Ep. 194: Doing Less, Building Discipline, and the Books Cal Newport Read in April | Deep Questions
Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 194: Doing Less, Building Discipline, and the Books Cal Newport Read in April | Deep Questions".
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Cal's intro (00:00)
I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, episode 194. I'm here in my Deep Work HQ joined by my producer Jesse. Jesse how are you doing this fine afternoon? Pretty good. It's good to be here.
General Discussion And Q&A
Opening chatter about Cal's schedule (00:20)
I'm a little tired I'll admit. I've been writing quite a bit on multiple projects and it's the end of the semester. So that always brings with it lots of work and to make matters even more fun. We had on Monday a COVID false positive from a lab that was doing shoddy work, which meant we lost basically a whole day. I had to teach remotely. The kids were home before we could figure out what was going on. So that just added more spice to the stew of into semester tiredness. So I'm glad we get a relax here by just slowing down in the Deep Work HQ and chatting on the microphones is better than being on zoom or answering emails. How many more days of class do you have left? Getting close. We're recording this. Let's see. We're recording this on a Thursday. Monday, which I suppose is when this episode is released, is my last day of class. So the week in which this is released is my last week of the semester. I'm giving a final exam at the end of that week and there's some grading to be done, but things wind down real rapidly once we get into May, which I'm looking forward to. So here's the thing about, I've mentioned this, but here's the thing people don't always get about professors at R1 research institutes. Typically you're paid either a nine month or a ten month salary. Their summer is not paid by the university. Now most professors at a research institution will fill in their summer salary by getting research grants. So if you get a research grant from the NSF or from DARPA, for example, one of the things you budget for is salary in the summer when you're working on research and some professors just take their ten month salary and stretch it over 12. What I do is, and this is more recent, I no longer ask for summer salary in research grants. I pay my own salary out of writing income and then I lean into the fact, hey, these are my months. If I'm not being paid by Georgetown, this is not Georgetown. It's my month. So it allows me to actually really lean into temporarily full time writer life. So what does that look like for you? Well, I'll tell you my plan. Here's my plan for this summer. There's a couple pieces to it. And this is in my, for people who are playing along at home, this would be in my multi-scale planning system at the quarterly plan level. What I'm trying, starting mid-May, is writing every morning first thing. So that's going to be Monday through Friday and Sunday. So that's at like 9 a.m. for you? 8.30. I walk my older two boys to the bus stop and I'm back from that by 8.30. So from that right into writing, starting at 8.30. Same location. Same, well, yeah, same location. So right now, it's a little bit up in the air, but we're in the middle of this project to renovate the study at my house. And all of it, well, not all of it. There's a lot of uses for the study. It's going to be for homework. It's going to be for entertaining, but from my perspective, it's going to be a custom-built writer's retreat. So I'm going to have this custom-built desk, which we talked about before on the show, that it's from a company in Maine that builds desks for college libraries. I'm going to be surrounded by built-in bookcases full of books with brass library lights sticking off the shelf and illuminating, and so that's going to be my spot. I'm going to sit down there, surround it by books, can look out the window to my side to see trees or whatever. And right. And I'm taking a page out of John McPhee's book, 500 words. That's fine. Just every day. I'm trying. My goal is no research during that time. Like if I need to read something, I need to talk to someone. That should be during other time. I really just want to be writing, but I know it might take a while to get the cue of what I'm writing research filled in enough that I can actually always have something to write. But that's what I want to get. That time is words on page. So Monday through Friday and Sunday, I don't work on Saturdays. Then on Monday through Friday, after writing, it shifts to all of the other professional stuff that has to happen. So that's at like 10.30. Depending on the day. Like today, for example, I started writing 8.30, but I was closing in on finishing a piece. So I went all the way till 12. Because when you're on a roll, you're on a roll. You're not going to pull back. But on a normal day, it's just here's a section of a longer piece. So yeah, starting around 10.30, 11. Maybe 11.30. That's everything else. So email has to happen then. If I need to interview people for a book or read things, a lot of that's happening then. One day a week, we're doing the podcast in the afternoon. That'll happen then. All of that stuff happens. You need to go to the doctor. I don't know. All that happens then. And then my goal is to shut down the work portion of the day, more or less when my kids get home from school. So either in time for me to go pick them up from the bus stop or if needed in time for them to get home from the bus stops. And now we're talking like between three and four. And then I want to be done. I have a habit right now of what I think of as happy hour exercising. I like exercising during the happy hour time. That's a time where you want to unwind from the day. So like you got two options. Either drinking or you're exercising. They're both are going to unwind you and change your mode. But for the sake of my health, I think it's probably better that I do the one that involves the rowing machine and the pull up bar and not the one that involves the tequila. So anyways, that's the plan. Oh, and then let me once we get to June. So May the semester winds up. There's other things going on. There's a paper computer science deadline. A bunch of stuff happening in May. Once we get to June, my plan is to upgrade the writer's schedule to the next level of depth, which is going to be Monday and Fridays, post writing until shutdown. No appointments, no calls. So those days are just walking, thinking, reading, doing the deep thinking that feels to cue for writing. So then in this dream scenario, I know once I get the Thursday night is like, it's just writing, thinking and family until Tuesday. It's almost like a four day type weekend every week. And then Wednesday we podcast Tuesday and Thursday. I do other things, calls and meetings. And that's when I check out my email. That's my dream schedule. That's the schedule I would like to have if I was a full time writer and in full control of everything. So because I'm temporarily that during the summer, I'm going to try it. I'll report back to see how it goes. Yeah. But so before, so basically on those, the June schedule and the afternoon, you're going to be not doing any of those other tasks. Like it's just right, focusing on writing. That's what you're saying. Yeah. And thinking and reading, like related to writing, it's like that would be a good day for me to be like, okay, I'm done writing. I'm going to go to a wooded trail. You know, and I used to do this thing more. I used to do those type of things more. There was a time when my kids were young and we had a nanny. And then if I was working from home, I didn't have as much to do back then. And if I was working from home, I was like, I don't want to just hang around the house because the nanny's here with the kids. And so I'd usually do that more. I would go hiking and thinking. And so I'm going to get back and do that type of thing on Monday and Fridays. You probably still think on Saturdays too, don't you? I do. Yeah. I just try to get away from down. Yeah. I try to get away. It's, you know, it's Shabat. So I try to get away from anything. Yeah. Professional. Got it. Possible. Yeah. Have a day, have a day of rest. I'm not going to go to the library, but we'll see, we'll see how it goes. But I'm almost there after next week. After next week, I get a begin, get a begin easing into that. I'll tell you though, that is relevant to the deep dive I want to do.
