Ep. 210: Dictate How You Feel With Lifestyle-Centric Planning | Deep Questions With Cal Newport

Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 210: Dictate How You Feel With Lifestyle-Centric Planning | Deep Questions With Cal Newport".


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Cal's intro (00:00)

what I care about is, do I have the opportunities where I am? Do I have the opportunities right now to make my life something I really like that's really meaningful? And for me, the person speaking in the voice of the person in that book, that's probably staying in the Pacific Northwest and finding the right skill set that allows you to not be stressed about money and to have this flexibility. I really think it's the way to go. Career serves your life because ultimately your daily experience of your life is what dictates how you feel. Life justice and career planning is the natural consequence of that truism. I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, episode 210. I'm here in my deep work HQ. No Jesse today. Jesse is on vacation to Scotland. I'm jealous of Jesse. I have always thought that in another life, Scotland is probably where I belong. I mean, think about it. I'm a pale skin, don't like being hot, intellectual who likes dramatic, quiet, natural landscapes as an inducement to think so imagine an alternative universe in which i live in edinburgh near the city little townhouse the garden out back that i tend where i can go on my morning walk and see the edinburgh castle but then i also have the the small house on some aisle some aisle aisle off of the Scottish coast where I go to think and write and walk in the drizzle with my barber jacket as I think deep thoughts. I mean, I think this is probably what I'm wired to be doing. So not living in Washington, DC in August. So Jesse, I'm jealous. Look forward though to having you back. All right. Two quick announcements. Announcement number one, last week we released a survey to get your feedback on this show. Jesse and I are doing an overhaul of the show this fall to make it even better. So we want your feedback. Thank you everyone who submitted their thoughts. If you haven't already, there will be a link to this survey in this week's episode notes as well. Announcement number two, I have been told I should do a better job of connecting this somewhat informal deep life media network that I have created. We have podcasts and audio, we have video, we have articles and newsletters, and we should probably try to connect it better. So here's my attempt to do a little bit of that. If you're a listener of this podcast and you do not subscribe to my newsletter, you should. You can do that at calnewport.com. Once a week, I write an essay on the types of topics covered here in the show, the theory and practice of living and working deeply. Over 70,000 people subscribe, so you can join this crowd. I also have plans to improve this newsletter somewhat soon to have a specific day in which my weekly essay returns. When it falls on, I might add a second message, second email each week, so I can have an outlet for all these interesting links and ideas and articles I come across. So maybe drop some weekend reading your inbox as well. So it's a good time to sign up for the newsletter. Do that at calnewport.com. All right, so let me give you the summary of the show ahead of us today. There are three segments, three segments in today's episode. Segment number one will be a deep dive because Jesse is not here to constrain me. I have a relative, uh, relatively geeky deep dive. This is me putting on, I guess I would say at the different hats I wear more of my New Yorker hat, and I go deep into a theoretical framework for understanding the media economy of the internet. Once you understand this framework, it really will help you make sense of the history of the internet, where we're going, why things we're trying right now won't work, what things might work. So it's a framework I'm testing out. So be aware we have some geekiness ahead of us. Segment two will be focused on working deeply in an increasingly distracted world of work. A good collection of pragmatic questions, real readers, real listeners with real issues trying to be deep in a shallow world. We will end that segment too with a new feature, a reader case study. So I have a brief case study to read of someone reporting back on successfully deploying one of the ideas we talked about on the show in her own working life. This is something I want to do more of. Jesse is working on the technology infrastructure required to actually do some of these work case studies in the future live so my goal is to eventually be able to have listeners call in live talk with me back and forth and give us reports on what has been working for them in their life segment number three focus on living deeply and here we have another new feature to try out. I call it the Deep Life Academy. We will have a listener question, motivate a topic relevant to living deeply in a world that's increasingly shallow and upset and distracted. And then I will give a series of lessons on this skill, on this topic.

Detailed Discussions And Recommendations

Deep Dive (05:22)

