Study Hacks Blog Posts from January, 2010 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

Quick Hits: Deliberate Practice for Writers, Entrepreneurs, and Hollywood Superstars

January 30th, 2010 · 66 comments

Quick hits is an occasional feature where I take a breather between my epic big idea posts to share ideas, ask questions, and in general provide a catch-all place for me to catch up with you. 

Deliberate Practice in Unconventional PlacesThinking Man

I’m not the only one with deliberate practice on my mind. A variety of bloggers have been exploring this powerful idea…

Do You Love What You Do? If So, I Want to Talk with You.

You may have noticed by now my infatuation with the science of career satisfaction. I want to temper all this fancy lab learning with some good ‘ole fashioned on the ground reporting.

With this in mind, if you’re someone who loves what you do — the type of person people point to and say “that’s what I want my life to be like” — please consider sending me an e-mail at author [at]

I want to hear your story.

Use the Comment Thread of this Post to Ask Me Anything!

Speaking of e-mail, if you have a question, comment, or devastating insult to hurl my direction, and you don’t want to wait the 1 – 2 weeks it can sometimes take me to get through my blog e-mails, leave it as a comment on this post. For the next few days I’ll check and respond to these comments regularly.

(Photo by envios)

An Argument for Quitting Facebook

January 29th, 2010 · 114 comments

Deactivating Facebook

A Bold Decision

At the end of his first semester at Penn, a student whom I’ll call Daniel was disappointed to learn that his GPA was a lackluster 2.95. Following the Study Hacks orthodoxy that study habits should be based on evidence — not random decisions or peer pressure — Daniel asked himself a crucial question: What are the better students doing that I’m not?

When he surveyed his classmates, he noted something interesting: “the high-scoring kids weren’t on Facebook.”

Emboldened by this observation, Daniel decided to do the unthinkable: he deactivated his Facebook account.

His GPA jumped to an exceptional 3.95.

In this post, I want to share the details of Daniel’s story — revealing what actually happens when you quit one of the most ubiquitous technologies of your generation. I’ll then make the argument that although most students don’t need to leave Facebook, every student should at least give the idea serious consideration.

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Beyond Passion: The Science of Loving What You Do

January 23rd, 2010 · 178 comments

Computer on the Beach

The Great Career

Laura loves what she does. To many people, myself included (I’ve known her for the past five years), she represents the Platonic ideal of  a great career.

Laura  is a database whiz. Companies hire her to wrangle their most gnarly data into streamlined structures. If you’re lucky enough to engage Laura, she’ll assemble a handpicked team of programmers and descend on your office for up to six months. She’ll then take your generous check back to her charming Jamaica Plain bungalow and set about finding novel ways to spend it.

She allows months to pass between projects — the paydays being ample enough to buy her as much downtime as she wants. She has used this time, among other pursuits, to earn a pilots license, learn to scuba dive, and travel through Asia.

In several earlier posts, I argued that mastering a rare and valuable skill is the key to generating a remarkable life — much more important than following your “passions” or matching your career (or academic major) to your personality.  It occurred to me, however, that to continue this discussion, we need to better understand our goal; that is, we need to figure out what exactly makes a remarkable life remarkable.

In this post, I’m going to tackle this question, using Laura as our running example of someone who has achieved the end result we have in mind…

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Action Taken: $4700 Raised & Signed Books Given Away

January 18th, 2010 · 5 comments

The Big Give

Over 50 of you responded to my call to donate money to earthquake relief in Haiti. We ended up raising over $4700.  As I mentioned in my replies to the contributors, I’m lucky to have such an exceptional group of readers.

Here are the results of the signed book giveaway contest:

  • Allen won a signed copy of the rare yellow-covered version of the red book for donating $500 — the most out of all of the contributors.
  • Shruti won a signed copy for having her name drawn at random.

(Both winners have been notified by e-mail.)

We’ll return later this week back to our regularly-scheduled programming (I’m working on the next post in my series on the mechanics of constructing a remarkable life), but I want to thank you one last time for your support.

