Ep. 222: Caveman And To-Do Lists, Crafting A Deep Life, And A Novel Approach To Smartphones

Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 222: Caveman And To-Do Lists, Crafting A Deep Life, And A Novel Approach To Smartphones".

1970-01-01T03:00:53.000Z

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Introduction

Cal's intro (00:00)

And so I had this idea, why don't we go back and look at what work meant for our ancestors. So for that first 300,000 years before modernity as we know it emerged, because 300,000 years is a long enough period of time that we can assume there's some sort of adaptation going on. The ways that we approach quote unquote work during the Paleolithic were ways that we can argue that maybe we have some inclination towards as a species. I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, Episode 222. I'm here in my deep work HQ joined as always by my producer Jesse. We got a big variety pack of a show today in terms of a diversity of different types of clips and segments and questions we have coming up. I'm pretty excited about it actually. Yeah, it's cool. It's always good to have different topics. There's a deep dive. So I have a new New Yorker piece out. So I like to take some time to talk about those. We have a live call. People enjoy when we did our first live call a couple of weekends ago. So you get to hear me interact back and forth with a listener. We have our standard questions and we have a news reaction segment coming up later. There's some new information and case studies out in the world of kids and phones, which I thought was interesting and even a little bit optimistic. We have that all coming up. A lot of different types of segments all combined into the same episode.


Discussion And Case Study

Deep Dive - Did Caveman Use To-Do Lists? (01:45)

