Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

Work Accomplished = Time Spent x Intensity

April 8th, 2014 · 80 comments

laptop-outside

The Straight-A Method

In the early 2000’s, I was obsessed with study habits. The obsession began with my interest in performing well at Dartmouth, then eventually evolved into a (surprisingly popular) book.

Something I uncovered during this period is that high performing undergraduates, as a general rule, seem to internalize the following formula:

Work Accomplished = Time Spent x Intensity

This formula helps explain why some students can spend all night in the library and still struggle, while others never seem to crack a book but continually bust the curve. The time you spend “studying” is meaningless outside of the context of intensity. A small number of highly intense hours, for example, can potentially produce more results than a night of low-intensity highlighting.

(This is how I avoided all-nighters, for example, during my three year stretch of 4.0’s as an undergraduate.)

From Campus to Corporation

I’m mentioning this phenomenon because of the following observation:

The above formula applies to most cognitively demanding tasks.

In other words, intensity affects the productivity of a knowledge worker as much as it helps the GPA of a college student.

An idea that’s gripped my imagination recently is that we’ve significantly underestimated the magnitude of this reality in our professional lives (I absolutely include myself in this plural pronoun).

Optimizing your intensity, in other words, might be more than a minor enhancement to personal productivity; it might instead unlock absurd rates of production.

I’m still gathering my evidence for this conjecture, but what I’m finding so far intrigues me.

(Here’s a taste: I recently interviewed a writer who published 1.5 million words last year, all the while writing only around 3 hours a day, five days a week. His secret: he systematically increased his intensity levels during these sessions using fine-grained metrics, ascetic schedules/rules, and aggressive environment hacking. If you want to see him in action, check out his upcoming kickstarter project in which he plans to co-write a book publicly in 30 days.)

In the meantime, it’s an interesting thought experiment to consider your own level of workday intensity, and wonder what would be involved in taking 2 – 4 hours of your day, and engineering your life so as to optimize the intensity of your concentration during these periods. What changes would you have to make to how you manage your energy, environment, or processes? What results might it produce?

As I attempt to devise a more coherent understanding of intensity management, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts or experiences.

(Photo credit)

80 thoughts on “Work Accomplished = Time Spent x Intensity

  1. Sam Crigler says:

    Are we going to have access to this interview that you conducted with Mr. Truant?

    1. Study Hacks says:

      I was thinking about writing a more detailed blog post about the interview. The original purpose of the interview was a project I’m working on. But there some cool ideas I am eager to share sooner.

      1. Kevin says:

        Please do!

      2. Ajay says:

        Seconded! I’d love to read it, as well.

  2. Sam says:

    I thought “wow, I have to look into this”. The guy is impressive, but he finishes work at 6 pm every day because he starts working at 6 am or even 4 am. Additionally he has hired assistants for doing administrative issues. If he manages to stay focused on important things for work that means he accomplishes 60-70 hours of high-intensity work every week, which is more than most ordinary people accomplish in 3 weeks in a regular full time job. Staying deeply focused for that much time is impressive, but given that it’s pretty clear how he manages to be impressive.

  3. Ben says:

    “I recently interviewed a writer who published 1.5 million words last year.”

    I’d love to read the interview. Have you published it?

  4. John says:

    Cal,

    I have a new tittle for you. From now on we are going to call you the sprint coach of the mind. Here is why…

    For the past 100 years sprint coaches have been trying to get the most out of the human body. Through the process of trial-and-error they have been able to perfect the training of their athletes. Also, keep in mind this took them 100 years. In the last 20 years, top sprinting coaches have also started to incorporate some insights from the sports science into their athlete’s training. It is only know that sports science is catching up to what sprint coaches have known for decades.

    The most astounding fact about sprinting is how close the sprinters are to the “perfection point”, the absolute best performance the human body is capable of in optimal conditions. I call it the asymptote of human performance. Many sports scientists have speculated that the fastest a human can run 100m is 9.00 sec. If this is true, we are only 5% from “perfection point”.

