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Haruki Murakami and the Scarcity of Serious Thought

I recently returned to Haruki Murakami’s 2007 pseudo-memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I first encountered this book back in 2009. It inspired me at the time to write an essay titled “On the Value of Hard Focus,” which laid the foundation on which I went on to build my theory of deep work. Which is all to say, Murakami’s short meditation...

Sebastian Junger’s Focused Retreat

In 1991, Sebastian Junger suddenly found himself with time to think. He had wounded himself with a chainsaw at his day job as a climber for a tree pruning company in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and was laid up recovering. Morbidly inspired by the experience, Junger became interested in the idea of writing a book about dangerous jobs. In a tragic sense,...

Thinking Outside the Home

Peter Benchley wrote Jaws in the backroom of the Pennington Furnace Supply, a short walk from his home in Pennington, New Jersey. Though he lived in a bucolic converted carriage house situated on nearly an acre of land, he preferred writing amidst the clamor of this industrial hideaway . He’s not alone among authors in this retreat to an eccentric...

Luke Skywalker: Digital Minimalist

I recently returned to a book I first discovered earlier in the pandemic: The Power of Myth. It consists almost entirely of edited interview transcripts from a now classic, wide-ranging filmed conversation between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell, which originally spanned over twenty hours of footage, but was later narrowed down to a handful of 60-minute...

On Productivity and Remote Work

Early in the pandemic, I wrote a big piece for the New Yorker about the potential implications of our sudden shift to remote work. One of my predictions was that the shortcomings of the largely improvisational and informal methods by which we currently organize knowledge work — what I call “the hyperactive hive mind”  — would be exaggerated by this...

The Neuroscience of Busyness

In a paper published last month in the journal Nature (summary), a group of scientists from the University of Virginia reported on a series of experiments designed to assess how we solve problems. When presented with a challenging scenario, humans cannot evaluate every possible solution, so we instead deploy heuristics to prune this search space down...

Favorable Conditions Never Come

In a sermon delivered at the height of World War Two, a period awash in distraction and despair, C.S. Lewis delivered a powerful claim about the cultivation of a deep life: “We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always...

The Productivity Funnel

In light of our recent discussions of “productivity,” both in this newsletter and on my podcast, I thought it might be useful to provide a more formal definition of what exactly I mean when I reference this concept. In the most general sense, productivity is about navigating from a large constellation of possible things you could be doing to the actual...

On Slow Productivity and the Anti-Busyness Revolution

Seven years ago, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang was a typical overworked, multitasking, slave to the hyperactive hive mind, Silicon Valley consultant.  Feeling the symptoms of burnout intensify, he arranged a three-month sabbatical at Microsoft Research Cambridge. Here’s how he later described this period: “I got an enormous amount of stuff done and did an...

In Defense of Thinking

I recently came across a Hemingway quote that caught my attention: “My working habits are simple: long periods of thinking, short periods of writing.” It reminded me of a time I used to spend each spring as a young professor, back when my schedule allowed it, giving short talks at so-called “dissertation bootcamp” events. The point of these multi-day...

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