Ep. 190: Managing Idea Notebooks, Taming Instant Messaging, and Identifying Keystone Habits

Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 190: Managing Idea Notebooks, Taming Instant Messaging, and Identifying Keystone Habits".


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Cal's intro (00:00)

I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, episode 190. I'm here in my Deep Work HQ joined by my professor. I'm back to that again, joined by my producer, Professor Jesse. I'm still sick, Jesse. This is why I'm mixing up your title. But again, as we talked about last time, I am a hero for continuing to podcast, even though I have a bad cold. It's kind of funny. A lot of times you say professors, and now when you say producer, I get thrown off. Yeah. I've been trying to pressure you to go back to school is what this is about. It's subliminal, subliminal, subliminal pressuring. We had a question. We didn't do it. As we were considering, maybe it was when the calls was from someone who wanted to later in life study theoretical mathematics. Yeah. Was that you? They called in? You've been inspired? He was a doctor. I see. I see. He was inspired by me calling you a professor. All right. We have listener calls. It's a listener calls episode.

Reacting To News And Discussion On Various Topics

Cal Reacts to the News (01:22)

We've got some good calls queued up. Next week, however, we debuted a new segment. Cal reacts to the news where we take something that's in the news and I give you my opinions on it. I thought that went well. We thought we would do it again. On Monday's episode, we talked about the New York Times decision to stop encouraging the reporters to use Twitter. Now we have another article which Jesse just handed to me when I got to the HQ today and has to do about the other major Twitter story in the news this week which is Elon Musk buying a 9% stake in Twitter and gaining a seat on the Twitter board of directors. This seems to have been causing a lot of debate. I mean, I've talked to some people about this and academic circles and et cetera. People are really all over the place. People are all over the place about Musk in particular. I think people have a hard time trying to figure out do I like this guy or hate this guy. Do I think he's interesting or do I think he's terrible? Because he doesn't make any of those categorizations easy. So it's always unclear. Like Jesse, let me ask you, Pro Musk Anti-Musque. I think I'm Pro Musk. Yeah, for sure. He gets a lot of press because he's so ridiculously rich. Yeah. He's going to be around for a long time. He's not even that old. He's not that old. Yeah. I think he's not that much older than us. He's like 10 years older. Yeah. I mean, he's going to be in the news. He's in the news all the time now and he's going to be in the news for a long time. Yeah. I mean, I'm looking forward to the Walter Isaacson biography on Musk. I don't know when that's coming out, but he's such an interesting, weird character. I think it's going to be a fascinating book in Isaacson because of his stature can get access. I think the thing about Musk is that he has done objectively sort of impressive error defining things in the world of business. He just made electric cars in industry. He just made affordable space travel in industry. Those are crazy things to do and just became the richest man in the world doing that. So it's like a larger than life character. Would he interacts with the world? However, he does so in like a really weird way. He'll be joking. He'll be say non sequiturs. He has no particular tribal allegiances. So then, you know, he's not, he's not particularly super conservative. So the conservators like, I guess we like this guy. I don't know if we like this guy. He's not very interested in like, wokism. So like more of the, the, the, the, the, the farther left is like, I guess we just like this guy. Like no one's really sure how they feel about him. But anyways, the more proximate question here is how do we feel about him buying a 9% stake in Twitter? And this is the article that Jesse gave me. It is an article by Professor Scott Galloway from NYU. He's Galloway's dissection and opinions on Elon's purchase of Twitter stock. And so I thought I would do here is summarize the major point of Galloway, give you my reaction to that point and then talk about a couple of the things that Galloway says that I somewhat disagree on. So let's start with Galloway's main point, which is one I actually agree on. And let me actually preface this all by saying if you have to choose between me and him on anything having to do with Twitter, you should probably trust Scott. He's actually been involved. He's had a stake in Twitter. He was part of an activist shareholder movement that helped got the help get Jack Dorsey removed from the Twitter board of directors. So this is someone that actually knows a lot about it. I don't, but I do have a microphone in front of me. So let's hear if we should talk about it. So here's Galloway's main point. Twitter is not doing well. This is largely acknowledged. This is why Musk was able to buy so much stock at basically a discount. Galloway acknowledges smart move by Elon. It's an undervalued stock. And it's undervalued because Twitter is not doing well. There's different ways to look at it. Galloway has a bunch of charts. One of them is of ad revenue. Twitter is doing what? $4.5 billion in 2021 compared to $115 billion for meta and $209 billion for Google. Everyone sleeps on Google. They don't realize how much it still dominates the advertising market. You know, it created its own ecosystem in which it can sell ads. Google is basically still selling ads on the rest of the internet. So people forget how much money they're producing. Galloway also talks about the enterprise value per daily active user. For Twitter, it's $131 compared to almost $300 for meta. So they're not doing a very good job of actually getting value out of their active user. So what should be done about this? Galloway has a solution that he calls #explative-deleted-obvious. And that solution is move to a subscription model. Here's Galloway's elaboration. Corporate users and users with large followings would pay for a fraction of the value they receive. I have long advocated for this model. By shifting the company's revenue source from advertisers and users, subscription aligns economic incentives with user experience rather than user exploitation. As I hinted, I agree with that. I agree with that move. I think it would be an exciting move, not just for Twitter, but because of the precedent it would set for how social media could operate in the future. I think Galloway is absolutely right when he argues, ads supported social media platforms have completely misaligned incentives. I wrote about this a while ago for The New Yorker. I wrote a piece a couple of years ago about indie social media where I got into this more. But the issue is with an ad supported social media platform, all that matters is engagement. How long do we keep you on the platform? The more you're on there, the more ads we can put in front of you, but also the more data we can gather from you to target those ads. And neither of those objectives are aligned with what is going to be the most satisfying experience for a user or what's going to be the best experience for a user from even just a privacy standpoint or any other standpoint you might want to look at. When you put all the data you can find about a user into a black box machine learning algorithm to have it figure out what to show you so that you'll stick around more, what you're doing is getting artificial neural networks to learn the darkest recesses of the human brain to figure out about the brainstem, to figure out about our tribal reactions, our fear reactions. There's very powerful things in the human psyche and those artificial neural networks that are taking in all this data and running their multi arm bandit reinforcement algorithm to try to figure out what makes you stick around later than farther than others. It's just figuring out stuff that darker souls in the past had also deduced. Let's make you angry. Let's make you sad. Let's get your back up against the wall and feel like there's a fight to be had. Twitter is really good at that because the main grist for Twitter is individual interaction. It's words from people and you interacting with words from other people. It's not pictures of things. It's not articles or videos that maybe people are talking about. It's just direct human interaction going through a curation algorithm that's trying to maximize engagement and it creates terrible lord of the flies. Everyone going after everyone seven seconds after being on Twitter and you feel upset. That is the outcome. I think Galloway is on to something. If the money is from ads, then the money is from users wanting to pay that ad revenue. I mean, not from ads. I'm sorry, subscriptions. The income comes from users wanting to pay those subscription fees. Why do users want to pay subscriptions to things? Not because I use it all the time, but because they value what they get when they do use it. It's a completely different model. Now you want the experience to be informative, uplifting, interesting, entertaining. It's a completely different incentive. I don't know if I share Galloway's optimism that this would create a monster company. I think once you start charging, you might have a severe contraction of user base. I think it would be a very profitable company and a very useful company and I hope that actually happens. Now, there's different ways to go forward here. It could be the people who post have to pay, but anyone can read. I think that's probably fine. I think he didn't mention this, but I think getting rid of pseudo anonymity would be good. It's a real people talking to other real people. You have to stand by what you're doing. I think that would be good. There's a lot of other details to work out, but I really do think it probably would become a better experience if it was subscription based and it would teach the world. You can run a really profitable, good online user-generated content company without having to have ads be what's at the core of it. If it was very profitable and grew to be really big, that'd be great because then more people would do it. I don't know if it would be, but I liked the idea. I mentioned two things I didn't quite agree with Galloway about. One, defer to him, but let's just throw it out there. Number one, his enthusiasm for Twitter, he calls it, I can't find a wording