Ep. 195: The Social Media “Algorithm”, Deep Walks, and Cal’s Simplest Productivity Tool

Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 195: The Social Media “Algorithm”, Deep Walks, and Cal’s Simplest Productivity Tool".

1970-01-01T02:24:36.000Z

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Introduction

Cal's Opening Chatter about his AC (00:00)

I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, episode 195. I'm here in my Deep Work HQ joined by my producer, Jesse. I was late today. We're late getting started. Jesse, my apologies, had the AC repair people coming out to do maintenance and we discovered all sorts of issues. Long story short, 45 minute appointment became two and a half hours. So I have been up to my ears literally, I suppose, and free on. I'll tell you though, and I've mentioned this to you before, Jesse, I am obsessed with my AC and my current house and my old house. I've always, I've never had it worked the way I want it to work. I've never just had it cycles on and off like reasonable length cycles, keeps up on hot days. There's always weirdness going on. I am this close to taking, I think, a year-long sabbatical from Georgetown, putting all my writing projects on hold to just full-time work on my AC. Doesn't Tesla have a heating system coming out? You could buy one of those now that you're boys with Elon. That's what I should do. Yeah. Is get whatever the most complicated, expensive, but it's true about HVAC. You could spend your entire life obsessing about HVAC to try to get it right. So we're now rebuilding a very old unit. We're starting from scratch and rebuilding our upstairs AC from scratch, re-insulating everything, trying to perfectly size the unit to it. I mean, I literally could give this, I would say 50% of my time and would be happy. And if I could solve this problem so that's like a it's a hot dc summer day the upstairs ac is just coming off and on but not even thinking about it not worried about it not going from vent to vent checking the temperature trying to see what's going on is it leaking is it old i mean i would be a happy man so i'm just going to dedicate a huge amount of time and then one day the ac will just work and i'll be lost because you like a cold right i like a cold and also just to work i in this house but also in my last house we just had this maddening thing where maybe this is the way acs are supposed to work but it would just be on and on and on and i'd be like well shouldn't it be cycling off and on like can't we just make it powerful enough that on like a reasonably hot day it's cycling off and on but it's always been that even on a somewhat hot day our ac just runs and runs it's like this is not other people's acs don't do this like something's not right it's not powerful enough it's not big enough and i want to dedicate my time that's where i want to dedicate my time just just have a beautifully balanced perfectly proportioned variable speed system. That's just well-suited. The reality is I live in a very tall house and it, I mean, you've seen it, we're on a hill. So the front of the house at the top of the hill is a normal height. And then the hill drops away fully exposing the basement. And so it's just like a 30 foot tall like just tower that just the sun beats on just a box and it's a big old like early very early 20th century house where it's very narrow roof so it's just like a straight up and uh that thing just bakes but anyways i i think what we need to do and you would agree with this is our new podcast that was supposed to be mainly about sports and fantasy novels will now have a ask Cal about AC segment. I like it. Nothing crazy. I'm talking just like a tight 45 minutes every episode. Just me talking about Freon levels and balance and return rates. oh man i'm gonna fix this problem though ac in here works fine yeah you like i mean it gets cold in here yeah so a little bit inside the curtain and not to dwell on this but the studio is probably the warmest room in the office because we only have this one little vent and we have people in here and we have all these curtains up. So to make the studio broadcasting cool. And if you've been on, you know, I've done a bunch of TV and et cetera, it's cool because you don't want to sweat on TV. You have to make the rest as Jesse will attest the rest of the HQ has to be an icebox, but we have our own unit here, which is what's nice is we there's just our own AC unit. It's in the closet. It just runs us. This is how I justified safety concerns. When I moved over to this HQ, like way early in the pandemic, I was like, it's fine. We have our own air handling system. That was the way I thought about it. It's not like we're sharing because that's the type of stuff we worried about in, you know, spring of 2020. It's like, well, what if the air from the other offices are going to like bring virus in or this or that? And we were real worried about it back then. And so I was like, you know, we have our own HVAC in here. It's, it's, we're in our own closed loop. So yeah, the AC here works fine. All right, Jesse, enough about that. Actually, we did get a email from Carl. He's a big fan. Was it about air conditioner? It wasn't, but it should be. Then I'm not interested. But he actually, he's been emailing me, and he was interested in when you talk about the algorithm, when you were talking about the Obama call for more regulation. During one of our Cal Reacts to the News. Yeah, a of weeks ago. I remember that. Yeah. So he thought it was enlightening and he's like talking about the algorithm and how it's like one of the worst things about social media. And he'd like to kind of hear you talk about that more. And he's even wondering why an algorithm is even needed. Yes. So if you could just dive into that a little bit. That's interesting. I mean, there's two things about the algorithm. One is it's not an algorithm, right? So if we're going to get a little bit more precise with our terminology, I'm teaching algorithms, for example, this semester. And an algorithm technically is you have a finite sequence of unambiguous steps that are executed in a clear control order. It's way more ambiguous what goes on with social media. So instead of really an algorithm, think about it as a large bank of black boxes that takes in lots of information, and then using that information helps make decisions about what should we show this particular user.


Chats And Promotions

Cal talks about the social media algorithm (06:23)

