide an interesting metaphor for the task of building a remarkable life...

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Heidegger with Hefeweizen: Rethinking the Power of Context

December 2nd, 2009 · 34 comments

Boring on HorsebackA Quiet Pint

A few weeks back, on the recommendation of Ben Casnocha, I started working my way through David McCullough’s biography of a young Theodore Roosevelt: Mornings on Horseback. I was interested in the subject, but the early chapters of the book, which detail the late-19th century New York social scene, were not grabbing my attention.

Not willing to give up the endeavor, I made some changes. First, I prepared a plate of a pleasantly sharp Australian Cheddar that I had discovered on an absurd sale at our local Whole Foods. I then poured a glass of an Italian Abruzzo (a purchase inspired by my early-September visit to a vineyard in the hills outside of Bologna), and settled onto my couch — the splash of incandescent light from my reading lamp the only illumination in the room.

In this setting, my mind eased free of its previous resistance and began to absorb McCullough’s slice of life details. I found myself engaging the material in a way that just a few minutes earlier had been impossible. Something about the tang of the cheese, and the dry sweetness of the wine, supported by a creeping, yet controlled buzz, opened my mind.

This experience provoked an interesting thought: the context in which you do academic work is extremely important, yet most of us give it little consideration…

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