Ep. 199: Fleeing Your Home Office, Ambition Overload, and Reading Limits
Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 199: Fleeing Your Home Office, Ambition Overload, and Reading Limits".
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Cal's intro (00:00)
I'm counting for and this is the question episode one night. I'm here in my Deep Work HQ. No Jesse today. That's my fault, not his. I missed our last recording session. I had some travel and then I had a touch of the COVID. I was thinking about waiting until our next recording session to record this episode and the next back to back. But I wanted to get this out as quickly as possible. So as soon as I could break free from isolation, I ran over here to try to knock out this episode. It'll be a little bit late this week, but hopefully not too late. So since it was just me, I figured what if we did a blast from the past? What if I actually structured today's episode the same way I used to structure the podcast back in the very early days when it was just me recording out of the study in my house? Back then as long-time listeners might remember, I would do only written questions in the main episodes and I would divide them into three categories. Work, technology, and the deep life. Over time, that then became just deep work and deep life and then over time, we got rid of the categories for questions altogether. And now, of course, we have this much more, let's say, vibrant structure where there's written questions and voice questions and segments where I'm talking about different things and I use the teller strater. We go through articles and there's a lot more that goes on in today. But let's go back to the past. Questions all written three categories. Deep work, technology, and the deep life. Before we get into that though, let me give you a quick update on my book writing. So as you know, I'm working on a new book. Let's see, what book is this for me?
Contemporary Lifestyle Challenges And Tech Trends
Cal's book writing update (02:05)
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. This is my eighth book. Okay, so I'm working on my eighth book, slow productivity and I want to give you an update on how that's going. I have two observations I want to make about the last week or two of working on this book. Number one, there is a period of roughly five days in which I was not on my game. So some combination of mild sickness symptoms plus disruption in the household, a little bit of travel disruption early on in that period. There's a period of five days where I was not on my game where I was full energy writing in my normal routine. During those five days, I still wrote because of what I do. I write every day except for Shabbat and I feel uncomfortable when I don't. So I still wrote, disrupted or not. I still wrote every day in these five days. And I spent all five days working on the same section of the new book. Now by section, let me give you quickly a survey of the hierarchy of sections in the book. Right now I'm doing a three level hierarchy. So you have numbered chapters. Number chapters are pretty long in this book. It could be 10,000 words plus. Number chapters are then broken down into named sections. So these are sections that each deal with a certain topic and have a title, sort of a bold headed title. And then sections themselves are broken down into subsections which are broken up with just horizontal divider symbols. Right? So those are the three levels of hierarchy. So I was working on a section which in other types of books might be roughly the length of what you might call a chapter, but again I call it section. I'll tell you exactly what the section was. I chose it because I thought it would be pretty straightforward to write. It was talking about in the broader context of doing fewer things, I was pushing the notion of having a pull based workflow instead of a push based workflow. Where a push based workflow is where anyone can put work on to anyone else's plate whenever they want by just sending out a message or grabbing them or saying, "Hey, can you do this?" So all of the work in this particular professional context exists spread out over different people's list. In a pull based workflow by contrast, you only work on a small number of things at the time. When you finish something you can then pull something in to replace it. So actually in a pull based context most of the work exists in some sort of centralized external place. And work is only pulled on the individual plates as they have the free cycles. The same amount of work gets done but you get rid of the overload on people's plates. Anyway, I was getting into this idea and I had a really good case study I really wanted to get into from the MIT management review and it felt like it should be easy to write. Five days I worked on this and was all over the place. This thing was getting long, it was rambling and my instinct of is just clicking. Is this clear? Is it aspirational? Was all a fritz? Did it feel good about it? Five days. Sorry to make me nervous. Very fast forward, feeling better, have my structure back I can write in the morning again. In two sessions I rewrite that whole section from scratch, complete confidence, boom, boom, boom. This is right, this is clear, great. Two sessions I read all of the effort I put into over five days and turned up with something much better. The reason why I'm bringing this up is that I think it underscores the degree to which context matters for doing cognitive work. Having a good routine, your structure, this is when you write, your mind is used to it. Being at your full physical capacity when you're doing cognitive work, all of this stuff matters. Not all work is made equal when it comes to your brain. When I was working under duress, I could put down words but they weren't very good. When I was on my game I was a much better writer. I thought there was an interesting observation, I think it's an observation that is relevant for anyone doing cognitive work. We don't think about the degree to which being in a disrupted or unusual or fragmented type of cognitive landscape can really draw down just the sheer ability that you are able to express. I thought that was interesting. The other thing I would mention, just another update on writing slow productivity is I'm working on this first big chapter about doing fewer things. First big chapter I'm writing, not the first chapter in the book. There's a whole first part to the book that motivates and explains the ideas and the second part is a little bit more pragmatic. First big chapter I'm writing on but it's from the second part of the book. Overall it's taken me a long time. I've thrown out a lot. I'll write 5,000 words, cut that down to 2,000. I've changed the outline three or four times and the point I wanted to make about that is that is expected as well. At least in my experience when you're working on the first major chapter of a new book, it will be by far the slowest chapter that you write. The reason is you're finding the voice of the book. Something we don't talk about a lot but I think is really important. What's the pacing? What's the tone? What's the type of information you pull in? What is the voice in which you present this information? Is it didactic? Is it journalistic? How tight are you breaking up sections or how rambling is it going on? Is this a clear transition book or let it hang? All this stuff has to be worked out and it's all feel based. There's no way to get around except for the right, throw it out, redo it, stare at it, say is this really clicking? It's okay but could it be better? You do that until you love it and it takes a long time but you know what? At least I'm hoping this is true because it's been my experience. The next chapter you write goes twice as fast. That's my update on my book writing. One other quick point I wanted to make, one other quick announcement. In a recent episode we talked about, Jesse and I talked about an article about someone running for I believe it was the City Council in Toronto and how she was not using any social media. She said I can use tech to connect to my constituents without having to be on Twitter without having to be on Instagram. Anyways, I was pronouncing her name wrong and I'm not sure why. You sent me a note. Her name is Siri. S-I-R-I, spelled like Siri, the voice assistant for Apple. I really have no excuse for some weird pronunciation I made up. Maybe it was just I was assuming it can't be pronounced like the voice app. So Siri, my apologies but I want to correct a record now about how to pronounce your name. If you haven't seen that clip, we put it on YouTube. It's called something like a novel solution to social media and politics. Go check that out, YouTube.com/cownewportmedia and you can see the article and just in your mind correct that name to the correct pronunciation as you listen.