It's actually assigning weights to different possible things to figure out which tweet to show this user, which Facebook newsfeed post to prioritize. And what is actually happening in these black boxes is not just a single algorithm that you can study. It's really, for the most part, a collection of mainly neural nets. So you have neural networks that are trained through backpropagation to try to essentially learn what it is that appeals to you and what doesn't. But it's not just one neural net. There's multiple different neural nets that do different things, and then their feedback is fed into each other in somewhat complicated ways. And so it's a real, almost intractable mess of black boxes connected together in complex manner. So it's this real complicated mess of different networks hooked up to each other that in the end spits out its recommendations in the terms of weights of show this tweet, not that. So it's completely obfuscated. It's very difficult to try to find out what is going on inside those networks. I mean, if you want to really get into neural networks, I mean, what they're really doing is they're really, as we've talked about before, but they're essentially building spaces, like regions and multidimensional space that they can associate. So this is what a standard, and I don't want to get too far down this, but a standard not many layer neural net is basically just building up the space in which the inputs exist into these different regions so it can categorize things. And then when you get something like a deep learning neural net, you have multiple layers that are each doing something like that, and then they're communicating to each other. So one layer might look at a picture and just be really good at figuring out where the straight edges are and how many there are. And then another layer takes that input and is really good at figuring out, well, if there's this many straight edges, then it's probably a crosswalk. And so it all gets kind of complicated, but that's what I want to emphasize, it's complicated. So it's not an algorithm we can tweak easily. It's not an algorithm we can understand easily. Can we get rid of that in social media? I mean, we can imagine that being true. We can imagine that being true because we used to have social media without these quote unquote algorithms. This was basically all social media before 2009. So if you use Twitter in 2007, there's no complicated algorithm involved in showing what you see. All it did was sort of all the people you follow, here are their tweets, sort them in chronological order, put the newest one at the top. Facebook was doing the same thing. You have different people that you, I don't know what their terminology was, you like, you friend. See, people don't even talk about this on Facebook anymore. It's just become this newsfeed distraction machine. But you would friend people and would look at what they were posting and put it in chronological order is what people were posting. And then at some point after that, as we've talked about before, you get these complex neural network-based algorithms that say, well, I'm not just going to show you things in chronological order. I'm going to prioritize things that are going to increase engagement, which means time on service. And that's where we get this complicated play where we no longer understand how it shows us what it shows us. Many of the impacts that the switch to this quote-unquote algorithmic sorting of social media content had, many of the issues of this were unexpected. There's side effects. All you're trying to do with these networks, these neural nets all connected together is just to make the user happier in the sense of, I want to spend more time looking at this. But it had all sorts of side effects. And I think one of the big ones is what we talked about when we covered John Haidt's Atlantic article from a few weeks ago. And it was it introduced intense virality, right? Because now I could post something, other people could start spreading it, the algorithm will see that it's popular. So it's gonna start showing it to more people, which gives it a chance to be even more popular. And you can have explosive virality. And Haidt's point was explosive virality led to an environment that was high stakes and terrifying. You could be a hero or canceled in 12 hours. Just like, boom, it could just happen. And that completely changed who used social media and how they used it. social media, how they used it. Another issue with these type of algorithms had to do with, I talked about this in digital minimalism, but it made it way less predictable about what reaction you were going to get to your pieces. And that also touched on just social psychology, the intermittent reinforcement of sometimes people like what I do and sometimes people don't. That became a real addictive factor in getting people back, especially for Instagram and Facebook in the earlier days of these algorithms is now that when people could like and things could be shared, you had this much more unpredictable and unstable environment of feedback. And that was very addictive. Like, are people going to like this? Are people not going to like this? So it's possible, but there's no reason why companies would because, Carl, it makes them way more profitable. It's fantastically more profitable. People use these services all the time because they are perfectly optimized to get you to do that. If you went back to 2007 Facebook, it is way more boring than 2022 Facebook. If you go back to Twitter, early Twitter, before they began building these algorithmically juiced timelines, it was a way more boring place. Most of what you saw was not interesting because most of what most people you follow post is not interesting. So it's good for us as a culture because it was a diversion we didn't want to spend too much time on, but it's a completely different beast. And I believe the timeline was Facebook made that move. I mean, Twitter made that move first and then Facebook and Instagram followed. So when they saw, when Facebook saw Twitter move away from a strict chronological timeline, Facebook realized they had to do something similar. So now I don't know if that genie is going to go back in the bottle for those companies because, I mean, it would be like going to an oil company, like going to Exxon and saying, I know you've invented these technologies, which allows you to get 10x more oil out of the ground per day, but could you stop using them? And they're probably going to say no. They're probably going to say no. They're like, you know, this is our main technology for getting oil out of the ground. We've gotten really good at it. We don't want to artificially go back to a time when we were worse at it. Yeah, so it's interesting. You know, I got another email about that segment. So that particular article, reacting to Obama's call to regulate social media. And I mentioned section 230. So there users are posting on the platforms. And it was invented. We talked about this before. It was the intent was thinking about comments. You know, I have a blog. It's 2008 of a comment section. And maybe someone's going to come along and leave a comment on that section that is, you know, violate some laws like revealing insider trading or conducting libel against someone or something like this, right? And section 230, very crudely speaking, would say, I'm not responsible for that. I just had a comment board, but I'm not the editor selecting information. And the idea was these large social media platforms were using that coverage to say, look, we're not an editor, right? So we can't be held liable for what people actually say on it. And so there's one of the pushes for regulation is to get rid of that protection and say, no, you are liable for what's posted on your platform, just like a newspaper is liable for what they print and that this might lead to more aggressive or more effective content moderation. I said, I might be interested in it just because anything that would lead social media to fragment and have to have to become more niche, I thought would be good. Anyways, I got an email from a lawyer who used to specialize in section two 30 long story short, Jesse, he was basically saying it's a tricky path to go down. It's a tricky path to go down. He's like, if you pull up to 30 and you do so because you want to, there's an impact you want on these very large social media companies. He said, actually, they would probably be okay. They can afford the legal expertise to try to walk around and sidestep these liabilities and that like small people are going to get hurt. It's going to be, you know, calnewport.com. Like it really could be a problem for, for smaller companies. So look, I'm not a lawyer, but it was an interesting note. Uh, and he's like, yeah, it's just complicated. So there you go. Uh, good question though, Carl. Yeah. I like people emailing Jesse is Jesse at calnewport.com. He loves to hear about the show, what you like, what you don't like. Um, J E S S E J E S S E at calnewport.com. Somebody asked about that. That's the only reason why I threw that in there. Yeah. Yeah. It's not, it's not G G E S S E Y. That's right. It's a lot of Jesse's spell with I E. Fair enough. Fair enough. Fair enough. So that was from someone asking about an older Reacts to the News segment.


Cal reacts to his latest New Yorker Article (15:51)