The Surprising Math of Doing Less (08:50)
So we're talking about me doing less as a writer. So the deep dive I wanted to do today was on the topic of the surprising math of doing less. Because when you hear something like I was just talking about my dream schedule as a writer, the thing that probably hits the attention of the listener first is like, well, that doesn't seem like you're doing that much stuff. It doesn't seem like it's that much work. My argument, and this is something I've been thinking through, especially as I've been developing my thoughts around my philosophy of slow productivity, is that we do too much and we do too much for no good reason because if we are careful in thinking about the mathematics of value production, doing less is often the optimal strategy. That's what I want to argue. The doing less can be the optimal strategy. Now we need some context like what type of thing do we talk about, what type of work are we talking about. So to be clear, I'm talking about here, let's say you're in a job where you create things of value, that is what you do for your job. So I don't know if it's computer code or if it's articles or consulting reports or artwork, whatever. But if you're in a job where ultimately you create something that did not exist before, be it digital, be it physical, and that thing has value that wasn't there before. So you're constructing value by creating things, which is a lot of people and a lot of people who listen to this podcast. If you're in that context, I want to argue, a scheduling approach that reduces the amount of things on your plate will actually increase the total amount of value you produce over time. If anything, we can actually trace a curve. We can try to capture these dynamics with a curve. What I think about is what I sometimes call the productivity versus load curve. But imagine for a second that we have some sort of plot around the x-axis along the bottom, we have the amount of things on your plate, obligations, projects, et cetera, attacks. And imagine on the y-axis, the vertical axis, we have total value you are producing. I argue what you're going to see is pretty soon that curve is going to peak up and reach a maximum pretty far to the left, pretty far to the not that many things to do. And as you keep moving towards the right, towards more and more things on your plate, the curve is going to come back down. And then it'll put you a plateau for a while, and then it'll, once you get to enough stuff on your plate, it'll actually plummet down to almost no value produced. This is the productivity versus load curve. It is not like a lot of people suspect something that just keeps going up. Do more things. You're finishing more things. Each thing brings value. More things completed means more value. You produce more and more values. Do more things. I'm saying, no, no, no. You actually reach your peak of value production potential pretty early in the potential scale of how many things you're actually doing. Now, why would that be the case? Why I'm going to give two categories of explanation. The one category I'm going to call negative reasons and the other I'm going to call positive reasons. So the negative reasons why continuing to add more to your plate actually reduces your total value production has to do with some things we've already talked about on this show. Negative things that happen. Negative things that happen when you add more and more work on your plate. The two big ones we've talked about before. I talked about this in our core idea video about slow productivity. I talked about this on my appearance on the Tim Ferriss podcast. The two things that really get bad as you get more and more stuff on your plate is the anxiety of overload and the overhead of overload. So we've talked about this before. The anxiety piece is that we as human beings have this really neat center in our brain. As far as we know, it is unique to humans. We've looked at our close primate relatives that have not found it at least in the same configuration, but we have this portion in our brain that is good at making long-term plans for the accomplishment of important goals. This separates us from a lot of other animals. How does our brain get us to do things? Well, it makes us feel good when we construct a plan and execute that plan and accomplish the goal and it makes us feel bad if we don't. If we don't have a plan or we veer away from our plan and that's what just steers us evolutionarily speaking towards actually making plans towards long-term goals. The problem is this center of our brain cannot deal with 600 unread messages and 75 different open obligations on your task list. When it sees 15 columns on your Trello board and each of them is getting longer and longer, you short-circuit that portion of your brain's ability to conceive making a plan and executing all these different tasks. When you short-circuit that part of your brain, you flood those negative chemicals. You feel anxious, you feel uneasy, you're feeling that reaction. It's like we're not sticking with our plans because that brain cannot create plans for that much work. It's very artificial, it's very unnatural to have a ton of stuff on your plate. It's hard to produce good work in that state. The second issue I mentioned is overhead. This is very pragmatic. Every obligation on your plate will bring with it a fixed amount of overhead. Emails with people checking in on how it's going, meetings or Zoom calls for status updates, everything on your plate, at least everything beyond the trivial size, brings with it a fixed amount of overhead. There's nothing wrong with that overhead when you're looking at a particular thing you're trying to accomplish. It's good that you can quickly check in with people on email about how it's going. It's good to meet with people on a regular basis to check in. As you increase the number of things on your plate, the amount of overhead being brought by each thing is the same and it adds and it compounds. Now most of your time ends up with this unavoidable fixed overhead. I have to answer the emails about the 20 different things going on. Each of these 20 different things has its own Zoom meeting and it paradoxically or some might say cruelly squeezes away the time required to actually do the work. It's just a pragmatic limitation. The more things you have, the more this overhead, which is useful but does not directly produce value, dominates your schedule. The amount of literal time left to convert in the value is greatly reduced. Those two factors are negative impacts on your ability to produce value. There are also positive impacts. We said here's the negative of doing too much. There's positive impacts on doing less. I think this is something that we intuit but we don't often capture precisely. If you're looking at a particular pursuit project or activity, the value of what you produce is going to grow non-linearly with the time you put into it. For example, doubling the time you put into a particular creative project doesn't necessarily just double the value produced. It might significantly more increase that value because it turns out there's these discontinuous jumps in the value of what you're doing as you cross certain thresholds. There's a discontinuous jump as you move, for example, past the amateur threshold in almost any creative pursuit. Once what you're producing is no longer just, "Oh, I kind of did something. I kind of just sort of just an amateur effort and actually has a professional polish," which takes more time. It significantly jumps up in its potential value to the marketplace. There's another discontinuous jump that happens when you push something to the level that it becomes remarkable, which I mean in the literal sense that now you've added something that's so novel, innovative, or well done that it actually leads people to remark. Look at that. That's interesting. It catches people's attention. Something with that attribute jumps up to another level in value. All of that requires time. The more time you put into things, you jump past the amateur level, then you jump past to the remarkable level, and you get this significant profound increase in the value of what you are producing. These effects can also be seen through a market analogy. Essentially, the more time you put on something, the more aggressively you essentially pair away the other people who could produce the same level of quality of what you just produced. As that market gets smaller and smaller, your value jumps up much higher as well. What this all comes down to is that if you have less things on your plate, you can spend more times on the things that remain. Spending more times on the thing that remain will generate much more value than if you instead spread that same time over many more things. This is mathematical. Value increases non-linearly with time spent. Your best strategy is to put as much time as possible on the fewest number of things. That's just pure mathematics. Let's again, let's make this real concrete. If you're writing something, spending almost all your time working on making that thing you're writing really well. I don't know. You have 20 hours to spend the week. Spending all 20 hours on that is in the end, probably going to produce way more value than if you instead spend five hours on that, five hours on something else, five hours on something else, and then five individual hours on five small things. You can't just take the value of these smaller investments and add them up and get the same as what you would get if you put all that time into the one thing, because when you put all your time to the one thing, you leap past the levels you were before. We got negative and positive reasons that tell us less is better. You do too much. All these negative things happen to drag you down. You do less. All these positive impacts happen that push up even more the value you produce. I think this is the situation we're in right now in our current world, especially in the American economic scene where we have this very large knowledge sector that emphasizes skilled employees with great autonomy to individually produce value. There's so many people who now fall within that type of economic context. In that situation, almost certainly doing less is better and no one does. All of the pressure is towards, can't you just do a little more? Can't you answer one more email? Can't you be on one more Zoom