Study Hacks Blog Posts from October, 2020 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

The Stone Carver in an Age of Computer Screens

October 27th, 2020 · 11 comments

A reader recently pointed me toward a short video titled “A Continuous Shape.” It profiles Anna Rubincam, a stone carver from South London who works alone out of a utilitarian studio; sliding doors open to a tree-lined patio.

The video follows Rubincam’s efforts over three weeks to produce a stone carving of a young woman’s head. It starts with her taking measurements from a live model. These are then translated into a clay figure, and subsequently engraved, one precise chisel hit after another, into a solid chunk of stone.

The reader who sent me the video titled his message: “Epitome of deep work.” I think he’s on to something.

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A Modest Proposal: Deweaponizing Network Effects

October 20th, 2020 · 29 comments

I recently read an important new article titled “Ethics of the Attention Economy: The Problem of Social Media Addiction.” It was written by  Vikram Bhargava and Manuel Velasquez, two professors from Santa Clara University, and published earlier this fall in the journal Business Ethics Quarterly.

The article applies a rigorous ethical analysis to purposefully addictive social media platforms. In one section, for example, the authors deploy Martha Nussbaum’s influential capabilities approach to demonstrate that these platforms impair many of the elements required for a dignified human life. Their conclusion is that from a strictly philosophical perspective, service like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram present a “serious moral problem.”

This article is an important academic adjunct to the topics explored in the recent Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, and I highly recommend reading it.

I was also, however, intrigued by the concluding section, which explored implications and solutions (and cited Digital Minimalism, which I appreciated). This got me thinking about more radical responses to these present moral problems. I thought it might be fun to share one such,  admittedly half-baked, notion here, with advance apologies to the originators of the many similar ideas I’m almost certainly inadvertently overlapping.

What if we got more serious about ceding users ownership over all of their social internet data: both what they’ve posted, but also their links; followers, friends, etc.?

Major legislative responses, such as the European Union’s GDPR, have tried to enforce data ownership, but what I have in mind is both simpler and more extreme.

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My New Planner + The Time Block Academy

October 14th, 2020 · 58 comments

Longtime readers and recent podcast listeners know that I’m a massive advocate of a productivity technique called time-block planning, which is at the core of my strategy for getting important things done in an increasingly distracted world.

After years of hand-formatting generic notebooks to satisfy my time-block planning needs, I decided to design my own planner optimized for exactly this activity.

Here’s the result…

The Time-Block Planner will be available everywhere books are sold online on November 10th and can be pre-ordered today (UK link).

I’ll share more details on the planner and the method it encodes as we get closer to the publication date. In the meantime, however, I wanted to discuss a special event I’m organizing for those hardcore time blockers who pre-order the planner before November 10th.

The event is called Time Block Academy.

It’s a live Zoom webinar that will be held November 13th at 3pm eastern. During the event, I’ll answer both live and pre-submitted questions about time blocking, productivity more generally, or whatever else is on your mind — sort of like a live episode of Deep Questions attended by a select crowd.

To gain admission, pre-order the Time-Block Planner at your preferred retailer, and email your proof of purchase to My publisher will email you back with details about the webinar, as well as a link to a video tutorial I created that gives you a sneak peak of the planner and how it works.

(US Residents, 18+. Ends November 09, 2020. See terms at this link.)

Churchill’s D-Day Task List

October 6th, 2020 · 23 comments

Last week, I received an email from a reader who had just returned from a trip to the Churchill War Rooms, a London museum housed in the bunkers, built underneath the Treasury Building, where Winston Churchill safely commanded the British war efforts as the Blitz bombarded the city above.

The reader had photographed an artifact he thought I might find interesting: a to-do list labeled “D Day,” written by one of the secretaries serving Churchill.

Here’s a detail shot:

Superficially, I was intrigued because I’ve been consuming a lot of WWII history recently. (At the moment, I’m concurrently reading The Splendid and the Vile along with David Roll’s excellent new George Marshall biography.)

But it also resonated at a deeper level.

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