I thought we would do a brief Cal Reacts to the News segment about a new article today. What I think I, without exaggeration, can say probably one of the most important articles published. Let's be modest here, but look at the last decade. And that is an article that appeared in the New Yorker last week. So you're hearing this on a Monday. It appeared the Monday before. It was an article written by this young buck named Cal Newport. I'm joking. This is not one of the most important articles of the decade, but I did, after a bit of a hiatus, have returned to the page of the New Yorker, published an article about Elon Musk and Twitter. We should talk about it briefly. to this podcast, you have heard a lot of my ideas about Twitter and Musk's acquisition. Well, I refined and polished my thoughts on this for a reaction piece that I wrote for The New Yorker. It was titled, Our Misguided Obsession About Twitter. And here's the basic point. Let me just give you the basic point. When I looked around at the landscape of coverage of Elon Musk making his bid to acquire Twitter, what I noticed is that almost every reaction was unified by a belief that Twitter was very important. Twitter is the digital town square. That's the terminology Musk used himself in the official statement announcing the acquisition, and everyone seemed to more or less agree. Now, once you agree that Twitter is the digital town square, then of course, you are going to care a lot about exactly how Twitter operates. If this is, as most people who are writing about this believe, if this platform is where policy is set, if it's where the ultimate adjudication of goodness and badness of individuals, of ideas, of organizations is made, if it's where activism gets its priorities, then even small changes to how it operates, the rules for content moderation, if you can go back and edit a tweet or not, who has kicked off, who's not kicked off, and under what circumstances. The implicit norms that are being implemented by all these rules makes a huge difference. So, of course, there'd be a big uproar about the ownership changing hands for this coming from a public company to a private company where one individual would suddenly have way control over this platform. So almost everything I read came from that starting place. And once you're in that starting place, you're either really worried, I'm really worried about Musk. I don't think he's on my team. I'm worried he's going to do things that's going to make this conversation worse, or you're gloating like, this is great. I think Musk is going to do things we like. And that's all you focused on. I basically stepped away from that whole argument and said, forget the details of what Musk is or is not going to do to Twitter. Let's actually poke for a second, this fundamental assumption that it is the digital town square. And as you've heard me allude to in previous segments on this podcast, me allude to in previous segments on this podcast. I do not believe that to be true. I drew heavily from John Height's recent Atlantic article, which helped make the point using numbers that a lot of us just understand intuitively, those of us who monitor Twitter from a media perspective. What we all understand intuitively is that the primary users on Twitter, the people who are doing all these tweets, who are doing takes and combating other people's takes, the grist of the mill that is the content mill that is Twitter, are not at all a broad representative sample of this country. They tend to consolidate on the political extremes. They also tend to be wider and richer than the average American. I didn't talk about this in the New Yorker article, but I did come across, I think, a related compelling quote from a George Washington University media studies professor who made this point that, keep in mind, Twitter is a very demanding platform. It is very difficult to be an active, successful user on Twitter. Much more difficult than Instagram. Much more difficult than TikTok. It's basically a full-time job. You have to tweet a lot. It's complicated to get the tweets right. It's this tightrope walk. And so we really get this incredibly rarefied group of gladiators from the different political extremes. And because of the dynamics of the platform, this is what Haidt talks about. They're in this context of virality, which means that they push themselves even farther to the extremes. They're doing this high stylized combat back and forth. And that spectacle is fascinating. It's very engaging. There's a whole periphery of people who like to watch it, but it's not the town square. It's not the town square. It's the Coliseum. And so my point is, once we recognize that, and this is the point I made in the article, the right response to all this uproar about Musk taking over Twitter is not, oh my god, what Musk is going to do? It's, oh my god, why is everyone still paying attention to Twitter? This is where we actually need to put our attention, is to look at people in positions of power who continue to look towards this gladiatorial, unrepresentative spectacle and use it to help guide their decision-making and say, stop it. That's not real life. This is not a representation about how the culture at large feels about this issue or this person or this idea. So if you are a head of an academic institution, head of a company, if you're a politician, if you're a journalist, don't look over there. It's exciting, but it has nothing to do with real life. But when you look over there and use that to help influence what you do, the rest of us, the 95% of people who could care less what's happening on Twitter, we're impacted by the service. We're impacted by that gladiatorial battle. It's as if the Roman Senate was over at the Colosseum and passing law that affected the entire empire based on what was happening on that bloody sandy ground of the arena. We would say that's a terrible way for you to figure out what you should do or shouldn't do. Get out of there. Go talk to the actual people. Be among the rest of us. Get away from the spectacle. Ground yourself again so that we can all be working from a shared sense of common sense. So that was basically my argument. Who cares what Musk is going to do? What I care about is that all of you are paying attention to Twitter still and thinking that this is somehow a town square. And I really don't think it is. All right, so that was my article. Jesse, I will say this might hurt our plan to get Musk on the show. Not necessarily. I think he's going to be on. You'll be chilling with him and Rogan. Yeah, basically I'm saying 44, this is like a bad, if I'm right, it's a very bad investment. Because it would say, you know, he's within the bubble that thinks that this is so critical and I'm basically trying to stand outside the bubble and say, it only seems critical to a small group of people, but it's not really and they need to pay attention somewhere else. And we're starting to see this. So I talked about in the article something I talked about on the show, which was the New York Times changing their policy, resetting their social media policy and saying, you know how before we told you, reporters, that you should be on social media, you should be on Twitter, never mind. Don't use Twitter. And if you really feel like you have to use Twitter, use it a lot less. That's the right response this time. Do you think Elon and Jack Dorsey talk a lot? Or at all? I don't know how well they know each other. Yeah, that's a good question. Do you think he called them before he... It's a good question. I don't know. I know Elon has tweeted back when Jack was in charge of Twitter on multiple occasions, Elon got a ban or a temporary ban overturned by tweeting him. But that almost makes me feel like maybe they're not closer because he didn't call him privately and say, bring this person back on. Elon would just at Jack and be like, why is this person banned? And then the person, the person would get unbanned. So yeah, that's, that's a good question. I'm not quite sure. I'm not quite sure. So we'll see. We'll see how it goes there. There's a Simpson episode, a tree house, a horror Halloween episode that this really reminds me of. And the premise of this episode. So you remember tree house, a Horror, it would be like ghost, it would be fantastical kind of Halloween scenarios. It didn't take place in the actual universe of The Simpsons. It was just these Halloween episodes. And in one of them, advertising figures like the brands, the brand figures, like Mr. Clean, right? These type of brand figures came alive and they were giants or like the Stay Put Marshmallow Man. And they were sort of destroying Springfield. And the solution to the problem that Lisa figured out was just to get people to stop paying attention to them. And she sung this jingle with the help of Burt Bacharach and it was just called Just Don't Look. with the help of Burt Bacharach, and it was just called Just Don't Look. And that's how they stopped the attack on the very structure of the town itself, was convincing the townspeople, just don't pay attention to the advertising. Obviously, this is like, it was like a clear metaphor, but don't pay attention to the giant advertising monsters, and they all fall apart. I mean, this is what I think, this is where we've gotten with Twitter, is we all just need to stop paying attention. The power users are still going to be on there doing their weird stylized violence and warfare. But if you just don't look, it doesn't have an impact on the town. It doesn't destroy the buildings. It sort of just becomes its own thing. And again, and I make this point in the article, Twitter used to have a lot of good stuff that happened on there. make this point in the article, Twitter used to have a lot of good stuff that happened on there. I mean, there was obviously the activism, the early toppling of dictators in the Arab Spring, we had the accountability played a big role in Me Too. But even beyond those sort of high value uses, the original core of what made Twitter interesting was there were smart people making interesting or funny takes. It's like, here's a topic I kind of like, and I want to follow people who are smart, and they're going to have these smart takes. And then you have better takes, and it's interesting, and you can use those takes to make yourself feel smarter. And then there's funny people doing funny takes. That was actually a pretty compelling mix. But I really do believe it can't just be that anymore. Viral dynamics pushed out all of the interesting people in the middle. It left us with people on the political extremes. It brought in this type of huge tribal warfare where it's about not giving ground to the other team and doing combat about them. They're trying to combat to you and you're a hero and then you're canceled. And I think those, Haidt was absolutely right about this. Once those intense dynamics came into play, the idea that Twitter was just a place you could just go and here's some funny observations and here's some smart observations about this political issue. And it's quicker and pithier than waiting for the newspaper. It can't be that anymore. And I don't know how you would get it back. I mean, we talked before about Galloway, Scott Galloway's idea about going to a subscription model. Maybe that could get that back. Maybe there's a way to tamp down virality so that you don't have these huge stakes. Maybe there's a way to niche out Twitter so that the community that's interested in sports talk or the community interested in comedy or the community interested in this particular political topic can be there and see interesting takes without it spiraling out of control. If you lower the stakes, be there and see interesting takes without it spiraling out of control. If you lower the stakes and I called it this sort of terrifying, but thrilling combination of you could fall, you could make it across the tight rope and be fed it, or you could fall and be splattered on the pavement. It was like really compelling. If you can lower the stakes and maybe it could be back to what it was before. I mean, I see what the value was. I just, I just think it can't right now. It just can't support that. It's a bloodbath. It's like, use these analogies, you had the theater, the Greek theater in which you're having the Aeschylus plays and then over time without people really noticing it transformed to the Colosseum and mixing Greek and Roman, but I think the point gets across. In terms of investment, he's bringing a private, right? He's bringing a private, yeah. And I had to work out those numbers. So it's not, in the context of mergers and acquisitions, just companies buying other companies, this is not a notably large amount of money, $44 billion. I mean, I think when Disney bought Fox, it was $185 billion. Jack Dorsey just bought a FinTech company called Afterpay for like 30 billion, less than half a year ago. It's similar, right? So it's not that exceptional, but it is exceptional for a public company being bought completely to be made private. And there, that's actually really, that's like way more rare. And I think this might be, if I have my numbers right, the second largest buyout of a public company. So that's like more unusual. And there is some concern about the ability, which this makes sense to me, the ability for someone to have, in theory, so much money that they can just buy what we call like a moderate sized public company and just take it private. what we call a moderate size public company and just take it private, maybe that's something to be concerned about. So it's a very big buyout amount, not a very big just merger and acquisition amount. So it's not a huge company, but usually you don't have public companies even of that modest size completely bought out by. I mean, Bezos paid in the low hundreds of millions for the Washington Post. That's like way more common when you see these type of buyouts. It's like I bought a newspaper for $150 million. Not 44 billion is a lot. It is a lot for one person to spend. So I am sympathetic to the general heebie-jeebies that give some people like i mean i can't quite put my finger on it but like that's a lot of money for one person to be able to spend to like take control of something yeah it's like a sports franchise times 10 yeah yeah that's to me that seems like the nearest analogy is like rich people buy sports franchises and that's single single digit billions yep yeah so we'll see we'll see it's one of those articles where if the article works it should hopefully get very low Twitter engagement it's like ironic if it goes viral on Twitter means you failed I still wouldn't be shocked if you guys talk at some point at all yeah um i would love to probably get along oh yeah he's an interesting guy i mean this was something i mean look i don't know a lot about him i just know it's hard to make yourself the the richest man in the world yeah it's hard to make rockets 10x cheaper than they've been throughout the history of rocketry it's hard to create the electric car industry from scratch when no one else can do it. So obviously this is a guy who has a certain set of skills that are really unprecedented and really have a big impact. He's also, just from a personality perspective, an unusual person. I mean, I do not think he's neurotypical and even putting aside the actual wiring of his brain, he just has lived his entire adult life in weird, rarefied circles of just being up to his ears and businesses and, and God knows what influences he's had his life. So he's, he's an unusual person. Yeah. And I do think that distresses a lot of people because no one knows how to claim them. It doesn't really exist on the right political spectrum. I saw a lot of articles. I mean, I get that there's a lot of concerns I get. I get the concern of, do we really want to enter an era where individuals can buy out big companies if something is really important? And again, I don't think Twitter is, but just abstractly speaking, if something is really important to the public discourse, we want one person to be able to own it. Like I get that. There were a lot of pieces though, that were just trying to generally slander Musk. Like, Musk once said this and Musk once made this this reaction and to that i'm less sympathetic because i'm like look this is a guy who is an unusual guy who's not very careful about the way he speaks i think if you try to mine things he's tweeted he also trolls so i was like i don't think you're going to get a good indication of how he feels about things by looking for the way he's mentioned mentioned issues because he's a weird guy who who just spits things off left and right and smokes up on rogan's podcast so i don't know like like there'll be dragons yeah it's that musk hacking into our feed here anyways Anyways, yeah, I would talk to him, but I think he has other things to do. Look, I don't want to go on this too long, but there was a... The most interesting in my research, the most interesting take I saw came from Walter Isaacson, who's writing right now the biography of Musk. And so based on this tweet, I think he must be following him around right now. On the day that the deal was announced, Isaacson tweeted, I was like, here's what Musk did today. Like after that deal was announced, he went on to his weekly meeting at so-and-so proving grounds on the such-and-such rocket engine where they spent three hours trying to troubleshoot a problem with one of the valves. Twitter wasn't mentioned once. This is someone who can multitask. And I thought that was kind of interesting, this idea that he came in paying less attention to this thing he did than all these other people surrounding it in the media universe. You're just talking, talking, talking about it. Like as a biggest story, it's probably like the third most interesting thing going on in his life right now. So it's an interesting character, but I thought that was the most interesting reality. I wonder if he's going to work on it a lot. Cause his days are already pretty filled. Yeah. That's the other thing. That's the other thing. He probably he's busy. So I don't know. And he works constantly. He works constantly. Yeah. It's unclear. He has ideas. Yeah, that's the other thing. That's the other thing. He's busy, so I don't know. And he works constantly. He works constantly. Yeah, it's unclear. He has ideas. Now, of course, he executes. He comes in, like, look at Spacelink. You know, he comes in with these ideas and somehow actually gets these companies up and running. So who knows? Maybe he will come in. But he could very easily just lose interest. I don't think he's replacing, I don't know that he's replacing the CEO or anything. So it's unclear. According to my research, it's very unclear what's going to happen. I'd like to hear you guys talk about reading. He reads a lot. Yes. We could talk. We could nerd out. We could talk algorithms for sure. Yeah. I think he would appreciate that. It's just a matter of time. All right. Well, now we're feeding the beast because now we've talked about Elon Musk for 20 minutes. So we're feeding the same beast that I'm complaining about, which is like the real issue here is stop obsessing about Musk and Twitter and just stop paying attention to Twitter. And then you won't care who owns it. You won't care what's going on there. All right. So obviously we can't control ourselves either. Let's do some questions. Let's see what people out there actually care about. So we got some good questions to get to some written questions and some calls.