call? It is chaos. It is the Wild West when it comes to how we handle work today. Because of that, we're leaving a lot of value on the table. I'm going to leave it there, but it is the point I want to make is that we can move beyond simply arguing, doing less is good for the human soul, doing more is just the rapacious objective of marauding capitalists. That might be true, but we have this other piece of ammo to use as well. It says actually doing less also produces more value. Not just makes us happier, not just makes work more sustainable, but it actually increases the value we are able to produce, which makes us again happier. It's all a good cycle. I'm a huge believer in less, that's one of the three main tenets of my slow productivity philosophy, which has three pieces, do fewer things, working at a natural pace, obsessing over quality. This is at the beginning of that philosophy, do fewer things. That's a big reason why I believe that's true. Jesse this is all just secretly me trying to speak to my academic peers, the people who are above me giving me things to do. It's like, just let me do less. It's all just a cry, all just a cry for help. Like we're on a tight schedule today because I have to be on Zoom. It can't be maximizing the value in the world. Do the people above you work on multiple things? Oh, it's crazy. If you're in an academic administrative position, every minute of your day is scheduled. At least you have people doing it for you, but it's like being the president. It's just, okay, here's what's next, here's what's next. You get a lot of questions like that for managers and stuff. We just want to do more de-work with it. I don't know how many times blocks have put it in. It's the problem of the entire economy right now. I mean, whatever. This is the major split I think I have with a lot of other commentators is that we underestimate the degree that these problems come from not knowing how to do this work. It's we're quick to just, we want an antagonist, so we have someone to fight. So managers are being evil is the instinct. There's a lot of evil managers out there, but even if we had the nicest possible managers who wanted you to thrive, we would still have this overload problem because we don't have the alternatives in place. There's just not enough structure. We just don't think about this stuff. And so I'm doing my, doing what I can to help that. But speaking about helping, let's talk for a second about some of the sponsors that make this show possible, it's worth slowing down to spend some time with them. That's another professional transition for which I'm known. Let's talk about Blinkist, long time sponsor of the show. You've heard me talk about it. You know the drill of what they offer. It's a service, a subscription service that gives you access to 15 minute summaries of thousands of the most important nonfiction best selling books. They call these summaries blinks. You can read them or you can listen to them if you're doing something else. And it's a great way to get the main ideas of those books that are out there having an impact on the conversation. The way I recommend to use this is to use the blinks of a book that you're interested in to figure out whether or not it specifically matches your interest enough to buy it and read or if you have enough of the main ideas to at least be conversant with it, but it's not really worth you owning the copy of a book. This is a key service for people who embrace the reading life. There's way more books and you'll ever be able to read. There's way more ideas and you'll ever be able to conquer in detail. So use Blinkist to help you out there. I always like to talk about Yuval Harari as an example of me using Blinkist.
Cal talks about Blinkist and Athletic Greens (23:05)
I read sapiens, but how do I figure out if homodios or 21 lessons for the 21st century are worth reading, I use blinks to make that decision. I ended up buying 21 lessons, but not homodios. So there you go. That's Blinkist in action. So here's the good news. Right now Blinkist has a special offer just for our audience. Go to blinkist.com/deep to start your free seven day trial and get a 25% off a Blinkist premium membership. That's Blinkist spelled B-L-I-N-K-I-S-T. Blinkist.com/deep to get 25% off and a seven day free trial. That's blinkist.com/deep. And of course you're not going to be able to enjoy those big ideas if you're not at your peak physical fitness. And one way to help get you to your physical peak is to use athletic greens. I use athletic greens every morning. Jesse can attest to this. I talked to him about it. It is a powder that you add to water and you mix it up. You take it every morning and it includes all of those men roles and vitamins and adaptogens that you need to run at your peak instead of worrying about whether your diet is giving you every last thing you need. You just athletic greens every morning and trust you are getting what it is that you are looking for. What I like about athletic greens is that they do this one product only and they obsess about improving it. They have the absolute best form of each of these ingredients. Are these the right ingredients? I've talked to them on the phone before. They'll use, they think about versions of their product. They'll speak about this lovingly. Well now on version seven we upgraded the whatever, the adaptogen source to be better. They obsess about it. So it's good stuff. It is good stuff. You take it every morning. It's a microhabit that will give you big benefits. So right now it's time to reclaim your health and arm your immune system with convenient daily nutrition. Especially now that we are at the tail end of flu and cold season. I always find the colds I get at the end of the season are the worst. Like those are the ones that survived and they always kick me in the butt. So this is time to be worried about that. It's just one scoop in a cup of water every day. That's it. No need for a million different pills and supplements to look out for your health. To make it easy, Athletic Greens is going to give you free a one year supply of immune supporting vitamin D and five free travel packs with your first purchase. All you have to do is visit athleticgreens.com/deep. Again, that is athleticgreens.com/deep to take ownership over your health and pick up the ultimate daily nutritional insurance. Alright, Justice, I think we should do some questions. Yep. You have to come for. I got one here from Toby. Toby asks, "How do I improve my discipline? My problem is that I have a problem with sticking to my long term plans."
How do I improve my discipline? (26:18)
Well, Toby, I think about discipline really more as an identity that you develop than I do an approach to a particular challenge. If you can convince yourself that you are a disciplined person, that that is part of your conception of your identity, then you will be able to, with discipline, pursue many different important objectives in your life. The question is, how do you get to an identity where you see yourself as a disciplined person? Well, let me tell you what not to do. Don't just pick out a random ambitious goal and say, "You know what? I'm going to do this. I'm going to white knuckle, go after this really hard goal because I need to be more disciplined." That's what you're trying to do. That's not working. I'm not surprised. It's not working. If you've not yet convinced yourself you're a disciplined person, taking on ad hoc, large discipline-recurring challenges is not going to be a route toward success. What should you do instead? Well, I think this is where actually the deep life procedure I talk about, the sort of self-awarely overly pragmatic approach to building a foundation for a deep life that we've been talking about on the show for over two years, is perfect for developing a self-identity as a discipline. Remember, there's two parts to this. Number one, you identify the areas of your life that are important to you. We typically call these the deep life buckets. They differ between different people, but our starter set of these buckets tends to be craft, what you do, what you create, constitution. That's going to be your health community. That's going to be your connections to other people, be it your family, your neighborhood, the people and the organizations where you work at your religious institutions. They'll often throw in contemplation. We're trying to capture philosophy, theology, and ethics. These are all important areas in most people's lives. Your list might vary. For each of these areas, the first thing to do is to identify a keystone habit, something in each of these buckets that you do every day, something that is not trivial but is also tractable. You track your completion of these habits every day. If you use something like my time block planner, there's a metric tracking space at the top of the daily planning pages on every day. You just track those keystone habits right there. For example, for constitution, you wouldn't have something there like I'm going to do a 45-minute intense workout because that's too hard to expect you to be able to do that every day. That's not really tractable. But you also don't want to say, "I will do one jumping jack when I get out of bed in the morning." That's not going to get you anywhere. Instead, you might want to do something like, "I want to hit this many steps in a day." You require a little bit of planning. I walk my kids to school. I'll probably have to do one more walk in the afternoon in between meetings. It's tractable. If I think about it, my friend Brian Johnson of Optimize fame had this great constitution habit where he had a fixed number of minutes that he never wanted to go beyond without doing... I think he would do 10 burpees. It was like 23 minutes or 20. There was some amount of time that he had read somewhere. If you sit for more than this much time, it starts to be bad. It was just every... whatever it was, 23 minutes, he would do 10 burpees. It was a fantastic boom. I think it helps that he doesn't work in the bullpen of a crowded office. Maybe that would be an awesome thing to do, but it probably would draw some interesting attention. He works on his own company. He works at his own house. 