Study Hacks Blog Posts from January, 2021 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

Michael Lewis Doesn’t “Do” Social Media

January 26th, 2021 · 17 comments

Last May, Tim Ferriss interviewed the writer Michael Lewis. Early in the episode, Lewis said that people often describe him as “one of the happiest people they know.” Toward the end, we encounter one of the reasons why this is true.

As the podcast wraps up, Ferriss asks the standard question: “are there any other websites, or any other resources, social media handles, anything you would like to mention if people want to learn more about what you are up to?”

Lewis’s response is refreshing:

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David Mellinkoff’s Productive Lack of Productivity

January 21st, 2021 · 11 comments

A reader recently pointed me toward the 1999 obituary of the respected legal scholar David Mellinkoff. He flagged, in particular, this passage:

“After the war, David developed a successful law practice in Beverly Hills. He early discovered, however, that, in his words, “the law thrived on gobbledygook.” He wanted to learn how this had happened, but after searching for answers in standard sources, he concluded, ‘there wasn’t a single book that wove it all together.’ David decided to write that book. He closed his law office, sold his house, and moved to the woods of Marin County. Seven years later he published The Language of the Law (1963), the book by which he will be chiefly remembered.”

In 1956, at the moment when Mellinkoff decided to retreat into the woods, his decision to trade all the busyness, urgency, and, of course, remuneration of running a Beverly Hills law firm for the monasticism of Marin must have seemed shockingly unproductive. And yet, when considered through the distance of history, Mellinkoff’s nurturing of what became The Language of the Law  becomes self-evidently the most productive use of his talents.

I don’t think everyone should retreat to a quiet cabin. Probably most people would find such a commitment to intellectual minimalism intolerable. But I’m convinced that this option should be more common, especially among those with Melinkoff’s cognitive gifts. When you expand the time horizon for what you mean by “productive,” the options for crafting a deep life similarly expand.

A World Without Email

January 11th, 2021 · 36 comments

I’m pleased to officially announce my new book: A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload. It comes out March 2nd in the US (and March 4th in the UK).

I started working on this book in 2016, almost immediately after Deep Work was released. At some point, I put the manuscript on pause to write Digital Minimalism, then returned my attention to grappling with its central ideas.

In many ways, this book is my magnum opus on the topic of technology and the workplace. If you’ve been following my articles for the New Yorker over the past year or so, or listening to my podcast, you’ve encountered a sampling of the rigorous new thinking at the core of this effort.

I’ve divided A World Without Email into two parts.

  • The first part, which is titled “The Case Against Email,” provides the definitive treatment on how the world of work transformed after the introduction of digital communication tools, and what unintended consequences these changes created.
  • The second part, which is titled “Principles for A World Without Email,” introduces a framework I call attention capital theory that can be deployed to radically rethink how we work, pushing us toward a vision in which ceaseless, ad hoc messaging is replaced with much more sustainable and structured approaches to producing valuable output with our brains.

The advice in this book is designed to be relevant for several different audiences, including employees, entrepreneurs, and executives. This breadth is captured in the endorsements, which include:

  • Dropbox cofounder Drew Houston, who says “A World Without Email crystallizes what so many of us feel intuitively but haven’t been able to explain: the way we’re working isn’t working.”
  • Kevin Kelly, who says “Cal Newport is on a quest to uncover better ways for knowledge workers to collaborate.”
  • Harvard Business School Professor Leslie Perlow, who says “This book is a call to action”
  • Greg McKeown, who calls the book ” bold, visionary, almost prophetic.”

I will, of course, be talking about the book more as we approach the publication date. If you preorder the book, hold on to your email receipt, as I’ll be announcing soon a way for you to redeem it to receive a pre-order bonus.

But until then, I’m just excited to finally be talking publicly about something I’ve been working on for so long on my own…


Speaking of my books: if you live in the UK, the kindle version of Digital Minimalism is currently on sale for only 0.99p…if you haven’t read my latest yet, this is the absolute best time to do so!

Projects vs. Tasks: A Critical Distinction in Productive Scheduling

January 2nd, 2021 · 41 comments

In a recent episode of my podcast, an Australian doctor named Nathan asked an interesting question regarding some difficulties he had maintaining and organizing his task list:

“David Allen asked ‘Is it actionable?’; separating tasks from ideas. But I also find that there are different types of tasks. The easiest to deal with are what I’m taking to calling ‘concrete’ tasks, such as taking out the rubbish, or submitting a final report. These are defined, necessary tasks that are cognitively easy to deal with. However, I’m also aware of ‘aspirational’ tasks, such as ‘summarize War and Peace,’ which are open-ended, and don’t really matter if you accomplish them by a specific time…they tend to just pile up.”

This is an important question because it touches on the rare productivity topic that’s both crucial to my personal process, and something that I haven’t already written much about. I thought, therefore, it would useful to briefly review the answer I gave Nathan.

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