    Cal, what you are trying to do is very similar to what the first sprint coaches were doing. Both of you are using trial-and-error. The first sprint coaches had rudimentary training methods. For example, their athletes trained with heavy army boots on the sand.

    Today, most coaches would laugh at their methods. In a similar way, I think in 20 years we will laugh at the idea of deliberate practice. We will realize how inadequate and vague the idea was. Deliberate will have evolved into something way more nuance and discipline specific, even if its core remains unchanged just like training of sprinters. Their training regime has changed dramatically, but at the core it is still all about stressing the body and allowing it to recover.

    1. Study Hacks says:

      Interesting analogy. What strikes me is that there is so little trial-and-error going on in the world of high-output knowledge work, even though it is such a large sector of our economy.

    2. Aaron says:

      I love the sprint coach analogy, but from where I sit Cal has never emphasized actual intellectual growth. Rather, he’s a sprint coach for producing real value.

  5. kj says:

    Interesting article. Intensity is also the key to increasing physical performance. Its generally more effective to train at or near max intensity for 20 minutes than loaf through a 90 minute session.

    1. A.I. says:

      KJ,

      I don’t think one can make this claim in this generality.

      If you try to run long distances, and quickly too, you need to harden your leg muscles against fatigue, and the way it’s done is running long distances slowly.

      Cardiovascular fitness is probably better enhanced by high intensity, but in my experience, it’s just one limiting factor of several, muscular endurance and the ability to keep up a relatively high speed over prolonged periods of time.

      Continuing the analogy, what kind of cognitive function could there be that would benefit from this kind of prolonged, low intensity work?

    2. AR says:

      As defined by powerlifters, intensity is the % to their 1 repetition maximum (RM).

      Training at your peak intensity will make your more efficient at lifting your 1 RM.

      However, to increase your work potential (perform more repetition) & prevent burnout, you must “build the base” by reducing intensity to perform more repetitions.

  6. A.I. says:

    Cal,

    you mentioned the high intensity bursts in your book about being a straight A student.

    I wonder, if you apply this method, is it also not important to identify which of the issues has the most impact if mastered?

    Surely, this is highly individual in nature. But I’m curious how you handle this issue. Do you “just know” what topic is important to focus upon, or do you have conscious strategies to identify those topics?

    I for my part use a “just know” strategy, but I’m wondering if this is really the most effective way to do it.

    Spontaneously, some sort of idea graph (not necessarily a mind map, which is merely a tree) comes to my mind to show the interrelations of the various concepts. A node of high degree might indicate a concept of high importance.

    Any thoughts on this? The answer could well be that it might be superfluous to identify the high-yield concepts to focus upon.

    1. CL says:

      I did the same thing when I had to study for a big exam. I knew I would never study after coming home from an 8-12-hour cubicle slog, so I resolved to wake up at 5:30 daily and study for 60-90 minutes. Then I would immediately hit the gym, since I knew I would never do that in the evenings either.

      I’m in a similar situation again, where my daily tasks distract me from 10-4pm, and after which I am too tired to put in hard focus hours. I need to get my real work in before 10am, but having trouble feeling motivated lately when the nature of the work is so distasteful.

      1. brandi says:

        Hi AI.
        I don’t know if you’re still looking for an reply.
        My experience of determining the the core concepts of a topic is:
        Break the idea into core sections and continue decomposing. I find I have to add one or two core topics to map/model the idea. I find I need to focus on one to three of the branches. At this point I list a few connections to the branches and twigs.
        It may sound like overkill however I can break stuff down within 20 min after scanning the topic. I’m amazed at how much I already know about a topic when I do the break down. Then I use Mack’s strategy in The Warrior Within; create a list of targets, determine what’s first, second, etc. Then I get to work. I have an objective, I assign a time frame and I knock them down, one after the other.

  7. Sebastian says:

    I figured out lately that I’m only able to achieve a high intensity during the early hours of the day.

    Until lately I was performing a large morning routine before I started to work. I was wasting the prime of my day with minor and unimportant tasks.