10 burpees three times an hour, roughly. The way he pitched it to me is it keeps your ability to concentrate like a laser. Your body's always moving. It never gets into a sedentary. Anyways, for someone who works in their own home, works from home on their own business, very tractable, very tractable, Keystone habit takes 15 seconds or whatever, every time you do it. The fact that I think 10 burpees takes 15 seconds shows that... I don't know. I don't know a lot about burpees. Does he still do that? I don't know. We should have on the show. We should ask him. I know at one point he was training. He was really into... I don't think he will mind me telling this story because I think he just talked about himself. He was really into Spartan races. The Spartan races? Yeah, because he was friends with Joe DeSenna. He knew the guy who started it. He was making a run at some point for doing them at a very high level, which requires... It turns out it requires a lot of training. You have to master a lot of these individual disciplines. Anyways, in his house, in the room where he worked, which I think might have been their bedroom. He had installed into the ceiling of the room the hanging obstacles from the Sparta race. I guess you do ninja warrior type stuff in that race where you have to... You're holding on to rope knots and whatever. He installed them into the ceiling of the room so that when he was doing these breaks, instead of just burpees, let me jump up and just do the whatever hanging challenge. I'll tell you what, you do that for a few months. Your grip strength and balance. You just own it. You don't even... I guess that's what you need to do to compete at a high level. You can just jump up there and boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. That's commitment. You'd probably still work out too during the day, I would think, separately. Yeah. He had a whole thing. You still have a workout. This was less about... Again, I think it's an important point. Keystone habits are not... Your job is not to capture everything you need to do or it's important for that bucket. Getting up and doing some burpees or whatever throughout the day is a great way of saying you take motion important, you take your body important, you think there's a mind-body connection, but it's not everything you need to do for exercise. You probably need to be doing weights. You probably need to be doing cardio. It's a good point is that your Keystone habits are not trying to take on the weight of everything important in that bucket. They are just meant to say that you take that bucket seriously and you're willing to take effort towards that bucket every day that's non-trivial. Now, it takes a while to get those Keystone habits right. You have to experiment a little bit. But you get to the point where you're knocking off, you have four buckets or five buckets. You're checking off all those metrics every day. You see it every day. You don't want to break the chain. That's step one. You've already now leveled up discipline. Your identity as someone who's disciplined is now leveled up. You do stuff that's optional because it reflects your values, even if it's hard. Now you're at a higher level. The next part of my general deep life foundation program is then you dedicate a one to two month period to each of those buckets one by one and overhaul that part of your life when you're focusing on that particular bucket. The one to two months you're focusing on constitution. Now you're getting serious about your health and fitness and you're starting to make changes and figuring out. Maybe you're like, "I'm going to start training for this sport." I'll tell you right now, Jesse, one of the things I'm doing. It's a goal is before my 40th birthday, which is in June, so it's coming up. You might not remember what it's like to be in your 30s, of course. You've been 40 for literally weeks at this point, so you probably don't remember. My birthday is coming up, as we've talked about. I want to, this is arbitrary, but I want to be able to once again row 2,000 meters on my concept to at a sub two minute 500 meter pace. This just connects me back to my deep past when I was rowing for Dartmouth. I remember the type of splits I could pull. It's like seven and change. Yeah. I was like, "I would feel good at the age of 40 if, because God knows what I could pull when I was 19 doing this." I could pull, but I'm 30 pounds heavier now, so it does have an advantage. I can actually, I was a lightweight rower, so I can now actually move that thing. But anyway, it's just kind of arbitrary, but it's hard, but not impossible. But I would feel good if I can be pulling sub two minute 500 splits for a 2,000 meters. I'm training for that right now. But that's the type of thing. Okay, when you're doing an overhaul of a bucket, you start to figure out these challenges. You get your equipment in place and you're not to make a full circle connection. I got that concept to actually from Brian Johnson. It's like the two meters of gift. So there we go. Nice gift. Yeah, it's a nice guy. Known for a very long time. So anyways, that's the type of thing you will come away from doing the intense focus on the bucket with. Like, okay, now I'm going to start training to do this and I've overhauled my diet and I now am joined this team, this wreck with other dads that we play, whatever. And so when you give the one to two month focus, you really are changing your life more substantially to really integrate that area of value more deeply. And there's a lot of experimentation in that. That's why it takes one or two months. You try some things. It's not really working. So you change your goals or challenges or habits. So you find something that's really working. You come out of that second step, Toby, you're going to be a much more disciplined person. Step one, you build that base with the keystone. Step two, you overhaul, tractable overhauls to experimentation. All the parts are important to your life. After that, now if down the line, you're like, oh, here's a new long term plan that I believe in. Let me do some work towards it. No problem. That's what you do. You're disciplined. That's what you're going to do. That's what you're going to do. So once you've changed the identity, then you can take on new challenges. The only final thing I'll say is even as a very self disciplined person, if your challenges don't make sense, if your mind doesn't believe that it's worth doing or that your plan's actually going to accomplish what it is, you will still struggle with discipline. So you have to be selective and careful in laying out what you do. Your brain is not dumb. If you're like, I'm going to be a Nobel Prize winning novelist because I'm going to do national novel writing month. Three days in, your mind's like, this is stupid. We don't know what we're doing. This is not a good book. I'm not going to do this. And that's not a failure discipline. That's a failure of planning. So that's the only other copy I'll give. Even after you become a self disciplined person, you need goals, your mind actually trust. All right. Rolling on here, we got a question from Luke. Luke says, could you please work through an example where you break down a genuinely complicated long term goal through quarterly, weekly and daily planning?
How do you break down a complicated problem? (37:20)
So Luke, the biggest problem people have with long term planning is trying to actually do too much of the planning upfront. I think a better way of thinking about this is that there is a feedback loop approach to planning out, structuring and executing longer projects. What I'll often do is if there's a longer term project, like the summer I put finish book proposals onto my quarterly plan. I finished them by the new years. That was my plan. I just put that on there. The very high level. And then when I got to my weekly plan, I started like, okay, this is like one of my things I want to work on. Like let me get started into this and really once you dive into something, so on your weekly plan, you're putting a slight time to it, it's only then that you really begin to discover its contours. Oh, how is this really going? Where do I really need to spend time? How is this going to naturally break up in the different parts? And then you can go back and refine that quarterly plan a little bit later. Like, okay, what we really want to do then is like this month, get the sample chapters together. It gets more specific, but it gets more specific because you get specific feedback from actually putting boots on the ground. So go back to my original plan of writing book proposals. I submitted those last week. So my original plan of do it by the new year was just throwing a dart generally in the direction of the dartboard. But I couldn't really make a good prediction of how long it was going to take and how it was going to get it done and how it was going to break down into different pieces until I was actually doing it. So that's the main thing I'm going to say, Luke, is when you first start a long-term plan, you should be doing shockingly little thinking about that plan. Just get going. Once you're convinced this is something important to do, start putting aside time during your weekly planning and that weekly planning will influence your daily planning and let that feedback help you refine and improve those plans. And don't be mad at yourself when you get the timing wrong because it's impossible to do. You don't get a gold medal for guessing how long a hard project is going to take. All right. You get a gold medal for continuing to follow the multi-scale planning process to let the feedback refine your plans to execute good weekly plans based on your quarterly plans and the realities of your schedule, doing good time block plan, spacing weekly plans. That is the thing you want to do. Trust that process. How long things actually take to happen? Well, I don't know. Did your family get COVID? Did you have a giant project dropped on your lap you weren't expecting? Did something blow up two months in that you thought was going to be easy to complete and you had to go over and start over? Like, who knows? You can't predict that. Why would you expect you could? Follow the multi-scale process, refine your long-term plans as you unfold your work on them. Do that and you should be happy with what you're doing. All right. That's a lot of me talking. Why don't we take a call, Jesse? Do we have a call queued up that we can go to here? Yeah, we sure do. It's from Laura. You've got a question about a book. Are you read? Hi, Cal. I've been reading your book, Digital Minimalism.