Cal talks about Eight Sleep and Blinkist (09:00)
All right, so we got three batches of questions here, all written, old school style, work, technology, and the deep life. I'm excited about that. Before we get rolling into that, let's quickly talk about a couple sponsors to make this show possible. The first is a new sponsor but one I am excited about, 8 sleep. Particularly I want to talk about the Pod Pro cover by 8 sleep. This is the most advanced solution on the market for thermoregulation. So this is a cover you put on top of your mattress on your bed. It hooks up to this cool looking machine. My kids are really impressed by this. They think that we have some sort of robot bed now. There's little channels in it. I don't know exactly how all the technology works but it's able to move cooling or heating, I guess it's fluid through these channels to control the temperature of your bed. You can make your sleeping surface as cold as 55 degrees or as hot as 110 degrees Fahrenheit. You can have different temperatures for the different sides of their bed as well. Here's why this is important. Temperature matters for sleep. If you're not of the ideal temperature it is hard to sleep. I am particularly sensitive to this. I blast myself with a fan while I sleep because I need to try to bring my temperature down. So for me, the 8 sleep Pod Pro cover is fantastic because I can bring down not just the temperature around my head with a fan but the entire mattress surface I am on to a cool temperature. It really does help me sleep particularly important. Let me just say this is a non-theoretical observation. This is a concrete observation. If you have COVID you will have hot periods at night. Not a bad time to have a Pod Pro cover to help cool you down. They have stats. The 8 sleep users fall asleep up to 32 percent faster, reduce sleep interruptions by 40 percent and get overall more restful sleep. We have stats but you'll know it if you try it. The 8 sleep Pod Pro cover. So go to 8sleep.com/deep to check out the Pod Pro cover and receive a discount at checkout. 8 sleep currently ships within the US, Canada and the UK. So that's 8 sleep. Spell out the word 8-e-i-g-h-t sleep.com/deep. Check out the Pod Pro cover and get a discount for being a listener of my show. That's a new sponsor. Let's also talk about a long-standing sponsor Blinkist. You know my argument. Ideas are power especially in today's knowledge-based economy. The best source of ideas are books because books represent concentrated thought, years of concentrated careful thought crystallized into an efficient format. The difficulty is figuring out which books to read. We only have so much time. That's where Blinkist comes in. Blinkist offers a selection of nonfiction books over 5,000 titles and 27 categories that they have reduced down to 15 minute summaries that they call Blink. You can read them or listen to them on the go. The way I recommend using this is if there's a topic you're interested in, read the blinks of three or four books from that topic. Now you know the land. Now you know the big ideas. Now you know which of those books, if any, are worth actually buying and diving into in more depth. I want to add that Blinkist also now has short cast which are quick summaries of podcast. So now you can get summaries of both books and podcasts. All right. So 5,000 titles, 27 categories. I mean I was looking at it the other day. They have multiple books on blockchain. We're going to talk about that later in the show. But if you wanted to quickly get up the speed on blockchain, what it is and its impact, read the blinks of three or four of those books. That probably will be enough. And if not, they'll tell you which of those books you should probably buy. Should you buy the blockchain revolution or just the book blockchain? Blinkist can help you make those decisions. So 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 25% off a Blinkist premium membership. That's Blinkist spelled BL-I-N-K-I-S-T. Blinkist.com/deep to get 25% off a seven day free trial. Blinkist.com/deep. All right. Let's do some work questions. Our first question comes from Bethany who writes, "I'm a private music teacher.
How do I get my family and friends to take my profession seriously? (14:11)
So I teach voice and piano lessons online and from my house. I find that my friends and family don't take my profession very seriously and feel that they can ask me to do things like run errands for them or go for coffee or sometimes they just come over at any time because I quote only work 20 hours a week in quote. When in reality I work more like 40 because of admin work, prep time, product development, you know, small business stuff." Well, let me tell you Bethany the ultimate solution here. I don't know if this is possible for you right now, but I wouldn't throw it out there. Don't work from your house. I wrote a blog post just a couple of days ago where I went back and revisited an article I wrote a year ago for The New Yorker about this phenomenon I called "work from near home." And the idea is if you are a remote, that is you're a worker who does not need to go to a centralized office to get your efforts accomplished. There's a real value to having a space for your work that is not your house. It's not a home office in your house. It is not a table in your house used for other things. It is somewhere else near your house. You don't have to commute. It could be a shed in your backyard or like I do, leasing low-cost office space in your nearby downtown of a relative who is a writer who leases an office space which is actually a basement. It's a basement in someone's house. It could be like a simple basement apartment. He rents it as an office, whatever, but a separate place that you go to work. Now in that original article, in that New Yorker article, I focused to try to highlight this phenomenon. I focused on famous writers. I said, "Look, if you go back and look at the work habits of a lot of famous writers, you'll see a lot of them that have very nice home offices, nice houses, nice home offices. Don't work in them." They write near their home, but in eccentric locations, locations that are often clearly less nice than their home offices. I gave a bunch of examples. Maya Angelou used to do this. She would go and write in hotel rooms. She would write on the bed. She would prop herself up on her elbow and work on legal pads. She would take the artwork off the wall. She wanted to be completely blank, zero distraction. She even developed a callus on her elbow from how long she would prop herself up on that elbow in the hotel room. It was different than her house. Peter Benchley, author of Jaws. When he wrote Jaws, he lived down the street from where I grew up. I know the house well that he lived in during the time when Jaws was written. It's a beautiful carriage house. It's a half acre quiet land. He didn't write there. He would write Jaws in the back room of a furnace supply company. I know from contemporary interviews that it was loud. Bang, bang, bang. They're working on furnaces. Much worse space aesthetically speaking, functionally speaking than his home office. But he went there. John Steinbeck would take a portable writing desk on a boat out into the middle of Sag Harbor. He lived near Sag Harbor during some parts of the year, right in the middle of the water. I found a new example. The blog post I wrote a few days ago was about a new example I came across. Jack Carr, the adventure novelist writes to James Reese novels. He lives in this beautiful house in Park City, Utah that overlooks the forest. I found photos of him online doing some work in this house with floor-to-ceiling glass. He also has a well-decorated home office that he records his podcast out of. When he was working on his new book in the blood, he rented an old beat up cabin in the same town. From Airbnb, an old beat up cabin to go right where the choppazoned wood, the fire, and the wood burning stove. It had two rooms in it basically. Again, much less nice in his house, but he would go there as well. What's going on here? Well, home is where the familiar is. The familiar lays a lot of cognitive traps. Our mind is semantic. Our mind is associative. It sees something for which their salient mental connections are going to fire up a lot of related networks in the brain. You see the laundry basket. There's a lot of networks to get fired up about chores and what needs to be done. Your kids run by. Okay, there's all sorts of networks coming up about what they're doing, what needs to happen later in the day. It is a cognitively difficult environment to get work done. So, riders would flee their homes. They could have an environment that was associated just with work. They could focus better. They could get more work done. So, I am a big believer that remote work doesn't mean you have to be in your house because your house is probably a particularly bad place to actually get things done. So, consider if possible, and this is not just a Bethany. This is for anyone listening. If you are remote, consider investing money and having a place to work that's not your home. I think we're too quick to dismiss this