    Now I start my day right away with my most important task. No breakfast, no distraction. Focus to the important for 4-5 hours.

    The results are tremendous.

    1. Study Hacks says:

      Out of curiosity: what type of work?

    2. Francois says:

      I too can only work intensively really early in the morning. But as an architecture student in France I start class around 8am so I have to wake up around 4:30. Since I started this routine, grades and above all my feeling of accomplishment has gone through the roof!!
      However being tired as soon as 9pm is quite annoying but hey, at least I can watch game of throne knowing I worked efectively during the day C;

    3. Gayle says:

      I think you have something there Sebastian especially for those of us who are “morning people.” I am a Master’s student and this quarter everything is really stepping into higher gear. I am trying to figure out how to approach my studying and writing plus stay sane while learning the academic skills that are important. I too think I am wasting precious morning hours and should get at least a few hours of academic work in before I start the rest of my day. It is truly the best time to work without distraction. Thanks for the nudge. Tomorrow I begin.

  8. The Intellectual Life, a wonderful book by Antonin Sertillanges, answers Cal´s question about how to optimize your life for 2-4 hours of work. It discusses everything from the mission of an intellectual to excercise to sleep to prayer to taking notes to defending your solitude. The trouble is that the book was written in 1921. But, I loved the book so much that I decided to start a blog to “update” the book and make it more accessible.

    1. Vicky Mlyniec says:

      If your blog is up would you please provide a link? I’d like to check it out.

      1. Yes, here it is: blakeprobinson.com.

        Sorry for the confusion!

    2. AS says:

      Can you share a link to your blog? How do you protect your intense work time when you have mandatory daily obligations, are too tired to work after them, and have difficulty waking up early enough to work before them?

      1. A.I. says:

        AS,

        my thoughts exactly. I once tried to get up at 5.30 to gain two hours before work, but after two weeks I grew so incredibly tired that I noticed a substantial decrease in general cognitive functioning. So I dropped the experiment, and try to keep my Golden Time Block sacred on the weekends.

      2. AS and A.I.,
        I know what you’re going through. I read The Intellectual Life nine months before I could really set aside a daily block of concentrated time. The change occurred when I switched jobs to something less demanding. My advice would be to try and do some intellectual work daily even if your main work times are on the weekends. Even if you work for fifteen minutes a day during the week, this will give you a continuity of thought that you wouldn’t otherwise have. This continuity will, I believe, make your major sessions on the weekends more useful. You won’t come to your major sessions and have to start from scratch. Let me know your thoughts.

    3. Study Hacks says:

      Blake, I just checked out a copy of The Intellectual Life from the Georgetown Library (which, of course, being a good catholic university, had multiple copies). I love it so far.

      1. Cal, that’s great to hear!

        I’m eager to hear any reactions you have. Also, some of the language is old and technical, so let me know if something is unclear and I can try to help.

        Blake

  9. Marched says:

    Can we be more specific on intensity? How intense? What defines as intense since I seem to have trouble categorizing intensity. Sometimes I’ll get the work done but it is not intense I just get it effectively finished

  10. Rytek says:

    I found out that I can have a high intensity focus when I’m :

    alone
    with my notebook and my pencil
    in silence
    have at least one hour ahead of me

    I’m often surprised by the work done in one hour.
    I’m a software developer and I’d like to have a similar intensity when working on the computer but I haven’t succeeded yet. I already tried software to block the web, minimalist desktop etc. but still, it doesn’t work for me.
    Do you have any ideas about how to attain a high intensity focus while on the computer ? The alternative would be (sic) to write most of my code in a notebook which really seems time wasting.

    1. A.I. says:

      Rytek,

      Ask yourself, what is it that distracts you from the code you’re trying to write?

