Study Hacks Blog Posts from October, 2015 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

Deep Habits: WorkingMemory.txt (The Most Important Productivity Tool You’ve Never Heard Of)

October 27th, 2015 · 33 comments


Productivity Problems

Here’s a typical scenario. Looking at your daily schedule, you see that you’re entering a period of time that’s not dedicated to deep work or a specific large shallow task.

This seems like a good opportunity to tackle some of the small tasks that accumulate in most knowledge work schedules (e.g., e-mails, planning, bills, looking up information, arranging meetings, filling out forms, etc).

Tackling these administrative blocks in an effective manner, however, can be elusive for most people — especially if you find yourself arriving at the office after a weekend, or a trip, or any other instance when an overwhelming number of obligations have been piling up, waiting to ambush you.

It’s easy to start such blocks with a reasonable plan, such as “let me answer some e-mails.” But this will soon generate many more new obligations than you can fit into your limited working memory at one time.

At this point, you might start lurching around, perhaps trying to knock off the new obligations as they arise (so you don’t forget them), then giving up on this goal as futile, then seeing even more urgent messages, and having those generate even more things that you can’t quite finish all at once, and then, the next thing you know, you look up after an hour of frenzied e-mailing and feel more overwhelmed than when you began!


The solution to such scenarios, I will argue, is to augment your limited neuronal capacity with some digital help…

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The Power of the Outdoor Office

October 21st, 2015 · 35 comments


The Weirdo in the Woods

I took this picture last week. While most people enter the woods with a hiking stick, or perhaps a dog, I was the weirdo carrying a cup of coffee and a notebook.

But I was stuck on some early stage problems and needed some serious deep thinking to try to shake things loose — so I grabbed the tools of my trade and headed into the wilderness.

After about a half hour of walking and thinking, I stopped here to organize and record my thoughts:

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Top Performer is Now Open

October 19th, 2015 · 40 comments


After Three Long Years of Development…

As I mentioned last week, I’ve spent the last three years working with Scott Young and his education company to develop an online course called Top Performer. The course picks up where SO GOOD leaves off, providing a systematic curriculum for:

  • identifying the skills that matter most in your profession;
  • constructing a deliberate plan to improve them rapidly; and
  • finding the time in your already busy schedule to consistently make progress on this endeavor.

You can learn more about Top Performer at the course web site, which includes a detailed video walkthrough, curriculum information, frequently asked questions, testimonials, etc.

The key detail is that we’re only leaving the course sign-up open for this week. We will close down course registration on Friday October 23rd at Midnight (Pacific Time).

Outside of a brief reminder on Thursday, this is the last time I’m going to talk about Top Performer on this blog. It’s now back to our normally scheduled programming…

Join Me and Scott Young for a Live Conversation this Weekend

October 14th, 2015 · 27 comments

I’m trying something new this weekend: a live webinar, co-hosted with my friend and collaborator Scott Young.

During the first half of the event, we’ll be discussing ideas inspired by SO GOOD, including our personal experience with career capital, deliberate practice, and elite level productivity.

During the second half, we’ll explain more about this mysterious Top Performer online course that I’ve been hinting about recently. (I’ve spent the last three years developing this course with Scott for his online course company, so I’m excited to finally go public about the details.)

Key Details: The webinar will be held at 4 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. It is free and open to anyone. To sign up, just click on this link.

This should be interesting. Hope to see a lot of you there…

A Productivity Lesson from the Prison Debate Team that Defeated Harvard

October 7th, 2015 · 26 comments


The Underdog Debate

News broke wide earlier today about something unexpected that happened last month at a maximum security correctional facility near Dannemora, New York: a team of prisoners won a debate contest held against Harvard’s vaunted three-time national champion team.

As reported by the Washington Post, a twist that made this outcome even more unlikely is that the prisoner team completed their extensive preparation without access to the Internet.

They were forced instead to make formal requests to the prison administration for the books and articles they required, and to then wait for days — and sometimes even weeks — for approval.

The easy storyline here is that this underdog team triumphed despite the hardship of being less connected. While this description might be largely true, the Post’s reporting suggests that something more interesting might have also happened:

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On Full Horizon Planning and the Under-Appreciated Power of Workflow Systems

October 6th, 2015 · 30 comments

The Missing System

Here’s something that baffles me: the fact that most companies don’t invest in helping their employees develop effective workflow systems.

(It’s probably worth taking a moment here for definitions: When I say “workflow system,” I mean a set of habits and tools used to organize what work you do and when you do it. And when I say “effective,” I’m referring to the amount of value you produce.)

Most people don’t dedicate much thought to such systems. The default, instead, is to run your day as a reaction to events and deadlines on your calendar, an inconsistently referenced task list, and, most of all, the flux coursing through your inbox.

As productivity nerds know, however, there are much more effective ways to get important things done.

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