here, but basically he calls it one of the most important companies in history. What's the way he talked about this? I can't find his exact wording. This is obviously one of the most important companies in the world, that its impact on the world is critical and it's very important what happens to it. He says that somewhere, I don't have the exact terminology. I don't completely agree with that. I think there's ironically an echo chamber around Twitter for Twitter users. It disproportionately matters for a very small segment of the population that has a lot of power for reporters and for politicians, for people who are involved in criticism, content producers, writers. There's a pretty small group that has a lot of influence on culture to which Twitter is at the center of their universe. I think that is easy to generalize to be like, this thing is at the center of most people's universes. Most people don't care about it. It's impact on most people a second order and maybe this is what Galloway had in mind. For most people, they don't use Twitter, they don't care about Twitter. Or if they use it, they use it rarely like I would, which is I need to look up what this Nationals beat reporter is saying about what just happened in the baseball game. But they are getting a second order impact because as we talked about on Monday, the news they're encountering, the bills being passed in Congress, a lot of that is being influenced by Twitter. They do have a second order impact, but I think 99% of the people in our country, if you turn Twitter off tomorrow, wouldn't notice. They just don't use it that much. I don't think it's as central as the people who are in that world think it's central to their world, but they don't realize that that's a more constrained world. The second thing is Galloway's evaluation of Elon. Let's get to the question of is it good or bad for Twitter? What Galloway says is it's kind of mixed. The fact that you bring in this larger than life character who's obviously a genius and you put them on the board, it's going to shake things up. It was smart for Twitter to put them on the board. It's better to have activists on your board than to be attacking you from the outside. He said that there's Twitter needs a kick and that might be a kick, but he's really worried about Elon's personality traits. He said Elon is very volatile. He will tweet off all sorts of random things. He might take Twitter in arbitrary directions. Galloway was upset that Elon was just doing Twitter polls about major new features. He might just add an edit button because people said that was a good idea. That Galloway's right about that. Elon is a volatile person and so you worry about what that's going to do over time to Twitter and its share value. The place where I probably disagree with Galloway though, and it's a disagreement I have with a lot of people, it seems like a lot of people, especially around here, their take on Musk and Twitter is that Musk is upset about moderation and what he wants is a unrestricted, basically unrestricted speech on Twitter. Typically when people say here's the problem with people like Musk is they want complete free speech and then like Galloway does, they go on and be like the first amendment doesn't guarantee free speech to everyone. It guarantees freedom from government intervention and it's fine for companies to do free speech. If you really want to do unfettered free speech where you're just stopping illegal stuff, you get eight Chan is terrible. I think most people would agree with that. I don't think though that that's what Galloway or people like him, her critique in Twitter. I don't think that's what they want. I think it's a bit of a straw man. I think a lot of people, again especially, and I think here it gets a little bit partisan, they want that to be the thing that someone like Elon is advocating for because it's easy to dismiss. I don't know Elon, I don't really know his stance on Twitter that well, I know some people who know Elon though who are in his orbit so I can kind of guess at where he stands. I would assume what Elon would like his complaint is basically that no, of course there should be moderation. If Twitter was like eight Chan, no one's going to want to use it, at least not at the scale it has, but that this moderation should be more centrist. I think that's a harder thing to argue about if let's say you're coming at this more from a position to the left. That's a harder thing to argue about. There should be moderation but the moderation should align more with centrist positions. Let's say the majority of the country might be comfortable with. I think Elon's argument is too often when it's politically related, moderation decisions will align with a relatively far to the left perspectives that are shared by maybe six or seven percent of the country. That feels great for those people who share those views, but for everyone else it can feel arbitrary or weird or that they're left out. We should come at it from a centrist position. If it's something that would upset your aunt, then you're like, "Okay, maybe that shouldn't be there." Maybe that should be the standard and the standard shouldn't be, "Is this something that is going to upset a radical critical theorist?" That's a bigger stance. I don't know. That's another thing I think I disagree with Galloway is I don't think Musk wants eight Chan on Twitter. I think he just wants the aunt standard and not the critical theorist standard, I suppose. That's where I think. What do you think, Jesse? Well, what about the part of Elon going out the wrong SEC storm in what are your views on that? Yeah, I think that falls under the heats volatile critique, which is fair. I think there's probably a little bit more planning in it than that. I think it's similar to the Brady retirement thing and then him going back. They've had this stuff planned out. I'm not up on the latest breaking, so is the thought that this is so he can then step back out? Well, he announced it on April 4th or whatever that he was this and then the stock price immediately went up, but he had filled out the wrong form. He was technically supposed to announce that two weeks prior, in which case when he was buying all that stock, the price would have gone up. Essentially, he saved himself $150 million, but Galloway was saying that that's broad. Oh, well, that probably that might be. I think that falls under the volatility. He's not great with corporate governance. He flies by the seat of his pants. It works well and creating new industries, but then also causes trouble. Yeah, I don't know. I don't think it just filled out the wrong form. I feel like he probably. I'm reading this now. Yeah, it's down in the end. Yeah, I see it. Yeah. Well, that's a whole other issue. But again, you're bringing Musk into your world. All the stuff follows. Well, a lot of this stuff and other publications is what the headline is about. It's the form and say money and buying Twitter and that sort of thing. To me, that's the least interesting part of the story. It's interesting, but I also think that's more like the reason that's the headlines in a lot of places. It's like we're working backwards from we don't like this guy. So let's emphasize the look he might have done fraud here, which I think is big, but there's also these huge discussions of what should Twitter be? Is he right? Is he wrong? And yeah, there when I talk to people, I get a lot of like there. People around here are really worried that he's sort of wants to get rid of all moderation, which again, I think is crazy. Like no one would want to use a platform that it's like, yeah, people can say whatever as long as it's not defamation or like putting someone in imminent harm. Like those platforms exist and they're weird and melt people's eyes and they're terrible and no one likes to be there. And so I kind of imagine that assuming he does get to keep his stock, I can't imagine that's what Elon Musk wants. Yeah. Yeah. I think a lot of these like intellectual dark web types who all seem to like know him are that's really what they would want is the would it upset my aunt test? Mm hmm. Yeah. Which would moderate a lot of stuff, but wouldn't it completely align with either side of the political spectrum's more extreme stances? Like, I think that stance could very well, you know, would moderate things like about vaccine misinformation still in a way that people on the right would be really upset about. But it would also like not kick people off for things that people on the left think they should be kicked off for, but your aunt would be like, I don't understand what the problem is. Like there's probably a middle ground there and there's a whole theory in media criticism about when media outlets like newspapers used to make most their money off advertisements, the goal is to have the largest possible circulation. And so the second order effect of that is that you get coverage that is aimed at the broadest possible audience because you need the broadest possible audience to like pick your paper up from the new standard media so you can get those ad reads. And then when things shifted behind paywalls, it changed all the incentives. And now it's more about how do we keep the people who are paying us money each month for this excited about this and the incentives change more towards like, well, let's figure out what they're into, who they support, who they dislike and like, let's really attack the people they dislike and really support the things they do. Like let's validate their particular whatever. And so that's an interesting theory that then you shift towards like a the Overton window significantly realigns when you shift your actual economic model. Not this true or not, but there we go. Elon Musk, we'll ask him about it. Yeah, he'll be on the podcast. He comes in the podcast. Yeah. He's on the list of people that Jesse thinks is going to come on the podcast. So when Elon comes on, we'll ask him about the SEC form. We'll ask him about what he really wants to do with content moderation. We'll ask him to give us some of his stock and we will ask him about when we're going to get to Mars. So we'll ask him all those things. We'll have him on in Zuckerberg. Maybe we'll just do him like the same time because a that'd be more efficient for us, I think. Mark can wait in the waiting room. Mark can wait. Mark can wait in the waiting room. We'll send down for some Bevco coffee. Oh man. All right. Let's talk about a couple sponsors before we get to some of these calls. I'll start by talking about my body tutor.

