Study Hacks Blog Posts from February, 2016 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

Write an Attention Charter

February 16th, 2016 · 34 comments


Ambiguous Distraction

In the war to reclaim your attention, some battles have clearer fronts than others. It has become clear to me that these differences matter.

Social media, for example, is digital nicotine. It’s engineered to hook you so you can be sliced and diced into advertising fodder. It’s not worth losing your cognitive autonomy over — unless your job depends on it, you should probably quit.

But the real issues seem to arise not from the obvious whimsies, but instead from the commitments that are less obviously harmful, and in fact, in the right dose, might actually be vital.

Consider, for example…

  • an invitation to speak at a compelling conference,
  • a request to hop on a call with an interesting person,
  • a long email asking a question you know something about,
  • an offer to collaborate on a project that fits your interests, or
  • a new service that might make parts of your working life better.

To place a blanket ban on such activities would induce a monasticism that would likely stall your career, or, at the very least, make it unbearably monotonous.

(Even my deep work idol, Neal Stephenson — who has no public email address, and only ventures into public for book launches — ended up involved in a sword fighting video game and consults for an augmented reality pioneer.)

And yet, in my own experience, I find that the occasions when I most despair about the tattered state of my schedule are almost always the result of the accumulation of a dozen yeses that each made perfect sense in isolation.

So how do you balance these competing concerns?

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