LISTENER CALL: Has Cal read “Stolen Focus”? (40:27)
I'm about over halfway through right now and I'm looking forward to decluttering my technology life. I also saw a book that just came out called Stolen Focus, Why You Can't Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again. It's by Johann Hari. I think it just came out this month in January and I was wondering if you've read it and what you think about it. It seems like something that could definitely help with productivity. Thank you. Well, Laura, I like Johann's work. That's the third book of his that I know about. Let me not bury the lead. I have not read it. I have not read Stolen Focus. Not because there's something I dislike about it but because when you write a book on a topic and you're done with that book, it's not uncommon that you're kind of done with the topic in the sense that it's actually very difficult to get motivated to read a similar book. It's very common among writers, especially writers, even writers who read very widely like I do. I just don't want to read something that is covering very similar ground to something I've written about too because I've spent a lot of time on those topics. I'm probably, I'm going to guess. I know the same people he's quoting. I know the same stories. I've spent years in that world. So it's that's entirely a function of just I'm up to my ears in that topic. Now here's what I like about Hari though. I will say this. His approach to books, he has a certain formula that I appreciate which is the big inversion formula. You thought X about this big topic but the reality is Y. And the reality Y is often something that's going to be a little bit aspiration like oh now that I understand that that gives me hope, that gives me a plan. I love that type of writing. That's a Johann's approach. So we had this book out called Chasing the Scream years ago that was about drug addiction. And that was an interesting book because what he was arguing there, his big inversion in that book if I understand it correctly it's been a while is that we have this reductive chemical only cultural understanding of drug addiction. So his thing is okay, the way we are taught about drug addiction is that if the mad scientist kidnapped you and strapped you down, I'm going to put heroin into your veins every day, you would be released when he finally released you from his evil lair, you would be a heroin addict. That is the way we understand it. These drugs chemically build these dependencies in our brain and then we can't shake them. But he said if that was the case, there should be a lot of heroin addicted grandmothers in the UK because in the UK the standard drug they give for pain killing for hip replacement is dimmerol which is just medical heroin. So we have all these grandmothers in the UK getting basically a few weeks worth of heroin as their standard treatment for their hip and they come away just fine. They don't come away addicted to it or looking for heroin. And he said the missing factor in chasing the screen was there's also a socio psycho component to it. So it's not just the chemical going into your body, it's when the chemical is going into your body as a means of escaping from something in your life, from pain, from post traumatic stress, from trauma. It is the combination of that potent chemical which gets right into your brain plus the psycho emotional usage of that to escape that creates the impossible to shake addiction. So that was chasing the screen. So like this kind of interesting version, inject heroin, the mad scientist injects into you every day, you're not going to be addicted. You start taking the pain pills they gave you for your hip after your hip feels better because you're depressed about losing your job. And it's like this helps, I need this to not feel depressed about losing my job. Then suddenly you can have a life destroying addiction. So that was chasing the screen, then he wrote a book called Lost Connections that was talking about depression. And again, he was arguing that there is this biochemical model of depression that's too reductive, this idea that depression is just caused by something goes wrong with neurotransmitters. It's entirely chemical. And you can we can take pills to try to fix it's all you can do. And he's like, though there's a chemical component, I think his big argument on lost connections is again, there's a socio psycho component as well. Like also a big source of depression is the things that are making you feel bad. Like someone close to you died, like you're really sad about it. Like you feel hopeless about your work situation that you've lost some jobs, you can't get into their jobs, you're feeling worthless. He's like the socio psychological aspects of depression really matter too. And if we just say like, don't worry, don't worry, it's just your chemicals will give you a pill to fix it. And also say, what's going on in your life? We also let's make your wife better. He's like you're leaving most of the tools on the table. So that's like classic, you're on Harari. So in stolen focus, he's applying this to distraction and the attention economy. I don't know the book. The thesis really well, because again, it's too close to home. So I don't really want to get into it. But I think he's he's a I think his inversion there. If I understand vaguely is you think you're more distracted because you're like lazy. There's all these new shiny distractions out there and you can't help yourself. He's like, that's not the case. The attention economy has put billions of dollars to steal your focus away. Like there was this this Apollo mission size effort to distract you and you had no chance. That's what I think he's saying. And if it is, I agree because I've written a lot about that. So anyways, he's a he's an entertaining writer. I like chasing the screen in lost connections. And people who read I give a lot of notes about lost focus. So obviously lots of people are sending it to me to read. But people aren't telling me what they think about it. So let me know if you read it, let me know. Let me know what you think. All right. Well, speaking of books, Jesse, this is the first episode that will air in April, right? We're recording it. I mean, in May. Yeah. Yeah. We're recording it in April, but it'll be the first one that we release in May. And what's our tradition is the first episode that we either record or release in each month. I discussed the five books I read in the month before, and though it's only the 28th, I have as is my habit long since finished my five books for April. So I figure we can we can talk about them now in our standard what I read segment. All right.
