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On Pace and Productivity

One of the books I’m reading on vacation at the moment is John Gribbin’s magisterial tome, The Scientists. I’m only up to page 190 (which is to say, only up to Isaac Newton), but even early on I’ve become intrigued by a repeated observation: though the scientists profiled in Gribbin’s book are highly “productive” by any intuitive definition of this...

On the Myth of Big Ideas

I recently came across an article in the New Yorker archives that I greatly enjoyed. It was written by a Dartmouth mathematics professor named Dan Rockmore, and is titled: “The Myth and Magic of Generating New Ideas.” The essay tackles a topic that’s both central to my professional academic life, and wildly misunderstood: what it takes to solve a proof....

On Twitter Addiction and its Discontents

Earlier this week, Caitlin Flanagan published a provocative essay in the Atlantic titled: “You Really Need to Quit Twitter.” In this instance, the label of “provocative” seems obligatory, even though an objective read of the piece reveals mainly common sense. Which serves to underline the whole point Flanagan is attempting to make. The article reports...

Notes on Quentin Tarantino’s Writing Routine

About an hour into his recent interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Quentin Tarantino was asked about his writing habits. “It all changed,” he revealed, “more or less around the writing of Inglorious Basterds.” Before starting work on the 2009 film, Tarantino described himself as “an amateur, mad little writer” who would work late at night, or by going...

On the Dynamo and Email

In an article about remote work that I wrote for the New Yorker last year, I pointed to an underground classic research paper titled “The Dynamo and the Computer: An Historical Perspective on the Modern Productivity Paradox.” It was written by a Stanford economist named Paul David, and published in the American Economic Review in 1989. In the article,...

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...

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