So I call that Deep Life Academy. All right. So without further ado, and I really do mean that because to keep today's recording even more interesting, I'm looking at my watch now. I have a call with my doctoral student in one hour and eight minutes. So we are going to stay on task. I have no other option. Nothing like having a little bit of motivation to keep moving. All right. Segment number one, deep dive. I call this deep dive loops, networks, and links. What I'm going to talk about here is something you probably never knew you should care about, which is distributed curation of user-generated content online. That is the most boring title you have probably heard. This is why most people don't think about it, but it is actually a subject that is incredibly important for understanding the dynamics of the current internet economy. So let me start with the backdrop to this discussion, which is this idea that right now, if we look at the internet economy, there are companies making a huge amount of money monetizing content generated by users, largely unpaid users generating content, making lots of money. And I'm underscoring the word lots here. I'm talking about some of the biggest corporations in the world right now are using this model. So it's not just, here's a nice niche where some people made some money. Monetizing user-generated content on the internet has become a massive industry. Here's the thing, that is new. That is relatively new. That's less than 20 years old. This idea that you could make a lot of money off of this type of content. So quick beats of the timeline leading up to this current state of our economy before the web, before the consumer facing web became available in the 1990s, there was basically no way to make a lot of money off user-generated content. The model was, if you're a media company, pay a small number of talented people to create content to be consumed by a lot of consumers. It's not user-generated content. It's highly paid professional-generated content. This created various economies. So if you were trying to reach a very broad audience, like you're a national television network, there could be a lot of competition for this talent because you wanted the best television writer. You wanted the best actor and they could be really highly paid, but this model didn't require those superstar economics because of localization. This is why you had conglomerates like Gannett become really, really big because they found it was a good model to buy up local papers. Local papers used to be a lucrative model. You pay people who are as good as anyone else who's writing for your particular market, and then you can make money off of everyone who lives in that market. All right, Web 1.0 comes along, 96, 97, 98. Now it is possible for individuals to create content that can be consumed by anyone else. We got to emphasize that this was a major transformation in the history of media production, that now anyone could produce content that could be generated by anyone else. We're talking, of course, almost primarily about written content here. This did not change the main media economics yet. It was too hard to do. It was technically demanding. You had to hand code HTML often to try to put stuff online. It didn't really look that good. Most of the leveraging of the first web revolution was actually by media companies that already were using the old model, small number of highly paid writers serving lots of people, to reduce distribution cost. So you didn't get brand new creators, you got existing creators like Time Magazine realizing if we release on the web, it's cheaper than printing things on paper. Then we get Web 2.0. This is the major turning point in the economics of content. Web 2.0, which happens once we get to the new millennium, is where we made it easier for people to publish information on the web. Now, instead of hand coding HTML, you can type into a box and click submit or click post. For the old school web geeks among you, there is small technical innovations that were critical here like Ajax, asynchronous JavaScript, that made it possible for you to send information from a website to a server, have that server update the website without having to reload the whole page. So these little innovations that made Web 2.0 possible. Now it was easy enough that almost anyone could generate content. This made it possible to generate a ton of content. But before we could mine this new resource, this information resource into massive companies and into massive monetizations, curation had to be solved. And this is what I want to talk about is the evolution of curation once web 2.0 came along. Because it turns out having a lot of people generating content does you no good. If you're trying to make money, selling content does you no good if you can't select for your audience stuff they actually want to see. So this goes back to the title of my deep dive loops, networks, and links. These are the three dominant models of curation of user generated content that emerged. That's in reverse chronological order. Links were first, then the network model, then the loop model. I want to walk through these three models briefly, how they work and their advantages and disadvantages. And I think this will help clarify a lot of what we see going on. All right. So the first effective model for curating user-generated content in the Web 2.0 era was the link model. When I say link, I'm talking about hyperlinks. This is how the blogosphere worked during those early years of this content production revolution. It is a distributed curation method that is very human. It is based on human webs of trust that are augmented with digital technology. So here's roughly how it works. If I'm going to enter the world of blogs and websites that are linked to each other, I'm going to enter it in a place where I have a pre-established trust relationship. Okay, I know this person. This person has a foot in traditional media. Maybe I've seen their newspaper column. They write books I care about. Friends of mine have really pushed. This is the smart person that you need to read okay so I enter into this web of trust relationships through an entryway of pre-existing trust I then see who are the people I already trust linking to if sufficient people link to a new source of information, a new blog or a new website, and that website has sufficient aesthetic capital that it's trustworthy. It's not a weird gray background website with animated gifs of eagles and what have you. Then that will enter into my web of trust. I will trust that too. And I will begin to consume that content. Now that new site, when it's linking to something else, again, will help convey trust into these new targets and help expand that web. So ultimately, this is humans building trust, then using that trust to expand where you get your content from. This was remarkably effective. It actually works really good at, if you actually stick with it, excavating really interesting quality sources of information that you might not have otherwise had access to, and more importantly, filtering out the weirdness. Because it's very difficult in this model. It's very difficult to get into someone's web of trust. So weird conspiratorial work, blatant misinformation, just general emotional outrage and ickiness could not gain a lot of traction in the link model of curation because it would never get the entry point. It is very hard in other words, to see something like QAnon gain a lot of traction in, let's say, 2006 online ecosystem. Because for one of these blogs, if you're one of these initial somewhat eccentric QAnon conspiracy theorists, how is that going to get into a web of trust that's going to intersect mine? It probably won't. It probably won't. And so it worked pretty well. The disadvantages were two. it probably won't. And so it worked pretty well. The disadvantages were two. One, it was hard to monetize this type of world of user-generated information. The blogosphere was famously hard to monetize both for large networks and individual content creators. There just wasn't the model there. So that was an issue. You had the individual writers. It was hard to aggregate them. issue. You had the individual writers. It was hard to aggregate them. You can look at Nick Denton and Gawker. And there's a lot of interesting oral history on trying to make money off that model. It was difficult. And two, it's hard work. So if I want to consume content, I have to do a lot of work. You actually have to spend a lot of time online. You have to see, build trust, expand this web of trust. This takes a lot of time surfing, following links, being exposed. So it was biased towards heavy tech users. If you wanted to create content, it was even harder, right? It was very difficult to gain a foothold. So this was the flip side of the filtering and curation being very effective. It allowed a lot more voices than existed in the world of newspapers, TV, and radio only. But it was really hard if you're starting from scratch to gain access to these webs of trust. I mean, I remember in the early days of my blog at calnewport.com, when I used to focus only on student advice, I specifically remember being very frustrated when I would see links from more established, trusted blogs. Lifehacker was one that comes to mind to other student advice sources that I thought I was better than. It's like, look, I published these books. My advice is better. Why aren't they linking to me? It's because it's a very slow moving system. Eventually, I gathered enough trust to get linked to a lot by those types of sources, but it could take years. So it was not very exciting for content creators. It was very difficult, very difficult. All right. That led to model number two. We'll call this the network model. Facebook was the innovator here. They figured out, okay, if we have a social network where we make it easy for anyone to create content. So now we can greatly increase the pool of possible content out there by having these very slick web interfaces. So you don't have to worry about what you look like. You don't have to worry about doing the hard effort of