The Books Cal Read in April 2022 (47:05)
So in April of 2022, my first book I read and we talked about this on the show was The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton. So you remember, this is the story. It came out in 1948. It was a memoir of Thomas Merton who had grown up with his artist, father traveling throughout Europe, ended up in the States, ended up at Columbia, was sort of an intellectual writer, started teaching English literature classes and dropped everything and became a trappist monk at the Garden of Gosemi, Trappist Monastery in Kentucky. And the trappist, if you don't know, are pretty far on the aesthetic end. You know, we're going to we're not out there in the community also having jobs and we're not Jesuits that are also astronomers. It's like, no, we're chopping wood and waking up four times in the middle of the night to say prayers. So it was about that transition. You know, it's very influential. It's very influential because it came out during this post-war doldrums period where people were adrift and moving the suburbs and getting boring jobs. And so this book of reinvention and focusing on depth and values in a radical way. And this is a clear example of my notion of the deep life and action really struck a chord. So I figured I needed to read it because so much more that's recent is informed by it. Whether the authors know it or not. We talked about it before because I tried to read it on Kindle and I was like, nah, this book can't be read on Kindle. I need a hardcover. But instead of just like a normal person buying a hardcover, I went back and bought a first edition first printing from 1948 of the book. I think it really mattered. I think it really helped. I think it really changed my experience of reading the book. And it's a long one. It's 400-something pages in the original hardcover, which are wide pages. And they didn't mess around with this sort of business book. You buy in the airport in the 2020s, you know, double spaced lines and giant fonts. They didn't mess around with that back in the '40s. You know, people had time. So the lines are small. So it took me a while to read. But I'm really glad I did. I'm really glad I did. I know more about Catholic practice now than I ever had before. So I recommend it. It's a foundational book that so many more self-transformation books, all the big self-transformation books that fall into 20th centuries were informed by seven-story mountain. And he's a good writer. All right, so speaking about writing, I then went on to read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. I had never read that. Now, I had read the other famous writing instruction books. So Bird by Bird, if you don't know, is Anne Lamott's book about writing. It's a book about writing. Now because, as you might expect, I've internalized a patriarchy. I had read Stephen King's book on writing on writing, probably because of the male gendered gaze was more comfortable for me than the female gaze or what have you. But for whatever reason, I had never read Bird by Bird. But it is right up there with Stephen King's on writing as one of the two most famous non-fiction books about writing from the last, whatever, three or four decades. I like Anne Lamott. I mean, I like her writing. I like her as a person just her approach to life. She lives and she's had an interesting, difficult life. I always go deep stocker mode on the houses of writers. And so she bought this cool piece of land in Northern California that was kind of run down and they slowly converted it over time into just like Oasis. I love that type of stuff. The book is good. It's focused on fiction writing. And I'll say the main thing I came away with other than Anne Lamott is a great writer. And the main thing I came away with is fiction writing, I think, attracts more aspiring writers than non-fiction because on paper becoming a success seems easier. And what I mean by that is when you read Bird by Bird or you read Stephen King's book and you read about novel writing, the only real activity you do is sit down at a computer and write. And so it's all about that, like just sitting down there and writing and overcoming the psychological fears. So in theory, if you've never written anything before, you have all of the tools and things you need to potentially write a great novel. You just have to sit down there and write. You're non-fiction seems more scary. I got to get a book deal first. You don't write non-fiction before you get the book. I got to go actually talk to people. I got to do interviews. So it seems harder. But the reality is when you read something like Bird by Bird is like, "Oh my God, fiction is so much harder." Yeah, you can just get going. But man, it's just you in the screen and you have to just craft out of nowhere these characters and narratives that reveal the human experience and do so with perfect craft because any deviation from perfect craft is going to ring out. We're non-fiction. I don't know, you just have to be competent. I have something to read about. I did research on it. If I just do the work to do the research, I know how to write in a way that's not going to annoy people. Like you can be in the game. So I think this is the allure of national novel writing month and fiction writing on Bird by Bird is like, "Maybe if I just sit there at the keyboard." You know, "Of my sin, man is going to come out." But I think it's way harder. So I'm glad I'm not a fiction writer. That just seems like it's impossible. It's like trying to be a screenwriter. Everyone's like, "I bet I could do that because I know movies. I movie seems straightforward and it's impossible. It's impossible to actually write because everyone can do it, but to do it well, it's like near impossible." So anyways, a good book makes me glad I'm a non-fiction writer. And to all you aspiring writers out there, non-fiction is actually way, it's way easier in my opinion to be a working writer than in fiction. All right. Then I went on and read some fiction because April had some good weather and good weather. I like to have fun books to read. So I went and read the Carl Sagan novel contact, which actually I really enjoyed. So it was a premise of the book. Was it focused on someone at SETI, SETI, Search for Extra Trust Your Intelligence. When Carl Sagan works through what would happen if we actually did get a signal from an alien civilization. And the parts I like the best actually is he works through the science of how that would work. You know, like, okay, it would be a signal on this frequency that corresponds to the emission frequency of hydrogen and there would be pulses corresponding to the prime numbers because that would be really universal. And then they're using various modulation screams to encode information into those symbols. And so anyways, I thought that was real interesting. So I really loved the part where he got in whenever he would get into the science of like how alien communication would work and how we would track it down. I love those parts, but then it was pretty good characters as well. I mean, it was a good book and I love when scientists write books and they're good. The only nerd comment I need to make, my apologies to the Sagan estate, actually no apologies, it's not his fault. It just is a demonstration of how things have changed. So the book takes place like in 99. And so he gets wrong. He gets right a lot of things. He didn't get the internet right. So they had instead these like portable fax machines they would carry around that like would send message, they would like send and receive messages to portable fax machines. Like he wasn't quite there on the internet, but, but, you know, it was pretty close. But the, the, the small nerd detail that I noticed is the aliens used for one of the layers of encoding in their signal, phase modulation. And in the book, Sagan's like, oh, we don't phase modulation is something that theoretically could do, but it's not something that we use really in like human devices. Like we know about it, but it's just not something we're used to. Based on my understanding, phase modulation is actually now heavily used in wireless data protocols, like in particular, in 802.11 protocols for access points, like phase modulations at the core of it. So that was a prediction that was gotten wrong in the age of Wi-Fi phase modulation as well and used. So what I'm doing here, Jesse, is I'm giving the people the information they really care about. You know, you cut past the superfluous and you focus in on what is it that the crowds really care about. And I look, if there's one thing I will say about deep questions listeners, they are RF modulation, RF modulation fans. Yeah, you got us primed up for your comments about Jurassic Park a couple of months ago. Yeah. Yeah. Forget any mistake I said about Jurassic Park, the overlooking the importance of phase modulation. I mean, let me get going about QAM constellation and coding. This all came from, by the way, so again, no one cares about this. I'm mainly a theoretician, but I do theory or I used to do theory about problems that were motivated by wireless networks. So for my post-doc, for my two years as a post-doc at MIT, I left the theory group and I went up to the network and mobile systems