      For me – and this doesn’t have to apply to you – there are several possibilities:

      – not having a clear idea of what I’m trying to code and how I’m going to do it

      – forgot how the code works I’m trying to build on, so my mind wanders off because it knows it can’t actually do the task

      – not being familiar enough with the APIs I’m using, so I’m distracted by looking up interface definitions

      I would venture two suggestions to remedy these issues:

      First, I have to credit Peter Drucker with the first piece of advice, that has worked quite well for me.

      To circumvent the problem of forgetting how the code works, try to allocate a time chunk big enough to write a first working draft in one single sitting. This way you enlist your short term memory for your work, enhancing effectiveness.

      Debugging and refactoring sessions then can be done in smaller time blocks once the structure of the software stands.

      To make this first advice work, I’d suggest proper preparation. Sit down in the manner you already do and think about what you’re going to do and how.

      Think of API functions you might have to use, look them up and compile a cheat sheet print-out that you can refer to quickly when coding, instead of screwing up your concentration by looking it up during your coding work.

      Familiarize yourself with the code you have to build upon – this is a task in itself and counts as preparation.

      I believe it helps the focus very much if you view preparation as a separate task which needs to be carried out properly before doing code work.

      When you’re really into it, you’ll view the web, emails and messaging services as annoyance rather than welcome excuses to avoid the work.

      Just my two cents, it might not work for you at all.

      1. pawel says:

        splendid advice. I do statistical programming, and this advice should help tremendously

  11. Jefferson James says:

    I experienced something like this on a smaller scale today actually when I realized I could take notes ahead from the powerpoint slides while the professor was lecturing on an idea that I already understood. Previously I would take few important notes during lecture and then create a full study guide from that lecture afterwards, but by increasing the intensity of my focus I was able to multitask when the lecture was going slow or there were multiple examples of the same thing being said and refocus my attention when a topic I didn’t have intuition on was mentioned. The result was I had completed my quiz/recall notes before the lecture even ended when previously I would have to spend an extra 20-30 minutes doing the same amount of work.

    Also I think the intensity portion is another way of thinking of deliberate practice. Intensity requires you to get more out of your time for the same time spent and if you remember your post about the violinists, the top performers spent around the same number of hours on music but the difference was more deliberate practice which is similar to saying more intensity during the same span of hours.

    From this I think the level of intensity you have for a certain project can be increased with practice but at higher levels of intensity it is more important to take breaks since it is draining. Also increasing the intensity a little can have great effects on productivity without having to take too much rest in between bursts.

  12. Jeremy says:

    This seems to be a recurring idea I’ve been reading lately.

    Somewhere between 3-5 hours of daily, intense, focused work yields the best result for creative/mind work. This was a theme I noticed after reading Daily Rituals. Whether its writing for 3 hours/day (Martin Scorsese) or writing 10 pages/day (Stephen King), optimizing for the daily grind and pushing through, even if the results are less than stellar, gets you much further than waiting for inspiration to strike.

    It’s also related to the popular process vs goals “movement”. (See Scott Adams book or the blog by James Clear).

    Do 2-6 hours of daily, focused work and over the long haul you will be much further along than someone who sits around waiting for the muse to bless them with an idea.

    But, even after completing this work, there may still be administrative tasks that need to be handled on top of this. Email/bills/scheduling/etc.

  13. David Freeman says:

    I would like to hear some ideas and examples on what constitues high-intensity study or work.

    1. Study Hacks says:

      When it comes to studying, I can answer this question. As an undergraduate, for example, I used to work at a desk, lit by a single light (the overhead lights were on motion sensors, so after 10 minutes, the floor would be dark except my desk), no computer, no phone, focused on a specific studying task for which I had a clear and tested system. For some reason, I found that drinking water every 15 minutes helped concentration.

      When it comes to a work environment….stay tuned…

  14. As someone who works full-time, has a partially disabled wife, and is trying to complete a Masters degree in seminary, I would love to learn how to intensify my time studying. Add Atlanta traffic to the mix and more of my time is gone – not to mention just simply being worn out.