gaining aesthetic capital to convince people that you're someone legitimate. Everyone looks the same. Take that off the table. You don't have to set up a blog WordPress account somewhere. Take that off the table. You just sign up for this account, click these buttons. It looks great. And if we can get people, they realize to do the work on their own of teaching us who their friends are, we can leverage that underlying social graph to do the curation. So now instead of people having to do the individual hard work of being on the internet a lot and following links and building up this web of trust, you can have a newsfeed. The newsfeed will fill in with what's interesting to you. And what Facebook realized is, well, if we see what your self-declared friends are interested in, we will guess you're probably interested in that too. We can use friend relationships plus a little bit of magic secret sauce to try to keep redundant information and keep things fresh to curate for you stuff based off of your friend relationship. And that worked out really well. So Facebook innovated that model. Instagram followed up that model, but with images. And it was actually really successful. So now everyone can be involved in producing content and you can get a pretty well curated stream of stuff that's interesting to you without having to do too much work. So it lowered, it lowered the bar. Twitter had a twist on this model. This is the retweet model. Facebook eventually copied this model as well where they added their share button. The retweet model says, let's make it really easy for you to share a piece of content with everyone you're directly connected to. And then those people who you're directly connected to that really like the content will do the same thing. Now, if you model this out mathematically, what you see is that the most compelling content on the network at any one point can dramatically, with dramatic speed, spread to huge swaths of the network. So this was an even more dynamic and aggressive source of distributed curation, and it became the core of Twitter's success. You carefully set up who you follow, you do the work of propagating stuff you like with this low-f low friction retweet, or in Facebook's case, share. And the resulting fierce viral dynamics will become an incredibly effective distributed selection mechanism for things that will engage people. And that's why Twitter became so powerful. Facebook was interesting to see what your friends are up to and sharing, but Twitter, man, it would come out of left field with things. It was almost magical in the trends it would unearth. And that was all distributed. That's not a super clever algorithm. That's not Hal 2000 sitting somewhere learning about the human psyche. It's a hundred million users making hundreds of retweet or not decisions every day. So that's the network model. Leverage, have homogenized interfaces and leverage these networks, these social networks to help curate the content created within these closed garden networks. Again, advantages, much easier to use, much more people could be involved. You can make a lot more money off it. Very easy to monetize because these networks worked within closed gardens. Disadvantaged, you homogenize all the aesthetics of the content and the curation becomes obfuscated. You just get this feed of stuff that's interesting and all looks the same. Now suddenly the QAnon, the proverbial QAnon conspiracy theorists who would never be able to enter the web of trust in 2005 conspiracy theorists who would never be able to enter the web of trust in 2005 can easily spread and gain traction in 2015. Because all content looks the same, curation is happening more behind the scenes. It's not based off of these more natural, deeply human trust relationships. Another disadvantage, of course, is the viral dynamics, especially the retweet share dynamics, led to a lot of unexpected externalities, tribalism, outrage culture, mob swarms, heavy feedback influence on, for example, media outlets, where then you have reporters so fearful of the fierce pushback possible that can happen overnight because of these fierce dynamics, starting to really start to tailor what they say or don't say. Then you get the balkanization of media coverage itself. And there's all these externalities that no one could have guessed. Twitter was not Dr. No with his cat on his island off of Jamaica with an evil plot to bring down democracy. They just wanted people to spend time on their service. These are all unexpected side effects. All right, moving quickly now, model number three is the loop. This is personified, I think, best by TikTok. So now what we do with the loop is you basically take the human out of the equation and you use simple but devastatingly effective machine learning loops to just select for you as an individual from the whole pool of potential content what to show you. No shares required, no retweets required, no you going through and telling the network who your friends are. None of that's required. And into the technicalities of this, what really happens with these machine learning loops is that all of the content is embedded in some sort of multidimensional statistical space. It then feeds you items from this space. It looks at how long you watch each video to try to assess your preference towards that particular region. This gives it some weighted cores in this multidimensional space that it can then weight its selections of future videos by what's going to be closer to one of these cores, blah, blah, blah, nerd, nerd, nerd, math, math, math. It works eerily well. You start watching videos, scrolling up and down. It gathers that data, do this for half a day. And it seems like TikTok knows you better than the people who are closest to you. So it was an incredibly effective way of doing this. Of course, services like YouTube do something similar, but YouTube is more complicated. It has to serve many different purposes. It doesn't purify this model nearly as well as TikTok, which is just this model purified. Videos, full screen, swipe when you're done, we'll send you the next, that's it. And when you purify this model, you saw it was probably one of the most effective curation methods we've ever seen. So again, the advantages, no social graph needed. Anyone can compete in the space. You just need a reasonable pool of content and a machine learning loop, and you can be titillating people in a very effective way. Disadvantages. This is like the fentanyl of distraction. It's too purified. It can take over your whole life. It is distraction now completely purified by any even attempt to connect it to community relationships or being up on the news or exposure to interesting people. It is just, let's go straight to the brainstem and inject that chemical. So it is, all humanity is now being stripped out of the curation loop. So we started with 2005, rich humanity, but hard to monetize, hard to use. 2015, now you have this sort of, we're exploiting human things like our friendship networks and our retweet decisions that produce this, let's call this, we're going to use a drug metaphor, kind of cocaine of distraction. This is Twitter. This is Facebook. This is Instagram. And then we get to TikTok and we purify down, get the human out of the loop altogether, purify the curation down to its strongest form. down, get the human out of the loop altogether, purify the curation down to its strongest form. And we are living in a tent city, drooling out the side of our mouth, waiting to overdose. All right. So that is the history of distributed curation of user generated content. Two takeaways. Once we understand this, a lot of the recent history of the internet economy makes sense. Like here, for example, is two practical takeaways this framework can help you come up with. One, we lost something special when we left the link-based curation. Now, I understand we can't go back to a world where the only type of user-generated content is curated in a link-based manner. We can't go back to a pure 2005 blogosphere world, but couldn't we add this world back to what we have today? Isn't there a market out there for this more human web, a trust-based, slower, harder, but better quality connection, better quality information, really effective filtering of the weird and the conspiratorial and the based and loose foundations? Isn't there some sort of revivification of the blog that at least the sort of expert class or sub-expert class could be participating in. Maybe podcasts are doing this, but there's not a lot of, we don't have the same links. Anyways, I think that's interesting. Two, once you understand distributed curation, you see that it is difficult to fix the negative side effects of, in particular, the network and loop-based curation models through human intervention. We're mixing too much, two different things here. So if you think you can go in and solve the negative of the, let's say, Twitter-based retweet fierce viral dynamics by having humans in the loop trying to kick people off of Twitter, good luck say, Twitter-based retweet, fierce viral dynamics by having humans in the loop trying to kick people off of Twitter, good luck. These are two completely different types of dynamics going on. You're mixing and matching. Same thing with TikTok, this fiercely effective machine learning loop. What are you going to do when you don't like all the outcomes of that is like have a human come in and try to intervene. You're mixing two different modalities. It doesn't work. If you want to get away from the negative side effects of these distributed curation models, you have to actually change the cultural zeitgeist to push people onto other sources of interaction, other sources of distraction, other sources of engagement. I don't know that you can come in and fix something so cybernetically effective as the TikTok machine learning loop or Twitter retweets with a board of safety. What we need to do is convince people that they shouldn't really be on Twitter that much or not. But anyways, two takeaways just to show you that once you have these frameworks, you can actually make some useful conclusions.