Cal talks about My Body Tutor and ExpressVPN (21:31)

As I mentioned on Monday, I have known Adam Gilbert's the founder of my body tutor for a long time. He used to be the fitness advice guy for my blog. Study hacks. His company by body tutor is a 100% online coaching program that solves the biggest problem in health and fitness, which is the lack of consistency. So when you sign up for my body tutor, you get a online coach who builds a plan for you in your life, customized to you about your eating and your exercise. And then, and this is the magic sauce you check in every day with an app. Here's what I did. Here's what I ate. Here's my questions is that daily accountability with an online coach, the same online coach every day, that makes my body tutor so effective. So if you're serious about getting fit, Adam is giving deep question listeners $50 off their first month. All you have to do is mention this podcast when you join. So go to mybodytutortutor.com.com. Mention deep questions when you sign up and you will get $50 off. I also want to talk about express VPN. You need a VPN to protect you when you use the internet. As I explain every time I talk about this, because I think it's important to understand the technology of VPN does something very fundamental. Instead of you directly connecting to a website or server, if you use a VPN, you'll instead automatically be connected to a VPN server. That server will then talk to the website or service on your behalf. That way the website and service doesn't know who is talking to it. Because your connection to the VPN is encrypted, no one knows on your end who you're talking to either. Computer scientists like me use VPNs all the time and express VPN is my preferred VPN because they have very fast speeds. They have a large selection of servers. They're in over 93, 94 countries now and they're compatible with all of your devices. You just run the express VPN app and when you turn it on, it will do that connection for you. You use your device as normal, except now you have all the protection of a VPN. So be smart, get a VPN. If you're going to get a VPN, make it express VPN. To find out more, go to expressvpn.com/deep. Don't forget to use my link at expressvpn.com/deep to get an extra three months of express VPN for free.