  15. Michael Weber says:

    I don’t know that the analogy between intensity of physical exertion and “intensity” as applied to the execution of knowledge work makes for a completely workable comparison.
    In bodybuilding “intensity” generally means enduring pain and working to muscle failure. In track, “intensity” leaves the runner gasping for air.
    Does this mean the knowledge worker should be in a comparable mental state when carrying out a task?
    I have read some of the literature on deliberate practice and I know the proposition is made that most people don’t do it because it is hard and not much fun.
    In my own experience, I know this can be true at times, but I have also been in a “zone” while working, where I was completely absorbed in the task to hand and the hours just flew by. Referring back to Cal’s equation, this sort of state is the highest “intensity” variable I have achieved. Much more so than the unpleasant, forcing yourself to work proposition.
    That being said, waiting for inspiration might well leave one bankrupt.
    Seems like the key is defining “intensity” and, more importantly, discovering how to achieve it.

    1. GL says:

      I was about to say the same thing. Intensity means different things in knowledge work and physical work. Intensity in knowledge work doesn’t needn’t to be painful and exhausting. Intensity is achieved through the “Flow” state, which is actually a state of almost effortless work, where the ideas and thoughts flow freely.

      The trick is how can we learn to consistently achieve Flow? For me, it’s really hit or miss and comes down to luck. Some things that help though:

      Solitude, peace, quiet, physical comfort, uncluttered scenery, well-rested, coffee, and most importantly: doing what I love. Unfortunately fate often conspires to make some of the above difficult to achieve, especially in a student’s life.

      1. Michael Weber says:

        Yes, I think “intensity” as applied to knowledge work comes down to the amount of one’s attention being dedicated to the task at hand. It requires the ability to be in the present moment, set aside distractions, etc. I think it also requires an ability to break down a larger task into smaller units and to be able to focus on doing each step in turn. Otherwise, one’s attention or focus becomes diluted.

    2. AC says:

      Michael,

      I think that the use of the word intensity in this context can be misleading if applied in the same way that it’s used in bodybuilding, exercise and sport.

      I took Cal’s use of intensity to mean intensity of focus.

      I see it like a spectrum of attention.

      At one end you have completely focused attention, at the other end you have completely dispersed attention. The extremes are zero distraction or completely distracted.

      You could of course be somewhere in between. I really don’t think it needs to be any more complicated than that.

      1. Michael Weber says:

        AC, I agree and I think we all know more or less what Cal means by “intensity”.
        My hope is that by looking more closely at what this is and what brings it about, more insight could be gained as to how to achieve and maintain it over longer periods of time. Cal’s equation really got me thinking along those lines as this seems to be the key to increasing the quantity and quality of one’s output.

  16. I think it really comes down to a matter of physics.

    I often use the analogy with my coaching clients that if you focus your energy, similar to having water go through a narrow hose, then it goes farther, faster. If you diffuse it, it doesn’t move much, similar to the same amount of water trickling through a massive concrete pipe.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth

  17. Pete says:

    Their is also a 1934 edition and a 1987 edition. Most of the Amazon reviewers have given The Intellectual Life five stars

  18. Pete says:

    blakeprobinson.com may be of interest on the topic of the Intellectual Life

    1. Pete,

      Thanks for bringing up my blog.

      Best,

      Blake

  19. Mike says:

    I really love this formula! I like to always keep it intense when I am hitting the books.

    Something I have realised and continue to realise through my uni experience is people don’t exactly know how to study. They are told to ‘go study X’ so they open up the book and highlight everything while reading it and generally make no headway. With respect to your article they have low intensity because they simply don’t know how to get intense about it!

    I recently wrote an article addressing a few of these, and give some tips on how to study better, more efficiently and more INTENSELY! haha (If you don’t mind links :) )

    Check it out here: http://www.path-2-greatness.com/study-tips/

  20. In this post you’ve mentioned about the work accomplished is directly proportional to intensity, can you please further gave me the insights about how I can increase my work intensity.

    I usually try to concentrate on my current subjects but it always happen that I end up thinking about other things which are not so meaningful to me in the present.

