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Cal's intro (00:00)
People like really smart people in academia, when they leave academia. Are more prone than the average person to end up in more eccentric or conspiratorial or like way out of the mainstream type of views. I'm Cal Newport, and is Deep Questions, episode 212. On this show, I answer questions and share case studies from my audience about the various ideas I write about with a particular focus on the struggle to live and work deeply in an increasingly distracted world. If you want to be a part of this show, submit your own questions or case studies, go to calnewport.com slash podcast for instructions. I'm here in my deep work HQ as usual. I am joined by my producer, Jesse. Jesse, the HQ looked different today when I came in, exciting stuff. Very exciting. We've got some trash and some desk removed. It's a, yeah, empty. The studio has remained the same, but the other rooms in the HQ have been emptied out. We had junk haulers here this afternoon. When I first leased this office, it was August of 2020. I needed a place to record. I needed a place to do talks and work, do publicity. While my kid's school was closed and it was full of all these old desks and bookcases, the last tenant had in here. And I just told the property manager, just leave them, whatever I need. I need desk. Like what else? I'm not going to, I'm not going to go worry about decorating an office a few months into the pandemic. Uh, well, anyways, that, that old French are probably lasted too long. And so Jesse and I pulled the trigger. We've emptied out the HQ. Now we're going to, we're going to re refill it from scratch. Jesse, I want to go through with the idea that a listener literally suggested this. This was months ago. I asked at some point, like, what should I do if I cleared the space out? And I used to refer to this was months ago. I asked at some point, like, what should I do if I cleared the space out? And I used to refer to this as my cave. And their suggestion was, uh, actually put in realistic rocks, stalactites, stalagmites, and make it look like an actual cave. We now have that capable. It's possible. The rooms are empty. We could do it. They are empty. It would do it. They are empty It would be confusing to every single person who came in here to do this show. They'd be why Do you have a realistically molded and eerily lit cave? We wouldn't explain Just say because we're deep it motivates you to write motivates me to write. I sit in a cave like Batman. Oh Well, all right important me to write. I sit in a cave like Batman. Oh well. All right. Important public service announcement for listeners. We have changed the way that we collect questions to use on this show. For the longest time, I would occasionally send a link only to my email newsletter. And that link took you to some magic survey where you could submit the questions that we would use on the show. We have changed that. The link for submitting questions is now publicly available. Just go to calnewport.com slash podcast and it is right there. Anyone can submit questions at any time. You don't have to have received that one email at just the right day to do so. So please go over there. Please start submitting questions. This is the first episode where we actually have some questions from the new forum, but we need a lot more. So calnewport.com slash podcast. You'll notice if you go there, there's a new feature we wanna do on this show, which is share more case studies of people who have put the advice they heard here in the practice and are now reporting back. Here's how it went. Success stories, non-success stories, real on the ground information about what it's like trying to live deeply. So you'll notice if you go to that form, you can submit a question or you can submit a case study. We want both and you, the listener, will hear more of those case studies as we get more of them to actually tell, which will be exciting. Uh, we do have a good show. There's a good collection of questions, right, Jesse? You were, you were going through those earlier. Yeah, we've got some good questions. Yeah. So we've got a good deep dive. Excellent. We return a phone calls too, right? We have some live phone calls. Yep. We got two. Excellent. Uh, we do have to settle a quick debate. And so the audience who is watching this episode, so who are watching the YouTube version of this episode at youtube.com slash Cal Newport media can weigh in on this multiple people in recent weeks, including Jesse have, uh, pointed out something about the computer I use to do my writing. It's up on the screen now for those who are writing. My keyboard's a little bit unique. Jesse, how would you describe what the viewers are seeing right now? It was so good. So last week when we were talking about doing the, you know, getting the junk haulers in, you put your laptop on and I looked at the keyboard for the first time, I was like, oh wow, you've been writing. It was so amazing. Right. So if you're looking at this, what you would see is the 10 or 15 of the most commonly used keys. The black on the keys have been completely worn away to the point where you can see through the keys to the actual mechanisms underneath on the laptop. So the debate is, does this mean I need a new laptop or not? Well, let them know how long you've had that for you. You hadn't had that all along, right? A little more than two years. That's amazing. Yeah. I got it early in the pandemic. Here's the thing. This is okay. So that's the debate. I mean, I have to completely touch type of course, because I can't see any letters on this anymore. And I can see the Q and the Y, the Z and the X, no problem. But most of the letters are gone now. But it is a testament unrelated to how I, what decision I make. It's a testament to how I reacted to the pandemic. The way I reacted to the pandemic was, you know, hold my beer, I'm going to write. I wrote a lot. I have been writing a lot over the last two years and I wore away the keys on my keyboard. On an otherwise pretty new, pretty good machine. That's so good. Even when I was just a fan, just listening, you would always talk about coming out of the pandemic with a full head of steam and just doing some things that a lot of other people weren't doing. It really resonated. Especially early on when I was a little more anxious. I dealt with a lot of that of just, uh, writing. I wrote a lot, a lot of essays, books. I think I've done like 20 articles for the New Yorker during the pandemic. I mean, I wrote a lot. I'm writing a new book. I'm a bunch of academic papers. So got to write. So I don't know if I need a new computer or not, maybe I'll buy a new one. I should, or I guess I could replace the keys. But anyways, a lot of people were making fun of my keyboard in the last couple of weeks. A lot of people just happen to see it and want to know what's going on with my computer. So there you go. If you're on Twitter or Instagram, you could post it. I think it's a classic humble brag, right? Like look at my keyboard. I'm so, I guess I write too much or blessed. I don't know what you see on Instagram. All right. So anyways, we got good questions.
Horizons Of Productivity Management
Deep Dive - Will 4-Day Weeks Solve Burnout? (07:12)
Um, before we get into the questions though, like I often like to do the start these episodes, I like to kick things off, which what I call a deep dive where I take a query that's been on my mind for a long time and spend some time with it. a query that's been on my mind for a long time and spend some time with it. So the topic of the deep dive that I'm going to get into today is, will four day weeks solve burnout? You know, one of the motivations was, there's been a lot of articles about it. This is an article that's on the screen now for people who are watching. It's actually from February, but it's one of many articles like this that I've come across recently that are talking about the increased popularity for the last year or two in the idea of knowledge workers in particular doing four day workweek. So typically Monday through Thursday instead of Monday through Friday. Now it's not an idea that is brand new. In Deep Work, which I published back in 2016, I talked about the four-day workweek experiments at Base Camp. They then were, and continue to do today, a part of the year is four-day workweeks of the summer, and I got into some of those details in that book. Alex Peng had a well-timed book out called Shorter. That was all about this concept that came out. And this is where I say well-timed March of 2020. So that book was right there for people during the pandemic induced remote work, where we began rethinking how we might structure our efforts. That book was well-timed to be there. So this idea has been around. Last year or two, though, it's gotten a lot more attention. The pandemic pushed it to the forefront. So if we look at this particular sample article I have on the screen, this is from Wired from February, written by Caitlin Harrigan, we see it talks about this concept. It notes that several trials or trials have been launched in several countries in the past few months. So this is something that has been happening over the last year or two is countries, government funding studies from countries are looking into this, where they'll take a bunch of companies and temporarily move them to four-day weeks and then interview the employees afterwards about was this better, was this not? So there's a lot of these investigations going on typically in Europe. Iceland was one of the first countries to do this. They actually had results back. Spoiler alert, people like the four day work week there. In this particular Wired article, they went and talked to 15 workers at six tech companies that had already adopted a shortened workweek and found that employees generally approved So that's the actual quote I have up here but some saw it as a mixed blessing All right. So here's the question is this highly visible intervention a Good solution to the burnout that knowledge workers increasingly feel? My argument has been no. I do not think shifting to the four-day workweek is going to be a long-term or sustainable solution to a lot of the actual valid concerns that people have about work, its role in their life, and the stress and burnout that it is creating. I think by contrast, the issue might be the notion of a work week in general, not its length. So let's go back and think about where the concept of a standardized work week came from. In the US it comes from the Fair Labor Standards Practice in 1938. This is the Prussian era legislation. It established 40 hours as a standard workweek for many industries. In other words, if you wanted to have an employee work longer than 40 hours, they would have to be paid overtime. This very much largely concerned manufacturing and industrial jobs, jobs where there was an hourly component to the work, jobs where the biggest knob you had to turn in terms of impacting the difficulty of the work was how many hours people were actually working. This was the context for something like a standardized work week made sense. Knowledge workers have been relatively exempt from that law because it is a different type of situation. Knowledge work is way more autonomous. The number of hours you are working or expected to work don't necessarily mean a lot in a lot of knowledge work jobs. It's very outcomes based. You're given work, you're expected to accomplish the work. The work week is at best a loose framework. For, you know, roughly speaking, when you might be expected to be available for meetings, when we might expect a response to emails and when we might not. So, OK, we don't work on the weekends. Then we can't schedule a meeting on the weekend. We don't schedule meetings at 8 p.m. typically because like we have this rough workweek, but that's about it. There's no notion of wait a second. I'm only