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

On Technology and Focus: ASMR, VR, and the First Steps Toward Immersive Single Tasking

November 23rd, 2020 · 35 comments

Around 2010, a curious new term arose in obscure but energetic internet chatrooms: autonomous sensory meridian response. ASMR, as it was soon abbreviated, described a peculiar form of paresthesia experienced as a tingling that starts in the scalp and then moves down the back. It’s often triggered by specific sounds, like soft whispering or a paintbrush scraping canvas. Not surprisingly, those sensitive to ASMR sometimes found Bob Ross reruns to be a reliable source of the effect.

What makes ASMR relevant to our interests here is that it happened to emerge as a topic of discussion just as YouTube emerged as a cultural force. Soon a cottage industry arose of AMSR videos featuring meticulously recorded trigger sounds. One such video opens on a straw stirring seltzer water. A little later it zooms in on a knife scraping dried blush on a make-up tray. It’s been viewed over four and a half million times.

The reason I know about ASMR is that as these “tingle videos” grew in popularity, they spawned a sub-genre called ASMR rooms. The goal in these videos was no longer to trigger the classical tingling response, but instead to invoke a sense of meditative calm and focus.

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When Did Productivity Become Personal?

November 17th, 2020 · 21 comments

My latest article for The New Yorker, published on Tuesday, is titled “The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done.” It’s not, however, really about David Allen’s productivity system, which longtime readers (and listeners)  know I really admire. It’s instead about a deeper question that I hadn’t heard discussed much before: Why do we leave office workers to figure out on their own how to get things done?

With the notable exception of agile software development teams, companies in this sector largely leave decisions about how work is assigned, reviewed, and organized up to individuals. We promulgate clear objectives and construct motivating corporate cultures, but when it comes to actually executing these tasks, we just hook everyone up to an email address or Slack channel and tell them to rock and roll. This has led to a culture of overload and fragmented attention that makes everyone involved miserable.

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The Time Blocking Revolution Begins…

November 10th, 2020 · 37 comments

I’m excited to announce that my new Time-Block Planner is now available everywhere books are sold online.

I first described my time blocking practice on this blog back in 2013. The idea began to gain traction after I popularized it in my 2016 book, Deep Work. In the years since, it’s been featured in publications such as the New York Times, the New Yorker, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Lifehacker.

I often claim time blocking is the secret to my productivity. In my experience, time blockers accomplish roughly twice as much work per week as compared to those who use more reactive methods, and enjoy a much clearer separation between work and non-work time, significantly reducing professional stress and anxiety.

Now for the first time, this system has been captured in a daily planner that makes it easy for anyone to implement these ideas in their own professional life. (To learn more about the system and exactly how the planner works, check out the dedicated site I launched at

There are two reasons why I decided to publish my own planner:

  • The first was convenience. I was tired of hand-formatting blank notebooks. I was also frustrated by paper quality issues and the lack of page marker ribbons that help quickly identify the current page. This planner solves those problems, reducing the friction required to implement daily planning.
  • The second, and more important, was motivational. It’s one thing to read about a productivity system, but it’s another thing to actually invest in and own an artifact that’s dedicated to implementing that system. I want more people to time block. Buying this planner signals to yourself that you’re a time blocker. It’s also an attractive aesthetic object, with nice paper and detailing. It’s a pleasure to use, especially with a micro-ball liquid ink pen (like this one). These factors might sound small, but they make a big difference when it comes to the challenge of consistently overcoming your mental resistance to stay organized. I think of the planner like a gym membership or Peleton subscription for your time and attention.

To find our more about the planner check out the dedicated site. You can buy the planner at the standard places: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells, Hudson Booksellers, Books-a-Million, etc., and for readers in the UK, it’s available at Amazon UK.

Staying Productive on Distracted Days

November 4th, 2020 · 33 comments

I don’t normally spend much time reading information online, so I definitely noticed this morning the unusual degree to which I was distracted by breaking election news. This points to an interesting question that I’ve seen discussed in some articles in recent days: what’s the best way to keep getting things done on truly distracting days?

My answer: don’t.

“Productivity” is a slippery term. It’s often used to refer exclusively to the rate at which you produce value for your business or employer. I tend to apply it more broadly to describe the intentional allocation of your time and attention toward things that matter to you and away from diversions that don’t.

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