Cal talks about Magic Spoon and Miracle (26:19)

All right. Well, that's what we get when Jesse's away. I geek out longer than I should, but that is my deep dive. But I want to move on to some pragmatic questions about working deeper. First, just briefly, let me mention one of our sponsors, a longtime sponsor, our good friends at Magic Spoon. I grew up with those type of sweet cereals. I associate them with my childhood. I associate them with escape childhood. I associate them with escape. As a 40 year old man, I can no longer go buy a box of Lucky Charms. That's sad. This is why Magic Spoon has become one of my favorite food based treats. So here's the idea about Magic Spoon. It tastes like those cereals we used to enjoy as kids, but without all the crap. Magic Spoon cereal has zero grams of sugar, unless you're talking about the honey nut flavor, which has one. 13 to 14 grams of protein, only four net grams of carbs in each serving, only 140 calories a serving. It's keto-friendly, gluten-free, grain-free, soy-free, and low carb. So you can enjoy that type of escape without feeling guilty. You can now build your own box, which is what I recommend to do. When you choose flavors you like and they bundle them together and they send you a bundle of boxes. The flavors you can choose from are cocoa, fruity, frosted, peanut butter, cookies and cream, maple waffle, blueberry, cinnamon, plus the newly reformulated reformulated honey nut flavor. I like that a lot. So I was happy to hear that they have added that to their permanent collection of flavors. So go to magicspoon.com slash cow to grab a custom bundle of cereal. And be sure to use our promo code CAL at checkout to save $5 off your order. Magic Spoon is backed with a 100% happiness guarantee, so if you don't like it for any reason, they will refund your money, no questions asked. Remember, get your next delicious bowl of guilt-free cereal at magicspoon.com slash CAL and use the code CAL to save $5 off. Jesse's not here. Jesse's a big Magic Spoon guy. He could tell us his favorite flavor. That's what we get when he goes on vacation. All right, let me also briefly talk for a moment about the Miracle Brand Comforter. I make this point all the time on this show. I run hot. This is why I talked about at the opening of today's episode, why I should live in Scotland. It's not hot there, right? It's cloudy. It's drizzly. That's what I need. I hate being hot and I particularly hate sleeping when it is hot. On the other hand, I am married to someone who likes to have blankets on regardless of the temperature. to have blankets on regardless of the temperature. The Miracle Comforter is what saves us. So here's how it works. It's designed to be less filling in the middle, which is where we tend to overheat and more filling at the top where we tend to get most cold. This helps you keep a perfect temperature all night long with three temperature zones to distribute heat evenly across your body. With the help of fabrics originally designed by NASA, you can finally say goodbye to the night slits. It also feels good. The Miracle Competer is made from the highest quality USA grown Supima cotton. It's also hyper allergenic, super comfortable. I can tell you this from experience. It's also hyper allergenic, super comfortable. I can tell you this from experience. It also is self-cleaning in the sense that it has silver infused fabrics, prevents 99.9% of bacteria growth, stays fresh three times longer, therefore requires three times less laundry. Who wouldn't love three times less laundry, a clean smelling bed and sleeping at the perfect temperature all year round. This is why they call this comforter the Miracle brand comforter. So if you're ready to sleep better through the night and do less laundry and moving to Scotland like Jesse is not an option, then you've got to try the Miracle brand. Try, head to trymiracle.com slash cal25. The name cal, the number 25. And use that code Cal25 to save 25% off. They'll also give you three free towels. They are so confident that you'll sleep better that they will offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. So this is basically a risk-free trial of a whole new sleep experience.

How do I track a long-term project? (30:43)

That's 25% off and three free towels. When you head to trymiracle.com slash cal25, make sure to use that code cal25. All right, let's coffee up here. And get to some questions about working deeply our first question comes from newport novice who asks can you describe how you manage a semester long project uh using your system practic particularly your Trello boards. All right, good in the weeds technical question. Remember, I like to think about my quote-unquote systems as organizational systems, not productivity systems. So I make this distinction because organizational systems mean systems to keep track of and schedule the work that you've decided you need to do in such a way that you do it on time at a high level quality without unnecessary stress. The question about what you should be working on, how you decide to work on, how you structure your work life and what demands it makes, those are these sort of bigger picture questions that all fall under the header of productivity. There's a lot of big existential questions about the point of work to answer at the level of productivity. So just to set ourselves into a common conceptual map here for this question, we're honing in on organization. Once you know what you want to do, what's the right way to organize that work? So I want to focus in answering this question on my multi-scale planning approach to organizing work. This, I think, is what is most relevant for shepherding a long project through to completion. All right, so let's start with the quarterly plan, your quarterly plan, or if you're in academic circles, your semester plan. This is where that project is going to live once you start working on it. It's where you make a note to yourself, I'm working on this during this quarter. Here's where I'm trying to get, here's the milestones I'm trying to hit, any scheduling heuristics that are relevant, like, okay, to do this, I need to spend at least two mornings each week. So why don't I protect Tuesday and Thursday mornings? All of that, what you're working on, where you're trying to get, any heuristics about how you're going to work on it, that all goes in your quarterly plan. You look at your quarterly plan at the beginning of each week when you create a weekly plan for that week. This is where the intention of working on the project gets translated into an actual plan for making progress. So it's here when you look at your quarterly plan and say, oh, my idea is to work on this thing Tuesday and Thursdays every morning, that now you might block out those Tuesdays and Thursdays for the week ahead. Or you put your note on the weekly plan about every day, do a little bit of work on this or whatever you need to do, but it's where you actually figure out where this work is going to get done. And then of course, each individual day of your work week, you look at your calendar, you look at your weekly plan, you build your time block plan for the day, and the actual work gets executed. Now, how does this intersect with task management systems? You know, I use Trello, other people use other things to manage their tasks. It depends on the type of project. If the project generates ongoing tasks and discussions, then using your task management system to keep track of what needs to be done, information relevant to those things, and keeping track of, let's say, people you were waiting to hear back from, this is a really important role for the task management system to play. So I use Trello. So let's say I'm working on a project that's organizing a conference. I'm probably going to have a lot of specific tasks related to that. And if this is a big ongoing project, I'll give it its own column in Trello. And each card, each task will have its own card. I can attach relevant files to these cards. Here's the contract. Here's the notes. I typed up notes from the last meeting about sponsors. I can just attach those notes to the card representing the relevant task. All your information is in one place. You have clarity about what needs to be done. You see that all in your task management system. I would also, in this situation, really heavily lean into the waiting to hear back from column. Really critical that you don't rely on just seeing an old email in your inbox as a reminder here. You want to have a card in your system, in your Trello system, or whatever you use, where you keep track of specifically, I am waiting to hear back from Bob about sponsor rates for this. So it's there. It's not in your head. It's not just in your inbox. And so your task management system is going to help you keep track of all the different information and ongoing work relevant to this project. So your multi-scale planning, make sure that you don't forget about the project. It gets scheduled. Things get executed. Your task management system keeps track of the information. Some projects, however, are more uniform in their execution. They don't really require tasks to be tracked separately. So for example, I'm writing the book right now. This doesn't generate tasks for the most part to go into my task management system. It's just something I'm working on most days. So it's obviously a big goal in my semester plan that I see when I make my weekly plan and I make sure I have plenty of time to write.