Take Action, Get a Signed Book

January 14th, 2010 · 6 comments


Update: As of 8:30 EST we’ve raised over $2500! You guys are amazing.

“What I’ve seen here in Haiti, I’ve never seen before.”

This is from the Twitter feed of Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medial correspondent, who is reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He’s seen a lot of tough situations in his career, so this statement means something.

This morning I donated $137, the amount of my most recent advertising check for Study Hacks,  to Partners in Health, a Boston-based aid organization that has a strong presence in Haiti.

Here’s a screenshot of the confirmation e-mail:

PIH Donation

I’m asking you to also donate to this organization.

They have great infrastructure in place in Haiti, including over 120 doctors and 500 nurses, longterm relationships with the Haitian people, and an obsession with results. A donation to Partners in Health will have an immediate impact on real people who are really suffering right now.

Click on this link to give.

If you do donate, consider forwarding me a copy of your confirmation e-mail. There are two reasons for this request. First, keeping a running total will help me convince more Study Hacks readers to follow your example. Second, I’m giving away two signed copies of the rare yellow-covered version of my red book. One copy will go to the reader who donates the most money, and the other will go to a reader chosen at random.

And I’ll leave it at that.

(Photo by Damon Winter/The New York Times)

How Ricardo Aced Computer Science Using His iPhone

January 13th, 2010 · 33 comments

Midterm Prep Small Size

From 30 Minutes of Studying to a 4.0

I recently received an e-mail from Ricardo, a sophomore majoring in computer science at the University of Maryland.  For the past three semesters he has maintained a 4.0 GPA — a feat he accomplished “without stressing at all.” At the core of his success is an unconventional technique that makes use of a wiki, his iPhone, and my infamous stealth studying philosophy. This technique is so effective that he dedicates only 30 minutes to review on the day before his computer science exams — yet still aces them.

In this post, I detail Ricardo’s method, including step by step instructions and screenshots…

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The Grandmaster in the Corner Office: What the Study of Chess Experts Teaches Us about Building a Remarkable Life

January 6th, 2010 · 247 comments


Becoming a Grandmaster

How do great chess players become great? If you read Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, you probably have an answer: the 10,000 hour rule. This concept, which was first introduced in academic circles in the early 1970s, was popularized by Gladwell in his 2008 book.

Here’s how he summarized it in a recent interview:

When we look at any kind of cognitively complex field — for example, playing chess, writing fiction or being a neurosurgeon — we find that you are unlikely to master it unless you have practiced for 10,000 hours. That’s 20 hours a week for 10 years.

There seems to be no escape from this work. As Flordia State University Psychology Professor Anders Ericsson reminds us: “even the chess prodigy Bobby Fisher needed a preparation period of nine years.”

The full story, however, is more complex.  Gladwell is right when he notes that the 10,000 hour rule keeps appearing as a necessary condition for exceptional performance in many fields. But it’s not sufficient. As Ericsson, along with his colleague Andreas Lehmann, noted in an exceptional overview of this topic,   “the mere number of years of experience with relevant activities in a domain is typically only weakly related to performance.”

Put another way, you need to put in a lot of hours to become exceptional, but raw hours alone doesn’t cut it. 

To understand what else is necessary, I’ll turn your attention to a fascinating 2005 study on chess players, published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology. After interviewing two large samples of chess players of varied skill, the paper’s authors found that “serious study”  — the arduous task of reviewing past games of better players, trying to predict each move in advance — was the strongest predictor of chess skill.

In more detail:

…chess players at the highest skill level (i.e. grandmasters) expended about 5000 hours on serious study alone during their first decade of serious chess play — nearly five times the average amount reported by intermediate-level players.

Similar findings have been replicated in a variety of fields. To become exceptional you have to put in a lot of hours, but of equal importance, these hours have to be dedicated to the right type of work. A decade of serious chess playing will earn you an intermediate tournament ranking. But a decade of serious study of chess games can make you a grandmaster.

I’m summarizing this research here because I want to make a provocative claim: understanding this “right type of work” is perhaps the most important (and most under-appreciated) step toward building a remarkable life

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