option. Some people can't afford this, but a lot of people can. But they think it's superfluous. Like, I have a home office. Why would I do that? This is why. You will be able to focus much better. You'll be much more concentrated on your work. You will be much better at your job. All right, so Bethany, that's what I would recommend if you could. You have a place you go when you work and then you're home when you're home. Everyone in your family, your friends will get that convention. Oh, Bethany's not at home. She's at work. Okay. So, she can't run errands for us. What is she home? She's home at four. Great. Now we can stop by. Now we can see if she wants to come with us to the store. All right. So, that's the ultimate solution there. Now, Bethany, you might not be able to do this because you're a music teacher. So, if you're doing piano or something like this, well, you can't necessarily find another location that has a piano. So, your fallback solution here is going to be having a clear work schedule every day. In particular, I would have a block of time that's like 9 to 12 or 9 to 1. Where you can just train everyone in your life during that period when I'm not in lessons. I'm doing admin. I run a company, a music instructional company. There's a lot of things that come along with that. That's what I do in my mornings. I might have a lesson or two in there, but mainly that's what I do. I can never do things before 12. And then after that, you can still schedule lessons, but you're a little bit more flexible after that. Yeah. If I don't have lessons, I might be able to run an errand or to hang out with you. So, I think that repeated clarity, these are work hours, these are work hours, these are work hours. You do that for a few weeks. I'll stop bothering you during those periods. So, I have this bigger argument here that remote workers in general should heavily consider working from your home. And Bethany, what I'm saying for you in particular is if you need to work from your actual home, have this clear schedule that doesn't change day to day, then you're definitely not available during those hours and then just teach those around you well. All right. Our next question comes from mom to be who says, "My husband and I are expecting our first child in June."
How should we adjust our work for the arrival of our first baby? (21:30)
So, congratulations. We're in June now. You submitted this question a while ago, so you may even have this child with you right as you hear this. We are both full-time knowledge workers. I am planning to take four months leave. As I go back to work, my husband is planning to take 10 to 12 more weeks a leave. Once we are both back at work, the baby will be in daycare two days per week and with my mom three days per week. My husband works remotely full-time and I work in an office three days a week. I am curious if you have any advice for us on navigating parental leaves and a return to work afterwards in order to keep performing well at work. Enjoy having new baby and keep our sanity. Thanks. Well, first of all, I think it's cool that you're able to do sequential leaves. So you take a leave, then you go back to work, your husband takes a leave or he's a primary caregiver, then he goes back to work and that's when the baby goes in the daycare. I think that's great. Both caregivers now get familiar early on with taking care of the baby. That's obviously critical. I mean, people don't turn to me that often for parenting advice, but I will say if you have one member of the partnership, not learn early on how to take care of the kid, it causes troubles down the line. So I think that's really cool. The people I know who did sequential leaves always say the same thing, which is I'm really glad that we did it. Georgetown didn't have a policy. They don't really have a paternity leave policy. They do have a policy that if you are the primary caregiver, so let's say, so if you have the baby, you get a semester off paid, which is fantastic. Let's say your wife had the baby and you did it, you can argue that you were going to be the primary caregiver. So like if your wife had to go back to work full time, you could as the partner take a full semester off all paid, which is actually a pretty cool policy. But when we were having our first kids, my wife was working like four days a week instead of three or something like that. And so we could not argue that I was the primary caregiver. So I never got to take advantage of any leaves, but I was able to arrange for either sabbaticals or buyouts or research fellowships for all three kids. So I was able to do something kind of similar to really be around, really be around for a while when the kids are young. It's really cool. Okay. So what's the key here when you both are going back to work? My big argument about kids and work is clear separation. Clear work hours, schedule shutdown complete, then family hours, when you work, you work, that's what you're doing. When you're not working, you're doing family stuff, that's what you're doing. This is why that early period of the pandemic where especially in the blue states, they kept schools closed forever was really a dumpster fire from a work perspective because we mixed those two things together and pretended like we were like, well, your kids are doing Zoom school and you're kind of working all be fine. Zoom was the problem. Well, the problem is those are two different jobs you're trying to do at the same time and it was chaotic and it was terrible and it burnt everybody out and we pretended like it wasn't a huge problem, but it was a huge problem and it underscores what I'm recommending. The importance of what I'm recommending to you now is the key to working with kids is you have work and you have non-work. When you're working, that's all you're doing. You're trying to do as well as possible. When you're not working, all you're doing is family and you're trying to do that as well as possible. So when you go to the office, that's really clear. You're at the office, you're working when you're home, you're not. Your husband has to be really clear though, working from home. This is when my work starts and then this is when it's over. Don't try to mix those two things. The kid is in daycare or the kid's being taken care of by your mom. They're not your responsibility until you're done with your work. I think that separation is key. By the way, in an earlier question, I talked about how we underestimate the value of having workspace near your home that's not actually in your home. This is a clear example where that would be very useful. If you at all have the financial resources, the lease is sort of, doesn't have to be fancy. Just lease some office. I got to tell you, there's nothing more available right now than commercial real estate. Your timing is good. Lease an office. Spend 500 a month if you can swing it. It's worth it. You can have this clarity even on work from home days. When I'm there, I'm at the office. When I'm here, I'm home. I can't think of any more powerful cognitive snare than hearing the sound of your baby. That's what I would recommend. You need to be on your game from a productivity perspective while you're at work because you really cannot or don't want work to bleed out of the work hours, especially when you have a young baby at home. This is a good time. Just in your elaboration, you guys are big believers in multi-scale planning. You have your quarterly plan. You have your weekly plan. You have your daily time block plans. You have full capture on your Trello boards. Just be on your game with that. You want to be very organized, really clear and scheduling and setting expectations so that you can keep work constrained. I will also say, ramp down your ambitions for the next year. For the second half of 2022 into the first half of 2023, you're not trying to be super hero. You're not trying to crush it at work. You're trying to not be a pain for people. Be organized, get stuff done. But you need to go easy on yourself. You have a long career ahead of you. This is not the year for you to try to make that move. The launch, the new business, to try to get the new promotion. This is the time to go a little bit easier to go a little bit easier on yourself and be okay with that. It's one year. Your career will be fine, but also there's things that are just as important. Then finally, the advice I always give new parents. If you both work, you have to sleep train the kid. They're not going to magically sleep train themselves. They'll get over it. Everyone in the family has to sacrifice. To keep the lights on the food on the table, you have to get work done. If you're going to get work done, you cannot have a baby waking up four times a night. You're going to have to sleep train that child. Let's move on. I always worry when I give that advice that parents are going to yell at me because it's kind of a fraught topic. Sleep training is controversial. No one ever actually yells at me. Maybe deep questions listeners are on board with sleep training. Our next question here comes from Freddie. Freddie says, "Is the following understanding of deep work durations correct?"