supposed to work 32 hours and and I'm just at the assembly line turning the crank into the 32 hours are up. So a knowledge work to work week is, again, just a loose framework for setting certain expectations, not the core defining factor of the efforts that you actually that you actually are going to execute. All right, so what should we do if knowledge workers feel burnt out? What type of things are going to make a difference? One of my big arguments is that more transparent and humane systems for work assignment execution and review is what is critical. Moving past the haphazardness with which we just toss work around in the knowledge work environment today where anyone at any time can just say, hey, take a look at this. Can you do this? Do this meeting, take care of this problem. What are your thoughts on this? Just with an email or a conversation in a hallway or a Slack message, work can be dropped on anyone's plate by anyone at any time without anyone tracking how much are you doing, does it make sense for you to do more, does it make sense what it is that you're working on, when are you going to work on this, what do you need to actually get this done, we don't have any of those conversations, we plug people into the cybernetic hive mind of Slack and email and Zoom and say, get after it. And we end up with these completely overloaded task lists and ambiguity and stress. And I could care less if you tell me that my work week is supposed to end on Thursday or not. I have all this stuff. I have to get it done. So we need more humane and transparent systems. Here's how we keep track of what you're working on. We can see it. Here's how much we think you should have on your plate at any one time. You have too much, you get nothing more. Here is how we think you should actually execute the work. Well, this is what the mornings are for. These days are all just concentration. Meetings can only happen in these places. Transparency, so we can see the system and see the workloads, and humanity, which I mean you are trying to align these systems to the way that the human brain actually functions. That's the reform we need. Ours is a knob that's relevant for the factory. Task assignment systems. That is the relevant knob for knowledge work. And there's all sorts of ideas here, like poll systems is something I've advocated for. They do this in software, we could do this other places. Let me work on one thing at a time. When I'm done, I'll pull in a new thing. And you know what, my team or my boss or my supervisor can be involved in deciding on what that next thing should be, but I do one thing at a time. You cannot just throw things on my plate and have me organize it. I work on one thing at a time. We need a systemic collection mechanism for actually keeping track of all the things the company needs to do. Shouldn't it just be in my inbox? Shouldn't it just be on my task list? Protocols and processes that everyone agrees on, that's blessed by the head of the company, the head of your team. Protocols and processes for how regular ongoing work happens. This is the process. We meet at these days. There's office hours you come into for short questions. Here's what email can and can't be used for. Again, just rock and rolling. Here's the tools, here's your handle, here's your address, go for it, doesn't work. Protocols and processes. In general, trading accountability for this accessibility that we've come to expect is what we would also wanna get out of this. So forget this, like, let's just make everyone accessible and we'll sort of figure things out and make accountability be the new buzzword. We agreed what you're gonna do. Did you do it? How well did you do it? What hours you did it? What days you did it? I don't care. That's not my business. That is something we could be moving towards. I think that's more natural for the type of work that we're doing in the knowledge sector. Let me throw out one more radical idea here. I don't think talking about the nature of the work week is that important, but I am kind of interested in talking about the nature of the work year. And I'm going to get into this a little bit later in the show, but we assume that the ideal work year for a knowledge worker is you work all year, with the exception of maybe a vacation week here, a vacation week there. I think we need way more variety there. I mean, imagine a world in which there were alternatives. My engagement with this company is six months a year. My engagement for this company is, it's eight months and four months off. My engagement is 11 months and I take one full month off. I mean, imagine if you had these different options and you had salaries adjusted and matching these different configurations, giving people way more flexibility in how they actually structure their lives. This could be a big thing. I've asked this question before and I think the answer is interesting. How many people today, if you said, would you be willing to take 10 twelfths of your current salary if you didn't have to work in the summer. A lot of people say of course. I will go from whatever a hundred fifty thousand to a hundred twenty five thousand hundred thirty thousand what would however the math works out there I guess is a hundred twenty thousand there. If I also don't have to work in July and August like that type of flexibility we don't think about it but it's another way to think about burnout especially with jobs where when you're doing the work, it's incredibly intense. I mean, if I'm McKinsey or Wilmer Hale law firm, I'm like, our whole model is bringing in incredibly smart people to work on these engagements that are incredibly demanding. We're trying to monetize their brains. You're probably gonna have a lot more sustainability if you had these different options. Yeah, here's someone who's gonna come work for eight months and then take four where they're not working and recharging and doing other sorts of things. You're gonna probably keep that employee around for a lot longer than saying, look, we're doing a hundred hour weeks until your ears bleed. So I'll throw that out there too. All right, so I think those are the type of solutions that matter for knowledge work burnout. So why is there so much energy behind the four day work week? Let's go back to that Wired article and I think we can see some clues. All right, so quoting an employee from one of the companies that this reporter talked to said this strategy shows that the company really does care. The reporter goes on to say this arrangement is a boon for businesses because you curry goodwill without raising pay, without decreasing workload. So this is what I think is going on with this. It's signaling, right? Oh, we care about our employees. We're doing radical things. This sounds radical. We're dropping a whole day off to work week. Even if what it really means is you do the same amount of work, you just maybe aren't allowed to schedule meetings on one day, but you have to do more work on the other day. And they feel more pack. You end up in the same place, right? It doesn't really change much. Like, look, we have no systematic way of tracking what you're supposed to be working on. What's a reasonable workload. That's not going to change. Your workload is not going to change. We don't have a system where we can turn that down by 20%. So yeah, we'll tell you, you get a Friday's off. Same stuff gets done. We look like we are being progressive. And I think they've done a pretty good job of selling this. They have a lot of more reform minded commentators or journalists especially on Twitter who are like this seems big I like the idea of making a big change they feel like it's sticking it to the companies and and that feels good but it's not really. The whole thing I think is a PR exercise we need real solutions and real solutions requires us to get to the very nature of how work actually happens in knowledge work. I don't care how many I think it's a PR exercise. We need real solutions, and real solutions requires us to get to the very nature of how work actually happens in knowledge work. I don't care how many hours you tell me my work week is, I don't install tires on an assembly line. What I do is way more annoying and frustrating and vague and ambiguous. So you can keep your four day work week, and let's talk about how you actually assign tasks, how much I should be working on, what are our protocols, what are our systems? So let's see. There you go, so we'll see. If you're interested, this is the type of thing I get into in my most recent book, A World Without Email. So if you wanna deep dive on some of those issues, I'm pulling from a lot of those thoughts. All right, we got a good collection of questions. Let's get into them soon. First, speaking of work, we have to pay the bills. Let me tell you about one of our sponsors, longtime sponsor ExpressVPN. I'm always surprised that more people don't use VPNs. I think it's because people don't understand what they are, but the technology is actually quite simple. Instead of connecting directly from your device to a website or service, you instead make a secure encrypted connection to a VPN server.
Cal talks about ExpressVPN and Better Help (20:56)
You tell that server what website or service you want to access, and the server talks to it on your behalf and then passes the information back to you. So that website or service has no idea who they're talking to, what your IP address is, have you been here before? Where are you located in the world? They don't get any of that. All they realize is, oh, we're talking to a VPN server, who's acting on behalf of someone else. It's a safer way to browse and use the Internet. It's also a way to take back some autonomy from all these companies that are trying to scrape all of this data about your behavior that they can then sell just to benefit them and not you. So I'm surprised that more people don't use VPNs. So you should and if you don't, the choice of which one to use, I think is easy. ExpressVPN is best in class. It is a simple to install app on the devices you use one click and you're up and running. You use the internet like you normally would except for now your all your communication is going seamlessly through the VPN, like ExpressVPN because their app works. They've got high speed connections to these servers. So you get the best performance and they have the servers all around the world. So wherever you are, there's likely to be an ExpressVPN server nearby you can connect to to make sure that you have lightning fast speed. So secure your online activity by visiting expressvpn.com slash deep. Use my link and you can get three extra months free. That's e-x-p-r-e-s-s-vpn.com slash deep, expressvpn.com slash deep to learn more. I also wanna talk briefly about better help, ExpressVPN.com slash deep to learn more. I also wanna talk briefly about better help. Last week on this podcast, I discussed how I get anxious as we get near the fall because all of my organizational systems have to start getting turned on again as the workload increases. That's always a source of stress for me. Other people experience the fall in a similar way. It's stressful. It's back to school, work ramps up, people are on vacations anymore. It can be a stressful anxiety-producing time. If this anxiety is becoming a problem, if it's something that's uncomfortable, if it's something you wish didn't have to be such a big part of your life, therapy is something to consider. And if you're thinking of therapy, BetterHelp is a great option. It's convenient, accessible, affordable, and entirely online. You get matched with a therapist after filling out a brief survey, and you can switch your therapist at any time. So if you want to get a better control over your anxiety, if you want to become a much better problem solver, therapy can help you get there. Visit betterhelp.com slash deep questions today to get 10% off your first month.
