Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success Posts from 2017 August

Toward a Deeper Vocabulary

August 27th, 2017 · 33 comments

When Writing is More than Writing

As a professor who also happens to opine publicly about productivity, I’m often invited to stop by dissertation bootcamps — a semi-annual ritual at many universities where doctoral students gather to hear advice and work long hours on their theses in an atmosphere of communal diligence.

Something that strikes me about these events is the extensive use of the term “writing” to capture the variety of different mental efforts that go into producing a doctoral dissertation; e.g., “make sure you write every day” or “don’t get too distracted from your writing by other obligations.”

The actual act of writing words on paper, of course, is necessary to finish a thesis, but it’s far from the only part of this process. The term “writing,” in this context, is being used as a stand in for the many different cognitive efforts required to create something worthy of inclusion in the intellectual firmament of your discipline.

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Are We Going to Allow Smartphones to Destroy a Generation?

August 20th, 2017 · 53 comments

The iGen Problem

Many people recently sent me the same article from the current issue of The Atlantic. It’s titled, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”, and it’s written by Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University.

The article describes Twenge’s research on iGen, her name for kids born between 1995 and 2012 — the first generation to grow up with smartphones. Here’s a short summary of her alarming conclusions:

“It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

I won’t bother describing all of Twenge’s findings here. If you’re interested, read the original article, or her new book on the topic, which comes out this week.

The point I want to make instead is that in my position as someone who researches and writes on related topics,  I’ve started to hear this same note of serious alarm from multiple different reputable sources — including the head of a well-known university’s mental health program, and a reporter currently bird-dogging the topic for a major national publication.

In other words, I don’t think this growing concern about the mental health impact of smartphones on young people is simply nostalgia-tinged, inter-generational ribbing.

Something really scary is probably going on.

My prediction is that we’re going to see a change in the next 2 – 5 years surrounding how parents think about the role of smartphones in their kids’ lives. There will be a shift from shrugging our shoulders and saying “what can we do?”, to squaring our shoulders and asking with more authority, “what are we going to do?”

(Photo by Pabak Sarkar)

How I Read When Researching a Book

August 14th, 2017 · 57 comments

The Reading Writer

As a writer I’m required to read lots of books, especially when ramping up a new project, as I am now. The picture above, for example, shows the books I’ve purchased only in the past two days.

I’ve already finished one of them.

My approach to the books I process in my professional life is quite different than my approach to the books I savor in my personal life. The former requires the ruthlessly efficient extraction of key ideas and citations, while the latter unfolds as a slower, more romantic endeavor.

I thought it might be interesting to briefly reveal the method I’ve honed over the years for my professional reading. It’s simple, and the basics should sound familiar to any serious nonfiction reader, but it has served me well.

Here’s the strategy:

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Aziz Ansari Quit the Internet

August 9th, 2017 · 24 comments

The Disconnected Life

Aziz Ansari recently deleted the web browser from his phone and laptop. He also stopped using email, Twitter and Instagram.

As he explained in an interview with GQ, when he gets into a cab, he now leaves his phone in his pocket and simply sits there and thinks; when he gets home, instead of “looking at websites for an hour and half, checking to see if there’s a new thing,” he reads a book.

Here’s how he explains his motivation:

“Whenever you check for a new post on Instagram or whenever you go on The New York Times to see if there’s a new thing, it’s not even about the content. It’s just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling. You’re not going to be able to control yourself. So the only way to fight that is to take yourself out of the equation and remove all these things.”

He was worried when he first deleted his web browsers that he would suffer from not being able to look things up. He soon stopped caring.

“Most of the shit you look up, it’s not stuff you need to know,” he explains.

The journalist interviewing Ansari for GQ reacts to this answer with incredulity. “What about important news and politics?”, he asks.

“Guess what?”, Ansari replies. “Everything is fine! I’m not out of the loop on anything. Like, if something real is going down, I’ll find out about it.”

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