Do maximum deep work durations depend on the type of work? (28:10)
Then he goes on to elaborate. When deep work is geared towards deliberate practice, something like learning how to program, only four hours can be sustained per day since deliberate practice is inherently not fun when you're stretching your abilities. However, when deep work is geared towards work that can generate a flow state, something like writing computer programs, it can be extended to eight hours or maybe even ten. Freddie, that's more or less correct. That four hour limit that I mentioned in my book, Deep Work, really came from a study of deliberate practice. It was actually in Anders Erikson's paper studying violin players. I've also seen anecdotally this four hour limit confirmed by other in particular professional musicians. Practicing a musical instrument at the professional level is a very intense act of deliberate practice. Not just playing things. While you're stretching your ability you're trying to perfect, and the standard schedule that Anders found and I've heard other people talk about as well is two hours break, two hours adds up to four hours. That's correct. Other type of deep work, yes, you can do much longer. Remember, for something to be counted as deep work, it needs two attributes. That's be coddly demanding, so it can't be trivial. It has to be done without distraction, so no contact shifting. You're giving your full attention to the effort. You're not also checking email. You're not also checking your phone. That covers a lot of activities, including a lot of activities though, that though not super simple because it has to be coddly demanding are things you could do all day long. A lot of deep work is not nearly as intense as a professional musician trying to push their skill to the next level. Yes, most deep work you could do much longer than four hours. Even deliberate practice, most people are going to do longer than four hours because they don't do it nearly as intensely as professional musicians. I think most people are just not familiar with how cognitively intense real practice actually is. In my book So Good They Can't Ignore You, I try to capture this with an anecdote where I went and spent time with a professional guitar player. I wrote about what it looks like to watch a professional guitar player practice. In this case, the player Jordan, Jordan Pieses' name, actually he played at my wedding. Jordan was practicing with such intensity that he would forget the breathe and then he would have a ragged gasp as he sucked in air, his body forcing the suck in air. That's what it looks like when you're deliberate practicing at your full extent. That you can't do more than four hours, but most people aren't anywhere near that level of intensity. So typically what I tell people is don't fret too much about these limits for deep work, numbers or thresholds. You're fine, just make sure you're doing deep work on a regular basis. Don't be distracted. Focus on the hard things. Do that regularly and good things. We'll come. All right, we got one more work question here. This one comes from Lead Bets, who says, "Hi Cal. I recently bought your time block planner.
How do I overcome the sense of being overwhelmed by all of my goals? (31:20)
I am so overwhelmed with everything I want to get accomplished. Practice job for work. Pay off debt, exercise, lose weight, declutter my spare room, take a Spanish course. How do I utilize the planner to time block my work day and add in the additional goals?" So Lead Bets, we're talking about goals, but we need to divide these into two categories. Projects versus ongoing efforts. So exercise that you talk about here is an ongoing effort. I want to exercise on a regular basis so I can be in better shape. That's an ongoing effort. It's not something you do once and then you're done. Whereas decluttering your spare room, like contrast, is a one-time project. It's something that you want to do and then it's done. Let's deal with both of these types of goals separately. Let's start with ongoing efforts. Here you're going to want to do some sort of habit stacking methodology. Let me simplify this a little bit. Start with a keystone habit in the relevant area. If you really want to get in good shape, start with a keystone habit related to health and fitness. Now, keystone habits means it's something you do every day. It's tractable. It's something you can actually probably do every day. You know, 10 pull-ups every morning, 5,000 step walk, but it's also non-trivial. It actually takes a little bit of effort. You want to do that every day. Each of these areas that's important to you, that you have some goal, start with the keystone habit. This might not be enough to actually accomplish that particular goal you have in mind, but it gets you used to it. Where does the time block planner come into play here? Used to metric tracking space on the daily pages for every day. You can track, "Did I do my keystone habits every day?" There's a real power to seeing that. You don't want to break the chain. There's a real power to actually be able to write down that you did it. There's a real urge to try to avoid not be able to write down that you did the keystone habit. You can also track in space to keep up on those keystone habits. Once you're doing those regularly, you will have rewired your psychology into one that says, "For these areas of my life, I'm willing to do optional but important work again and again even when it's not easy." That will change your self-understanding. You are now someone who spends time on these things like in this case fitness, and it's important to you and you're proud of it. Now you can upgrade the habit. All right, so I have that keystone habit. Now that I'm used to that, now let me get into the more intense workout routine. Then I'm going to do three days a week or there's something I do every day. Now I have this 30-minute block before lunch every day, and I go back and forth between rows and exercise and whatever. Now you can put in the more intense habit because you've rewired your brain to be someone who makes, to see yourself as someone who makes progress on those areas of your life on a regular basis. Start with the tractable keystone, track it in your planner, upgrade once you're used to it. All right, what about projects like decluttering your spare room? Well, here's where you want to actually leverage the full multi-scale planning stack quarterly weekly daily. Your quarterly or we sometimes call strategic plan is where whatever that goal is might first show up. So this quarter I want to clean my room and I want to take a Spanish class. So I'm going to get your weekly plan for each week. You look at your quarterly plan, you know what you're trying to make progress on. You can say, "Well, is this a week that I have time to do that?" And if it is, get that time into your weekly plan. I would recommend at this point putting it onto your actual calendar, the same calendar that you use to track your appointments and existing meetings because when you then do your daily time block plan, every day you look at your calendar to fill in stuff already on your calendar into your time block plan and that project work time will get automatically moved right into your daily time block plan. So maybe you're doing your weekly plan for the week. You see decluttering your spare room is on there. The week seems kind of reasonable. You say, "This is the week I do it." Tuesday, I'm going to stop work at four and work on the room for two hours. If you're going to put that on my calendar, then I am going to Friday evening finish it and I'll put that on my calendar. And then when you get to Tuesday, you look at your calendar as part of making your daily time block plan, your time block plan or you just block out that time. When you get to Friday, you're making your daily time block plan. You look at your calendar as part of that process. You see what's on there. You put it on your daily