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Learning by Doing: When Does it Work? When Does it Fail?

How much do we learn simply by doing the things we’re trying to get good at? This question is at the heart of a personal research project I’ve been working on for several months. Readers can note some previous entries I’ve already written on this project. My original intuition was that we get good at what we practice, and skills are often quite specific....

What if You Don’t Feel Smart Enough?

I often don’t feel smart enough to do what I do. I don’t say this out of false modesty or as an attempt to be more relatable. I spent the last decade taking on rather-immodest learning challenges. I’ve always been confident in my ability to learn new things. Instead, the insecurity comes from recognizing that, no matter how hard I try, there are tons...

The Craft is the End

I once met with a successful academic and author. He told me that he didn’t understand most of his peers. Getting tenure at a university is a lot of work. You need to produce a lot of the right kind of intellectual output to get recognized. But after that, you have total freedom to pursue whatever work you think is true and important. He commented...

Which Works Better: Habits or Projects?

In a recent essay, I argued that most people are trying to do too much. In the attempt to do everything that interests them, they end up making little progress on anything. One reader noted a problem. Doesn’t this view of having a few serial projects contradict the idea of building good habits? Isn’t it the idea to make slow and steady progress on...

The Project-Driven Life

The majority of productivity advice is about the day-to-day. What tasks should you work on? When should you get up in the morning? How often should you take breaks? This granular perspective is valuable. For most, it’s daily life that makes the difference. Big goals and plans matter little if they don’t translate into action. When I view my own life,...

You’re Trying to Do Too Much

I’ve been teaching online courses for 10+ years. A typical student has an array of varied interests and passions. They want to learn Spanish and guitar. And also machine learning and web development. Oh, and they want to start an online business—so they’d better learn marketing too. I like these students. Heck, I am one of these students, so I relate...

My Recent Reading: 10 Interesting Books on How We Think and Learn

My current project is a deep dive into the science and philosophy of learning by doing. (Which, ironically, has me reading a lot of books!) Since my last post sharing interesting books was surprisingly well-received, I figured I’d share some more. Here are ten books I found thought-provoking: 1. Metaphors We Live by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson...

Lessons Learned from 5 Years and 5000+ Students in Top Performer

Just over five years ago, Cal Newport and I launched the first session of Top Performer. The release was shortly after the publication of Cal’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Cal’s career-advice book dispelled the myth that following your passion was the key to fulfilling work. Instead, the heart of great careers is rare and valuable skills—in...

Want to Write for a Living? The 7 Things I Wish I’d Known

Many people dream of becoming professional writers. Getting paid to share your thoughts with strangers is a pretty good gig. I’ve been a full-time writer for over a decade, and in the spirit of my last post on college advice, here’s what I wish I had known before I started writing. First, though, some caveats. Writing is tough. Few who write regularly...

The 7 Things I Wish I’d Known Before College

We live in a bizarre culture. We expect teenagers to commit to a field of study that will often shape their entire future career. And we ask them to choose their path based on whether they liked their freshman class in that subject. This is absurd. Work is utterly unlike an intro class. Liking your psychology class doesn’t necessarily mean you should...

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