How often should I check email? (36:12)

And if maybe I'm losing a morning somewhere in my week, I'm going to protect an afternoon somewhere else to catch up on that time. So I do a lot of thinking about when am I going to write, but the actual activity is always kind of the same. I'm writing, I know what that means. I keep track of my progress in Scrivener. It doesn't generate tasks. So multi-scale planning is how you get from conception down to execution. Task management systems enter the scene if and when there's details of the execution that need to be remembered. All right. Question two about deep work comes from Oren, who says, I'm curious about how you approach budgeting time for email checks. I recently read an academic paper that found, on average, the optimal number of email checks for mitigating stress is two to four times per day. I find four leads to too much hyperactive hive minding, but one leads to stress accumulating over how much is waiting. So what is the right number? First, that stress issue is a good one. I don't know if this is the paper you're thinking about, but there's a good paper I cite in my book, A World Without Email, that was written by Gloria Mark, lead authored by Gloria Mark of UC Irvine, that studied stress in relationship to email. They used heart rate monitors and cameras that could look for heat blooms on workers' faces and they could cross, what would we call it, correlate this data with logs that kept track of when people were checking email. And they found that, look, if you batch your email, everyone says, check your email once a day. It is really stressful because you know there's stuff building up you're not getting to, and it's pissing people off. And that makes people stress. They found that this stress was particularly acute for some people more than others. If you want to use the big five personality inventory, those who rate high on trait neuroticism tend to get very stressed by email batching. I think this is an important observation because it underscores a point I make in that book again and again. You do not solve the problems generated by email by having better habits for interacting with your inbox. You have to stop all those stressful emails from landing in your inbox in the first place. So I don't really think that much about how many times should you check your email should you batch it. What I care about is how do you change the role email plays in your work so that no matter when you check your email, it's not stressful. It's not something you have to do all day. It's not something if you wait to do for most of the day that it's going to be a particular source of anxiety. That actually takes work. You have to rethink the role of email in all of your work processes so that you do not have an inbox full of urgent things. Two quick heuristics about doing that. Again, I wrote a whole book about this. Let me just give you two quick heuristics. One, remember that the real productivity poison when it comes to email is messages that arrive at unscheduled times and will require your response. When figuring out the basic processes you use to execute your work, that is what you want to minimize. Not complexity, not time required to get something done, number of unscheduled messages that require a response. That is what you want to reduce. That is what creates stress in your inbox. Knowing that at any moment, messages could be arriving that require a response sooner being better than later. As long as that is largely the reality of how you interact with your inbox, you will have to be in there all the time, which is very distracting or trying to batch and be really stressed about it. which is very distracting, or trying to batch and be really stressed about it. Second heuristic I'll briefly mention for taming your inbox is remembering that email is best for delivering information, contracts, files, announcements, or non-urgent questions that can be answered with one reply. So if I need to know, can you remind me again when your trip to Georgia is? That's a great use of email. I can send it to you. It's not stressful when you see that message. You can answer it whenever. It's not urgent. And that's a much better way for me to get that information than to interrupt you or to stop by your office. Anything beyond that, and in particular, back and forth conversation, anything that requires back and forth conversation, find another place to do it. And don't just say Slack because that creates the same problem of I have to keep monitoring Slack to do these back and forth. Office hours, like we talked about in episode two of nine, docket clearing meetings with your team, informal conversation. I grab you in the hallway when I see you passing by. Hey, quick question, can we figure this out? Or tacking things on to existing meetings. Hey, as long as we're here talking about whatever, let's handle X, Y, and Z real fast as well. Do not use email for back and forth conversation. Let me just give a quick vent here. I've had this happen twice in the last week. And really this captures my frustration with email, encapsulates it. Twice in the past week, this has happened. Someone will send an email to me and a couple other people, usually like a scheduling type of thing. Like, hey, when are we going to get together on this? And they'll send this email like in the one case at four o'clock. I don't see it because I didn't happen to check email after four o'clock. And I, maybe the next day I finally get to check an email after I write and it's noon. And they have a bunch of back and forth discussion that's ended with like having to call me out specifically. So Cal, what is your answer here? As if like something weird happened, like I must have somehow missed or ignored their thread because I didn't answer it at 4.30 or at 9 a.m. the next morning. And whenever I encountered that, that's happened to me twice. One of them was 4 p.m. The message was sent. And by like 10 a.m. the next morning, they were repeating it for me. Cal, what's your answer here? What's going on? The other one was on a Saturday. And by Sunday, this person was saying, Cal, what's going on?