group and learned a lot about wireless network technology actually works. So there you go. It finally paid off in allowing me to do an awesome cool critique of Carl Sagan. I don't want to say that makes his book a garbage book, but you know, you're going to get modulation wrong. I mean, I don't know guys. I don't know what we're doing here. All right, then I went on and read a book I found in a little free library at the field where my oldest son was playing Little League called Blue Latitudes. So this is Tony Horwitz. I'm a big Tony Horwitz booster. He died a few years ago. Like at the age of 60, just tragic, just like heart attack, just boom, streets of DC, you know, fickle finger of fate, which is really tragic. The guy talked about a writing power couple, by the way, so he married Geraldine Brooks, the novelist. When he married her, he had a Pulitzer from his war correspondent reporting. And then not long after they got married, she got a Pulitzer for one of her novels. I don't know if it was March or the Crossing. So it's a dual Pulitzer couple, a nonfiction writer and a novelist. But anyways, I mean, the book, he's probably his most famous book is Confederates the Attic, which is a fantastic book, the first Horowitz book I wrote. But he does these are like nonfiction travel log type books and blue latitudes. He was tracing Captain Cook's journeys through the Pacific of the 18th century. And so he's going all over like remote Pacific islands and all the way up to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. And he's really good at this travel writing. Because he's a Pulitzer prize winning war correspondent. So he knows how to go to these remote interesting places and insert himself into interesting situations and find interesting people. He's twitchy and high energy and is just constantly trying to find places to go and people to meet. And he's a good, so it's interesting. He does interesting things. And so in this book, he's doing interesting things. He's on these islands you've never heard of meeting these characters who he who capture so interestingly, like the the life on these islands and the impact of colonialism, et cetera, written beautifully and just interleaving with the story of Captain Cook. Great book, but long. It's another 450 pager. So it took me a while. It took me a while. So I had two 450 pagers this month. So I was surprised by how long that took. The final book I read, this is a bit of an odd one. This is a deep pole. Uncle Petros and gold blocks conjecture. As a long process by which I came to this book, it is a novel written by a mathematician, a Greek mathematician named a postolus doxiotis. So between this and Sagan, as you can see, I'm on a kick of scientists writing books about their field. And the book is about it's like a young boy and his uncle and his uncle was like this super math prodigy who became obsessed with trying to solve gold box conjecture, which was at the time one of the three big famous number theory conjectures that hadn't been solved. So the rhyme and hypothesis, Fermat's last theorem and the gold block conjecture, Fermat's has since been proven by Andrew Wiles. Was the rhyme and solved? When you look that up, Jesse, the rhyming hypothesis, I have this vague memory of this R-E-I-M-A-N-N. I have this vague memory of this eccentric mathematician, George or Gore-Ag or something solved it and then even show up. But I might be thinking about something different. So you have to fact check me on that. Anyways, Wikipedia says many consider it to be the most important unsolved problem for mathematics in the first paragraph. What did he? Oh, look up. I think he solved Poincare Poincare Poincare Poincare's conjecture. Poin Poin Poin C-A-R-E Accent-a-Goo conjecture. Maybe that's what he solved, the guy I'm thinking about. So Jesse's going to fact check that. Me, that's what it was. Originally and conjectured by Henry Poincare, 1904, the theorem considers spaces that locally look like ordinary three dimensional space. Yeah. Was it solved? Attempts to resolve the conjecture drove much progress in the theology and metric topology during the 20th century. Sir Guy with whose name started with G, who solved it? I'll keep on looking. Yeah. Anyways, the point be there was something famous solved and the guy was this weirdest centric, I think it was Russian, and he didn't even show up for, I think he got to give him like a fields medal or something, he didn't even show up. But anyways, this book was sort of about a character like this. So it's a math prodigy who became obsessed with solving this conjecture and basically his life fell apart because of that. And it is from the perspective of his son who kind of uncovers this. And so it's cool. It's a short book, I wouldn't say there's a lot of sophisticated plot in it. There's like long periods of just exposition of like, let me just tell you, let me just summarize my uncle's story. And it kind of just tells the story, but it's really cool because he puts in a lot of famous figures from logic and number theory and analysis. So Turing plays a role, Kurt Gurdle shows up in the book. He's hanging out with Rajanaman and Hardy at Cambridge. And so it's cool. It's like all these mathematical cameos. Not much really happens, but I love to see specialists in their fields write fiction about their fields because I want to do that one day. So maybe that's why I was reading Sagan and uncle Petros. You should have used your French accent. Yeah, the proper pronunciation is honry. Honkai is how if you're going to be sophisticated. You're saying, all right. You're like, that's good. I remember when the guy from Russia saw the honry, honkai conjecture. Yeah, that was good. So do we figure out, is that the thing he solved? I was reading through the Wikipedia. Wikipedia is unbelievable. Yeah. It's one guy tried to solve in the 30s, but then it was retracted. A bunch of other guys tried in the 50s and 60s. Well, I'm sure there's some nerd listening. He's a bigger nerd to me. People write in. And please do, an exposition of attempts to prove that this conjecture can be found in the book. Because I'm thinking about cares prized by George Fizzo, in spirit. Because this is what I'm-- all right, someone has to write in. There's someone who solved something hard in the last 10 years, maybe the last 15 years. And his name was George, and he's Russian, and he's eccentric. It's not the rhyme and hypothesis. It's not-- doesn't sound like it's the Pawncary conjecture. So all right, someone has to write in and set a streak. I got a quick question. Yeah. So before you would say that you read two chapters a day before you bumped up to five books a month, right? Yeah. So what do you think you read like four chapters a day now? It's uneven. Yeah. So I mean, part of what happens is you just-- when you take advantage of quiet time to go nuts. Like once you're in the habit of reading, you're looking for times to kind of go nuts and read. And so some days you don't get that much time in. You just have your standard times you read. And other days you're like, oh, I have an half hour. Like the kids are with my wife, and they're coming home, and they won't be home for a half hour or something. And if it's your default activity, you just-- you'll lean into it. You'll be great. I can really-- and once you get into the books, and I talked about this in the podcast last week, that once you're no longer using your phone as a default source of distraction. And conversely, you've gotten really into the books you're reading and the idea of reading books, and your mind is used to that. You begin to crave it. It's great. This is what I want. Everything slows down. The leisure is deeper. Your brain gets quiet. Your thoughts get clear. I just really am more and more of an advocate of this is the medicine people need right now. Were any of the five audio books? None of those five are audio books. None of those five are audio books. I'm listening to the first book from the Expanse series, Sci-Fi series. I'm listening to that on audio, but it's long. It's a 40-hour book. So I was listening to that off and on throughout. And then I'm also listening to the Steve Martin's professional memoir, Born Standing Up. I just finished that, actually. Yeah, I mean, I'd read it. Obviously, it was influential in my work, but I read it in 2007 or something. So I don't remember. There's so much I don't remember. So I'm enjoying that. I'm almost done with that as well. I'm actually-- so I have three books I'm reading simultaneously right now, and I'm pretty close on all three. So once we cross over the May boundary, I'm probably going to be three books in the first week of May. Because I have a bunch going in parallel right now. I actually miscounted. So we were on a little trip to the beach when I finished the fifth book, and I thought it was my fourth. So I had a lot of other stuff going. And so then I spread out. It's like, well, let me make progress in a lot of books so that I can finish them all. So I'm just off-scheduled now. So I'm finishing stuff halfway through a month and starting the new stuff. It's just my reading's not scheduled with the start of the month, basically. But there you have it. Well, let's take a moment here to talk about another sponsor, Jesse.