Cal listens to a call about Managing idea notebooks (24:03)

All right, I am in the mood for some listener calls. So Jesse, kick us off here. Who do we have? All right, first question is about IDA notebooks. Hello, cow. Sean here from Bongi, Miami. I'm finding particular benefit in my nascent application of the idea notebooks that you have suggested. So far, this approach seems to be the right way for me to tame what is otherwise an excess of ideas without letting them creep into my workspaces. My question to you, how do you go through your idea notebooks once you've completed the notebook? Do you reread page by page? That takes a while. Do you schedule time for it or does it somehow conveniently happen to you when you have a spare moment? And what does that process look like? By the way, most kids should definitely make a branded Cal Newport idea notebook. Drop the go to guards and thank you. Good question. I like the Moleskin Cal Newport branded notebook idea. I do have my time block planner, so I'm kind of in that business. And we're at, I looked it up, Jesse. We've got royalty statements recently. 21,000 time block planner sold. So we're rolling. People are using it. And the new version of that, by the way, is coming. We're working on a spiral bound version. It falls flat. It's delayed somewhat because there's a lot of supply chain issues, like in all the publishing. It's like glue. Like stuff that you think is standard. There's like a lot of supply chain issues. But the new and improved one is coming. But what I tell people is don't wait for it. Just get the version we have now because in a few months you'll be done with it. Anyways, like if you're buying into a system, not just one, so for existing users, I didn't mean this to be an advertisement, by the way. But now it's an advertisement time block planner dot com to find out more. There's promo code, superfluous, unmonetized advertisement to get 1% off. So anyways, I'm digressing. Yes, I want to count Newport idea notebook. I want it to be beautiful. I like field notes like moleskin. So talk to me if you're at those companies. Time block planners are out there. Timeblockplanner.com. Those are only going to keep improving. So by those, let's get to the mechanics of using an idea notebook. Yes, it takes time to go through them. Yes, I think you should. There's two things you spend time on with an idea notebook. Number one is the regular review. I suggest once a month, but you can adjust depending on how quickly you pile up ideas in your notebook. Once a month you take your existing notebook and you go through and you can read through either the entire notebook or just what's new and process ideas. If there's something in there you're like, yeah, you know what? I think I want to act on this. Then you can move it into your systems. Let me make a task about this. Let me put a deadline on my calendar to think about it. Let me put a side in afternoon to kick off work on that. Let me make it something that's on my quarterly plan. So now I'm going to start putting time aside from it. So you might process something off of there into your systems. It's important that you do this on this regular basis. Why? Because in the moment when you're writing down an idea in the idea notebook, you want to be able to let go of that. You want to be able to turn back to whatever you're doing, what you were doing before the idea popped up. You want to turn back to that without your mind holding on to wait. Don't forget about this. And if your mind trusts within a few weeks, I'm going to look at that and really think about it. If it needs to be scheduled, I will, then you're going to be able to let it go in the moment. So regular review is critical. The second way you interact with your idea notebook is when it fills. And what do you do when it fills? There's different schools of thought here. My school of thought is you get the new notebook, you go through the old one and you copy over into the first pages of the new one, short summaries of any ideas from the old one that you think you want to keep thinking about. You want to keep on your mind. You want to keep in the conversation. It's copy over shorter descriptions of those by hand. Most things you'll find, most things in your notebook, you've either already processed into your systems like, yeah, let me try it. Or in the light of day, once you fill that notebook, you're like, whatever. That was a momentary inspiration. There's nothing there to think about. So I rarely fill more than a couple pages of my new notebook with holdover ideas. But I do that discipline and then I can shut down the old book and I have the new notebook. And then when I'm reviewing that new notebook, the next month, those ideas are upfront so they don't disappear. So you're not forgetting them. And when that notebook fills, maybe one of those will still make it to the next notebook. And that might be a sign of like, this is something that's important to me. I don't really know what to do about it, but it's important to me. And that's a good indicator. It's a good factor. But that's what I recommend doing. Yes, these things take time, put aside time. I used to go to cafes. For whatever reason I remember this, when we were living on Beacon Hill and I was a post doc at MIT, I would often go to the bagel store. It was like a bruggers that was right at Charles MGH hospital. I'd say Charles because the Metro stopped there, the T stop there was Charles Street MGH. I just have a lot of memories of going there and going through my Moleskins and transferring new things to the new notebook and figuring out what's going on. So I'd go get a breakfast sandwich and spend a half hour, have a coffee. So it's worth the time. Ideas are currency. You don't want to lose them. You also don't want them to distract you. The idea notebook method is a good way of dealing with them. All right, Jesse, what do we got for call number two?

Doctor who wants to learn advanced math (29:40)

I'm feeling like I'm going to be on a roll today because I'm sick. I'm going to move with a lacquer. We got a cool question here and you kind of referred to it earlier in the episode about the doctor who's interested in theoretical math. Oh, we did have this question. Okay, good. I thought I remembered it. Hi, Cal. This is Ryan. I'm a doctor and self-top Python programmer. Outside of my physician role. I like to apply machine learning and AI to various medical related questions. And I've loved learning about the underlying mathematics that formed the foundation of many of these models. My question for you is what would you recommend for someone who would like to learn more about advanced and theoretical mathematics, who is later on in their career and does not want to go back to school? Thank you. Love the podcast. Well, so Ryan, when you say advanced or theoretical mathematics, if what you really mean is you want to better understand the mathematics that's relevant to machine learning, the type of work you're doing in machine learning, I'm going to assume that's what you mean. That's not really super advanced mathematics. I mean, you want to make sure that you bone up on calculus, sort of, I don't know, college level calculus, maybe some statistics. I mean, bone up on some statistics, and I would just use for those online courses perhaps. You know, a resource I'd really recommend for some of the AI stuff and some of the related math would probably be to go to MIT's OpenCourseWare. MIT is part of this initiative where a lot of their courses are available completely online. You can watch videos of all the lectures and get all the assignments. It's all free. They have some fantastic lectures on these topics. And so, yeah, if your calculus is rusty, if your statistics are rusty, you know, you can on Academy that get an online course, you can learn that pretty quickly. And then I would say take some of these MIT OpenCourseWare topics, courses, free courses. If I take it, I mean, you watch the lectures and do the assignments on your own time. It's not going back to school, it's not going to cost you anything, just time. And you can be pretty advanced. You would be pretty advanced pretty quickly on some of these areas where you're interested. If you want to see an extreme example of that, my longtime friend Scott Young with whom I co-produce our two online courses, Top Performer and Life of Focus. Years ago, he did something called the MIT Challenge where he did the entire Computer Science Curriculum, Undergraduate Computer Science Curriculum at MIT on his own and in one year. And he did it all using the MIT OpenCourseWare because all of the courses that he needed to actually satisfy the requirements of the MIT Computer Science major were all available online. So he watched the lectures at high speed. He did all the assignments. He graded himself. So he gave himself grades. He graded the exams and problem sets. And he tried to grade himself honestly. And so his point was like, look, I'm passing these courses. I am learning the material. I gave him the capstone. So for the capstone of this course, I gave him all the material for my graduate theory of computation course. I teach at Georgetown and gave him my exams. And I graded the exams and he did well on them. So he kind of confirmed he did learn a lot of stuff. So anyways, a lot is possible on your own. And MIT OpenCourseWare, if you're already a smart guy like you are, Ryan, if you already know about some of the stuff, you have some math background, you know some machine learning, that's going to be a great way for a self-motivated and disciplined person like yourself to push things as long as I'm doing free ads. If you want to find out more about that MIT Challenge, Scott wrote a book called Ultra Learning about doing these type of radical learning challenges. And he talks in there about the MIT Challenge. And I will take credit. I gave him that name. I gave him that name, Ultra Learning. So I take, and I think this is fair, 60% of the credit for that book. Because really the names are everything. I think you would agree, Jesse, that I should get 60% yeah. And because of that, 60% of the royalties. For sure. I think fair, right. All right. So, call Scott and say, fair is fair. Where is our 60% of the royalties? We're giving you that name. You have nothing without the name. Oh man. All right. Making progress. Feeling good. Call number three. Okay.