Cal talks about ExpressVPN and My Body Tutor (34:57)

I also have a habit tune up lurking, but first let me briefly talk about a sponsor that makes this show possible. And that is ExpressVPN. If you connect to the internet from various different places, you need a VPN. I've explained it before on the show. It's an intermediary between you and the internet. You connect with a secure encrypted connection to a VPN server. That server then connects to the internet on your behalf, keeping your traffic private, keeping your identity private. So it is the way to connect to the internet, especially when on the road and when traveling and express VPN is the VPN service. I prefer, I like it because it's fast, good bandwidth. I like it because they have servers in 94 different countries and it works really well with all the different devices you use. It's seamless. You turn it on. You don't even know you're going to a VPN, but you get all of that protection. Let me just point out a side benefit of using ExpressVPN is you can choose what VPN server you want to connect to to surf the internet. And because they're in 94 countries, you can select a server that is in a different country. A nice little benefit is that that can get you around regional content controls. For example, there was some BBC stories I was interested in, especially when I was tracking the pandemic more closely. I would often go to BBC, which is a little bit less politicized in some of the coverage here in the US on some of these issues. The BBC iPlayer, however, checks to see if you're coming from the UK. So if you're just going to it from your phone here in the US, you're going to be limited on what you can watch with ExpressVPN. Just connect over to a server in the UK. BBC thinks you're someone in the UK. Access. So that's a nice little side effect to using a VPN. So be smart, stop paying full price for streaming services and only getting access to a fraction of their content. Protect your traffic, protect your identity by using a VPN. You can get your money's worth at expressvpn.com slash deep. Don't forget to use my link at expressvpn.com slash deep and you will get an extra three months of ExpressVPN.com slash deep. Don't forget to use my link at ExpressVPN.com slash deep, and you will get an extra three months of ExpressVPN for free. Let's also talk about My Body Tutor. All right, last summer, maybe you weren't at the beach or pool as much, but now with the upcoming beach and pool season, you might care about how that body works. You might be thinking, what does it look like? Do I need to get back in shape? Let me tell you how to do that. My body tutor. This is a service founded by my longtime friend, Adam Gilbert. It is a 100% online coaching program that solves the biggest problem in health and fitness, which is the lack of consistency. They do this by simplifying the process and the practical, sustainable behaviors and giving you daily accountability and support it takes to stick to your plan. You hear from your online coach every day. You report to him or her, here's what I did on our plan. Here's what I ate. I've used the app. It's very easy. You can just take pictures of your food and then later go back and annotate it as needed. You submit your report. You also type in there, here's what I did with my fitness or exercise. And you get feedback every single day. Good work. What about this? You can ask questions. I'll give you feedback. It's that accountability. You are working one-on-one with a real coach who knows you and has built a plan for you. That's what makes this work. And because it's virtual, it makes it quite a bit cheaper than let's say having to have a in-person physical trainer or nutritional coach. So if you're serious about getting fit, Adam is giving Deep Questions listeners $50 off their first month. All you have to do is mention this podcast when you join. If you have questions, Adam wants you to call or or text you can find his personal cell phone number at the top of every page on my body tutor.com that shows you how much he cares about customer service so remember mention deep questions when you sign up and you will get 50 off jesse i think we need to start putting your personal cell phone number at the at the top of every episode at the top of every episode and at the top of every video. Sounds good. Flashing. Nobody's going to call. Flashing like on a telethon. Call now. If you have, if you have any complaints on Cal's takes, call now. We got to show them we care about. We care about customer service. Yeah. All right. Let's do some questions.


How do I balance my walking 'modes' when living deep? (39:23)

Our first question comes from Walker. I don't think this is his real name, as you'll see when I read the question. I suspect it's fake and you'll see why. Here's what Walker, air quotes, has to say. any thoughts on how to balance what I think of as my three walking modes. There is mode number one, which is walking while listening to a podcast or audio book. Mode number two, which is walking while listening to music. And mode number three, which is just walking, alone with your own thoughts. I have made daily walking a big and very enjoyable habit in my life, but I am looking to fine tune the process. Should I be time blocking each mode separately? Perhaps. Now, Walker, what you need to do is what I call block blocking. I want you to get a detailed map of your neighborhood. We're going to divide all of the road segments block by block. And then you're going to label each of these blocks with exactly what you are going to be thinking about or listening to during that block worry not i sell a planner for this it's called the block block planner it's a little bit large we're talking about like three feet by two feet so it's a little bit of a pain to bring with you but it's not a big deal what i recommend and i think this is this is easy is that you get one of those rolling media stands that they used to put tvs on to bring in between classrooms remember that when you were a kid and then you could just put the block blocker planner on the rolling media stand you just you just push the media stand with you as you're going for your walk and then block by block you can optimize exactly what you were thinking about so that's the block block planner no No. Okay. Walker. Um, no, you're not time blocking walking. Uh, but I do have a couple of notes about what you might do. So walking can show up in your time block plan if it is something you were scheduling into your workday. So if you're, if you're in your workday, which you are time blocking, then yes, you were scheduling into your workday. So if you're in your workday, which you are time blocking, then yes, the time in which you were walking will show up because everything during your day, during the work hours, will show up on your time block plan. So in that sense, yes, it'll show up in your time block plan if it happens during your workday. Do you need to plan in advance, like when you're building your plan, what to do during the walking? I would say for the most part, no, it is good to have intention as you set out for a walk, but I think it's completely fine to make that decision as you're walking out the door. You know, uh, I put aside a half hour to walk midday just to recharge, by the way, I think that's a great thing to do. Just kind of figure out how you feel. Am I going to listen to an audio book or am I just going to be with my thoughts for a while? Just make the call on the call. I think it would feel a little bit over planning to figure out well in advance what you will be doing during walks. Two exceptions. If the point of the walk is to make progress on a professional problem. So I'm riding this morning and I'm stuck. And my plan is to go for a walk to try to get unstuck. Okay. There you are planning in advance what you were doing with that walk. So if it's for solving a problem, sure. The other exception is some people have regularly occurring walks that serve a particular purpose. So for example, a morning walk to get ready for the workday or an end of day walk to help just reset and recharge. Those might, you might know what you're doing in those walks because you do the same thing every time. My afternoon shutdown walk is just me alone with my own thoughts. So I get a little bit of solitude and can transition from work to non-work. So those are the two occasions where you might have some advanced notice of what you're doing in a block i'm planning a walk to solve a problem or this is a regular occurring walk that i use for the set purpose every time otherwise just figure it out when you get there i am glad however that you're walking you know we missed jesse the opportunity to do an april fools thing. I was so busy in April, but like a, a block block planner video, like it was like really serious. Yeah. Like we could hire Rob and film it really good and, and, and just have someone walking. That's the type of thing we should be spending time on, but we missed it. That and ACS. That and ACS. Yeah. There's one. Yeah. I should be spending about three days a week working on my air conditioner and then two days making parody videos I like it and then I'll leave a half day on Sunday for like computer science and book writing and New York article writing all right let's move on here Valerie Valerie has a question why do you not recommend time blocking for leisure?


