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

What’s Holding You Back From Your Creative Potential? You Don’t Work Nearly Hard Enough.

October 24th, 2013 · 48 comments


Daily Depth

I recently got my hands on a copy of Mason Currey’s new book, Daily Rituals. For the past six years, Currey ran a blog called Daily Routines that scoured interviews and biographic material to identify the work habits of famous creatives. His new book runs with that idea, summarizing the habits of 161 notables.

Being a geek, I decided to quantify some of Currey’s insights. The first thing I did was read through the first 25 profiles, estimating the number of hours per day each subject spent working deeply.

The average number of deep work hours turned out to be 5.25. (See the above histogram for the full distribution.)

These results provide a powerful counterpoint to most narratives on creative work, which tend to focus on overcoming “The Resistance” or the “naysayer within” (to quote Steven Pressfield). The reason most aspiring creatives fail, these numbers instead hint, is not due to an “internal foe” but because five hours of daily deep work is absurdly difficult!

Why I’m (Still) Not Going to Join Facebook: Four Arguments that Failed to Convince Me

October 3rd, 2013 · 120 comments

Deactivating Facebook

Why I Never Joined Facebook

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about why I never joined Facebook. For those who are new to this discussion, here’s the short summary:

I have limited time and attention. I try to devote as much of it as possible to creating valuable things and spending time with my family and close friends. For a new tool to claim some of my time and attention from these activities it has to offer me a lot of value in return. Facebook falls well short of this threshold.

This post generated a lively debate in its comment thread. To be honest, this comments discussion is probably more valuable than the original post, as it covers a lot more ground, often quite eloquently.

A natural follow-up question, however, is whether this discussion changed my mind on the issue. The short answer: No. Not at all.

To provide a longer answer, I summarize below the four most common arguments in favor of Facebook that I received in reaction to my post (both publicly and privately), as well as my explanation for why the arguments didn’t move me closer to clicking “join.”

Argument #1: Facebook makes it possible to maintain lightweight, high-frequency contact with a large number of people spread around the world.

Facebook essentially invented this new type of social connection. Some people enjoy it. Some even use it as a replacement for a normal, in-person social life (usually, to their detriment). I have no interest in it. I’m close to my family and have good friends. I’d rather keep my time and attention focused on interacting deeply with them instead of pinging a thousand “friends” with exclamation-point laden wall posts.

Argument #2: Facebook might offer you personal or professional benefits that you don’t even know about. You cannot reject this service until you have tried it for a while.

I hear this argument a lot. I find it to be an incoherent approach to managing the tools in your life. If I had to test every potentially useful tool before deciding not to use it, I would end up spending the bulk of my life testing. My time and attention is valuable. If some company wants to make money off me using their service, they better have a compelling pitch for why it’s worth me taking away time and attention from my work, family and friends — even if just temporarily.

Argument #3: Facebook will not take your time and attention away from things you currently find important because you can access it on your phone during times, like waiting in line, that would otherwise be wasted.

This vision of Facebook use terrifies me. Facebook, like most social media, is addictive, because it offers, at all points, the possibility of finding out something that someone is saying about you. Once you get into the habit of seeking this distraction when temporarily bored, your ability to concentrate during other times will be reduced. If I start checking Facebook during my downtime, in other words, I’m convinced that the overall quality and quantity of time I can spend doing hard things — like writing or solving proofs — will, rather quickly, begin to decrease.

Furthermore, the idea that you can restrict your access to this addictive service to only downtime is naive. Think about the behavior of people you know: Facebook checking soon pervades all areas of your life, including those times when, in a pre-Facebook era, you would be interacting with family or friends. “You can access Facebook anywhere!”, in other words, is not the right way to persuade me.

Argument #4: Your general philosophy of only adopting a tool if it provides a clear and valuable benefit will deprive you of serendipity — think about all the interesting things you might be missing out on.

My careful approach to tool adoption almost definitely means I’m missing out on opportunities, trends, connections, and entertainment.

This doesn’t bother me.

As a consequence of my approach to tools, I have few electronic inboxes to monitor or online services to fiddle with. This means I spend a surprising fraction of my work day actually doing hard work, leading to a professional life that is fulfilling and, to date, pretty successful (knock on wood). It also means that when I arrive home in the evening, I don’t touch a computer until the next morning — allowing me to spend my time focused on my family and friends, and giving my full attention to any number of things I already enjoy, like reading. (I read a lot.) I would be a fool to dilute this to chase the possibility of something “new.”

Fear of missing out, in other words, is not a valid argument for trashing what you already have.


On an unrelated note: My friend Todd Henry (of The Accidental Creative fame) recently published a new book, Die Empty. Here’s the blurb I wrote for the jacket: “Die Empty looks past simple slogans to highlight detailed strategies for building a meaningful life; a must-read for anyone interested in moving from inspiration to action.” If you’re interested in these questions of work, meaning, and legacy, I encourage you to find out more