Study Hacks Blog Posts from December, 2012 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

Getting (Unremarkable) Things Done: The Problem With David Allen’s Universalism

December 21st, 2012 · 109 comments

Getting Beyond Getting Things Done

I first read David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) in 2003. I was a junior at Dartmouth and Allen’s ideas resonated at a time when my obligations were starting to overwhelm me. I committed to his system.

After a few years, by which time I was at MIT for graduate school, I found myself frustrated with the whole GTD canon and was ready to abandon it altogether.

My issue was simple: it wasn’t helping me become better.

I was good at full capture and regular review, and, accordingly, was quite organized. This was a good time in my life to ask me to submit a form or tackle a complicated logistical process. You could be confident that I would capture, process, and then accomplish it.

But I was missing the intense and obsessive wrangling with the hard problems of my field — the type of habit that made people in my line of work exceptional. My commitment to GTD had me instead systematically executing tasks, one by one, like an assembly line worker “cranking widgets” (to use a popular Allen aphorism).

I didn’t need to be cranking widgets. I needed to instead be crazily focused.

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This Holiday, Give the Gift of Career Confidence

December 13th, 2012 · 22 comments


A Gift that Keeps on Giving

If you’re still searching for holiday gifts, I want to humbly recommend my new book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work you Love.

As most of you know, this book makes the argument that “follow your passion” is bad advice. It then chronicles my (successful) quest to figure out the concrete strategies that work instead (hint: how you work is more important than what work you do).

If you already read the book and enjoyed it, think about your passion-addled friends and relatives who might benefit from hearing this advice.

If you haven’t read it, consider giving yourself the gift of a blueprint for building a remarkable career.

On the fence? Here are some accolades to help persuade you…

Want to find out more? You can also read my summary of the book, or read (adapted) excerpts published in Fast Company, The Globe and Mail, and Lifehacker.

If you’re a college student (or thinking of buying the book for a student), read this thoughtful review from the Swarthmore College Daily Gazette.

If you’re interested: you can find the book at Barnes & Noble stores (it should be on the Best of Business display at most locations) and online at and Amazon.


Okay, that’s the end of my pitch. We’ll return soon to our regularly scheduled programming. In particular, I’ve been working on an essay about why I think David Allen deters deep work.

Stay tuned…