Tag: Cal Newport (page 1 of 2)

The Great Reckoning

When I was a teacher and school senior leader in my twenties I worked all the hours. Not only that, but I was writing my doctoral thesis and we had a young baby. I’ve never worked so hard or be so close to burnout.

Since switching to being based from a home office in 2012 my life has been transformed. With no commute and no planning, preparation, and assessment, I’m paid for the time I actually work. And since 2017 and setting up a co-op, I’m jointly in charge of the means of production as well.

As Cal Newport writes in The New Yorker, others are cottoning-on to these advantages since the pandemic, leading to a wave of resignations.

These people are generally well-educated workers who are leaving their jobs not because the pandemic created obstacles to their employment but, at least in part, because it nudged them to rethink the role of work in their lives altogether. Many are embracing career downsizing, voluntarily reducing their work hours to emphasize other aspects of life.


Many well-compensated but burnt-out knowledge workers have long felt that their internal ledger books were out of balance: they worked long hours, they made good money, they had lots of stuff, they were exhausted, and, above all, they saw no easy options for changing their circumstances. Then came shelter-in-place orders and shuttered office buildings. This particular class of workers were thrown into their own Zoom-equipped versions of Walden Pond. Diversion and entertainment were stripped down to basic forms, and it became difficult to spend more than the cost of a Netflix subscription or batch of sourdough starter to keep occupied. The absence of visits with friends and family reinforced the value of social connection. The unceasing presence of video conferencing and e-mail enhanced the Kafkaesque superfluousness of many of the activities that dominated the pre-pandemic workday. This class of workers was suddenly staring at the proverbial cabin and wondering if a copper pump would really be worth the labor required to cultivate another acre.

Source: Why Are So Many Knowledge Workers Quitting? | The New Yorker

Working from near home

The idea of subsidizing W.F.N.H. efforts is not novel. Last fall, a startup in the U.K. called Flown began developing what it describes as an Airbnb for undistracted knowledge work. The company’s home page features enviable locations, such as a room in the Cotswolds with a desk facing a floor-to-ceiling picture window overlooking a meadow, available for short-term rent. As the founder of Flown, Alicia Navarro, explained to me, when we talked on the phone, the target for these rentals is not individuals but large organizations that can buy time in bulk to support their employees.

Source: What if Remote Work Didn’t Mean Working from Home? | The New Yorker

When we ask for advice we are usually looking for an accomplice

Changing the Letter, 1908, by Joseph Edward Southall. The subject is taken from the poem 'The Man Born to be King' from William Morris's 'The Earthly Paradise'. The sealed letter is addressed 'To The Governor'

🏡 What can we learn from the great working-from-home experiment? — “A few knowledge jobs, such as IT support, are properly systematised to allow focused work without endless ad hoc emails. [Cal] Newport believes that others will follow once we all wise up. Or we may find that certain kinds of knowledge work are too unruly to systematise. Improvisation will remain the only mode of working — and, for that, face-to-face contact seems essential.”

I disagree with this, having spent almost a decade doing creative, improvisational work, mostly from my home office.

They left Mozilla to make the internet better. Now they’re spreading its gospel for a new generation. — “Plenty of older tech companies spawned networks of industry leaders. Mozilla has, too, only it’s a different kind of group: a collection of values-driven engineers, marketers, program managers and founders. Most of them share a common story: Looking for a sense of purpose in tech, they took a financial hit for the chance to become part of the company’s cult-like obsession with openness and privacy. Though the company had its flaws, they left feeling deep loyalty to the mission, and a sense of betrayal from those who went on to work for the tech giants Mozilla has been battling. “

Some companies act as a filter for a certain type of person. Mozilla is like that, and while I was there I worked with some of the most ethical and awesome people I’ve ever come across.

🤪 Why It’s Usually Crazier Than You Expect — “The idea that people like (or hate) what other people like (or hate) is important, because it lets small ideas grow bigger than you’d guess if you assume everything is ranked by quality alone. Social momentum is hard to model on a spreadsheet, so it’s hard to predict or think about in terms that seem rational. But it’s so powerful.”

The standard economic model is that people act in their individual and group self-interest. But humans are much more complicated than that.

🎓 Academics Are Really, Really Worried About Their Freedom — “Some will process this as a kind of whining, supposing that all we should really be concerned about is whether people are outright dismissed. However, elsewhere a hostile work environment is considered a breach of civil rights, and as one correspondent wrote, “It isn’t just fear of firing that motivates professors and grad students to be quiet. It is a desire to have friends, to be part of a community. This is a fundamental part of human psychology. Indeed, experiments examining the effects of ostracism highlight what a powerful existential threat it is to be ignored, excluded, or rejected. This has been documented at the neurological level. Ostracism is a form of social death. It is a very potent threat.”

Given how conservative humanity has been for the past tens of thousands of years, and given how radical we need to be to fix the world, I don’t have lots of sympathy with this view. Especially when tenured professors have the kind of job security most people can only dream of.

👩‍💻 Where we are with digital learning adoption — “We should have less big bang summative exams sat in big rooms with invigilators, there are plenty of alternatives. Online assessment systems can at least allow for typing, which is more authentic, and why not also speaking, and drawing? And in the scenarios where an unseen timed assessment is the only option and it has to be online: sometimes proctoring might be useful. It shouldn’t be the default. But it might have a place, sometimes.”

I’m sharing this to +1,000,000 Amber’s suggestion that, for assessment purposes, speaking and drawing should be as authentic as typing and writing.

Quotation-as-title by Marquis de la Grange. Image: Changing the Letter, 1908, by Joseph Edward Southall