Study Hacks Blog Posts from March, 2019 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

The Arizona Cardinals Now Give Their Players Phone Breaks

March 27th, 2019 · 22 comments
Photo by Skitterphoto.

Earlier this week, at the NFL owners meetings, Kliff Kingsbury, the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, revealed a new rule for team meetings: “cellphone breaks.”

As reported by ESPN, Kingsbury introduces these breaks every 20 – 30 minutes during team gatherings. As he explained:

“You start to see kind of hands twitching and legs shaking, and you know they need to get that social media fix, so we’ll let them hop over there and then get back in the meeting and refocus.”

Many concerned readers sent me this article, and with good reason. It’s an extreme case of a techno-philosophy that I facetiously call the kids these days mindset, in which parents, educators, bosses and (it now seems) coaches shrug their shoulders when confronted with the impacts of highly addictive technology on young people.

This football example is useful because it so clearly highlights the shortsightedness of this strategy.

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Mike Trout Doesn’t Care About His Online Brand. He Just Made $430 Million.

March 20th, 2019 · 33 comments
Photo of Mike Trout from 2013 by Keith Allison.

Mike Trout, the center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels, is finalizing a $430 million contract extension with his team. This is the largest deal in the history of professional sports.

One of the surprising elements of Trout’s story is that he’s reached these unprecedented heights while remaining, to quote Tom Boswell from today’s Washington Post, “a quiet, understated player, who has never tried to brand himself.”

I got in some hot water a few years ago for writing a New York Times op-ed in which I argued that young people needed to spend less energy desperately trying to build their online presence, and more energy quietly developing unambiguously valuable skills. (I even wrote a book about this.)

Trout represents this philosophy pushed to an extreme. When you average 9.0 WAR over six seasons, you don’t have to worry about your Instagram followers.

Trout’s talent, of course, approaches mythological levels, which made his commitment to fundamentals a safe bet. But as with any good myth, it conveys a deeper truth. In almost any professional endeavor, developing unambiguously rare and valuable skills trumps an amorphous commitment to cultivating followers or strengthening an online brand (with a small number of well-publicized exceptions).

It also helps if you can turn on a major league fastball thrown down and in.

Digital Minimalism and Ancestral Health (Or, Would Grok Tweet?)

March 16th, 2019 · 28 comments

The ancestral health movement argues that over long periods of time, evolution adapts species to their environments. It follows that when it comes to human well-being, we should pay attention to how we ate and behaved throughout the vast majority of our evolutionary history.

Like most lifestyle movements, ancestral health has spawned its share of hucksters and extremists, but the underlying logic seems self-evident, and the success stories can be compelling.

After recent appearances on Paleo Magazine Radio and Mark Hyman’s podcast, and my embrace of Mark Sisson’s advice to help stay lean and energized on book tour, I’ve begun to think more about the natural intersection of digital minimalism and ancestral health.

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On Heidegger and Email

March 11th, 2019 · 26 comments
The hut near the edge of the Black Forest where Martin Heidegger developed his philosophy of Being.

I was in California last week promoting Digital Minimalism. One of the books I brought to keep me company was Sarah Bakewell’s insightful, and surprisingly entertaining, At The Existentialist Cafe.

In the third chapter, I came across a nice piece of focus porn concerning the philosopher Martin Heidegger.

During Heidegger’s first academic appointment, which was at the University of Marburg, his wife Elfride used an inheritance to buy some land near the Black Forest town of Todtnauberg. The plot overlooked “the grand horseshoe sweep of village and valley.”

As Bakewell elaborates:

“[Elfride] designed a wood-shingled hut to be built on the site, wedged into the hillside…Heidegger spent much time working there alone. The landscape criss-crossed by paths to help him think…in evenings or out of season it was silent and tranquil…when alone there, Heidegger would ski, walk, light a fire, cook simple meals, talk to the peasant neighbors, and settle for long hours at his desk, where…his writing took on the calm rhythm of a man chopping wood in a forest.”

Heidegger, of course, went on to become a controversial figure due to his later involvement with the Nazi party, but it’s hard to overstate the intellectual impact of his book Being and Time, which was written during this Marburg period, and helped shatter the rapidly ossifying structures of German phenomenology, ushering in a torrent of philosophical innovation.

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Digital Minimalism for Parents

March 1st, 2019 · 29 comments

One of the more interesting things about being on the road promoting Digital Minimalism is encountering readers and learning how they’re making use of these ideas.

One such group that’s particularly interesting to me is digital minimalist parents. I’m a parent, but the oldest of my three boys is only six, so I haven’t yet directly grappled with the serious issues surrounding kids in an age of smartphones, making me eager to hear from those who are waging this battle now.

As I’ve talked with more of these parents, a consistent reality has emerged:

  • Smartphones and social media are a major problem for adolescents. To ignore it with a “kids these days” shoulder shrug is becoming increasingly unacceptable. (For more on this, see my somewhat infamous interview with GQ where I speculatively compare teenage smartphone use to teenage smoking.) 
  • Any successful attempt to instill in your kids a healthier relationship with technology has to start with modeling this relationship in your own life.

This latter point is one that we parents sometimes don’t want to hear, but it keeps coming up in my conversations: if you carry your phone with you at all times, checking it constantly, it’s difficult to convince your kids not to do the same, no matter how many rules you set or warnings you deliver.

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