Why not recommend time-blocking for leisure? (43:58)

I'm retired and would consider myself to be well on the way to having a good mix of elements of a deep life. My quarterly and weekly plan have four quadrants, service, social, stuff, and self. stuff and self, I'm convinced that specific planning for the self ensures that it gets included regularly. Quarterly plans like visit X exhibition get reviewed and entered into my weekly plan. Well, Valerie, I think that's all great, but that's different than time blocking your leisure. So the thing I don't recommend people do is after their workday is done, have a similarly fine grained detailed time block plan for the time outside of work. It's just too exhausting. Your brain needs some freedom to recharge from the rigidity of here's what comes next. Here's what comes next. One of the reasons why time block plans really significantly increases the amount of work you get done per day is because there's this intensity of this is what I'm working on now And I need to get it done by the end of this block it focuses you and More work gets done, but that's exhausting so you can't do that all the time So that's why I say don't literally time block your time outside of work I think what you're talking about is more like heuristics and rules and metrics things you do every day You know maybe I always go for a walk first thing in the morning. This is when I exercise every day. I have a, I like to do a reading session on Sunday morning. I want to try to hit one exhibition at an art museum per month. Those I would call rules or heuristics. And those are great. I mean, as you know, when I talk about the deep life, this is one of my most pragmatic suggestions that you identify the buckets of your deep life and you start for each by identifying actually a keystone habit, something you come back to on a regular basis and that you track right there in your time block planner, or if you're Walker and your block block planner. And so I'm really big on this idea of having rules and heuristics and metrics you track in all elements of your life to the extent that that's helpful. It's just that is different than time blocking. So I think the issue here is we're expanding the scope of the term time blocking, perhaps the mean systematic organization of any type. And I want to keep it very narrow. Time blocking is a very specific approach to allocating activity to time. It's very intense. Only do that during work hours. But that doesn't mean you don't have structure to other types of things in your life. So I think the things you're doing are great. Other people should do those type of things as well. All right. Well, I'm thinking we should take a call. We've read a couple of questions. Let's take a call.


How do I avoid my phone when I'm tired? (46:43)

Jesse, do we have a listener call queued up here? Yes, we do. We have a tired father and he's got some phone problems. Hey Cal, my name is Diego. I'm a graduate student, work at a nonprofit. I also do some freelancing And I'm recently a new dad. My son was born not too long ago. And I was curious about how you find intentionality in a moment like this when you're so exhausted. And honestly, I've been going on my phone way more than I was before because the stimulation is so helpful sometimes when you're tired and you just need to do something fun or whatnot. But I was just curious what your thoughts are on finding intentionality in a moment where you need to give yourself a lot of grace, but also in a moment where maybe intentionality is more needed than ever. Right. Well, I mean, congratulations on the new kid. I think we should not underestimate the difficulty of this. We often do this in our culture is we don't want to confront the difficulty. For example, having a young kid or a new kid at home, we're like, yeah, just kind of figure it out. Just like during the pandemic where in the East and West Coast schools were shut down for these extended amount of times. And no one really wanted to confront just how much of a dumpster fire that was that suddenly all these kids were at home and employers were like, let's just, let's just not talk about it. Right. So I do think that is an issue. So you're going through a great time, but a hard time. So what I, what I'm going to recommend is that you couple intentionality, so a return to intentionality, with an increase in simplicity. You got to simplify things as much as possible right now. You have this new kid. So you want to simplify down to the basics. You want to get work constrained and surrounded with a bigger buffer of time that you can recharge and rest and nap, etc. You want to bring intentionality then into not just how you cut things down, but what you do outside of that time. Don't in this instance confuse intentionality with increasing quantity of activity, increasing ambition of activity. I want you to scale all that back. But I don't want you to wander. I want you to be pretty intentional. So I've cut back on work and I, you know, I come home and I nap and then just a two hour period where it's just like me and the baby, like very intentional. I think it's very important. We're tired together, but it's just this time we have together. I am doing reflection walks every morning because this is a big new part of my life and I need to start to make sense of through solitude and self-reflection what's important to me and what's not and how I need to shift my self-conception given that we have this new child and it changes everything I understand about the world. So these type of things you want to inject into your life, this type of intentional activity, but coupled with an intentional simplification where you go easy on yourself and say, I can't do as much work. Now is not the time to take on the new project. Now is the time I'm going to have to step back from this project. Keep things simple. Keep work in a more narrow timeframe with time off in the middle to nap. Maybe get a little bit more organized about it so I can keep up with things. I can't do frenetic stuff right now. I can't stay up late to get something done, so I have to be really organized. So that's what I would recommend. Be more intentional and simplify your life at the same time. That can actually be, by the way, a wonderful combination. Periods of your life when there's kind of a challenge, like the challenge of the carrying of a new child, but you've also simplified your life during this time as well. You're not so work focused and you have these important intentional rituals. You and your kid, you go on this walk every day. You're doing more thinking and reflecting. You have this new bedtime routine. There's a lot of value that can come out of that, but only if you get intentional. So do not confuse intentionality again with ambition or quantity. It's just about, are you in control of what you're doing or not? And when you go through this exercise, you're going to find you don't really want to spend a lot of time on your phone. You're tired. You much rather be tired, sort of laying there on the blanket that you put out in the park with the kid, because this is what you do in the afternoons when the weather is nice and you, and you, uh, you kind of play and you kind of rest and, and that's what you do when the sun is shining and it all feels good. And you say, why do I need to look at TikTok?