How do I get my workplace to be less "hyperactive"? (42:08)

What's your answer here? When I see that, I say, okay, this is someone who is completely captured in the hyperactive hive mind. Your entire work is just doing these back and forth ongoing conversations. And if that's the way you do all of your work, you're dependent on everyone else to do the same thing. I refuse to do it. I i also refuse to apologize i answer when i get to it all right just venting there by rolling right along here question number three comes from fizz fizz says i tried to get my workplace to listen to your podcast and read your books, but they're too busy. The pause for long enough to actually listen or read them. This startup is my first job out of engineering school, and to me, it seems like my boss is more concerned with looking busy than actual impact. I often get requests from my boss at noon for something he wants done by the end of the day. Following your advice to build career capital, this means that I usually stay late and work 50 hour weeks to meet these short turnaround times. How can I push back against this hyper activity despite not having earned the career capital yet? Well, look, you're new to this workplace. You're new to the world of work based on your elaboration. So it's one of your first jobs and it's at a startup. The short answer is you don't push back yet. As much as I appreciate the advertising for all of my young listeners out there, all my 22-year-old listeners in their first job, do not push my stuff on people in your office. They are not going to like you for it. That will be a big source of annoyance. If you say, listen to Cal Newport, they will say, fill the copier, change the copier ink. What are you talking about? So yeah, no, you don't push back. What you do is you deliver, and you deliver faster than your boss expects at a higher level of quality than she expects. And you never drop the ball. They trust you. If they put something on your plate, it's going to get done. If that schedule has to be changed, you'll tell them it has to be changed. And you deliver when you said it was going to get it done. You become reliable, you become indispensable, and you become someone who's known as a producer. This is the fastest way to accrue career capital when you are new to a position. Once you accrue this career capital, then you can start to use this as leverage. Then you can get to the place where I was just ranting about. Or I said, if you send me an email at four and then bother me at 10 the next morning, I'm not apologizing. In fact, I might wait a little bit longer before I respond. You got to get to that place. And the way you get there is at first you deliver, you're indispensable, you produce at a high level. Once you have established this, they're going to want you to stay. They're going to promote your new positions. It's in that upward movement that you deploy your career capital leverage. But until then, like, yeah, it's not unreasonable in a startup that this is kind of what you do. You're the guy who turns the thing around for your boss that he needs in a few hours. That's where you start. The key is that's not where you end. So you better know where you're trying to head so that as you build this capital, you know what to do with it. You don't just chase what's the next rung of immediate admiration. What's the thing that's going to make my boss the happiest? What's the thing that's going to impress my friends from business school the most? You have to know where you're going so you can deploy this capital when the time comes. I talk about this in my book, So Good They Can't Ignore You. I call them the autonomy traps. Trap number one, which is what you're falling into, until you've really earned some career capital, you don't really have much autonomy. You can't demand much. But trap number two, once you have some capital, you're probably so good, there will be all the pressure in the world to just move up to the next rank.

Listener case study (45:57)

More money, more responsibility, more respect in this very narrow world in which you happen to work and not exercise your autonomy at all. Trap hits you on both sides. The third segment of the show, Fizz, I'm going to do a deep life academy segment on lifestyle centered career planning. So you will get all the lessons you need about how to make sure you have the right vision in mind. So once you do build up this capital, you'll know where to go. And then you can start recommending my books again. All right, let's do a new feature case study, listener case study. I appreciate these. This comes from Diane. She says, this is not a new question, just a follow-up on a question I sent before. My question at the time was about the fact that I'm a writer who works at home and seem to be able to consistently do whatever I wanted first thing in the morning, but then having trouble ever moving on to the second thing I want to do due to the distractions of being at home while I worked. Well, update. Since then, I think I've solved the problem by renting a small office near my home. Now I'm exercising first thing, and then I go into the office just like a normal pre-COVID working person and get my writing done. So it's up to you whether you choose to use my question or not, but I feel like I've solved it myself and I feel good about that. So thank you for all your work. Great case study, Diane. Work from near home. WFNH. I think it's a very important trend. I've written about this in The New Yorker. Diane is a exemplar. There are lots of things we freely spend money on without even really thinking about it. But for some reason, we have this resistance about I don't want to spend money on a workspace if I'm a remote worker. if I don't have to go to an office. I don't want to spend money on a workspace near my home because technically you don't need it. You have a home office, sure. But the difference in experience about having a place to go versus not is worth quite a bit. So let's say there's a quick thought example building on this case study. Let's say you had a traditional office job. You live in a relatively expensive place. You live in suburban Washington, DC. All right. So in this thought experiment, you live in Kensington, relatively expensive house. All right. You go permanently remote. expensive house. All right. You go permanently remote. So you have a home office and your house in Kensington, but your dogs are there and your kids come home from school and whatever, right? Like it's distracting. Your laundry is there. The TV is always playing and you find yourself really distracted. If you could have a office to go to near your house, your productivity, happiness, sustainability of your work might be much better. Now, let's say you're spending all your money. Kensington's expensive. Well, now that you're really remote, you move out of Kensington. You move, for whatever reason, you've always had this dream of having land. So you move to a farm in Westminster. My local listeners know who I'm talking about here. This is actually a real person we know who's doing this. And you have some land and a barn and it's cheaper to live there. And then you go and rent a little bit of office space in the nearby downtown and it's still cheaper than where you lived before. You kind of live in this cool place and you have this land and it's cheaper to live. So you can spend some of that money you save into an office. That's what you should do because you know what? If you can go to that office to work, that work's going to be much more effective. You'll have much clearer separation between work and home. What a great investment in your money. So what I'm trying to say here is what Diane did is great. If it is all possible to find a way to invest money in a dedicated working space that's not your house, but convenient to your house, do it. And I think maybe we should see more of this. If I'm remote, I'm going to move somewhere cheaper, reclaim 50% of that savings, invest it in a place to work.