Cal talks about Policy Genius and Magic Spoon (01:07:05)
And I think we're talking about the value in your life of reading. Well, let's talk about the value of your life more generally. You need life insurance. This is your way of providing for those who you care about in the untimely event that we get a message from aliens. Takes us a while to figure out because they're using phase modulation, which we've never used before and have no idea how it works. But then when we finally decoded, it says there's a meteor coming towards your house and you're like, shoot, I should have gotten life insurance. The problem with life insurance is that it's intimidating to figure out how am I possibly going to do that? How does one even get life insurance these days? That is where our sponsor, Policy Genius, comes into play. Policy Genius is your one stop shop to find the insurance you need at the right price. Click the link in the description or head to policygenius.com and answer a few questions. In minutes, you can compare personalized quotes from top companies to find your lowest price. You could say 50% or more on life insurance by comparing quotes using Policy Genius. The team of licensed experts at Policy Genius are on hand throughout the entire process to help you understand your options and make decisions. With confidence, they really enjoy when you mention in detail your fears about alien meteors. They really find that to be useful and productive. The Policy Genius team works for you, not the insurance company. So whether you're just starting the shop, grab questions about your active policy, or are terrified that our government will not figure out the phase modulation that is encoding the coordinates of the meteor strike that is imminent, they're independent advocates. So they can offer you unbiased advice. All right, so no extra fees, they're not gonna sell your info to third parties, they have thousands of reviews, you can trust them. So head to policygenius.com to get your free life insurance quotes and see how much you could save. That's policygenius1word.com. All right, I also wanna talk about our old friends for Magic Spoon. Jesse, it's been a while since we've talked about Magic Spoon. - Sure has. - And you are someone who I converted, I think it's very important for the good folks at Magic Spoon to know this. Jesse started eating Magic Spoon because of the deep questions podcast. - That is true. - And would you say that your life has become, and you can choose multiple choice 10 times, 15 times, or infinitely better ever since you started eating Magic Spoon? - Infinitely better. - That is a solid endorsement, ladies and gentlemen. So for those of you who do not know what Magic Spoon is, it is a cereal like those treat cereals we used to enjoy growing up in the 80s or 90s that were terrible for us, but we really liked eating them. But without all of the junk that those cereals have, Magic Spoon has zero grams of sugar, 13 to 14 grams of protein, and only four net grams of carbs in each serving. There's only 140 calories in each serving. It's keto-friendly, gluten-free, grain-free, soy-free, and low carb. The right way to do this, ladies and gentlemen, is to build your own variety box. Don't just buy one box at a time. Build your own variety box. There's a lot of great flavors to choose from. Coco, Fruity, Frosted, Peanut Butter, Cookies and Cream, Maple Waffle, Blueberry Cinnamon, plus a brand new flavor. Jesse, there's a brand new flavor. It is called Honey Nut. So there you go. I think that's a great idea for a flavor. I have a little note here that says that, okay, technically Honey Nut has one gram of sugar, instead of zero. Worth it for that great flavor. So I'm glad to see that new flavor has been added to the mix. I'm trying to give the name one after you. So far it hasn't been successful. - Keep trying. - Yeah. Jesse's morning delight. I was trying to push him on that. I don't know what it would taste like. Athletic drinks and supplements. - That'd be a night 'cause I don't need dinner. So maybe it could be like some dinner snack. - Yeah. - It's called, "I'm needlessly hungry" is what they would call the cereal. Jesse's, "I'm needlessly hungry flavor." And it's just an empty box. When you open it, there's a note. It's like you eat too much, work out. You hear that magic spoon? I'm making your job easy here. But anyways, go to magicspoon.com/cow. To grab a custom bundle of cereal and be sure to use our promo code CAL at checkout to save $5 off. Your order magic spoon is so competent in the product, it's backed with a 100% happiness guarantee. So if you don't like it for any reason, they'll refund your money, no questions asked. Remember, get your next delicious bowl of guiltfree cereal at magicspoon.com/cow and use the code CAL to save $5. All right, let's, we're running a little long here. Woo, 15 minutes till my Zoom call, folks. So we're really working on the pressure. Jesse, what's the one last call?
Specific Question On Writing In The New Yorker
LISTENER CALL: Playbook for writing in The New Yorker (01:12:20)
And then I'll call it quits after that. - Sounds good. We've got a question about your process for writing articles as opposed to nonfiction books. - Hi, Cal. I have a question today about the nonfiction column writing you do for the New Yorker and the New York Times. Is it formula to do something like that the same as you often share for nonfiction books? By that, I mean be the right person to write about that right topic. Don't suck at writing and have a solid and interesting idea. Or is the path here different since there are no agents and no book deals? For someone who has a spy should do something like that. What is the playbook? Thank you. - Now that's a good question. It's a subtle distinction that you're asking about here. So when I talk about how to become a nonfiction writer, one of the core points I make is that when it comes to nonfiction books, there is a insatiable demand for more product. For various economic reasons, the publishing houses need full pipelines. They need lots of books moving through those pipelines. So we sometimes paint this picture of mustache twirling gatekeepers who just don't understand your brilliance that you have to somehow get around and get your book published. It's the opposite. They are desperate for books to publish. They need books in the pipeline. You have to have a lot of books on the shelves just to make the economics of being a publisher work. So given that reality, it's a good situation for the aspiring nonfiction book writer. And I gave that 3.4 millipher, becoming one that you just summarized there. You need to have an idea that people are gonna feel like they need to read. You need to be the right person to write that idea. And they need to write it in a way that's not gonna raise flags. You don't have to be John McPhee, but you can't be amateur. It just has to be professional writing. If you can find that idea for which you're the right person and you can write at a non amateur level, it takes some work. But again, we're not talking about becoming John McPhee. You have a good shot of being able to publish a nonfiction book. It doesn't mean you're gonna get paid a lot of money for it, but you have a good shot of doing it because there's an insatiable demand. There's more slots basically, the fill than they often have books to put into it. Writing for a magazines like writing for The New Yorker or writing op-eds for The New York Times, it's a different situation. So I think it switches from a seller's market to a buyer's market. There's not the same notion of we have an insatiable need for like more and more product. It's actually there's limited number of slots. The New York Times only has so many op-ed slots per day. And half of those are going to editorial board members and members who are permanent salary callers. There's very little space there. Same for a magazine like The New Yorker. I think there's just only so many slots they have to fill. So that's a different type of world. And so yeah, getting into that world is going to require more than just, I have an idea I'm the right person to write it and I can write it at a good level. Usually something else has to be involved. And there's a lot of different paths into those worlds. Some people come into those worlds through specific expertise, coupled with a good writing ability. So you might have someone like an Atulé Gawande who has all of this medical expertise as a doctor who learned how to write really well. Like, oh, that's really rare. And like The New Yorker would say, great. Now we have this sort of distinctive expert insider voice on medicines. You know, that's one way into it. You have people like Gea Tolentino at The New Yorker who she just developed an incredibly original voice. And it's just sheer talent. So they came knocking on her door at some point. Like this is just you have this voice that captures the mood of your generation in these times. And so that's just sheer talent. So yeah, that's much harder. And so we should just be honest about that. And again, my experience with The New Yorker is they come to you. And I don't know if that's always the case for everyone there, but it feels a little bit sometimes like the Yankees and the 90s. Like, okay, yeah, good work Rodriguez over there and the Rangers. You can come play for us now because, and then everyone jumps at it. So there's a little bit of that. So there's not much you can do to force that. Again, I don't know if that's everyone's experience. That's just the story I've heard from the writers I've talked to. New York Times is kind of similar. How do you end up doing op-edge for New York Times? Often they're asking you, so they've seen something else, things you've written they know about you. And they're like, you know what? This person would have a good take on this topic. And so it's a lot of you being asked to do things. So yeah, I don't think the right way into the world of nonfiction writing is not, my first thing is to be a New Yorker writer or New York Times op-ed writer. Books are a great way in. Magazines are publications in which they actually have a content issue, they need more content. Those are good way in. You'll produce stuff, be so good you can't be ignored. There's a lot of ways into nonfiction. And then there is a small number of these opportunities that you can't really control. And so if they come your way, that's great. I feel grateful every day about the ones that have come my way. If they don't, that's fine too, as long as you're producing stuff you're proud of. Interesting opportunities will come up. So that's a good question. So there's definitely a distinction between selling a nonfiction book and writing for an elite publication. All right, well, speaking about writing, this is a bad transition, there's nothing to do with writing. Speaking about the things that keep me from my writing and my podcasting, I gotta go jump on Zoom. So let's wrap up this episode. Thank you everyone who sent in their questions and their calls. If you like what you heard, you will like what you see on our YouTube channel, youtube.com/Cal NewportMedia. Full episodes are up there as well as clips of selected individual segments. We'll be back next week. The new episode of the Deep Questions Podcast and until then, as always, stay deep.