Habit Tune-Up, WorkingMemory.txt (51:21)

All right. So, uh, I want to go return to a segment we introduced a couple weeks ago, the habit tune-up segment. The idea here is that I just take a piece of advice from the large toolbox of tips and tricks and rules I've written about or talked about over the years and just focus on it a little bit. And so in particular today, I want to talk about what I think is the most important piece of productivity software that's out there. And I'll give you a hint. You all already have it on all of your devices. That's the good news. And that is my strategy of using a working memory.txt plain text file. So I have a couple different names for this. So working memory.txt is one name for this. The other is what I call text file or plain text file productivity. Over the years, I've used both of those terms, but the basic idea is quite simple. You have on the computers you use a blank text file and you keep it open and it's always open on your desktop. I call mine working memory.txt. I'm just using the text editor on my Mac. I don't even have rich formatting turned on. It's plain text. There's no bolding. There's no font size. It's just plain text and you just have it open. And it is literally a way to offload things out of your brain where you can still see them, look at them, organize and make sense of them without having to keep all these things in your mind at the same time. And what this is recognizing, the reality this is recognizing, is that we have very limited working memory. So we can only keep so much in our head at a time. And as I talk about all the time on this show, there's a real cost of cognitive context switching. So if you're trying to keep track of multiple different things at the same time, it's very difficult to sort of go back and forth between them, to see how they trade off, to see how you're going to make these things work because your mind is trying to switch back and forth between all these contexts. If you offload things to a text file where you can just see them, you offload things to a text file where you can just see them, it is a huge cybernetic boost to your organizational capacity. So now you can have lots of things written down. You can see them without having to hold them in your head. You can focus on one thing at a time at your head. You can also juggle a bunch of things to see their connections because when you're looking at them all written down and not trying to hold them all in your head, you're not paying nearly as big as a context shifting cost. There's a huge secret to my success so there's a couple ways you might use this one would be you're trying to solve a complicated problem you know okay how are we going to get uh we have this visitor coming how are we going to get the travel logistics what do we need to do man this just seems so complicated like how are they are they going to come are they going to need a hotel uh where are they going to stay so travel logistics? What do we need to do? Man, this just seems so complicated. Like, how are they going to come? Are they going to need a hotel? Where are they going to stay? So like you have a problem that's complicated. It has a lot of moving parts. You're not going to solve this in your head. You start typing everything out. Like, what are all the different things that need to happen? You refine it and you combine it. You can start doing visual lexicographic thinking. Like, well, let me grab these three lines, copy and paste and put them down here and label them with, all right, this I can all offload to, you know, Jesse to do. This I don't know about. This I'm going to move to Thursday. You can start labeling these things and categorizing them. You're doing very complex organization and thinking here that you would not be able to do very well just in your head. The text file helps. Another scenario where the plain text file is going to really help you is, let's say, is you're trying to get through your email. I'm trying to clear out all this email that's built up. I have 50 messages and they're all different. They're dealing with different issues, all different cognitive contexts. Trying to deal with each of those one by one, as so many of us have learned, can be devastating because you're switching context again and again, email to email, and you burn out, like, I can't do this anymore. And you start hunting for easy to reply to messages because your brain is tired. The alternative is using your plain text files. You start actually capturing what's in these emails, what their request is, what you need to do in your text file. Just give each of them a different line. Now you have 20 or 30 different lines on here. You haven't had to solve any of these issues. You've just summarized all the emails with one or two lines on this big text file. Now you can start grouping. Now you can start organizing. Now you can start pulling everything related to one project, copy and pasting, and put them next to each other. And everything related to this project over here. And things you have no idea how to answer over here. You're making sense of the information without having to dive into it, without having to try to keep track of all the stuff in your head. And then you go through and you answer all these emails at once, then switch through and put a calendar notice for answering these somewhere else. It is really like an organizational superpower once you get really good at using this plain text file to extend and organize what's on your plate. It's like taking your brain and making it a much better brain. And it's something I swear by. I keep the file open all the time. Stuff is just on there. If I just have a random thought, I'll just write it on there. By the end of the day, I try to look at that. Is there anything on here that needs to go back into a system? Was there a thought I dropped that I haven't handled? And I'll look through and kind of process that work in memory.txt at the end of the day to see what's left on there. But it's always there. And it's storing all sorts of information and being used for all sorts of different purposes. And I cannot overemphasize, once you get good at this simple but powerful productivity hack, how much extra capability that it gives you, how much extra capability gives you. So stop trying to do all this stuff in your head. Use a simple text file. Can I ask a couple of follow-up questions? Yeah. When did you start this? It's a good question. So there, if you search, I wrote about it on my blog back in my, When did you start this? It's a good question. So if you search, I wrote about it on my blog back in my MIT days. Look for, if you want to do a Google search, I don't know if you have that up there, like maybe it's plain text productivity, working memory.txt. I don't know, but it would have been, the original post on this would have been 2008, if I had to guess, 2007, maybe a little bit later. Plain text productivity is what I used to call this, I think, or freestyle productivity. Yeah, I also used to call it freestyle productivity. So like forget, I don't care how you structure this or format this, just like get stuff on the file and start rocking rolling with it. There's a plain text dash productivity dot net url uh i take full credit i say before you go to the website and realize it's actually about like kidnapping children or something so you're doing this in college or was it after college after college but definitely or pretty early in grad school and then do you remember how you discovered it? That's a good question. 2009, freestyle productivity. 2009, there we go. Probably because there's a whole culture of this in computer science and developers. So developers, so people who write computer code. So I was exposed to this, obviously, as a computer science graduate student at MIT. They are really big on using these text editors like Vim or Emacs because that's where they would write their code and they customize it. And they got really big on using these for all parts of their life. And probably I came across the original. So I'm really just a deep hole. I'd say Danny, let me get this name wrong danny lewin maybe gave this famous talk where he introduced the idea of life hackers it's like life hacking as a notion was introduced by a gentleman named danny something and i'm going to look this up because i've got the actual name, but anyways, it was this famous talk he gave about life hacking and how computer developer types life hack. And on, I believe boing boing Corey Doctorow, if I, if I'm remembering this right posted his notes from this talk and it was a pretty, Oh, Danny O'Brien, not Danny Lewin, Danny O'Brien. Not Danny Lewin. Danny O'Brien. 2005. So look, I'm looking up. I'm looking it up in real time. Blah, blah, blah. The term life hack was coined in 2004 during the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. It was coined by technology journalist Danny O'Brien to describe the embarrassing scripts and shortcuts productive IT professionals use to get their work done. And then Merlin Mann ran with that notion. Okay. So Danny O'Brien was talking about how IT professionals use these macros and shortcuts in a text editor, how they would run their whole lives out of these text editors. So real early in this notion of digitally enhanced productivity was this idea of life hacking, which became to encompass everything. But when it was first introduced, it was what IT nerds would do to track their life. And they would keep track of everything in their life in these text files. And so I'm sure that's where I was exposed to it, through Merlin, Mann, and 43 Folders in that 2007, 2008 period. So I bet that's where I was exposed to it through Merlin man and 43 folders in that 2007, 2008 period. So I bet that's how I was exposed to it. Uh, but that's, that's it. It's a whole interesting history, by the way, the whole hack, the whole life hack history. Do you have a, what about when you're walking around? Do you have like a file on your phone? I don't, I don't. So it depends on how long the walk is. So I'll typically, if I have my bag with me, I'll have a notebook in it and I can capture thoughts. But yeah, if you're on foot, I mean, this is like a productive meditation, right? Is working through ideas just in your head. You're much worse at it than if you're sitting at a computer with the plain text file. But it's a really good exercise because A, it expands your ability to concentrate and focus, just that discipline of keeping track of things in your head. And B, the walking can unlock things. It can unlock creative connections that you don't get sitting down. So you almost have two options here. I'm focusing now on trying to have big ideas or original ideas. You can sit at a screen and expand your working memory with a plain text file and try to move ideas around and figure things out. Or you can go for a walk. You don't have as big of a working memory to work with, but you get the ambulation bonus, the ambulation bonus, this idea that walking can unlock other types of connections. So it's sort of like two different types of cognition. But certainly I am kind of committed or I don't know how to plan anymore, especially planning email, trying to figure out, okay, I have to book my travel for something. Those type of seemingly mundane tasks actually have with them seven or eight different things that have to happen that connect and dates that matter. I don't know how to do that anymore if I can't have a text file to start moving all this information around right part of it too is like my next question is when you're writing do you like and you're working on whatever you're working on do you and something comes up that's not related do you write on that a lot yeah yeah does that happen a lot yeah like look I have my computer open. So let me load this up. All right. So on mine now it's called WM2.txt. WM2.txt was my working memory text file. It turns out when you keep a text file open on your computer for years, like weird stuff happens. So at some point, I don't know, I just couldn't access that file anymore. So I moved on to WM2. and I moved on to WN2. And okay, I'm looking at it now. The first item is a GU mailbox colon two grade request. So there's like two students who are asking for their current grades. And I came across that and I know I need to do that. And so I'm just noting it there. Two, there's another, and this is just a hyphen, plain text hyphen. The next thing says schedule, schedule new haircut. So I was supposed to get my haircut yesterday. My stylist got COVID. They're like, I have to reschedule. And I was like, I can't do this right now. So I just wrote down schedule new haircut. And now that's going to sit there and I'll see it. I'm not going to forget. And then I have three 30 office hours zoom because there was, as I mentioned, it was like, oh, at the last second, as I was coming over here, a student asked if they could ask me some questions about an exam on zoom. And I told them we could use the office hours, zoom room, et cetera. Boom. It's just on here. And I see this every time I open it. So this is just stuff on my mind is no longer on my mind. And the other thing I'll do is I'll put equal signs, a bunch of equal signs to make horizontal divider lines. So if I want to just have a space for just messing around with things, I put a bunch of equal signs. And below it, I'm just messing around with notes. And typically at the top of my text file is things I don't want to forget, tasks to deal with or process. And then if I want to think about another thing, I might put another bunch of horizontal equal signs and so kind of create these little spaces where i can just mess around with i guess it's one last clarification question so like when you're walking around like doing an errand or something and you don't have like your phone or you don't happen to have a notebook what do you i guess you always have like a piece of paper so you just write it on that yeah and if i don't i just you know holding it yeah got it yeah so then when you do your shutdown at the end of the day you look at that notebook and then you look at your file yeah so if i'm just thinking about something when i'm walking and i just have it in my head i'm going to write it down as soon as i get back got it yeah and that's another great thing it's an incredibly low friction to just drop it into a text file just whatever however you want to summarize that's why I used to say freestyle productivity. I don't care how you do it. Just get it in there. You know what you mean. Whatever formatting you want to do, just get it in there and then it's out of your head. Yeah. So anyways, that is the most important piece of productivity software that you already own but you're not using is your text editor. And maybe in the future, we'll have like an augmented reality thing where wherever you are, it's like, boom, you pull up this thing. I can just like drop thoughts into it and then boom, like make it go away. It's like always kind of there with you with some sort of like AI agent that like help you like a Siri type thing. I can see how this goes. I mean, we could try, this will be difficult, but we could try to have a high price software project, product that's actually just a text file. In the meantime, I mean, we could try, this will be difficult, but we could try to have a high price software project product. It's actually just a text file in the meantime. I think we had like really good marketing for it. And it was, there was like a really compelling YouTube video where people are getting on private jets and this and that. And it's, it's like a really slick sound effect when it turns on. And in the end, people don't realize that it's just the text, the text editor. Like for only $49.95 a month, you too can unlock your productivity brilliance. With WM2, the most important piece of productivity software, which is true, ever invented. And all it is, is like a little script that just opens a notebook.


