Should You Set Deadlines for Your Goals?

Say you have a personal goal: you want to build a business, lose weight or learn a language. Does it make more sense to set a deadline for that goal (i.e. I want to speak conversational French in 9 months) or should you ignore it? I think this is an interesting question because, on the one hand, a deadline can motivate action. By knowing you need to accomplish something in a particular period of time, you’re less likely to procrastinate [...]

Why Most People Get Stuck in Their Careers?

During this week, Cal Newport and I want to share some of few of the most useful and surprising lessons we’ve learned from teaching our career mastery course, Top Performer, to over two thousand students. We will only be posting this first lesson publicly. If you want to get the other lessons (for free), please join the newsletter before we send them out. One of the most common complaints we’ve heard is from people who feel stuck in their careers. [...]

If You Had 15 Days to Learn Calculus, How Would You Do It?

If you had fifteen days to learn calculus well enough to pass a comprehensive exam, starting from scratch, how would you do it? A gut reaction might be to memorize. If you learn everything by rote, you can spit it out on the exam paper, then forget it. But this only works if your exam questions are narrowly constrained. If you’re going to be exposed to questions you’ve never seen before, memorizing anything other than the most general of procedures is [...]

Career Planning and the Dao

You’ll swim fastest if you go with the current. You’ll accomplish more in life if you work with the flow of things rather than against it. The ancient Chinese called this the Dao. The ineffable becoming of things to which we are all linked. The height of wisdom, they believed, was to work with this Way, not struggling against it. At first, this idea may seem to be simple passivity. That to “go with the flow” means to surrender control and [...]

Should Learning Be Hard?

How hard should learning be? This may feel like a silly question, but it’s one of the biggest unanswered questions I have about learning strategy. One view of the question argues learning should be as intense as is sustainable. The research on deliberate practice suggests that intense practice focused on improving a skill is the road to expertise. Without intense practice, your skills might get “good enough” and you’ll plateau in ability. Another view of the question argues that learning should [...]

Three Strategies for Behavior Change

Most of self-improvement boils down to behavior change. You want to exercise more, eat better, earn more money, learn a new language, stop worrying so much. All of it is a form of changing your behavior. Looking around, there seems to be broadly three ways of changing behavior: Bottom-up Top-down Inside-out I notice that people tend to stick with one of these methods, particularly if it has worked for them in the past. But, like all things, sticking to one method dogmatically may not [...]

The Hard, But Effective Way to Learn a New Language

Since learning French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean, I get asked a lot about what’s the best way to learn a language. In this article, I’d like to share what I think works, what I think doesn’t and what I think doesn’t matter to learn a new language from zero to a conversational ability. Before I start though, here’s three caveats: This is just my approach. There’s lots of ways to learn languages and plenty of people who’ve learned it not [...]

Don’t Be Busy

The most useful and counterintuitive productivity advice I was ever given was don’t be busy. Do less things. Commit to fewer responsibilities. Don’t try to fill your schedule up. It’s strange advice because busyness is one of the things we most associate with productive people. Think of the CEO who works 100 hour workweeks or the academic who grinds non-stop to produce journal-worthy papers. Hardly lives free from busyness. But the more I’ve tried this approach, the more I feel it [...]

Seven Principles of Learning Better From Cognitive Science

I just finished one of the best books I’ve read on the science of learning. Daniel Willingham is a Harvard educated cognitive scientist who writes books and articles about how to learn and teach better. The title of his book, Why Don’t Students Like School?, is a tad unfortunate, I think, because the book isn’t really about bored students. Instead, the book is divided into principles of learning. In order to make the cut, these principles needed to fulfill a [...]

Never Be Too Pleased With Your Past Work

Out of the thousand articles I’ve written, there are few that I genuinely like. Most of those I feel are mostly correct or useful, upon reflection, are still lacking in a lot of ways. Sometimes they’re too wordy, the research is too sparse or there are obvious counterarguments I ignored. I feel the same way about all of my books, and all of my products. Since I wrote Learn More, Study Less, several years ago, I’ve done at least five [...]