Cal talks about Ladder Life and Zoc Doc (50:00)

All right, so we have one more new feature to do. I want to wrap up the show with a deep life Academy feature. We, we go through some lessons about a core idea for living the deep life. I got a first briefly mentioned ZocDoc.com. One of our sponsors. This is one of these sponsors that just makes sense that the service exists. If you're going to a restaurant you're gonna look up reviews what restaurants are nearby which ones get real reviews from real patrons why don't we do the same thing with dentists with primary care physicians with specialists why don't we say okay who's nearby who takes my insurance and what do people actually think what a patient's actually think it makes a lot of sense this is the service ZocDoc provides. You find what doctors are nearby. You find what doctors are in your insurance network and you read real reviews from real patients to see, is this a good doctor? Do they run their offices well? What's it like to actually go and see them? To make things even better, they then provide software to simplify the paperwork. Got to fill out these forms. You can do it online. You can do it in advance of showing up in the office. I now have two different medical care providers who use ZocDoc, my primary care physician and my dentist. So I know this service well. I love the ability to fill out forms way in advance. I get automated text messages. I go to the website, I fill forms way in advance. I get automated text messages. I go to the website. I fill them out in advance. When I show up, they have what they need. ZocDoc is one of these services that just makes a lot of sense. Free app, shows you doctors, patient reviews, which ones take your insurance, everything you need. So go to ZocDoc.com slash deep and download the ZocDoc app for free. Then start your search for a top rated doctor today. Many available within 24 hours. That's Z-O-C-D-O-C.com slash deep. ZocDoc.com slash deep. Say it three times fast and they'll give you a discount. I made that last part up. I also want to talk about ladder. If you do not have life insurance, but you have people who depend on you and you don't have a huge pile of cash sitting in the bank somewhere, you need life insurance. Most people know this, but most people are stymied by the logistical challenge of how do I even get started? Where do I go if I need to get life insurance? This is where ladder enters the scene. It is a 100% digital, no doctors, no needles, no paperwork way to find good life insurance coverage. So if that coverage is $3 million or less, that's where you need no doctors, no needles, no paperwork. You just answer a few questions about your health in an online application. Latter can work in just minutes. You apply on your phone or your laptop. Its algorithms work in real time to find out if you're instantly improved. No hidden fees. Cancel anytime. Get a free refund if you change your mind in the first 30 days. As an insurance broker, so they're not selling you their insurance. is an insurance broker. So they're not just trying, they're not selling you their insurance. They are finding new policies that match what you need from insurers with long proven histories of pain claims. They have 4.8 out of five stars on Trustpilot. Ladder's now the way to get life insurance. I'm using Ladder. It's on my to-do list for the week that this episode is coming out.

Career Planning

Lifestyle-centric career planning (53:26)