Obsessed with instant messaging (34:06)

Next call is about checking her phone way too much. Hi, girl. My name is Lufia. I'm a Spanish law student. And I'm very thankful for your student. They have helped me a lot. And my question is the following. I have gone through a digital minimalism process and a little on my social media, including three Twitter accounts, which now sounds crazy even to me. But I still use instant messaging apps. And although I don't use them when I'm with other people, whenever I'm alone, I check them a lot. More specifically, I check them every time I pick up my phone, made for meditation, for checking my uni scheduling, or time in my exercise, or any other reason. This has come to the point where I often forget what I have picked my phone for originally, because I get to swallow by the messaging. I feel like more systems who keep returning to his reflection again and again, regardless of what's better for him. Do you have any tips regarding this? Thank you so much. Great show. Well, first of all, it's been a while since we've had a good Greek reference. I appreciate that. That's old school deep questions. You see, like back in the day when it was just, when I would record in here, and like in the summer, and we had no video, and like I had the AC off, even though it turns out having the AC on is not a problem because we have gated microphones. And I just be in here sweating just by myself during the pandemic recording podcast episodes, we got a little crazy with the Greek references. So maybe you've been a moderating influence. Like people have emerged back into the world and it's a little more reasonable, but I do appreciate, I do appreciate the Greek reference. So I want to apply here the digital minimalism philosophy. I mean, everything you talked about was the things you quit or things you got rid of. I'm glad you quit things you got rid of things, but in some sense, that's not what I'm mainly interested in. If you want to become a digital minimalist, what I'm interested in is your vision of the life well lived. What was it that you discovered when you did your 30 day digital declutter that really mattered to you? What were the things that are important to you and your life? Because that should be the foundation of reconstructing your digital interactions. When you know what you want to spend your time on, what matters to you, what satisfies for getting you some more Greek references here, your Aristotelian notion of the virtuous life of the ethical life. Then you can work backwards and say, what tech helps these things? And if I know why I'm using these texts, what's the right rules to put around them? I suspect if you go through this exercise, you will find, because you're using these instant messenger apps a lot, that there's people in your life that being connected to matters to you, that the relationships in your life matter to you, that you want to be a good friend, you want to be a good daughter, you want to be a good aunt, like whoever these people are that you're connecting to, you want to sacrifice non-trivial time and attention on their behalf. As that is what we as humans are wired to do as social beings. And if we're not doing that, we get unhappy, we get anxious. We start to worry about ourselves, we start to worry about our lives. That's probably what you would identify. And if you identify that, you say, great, I want to build a life when I'm doing that. Great. What's a good way to throw tech into that picture? And when you ask that question, your answer is not going to be obviously like the right use of tech to satisfy this goal is going to be checking instant messengers every single time I pick up my phone. Like, how could that possibly be the right thing there? Now, what's the right thing going to be? Well, if you're really thinking this through, you'd say like, okay, well, first of all, these five people, I want to whatever, I want to talk to them every single week. And here's when I call them and I put aside a lot of time for that. And that's important. And these people, like we go out and we get coffee every weekend because very important people to me and I go once a quarter to go see this relative of mine. Like, some of this has nothing to do with technology, but you're actively saying, this is important to me. What do I want to do in this? And then you might be saying, okay, instant messenger might be useful for talking to these people and other times or these relatives that are overseas, so I can't see as much. And that's great. But if you know that's why you're using it, then you can say what rules do I want to put around that so that I can in true digital minimalist fashion preserve the benefit here while avoiding most of the unnecessary harms. And when you go through that exercise, you're probably going to learn, oh, I got to retrain people's expectations about how I use these services. I probably need to step away from I will be involved in ad hoc threads that are happening throughout the day. Now, I just have to step away from that. It'll take people a week to adjust and then they'll get it. And I want to put aside time and maybe it's at the beginning of each day of our lunch break where I do check in on things and see what people are talking about. And what I do there is not so much try to just jump into those conversations, but use the instant messenger to maybe set up or arrange a call or a meeting, use it kind of logistically. So I kind of see what's going on people's lives, but I don't think just back and forth with a secret as conversations on that. That doesn't count for much. I don't feel like that's that significant. I'm not going to spend that much time doing it. You could just completely rethink how you use those tools once you know what your goal is. If your goal is having deep, meaningful connections, you're not going to come away with an answer that says I should be on this all the time. Now why is this important? Well, when you come at tool usage from the perspective of how do I support a vision of a life well lived that I seriously believe in changes are sustainable and you stop using it the way you did before. And you stop checking in on all these threads. You stop using this as a distraction. Why? Because you have a new way of using it that aligns with something you believe in, deepen your bones to be the right way to live. That is very compelling. And now suddenly when you're like, oh, maybe I should pick up this phone when I have to look up a schedule at uni and go to instant messenger, you're like, if I do that, then I'm kind of repudiating this whole vision I'm so excited about about a life well lived. And I don't want to repudiate that. I want to live that life. I'm excited about it. So you don't check. And that is the power of coming at digital usage from the perspective of supporting the positive, not just trying to reduce or eliminate the negative. So that is what I'm going to suggest. Let's give this the full digital minimalism treatment. Solidify that picture of what matters to you. Come up with a plan that really supports that be radical about it. Like, hey, I'm going to every other month fly to go visit this relative or whatever. The more radical you are, the more you signal to yourself, you take that seriously, but then have very specific rules about your tech inside of that picture. And I think you'll find that your digital usage is going to be greatly reduced. I mean, the hardest thing about this and, Jesse, I have this in my own family, is the transition of not being someone who participates in threads. Because it's basically like a binary categorization. There's like the people you know that for whatever