How do I know if I’m doing too much? (24:00)
That's better. H-E-L-P dot com slash deep questions. All right. Well, Jesse, speaking of questions, what's the first question we have from one of our listeners? All right, here we go. We got a question from Wander. He's a financial advisor in Seattle. He goes on to say, I have recently been granted a scholarship to do what is essentially a master's level program. This really puts me in a position of starting the product, staring the productivity dragon in the face. My question is, what are some signs or smells I should watch out for that I would suspect I am doing too much and would benefit from scaling down my expectations. Well, I appreciate the reprisal of the productivity dragon. That's from old, old school, old school deep questions, sort of the pre-Jesse days. We used to talk a lot about the productivity dragon. And for those who weren't listening to the show back then, the metaphor was pretty straightforward. When it comes to your workload, what's on your plate, the things you have to get done, the best thing to do is to confront it head on. That's what we used to call facing the productivity dragon. I'm not going to try to hide from it. I'm not going to try to pretend like I don't have too much to do. I'm not going to say, you know what? Just let's just zone out tonight and look at the phone and I don't know, like stuff will get done. You look at it. Everything I need to get done, the time it's going to take is this reasonable. What are we going to do about it? You have to face the productivity dragon. It's scary, but in the end, it's going to be a lot less stressful than trying to pretend like it's not up there on the metaphorical mountain with smoke billowing out of the cave. with smoke billowing out of the cave. So what do you do when you, when you stare at the productivity dragon? Uh, what are your options? You can walk the systems. All right. I'm going to need the, I need a better system for how I get this reoccurring work done. I need a better process for how I deal with the paperwork coming home from my kids. Schools, whatever it is, you can make the systems better to reduce the fear or the impact of what you face. You can look at simplification. This is too much. This gots to go. This gots to go. I told you I could do this. I'm sorry, I can't. It is much easier to make these decisions when you see the whole picture before you, instead of just in the moment when you're dealing on something you're late at. And then finally, the best you can do is swing as in take a swing at it or swing your sword, which is okay. This just has to get done. I know it's hard, but I know what I need to do. And I'm going to just start swinging that sword, put my head down and get after it. So what's the right way to actually face the productivity dragon and make these decisions? I think and wander is what I'll suggest for you. Is set up something like an autopilot schedule for the first month or so of you working on this new program. And this is where you're really trying to work out on your calendar when and where various types of work that needs to get done is going to get done. When you're going to these classes, when you're doing the various schoolwork that these classes are going to entail, where your normal work is happening, where the stuff outside of your work is happening, where your exercise is happening, your socialization, whatever else is happening, move these pieces around, make your calendar really crowded, experiment with your calendar to see how could you try to make everything fit. And I say do this for about a month because it'll take about a month until you really understand all the different things going on in your new life, now that you have these new obligations on your plate. Now you're gonna tell, this is gonna give you clear feedback. Does this fit? You find yourself moving all these pieces around in your calendar and running out of room, needing to grab late night spots or early morning spots, and it just doesn't look sustainable. It seems like a house of cards. You can barely get all these things to fit. There is your clear sign that you have to simplify. Okay, I have too much. I'm gonna have to get rid of it. This exercise will also give you a lot of feedback about what to simplify because as you're putting the pieces together, you're gonna get a good intuition for what's really gunking up the works. And here's where you might say, you know what, of all the various things going on, this obligation I agree to, it's three times a week, and it's at this four to 530 slot. And I can't make the new program work with that. Now I have to try to shift work into the evening, and I have to drive over there like this is in the middle. If I didn't have this, I could make these three things fit. That's the type of insight you get when you actually see all the pieces laid out. So you can figure out, do you need to cut back? And if so, what are the things to cut back on that's gonna make the biggest difference? And then for what remains, system, system, systems. When do I do this work? How do I do this work? How do I organize things to minimize the impact? For the coursework for the new course? Go back and read one of my classic books, like how to become a straight A student where we get into reducing friction, increasing effectiveness of how you actually organize intellectual material for scholastic ends for your existing job. You should get into read deep work, read the type of things I talk about in my newsletter at calnewport.com. This is the time to tighten down the hatches to make sure the stuff that remains is not picking up more work than it does. So that is my suggestion. That's my suggestion for anyone who's worried about being overwhelmed. Autopilot schedule. When does all this work get done on a regular basis? Look at that to make your decision about do I need to do something? And if I do, what needs to go? You want to pile a lot of stuff, right? Still? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, I do, you know, I, I really try to figure out like with podcasting stuff with exercise, with your writing, writing for sure. Yeah. And so I get a very clear sense. I mean, I'm not just sort of making this advice up. I get a very clear sense of something's not working and, and, and it's, it's, it's how I'm able to be very definitive in my scheduling. It's how I'm able to say, okay, I have these academic obligations, let's say that are going to show up for the next three months. I see the pieces don't fit. I can't autopilot out the writing because I have courses here and here, and I'm doing this committee here. And so what I'm going to do is pull back on this and just be really clear about it. So, you know, I did something like this last spring semester. So, so at Georgetown, uh, spring semester is January through early May. And I saw the writing on the wall because I worked out my autopilot schedule that I was teaching two classes and I was chairing a big committee. And then there was some other work I was doing as well. I was on another search committee, a lot of things fell and I was seeing, I can't autopilot out for example, nearly enough time to do the type, the level of writing I was doing. This is like not the time for that there. And so seeing that reality facing that productivity drag, and I made the decision of, okay, I'm three months, three and a half months aggressively pulling back from the writing. And then at the end of that aggressively turning on the throttle. So go back and look at my New Yorker archive. Piece, piece, piece, piece, piece up to January. Then crickets and then piece, piece, piece, piece, piece up to January, then crickets and then piece, piece, piece, piece, piece up to now. Right. Uh, same thing with my writing and my books. I sold a book during that period that was going to be a time for me to start writing in the summer. And so I was able to work around it and the definitive, this really matters. As the alternative, you don't face a productivity dragon is you try to write. So a counterfactual version of my life without facing the dragon would be, I'm trying to write, it's not working. I'm frustrated. My editors are frustrated. My book editors are frustrated. It's taken away from the work I'm supposed to be doing at Georgetown. I'm not doing that as well. Everyone is frustrated and I'm distressed out all the time, but instead by facing the dragon being definitive, I could do my work I'm not doing that as well. Everyone is frustrated and I'm just stressed out all the time, but instead by facing the dragon, being definitive, I could do my work I'm doing well, and I could have extreme clarity to the people in my writing life. So they knew what was going on and you, you probably remember that was a period where I, um, I, we really kind of tightened up the ship on the podcast recording. I mean, it was like, we need to get in, we need to do this and I need to get out. And I was often, you know, in and out pretty aggressively. So in that period, do you write at all or do you just shelve it entirely? I mean, I still, uh, my weekly essay, roughly weekly essay that I write. So I write a weekly essay, you know, since 2007, I probably pulled that back to two times a month, but I still wrote that. So, and by the way, if you don't get that, you should, uh, calnewport.com. And I was still doing background research, thinking through what's going to happen on the books, doing background research, but it was, uh, the, the key points of the background research is self-paced non-urgent as I have time, keep reading as I have time, do some walks to think about this and take notes. If I don't have time, it's not a I have time, do some walks to think about this and take notes. If I don't have time, it's not a big deal. No one's expecting anything. And I go back and forth. And I'll do the same thing with research, where I'll take a few months where I do no research and I'm just writing, and then I bring it back in. And not to get too specific about my eccentric life as a professor writer, the general point here is you face the reality and then you work with it. And this is one of the ideas that is in my new book I'm writing on slow productivity. Principle number two of the three I illustrate on slow productivity is work at a natural pace. And I'm getting better at this. It was hard for me. Which is this notion of, especially with important work, it's rarely just I grind on it day after day after day, month after month, year after year. Stuff has to ebb and flow in the shorter period. And that's okay. Zoom out. Zoom out the five years and say, I published two or three books, some articles I'm really proud of, did some great work at Georgetown, published some good academic pieces. It seems like a very productive period. Zoom into a particular month, maybe you're only really working on one of those. Maybe this goes on the shelf for a while. And that more natural pace of things ebbing and flowing, less things at any one time, stretch out how things are, the time period over which things are actually executed, I think it matters.