  21. Wan says:

    When I look at how I and my friends studied in college, I realized how time spent doesn’t necessarily equals to time doing work.

    It’s true that intensity is the key here because I don’t think people are really focused when they are studying and working.

  22. Uger says:

    I really enjoy these posts, but what I feel has been missing from this blog is advice on how to plan for long-term goals. When writing an academic article, you often have to diligently work on a challenging problem for months and months (amidst all the daily obligations), followed by waiting for referee reports, followed by focused work again, etc.

    The daily time management and planning ideas are really helpful, but I still wonder how you manage to incorporate your larger milestones into your daily, weekly, and monthly routines while keeping everything simple?

    1. Study Hacks says:

      Disorganized answer: I try to work on one or two (but no more) open problems at a time. When I’m working on them, I tend to work every single day. Somewhat obsessively. Once I solve, I move on to the next. When I get a paper or two worth of results, then I shift over into a paper writing mode. I also tend to spend some periods (around 2 – 4 weeks at a time) where I am mainly reading to fuel the fire.

      Organized answer: pending…

      1. MK says:

        Do you have to work weekends too? I’m in graduate school now and am constantly working on big problems. The problems are so hard I can’t progress on them for more than a couple hours a day, so I find myself working every single day including weekends to compensate.

        Is there something I can be doing better to get out of working weekends, or is what I’m doing already optimal? I would really like a day off but it seems I can’t afford it or I’ll fall behind schedule and I can’t really make it up during the week since I’m already at the maximum output for each day. Can I somehow expand the amount of intense knowledge work I can achieve each day beyond the standard 3-5 hours?

      2. RL says:

        In grad school, and my work is so intense I’m always at 100% intensity. Because of this, I can’t work more than 3-5 hours a day.

        This is problem because I feel that I need more than 5 days a week to achieve my goals. So I end up working weekends, creating a nightmare 7-day work-week. This leads to burnout and even lower productivity.

        I’d like to simply set less ambitious goals to free up my weekends, but I’m afraid I’ll drop out of my program if I relax even a little, especially since no one else is relaxing. It’s highly competitive.

        I suppose I should feel grateful for having a career built upon knowledge work, the highest kind of work. But it’s also the most exhausting kind of work. It’s also extremely competitive, so if you’re not constantly pushing yourself to your limit, others will outcompete you and you get fired.

        What can I do to get out of this trap, Cal? It seems I need to either increase my intensity beyond 100%, work more hours per day at 100% intensity, learn how to work 7 days a week without burning out, or accept smaller goals and take my chances at turning in half-finished projects.

  23. Jacky Tran says:

    Thanks for introducing me to to the work of Mr. Truant. I’ve been reading your blog for a while but this guy seems to be a step beyond crazy. Should be great for intensifying my lifestyle!

  24. Amy says:

    Hey Cal, how would you suggest developing a stomach for such intense work? I’m currently finding myself slaving away at 12+ hours of work which I know can not be at high intensity… I feel like my life is draining away this way.

  25. VCB says:

    Three points. One:
    I’m all for intensity, and I think you’re (almost) right about the formula. But even so, it’s not clear to me how it’s supposed to apply. I get how it’s supposed to work when one has a strategy for approaching a task, or when one has to learn some physical skill, but I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work in more messy contexts. In particular, I have a hard time seeing how it’s supposed to work in settings where one is expected to come up with new ideas in well-trodden areas, or where one has to say something new and insightful about topics that are too complex to survey in something like a step-by-step fashion, or where the task one has been assigned is just plain messy. And arguably, this is what very large chunk of the tasks assigned to knowledge-workers look like, both within and outside of the academy.

    Two:
    Take a philosophy graduate who has to write a term paper on different approaches to arguing for and against logical laws. Telling the person that they’ll get more done if they work intensely doesn’t really seem to me to be more helpful than telling them not to use inefficient study strategies or not to get side-tracked in their reading or thinking. It seems very implausible that our grad student would feel that they’ve learnt something that will help them in approaching their task. Knowing that one gets more work done by focusing doesn’t really help in figuring out something new to say about why none of the arguments given against logical revisionism are any good, say.