time block plan and you just execute your blocks each day. The work gets done. Everything was something like a Spanish class, so when that's on your quarterly plan, I want to take a Spanish class, you can come up with a persistent plan for doing that. For the next four weeks, I work on this during lunch hour on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. And that's just sitting there in your quarterly plan. So when you make your weekly plan, you block off that time. And again, when you get to every day, it goes on your time block plan and the work gets done. So the time block planner by itself cannot give you everything you need to accomplish goals, but it could be a big part of a goal accomplishing framework. For people who don't know about the planner, go to timeblockplanner.com. You can watch a video where I explain how it works. There is a version 2.0 coming out that is spiral bound. Again, we're just being delayed by supply chain issues. There's a lot of backups in the global publishing supply chain, but the whole thing is designed and we're ready to go to the new format. So I would say don't bother waiting because you'll be done with your current time block planner in three months anyways. But just know if you're using a planner and want the lie flat, it is coming. We are working on it. All right, let's do some technology questions. And I said questions, but it's probably more accurate to say question because I only have one technology question. I only selected one because it's big and open ended. It comes from Miranda.
What are the most important trends in technology at the moment? (37:25)
And she asked what are your thoughts in general about AI machine learning and where technology is headed? So we haven't done a good open-ended technology question in a while. Well, Miranda, I'll tell you where the focus seems to be, at least in popular online conversation in the media. Focus on crypto, social media and AI. Those seem to be big topics. So let's go through those briefly one by one. All right, so let's talk about crypto. As you may have heard me talk about before, my personal belief is that the hype around crypto is a little bit excessive. So there's a political element to crypto. It's based around trust and power and control. This idea that these distributed ledgers implemented by cryptographic protocols, that these distributed ledgers are not controlled by a single government or controlled by a single company. And therefore there can be coordination and information sharing on the internet that is not beholden to the sensorious efforts of individual organizations or countries. There's a crypto, a sort of techno libertarian political argument for what you gain from this decentralization. I don't think most people care about that. I don't think I think it's important for certain people who think a lot about this, but for the average consumer, they don't care about that. So that by itself is not that strong. But if you take out the techno libertarian political justification for crypto based ledger technologies, there's not something else there that we don't already know how to do much better and much faster. We know how to have consistent distributed data stores. This is what distributed databases do. This is easy to implement. So it's not like there's a new technological capability that is introduced by crypto based blockchains. It's just there's a decentralization that comes with it. And the value of that is largely political, not technological. So again, I think most consumers don't care. They don't really care whether the data for this app they're using is stored in the cloud somewhere in just a virtualized SQL database system, or if it's implemented by an Ethereum blockchain. It looks the same to them and they don't really care about which way this is being implemented. Now for a while, there is an argument about the particular aspect of crypto that is the currency aspect. So all of these ledgers, or not all of them, but open ledgers are almost all based on their speed, some sort of underlying currency. And there's some thought that the currency not controlled by governments, it was critical. And it was going to be a worldwide currency. That's sort of fallen flat. The currencies didn't really take over from fiat money. So you get rid of that again. There's nothing sexy about what's being the functionality implemented by these crypto tools. It's really just the political reality that no one controls it. And I again don't think enough people care about that for this to be a complete game changer. Could be wrong about this. And Jason Horowitz would probably say that firm would not be happy with my interpretation. But there you go. All right, social media, that's the other thing that seems to be really the focus of a lot of techno criticism and conversation right now. Long time listeners know that I believe that social media as we know it, that is this age of a small number of massive platform monopolies that everyone is culturally pressured into using. We are in the twilight of that moment. That moment is passing. This is the standard oil, Pennsylvania, Central Railroad, Robert Barron era of the social internet era. And I think it is passing. I've talked about this before, so I won't go into too much detail. But basically at the core of my thought is one of the things that used to capture people in the social media was network effects. People were using social media platforms to connect to people they know. Therefore, for a platform to be useful, it has to include among its members all the people that you know or might want to connect to. That is a huge advantage once you get there first because another social media platform will have a hard time competing because until they can get your cousin and your aunt and your six friends from high school onto their service, it will be lesser than an existing service like Facebook. This is called network effects. There's a sort of trivial mathematical law here that says in a network it's the value grows with the square of the number of users because now you have a potential connection between every person in it. Forget that math. In general, this was a big justification for why you could not unseat. You could not unseat existing platform monopolies. Then they got out of the connection business. They thought there was more money in offering distraction because people spend more time distracting themselves and they want to spend talking to their aunt or their cousin or their six friends from high school. Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, particular Twitter and Facebook, moved away from what's your friends up to. Towards, here's an algorithmically generated feed of content curated to press some buttons in your brain and keep you looking at your phone. You need a moment to get lost or distracted. Life is hard. You're stressed. You're anxious. You're bored. We will give you something that will be palliative in the moment. They went towards that model which did get their existing users using the phones more, looking at these apps more, but it destabilized the originally motivating network effect which is the people you know are on here. Once it is no longer giving you that advantage, social media is now competing with any other form of distraction and there's a lot of them and they're good. And now suddenly it's not so critical that my distraction is coming from Facebook versus coming from Spotify versus coming from TikTok or coming from some sort of bespoke small niche network. You're competing with any source of distraction. There's no reason to have a massive $500 billion monopoly in this type of context. I can be just as diverting with my podcast that is produced with a slightly smaller budget than $500 billion a year. With even just half that money I can produce deep questions. All right, so I think that's what's happening with social media. I think TikTok is actually the harbinger of this transition. Yes, it's true that TikTok is widely