Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

John Grisham’s 15-Hour Workweek

May 22nd, 2017 · 20 comments

The Deep Life of John Grisham

As longtime readers know, I enjoy tracking down the deep work habits of well known and highly accomplished individuals. This is why I was happy to recently stumble across a pair of interviews (here and here) in which the novelist John Grisham describes his professional routines.

Here’s what I learned…

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Patrick Rhone is Nonline

May 18th, 2017 · 13 comments

Rhone’s Sabbatical

In March, writer Patrick Rhone posted a notice that he was taking a break from online publishing to work on his next book.

“This includes my websites and social media accounts,” he explained. “No blog posts, no tweets, no status updates.”

He concluded: “I’m nonline.”

This adjective caught my attention as I hadn’t heard it before. Here’s the definition Rhone linked to in his notice:

nonline (adj.): No longer found on, made available to, or primarily accessed or contacted through the Internet.

I like this phrase and hope it catches on as something that more and more people feel empowered to use to untether from digital distraction as needed.

Perhaps more important than the phrase itself is the trend it represents. Cultural revolutions, like the one we’re currently experiencing courtesy of the internet, are disorienting at first. New vocabulary — like nonline, or deep workor attention merchants — can play a key role in helping people sort through this confusion and figure out how best to react and thrive in a changing world.

(Hat tip: Spencer S.)

James Michener’s Nomadic Pursuit of Depth

May 11th, 2017 · 16 comments

Method Writing

When James Michener was writing his epic 1978 novel, Chesapeake, he didn’t have to travel far for inspiration. At the time he lived in an old house, nestled on 25 acres, near the Choptank river on a creek that emptied into the eastern waters of Chesapeake Bay.

“He loved the sounds of the place,” explained Michener friend and collaborator Errol Lincoln Uys. “He would take long walks out to the end of the dock and stand there while he tried to figure something [about the book] out. He loved the sounds of the migrating ducks. He loved the nature of the place.”

By the time a couple from Baltimore bought the house from Michener in 1995, the novelist was long gone. In the early 1980s, he moved to Austin, to immerse himself in the rhythms of the Lone Star State while writing Texas.

These were not the only times Michener used location to inspire his work. After Texas, he moved temporarily to Sitka, Alaska, to work on his novel Alaska, and his original epic, Hawaii, was written during a period when Michener lived on the island.

There’s something aspirational about this idea of deploying grand gestures (to use a term from Deep Work) to push forward creative endeavors. I’m bringing it up here, however, because I think there’s a subtle point lurking in Michener’s nomadism that’s relevant to knowledge work in general…

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On Steampunk Productivity

May 4th, 2017 · 24 comments

The Steampunk Phenomenon 

Steampunk began as a fiction genre that imagines alternative histories in which technology never moves past the steam-driven industrialism of the Victorian Age. It portrays worlds ruled by retro-futuristic inventions, like heavy-geared automata and whirring Babbage-style mechanical computers.

It has since expanded into its own aesthetic, impacting both fashion and design, as well as a thriving community of makers who retrofit 21st century artifacts with the stained woods and brass knobs of the 19th century (c.f., the above picture of a steampunk modem).

One reason steampunk resonates is its intuitive physicality. Our modern world of plastic cases and digital chips is mysterious and sterile. A steampunk contraption, by contrast, is driven by pistons and valves that match our mental schema for how things function in the physical world.

This physicality is appealing (an idea fleshed out thoughtfully in Matthew Crawford’s wonderful manifesto: Shop Class as Soulcraft). Put simply, we’re attracted to things whose function we can concretely grasp.

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The Life-Changing Magic of the Inbox Sort Folder

April 27th, 2017 · 20 comments

Back to Basics

It’s been a while since I’ve geeked out here on Study Hacks about the latest productivity hack to earn my enthusiasm. So it’s with some excitement that I bring up my latest favorite tip: the inbox sort folder.

It’s not uncommon for me to go two or three days without seeing my email inbox. When I subsequently return, the volume of its contents can be overwhelming. The inbox sort folder method is something I stumbled into that helps me tame this mess.

The idea is simple…

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Listen to Baseball on the Radio (with a Book)

April 21st, 2017 · 37 comments

A Deep Season Begins

Now that we’re entrenched in spring I can indulge one of my favored deep work training routines: listening to baseball on the radio.

America’s pastime unfolds slowly. The experience of listening to a game lacks the rapid, shiny stimuli that defines so much modern entertainment.

This is important. The more comfortable you become in the absence of such distractions, the easier you’ll find it to persist in the non-stimulating (but satisfying) pursuit of depth.

Baseball on the radio also requires sustained concentration. To really understand what’s happening in the game, you need to have followed every pitch in the inning that led to the current moment.

This requires that you to hold your attention on a single target for an extended period of time: another effective exercise to sharpen your ability to focus.

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Tim Ferriss and the Rise of the Email Miser

April 13th, 2017 · 21 comments

The Spark

Tim Ferriss’s first book, The 4-Hour Workweek (4HWW), has been selling well in hardcover for almost a decade. In this time, it has resonated with so many audiences, and inspired so many trends, that it’s easy to forget the topic that first put the book on the cultural map: email.

In the spring of 2007, right around the time 4HWW was published, Tim gave a talk to a packed room at the SXSW conference. Though he covered many topics in the speech, there was one suggestion in particular that caught his audience’s attention: you should only check email twice a day (and explain this to your correspondents in an autoresponder).

This twice-a-day strategy created a buzz at SXSW: major business bloggers began to write about Ferriss, and his book soon became a phenomenon in Silicon Valley (the epicenter of communication overload). It was largely on this platform that 4HWW began to lay the foundations for its massive audience.

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Why Are Maker Schedules So Rare?

April 5th, 2017 · 33 comments

A Tale of Two Schedules

In 2009, tech investor Paul Graham published an influential essay titled “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.” In this piece, he argued that the best types of schedules for people who makes things are different than the best schedules for those who manage things.

As Graham elaborates:

“The manager’s schedule is…embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour…”

“…But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.”

He then delivers the key conclusion: “When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster.”

Though Graham doesn’t mention it specifically in the essay, we might add that the need to keep up with an inbox or chat channel can be equally disastrous to a maker. The constant context switching, as we now know from research, also prevents the maker’s brain from fully engaging the creative task at hand.

In the years since this essay was published, it has spread widely. The (slightly modified) terms maker schedule and manager schedule are well-known, and most people who deal with both types of workers agree that Graham is speaking the truth: if you want someone to make something valuable, they’ll be most effective if you let them work in long, uninterrupted chunks.

But here’s the thing: almost no organizations support maker schedules.

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