Who invented the idea to “follow your passion”? (34:08)
Actually spending more time on something where you come and go can actually let it ripen some and add some depth or intellectual sophistication. So these are all things I myself am working on. So it's a good question. All right. What else we got here? Okay. Next question's from Noah. He asks, did the passion hypothesis originate from people who weren't able to find meaning in their life outside of work? Yeah, that's a good question. The passion hypothesis, again, for people who don't know, it's from my 2012 book, So Good, They Can't Ignore You. The passion hypothesis is a common belief about career satisfaction. That says the way to really love your work is to step one. Identify your natural, innate passion. Number two, match your work to that passion. That according to this theory, this hypothesis, that is where career satisfaction comes from is the match of the right job to your existing natural passion. This hypothesis is often summarized with the pithy career axiom. Follow your passion. And so in my book, So Good They Can't Ignore You, I I dismantle that. I say this is not really where passion for one's work comes from. It's something that's cultivated over time. You don't start with the passion. Most people aren't wired for a particular job. You have to take a job that's available and transform it into a real source of meaning, etc., etc. We've talked about this ad nauseum. Maybe go back and listen to a recent episode. I think 210. Where I get into like lifestyle center career planning. I think that's pretty useful. But Noah's asking, okay, but who came up with this notion, this idea that you should follow your passion? Where did it come from? Uh, I got into this actually in so good. They can't ignore you. It's sort of an interesting story. The phrase follow your passion does not show up in the context of career advice as best I can tell until the late 1980s. You don't actually start to see follow your passion used frequently in the context of career advice until the 1990s. It's like when Jesse and I were kids, we were the first generation to really hear follow your passion frequently. So it's actually a relatively new concept. So I tried to trace its intellectual origins and I had a couple hypotheses of where this came from. I thought there's three things that came together in the period leading up to the late 80s and early 90s that helped spur this particular hypothesis into life. So number one I think was Richard Bowles who wrote What Color is Your Parachute. First came out in the early seventies, but gained in popularity in the decades that followed what colors are parachutes, a classic career book. It's one of the first career books to really focus on this question of. You need to figure out what you want to do and then go out and figure out how to get that job. That seems really common sensical to us today, but in 1970. For most people that really would have come across as somewhat exotic. I think most people, there was relatively prescribed paths based on where you lived, your socioeconomic status, what your parents did that was going to specify what you did for work. You know, I live in Flint, Michigan. I'm gonna work at probably one of these factories or, you know, my dad's a doctor or a lawyer, so I'm gonna become a doctor or a lawyer. It was more pragmatic. This notion that, no, you should navel gaze and figure out what's gonna make me happy in work, that was more new and Richard Bowles helped articulate that. Like, how do you figure out what it is you really want to do? So that was a very influential book that made a big difference. Element number two in the rise of the passion hypothesis, I believe is Joseph Campbell being interviewed by Bill Moyers. Now we're talking about the mid 1980s where there is this famous multi-part mini series on PBS called the power of 1980s, where there is this famous multi-part mini series on PBS called The Power of Myth, where Bill Moyers interviewed the late great mythologist Joseph Campbell at the George Lucas Skywalker Ranch. And it was the most popular series in the history of PBS up to that time. And Campbell's a fascinating thinker, hero of a thousand faces, the hero's journey really influenced, for example, George Lucas and the structure of star Wars. That's why they're at Skywalker ranch in that interview. In that interview, Campbell said the following, I have the transcript here. If you follow your bliss. You put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you. And the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Whatever you are, if you are following your bliss, you're enjoying that refreshment, that life within you all the time. Follow your bliss was introduced in that interview, or at least I would say it's popularized that interview. And I think that was very influential. Follow your passion, I believe. It's just a minor linguistic evolution from that phrase from 1985 to follow your bliss, right? So we have two things now. Richard Bowles teaches the country. You got to think hard about what you want to do. It's not just, well, of course, I'll be a lawyer. Of course, I'll go to work at the factory. Element two, we have this follow your bliss idea becoming very popular coming out of this PBS series. So those two things are coming together. And then the third element is just the economic backdrop of the 70s into the 90s. This is post industrialization in America where we saw a big shift of our economy away from more of industrial manufacturing towards the knowledge sector. The knowledge sector, of course, is way more mobile, way more flexible, and way less prescribed than the industrial sector. You would now travel potentially anywhere in the country to take a job. I'm going to go work at IBM's headquarters in New York or at the RAND Corporation in California. I mean, suddenly work was very mobile. You could go really wherever to get these jobs. Knowledge work is more ambiguous and amorphous. So you have a general amount of training. I went to college. I can write, I'm generally a smart person and you're. Qualified for a myriad variety of jobs. Right. And so, so there was way more choice in career. It was happening as a result of post industrialization and we have follow your bliss and we have Richard Bowles. Those are the ingredients that I think came together. To create follow your passion as a relatively new piece of career advice. Some people ask me if the Catholic notion of calling, having a calling, was this involved in it too? And I think not. The much older concept, the theological notions of callings, like you'll see in Catholic theology, have way more of an element of sacrifice in it. So it's really not about self-actualization in the sense of Proximate reward I will feel happy today because I'm doing what I'm meant to do typically the theological notions of calling was more about let's say actualization in the in the sense of Better alignment with God and the structure of the universe. Collins could be very onerous. I'm going to do this because it's what God requires of me. So it's much less self-focus and self-actualization focused. And it's been around for a long time. Follow Your Passion did not come along until the 80s and 90s. So those are the three factors I think played into it. And the only reason why I emphasize that is because it's new. And that should give you confidence when you say maybe there's a more sophisticated core to the story, the story of my working life. When you realize how new and somewhat arbitrary follow your passion is, you become willing to say, let's step back and say, is that really going to be what guides me in my career journey?
How can an ER doctor manage his schedule? (41:40)
Or will I have a more sophisticated take of cultivating a career and cultivating meaning? There you go. That's my best guess on where the passion hypothesis came from. All right, Jesse, what do we got? All right, next question is from Marlo. He's an emergency physician, single dad, and also has an administrative role as a EMS medical director. He feels like one of his greatest challenges is implementing a fixed schedule because his schedule is always changing. For instance, if he spends like a shift from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on a clinical shift, it's then hard to figure out when he can do the admin work. So he's asking what are the best ways for people who don't have a fixed schedule to get the benefits of fixed schedule productivity? Well, Marlo, let's do a little terminology clarification. Fixed schedule productivity in the universe of my ideas is a really specific concept where you fix a workday hours, like I work during these hours, and then work backwards to make sure that your work stays contained in those hours. So it's a specific productivity strategy. I'm not sure if that's what you mean. When you reference fixed schedule, I don't know if that's what you mean or if what you mean is something more like a time block scheduled or a pre-planned schedule or maybe something like an autopilot schedule. So I'm just going to throw in that caveat that some of these terms mean things specific in my universe and it might not be the same thing that you mean here. So let's try to clarify this question to, my job is demanding, my shifts are demanding, and I don't really know when to get the other type of work like admin work on my plate done. So let's simplify it to that. Well, let's face the productivity dragon here. What is the admin work you have to do? How much is it? Let's think about the systems and processes and protocols and make sure you're not leaving efficiency on the table here. But once you're careful about this work, how much time do you need to do it? And let's not let's not run away from that answer. it. And let's not let's not run away from that answer. Right. And maybe the answer is something like, I honestly need two full half days to get this done. So then you have to ask, do I have two full half days? And if not, that's a problem. If you do find them, autopilot them, put them aside. Problem solved. If you don't, let's move on to step two, which is okay. You face the dragon and you realize you can't slay it with what you have. There's too much on your plate. So something has to give either you have to drop a shift or you have to drop the admin role. I know it's always better in people's minds to not give up anything, but this is the, the core requirement of facing productivity dragon is to see how much work do I actually have to do? Can I get this done if I'm careful? Can I get this done in a way that is sustainable, that I'm happy to live this way? And if not, then something has to go. And it might mean less money or it might mean this particular career trajectory you had to become the chief attending at your hospital's ER. Maybe you can't do that path anymore because you have to step away from this extra admin role because you can't make it work. But you know what? That's not a tragedy. Figure out a different path. Change your plan. Go back and do some lifestyle center career planning. Here's what I want my lifestyle to be like. Oh, I can't really get there this way because it's just too much work to be sustainable. And my lifestyle I vision doesn't have this much work. So let me come up with a different thing I can do, which in your case with this very powerful leverage, which is you are a well-trained doctor in ERs, which is incredibly in demand. You have so many options, so many places you can go, so many people who will throw money at you to come do shifts or whatever. You have a huge amount of flexibility. We're not talking about your family starving if you try to change anything here. And so this just comes back to the bigger point. When you face the dragon, you have to be ready for what you find. So hopefully you'll find. All right, I see how my shifts are, what days I have free when I'm sleeping off the night shifts, you know what? Thursdays are my best bet.
CALL - How do you know when it’s time to rest? (45:41)
That's an admin day or you figure out you have to take something back. But don't pretend like the dragon's not there. Don't minimize it. Don't hope that it will go away. So we haven't done a call in a while. Yeah. It's time for a call. Yeah. Let's hear someone's voice. We have, uh, Kevin from Minnesota. Excellent. Basically asking about when's a good time to rest. When you're dead, Kevin. This is Kevin from Minnesota. I'm a bit of a writer and a teacher and a learner and love the Deep Questions podcast and here is my question. I always appreciate how you put hard edges on topics and nuances that help us improve. And my question is, how do you know when it's time to rest? And I mean in terms of the work itself. So sometimes you get a little fatigued and whether it's writing or some other piece of work and I don't know whether I should push ahead and get it done or it's time to just put it aside for a day or two and let it kind of percolate a bit. So love to get your nuances and if you want a little more edge on thinking of the question about how do you know when it's time to stop, pause on something versus push through and get it done. Thanks. Well, yeah, Kevin, there's a couple of facets to this. So how do you know when to take a break from a particular thing you're working on? There's a physical facet. So know your body, know your mind. I mean, if you're feeling if you're tired, if you're sick, you can just feel that you're not getting traction, even that you do your rituals, you get into the work, it's time blocked and not much traction is coming on. Then you need to give your brain a break. All right. So I think there's the physical aspect to it. There's also the, I would say the non-physical sort of creativity aspect to it. I'm not quite sure what the right word to use here. So let's just use creativity, which is you feel fine. You're not sick, you're not tired, but you're not rolling, you're not making traction. Like for me, what this looks like with let's say, article writing. And I have a relevant story that just happened to me, I think is relevant to this is, you know, I feel fine, so I'm working, I'm writing, but it's not gelling. It's just I'm going through the motions of like, I need to get this done by this point. That's my weekly plan. That's part of this bigger strategic plan. I need to get this article draft done and I'm writing, writing, writing, but I know it's not working. And for me, I feel it as a physical unease. This is how I am with writing. If it's not completely, if it's not working, it just doesn't feel right. So there's this creativity cognitive aspect. And again, without giving too much details about things in progress, which I always try to be very careful about keeping, you know, uh, private. I've been working on an article and, uh, I was just locked in, like, I need to get this done because I have this whole strategic plan of finish it this week. So I can start on this next week, et cetera. I grounded out. I felt fine. So I ground it out and a thing ballooned 7,000 words and it's for a magazine. Right. And it just, it wasn't working. It just wasn't working, you know? And I, I, at some point I said, okay, I got to pull the rip cord on this. Take a couple of days off, take a weekend off, come back to it. Fresh. I came back to it fresh and, uh, hand grenade, the thing in the fragments took the fragments I liked re rewrote it from scratch, took me an extra week, but it's much closer to where it should be. So that's the other fear is like I have energy, but my mind's just not there. And there, that's another instance where you say, I need to step back, take a couple of days, come back, come back out this fresh. And in this case, it was a walk. I took two days off and in one walk, 20 minutes long, It was a walk. I took two days off and in one walk, 20 minutes long, I just, the structure, the structure fell into place. I was like, oh yeah, cut that, cut that, cut that. Start on this, intertwine this, make that shorter. At 20 minutes, the whole thing was redone. But I think without the 48 hours before that 20 minutes, I wouldn't have been able to have the insight. So Kevin, that's what I would suggest. Physical fatigue, you got to you know, your body, you're not going to get anything by forcing it through except for more tiredness, prolonged sickness and work you're not proud of. But then also critique creative fatigue.
