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blakes daily schedule 2

The Pursuit of Productivity

This week I’m starting a big new research and writing project that’s prompted me to get serious about productivity.

Why? Because I’m a pro at self-distraction. My top time-wasters include:

  • Checking Facebook and Gmail obsessively
  • Responding to non-time-sensitive e-mails
  • Obsessing over trivialities like tweaking a Wordpress theme
  • Deciding I need to buy something to continue my work

But these distractions pale in comparison to my most common problem, which is: not knowing exactly where to put my focus.

The result of all this non-productivity?

  1. I spend too much time “working” (but not really working) on my laptop: roughly 6-10 hours throughout the day, only 2-3 of which are actually spent on meaningful work.
  2. I don’t spend enough time doing other awesome stuff: being outside, cooking, exercising, pleasure reading, or spending time with friends, for example.
  3. I stay up too late. Then I don’t sleep enough. Then I’m a grump.
  4. I don’t get my most important work done. Which is the biggest bummer, because it means I’m no longer contributing to the world in the way I want.

I’ve known and accepted these issues for a long time. But slowly—ever so slowly—I’ve gathered an army of tools and strategies to combat them.

Here they are. Continue Reading


What I Learned in Nepal

Today I’m coming home from the 6-week Unschool Adventures Nepal Trip. It’s been a fantastic adventure—as always—with 11 teen unschoolers and 2 fellow trip leaders. Here’s what I learned about myself along the way.

This will be my last Unschool Adventures trip for a while. I want to dedicate 2015 to building a 3-month, U.S.-based program for self-directed teens (that will hopefully launch in September). I’ve also been abroad a lot recently and need to recharge my travel batteries.

I’m going to buy a house in South Lake Tahoe, California. (That’s here.) This realization came on day 2 of our group’s 10-day Tibetan Buddhism and meditation retreat. Homeownership is something I’ve known I’ve wanted, but carefully avoided, for a long time. Now I feel ready to build equity, make a home, and live in my favorite place in the world: the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. I’m especially excited to to use it to host AirBNB guests, Couchsurfers, and friends—especially those who have so graciously put me up in my past decade of travel. Spring 2015 is the earliest I think I can pull this off.

Tibetan Buddhism is not my cup of tea, but I dig the clarity of mind and purpose that comes from meditation. See this Facebook post for my reactions to the retreat.

I’m ready to dive deeper into self-directed learning. I write more about this on my DIY Master’s page. This research will contribute to my semester program and a new online inspirational-educational subscription service that I’m scheming.

I have 70 friends. To explain: During the meditation retreat I brainstormed every person I would feel comfortable asking to staying over with, by myself, last-minute (as if I were passing through town). I came up with 70 names. Then I asked myself where I met these friends: 28 I met at Not Back to School Camp, 13 at Deer Crossing Camp, 6 at U.C. Berkeley, 4 in high school, and 19 in other parts of life. I think it’s fascinating how certain small institutions—two small summer camps, in my case—can play such an influential role compared to the traditional pillars of high school and college.

I’m continually inspired to work with teenage self-directed learners. They’re the best. And their families, too. As an educator and entrepreneur, I couldn’t imagine serving a more interesting, generous, and caring community of people. I’m going to keep doing this for a long time—and I’m going to work hard to bring more teens and families into the fold.


Self-Directed Learning and Privilege

In my new book I dedicate the last chapter to musing about the origins of self-directed learning, which includes a discussion of nature, nurture, and privilege. Click here to read the whole chapter.

A reader wrote me this week in response:

I am reading this book because I believe that it has ingredients that public education needs to figure out how to add to their recipe. It reminds me of Clark Aldrich’s Unschooling Rules in that it makes a case for what public education can learn from homeschooling and unschooling.

One paragraph in your book that I am struggling with is on p. 188 and starts “Most self-directed learners also enjoy a certain level of privilege…”

Most young people don’t enjoy this level of WV [West Virginia], 1 out of 3 children live in poverty.

What are you really saying in the nurture and for that matter, nature, paragraphs?

I thought we were trying to get people to learn to teach yourself and teach yourself to learn.

Here’s what I wrote back:

In the final chapter I attempt to make an honest representation of the demographics of the self-directed learners whom I’ve encountered at conferences, summer camps, randomly in-person, and online. That’s what informed my analysis of nature, nurture, luck and mindset. Yes, more self-directed learners come from a place of privilege (material, cultural, and otherwise). To learn successfully on your own, without the support of an institution, clearly benefits from such privilege—as do many other challenges in life.

What I’m really saying in the final chapter is this: If you don’t come from a place of privilege—or you haven’t won the genetic lottery that provides one person with the raw analytical skills that scaffolds all learning—or you’re simply unlucky—that doesn’t mean you cannot be a self-directed learner. But it does mean that you’ll have to work a lot harder on the “mindset” side of things. I think of it as a four-sided scale, and mindset is the only one an individual can truly influence.

I believe that becoming a better self-directed learner is within everyone’s power, including children living in poverty, if the mindset behind it is successfully taught and modeled. The public school system may have a role to play in that regard; it doesn’t have a good track record, of course. That’s why, for now, the ones who serve as models of self-directed learning are the ones with the means, drive, and luck to educate themselves outside the system—a group largely constituted by the privileged (which includes myself). They are the “early adopters” of full-time self-directed learning, and, through trial and error, they are showing everyone else how to walk that path.