Last week we met with our financial advisor. So we need to up our life insurance. I know exactly what I'm going to do. I'm going to go to ladderlife.com. Give me a couple minutes, boom, done. It's going to make that element of my to-do list easy. So I am literally using this service next week. So go to ladderlife.com slash deep today to see if you're instantly improved. That's L A D D E R life.com slash deep ladderlife.com slash deep. All right, segment three, the deep life. Let's go to the deep life academy. So what we're gonna do here is we're going to start with a question and use this question to motivate a deeper look at a key idea in the deep life universe. All right. So our motivating question comes from Anon. How do you go about figuring out the lifestyle you want to have and the career you want to pursue? You talk about lifestyle-centric career planning. And while I love your idea, I am still unable to put it into practice. I work in IT as a data engineer, and I'm trying to think about what next, which is where your advice seemed relevant. Where can I get inspiration from you to help figure out the type of lifestyle I would like to lead? All right, this is an opportunity to open up the deep life academy for the topic of lifestyle centric career planning one of my favorite strategies probably the piece of advice i give most often to young people trying to figure out their careers so i have let's see three four lessons four brief lessons lesson number, what is lifestyle-centric career planning? So here's the idea. When making decisions about what career to follow or what advancement to pursue in your current career, you should work backwards from a concrete image of your ideal lifestyle that you hope to be living in the near to intermediate future. This vision, this concrete image should include details about the physical environment where you are, the social environment in which you find yourself, the stress pace and general atmosphere of your life, your mental and spiritual life. What are the details there and what your time outside of work is occupied with. So you're building a concrete image that has all these things in it, concrete specific imagery, but does not have specifics about what exact career you're doing or what exact work you're doing. So it's all of the elements of your lifestyle, save specifics about I work in UX design at a mid-market tech company. So that's the exercise. You then use this image to help figure out what job you want or what career advancement to take, because now you have a simple question. Of the things available to me now, what will most effectively move me closer to achieving this lifestyle? So you have a clear target for your decisions. It gets you away from much more vague approaches to making career decisions such as a what's my passion? What's my true calling possible to answer questions or just what seems most respectable or most stable or, you know, make my parents happiest. This is, I think, a much more effective means of pursuing these questions. And we'll get to why in a later lesson. All right, lesson number two, and this goes straight to Anand's particular query. How do you figure out the answers to those questions? How do you figure out what your ideal lifestyle should look like? Here, you have to trust your gut. So this is kind of interesting. I reject the idea that we have a gut instinct about jobs that is pretty effective, right? This idea that we have a passion, about jobs that is pretty effective, right? This idea that we have a passion, we're wired for this particular job and we'll know it when we see it because jobs are weird. We don't have a great instinct for what they really mean for our lives. We don't have good prediction software on like, what would that job actually be like? I don't trust my gut too much about something as vague as a career in UX design versus a career in QA quality insurance. My mind doesn't know what that means. My gut's not going to give me interesting reactions about this, but I do trust my gut when I'm thinking about specific concrete aspects of my lifestyle. When I imagine myself, you know, going for a long walk among the pine trees in the morning with my dog and the sun is filtering through and this isn't it. And that really resonates. I want to be doing that every day. Something about that resonates. I trust my gut about that because that's concrete. That's specific, specific concrete. So you need to see what resonates. Where do you find examples to test for resonance? Documentaries, movies, magazine profiles, books, YouTube videos, people that you know and experience in your life, all these different forms of media, expose yourself. Let me watch something about Laird Hamilton and his house in Malibu or his house in Hawaii and that weird kind of like outdoor exercise focused life. So let me watch something about Steve Jobs and his hard charging style to try to change the world. Let me watch something about a math genius. Let me watch something about a guy who shapes surfboards. Expose yourself, expose yourself to all sorts of different stories, all sorts of different examples and aspects of life and see what resonates. Trust your intuition. All right, for lesson number three, let's do a case study. Let's see this in action. Using our original question asker as our starting point here, let's go through two possible lifestyles that he might come up with. So I want to show you an example of what a good concrete lifestyle looks like, and then, and then discuss how that could impact decisions he makes about his career. So let's, let's make this tangible with a case study. All right. So Anand is a data engineer, IT guy. Let's, let's assume he's early in his career. I'm not sure if that's true, but just for the case of our case study. He has a technical degree working in some sort of data engineering job. All right. He goes through our exercises here, exposes himself to a lot of media, sees what resonates, come up with a concrete image of his lifestyle that has all details tangible except for the specifics of his job. Let's look at two possible visions he might come up with. Vision number one. Maybe the image he creates that resonates is that he's in a house overlooking a sun-drenched meadow. There's kind of land here. That evening, friends come over. It's like the opening scene in that NBC show Parenthood where there's cafe lights over an old picnic table and some Tibetan prayer flags. You're sort of outside it's a little bohemian enjoying some wine from a local vineyard that someone brought just enjoying people's company maybe as part of this vision Anand is imagining sort of in the late afternoon as workday is over and his workday he imagines he's looking out through a picture window over the meadow working generically at a computer screen but with his tea and it's quiet and by three he's done and he has a writing shed at the corner of the property maybe by a garden with a deer fence up that he tends and he's working on a novel speculative fiction novel. Not stressed about money, but nothing in this image shows him being particularly rich. All right, that's an image with lots of concrete attributes about different aspects of his life. Let's say that's what resonates. What impact might that have on how he advances in his career as a data engineer? Well, it might tell him, I need autonomy. So I'm going to move towards highly valuable project-based skills. So skills where you can do a project, applying the skill, and it's really valuable. It's really hard-won skill. This would then give him going forward a lot of flexibility in where and how he looked. So for example, he might follow the path of Lulu from my book, So Good They Can't Ignore You, where I discuss these things. Lulu did database design. So this is very similar. She got very good at doing a particular type of database design that was relevant for financial institutions, left her job, and did this freelance. Projects took, you know, four or five months. So she constructed a life where she worked half the time, and then the other half of the year would go do adventures or do something else. So maybe a non has this model in place. I got to build up some specific skill where I can take on a few projects a year. I can do them for wherever I want to do. I have control over how many I do, but it's lucrative enough that if we live someplace that's not super expensive, going to have the house in the meadow because we don't need to be in suburban DC. going to have the house in the meadow because we don't need to be in suburban DC. So you're looking for that type of skills. You're looking for shifting to a position that's more location independent. Let me leave this firm where it's all in person to work for this remote firm. So now I have more arbitrage over where I live. In fact, if I let me find a location, if I live here, it's actually pretty cheap. And so I don't have to get as high up the income possibility salary with my skills before I make that move, right? All these things become relevant once you have the vision. Vision number two. So let's assume instead of that being the vision, when Ananda's lifestyle-centric career planning, he comes up with the following image. He sees himself in a high-rise apartment in the city and he's got a cool view of the buildings and the light at night he's plugged into the cultural scene of the city so he's seen like the latest movies and interesting music he's really plugged in being exposed to the interesting culture he has an exciting type of professional life where he's leading a team. There's a Steve Jobs-y feel to it that they're getting something new off of the ground. He's respected in this world of entrepreneurs. There's this sense of like, if this goes right, like we might be wealthy. Like we're making a big play, getting after it, very exciting, very plugged in. Maybe a non came from a quieter background and felt bored and wanted the energy. All right, so if that's your vision, it would lead to different decisions about what to do with your early stage data engineering career. Now you might take on a more aggressive path where you're trying to get into team leadership positions, take on more responsibilities. You're not trying to develop a very bespoke skill that you can then trickle out in as many projects as you want. You instead want to prove yourself as someone who can get things done. Maybe he moves from his company to a company that's in a bigger city and faster growing, where there's startup capital at play. So he can meet investors, meet higher end players, be around more skilled people, the people who are going to get the biggest investment and make the biggest moves to try to get new companies started. Completely different types of decisions will be made if that's the vision. Same person, different visions, both give you clear images of what to do. Final lesson here, Why does lifestyle-centric career planning work? Because ultimately the daily reality of your lifestyle is what affects your sense of well-being. The details of your life each day is what is directly acting on your body and your mind from which your affect is generated. effect is generated. So working backwards from what are the details that I am going to enjoy, they're going to be meaningful to me, they're going to be sustainable to me. Working backwards from that is the most consistent way you have of getting to a place where you actually feel good about your life. To instead focus on your career in isolation. Forget all that. What job's my passion? How can I be as successful as possible And to just hope That after you make those decisions You can get the rest of your life to sort of fit Get the rest of your life to sort of fix You're just rolling the dice You're very likely to end up In a career path In which things that are really important to you to enjoy and find meaning in your life are difficult or unavailable. You might get lucky, but you probably won't. I was reading a book the other day. I won't mention the specific book, but the author had moved from the Pacific Northwest to suburban Washington, D.C. And being outside, outdoor activity, exercise, fresh air, the woods, all of this was really important to her. And they moved to the suburban D.C. because this is a better job. And if I'm just going to put on my blinkers and say, what do I want to do? What's a good job? What's a good opportunity? I can't pass up a good opportunity. So they come to suburban Dman, D.C., which is not near any nature. She was miserable. Now, this book wasn't just about that, but I pulled that thread out of it. I was thinking, man, if you're a lifestyle, such a career planning, you would say I could care less that there is a quote unquote good opportunity at a think tank in D.C. What I care about is do I have the opportunities where I am? Do I have the opportunities right now to make my life something I really like that's really meaningful? And for me, the person speaking in the voice of the person in that book is probably staying in the Pacific Northwest and finding the right skill set that allows you to not be stressed about money and have this flexibility. I really think it's the way to go. Career serves your life because ultimately your daily experience of your life is what dictates how you feel. Lifestyle, career planning is the natural consequence of that truism. All right. I have six minutes until my meeting with my doctoral students. So let's wrap it up here. We made it as Jesse likes to say, one take Tony is my name today. We just turned on the camera and rocked and rolled. Thank you everyone who sent in their questions. There'll be a new question survey being posted soon. We just want to get the answers to our feedback survey first before we do it. So keep an eye open for that. As I like to say, if you like what you heard, you will like what you see. Full episodes and highlight clips are available at youtube.com slash calnewportmedia. If you like what you heard, you'll also like what you read. Sign up for my newsletter at calnewport.com. Be back next week with Jesse in the studio, and until then, as always, stay deep.

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