Nerd Alert - Is the future of computing more local? (49:55)
Give yourself a couple days, come at it, come at it fresh. Alright, so good luck. Good luck with your writing. All right. Ooh, what do we got next? All right. Next question is from Mika. As a professor who studies distributed systems, what do you think about local first software implemented using conflict-free replicated data types. Do you think this is a technology that will be more important in the future? Well, A, a sexy topic. I don't even know what half those words mean. If I had a dollar for every time Jesse and I have just been hanging out in the studio and he's like, let me tell you, and don't get me started, but let me tell you what I think about conflict-free replicated data types. I mean, I would have a lot of dollars. I'm going to tackle this a because I'm a nerd, and I want to hat tip, I am actually a know quite a bit about the mathematics between distributed data structures and the provable reduction or elimination of conflict. So it is a really cool topic. But I'm not going to nerd out too much on it. I'm gonna use it instead to pivot into a brief little future of work fugue here. So I think no, in the longterm, we are not gonna see this CRDT or however you abbreviate CFRDT model taking over. So the key thing to know about this for the non-nerd listener is this is a model where instead of everything being stored in the cloud. And so when you're doing any sort of work like on your Google doc or something, it's all stored in the cloud and you're just talking to the cloud servers and it's updating your document up in the cloud and everyone can access in the cloud. In the model that Mika is talking about, the data is on local, people store it local, they do work on it locally, no internet connection. And if multiple people are collaborating on the same document, then like later on they can reconcile the stuff they did. So when they wanna connect to the internet, they can kind of reconcile and update their local copy. So sort of any old coder, old school coder who's used to conflicts and CVS, etc. This all sounds familiar. I don't think it's gonna be the future. I think the future is actually gonna be the opposite. I think we're gonna see in consumer computation, a move towards virtualization and the same that we see with commercial computation, we're gonna see more and more of the computation behind the things you are interacting with in your day-to-day life, your phone, videos, video games, more of that computation is going to happen not on a device that you hold, but in a server farm somewhere. All right. And what you're going to what you're going to have is interface devices. It's like a screen, basically, a glorified screen. I think this is clearly going to be the future of computation, and it has a lot of big implications. There's going to be two phases to this future. The first phase, which we're getting close to, is where the wireless internet you have access to is sufficiently fast to send screens. Right. So here's what I mean by that. If I have a good enough internet connection that you can you can send to me exactly what to show on my screen. And all the computation of what's being put on that screen is done at a server somewhere far away. Now, all I need is the device that is capable of connecting to the Internet, receiving these images, what should be on my screen, and puts them on the screen. So like for example, you're playing a video game. If we had a good enough internet connection that the Call of Duty or whatever is running on a server somewhere, and all that high-end graphics that are being generated is happening on a server somewhere, and all I'm being sent over the internet is what my screen should look like, just the pictures of what should be on the screen. I don't need a essentially personal supercomputer, like what you have if you have a modern PlayStation or Xbox generating and doing all these graphics, we can have a whole bank of these supercomputers somewhere that's doing that work and just showing me the screen. Same thing for anything, right? I, okay, I wanna use a Photoshop or something. I don't need to run any sort of image processing on my computer and have all these different options. That can all live in Adobe's cloud somewhere. All I need to see is as I click the mouse, that goes back to the servers, they update things, they send you back what your screen should look like, right? So the first shift we're gonna see as internet connections get sufficiently reliably fast enough is a move towards what you can think of as like visually advanced terminals. Just it's a screen, and a chip that just displays graphics it receives with the internet. There's huge advantages to this, right? Advantage number one, of course, is now you don't have to worry about software software versioning, you can just constantly be updating the software running in the cloud. Version two, advantage two is you can have incredibly powerful computation. So now you can have like in your video games, they could be using the world's best graphic card banks, and you can get a maybe a fidelity that that you be too expensive to get that much computational power in your own tower, right? So you now have access to incredibly powerful computation. If I wanna do video editing, for example, that if that's all happening in the cloud, it's just sending me back and forth what I should see on my screen. I don't have to worry like everyone else does about how much memory do I have on my computer? How slow is my video editing? You'll be able to video edit as if you're on the fastest of professional computers. So that makes a lot of sense. And then three, it's better battery usage. If all my device is doing is displaying screens that are being sent to me over the internet, I can have a chip that is optimized to do exactly that. And if optimized chips can sip power, like I have a dedicated low power chip that just talks to the internet and passes along to images to the custom circuitry that just, you know, decompresses and displays them. So I think that's inevitable. Milestone two is augmented reality. So then once we get augmented reality at a sufficiently usable level and Zuckerberg so so Jesse sent me an interview uh with Mark Zuckerberg on Joe Rogan's show I was thinking about this as you were speaking yep yeah and he he gets in he's he's talking through their AR strategy so Facebook's thinking about this by the way just an aside Jesse I don't know if you noted this, he, so much corporate speak with Mark Zuckerberg, steadfastly refused to really reference any other company or product in the market. So I don't, he was talking about augmented reality and he's like, well, here's like where we are. He would only talk about Facebook. He wouldn't note that magic leap exists as like $3 billion in investment and have a product. It's like way more advanced than these Ray-Ban smart glasses that Facebook produce. They don't mention Microsoft's HoloLens, which has been giving a reasonable... Anyways, that's another aside. The bigger point being is the big players are thinking about this. But when augmented reality gets good enough, it's in a completely normal form factor and you have a wide field of view, then even the visually enhanced terminals are unnecessary. So I can make a screen anywhere, and all my AR device does is communicate to the servers where they send you, here's what you should be seeing, all the computations done on the servers, and it just has to display it into the world around you. So now, if I wanna play a video game, I can just open a screen anywhere and run any program on it, watch any movie, play any video game, just stretch with my hands, there it is, need to make a phone call, I don't have a phone with software on it, I just stretch open a screen, go through my contacts, click something, all that software is actually running on these high end virtualized servers somewhere. It will be the end of consumer electronics as a hardware business. I think this is a going to be hugely disruptive. I don't think people have followed this thread of thought through too much, but this is how it's going to happen. Dumb terminals is going to help innovate all the technology needed to in a low power and efficient way stream screens. Then AR is going to get rid of this temporary period of having these dumb terminals, just say, let's just do it all in the glasses. So it'll be very disruptive economically because Samsung goes away. Apple goes away, right? I mean, major disruptive things, Foxconn. We don't need those factories. There's only one device to make is the glasses. We don't have to make 50 different types of smartphones and tablets. I think it's going to be hugely disruptive. It's probably the more efficient way. I mean, consumer electronics, what's the more efficient way to do this? Even just thinking from like energy consumption is probably to have giant warehouses of incredibly optimized machines. Virtualizing hardware is way more efficient than everyone has their own collection of batteries, chips, and glowing screens. So it's probably a more efficient way to do this, but it's going to be very disruptive. And so, Micah, that's why I answered your sort of very technical question about data structures, is so I could ignore it and then pivot into a rant about the future of technology. All right, I always, I fit those in, I sneak those in. They're great. I love when you riff on that. Not really relevant to living your life in a deeper way, but like I, so I have to kind of sneak them in, but I do. Zuckerberg was talking about, you know, no need for like the rectangular screen and. Yeah, he did, he didn't seem as I want to like be more ambitious about this, but I did think it was important how he was talking about you did get that sense that virtual reality was they're all in in.