    It seems like what you’re doing in this article is a bit like telling us that not only do all good football players know that they shouldn’t be practicing their ballet during football practice, and that this explains why those who focus during practice consistently perform better than those who run two yards, do a bunch of pirouettes, scratch their butts and run another two yards, even if they do a lot of it, but that we haven’t realized how important this lesson is for other sports.

    It’s just that this isn’t really helpfu.

    Three:
    Some tasks just aren’t well suited for intense work. I guess this sentiment shines through in point one and two, but it’s worth stating explicitly. Some tasks just seem to require a lot of non-intensive time to get done. Say that you want to write a big fantasy novel. Sitting down and writing for three one-hour chunks per day probably isn’t going to get you very far. You need to experiment, you need to let it rest and reread it, you need to get feedback, you need to think about whether the story is moving in the direction you want it to… &c.

    The point is that even if you can get a novel done by sitting down and working intensively on creating a world and characters and plotting and writing, it’s highly questionable if this approach will lead to a better result than if you incorporate more leisurely elements as well. But I haven’t really tried to find any data to support this last claim, so I guess I could be wrong. Though I guess the way people like George R R Martin and J R R Tolkien and Patrick Rothfuss seem to work seems to support the claim. But perhaps your notion of intensity is flexible to incorporate such things.

    1. Luiz says:

      Hey VCB,

      I am a long-time fan of Cal and have read all of his books. When Cal talks about short burst of intense work he is talking about 45min-60min of intense focus followed by a break of 5-10min.

      Cal recommends this “focus block” approach, because the brain can only focus intensively for about 45-60min unless you meditate or have been training your attention for a long time.

      This “focus block” approach can be applied to almost all types of work. The key to this method is to make sure you have a break between your work. The breaks are very important, because they provide you brain a opportunity to rest.

      As a runner myself, I see this approach as an interval workout for the mind. In the track you run 5 minutes hard then 1 min break. Here it is the same thing.

      Good luck :)

  26. Andrew says:

    I see you are on the “milestone” kick still :)

  27. Sam says:

    Hi Cal i am new to ur site , and i find your posts awesome , can u please make a index of all your post titles , i want to read every bit of knowledge from your blog :) Thanks

  28. Guy Windsor says:

    Interesting post, thanks Cal!
    This is exactly how I work when writing; two to four hours of maximum intensity per day. If for whatever reason the intensity is unavailable, I spend the time catching up with reading, doing admin, or just relaxing. There’s no point doing in four hours of low-focus today what I can do in an hour of maximum focus tomorrow. Better to spend that time making sure that I have the energy and lack of distracting nagging tasks tomorrow.
    Cheers,
    Guy.

  29. Rytek says:

    It somewhat reminds me of Derek Siver’s post Ideas are just a multiplier of execution

  30. Andre says:

    Whoa, somehow I couldn’t stop noticing the picture of your post, the landscape looked so familiar – I could swear, I’ve seen it before.

    After looking up the photographer, I realized that he’s living in my region – around Cologne and Bonn in Germany.

    I always loved your posts, Cal, but this is my new favorite, nice one! ;-)

  31. GISELLE says:

    Hi Cal! I’ve been meaning to email you, but perhaps this comment would suffice. I just finished my first year of law school. Because your blog has helped me immensely in managing my time back when I was an undergraduate student who was balancing academics and one extra-curricular activity, I tried to find lessons from your blog to apply to everyday law school life.

    However, I find that it’s quite difficult to do so because your methods revolve short bursts of time (“minimal high-quality work”) when the mind is working at its highest capacity. As a law student, though, I spend an average of 6-8 hours a day studying because of the sheer amount of material to read. I try to make sure that my brain is constantly working at its peak and I minimize distractions. Because of this, I’m still more efficient than my peers who end up sleeping 4-5 hours a night (I still manage to get 7 hours of sleep and finish the study material).