I think we should just get rolling and start as I like to with a deep dive. The title I want to use for today's deep dive is the question, did cavemen use to do list? I know cavemen is an out of date term, but I like the way it sounds. A little pity title. So we'll be a little anachronistic there. This deep dive is about an article that I recently published in the New Yorker. I will put on the screen now for those who are watching the episode at youtube.com/calnewportmedia. At the very least, we can feature this really cool graphic that Callum Heath put together for the article. They sent me a black and white draft of this when you're still working on it. It's cool. For those who are listening, it's a graphic where two knowledge workers have tipped the desk over and one of them is holding a spear and they're looking over the desk into a really olympic savanna type situation with some gear out there and it's all digitized into cool piece of artwork. So here's the official title of this latest article. What hunter-gatherers can teach us about the frustrations of modern work and the pub date on this is November 2nd. So it came out somewhat recently. This is a bit of a beast of an article. I think it weighs in at 5,000 words and I'll talk a little bit about this in a second. Those are the easiest article to figure out how to structure but once I did, I think it made sense. I want to hone in on this deep dive though at the heart of it. So the premise, the motivating premise here was a thought experiment and it went something like this. Humans existed in a hunter-gatherer style scenario for about 300,000 years until we get to the Neolithic Revolution which brings in agriculture and animal husbandry and from there, we get surplus of crops, we get surplus income, we get capital growth, the cities, the modern civilization. Everything comes out of that, that's 15,000 years. That's a very recent piece of our history. And so I had this idea, why don't we go back and look at what work meant for our ancestors. So for that first 300,000 years before modernity as we know it emerged because 300,000 years is a long enough period of time that we can assume there's some sort of adaptation going on. The ways that we approached quote unquote "work" during the Paleolithic were ways that we can argue that maybe we have some inclination towards as a species. And so my idea was let's understand a deep history of work, what work meant for most of our species history, then compare that to in particular knowledge work today. That is the subclass of the working population that sits at computer screens most of the day. And where we find big differences between how we were adapted to work and how we're working today might be places where we find sources of frustration or stress. That when we find ways where our current work is really out of sync with what we did for most of our species history, this might be a great way of identifying pain points, places where we're generating friction with our fundamental nature. So in other words, this is a high concept premise. From the deep history of work, we might get some reform ideas for the way we work today. All right, so that was the premise. So how do we figure this out? All right, so how do we figure out what work was through most of our species history? And here I make the argument in the piece starting with the work of Richard Lee in the 1960s, journey to the Dobi region of the Northwest Calahari Desert, I introduced this notion that starting with that pioneering work in the 1960s, anthropology has learned a lot from extant hunter-gatherer groups, especially in the earlier mid-20th century before most of these disappeared. With care, they were able to learn about the functioning of a hunter-gatherer social economic group from extant tribes, anthropological study of extant tribes, and from that gained some insight into what life might have been like from a work perspective in the early history of our species. And so a whole lot of the beginning of this article is just getting into this movement with an anthropology and establishing that this is something that they figured out how to do an anthropology. I want all of this to be taken with a big grain of salt. This is more thought experiment than rigorous science. All of the anthropologists I talk to or read are very careful about you're not seen, for example, lost tribes from a Paleolithic past. Modern hunter-gatherer tribes, not tribes communities, the word tribe is not used. Communities are their own thing. They're modern. They have their own interactions with the world. This is not observing a time capsule of time past, but what you can figure out, this is what anthropology has uncovered, what you can figure out by looking at extant tribes is just getting down to the economy of how hunting gathering works. What's the effort involved? How does it break down socially? What is life like where you have to gather your calories not through agriculture but through going out and hunting and/or gathering? So there's some care to be taken here. But I thought it would be fun to do. And so I got into this. I read a bunch of books, read a bunch of papers, talked to a bunch of people. And I ended up identifying three things to focus on, three places where the way we work today is quite different than what we, the way we used to work throughout most of our species history. All right, so let's scroll down, as you can see if you're watching, on the YouTube. Takes a lot of words to get to what I, where we are now. All right, so here are the three observations I made. So the first has to do with what's known as the immediate return economy. This is drawing from the work of an anthropologist named James Woodburn. And this is this notion that in most hunter-gatherer context, the reward for a food gathering effort was immediate. So the quote here, "People obtain a direct and immediate return from their labor. They go out hunting or gathering and eat food obtained the same day or casually over the days that follow." There's some argument if you look at the planning centers of our brain, we can see that reflected in the way that our planning action reward loops function in our brain. Here's what we're going to do. Let's make a plan. Let's execute the plan. We get reward from that plan. We update the state of our brain. We move on to what's next. So our brain likely fits this pattern of, let's go do this. We're done with this. There's the reward. That of course is quite different than the way work unfolds in modern knowledge work. As I point here, point out here in office life, our efforts rarely generate an immediate reward. When we answer an email or attend a meeting, we're typically advancing in fits and starts long-term projects that may be weeks or months away from completion. The modern knowledge worker also tends to juggle many different objectives at the same time moving rapidly back and forth between them throughout the day. This idea of I have nine or ten ongoing conversations in my hyperactive hive mind inbox, servicing seven or eight ongoing projects is really out of sync with the immediate return economies