Books Cal read in August 2022 (59:35)
It's just a step towards that that future. Yeah, so that'll be interesting. All right. So it is the first episode in September to come out. So as is my tradition, speaking of segments that aren't directly related to help you live your life deeper, as is my tradition, these traditions are going to live on Jesse. Uh, I talked about the books I read the month before. So I want to briefly mention the five books I read in August of 2022. Now I have to say this list is a summer list. So a warning. It's very much influenced by the fact I was on vacation. So you're going to see the beginning of the list is vacation books and then the other part of the list as I got back from vacation. Alright, so let me start with GoldenEye, I've mentioned this on the show before 2016 book by Matthew Parker This is a book about Ian Fleming the novelist who created James Bond about the house he built in Jamaica and its's influenced his time in Jamaica and its influence on the James Bond series. It's a British book very deeply researched. I learned quite a bit about late-stage colonial England, what happened in Jamaica, how that country was transformed. You get a lot of interesting context and a lot of tidbits about how Fleming and his life is basically a biography of Fleming is basically a biography of late stage colonialism in The British Empire all mixed up into this package a very ambitious book. It's interesting also a lot of good You know Cabin what you might call? There's a book called cabin porn where it's just pictures of beautiful cabins. This is sort of like deep work writing porn, right? It's on a bluff writing over a cove that you snorkel in every day. So you get a lot of that too. One interesting point to say about that book, when Ian Fleming, this is a reveal in the book, when Ian Fleming left the service after the war so World War two, you know He was obviously like in the military and that's where he was stationed in Jamaica briefly That's how he found out about it. And that's why he built his house there he got a job after the war with a newspaper group that owned the Sunday Times and he was the Manager coordinator of foreign correspondents his contract he negotiated Included three months vacation a year So that's how we could go to Jamaica every winter. It's, his contract he negotiated included three months vacation a year. So that's how we could go to Jamaica every winter. It's just, this is contract. He was like, I just had gone in the winter. So, I mean, of course, uh, this is British class privilege at its finest. You could just imagine his boss being like, good show old chop. Yes. Uh, you'd go away in the, in the winter. You can't, you can't work then. By the way, spot on English accent. Very good. Very good. Just the Scotland sounds identical. Exactly. I would pass as a native in Scotland. Um, but I mentioned this earlier in the show. Yeah, right now you have to be like a pseudo aristocrat in 19, late 1940s Britain to get a contract like that. But why is that not more common? Like why is if your Facebook are you not trying to attract engineers by saying hey, and if you're willing to do 912 of the salary, you can take three months off a year. You would get more people. We need more variety like this. That should not be so rare. So there we go. All right book number two. So I read Goldeneye. So I better read a James Bond book I'm reading about his house. I know so much about Fleming. I was on vacation at the time It's like I should probably read a James Bond book interesting observation They're temporarily not available on Kindle. I Don't really know what's going on here. Just a standard James Bond book American translations are not available on Kindle I think there was a there's been a transfer of rights. I think something about Amazon buying Paramount and maybe Paramount owns the rights and there's some I saw something I should look into this deeper I saw something about there Maybe they're reformatting and going to republish these but it was very hard to find So I basically got a pirated copy the only one I could find on my Kindle because I was on vacation So I couldn't just Amazon a book copy the only one I could find on my Kindle because I was on vacation so I couldn't just Amazon a book. The only one I could find is basically a pirated e-copy of Moonraker. It's one of the early, it's a 1960s James Bond novel. Interesting point, two interesting points about it. One, it has the first third of the book is James Bond playing bridge. At a fancy club in London second two thirds of the book. He is at a high-tech missile installation trying to stop a villain from dropping a nuclear bomb on London. So it seems a little incongruous. I looked into it turns out Moonraker was based off a teleplay that Fleming wrote about the missile and this or that. It wasn't long enough. Was it long enough when he translated to a book? Like this is not, we can't, it's not long enough to sell us a novel. So he's like, well, I'll just add a, a scene, extended scene where he plays bridge with the villain. And you know what? It's a great scene. Like the whole premise of the scene is the villains cheating and M as Bond come figure out how he's cheating and they get into all this is so flimmy all of the details of this very fancy upper crust club and the food and how They and the specific drinks that they're drinking and sort of classic flimmy point number two It's a surprisingly modern techno thriller. I think we give credit to Crichton We give credit to Clancy is sort of inventing this genre of High-paced adventure type thrilling thriller writing that has a lot of technology Moonraker feels like it could Have been from that same genre I mean It's a lot of the technology of the missiles and how it's going to work There's these details involved of it reads like a modern techno thriller. I don't think Fleming gets enough credit for details involved of it reads like a modern techno thriller. I don't think Fleming gets enough credit for techno thriller writing. I had I guess I had assumed that James Bond books were going to be a little bit more like British and ornate and or maybe like a little bit more a little bit more sort of classic spy type writing. We're going to have this sort of spy who came out of the cold Alistair McLean style writing. No, it reads like Crichton. This missile and whatever. Interesting point number three, this was before the space programs got started. So Fleming's take on space technology, though specific is very wrong. So it's clearly he, he was just guessing, you know, this is the early sixties. He was just guessing, uh, what would be involved in sending rockets in his world. His guest was like, obviously like you can't send a rocket very far without the fire melting it. So like the whole plot was around how this villain had cornered the market on this special material that could hold up to the flames of a rocket. And that, that was going to be the key. It's not even a ballistic missile. It's just a missile that can go a thousand miles Sub ballistic required special material and just huge thing and it was interesting All right, then This was a speaking of techno thriller. So also on vacation. This was at the house I always try to find a thriller just like where I am. They had a Michael Crichton techno thriller that I had not read 2004's state of fear And my memory was I didn't read this even though I used to read all the Crichton I didn't read this one because I had heard it was sort of weirdly grumpily Sort of like polemically anti climate change Like the whole book was just him being grumpy. This is kind of what I had heard about, about environmentalists and climate change scientists. Reality, that's true. It does read as like he's, he was a grumpy guy. I mean, he was grumpy. He has these long, I mean, just he, he has citations throughout the book and he has these long, I mean, just, he has citations throughout the book, and he has this character, this MIT professor, whose whole job is to have conversations with good intention, but annoying, environmentally minded people who are like, but everyone just knows that blah, blah, blah about climate change. And then the MIT professor speaking as a proxy for Crichton would be like, well, it's actually not true, blah, blah, blah. And then Crichton would put real citations under there. So I don't know. Someone got under his skin about this. I think a green piece boat ran over his dog or something. I'm not sure. So that is true. Also, it's not his best unrelated to that because it starts too slow. It's 150 pages before you're really rolling out what the actual plot is. Once it gets rolling though actually Very well paced thriller really great set pieces and we've got there's one in Antarctica. That's pretty cool The and again this speaks to his grumpiness There's a a actor who's clearly supposed to be Martin Sheen It's an actor who played the president on tv actually yeah that's right the timing's right he was like very environmentalist spoiler alert gets eaten by cannibals in the solomon island it's you know so here's what i'll say if you get through 100 pages it's a it's a fine paced thriller he's good at pacing thrillers um and if you don't like climate change you'll love it but it's also otherwise kind of annoying. All right. Uh, quickly two other books, Washington goes to war written by David Brinkley in the 1980s, David Brinkley, the former ABC news correspondent. It is a book about Washington DC and the transformation it made because of world war II. And the, the interesting thing about the book is that in the eighties, when Brinkley was writing this, And the, the interesting thing about the book is that in the 80s, when Brinkley was writing this, the leaders, the people who were, you know, not 18 year olds, but were a little bit older during World War II, they were all dying. And so there was this sort of race against time where he went to gather all these oral histories. And if you live in Washington, DC, it's a cool book. It talks about how 1940 Washington, DC is a sleepy, very Southern town. And by 1945, it's completely different thing. So if you live in DC, very interesting. If you don't probably not well-written though, frankly, it's a really good, really well-written nonfiction book. So hats off. And then finally, uh, Tolkien, the 2015 biography of Tolkien written by Raymond Edwards, caveat M.Tur, it is an academic biography. So it really gets deep into the, the work academically that Tolkien was working on and its influence on the books he eventually wrote. So this is written by a scholar who's in a similar field. And it's the study of ancient linguistics, but from a standpoint of using the language to try to recreate stuff about the culture. And it's a very precise field. And so it can be a little bit rough going. Two. I'll point out about this then we'll move on number one The reason why Lord of the Rings was so successful is that talking just spent decades building a mythology for Anglo-saxon England because there wasn't one So there was a a founding mythology for Norse culture There's a founding mythology for Germanic cultures, but it was lost whatever founding mythology for Norse culture there's a founding mythology for Germanic cultures and but it was lost whatever this was for Britain was lost and so he was basically creating one from scratch and he was to spend decades he called it his legit legendarium and and at some point he he kind of moved away from it being specifically about England and about a sort of fantastical realm that is what he pulled from for the Hobbit a little bit and then deeply for Lord of the Rings. So he had just decades of work as someone who is, it's called philology is what they called it back then, an expert at ancient languages and its connection to culture and mythology. And he had all of that worked out. So that's why when you read Lord of the Rings, it feels like one of these lost culture books where they're just referencing this rich, deep world that feels like it's real. It's because he not only created this world, but he created this world with academic soundness. I mean, this is a guy who for fun was organizing Icelandic mythology reading groups where they would read in the ancient Islandic languages, you know, saw Viking sagas. And so that's why that was so good and why it's so hard. Nothing else really approaches the depth you get more to the rings that, uh, that sense of reality. If there's a deep culture here that just takes place on it's because it was like the world's expert on doing that, who spent his whole life doing it. Number two, it's a painful book to read if you're a professor, because. The whole thing is about his frustration with academic administrative load. I mean, his whole life was defined by being overwhelmed by academic load and non-research type work, and he was constantly short on money and constantly stressed out. And this was sort of post-war liberal England. So even after, he couldn't just sort of leave and be like, I'm just going to write because even after Lord of the Rings became a huge hit, the taxation rates were such in England at the time that as Edwards talks about it, you know, it helped, but like, he didn't make him wealthy even at like a lower level because you could lose like 80 plus percent of your royalty income like that. The government was like, thank you. So he was not so that's so it's not like he could. So even at the the very height of his success, like he couldn't. Wasn't making him that that wealthy. So interesting. So stress me out, Jesse, though. All I was like, man, this is just like detailing. It makes modern academic life seem free and flexible and great. I mean, Oxford in the early part of the 20th century just sounds like it was. Brutal just the work they would pour on you and it was in the infighting and it's an interesting portrait of academia. Talk about slow productivity though, when he was coming up with that world, right? Decades. Yeah. Yeah. And then even he was writing these books. Like The Hobbit, it's a 10-year window between when he was like starting to work out the story for his kids and when he sort of finally published it. Like he would just spend decades on things. Yeah, it's definitely slow productivity. Like you can't have Lord of the Rings without 20 years of philology. That's incredible. Yeah. So it was a cool book. Again, it's not super approachable. Uh, his son wrote a book, Christopher wrote a book that gets really into like his work habits and stuff like this, and focuses more on the Lord of the rings. Like that's probably the better book than this, unless you like your interlinguistics. All right, well, let's take a quick break here. Let me talk briefly about a couple more sponsors, and then I have a few more questions I want to get to.