reason will reliably participate in text or instant messenger threads. Like if you say something, they'll come back to it. They're always kind of there. And it's sort of nice because you can sort of be in touch with that person all the time. But it's not sustainable. And people get used to it. Like, okay, you know, Jesse probably is not going to just answer back a random text right when I sent it. I mean, unless like he happens to be doing other text messages. People completely adjust to it. And you know what? It does not hurt your relationships with people because all of that doesn't do much anyways. If you're instead prioritizing like, how do I really talk to this person? I'm going to call this person every week. I can go see these people once a month. Then the fact that you're not at three in the afternoon answering the random back and forth doesn't matter. So you can't always talk about how texting is a little bit different than social media too as well, right? Yeah. Yeah, because it's not the mechanics there are not someone's trying to steal your time. It's not engineered to be addictive. The pressures there are social. So it's a social engineering problem, not an attention engineering problem. The reason why people have the hard time getting away from the texting is because they have configured their expectations with the people they know in such a way that they expect them to be reachable. And that is very convenient. But once you've configured those expectations, you're going to have to be answering text back and forth all the time. So like you have to completely rebuild those expectations of I'm not just randomly available, but I do see you and spend time with you a lot. And if you need to get in touch with me, I'll see it at some point today and I'm reliable, but I'm also not on my phone most of the time. But no matter what, social media and texting are still context switching if you're in deep work. Well, yeah, that's the problem. It has the same cost. Yeah. Yeah. So the social media is bringing in you because there's a neural net app that is selecting things to show you the pressure brainstem. You're like, man, I got to look at that context switch. You're in trouble. Texting has none of that, but it's still very powerful because if there's a social expectation that you have established that I will answer and now the person you know is sending you a quick question, like, well, I got to keep checking because it's a problem if I don't answer and then you have the same cost. Yeah. Actually, I want to ask you this question about texting because a lot of times, like say you have a note or something that you want to text something, you write that down when you're in like a deep work session or whatever, then like say that that session's over, you go to the text person, then you read another text and you forget about it. There's really no way to, well, I've figured out one way. If you just close your text and interface and you pull everybody up by the context and you can text them directly. But otherwise, like you can't, you're always going to see the main page of the text. Have you ever thought about that? So then what, so you're saying the issue is if you want to like hold on to get distracted because like you say you go, you want to text Elon Musk about coming on your podcast, right? And then you're going to go there and you're going to see Mark Zuckerberg asked you to go to get drinks for happy hours. You sigh like, oh, Mark. So such expectation. And then you forget to invite Elon on the thing because you're sent Mark the response or whatever, you know? Yeah. Do you ever think about that or do you ever, do you have a way around that? I mean, yeah, I mean, I think it's the problem. Like text message is a very convenient, but it's the problem of using that as like the primary way like you or like where they're useful is I'm meeting you, right? I'm coming to meet you and we have to, hey, I'm five minutes late or like all often, like I'll text you if I'm coming over here and like every single week I'm late. I'll look I'm late or here's what's going on. It's logistical. It's helping us like coordinate. We're about to get together. It works fine for that or like, hey, why aren't you here? I'm at the bar or something like that. But when it's, it's, um, I get these type of things a lot. I don't like it where it's just like someone randomly texted me during the day. Yeah. And there's like an obligation in it and like, what about this? Or can you let me know when you're available for whatever? I'm like exactly this issue. How am I going to, this is going to be lost in the string full of all these other texts from all these other people. How am I going to remember? Like typically what I try to do is immediately if I see something like that get into my capture system, like right away, like get them, like, yeah, I think it's a huge problem. Yeah. Like texting, text interfaces are not invented for a world in which there could be dozens of people spontaneously like that you're engaged in conversations with any one of which could involve obligations being introduced for you. Yeah. And then it's an outside of your control. I found a work away. I use an Android. So if you go to the contacts page on the Android and you pull up like, you know, Mark's cell phone will show only their text, you can text them through that interface. Oh, that's smart. And then so if you're disappointed about it, you, you go to the texting page, but you're be on Mark's, you know, individual profile where you're texting him and then as long as you do. Yeah. That's interesting. That's smart. Okay. So you pull up the contact and then it can just be. Yeah. So right before recording session, we could be just seeing each other. Like I can see you. Well, it goes, it brings it over to the other one. But if I just know that I needed a text to you, then I could just go into the contact, grab you and text you and I wouldn't be distracted by other texts. Right. If you need to send some, oh, so outbound. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's good fix. Yeah. I mean, that's a hard one. People have a hard time with that. And again, I think it's all just, it's expectations because it's a problem. Once the expectation is set, it's true. You can't just stop using it. I think that is harder than people leaving social media. People think it's going to be hard to leave social media because people imagine there's these big audiences that care, but they don't. And no one notices when you leave and it's kind of embarrassing. Text messaging people notice when you change your habit. Right. So like, you know, if you're on Twitter and you quit, Twitter, no one cares. Like no one, because you were just being algorithmically thrown in the feeds with other stuff and no, no, it's all dehumanized and depersonalized. Who cares? If like your brother stops responding to text, but he always had reliably been doing that, then let's like, oh my God, like people, you know, like it's way more. I learned that I worked on digital minimalism and working with people that were going through the process of the declutter. It's way more like personal and fraught changing your text habits or instant messenger habits than it is changing your social media habits. Maybe I should just get my text, my phone number out to our listeners. So they give us text to you? Just text me. That would go well. Am I? All right. Where are we at? Ooh, no. I'm going to speed up now. I always say 45 minutes and we've never been under like 57 minutes. Well, I think there's always value in the episode. So that's true. Your audience wants to hear you. That's true. Drive on stuff. I hear you.

