Study Hacks Blog Posts from January, 2013 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

“Write Every Day” is Bad Advice: Hacking the Psychology of Big Projects

January 13th, 2013 · 135 comments


A Flawed Axiom

Write every day.

If you’ve ever considered professional writing, you’ve heard this advice. Stephen King recommends it in his instructional memoir, On Writing (he follows a strict diet of 1,000 words a day, six days a week). Anne Lamott proposes something similar in her guide, Bird by Bird (she recommends sitting down to write at roughly the same time every day).

Having published four books myself, here’s my opinion: If you’re not a full time writer (like King and Lamott), this is terrible advice. This strategy will, in fact, reduce the probability that you finish your writing project.

In this post, I want to explain why this is true — as this explanation provides insight into the psychology of accomplishing big projects in any field.

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Two Books To Keep On Your New Year Radar

January 8th, 2013 · 16 comments

Two Recommendations

In general, January is a good month for books about productivity. This January is particularly good as two friends of mine, whose thinking on these topics I really respect, both have books out this week. Coincidentally, both of these friends asked me to write the foreword for their titles — which I was honored to do.

With this in mind, if you’re looking for some smart thinking on productivity (or want to experience some unusually thoughtful and erudite foreword writing), I recommend these new releases:

  • The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment by Elizabeth Grace Saunders
    Elizabeth runs a successful consulting business that helps people make more meaningful use of their time. If you’re looking to focus less on the unimportant and more on what really matters, this book offers tested advice for achieving this goal.
  • The Front Nine by Mike Vardy
    Mike is the former editor-in-chief of — an experience that transformed him into a incisive commentator on what works and what doesn’t in the world of productivity. His new book takes a surprisingly nuanced look at what it (really) takes to get important projects from conception to completion.

Does Luck Matter More Than Skill?

January 2nd, 2013 · 55 comments


Luck Over Skill?

The most provocative business title I’ve read recently is Frans Johansson’s The Click Moment. In this book, Johansson argues the following:

  • For activities with clear fixed rules — such as sports, chess, and music — the only way to succeed is to put in more deliberate practice than your peers. Johansson uses Serena Williams as a key example: her dad started her practicing tennis absurdly hard at an absurdly young age.
  • For activities with rapidly evolving rules — such as business start-ups or book writing — success comes when you change the rules to a new configuration that catches the zeitgeist just right. Johansson uses Stephanie Meyers, author of the Twilight series, as a key example. Meyers, in Johansson’s estimation, is not a good writer. Her first Twilight book reads more like fan fiction than a professionally-scribed genre novel. She had not, in other words, spent much time in a state of deliberate practice. But this didn’t matter. Something about her new take on vampire tales hit the cultural moment just right and earned her extraordinary renown. The lesson, according to Johansson, is that luck plays the central role in success for these activities. If you want to do something remarkable,therefore, you have to keep trying new things — placing, what he calls, purposeful bets — hoping to stumble into an idea that catches on.

Here’s the obvious follow-up question for Study Hacks readers: how do these ideas square with my skill-driven philosophy of building a remarkable life?

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