widely used. It has a lot of active users, but TikTok is different than Twitter. TikTok is different than Facebook from five years ago. Why? It's popular, but it's just pure distraction. They don't pretend like it's anything else. And because of that, it no longer has the situation of cultural valency where it feels like you have to use it. Lots of people use Facebook. No one thinks it's, I mean, TikTok, no one thinks it's weird if you don't. A lot of people like TikTok. No one says you're missing out on business opportunities or knowing what's going on the world if you don't use it. And so from TikTok we'll get multiple other, I think increasingly niche, increasingly focused, increasingly much smaller and independent types of apps and sources of distraction that leverage social connections in groups, et cetera. And it'll be a fragmented marketplace in which there's no monopoly powers. And that's going to be, I think, a much healthier social internet. So social media is a focused lot of conversation. I think it's moment as past. The final one I mentioned was AI. I don't know what to think about AI. I haven't got my arms around AI yet. I've been trying to. I mean, I understand a lot of the underlying technologies, but in terms of its cultural impact, I don't know where I fall. I don't have, for example, a natural fear of AI, general intelligence, sentience and AI and what that might cause. I just don't have that instinctual fear. Is that something that's even on a development pipeline that we need to worry about? I don't know either way. AI's role in disrupting industries, it's going to be disruptive. It's complicated how I think it's hard to predict. So AI, keep your eye on it, but I don't have a good sense. Let me tell you two things that I think are being overlooked, that are going to be super disruptive, but I think are being overlooked in a lot of conversations today about technological trends. The first is augmented reality. This came out of some reporting I've done for the New Yorker. I don't think people realize the economic disruption that is going to come from what I call the augmented reality singularity. This is going to be the point where multiple technologies that exist today advance sufficiently to allow the following with a relatively unobtrusive piece of headgear, so some sort of pair of glasses that is socially appropriate, the rare, comfortable. It's not like Google Glass where you walk around with a Google Glass on and Google tried this experiment. They said, "Try walking around with Google Glasses on and people's instinct when they saw you with on it was, 'I think I need to punch you.'" When we get past that, with Google Glass, people were walking around with Google Glasses and I'm not exaggerating here, nuns would walk out of the convent and say, "Forgive me, Father," and then just punch you in the face because it was so annoying looking. That's what AR.1, version 1 looks like, that will get better. When we get past that stage where AR devices make people want to punch you and you look so weird and pretentious wearing them, when we get past that stage, when nuns no longer walk out of their comments to punch you, and then two, we get sufficient power and feel the view in these glasses that you can replicate with sufficient resolution, basically any type of screen digital screen interface we use today. Three, we have sufficient internet backbone that we can essentially stream surfaces without actually having to do the computation locally. What I mean by that is, if I want to play a video game, there's sufficient wireless internet backbone that that video game can run and a server somewhere and the thing that's being streamed to my AR device is just what's on the screen. There's this key point, there's this key speed point where the contents of a high resolution screen can be streamed over the internet to a device and what you no longer need to actually bring computation with you, just enough computation to get the screen of computation happening in the cloud. When those three things come together, again the summary is hardware that is unobtrusive and people are willing to wear. There's a lot of different field of view and resolution that you can replicate most of the standard digital screens you look at in your day to day life. Three, sufficient internet wireless backbone, which by the way we might already have, that you can stream high resolution screens to devices so we can now virtualize actual computation. It will be the end of consumer electronic, of the consumer electronic industry as we know it. Samsung, Apple, Sony. The companies that produce complicated electronics that they sell the people and those people buy these devices and use them. Those companies will essentially have to go out of business or massively retool because why would I buy a phone when my AR headset can put in front of me, in the space in front of me, the interface for whatever phone I want. Why would I buy a computer when I can make a computer monitor anywhere? It doesn't exist in the real world. It's being projected in my AR goggles but I can make a nice monitor wherever I want to go and all the computation is happening in the cloud somewhere so I have the most powerful computer computing, much more powerful than I can actually buy and I can just see the screen right there. Why would I buy a TV when I could just stretch a 72 inch on my wall? It's all virtual and everyone who's in that same room sees it in the same place. We literally cannot tell the difference between that and an actual TV. Why would I buy a TV? Ship it to me, bring it into my house. I could just have that right up there on my wall. The end of the consumer electronics industry as we know it, it's going to create some of the most powerful companies in the history of the world. It's going to make Apple seem like a lemonade stand. If you are the company that owns the first mainstream widely adopted full function AR singularity goggles with the back end doing all the computation, all of these companies like Sony, Samsung will become essentially software companies. You're basically just running processes in the cloud that can then stream visuals to individuals. It's hard to underestimate how disruptive that's going to be. I don't think we talk enough about it. I think it was perhaps a blind spot of Mark Zuckerberg to focus too much on virtual reality instead of augmented reality. Google has invested many, many billions of dollars into this. Apple is investing many, many billions of dollars into this. Amazon is investing many, many billions of dollars into this. That's about the hardware and more about being the back end cloud computation to virtualize all this hardware. It is going to be huge. I don't think we talk about it enough. We get too distracted. The other technological trend I think that's going to be big is the continued decentralization of media production. This is the story of the internet, but I think it's just starting to get pretty interesting and recent years. You get HTML in the 1990s. You get websites and then eventually Web 2.0. It's websites that are easy for people to update regularly like blogs. That had a big impact on decentralizing the ability to produce and sell text. We take it for granted now, but remember in 1996, text came from magazines and newspapers. You had to have giant warehouses with these big machines with ink and newspaper rolls moving really fast and fleets of trucks. All the advertising dollars would come though. You had a ton of money. There's a lot of money in newspapers, syndicates, a lot of money in magazines, syndicates. That's where text was, available text. The internet changed that. Think about how many websites people go to now for information. How many independent little media companies, five person, six person shops? Ain't it cool news? Let's go back to those early days. These types of sites are blogs. The offline came out of blogging before moving over to the post and over to New York Times, Nate