Cal talks about Ladder Life and My Body Tutor (01:14:06)
So let's talk ladder. You know, you need life insurance. I have life insurance, but I was told recently that I need more. We have to adjust it. If this was a couple years ago, I would have been stymied. Okay, how do I figure out how to get more life insurance, how to make sure I'm getting a good price? Today, I'm not, I'm just going to use ladder. Right? So ladder makes getting life insurance simple. It's 100% digital, no doctors, no needles, no paperwork. When you apply for $3 million in coverage or less, you just answer a few questions about your health and an application. You just need a few minutes and a phone and laptop to apply. Their smart algorithms will then work in real time. So you'll find out if you're instantly approved, they will show you options. And you can choose and sign up right there. No hidden fees cancel anytime get a full refund if you change your mind in the first 30 days. Ladder only deals with insurers with long proven histories of paying claims that are rated A or A plus by AM Best. It's simple. Go there, fill in your info, give you some options. What's the price and coverage I like? Click the button, move on with living. So go to ladderlife.com slash deep today to see if you're instantly approved. That's LADDER life.com slash deep ladder life.com slash deep. Let's also talk about our friends at my body tutor. I've known Adam Gilbert, the founder of my body tutor for many years, I've known Adam Gilbert, the founder of MyBodyTutor for many years. Used to be the fitness column for my newsletter back in the day. His company MyBodyTutor is a 100% online coaching program that solves the biggest problem in health and fitness, which is lack of consistency. You know what you want to, you need to do, but you just don't do it. This is where MyB my body tutor comes in. When you sign up with them, you're matched with a coach who you work with digitally. So you work with them online, they help you come up with a plan for fitness, for eating. And then you report each day through their easy to use app, how the day went, they give you feedback, they answer your questions. It is that accountability you need to reach consistency. It's not just you saying, should I work out today? It's you thinking, I'm going to talk to my coach at the end of this day. What I want to report that I actually got done. So it's a great idea. One of those ideas you hear you like, of course, this makes sense. And Adam has been doing this for years and years and years. So he's figured out how to make it work. So if you're serious about getting fit, go to mybodytutor.com and mention deep questions when you sign up and Adam will give you $50 off your first month.
CALL - What watch does Cal use? (01:16:51)
That's mybodytutor, T-U-T-O-R.com. Mention deep questions to get $50 off your first month. All right, let's do another call, Jesse. I like these. All right, we got a call about smartwatches. Hello, Cal, my name is Connor Beck. I'm a copywriter and content marketing specialist from St. Paul, Minnesota. And my question has to do with smartwatch technology. So I think I know what your answer to this question might be, but I'll ask it anyways. I just wanted to get your general thoughts on smartwatches. I really try and not stay glued to my phone or get too distracted throughout the day, but I thought maybe I could use a smartwatch in a very simplified way in order to screen out text messages that are not important versus those that are. My partner occasionally texts me throughout the day, and sometimes it is very time sensitive and important in terms of what she texts me about. So, again, I think I might know your answer, but I'm just wondering what you think of smartwatch technology, and if that technology can be used in a very simplified way so that it actually helps you eliminate distraction rather than create more distraction. And if you can use that technology in a way that allows you to tune out distractions rather than be overcome by them. So thanks again for your insight and your wisdom. It is very much appreciated. Thank you to both you and Jesse for sharing the deep life and keep up the good work. Thank you. Well, so Connor with smartwatches, we should separate two different common uses. So there's productivity, that's where we'll, that's the category where we'll put what you are talking about now. So looking at text messages and emails, being able to communicate through your watch for productivity purposes, then there's fitness, which is a whole other world, which I'll put aside for now. So in the productivity world, as you seem to be guessing, no, I'm not that impressed by the idea of needing a smartwatch to make you more productive. I think you should be spending less time with notifications, not more. I don't buy the screening argument. So there's two possible responses here. One is what would happen if, and this is the way I typically run things, I check my phone sometimes. And so text messages that come in when I don't have my phone with me, I won't see for a while. The right answer to that question is nothing bad will happen. And you can come up with a lot of scenarios where, well, so my partner is literally on fire. And if I don't get the text message in time, I can't use this app I have set up to trigger a complex Rube Goldberg style watering system that will put out our flames. You can come up with these scenarios, but here's the thing. Until just about a minute ago, we did not have the ability to contact people like that. And very few people burned to death because their partners couldn't access the Rube Goldberg watering system. So we were fine without that before. I think most people would be fine today. It's easy to come up with those scenarios, but they just don't happen enough. They don't happen enough. And when they do happen, the cost is such that it's not. It's not worth months and months of consistent distraction because every four months, you know, you missed a call that caused someone to get mad at you. I say fair trade. All right. Number two, I would say about that is, OK,, you missed a call that caused someone to get mad at you. I say fair trade. All right. Uh, number two, I would say about that is okay. If you really are worried about it because your partner spends a lot of time around fire and you spent a long time building that Rube Goldberg apparatus, then just do the extra five minutes of work to set up the filter on your phone so that, uh, for calls, you have a white list and people on that list, their call comes through, put their number on it, put your ringer on. All right, call here if there's really an emergency. You know, this comes up a lot. I talked about this in my book, A World Without Email, where this was in the context of business where you're making yourself less accessible. And we called it the steam valve. You have the emergency steam valve where you say, okay, I know I'm not going to be as accessible on email or Slack or whatever, whatever the plan is you're talking about, but don't worry. We have an emergency backup. Call this phone number. So there's always a way you can reach me. There is no actual period where you can't reach me. And the whole point of those of those backup emergency steam valves, we called it strategies was not so that like you could avert emergencies because they never happen. You talk to people who set up like, okay, here's my special number. Call me if there's a, if you can't wait till like the next time I'm supposed to be online or my office hours or whatever, no one ever calls. calls the emergencies don't happen they exist just so that people feel better they know if they really had to reach you they could and I always thought that was an interesting observation is that we're worried that all these emergencies are happening they rarely do the potential existence of these specters should not be sufficient to get you to live all of your time in a much more distracted state So there's a question like what watch do I use as Jesse will attest I actually Hang off of my belt an old-fashioned sand hourglass. That's true. I see. Hey, it's true and I and I so I have a sundial I consult and so when the shadow gets to the top of an hour i i flip over the the hourglass it weighs about seven pounds it's about yay big but you know it's simple you don't run out of batteries with your sand am i right jesse it's true no actually i will say um the watch i use is is like the favorite, my favorite physical object that I own. So I'm not in the cars. I don't dress very well or collect a lot of things, but I do. My watch is like very symbolic to me. It is something I really enjoy. So I use a subside down here and a mega speed master. I really analog wind it every day with a little mechanism. Its mechanism is brilliantly engineered. They updated this in 2021. It loses, you know, a second. In it per day or something. So just like beautiful engineering inside of this thing. No batteries, no electricity, no quartz crystals, no text messages being shown through. And the backstory I like about this, other than being like a nice, like well-engineered piece of analog handicraft is that this was the watch that was approved by NASA for the Apollo missions. Speedmaster went into space and you can get a lot of pictures of the astronauts. They actually wore it on the moon. They would, they got bigger straps that could go around the outside of the UVA suits, but I liked it as a metaphor to this, that I think is nice for the type of techno criticism I do, which is when Apollo 13 was having their famed troubles on the way to the moon, they had to shut down all the computers to save battery power, right? So they shut down all the computers. And so they're just, this thing was just flying analog. And they had to do these burns of the engine to correct their trajectory so that they want to skip off the atmosphere of the earth. They had to do these precise burns, but the computers were shut down. And so how did they do them? Well, they had a reticule, like a little cross hairs, which they aimed at a very particular, you know, I think it was the horizon, the terminal horizon on the moon, and then Lovell timed it with the Speedmaster. So this analog piece of beautifully engineered gears, when all the electricity had to be turned off, essentially, it was this piece of analog handicraft that actually that, plus a crosshairs plus fire is how the astronauts did what otherwise a computer would do. So this is nice metaphor about the, you know, beauty and analog simplicity versus the complexities and distraction of the digital. So I can I can use that all to justify otherwise a sort of kind of absurdly expensive thing to wear on your wrist. Otherwise, it's sort of kind of absurdly expensive thing to wear on your wrist. There we go. All right. Let's do another question. We got time. Okay. This question's from Jeffrey. He talks about, you introduced the idea of feedback councils in episode 200. Would you speak more about starting them up? How formal, informal to create them?
