About Cal Newport
My name is Cal Newport. I’m a computer science professor at Georgetown University. I started blogging here at calnewport.com in 2007 while a graduate student at MIT. At the time, I was writing student advice books, so the blog originally focused on this topic — which is why it’s called “Study Hacks.”
In recent years, I’ve been writing about the intersection of technology and society. I’m particularly interested in the impact of new technologies on our ability to perform productive work, as well as on our ability to lead interesting and satisfying lives.
For those who are new to my work, I’ve created a short summary of the main ideas I’ve developed and explored in my writing.
Ideas about Technology and Society
In recent years, I’ve been primarily writing about the intersection of technology and society, with a particular focus on professional productivity and personal satisfaction. Here are some of the main ideas I’m developing…
- The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to concentrate without distraction on a demanding task (what I call “deep work”) is becoming more rare at the same time that it’s becoming more valuable in the knowledge sector. As a result, those individuals and organizations who put in the hard work to cultivate this skill will thrive. (I wrote a book about this.)
- Attention Capital Theory: In modern knowledge work, the primary capital resource is human brains; or, more specifically, these brains’ ability to create new value through sustained attention. At the moment, most individuals and organizations are terrible at optimizing this resource, prioritizing instead the convenience and flexibility of persistent, unstructured messaging (e.g., email and IM). I predict that as this sector evolves, we’ll get better at optimizing attention capital, and accordingly leave behind our current culture of communication overload. (I’m under contract to write a book about this.)
- Digital Minimalism: The services delivered through your devices have become so alluring and addictive that they can significantly erode the quality of your life and your sense of autonomy. My solution is a philosophy I call digital minimalism, which argues that you should radically reduce the time you spend online, focusing on a small number of activities chosen because they support things you deeply value, and then happily miss out on everything else. (I’m under contract to write a book about this as well.)
After I finished my PhD at MIT in 2009, I began a two-year postdoc during which I entered the academic job market. For obvious reasons, I became interested during this period about the question of how one develops a satisfying and meaningful career, eventually developing the following framework:
- Career Capital Theory: “Follow your passion” is bad advice if your goal is to end up loving what you do for a living. A more effective strategy is to work deliberately to develop rare and valuable skills, and then use the resulting “career capital” to shape your career into something that truly resonates. In this framework, passion is something you cultivate through hard work, not the starting point in your quest for a satisfying career. (I wrote a book about this.)
When I started this blog in the summer of 2007, I was a graduate student who had written two student advice guides and was in the early stages of planning my third such book. Here are the main ideas I explored in these books and on this blog during these early years:
- The Straight-A Method: Studying is a skill. If you get good at this skill, you can earn much better grades while spending much less time studying than your peers. The fact that more students don’t take this reality seriously still baffles me — they’re literally wasting dozens of hours a week on unnecessarily inefficient work. (I wrote a book about this.)
- The Zen Valedictorian: Students at competitive high schools and elite colleges inject unhealthy amounts of stress into their life due to the flawed belief that the quantity of things you do as a student controls how impressive you seem to the outside world. This is not true. You’re typically judged on the thing you do best. My approach to the student stress issue (which I used to speak about at universities around the country) was to encourage students to: do less, do better. That is, focus on a small number of things; do them really well; and leave yourself margin in your schedule for recharging and curiosity. It’s possible to be both happy and impressive, if you know what you’re doing. (I wrote a book about this.)
The “radical” idea behind these books was to treat the student reader as an adult and take the goal of doing well at school seriously (achieving this tone was helped by the fact that I was still a student when I wrote them).
As a graduate student, I was invited to speak about the topics covered in these titles at some of the country’s top universities, including Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Duke, and Georgetown.
In 2012, I published So Good They Can’t Ignore You, which tackled the question of how people end up loving what they do for a living. The most controversial finding from my research was that “follow your passion” is bad advice.
I wrote this book during the period when I was preparing to enter the job market after graduate school — so the topic had an urgent personal relevance. The New York Times op-ed I wrote about the book’s ideas created a stir, becoming one of their most emailed articles for over a week.
In 2016, I published Deep Work, which argued that our ability to focus without distraction is becoming increasing rare (due, primarily, to distracting technology), at the same time that it’s becoming increasing valuable (as the knowledge economy becomes more cognitively demanding). As a result, those individuals and organizations who cultivate their ability to perform “deep work” will enjoy a major competitive advantage.
The book seems to have hit a nerve. On publication, Deep Work became an instant Wall Street Journal bestseller, and received praise in the New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and The Guardian. Amazon named it the best business book of January, 2016, and put it on its list of the best business books of the year.
In the summer of 2017, I signed a two-book deal with Penguin Random House to continue the exploration of technology’s impact on society that I started with Deep Work.
The first book that will be produced from this deal is titled Digital Minimalism, and it will explore the benefits of radically reducing the time you spend online. Its tentative release date is early 2019.
The second book is titled A World Without Email, and it will argue that the way we work today — in which we constantly communicate through email and IM — is deeply flawed, and is a phase that the knowledge sector will soon move beyond.
For the very few who might be interested, here’s a superfluously detailed biography. Shorter bios, as well as high resolution headshots and cover images, can be found in my media kit.
I graduated Dartmouth College in 2004, and earned my PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT in 2009. After a two-year postdoc, also at MIT, I started during the 2011 – 2012 academic year as an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. I earned tenure in the spring of 2016, and my current title is Provost’s Distinguished Professor of Computer Science.
In my academic career, I specialize in the theory of distributed systems, which means I spend more time proving theorems than compiling code. To date, I’ve published more than 60 peer-reviewed papers that have been cited more than 3,500 times.
In my writing career, I sold my first book to Random House in the summer after my junior year of college. At the time, I was the editor of the Dartmouth Humor Magazine (the Jack’o Lantern), and had been a humor columnist for the student newspaper.
I started blogging here at calnewport.com soon after the publication of my second book, and have been posting here regularly ever since. I famously, however, have never had a social media account (it turns out that this is allowed).
I currently live with my wife and two boys (soon to be three), in Takoma Park, Maryland, in a cool old Victorian house that has a study with a fireplace and a custom-built library table where I do my deep work.