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An Update On My New Book

UPDATE (2/17/10): My new book, which is scheduled for publication in July, 2010, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. If you’re excited about this title, and want to ensure that you get your copy the day it comes out, consider ordering it in advance.  (I have a feeling we’re going to sell more than they expect, and stocks will run low.)

The Relaxed SuperstarsBook Deal

I receive a lot of e-mails asking about my new book. I realize that I’ve only given a few vague details on the project to date, so I thought I would rectify that today by bringing you up to speed.


The book focuses on a group of high school students I call relaxed superstars. These are students who live low-stress, under-scheduled, relaxed high school lives yet still do phenomenally well in college admissions. In the book I tell their stories and deconstruct how they pull this off.

To date I’ve interviewed around 20 such students. I can guarantee that their stories will change the way you think about college admissions. You’ll encounter students who enjoyed abundant free time (due to reasonable course loads and minimal junk extracurriculars), yet still breezed into schools like Stanford, Princeton, and MIT. Their secret almost always involves focused attention on an innovative project they loved.

Consider, for example, Michael. As a high school student in Arizona he focused his attention on a series of projects involving sustainability. He didn’t do them all at once, but, instead, one after the other, each building on the last. During his junior year, he took only 1 AP course. He participated in no other extracurricular activities. His schedule was so flexible that he adopted the habit of going on a 1 – 2 hour hike, immediately following school, four days out of five every week.

Michael loved his life.

He’s currently a student at Stanford.

Most people have a sense that students like Michael exist. Almost every senior class has that one happy, laid back guy who surprises everyone when he gets accepted to Harvard. My book is simply the first to track them down, interview them, and figure out how the hell they made this happen.

I want to offer talented high school students a path to academic success that doesn’t involve living a terrible, stress-saturated life.


The book is divided into three parts, one for each of the three major “laws” followed by these students: underschedule, focus, and innovate. Fans of Study Hacks will recognize these as the three laws of the zen valedictorian. (In fact, in my original proposal I called these students zen valedictorians, but my publishers, rightly so, thought the word “zen” was overused.)

Each of the three parts is divided into two halves. The first half explains the law and why it’s true. It also provides examples of real relaxed superstars putting the law into action. The second half provides concrete advice for the reader to integrate the insights into his or her own student life.


I’m on track to finish a rough draft of the entire manuscript by the end of next week. (Whew!) That leaves me a summer to edit before I submit the first draft to my publisher in September. I think this adds up to a spring of 2010 publication date, but I’m not definite about that.

My System

People often ask how I juggle book writing with other obligations. For example, while writing this manuscript I’m also writing my PhD dissertation and keeping up a fast-paced research publishing schedule.

My method is the same I used for my previous two books (and is shared by many other professional writers). I write first thing in the morning most weekdays and occasionally on the weekend. Usually for 1 – 2 hours. Rarely more. Because it’s first thing in the morning, nothing else can hijack my time. And because I insist on long publishing contracts, these small pushes are enough to build to a quality final result.

More Soon…

As I shift into the editing phase, I’ll share more updates about the project. It’s been really hard to keep silent about all of the exceptional content I’ve been working through in my monkish isolation. Expect me to start leaking more details soon.

In the meantime, if you have a good idea for a title, let me know! I’m stumped…

17 thoughts on “An Update On My New Book”

  1. Sounds really interesting. What kind of methodology are you using? When I wrote “Study 30 Minutes a Day to a 4.0 GPA” I used grounded theory and studied 50 students who achieved a grade point average improvement within a single semester (I had great access to these students as a teaching assistant). I continued interviewing using grounded theory until all the data points coalesced into a single vision of how these kids were able to jump up in marks so quickly.

    Were your interviews more informative or did you do any quantitative content analysis?

  2. I used grounded theory

    You’ll have to explain to me what “grounded theory” means.

    The book’s argument is in the style of Gladwell: popular science, long-form profile, and a dash of experienced insight.

  3. Grounded theory is a qualitative research methodology mostly used in the social sciences to figure out trends within subjects. Unlike a classic Scientific methodology, grounded theory does not bias itself with a theoretical premise or theory. Instead you create a open ended set of interview questions and apply those questions to as many subjects as possible to figure out the trends within the data.
    You keep interviewing subjects until you don’t get any new responses from your subjects. After that you can reform the data into a content analysis or even run a quantitative analysis (I threw responses into STATA).
    The advantages of this approach is you lack bias in the formation of the questions (in comparison to classic methods) as you don’t have any leading overarching theoretical premise. The disadvantages is that it takes a HELL of a long time as the study can’t end until you stop getting unique responses. I’m a sociology dork and LOVE the data collection process, but it probably doesn’t make as good reading as a Gladwellian type of writing style. Hope this helps.

  4. Usually for 1 – 2 hours. Rarely more. Because it’s first thing in the morning, nothing else can hijack my time. And because I insist on long publishing contracts, these small pushes are enough to build to a quality final result.

    Hi Cal,
    by long publishing contracts and small pushes (1~2h), you mean “focused daytime chunks”, right?

    You have timeless content and useful for any age, so don’t worry on the deadline. Thx for writing on what you do, it does help a lot to read how you approach projects

    …please keep the zen valedictorian term here ^-^

  5. Thanks for the update, Cal. I am really looking forward to the book, even though its Spring 2010 publication date means I would have (hopefully!) just gotten into college!

  6. I’m a freshman in high school, and I’ve been following your blog for a while. I used to be really stressed out–I go to a competitive high school–and reading your posts has helped me a lot. I’ve done some of the things you’ve suggested in the past, such as the autopilot schedule and such, quitting laundry list extracurriculars, and it’s made school much more bearable. Next year I’m starting an independent study project in English. (I haven’t picked a subject, but I’m thinking the role of mythological archetypes in literature.) I’m really excited about it. Thank you so much!
    Anyway, blabbing aside, good luck with your next book! I’m looking forward to it. Your advice is targeted mostly towards college-age students, so this will be a nice change. Sometimes, it can be difficult to figure out how your suggestions can work for me. Just please say it comes out early 2010! I’m going to be a junior then, and it’ll be a little late for me if it comes out in the fall or winter. (I’ll still be grateful to you for writing it at all, of course–what with your schedule and all.)
    Maybe we could also have some sneak peek posts?

  7. Congrats on progress so far and thanks for sharing the info about the book.
    I am also interested in reading about the book on your blog as you make further progress.
    I also use a lot of your scheduling techniques so am interested in that as you successfully juggle a lot of work and commitments.

  8. Fascinating! Your approach converges nicely with a book I’m reading by William Sedlacek, Beyond the Big Test: Noncognitive Assessment in Higher Education 2004. Sedlacek writes for higher ed staff & administrators, advocating for admissions and funding decisions based on an oft-repeated list of “noncognitive factors” correlated with student success:
    “1. Positive self-concept
    2. Realistic self-appraisal
    3. Successfully handling the system
    4. Preference for long-term goals
    5. Availability of a strong support person
    6. Leadership experience
    7. Community involvement
    8. Knowledge acquired in a field” (outside of class)

    Sedlacek shows how to recognize these factors; your books and posts include concrete steps that we can use to develop them in ourselves. Thanks!
    ~A recovering grind.


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