Tempering a racing mind (47:18)

All right. Well, speaking of driving, what do we got? All right. We've got a question about tempering a racing mind. Hey, Cal. I was wondering, what do you do if you have a racing mind? One issue I have is that when I'm working on stuff, I get easily distracted and I end up going down another rabbit hole, which I think will go somewhere. But when I visited the next day, even though I put in lots of work the day before, I somehow just lose energy for it. So I was wondering, is there like a way to kind of temper a, what do you call it? A racing mind? Thanks. I love the podcast, by the way. So for that type of racing mind, what we're talking about is you have ideas while you're working on one thing and then you go down the rabbit hole of that idea because you don't want to forget it or you think it could be important. We can go back to some of the stuff we talked about earlier in this episode. The idea of notebook is going to be your friend. The whole point of that is like, let's get ideas down where I don't have to deal with it now, but I trust I will deal with it. Now what I'm going to tell you, if you have a really racing mind, is I going to give you a layer, an intermediary layer between your brain and the idea of notebook. So if you're working on something, you've time blocked it, writing this chapter or whatever you're doing and your mind has an idea. What I would do is have somewhere open on your computer, a blank text file, I'm a huge fan of blank text files. I call mine workingmemory.text because I really think of it as like an extension of my brain. You can type fast and you can write just as fast as you can, write down, type enough stuff that you're not going to forget it. Yeah, idea about on podcast, giving away briefcases full of money, research, Mr. B, stuff, boom, back to what you're doing. Another idea comes up, right? Like CIF, Elon Musk would be willing to do a Jiu Jitsu style fight with Mark Zuckerberg, win there on the show, look into it, ask Jesky, question Mark, let's type it as fast as you can, the back to what you're doing. And then at the very end of that session, just give yourself a couple of minutes to look at the stuff you captured. And by the way, this could also just be tasks that you think of by light bulb, right? Look at that list, like let me get this out of workingmemory.txt. If you have time right there, you do it. If you're back to back, if you're going from a work session to a meeting, it's fine. It's in that text file. You'll process that back down to empty at some point before the day is over. It's when you're capture bins. Next time you get a chance, you process that thing. I feel like I kind of like this fight idea. I think it has merit. Then you can figure out what to do with it. Like maybe it's still fledgling, so you're going to write it into your idea notebook. Now that'll get looked at next month. Maybe it's urgent. I'll just get rolling on this. So let me put a task into my task system by Jiu Jitsu mats. Let me write this into my quarterly plan that I'm working on this. I'll know to generate more tasks. And then you can process it that way. Then it gets processed out of there. It'll be fine. So that's what I would suggest. If you're a real idea racing mind type, use a blank text file as your intermediary that when you're working, everything goes on there as fast as you can type and you're right back to what you're doing. You put aside time when you have it to process that down and figure out what to do with it. Be an idea file. Be it going right into your multi-scale planning system. That I think is going to help your mind. The thing that will keep your mind obsessing over ideas you had is lack of trust. If your mind does not trust that those ideas will be looked at, that task will be handled. That concept will be contemplated more deeply. If it does not trust that, it's not going to give you peace. If it does trust that, it'll allow you to get back to the thing you're doing. It might take a little bit of practice with it, but after a few weeks, I think you'll find that is quite useful.

Advertisements And Recommendations

Cal talks about Workable and Grammarly (51:09)

Let me take a quick break here to talk about a couple more sponsors to make this show possible. Start with workable. Hiring is important. Hiring the right people is even more important, but it is difficult to do, especially right now in this pandemic or near post-pandemic market. It's difficult to hire a tool like workable can help. It does a couple things for you. One, it helps you cast the widest net possible by posting your jobs to all the top job boards. Just one click. It also helps you evaluate and hire quickly with modern tools like video interviews and e-signatures. It can even help you automate repetitive tasks in the hiring process like scheduling interviews so you can spend your time on what's important, which is finding the right people to hire. Whether you're hiring for your coffee shop or your engineering team, workable is exactly what you need to get the right people fast. Start hiring today with a risk-free 15-day trial. If you hired during that trial, it won't cost you a thing. Just go to workable.com/podcast to start hiring. Workable is hiring made easy. If you are trying to get hired or you're in your job and wanting to stand out, a few things are more important than being able to express yourself clearly and professionally. This is where Grammarly enters the scene. Grammarly is a software that runs on all of your devices and all the apps you use to write and it helps you become a better writer. I've been messing around with Grammarly premium recently, so there's a free and premium version. The premium version has even extra features and I am quite impressed with what this technology can do. Let's say for example you want to be clearer in your emails. You'll be able to now persuade your audience with a confident and polished tone using Grammarly Premium's tone adjustments. If you're a sentence that's too clunky and hard to understand, don't worry. Grammarly Premium has a full sentence rewrite feature that will help you make that clearer. They also have clarity suggestions. Don't use this word. That's jargon. Use this one instead. It's actually really pretty eerily good. Declarity suggestions. There's even a tone detector. Some people have a hard time with this. Am I at the right level of professionalness? Honestly, I think if you're under the age of 25, you need a Grammarly Premium tone detector. Because young people have a hard time with this. It's just they have a different culture. They're on the phones these days, Jesse, with the tipping and the tapping and the emojis and the jargon. You've got to get your tone right if you're going to be taken seriously. Until then, you've got to get off my yard. Get through those emails and your work quicker by keeping it concise, confident and effective with Grammarly. If you go to Grammarly.com/deep to sign up for a free account, when you're ready to upgrade a Grammarly Premium, you will get 25% off for being my listener. That's 25% off at g-r-a-m-m-a-r-l-y.com/deep. All right, 54 minutes.