Cal talks about Grammarly and Stamps.com (01:06:15)

Oh my, well, that would not be a useful product to try to sell, but let me tell you one that is useful, and that is Grammarly. So I have a couple more questions I want to get to, but first let's talk about Grammarly because they help make this show possible. Grammarly is more than a spelling and grammar checker. It is an all-in-one writing tool that allows you to clearly and effectively communicate your ideas. It's free to download and easy to integrate into your daily life. It works where you work, like in Gmail, to help you work more efficiently on any of your projects. Now, Grammarly has some pretty advanced features, especially when you upgrade the Grammarly Premium. You can now do things like tone adjustments, which will help you have a more confident and polished tone in your writing. It can do sentence rewrites. It's true. I've messed around with this. It can be eerie. Grammarly premium is like, yes, see this thing you're trying to say here, say it like this instead. It makes you seem much more clear and crisp and professional. It'll also even give you clarity suggestions. I think this is muddled. Use this word instead. Use this construction instead. So I think this is what is really most impressive about Grammarly and its premium product these days is that it can go so far towards now helping you actually make your writing better, not just fixing mistakes, but making the writing itself better. It's like having a copy editor looking over your shoulder and making sure what you write and all the different apps you use and all the different devices you use, making sure what you write sounds good. So get through those emails and your work quicker by keeping it concise, confident, and effective with Grammarly. Go to grammarly.com slash deep to sign up for a free account. When you're ready to at g r a m m a r l y.com slash deep. I also want to talk about our friends at stamps.com. If you've got a small business, inflation isn't doing you any favors right now. It's harder than ever to stay profitable. So you have to look for those practical ways to cut cost. Stamps.com is a great way to do that. If you use stamps.com to mail and ship, you get access to exclusive discounts and great rates on shipping from USPS and UPS, which gives it a makes it an easy way to keep more money in your pocket. It also saves you time. You print the postage right here at home. You do not have to wait in line at the post office. I like the time-saving one. As Jesse knows, there is a post office right down the street from the HQ. Nothing gets crowded. And every time I walk by and see that crowd, and I think this is excusable, I walk over, I pound on the window until everyone turns to look and I go stamps.com. And then you hear like one person start clapping and then there's, it's kind of slow. And then another person starts slow clapping and then more people join. And then the clapping gets louder and it gets, it gets more enthusiastic and soon people are cheering and i'm doing peace signs and then i walk back to the hq and i'll tell you why they're cheering because they don't want to be waiting in line stamps.com would not only have saved them that time but it was going to save them money as well i think this is a no-brainer so start mailing and shipping with stamps.com and keep more money in your pocket every day. Sign up with promo code deep for a special offer that includes a four week trial plus free postage and a digital scale. No long term commitments or contracts required. Again, just go to stamps.com and click on the microphone, the microphone at the top of the page to enter that code deep.


How does a manager do Deep Work? (01:10:11)