Silver. All of this text, Politico, I mean, Politico eventually printed a hardcover version, a newspaper version for a while of their thing. There was so much innovation that happened in text media because of HTML. Now, we're seeing this with audio. Podcast. Incredibly disruptive. This industry is exploding because people like real time analog content. You can actually hear someone's voice. Radio is a pretty big industry. Podcast will surpass radio soon. It will surpass it soon because again, you open up the ability to create audio to most people. The big change happening now is video. Video. The ability to produce video whose quality crosses that uncanny valley and is at least comparable to stuff that we maybe saw on cable. That's where we're getting now. We're more and more people at a fraction of the cost can produce video at a quality that you would say, "I could have seen this 10 years ago on Bravo." Now you've decentralized video, which was the most powerful media forms of all, television and movies is a huge dominant source of media and that is being decentralized now as well. These trends, I think, are critical. I think the shift from audio is the stepping stone and the video is going to be much bigger than even the decentralization of text that happened with the early HTML based web. All of this, I think, is really excited. I don't know where it's going, but I think it's really exciting. The main critique people give, and I think this is so shortsighted, is every time one of these media technologies is decentralized. There's always this pushback that emerges where people set up this straw man of everyone now will be able to make a living off of this new decentralized media. Then when they don't and most stuff is bad, they say the revolution is a failure. Blogs arise. People looked around and said, "Well, most blogs are bad. This idea that everyone's going to make a living off a blog isn't true." That was never the point. Most people are bad at producing stuff. Most people are not meant to be media figures. Most people don't have the insight or the training that produce really interesting audio or words or video. The point is when you open it up to everyone, you get this extreme Darwinian competition. What is the point of Darwinian competition? Not that all the different types of proverbial species are going to survive, but that it's going to drive innovation into new species, new configurations that one of them existed before. That is what is important about decentralization. There's 850,000 active podcasts right now. Most of them do not do very well. That is a huge amount of selective pressure. It's going to produce a couple thousand that do really well and are really innovative and will change the media landscape altogether. Most of the YouTube is direct. There's millions and millions of hours of footage being uploaded every minute. That is a huge amount of selective pressure. It's going to change and evolve and mutate the visual media landscape. I don't know where all this decentralization is going. I just think it's important. That's why I'm doing audio. This is why Jesse and I were quick to get video going on the show as well. We think all of this is very important even if we can't tell where it's going. All right, Miranda, that was a long answer. Now, it's a long answer to a short question, but I'm glad you asked it. Really quick summary. Crypto, I think, is overhyped. We're in the twilight of the mass of social media monopoly era. AI, I don't know. Keep an eye on it. I don't want to tell you about it. Two biggest trends that are being missed, AR for sure. I think people don't understand the impact. Decentralized media, people know it's going to be big, but maybe they don't realize how disruptive it's going to be. I think the audio video, Internet audio video revolution in particular is going to be the biggest change to media since television.
Cal talks about Grammarly and My Body Tutor (56:20)
All right, that's technology. Do a couple quick ads and then we'll do a couple of deep life questions and then we will wrap things up. Let's talk about another longtime sponsor of this show and that is Grammarly. We are busy now and we're working from home. We're on Zoom all the time. We're involved in more products and initiatives than we ever have been before. This is not when you want to have unclear communication. You want your emails, your Slack chats, your text messages, your reports that you're sending to the clients, you need that writing to be professional and effective. You can write concise professional, effective writing. It is a huge competitive advantage. This is where Grammarly enters. The scene Grammarly is a free to download desktop app that works wherever you do your writing on your computer. It has features that blow my mind. I am used to the old grammar checkers from the word perfect days in the early 90s. Compare that to what Grammarly can do today. It is night and day. Let's say you're writing a pitch. Grammarly has a tone detector. They can make sure that the tone you're giving is just right. Tone detector can look at your right and tell you about your tone. It can help you in the premium version of the product rewrite your synthesis to be more clear. The premium version Grammarly can say, "Look, here's a different way to write that same sentence that's going to be more clear to the reader. Clarity impresses." It even will help you do tone transformations. Again, this is what Grammarly premium has this feature as well. Why don't you rewrite it this way? The tone will be more colloquial. These are powerful, cool tools. It's like having a professional editor looking over your shoulder, helping your writing be clear, professional and effective. To get to the point faster and accomplish more using Grammarly, go to Grammarly.com/deep to sign up for a free account. When you're ready to upgrade to Grammarly premium, you will get 20% off just for being my listener. To get that 20% off, you have to sign up at Grammarly.com/deep. That's g-r-a-m-m-a-r-l-y.com/deep. I also want to talk about my body tutor. I've known Adam Gilbert, the founder of my body tutor for many years. He used to be the fitness advice guy back on my old study hacks blog. His company, My Body Tutor, is a 100% online coaching program that solves the biggest problem in health and fitness, which is lack of consistency. He does this by simplifying the process into practical, sustainable behaviors. Do this exercise at this time. Eat this food, not those foods. Then, here is the secret sauce to my body tutor, giving you daily accountability with a dedicated online coach who you will get to know and appreciate and will get to know you to help you stick with your plan. That is the key. Here is my coach. I talk to him every day. Sustainability, consistency. That's what makes these programs work. Adam and his coaches at My Body Tutor are the best in the world at delivering highly personal accountability and coaching. Because Adam has known me for so long, if you're serious about getting fit and you want to sign up for My Body Tutor, mention that you heard about them from deep questions when you sign up and you will get $50 off your first month. Just mention you came from deep questions. They will give you that $50 off your first month's cost. Again, shape, summer. One look good. If you want to get healthier, want more energy, MyBodyTutor.com. All right. Ooh, look at this. I was trying to knock out a quick episode. My diseased, adult body here by myself. I'm already over an hour. I can't help it. I get bored. I must have missed everyone. I'll move quick. I got a few deep life questions. Let's move quick, but let's get them done. The first deep life question comes from Kim. Kim says, "Does your focus on the quantity of books that you read to loot their impact? Can you remember the content of that many books or does it even matter?" Kim, I don't think I read that many books. I read five books a month. I don't think that's that many.