How do I create a Feedback Council? (01:25:25)
I mean, do you officially ask them to join your council? How frequently would you inquire with them and so forth? Yes, the idea behind feedback councils, again, from episode 200 is you do want feedback in your life about what you're working on or how you think about things. You just don't want that feedback to come from Twitter or Instagram or TikTok. And we got into it, these these digital social networks, the feedback from those networks. It's highly salient and our mind takes it seriously, but it's not at all representative and it can warp the way you think and keep you away from things that are important or move you in weird directions. So what I recommended was having a diverse group of individuals who you trust and know. You sample the feedback from them on things you're thinking or doing the way you're in the world, the projects you're working on and use that as your primary feedback. Not whether people are yelling at you on Twitter, not whether or not you got a thumbs up or thumbs down on Instagram. So how do you put together these councils? No, you don't don't formally call them that or tell people that's what you're doing because it's kind of weird. Like within this small circle of trust, we're weird, but it's good. But the outside world doesn't understand that. So you don't have to tell them that's what you're doing. What's more important is it's people you already know. You start evolving your relationship to the point where it's not unusual if you ask them Hey, can you take a look at this or that you have when you you typically just have conversations you get together for drinks You guys are just chatting that you you push the conversation sometimes towards topics you You care about or you're confused by or maybe you especially if you have a strong view on something and you're like, oh man Am I this is a real good view or am I might be a little hot headed here? Let me bring this up, see how they feel about it, like a very open minded sort of way. So you just start transforming existing relationships that way. And you also set out as you meet people at work and hobbies at your kids school, like wherever it is that you're meeting people. Seek out some people who aren't just like you and do the effort of like, I want to try to bring this person, you know, into my friend group. Let me talk with them and like find some common interest. So you want to try to make your the groups of people you trust. More diverse than all the different types of. Spectrums, you might measure that the way they think about things, their ethnic background, the type of jobs they have, the gender, everything right. And then just start cultivating those relationships. Like, it's not weird if I send you an article, take a look at, or we, we get into a dorm room style about political issues. And I do it with an open heart, so it's not going to annoy you. But the key is you're getting feedback from an interesting group of people that you trust way more effective than Twitter. You'll also end up such an interesting person. So that's why I suggest, and just stop getting feedback from Twitter, stop getting feedback from TikTok or Facebook or whatever. You'll be a lot less stressed out and your points of view are gonna be a lot more interesting. All right, so my vague memory is this guy had a follow-up question, right? Yes, yep. It was something controversial. What's the? So he's very curious if you think the crazy professor phenomenon happened to Jordan Peterson and Brett Weinstein. That's right, that's right. All right, so there's no way I'm gonna get in trouble talking about this topic, right?
Did Jordan Peterson and Bret Weinstein get weirder after leaving academia? (01:28:35)
No, you'll be fine. So first of all, I forgot that I had called this phenomenon crazy professor phenomenon. I don't know if that's a fair name, but for people who didn't hear me talk about that before, it was the idea that if you people like really smart people in academia, when they leave academia are more prone than the average person to end up in more eccentric or conspiratorial or like way out of the mainstream type of views. And my argument was is because the fact you're an academic academia in the first place means that they typically have high octane minds. They're used to this idea that they're smarter than a lot of people and can figure things out that other people can't. But in academia, you have so many other minds pushing back on you. It's hard to get too weird. Right. Because people you also respect and fear intellectually are going to be like, that's nonsense. I'm not gonna put all my money in the gold, et cetera. When you leave academia, you lose that feedback buffer. And so you're much more likely to end up in weird places because you're intellectually confident and you're intellectually curious, but you don't have the dampers. So Jeffrey's asking, do I think that happened to Jordan Peterson or Brett Weinstein. I think it's Weinstein, right? Or Weinstein. I think it's Weinstein like Einstein. I'm not, if I'm getting that wrong, Brett, um, big apologies. Uh, so in his case, I think some of that might've happened. So, so if people don't know, um, Brett and his wife, uh, Heather, uh, Herring, I believe they, they were in academia. They were, uh, biologists did a lot of stuff on evolutionary theory. Uh, they're at Evergreen university, which is I think a state university, a public university in Oregon or Washington state. It's very progressive, has these, um, very progressive educational models where you, I don't quite get how it works, but the classes are done in a sort of like really interesting kind of unusual way. And they got into like a some sort of cancellation issue there and it really got out of control where like students were roaming the campus looking for them and maybe even like physically threatening them. Like long story short, they had to leave, they left academia. And so I think it's a mixed bag. Again, I don't know a ton about them. I know they have a new book out that sort of seems completely mainstream. It has to do about what you can learn from evolutionary theory and the history of our species about modern life, like sort of down the middle. But I do think Brett went to some weird places with COVID during the pandemic that felt a little bit like this phenomenon. When I'd sample in a show here and there, where there's just like a lot of confidence on something that was very much out of the mainstream and did not in the end turn out to be at all really kind of right. There was a lot of this sort of confident out of the mainstream, a couple places like that he fell. So I think that's probably a great example of that effect in action is because it's this very smart guy and Heather's very smart and so it completely makes sense in their minds that we can kind of see something that's not widely recognized now. So maybe that's an example of it. Jordan Peterson, I think it's a much harder case. It's much harder to assess here. So, like Peterson had been on my radar for a long time before he became a big public figure because again when I would do student advice, I would occasionally hear from students who would talk about Dr. Peterson, especially students who were like first generation college students, students of color, found a lot out of a lot good in his work. He was like a mentor like figure for a lot, a lot of people. And so it was kind of on my radar. He's a weird character. Like the thing to understand about Jordan Peterson that I think not a lot of people in just the non-academic world understand is that he's a, he's an unusual character. He came out of what was like essentially the Canadian version of like West Texas, right? The sort of ranch country in the middle of Canada, a very cold kind of rough place, comes out of there with no really elite or academic background and is like an incandescent star within academia. I mean, he goes, he ends up at Harvard as a young professor where he's tenured in the psychology department. Harvard does not tenure from within very often in psychology. I mean, he was like a, this guy was seen as this bright star, you Toronto bottom away, right? Like, come, we're going to make you an offer you can't refuse. So he was like a superstar academic who had came out of nowhere, like not at all of an environment where you would expect to have a mind like that. So he was sort of this, I think that's often missed. I think for those who dislike him, it's more comfortable this idea that he's sort of like a grifter type guy that's just sort of like spouting off wisdom. And, you know, like obviously me as a reporter, I'm much smarter than this guy. No, he was an incandescent star like sort of out of the ranches of canada but from what i understand it's it's hard to talk about this phenomenon with him because he always was sort of a loner and a little bit eccentric even when he was in academia i think because of this unusual background he came got out of And this is secondhand, but but I think he was again already Didn't really care About what the feedback was from colleagues or whatever. I don't know if that's true, but I've heard some things like that So it's hard to say, you know when he left academia and then then of course you have this other confusing factor confounding factor of the huge celebrity and the huge attraction that occurred when he became a public figure the warping effect of that on someone has to be so powerful that it's going to swap out any signal we're going to get about just well when he left academia he may be without this type of cognitive structure and feedback maybe got a little bit more eccentric. How can we separate that signal? from the crushing completely unbearable Completely unusual worldwide phenomenon and attacks. I mean that had to have such a bigger impact on his Life his mental life than the changing his context of being academia or not that that must swamp out that signal. So because of those two confounding factors, I can't tell what change leaving academia had on Peterson. So again, to summarize, he already was really iconoclastic and eccentric when he was in academia. And two, there's too many other things happened to him right when he left the I can't pull apart. I can't pull apart those pieces. So there you go. I don't like crazy professor phenomena. I don't think it's a good title I should I don't realize I called it that before I'll come with a better title. But again, it's very consistent though Academics who leave academia They usually have a lot of medical breakthroughs they get become masters of finances Like I I can understand the financial system. And they get... I don't want to go off on this, but also media criticism becomes a big thing. Because again, if you're like Brett Weinstein, you're a really smart guy, and you get kind of resentful against some reporters, you're like, I'm just smarter than you, and you annoy me, and then you get really angry at the media, and it's a whole interesting thing. So if I ever left Georgetown, Jesse, you'd have to stop me from becoming like very conspiratorial and offering a lot of medical advice and financial advice and just attacking the media all the time. Though we'd probably get more subscribers. So, you know, all right, that's enough of that. We should wrap up this show. Thank you everyone who sent in their questions. Cal Newport.com slash podcast instructions on how you too can participate in the show. YouTube.com slash Cal Newport media to watch this episode and clips. We'll be back next week with a new episode of the deep Questions podcast. And until then, as always, stay deep. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