All right, I'm thinking, I've been talking for a while, Jesse. Maybe we should do another call. Let's see if we have someone who can ask us a question here. We got a call from Dave. He's an architect. He's also a manager, and he's having trouble scheduling deep work because he doesn't have any time block space for it. Hi's an architect. He's also a manager and he's having trouble scheduling deep work because he doesn't have any time block space for it. Hi, Cale. My name is Dave Burlkamp. I'm an architect working on an in-house design team for a large hospital system. I've had great success adopting many of your principles from so good they can't ignore you to deep work and most recently, a world without email. Your tools have really helped me manage a role with complex responsibilities. In the past year or so, I found my role evolving away from an individual contributor to more of a design manager. While my position does not have me managing a team of direct reports, I ultimately manage projects and oversee consulting teams, requiring much of my time in collaborative meetings with larger project teams, providing direction and working through design challenges. I've started to wonder whether having days with large blocks of deep work is too lofty of a goal for a manager. In both reading on the topic as well as talking to other peers in similar manager roles, it seems the common mentality is that a manager is subject to endless meetings and face time with those they're responsible for. I can only imagine how much more demanding having a team of direct reports would be. This all seems at odds with a deep work philosophy and my own personal values on work and productivity. What's your advice for managers trying to incorporate deep work practices with potentially limited deep work time blocks? Thanks, Cal. Dave, it's a good question. So in A World Without Email, my book, A World Without Email, I go into more detail about managers in general and how you deal with issues like focus and distraction when you're dealing with managers. So I'm going to summarize four points here, four points about the deep approach to being a manager. One, I think you're correct to note that a schedule built around long periods of uninterrupted concentration is often going to be incompatible with the responsibilities of a manager. That's not really what they're asking you to do in a lot of cases. It's like, we're not asking that you on your own create new value from scratch by adding value to information. We're actually asking you to manage other people who are doing this. So yes, I think that's completely relevant to say long stretches of uninterrupted time might not be reasonable. That's fine for a manager. Two, the key thing you want to do as a manager, as you would any other position, is prevent context switching to the extent possible, which means you want to be one thing at a time, full attention to move on to the next. Very important as a manager that you're not multitasking. I'm trying to work on this person's problem while also answering slack messages about this and switching over that problem. That's a huge cognitive drag. You're going to make worst decisions and you're going to get exhausted quicker. I actually cite research about this in my book, A World Without Email. There's a very relevant study to this discussion where they studied the actual behaviors of managers and they correlated it with the amount of email they were receiving. And essentially when managers had more and more email that they were trying to deal with, their activities shifted away from what they called leadership type activities and towards much more small productivity focused activities. So if you're bouncing back and forth between a lot of things, your managerial scope goes from clear, big picture thinking and directing and towards just more frenetic, small, let me just get the obligation hot potato and get it out of here. Let me solve this question, answer this, move this over here as a much less effective way of being a manager. So you want to do one thing at a time before you move on to the next. To make that possible, we get to point three and four. So point three is you want to avoid a sense of overload. So if you have more going on, more on your plate, more things that represent an obligation to you that you can really easily even imagine making sense of, you are going to find that the cognitive stress of having such a crowded plate is going to make it quite difficult to really focus on one thing at a time. And the resulting overhead of each of these obligations is going to pile up in a way that's going to make it impossible for you to do one thing at a time because there's always the next Zoom meeting. There's always the next email. So this is what we've talked about, the overhead spiral. We've talked about this before on the show. Everything on your plate brings with it some amount of fixed overhead, meetings that have to happen, emails that have to be answered. So if you have too many things on your plate as a manager, just that overhead, the checking in, the emails, the meetings will eat up your whole schedule. And now it's impossible for you to actually give each thing on your plate, each decision that you need to make, each advising you have to give give each reassignment or helping of an employee you can no longer just give these things the attention they deserve one after another because there's so much zoom there's so much conference calls there's so much email this overhead of what's on your plate becomes too big so you have to keep that smaller i got to keep that list of what's on my plate smaller now it's gonna be a lot of like nope nope we're not doing that i'm not doing that we're full right now we're focused Here's what we're working on. You have to start protecting how big that list is. Don't let people put those things on your plate. You say, I can't deal with that right now. You can bring that to me later. Don't put that on my plate. It's critical for actually having the blue space, the blue water, the free space to give things attention one at a time. The final and fourth point is through automation and process, you can give yourself more breathing room. So obligations that maybe right now you just deal with as they come up. One of your reports just emails you and is like, I need approval of this. And you're like, Oh God, okay. That's something I have to do. And you have to give approval to this pretty soon. And it's sitting there on your plate and is a cognitive weight. You can take things like those. And if you automate them, this is how this type of work always gets done. Here's the process. You put things for approval into this Dropbox. Monday after lunch, I go through the Dropbox and I mark approvals on it. Things that are automated no longer weigh on your mind as an obligation that needs your attention. And so you can, in some sense, expand how many things you can have on your plate at a time before you cross that threshold of overload. If you take a lot of things from those plates and you put them in the automated systems that do not require you to make planning decisions, that do not require you at some point to specifically put aside time on an ad hoc individualized basis to get this thing done. So these automation-based processes gives you much more breathing room. So the stuff you do that happens automatically happens every week, happens every month. Find systems for that that means you don't have to keep track of it. It's not waiting for you to put aside time, to proactively put aside time to execute it. You know how that gets done. All right. So that can be really important as well. This is where hacks like office hours play a big role. Small questions. Don't just let these pile up. Here's my office hours every single day, this hour, come by my office, call me. I have a Zoom window open, whatever. That's where all the small questions go. And then that's not piling up on your plate. That goes a long way right there as well. When building these processes, as I talk about, and as you know, Dave, in a world without email, minimize the amount of unscheduled messages they require. So you want these processes where you can execute commonly occurring work without having there to be ad hoc messages flying back and forth that'll keep you back in your inbox. That will help as well. So if you want to look at the particular story in that book that really gets at these ideas, look at the story, I believe this is in chapter one, of General George Marshall and how he completely reorganized the war department, the U.S. War Department during World War II when he took over as the Army Chief of Staff. Because he reorganized the war department, the U.S. War Department during World War II when he took over as the Army Chief of Staff. Because he reorganized the whole thing so he could work on one thing at a time, the stuff that mattered, give it his full attention. And you know what? He would end at five o'clock every day. He was managing the U.S. Army during World War II and would finish by five every day. He had heart troubles, didn't want to have a heart attack. So that was his hard fixated productivity line. I don't work past five and he made it happen by using these type of ideas. So go back and read that story. If you a listener out there have not read a world without email, you should, and you'll like that story that's right there in chapter one. But just to summarize again, Dave, forget long unbroken periods of intense concentration that's not your job but two working on things one at a time with your full attention before you move on to the next is how you're going to excel as a manager to make that possible you have to avoid overload by saying no to things and by automating as many things as you can that are already on your plate you do all those things you can like george marshall win the proverbial war while getting home by five every day. All right, let's see. What do we add here? 120. Let's do one more. You know, we're only doing weekly episodes now, so we can fit in one more question. This final question comes from Dami, who asks, where do you put your extended thoughts about your life?


Views On Management And Personal Life

Where do you put your extended thoughts about your life? (01:19:42)

I know you have a moleskin that you carry with you for capturing the ideas about your life that come to you, but where do you flesh out the thoughts that don't directly apply to your semester or annual objectives, such as things in the contemplation bucket? Well, there's two places, Dami. So one, a lot of things just live in the moleskin. If it's something I think is important, but it's not being acted on. So there's not a plan in place. So it doesn't live in my semester plan of like, hey, we're making progress on this thing now. So remember that when you build your weekly plan. So you'll remember when you build your daily plan. If it's important, but I'm not taking action on it yet, I don't quite know what to do with it it'll just live in the moleskin when my moleskin fills you copy the important ideas from that one to the new one it's that transference of ideas that are still important that really helps emphasize like what is sticking around what requires your attention it helps refresh those things in your mind so that's where non-acted on big ideas tend to live for me is in the Moleskine. Now, what about things that are in action? That's going to live in those semester plans. And we've talked about this before on the show, but I will go way more broad in timescales than just semester on my semester plans. Annual objectives will be on there, like the projects I build around the objectives I build around my birthday each year. Notes will be on there, like the projects I build around the objectives I build around my birthday each year. Notes will live on there. Heuristics, things I want to do like every week or every day, new habits that will live on there. So I call it the semester plan because for sure, at least once a semester, I update it for sure. That plan is going to look at the semester ahead and give me my guidelines for what to do with it. But it has all this other stuff on it as well. I use the semester plan very fluidly. So that's where you can have a lot of different ideas and projects. The book you're writing over a two-year period, that's living in there. Your reminder, they'll be working on it and what you're trying to accomplish this semester versus next. The fact that you're going to wait till next summer to make progress on this, all of that can live in the semester semester plan i think that's the right place to be so at least for me again big ideas that are important but i don't know what to do with live in the moleskin and i will transfer it from moleskin to moleskin as needed big ideas that are being acted on live in that semester plan even if their time scale is broader than just the current semester so So again, in the end, for me, what does that mean? That means I have a moleskin, a semester plan, a weekly plan, a daily plan. That's really the, I think that's really everything when it comes to the organizational element of my life. Then I have extensive notes for books and articles and content-based notes. That's a whole other issue. I use Roam and I use Scrivener. And there's a lot of other tools when it comes to just where I keep track of information that's relevant to specific projects. But in terms of organization, those four things get me a far way. Those four things get me pretty far. I think the only one we're leaving out there is the value plan, which is where you have your big picture summary of the things you value and that mutates more slowly. The type of things Dami's talking about might eventually migrate to there if you're really changing your list of what you value or what it means. So that could change as well. So we've got Moleskine value plan, semester plan, weekly plan, daily plan. semester plan, weekly plan, daily plan. Have those planners. Have my block block planner on the media stand. Have my $49.95 a month world-breaking productivity software, which is just a link in an email that opens up notebook or working text. Those are all the tools you need. You simply have those tools. I think you'll be fine. All right, Jesse, it's been a, almost one 30. It's been a while since we've gone this long, which is good summer. Yeah. We've got more energy, but we should probably wrap things up. So thank you everyone for listening. If you like what you heard, you will like what you see on our YouTube channel, listening. If you like what you heard, you will like what you see on our YouTube channel, youtube.com slash calnewportmedia. Videos of these full episodes, as well as videos of individual segments and even some videos that are not from the show at all. You'll also like what you read if you sign up for my newsletter at calnewport.com. I took a one month hiatus from the newsletter, but I'm back. I wrote an article just the other day so sign up for that newsletter at calnewport.com we'll be back next week and until then as always stay deep


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