of most of our past, where it was, we need some food. All I'm doing now is hunting or gathering. Now I'm done with that activity. Here's the reward. Here's the food. Juggling many different things at the same time, constantly switching back and forth without immediate rewards like we do in knowledge work. That is out of sync with the planning action reward loops that most of our species history we were using. All right, let's look at the next point out of the three. I right here another place where work and hunter-gatherer societies differs from our modern efforts is the degree to which the intensity of our work varies over time. So here I'm quoting Mark Dible from University College London who did a study in 2019. They went to spend time among the agita people of the Northern Philippines. It's an interesting community because it split at some point in the relatively recent past. Some of this community is rice farming, some of this community persist with hunting and gathering. So you can do this apples to apples comparison. The same people in the same environment with the same culture. And so they're really good target for studying how much work is required, for example, how much effort is required in hunting, gathering versus farming because all these other variables are head constant. So that's why Mark Dible and his team went out there. But one of the things he pointed out in his paper and confirmed to me or elaborated to me when we talked is that the amount of time the hunter-gatherer spent versus their rice farming brethren is not the full story. What also matters is how work and leisure was distributed throughout the day. And so the farmers he pointed out engaged, and I'm quoting him here, in monotonous continuous work. The foragers by contrast had many more breaks interspersed throughout their daily efforts. Dible talked about spending time with a group that was fishing from among the forager group. And he said, "There's long breaks. The fish aren't biting. Let's take a nap. Okay, now we're going to fish some more. Now we're resting, hunting excursions. It's not like you were hunting all day. They would go into the forest. At the heat of the day, you might just rest. Maybe you weren't finding a good trail." So he really emphasized with the hunting, gathering group intensity was up and down. Intense periods, non-intense periods. If we compare this to modern knowledge work, we of course find something very different. Modern knowledge workers, and I'll quote myself here, adopt a factory model in which you work for set hours each day at a continually high level of intensity without significant breaks. So we are used to this idea that we have work hours. Eating work hours, we're always going. There's not a meeting to attend. There's an email to answer or a task that we're behind on. So like the rice farmers from that study, we're constantly working all day long at an intensity level that remains consistently high. Our ancestors for 300,000 years had intensity levels go up and down, up and down. My final point of difference concerns, and I'll quote myself here, "The nature of work occupying our time then and now." So I go into a lot of detail here about how skilled hunting and forging activities were and how much training would go into mastering the art of, let's say, hunting big game. Or the knowledge you would have to have a horticulture in your area to successfully gather enough calories to be useful for the effort. And so a lot of the activity, the work activity in our past would have been highly skilled. So we'd be used to that. This is something hard, and I did it, and I can feel proud about it. And I pointed out in modern knowledge work, though modern knowledge work is skilled in the sense that it requires high levels of education and skill, we are, and I'm quoting myself here, increasingly drowned the application of such talents in a deluge of distraction. So though we maybe have all these skills we were trained with, more and more of our day is doing, let's say, communication, it's in meetings, it's sending emails back and forth, ad hoc messaging, administrative work for other units within our organization. And when we do get a chance to try to do something skilled, we're going to try to write that code or put together the strategy memo. We can't enjoy the feeling of pure application of skill like we would have in our past because we also have to interrupt that once every six minutes to send a message over here or to join into a Slack message over there. So I said, this is a big point of difference. We were used to back then, I'm going to go start a fire and it's wet, and I'm just using a string bow, and I just really know the materials in the woods and how to make this work, and it's this hard thing, and there's a satisfaction and completion. We just don't have that nearly as much anymore in our modern work. All right, so we can summarize those three points. We can say, what's the difference? We do more stuff now, so we're working more with more stuff on our plate than we did in our ancestral past. We work at a continually high pace as opposed to a very natural pace like we did in our past, and we don't prioritize skill or quality or producing really hard things at the height of our skill today, the way that a lot of the efforts we would have done in our past would have been much more intense application of well-honed skills. And so if we want to make our work today closer to what it was there, and that's a really fraught statement, so let's put a pin in that for now, you could summarize that as we should work less at a natural pace while obsessing more over the quality of what we produce. And so the goal here in this argument is not that we want to be like our paleolithic ancestors. This is not like paleo productivity, though I do think that's a catchphrase. You could probably sell a lot of books with. What it is instead is about being careful about how we shape our modern world that we don't have direct friction or points of conflict with our fundamental adaptation. So for example, you don't have to try to eat exactly like we would have eaten 300,000 years ago to recognize that our body is not used to or adapted to tons of refined sugar. So maybe I should only eat tons of refined sugar. We don't need to go obsess about exactly what nuts our paleolithic ancestors would have eaten or eat meat raw or something like this, but maybe not eat a lot of sugar. That makes a lot of sense. Well, it's something similar here. If we can find big points of conflict between what work was and what it is today, it's not that we're going to go dress in furs and working caves, but we can try to excise from our modern work particular properties or attributes that are in conflict with our fundamental adaptation. And so in the piece, I do get into like what those adaptations might look like. Again, for example, here's examples from the article shifting towards poll systems of past allocation where you work on one thing at a time. And then when you're done, you pull a new thing into work on. Capy didn't have poll systems, right? But that would be a approach to workload