    My grades are relatively higher than my peers, BUT I feel like I could do better. How can I still improve my focus and time management (as well as retain the information better) when the nature of my study/course doesn’t allow for “short” bursts?

    1. ko says:

      I’d be interested in hearing more about Giselle’s question as well because it appears to relate to a question I was going to ask. In particular I was interested how to approach study for those that work full-time and study full-time. So full time work takes up approx 50-60 hrs per week and I find the study of 4 subjects per semester equates to approx 2 hrs per subject per day (i.e 8 hrs per day). It feels like this ,combined with work just leaves enough time for sleep and often the study has to suffer in this equation . 24hrs – 10 hrs work – 8 hers study = 6 hrs sleep. leaving minimal time for outside activities.

      I’m presuming intensity could play its way into this equation…ideally in a positive manner.

  32. Roger says:

    I read your books on how to succeed in college and I’ve been reading through your blog in my free time. I’m currently an undergrad (Senior) CS major so I have a few upper division courses left to go. I would like to thank you for tips on how to improve my productivity and time management. My study habits have also improved a great deal thanks to your tips (and I’ve even been complimented on how intricate and detailed my notes look by some upper-classmen). However, I’m having one MAJOR problem this semester – test anxiety. When things get stressful throughout the week, I have a few places where I can go and relax, and I have at least 4 different spots I can go when I need to study (just like you mentioned). I recently had a Physics exam and I swear it was by far the easiest exam we’ve had all semester. I started studying 2.5 weeks in advance and did a review with a classmate the Friday before the exam, and everything went fine. When the exam hit my desk the following Monday, I completely blew it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame my teacher at all. I like Physics, and he’s a very helpful guy, butI just started overthinking everything! I started screwing up all my formulas, I started plugging in wrong numbers into the equations, and even forgot how to do the part of the exam that I studied the hardest for. I ended up making an F when I knew I could’ve made at least a B. I made so many careless mistakes that I didn’t even realize them until the moment I handed the exam in and walked outside the classroom. Now we have a Comprehensive Exam coming up this Wednesday (and a Final in about 2wks), and I don’t want to repeat the same thing again. I haven’t missed a class, I take pretty damn good notes and I record the audio for each lecture so I write in the key points I missed during class in a different color ink as a sidenote. I do all my assigned hw practice problems, study from old exams (whenever I can chase down an old one), do the practice exams he gives us, go to the in-class exam review days, review on the 3 whiteboards in my room and re-solve the harder problems on paper and store them in my notebook for later use in my study guide and have a designated review day with a classmate, yet I just completely go brain-nuetral during exams. If I could get this ONE THING down, my next 2yrs of college will be a breeze. I hope to hear from you soon before my exam arrives! Thanks!

  33. Bill Metcalfe says:

    Cal, I am a 67-year-old self employed knowledge worker. I have been working a lot with my physical and mental energy level as I get older and your blog has been motivating. Physically, I work out every day. I am shocked at how many of my contemporaries accept that it is OK to get physically weaker as you get older. I am working on getting stronger every year. I realize that will eventually not work, but I figure I can keep increasing in strength for another ten years at least. I have been taking the same approach to mental work, because it won’t be possible for me to retire in the near future. I know that I am more productive now than I was ten years ago, even though I have less mental energy and can’t work as many hours in a day as I used to. But I have better concentration and focus, and in many ways I do better work as a result. It seems to me that your work may have a special application to aging, and I wonder if you have ever thought about that or know someone who has. I have been thinking about doing some writing or research about it.

  34. Bill Metcalfe says:

    And just to clarify, following my previous message, re how this applied to aging, I am not talking about the usual stuff about how old people need to do cross-word puzzles. I am talking about working, and doing it better now than when younger.

  35. uha1 says:

    This formula really deserves to be the title of your blog. It excellent. In addition, I believe, intesity has a formula too. Consisting of expectation, motivation, plan and such. I guess formulating that would be really good.

  36. Eliza says:

    I absolutely love this post! :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>