Does reading too many books dilute their impact? (01:01:01)
I think in June, I'm going to read six because I had a couple of days where I was being COVID-y, so I took advantage of that to read an extra book. I don't think that's a lot of books. I think our standards are too low. I think our standards for intellectual engagement have got so low that that seems like some impossibly large amount, but I think historically speaking or looking at the life of any sort of serious intellectual, especially pre-internet intellectual, five books a month, is nothing. That's nothing. No, I don't think I read too much to loot their impact. Again, here's the thing. I don't skim. I'm not staying up late in the night to try to make some numbers. You have more time than you think to do things like reading if you get rid of other things that are taking its place, namely looking at your phone. Just leisurely reading in your spare time can generate more books completed than you would imagine. I actually uploaded a video a couple of weeks ago. I recorded it just for YouTube. There's just an inspiration I had. You can only find it at the youtube.com/countyportmedia, but it was called something like how I read five books a month. Kim, you might want to watch that. I get into what I do in my life to get through that many books. If you watch that video, you'll see it's not that much reading. Thomas says, "As I become more efficient and ambitious with my time, I find it is psychologically harder for me to take vacation and disengage." I think it breaks her valuable, but as my mind, workflows and priorities become more fine-tuned, it feels harder to turn them off for a few days.
How do I turn off my ambitious mind? (01:02:35)
I feel like productivity is a high-enderson machine that isn't easily slowed down. Thomas, you are right. Welcome to the club. If you really get going, you're in a cognitively demanding field, you're structured in your time, you're focused diligently on ambitious intellectual goals. We come back to something again and again. You're seeing results. It's exciting. It's interesting. You're podcasting, you're writing, you're solving proofs, whatever you're doing. It is a high-enderson machine that you cannot just turn off. I learned that lesson the hard way, trying to go on vacation for a week and say, "I'm not going to do any work." He gets a day three and I have delirium trimmers like a recovering alcoholic, like shaking and frustrated and upset and scratching math equations in the size of palm trees. I learned early on, you can't really shut that machine down very easily. If you're going on a trip, bring something to do. It shouldn't be something that is going to be high-stakes. It shouldn't be something that involves you having to do work communication or email, but bring some sort of project. I would often bring, especially pre-tenure a math problem trying to solve. Or I would say, "I think I want to write a paper on this topic." Let me start really start thinking through a little bit each day. Let me walk the beach, walk through town and think and take notes. At least I have one session every day where I'm working on some sort of long-term, non-urgent, but intellectually demanding project. You just have to do it. Once you get up that intellectual motor turning and cranking, it doesn't stop. Give yourself stuff to do that's going to be minimally distracting. I can actually connect various intellectual output to various trips. I know exactly the beach. Where was it in the Bahamas? I forgot the name of the island. I can picture the beach so clearly on which I figured out the whole structure for digital minimalism and made the decision of, "Wait a second. I need to write this book." There's just an arbitrary, I remember the paper. It's not a very interesting paper, but I remember the beach in Lewis, Delaware where I saw the main results for a particular paper. Blah, blah, blah. Stuff gets done on trips. I think that's fine.
Productivity Slips And Regaining Mental Focus
How do I get back on the productivity horse after I fall off? (01:05:05)
The only thing I'll say, Thomas, is also have good schedule shutdown rituals. If you have a high inertia of mind, you need them. Otherwise, your mind will spiral off into work-related thoughts at night and you'll never be able to enjoy anything and you're going to have a hard time sleeping. You have to be able to actually shut down sort of back and forth communication and decision-making about work. You've really got to trust those schedule shutdown complete rituals. But don't expect you can go five, six days without doing any work. Once your mind gets going, you've got to feed it. All right, let's do one more question here. This one comes from Joe. Joe says, "How do I get over discouragement from inconsistency on progress for developing a vision, having a quarterly plan, spending time on weekly planning, and daily time block planning with my shutdown ritual? How do I get back on the horse after I fall off my attempts to put this process into place?" I used to enjoy your podcast so much. Now, I've got a sense of discomfort in listening to the podcast and realizing how little progress I've made on the whole process. Joe, you might be trying to bite off more than you can chew all at once. There's a lot of ideas I talk about on this show. It might be tempting to put them all into place at first. You talk about all these different multi-scale planning things where you have your vision and your quarterly plan, your weekly plan, your daily plans with shutdown complete. We talk about deep life stuff. We talk about reading. We talk about training your mind. We talk about this so much we talk about. It's all appealing to you, which is good. That means you're aiming down the right path, but you're trying to take too big of a leap all at once. One thing I might recommend is let's go through the deep work bucket overhaul exercise first as a way of just grounding your life, rewriting yourself narrative as someone who can take changes towards things that matter and then worry about making bigger changes. As you know, the deep life overhaul strategy says you break down your life into the buckets, the areas that are most important to you. Let's say craft, constitution, community, contemplation, etc. Then for each of those, you put a keystone happening in the place, something that is not trivial but not super, super hard. You can probably do every day that signals to yourself you take each of these areas of your life seriously and are willing to do non necessary or non mandatory action to make progress on or support these different areas that are important to you. You track that every day. That's what you're tracking. Keystone habits, four or five buckets. Just do that for a while. That might be harder than you think. You might have false starts. This Keystone habit wasn't really consistent. This was too ambitious, you might spend months until you get to that collection of Keystone habits and buckets that you feel good about. Once you're consistently hitting those habits, then you take one bucket at a time, give it four to six weeks, and do some sort of significant overhaul of that part of your life. Then and only then is where I would do something like introducing multi-scale planning in your case. Maybe when you're doing the craft overhaul, you're rethinking your work, you're taking projects off your plate that aren't important, you're focusing on a smaller number of initiatives you think are important. You bring in something like multi-scale planning. When it's part of this bigger, more gradual, more structured overhaul of your life, I think you are able to more consistently make progress and not have everything fall apart when one thing doesn't work. Joe, you're aimed in the right direction. I think you have the right ambitions. What you're missing is I would say a more sustainable process towards depth. Do the buckets, do the keystones, keep working on the keystones so you have them. Then do a rounder overhaul. Enjoy that life for six months. Do another rounder overhaul. Repeat. You will gradually bit by bit get deeper and deeper. The hardest part is deciding that's what you want to do. Everything else is just execution. Congratulations. You've already done the hard part. Now get after it. That's all the time we have for today's episode. Thank you for listening. If you like what you heard, you will like what you see at youtube.com/cal NewportMedia. Get video of the full episodes as well as clips of selected segments. I'll be back next week with the next episode of the show and in Telton, as always, stay deep.