Discussion On Keystone Habits

Selecting good keystone habits (54:30)

Let's do one more call, Jesse. Let's see what we got here. We've got a good question about Keystone Habits, especially focusing on the community bucket. Ooh, deep life question. Hello, Cal, Sean here from Miami. Some queries about Keystone Habits. I have been applying them with the community bucket as a special focus for this semester, being a better father, son and partner. I have begun noticing more intentionality in those moments that the opportunity presented self to become the person I wish to be. For that, you always have my gratitude. I originally thought it would be good to have a Keystone Habits about reflecting on my familial interactions. For example, did I review my interactions with my family looking for what I should have said differently? But that feels lazy. It's a trivial commitment. So I thought of two other ones. A 10 minute uninterrupted conversation with my parents and not arguing in front of our daughter. Do these sound too like decent Keystone Habits? I was also trying to refine my Keystone Habits for my craft. I was originally tracking did I review the class that I taught after my class with the intention of finding three things I would have done differently. Do you have an opinion for what would be a good Keystone Habits for a practitioner teacher trying to improve their craft? I also tracked my hours of personal practice, of course. Always with gratitude. Deep regards. Sean, you sound familiar. I think this might have been your second question in this episode. So well played. It doesn't happen that often, but it means you're asking good queries. Quick primer for people who are confused by the terminology. My concept of the deep life has this prescriptive process that comes with it. It's like one particular way to help try to cultivate a deeper life. It's where you divide your life into the areas that are important. We call those buckets. The first thing you do is come up with a Keystone habit in each that you do and track daily. That's what Sean is talking about. When you're talking about community, Sean's a community bucket, that's the area of your life focused on your connection to other people, your relationships. I like both those Keystone Habits. I think uninterrupted conversation of a minimum length is a really good Keystone habit. I might recommend not just making it for your parents, but you have the circle of people who are close to in your life, your kids, your partner, your parents, maybe some siblings. And what you're tracking, what I would suggest is did I have an uninterrupted conversation or at least 10 minutes with someone in that circle today, check or know? He's getting the habit. Every day I want to try to find some time where I can actually connect to someone and I might just be talking to my oldest kid, "Let's just talk and do nothing else at the table," or it might be calling up a relative. Because you don't want to leave that Keystone habit un-executed on any given day, you're going to maybe put aside some time. You're going to shift some things to your schedule. You'll call on the way home. You'll do stuff you might not have otherwise done. This is the Keystone habit working like it's supposed to. So I do like that idea. I think you're right. Analyzing your prior conversations. I don't think that's that useful. I think it's more useful to actually get out there and do more interactions, more sacrifice on behalf of each other. So I think that's a good habit. Did you have another one, Jesse? I feel like he had another community Keystone. Now I'm recommending my brain. He talked about the one about having the conversation. Then also going back and looking at his lectures. Yeah, there's a craft one. But he had a second community one. The second community one. Oh, calling his parents. Yeah. I mean, that's the... Oh, not arguing in front of the kids. Yeah. Yes. Sorry. Yeah. That's a good one. So if you're in a state where you find it like you're having a lot of unnecessary arguments in front of your kids, or if you're getting mad at your kids too much, I've gone through phases where I've worried about that. I think having a metric you tracked, it says, "I didn't do that today." That's really powerful because you don't want to break the chain. You're like, "You know what? I've done this for 20 days. So now when my kid's being in pain, instead of yelling, it's like, "Man, I want to get that check. I don't want to break the chain." That can actually be quite powerful. So I will say what I've learned is especially... This might be the same for you with... You're saying yelling at your partner, but for you like yelling at your kids, usually what I learned is there's a deeper issue. The issue often has something to do with your kids. It has to do usually with your schedule. Usually it's your overwork to your stressed. And so often the solution is not just... I mean, I think it's the proximate thing. It's like, "Let me just not yell at my kids." But really what in that particular case you want to get to the point where I'm just not yelling at that often because I have more breathing room in my schedule. I'm doing cleaner shutdowns. I'm exercising after work before I go in the childcare mode. And so that's the only other thing I would tell you there is that it might be a seemingly disconnected keystone habit that actually solves that problem. You could say, "I want to not argue or yell." You could track that. But really the thing you want to track might be, "Did I do a shutdown? Did I exercise right after work?" And that might actually be the thing you track to solve that problem. So just keep that in mind. When it comes to craft... Yes, you're talking about teaching. I would track... You've got to figure out what is the tractable activity that really matters here. It matters for the thing that you're trying to do. If you invent an activity that you... I could imagine doing a 10-minute review of my course. But if that doesn't actually matter or make much difference, there's no point in tracking it. So if you can find an activity that really does make a difference and track whether or not you did it, that makes a lot of sense for the craft bucket. Like I track deep work hours because I write and I think for a living and I want to see those build up and I want to make sure there's something I prioritize. When it comes to teaching, I don't know. You have to figure out what is the thing you could do every day that really makes a difference. Is it having a 30-minute debrief section where you go back and clean up your notes for the next time you teach it? Okay, then track that. Is it you went and improved at least one thing in your course? You went forward, prospectively. Let me update this upcoming assignment. Let me find another exercise for the exam. And maybe your thing is I want to do this most days, it only takes a half hour at a time, but it'll build up to a lot of innovation, then track that. But make sure that whatever you're tracking, it's something that really does make a difference. If you invent something that's tractable but doesn't do much, your mind is going to say, "I don't care." I mean, yeah, we put a check or we did it, but I don't really care. All right, Sean. Well, enjoy Miami. I'm glad you asked this question because it gave me a chance to review some of that deep life, Keystone Habit, buckets type strategies that we talk about a lot. And then sometimes we stop talking about for a while, so I'm glad to be able to reintroduce that back in. I think Jesse's summertime brings out more of those reflective things because people have more time and they're vacationing. They're outside more. They're outside more. So we'll see. I think we're going to get a lot more. It's my theory. More deep life questions in the summer. Like right now, we're kind of in a crunch mode. We're getting more work questions. We'll see if that's true. I think a lot more about deep life stuff in the summer. So we'll see if that holds true. Speaking of summer, though, I should probably rest because I am exhausted and I am sick. So thank you, everyone, who sent in your calls. Go to cal Newport dot com slash podcast to find out how to record your own listener call straight from your browser. If you liked what you heard, you'll like what you see. You can watch the video of this full episode at youtube.com slash cal Newport media. Be back next week. If I don't die of whatever illness this is with a new episode of the deep questions podcast and until then, as always, stay deep.

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