that is much more compatible with our wiring because in our past, we typically did one thing at a time. We didn't have 30 things ongoing. So offloading all of this concurrent work to an external system and having individuals work on one thing at a time is a thoroughly modern way of working, but it is attuned to our thoroughly old wiring as humans. All right. What about working at a more natural pace? Well, that would require breaking free of the factory surveillance model of here is your hours to work. During those hours, you need to be working. We will be surveilling you either in person, are you at your desk or digitally? Are you answering my emails? Are you answering slacks to make sure that you're not slacking off? You would have to move away from that model to get to something that's more natural and varied. There are people and places that do this in modern knowledge work. In this article, I point to an article I wrote last year for The New Yorker about results only work environments. It's a work philosophy where you're only evaluated on what you produce. There are no expectations about when and where you work. In fact, it's encouraged for you to be self-optimizing in that way. The afternoons, you're off doing soccer games with your kids and it's Sunday mornings you like to work whatever. It doesn't matter about it. These type of philosophies exist. I think one of the reasons why they're successful where they're applied is because it allows the pace of your work to be more natural. Some days more intense than others. Some part of the days you're going hard. Some days you're taking off the afternoon because the focus is on the results that's allowed, that puts us more in tune with our ancient wiring. Again, it's not let's have a schedule like a caveman. It's let's have a thoroughly modern approach to work that doesn't directly conflict with the way that we're wired. What about the skill? Well, this comes down to, again, the constant distraction. When we move towards a notion of work like the types of notions I write about in a world without email, where we have structure around communication and collaboration, it's not ad hoc back and forth messaging. By freeing up long periods of time, we can actually focus at the thing in front of you without having to tend to ongoing conversations. These type of changes take modern work and make it again much more compatible with our brain because now it's I'm doing this hard thing until I'm done and I can get that satisfaction. All these type of changes, of course, are hard. Switching to a poll system. That's a big deal that feels eccentric in most context, but I think it's a good idea. As I documented results only, work environments are difficult to get right. They take a huge amount of training and buy-in from people at the top. As I write about in a world without email, moving away from the hyperactive hive mind is no easy task. It's a convenient way to collaborate, to replace it with alternatives, is a pain. This article is meant to maybe give us one more point of motivation for actually making these type of hard changes. I'll leave you with the way I end this article. I say we're built the work, but not this way. The conclusion of his paper and his time spent among the Joe Hoansi, Lee argued that through most of our species histories and most of the environments in which we have lived, hunting and gathering was a well-adapted way of life. Perhaps the time has come to demand something similar from the types of work that take up so much of our time today. There we go, Jesse. 5,000 words of lots of stuff. Cool image. Yeah, not a cool picture. You don't go on social media. When you're in deep work sessions, do you get the urge to check your text or check email? Yeah. You get that a lot? Yeah. Well, typically at the beginning of the sessions versus once you get going, it's okay. I think it's the same as resistance to going to the gym or exercising. Our brain, rightly so, is a jealous protector of energy. We got to be careful about our calories and how we expend it. Why do we feel procrastination not going to the gym or exercising? It's often because our brain is thinking, "What are we going to do?" We're going to go over here and move these heavy things and burn all these calories for no reason. We're not building something. We're not hunting something. We don't have a tangible outcome. We have to overcome that natural instinct. Then once we get going and exercising, we feel good about it. Deep work is the same way. Our brain's like, "I don't want to expend all these calories cogitating. What are we thinking about here?" We're not figuring out a plan to get away from the tiger. I think we feel a real resistance to deep work. That's why my arguments for what you do to be better at deep work sessions is you have to have a steadfast rule. There's just no context switching. You want a context switch, you want to look at email, you want to look at text. It's not deep work. Do something else. Don't pretend like you are. You don't even have exceptions. That's just what it is. Don't even give yourself the option. Then have a scheduling philosophy. This is when I do deep work. We have a question about that coming up later. Then add rituals around it too. Get this coffee, go to this room. I have a different location. All of that is basically trying to trick our instinct, which is not in this article, but I think it's a good point. We're not wired for deep work. That's pretty artificial. We are hijacking sophisticated components of our brain that were meant for doing things like constructing and evaluating plans or simulating the minds of other people so we can do complex social interactions. We're hijacking that to do symbolic abstract thinking. This was not a big part of the Paleolithic trying to figure out a complex abstract strategy. Right. Yeah. I usually say that stuff a bunch, but I always like hearing it more. Yeah. It's hard.


Cal talks about Henson Shaving and Rhone (22:42)

Deep work is hard, but maybe these type of things will make it easier. We have coming up soon here, a live call. I'll tackle a conversation with one of you live, one of our listeners. I first want to mention, however, a sponsor that helps make the deep questions podcast possible. That is our friends at Henson Shaving. Just able to say my shave looks pretty good today. Yeah. You would not be a good spokesperson for Henson's with your artful. I go back and forth a lot. Yeah. When you have the artful beard stubble. Yeah. It's white now. Yeah. So it's mine. It's true. When I grow a beard out a little bit, it's white in there. So I save it and I shave it with Henson's. All right. So you've heard me talk about them before. Here's why you know I like quality. You know I like something designed and implemented really well. That's what you get with Henson's shaving. It's actually a company that specialized in doing precision parts manufacturing for the aerospace industry. We're talking parts on the Mars rover. We're talking parts on the International Space Station. And they have these super high precision CNC routers they can use to build metal things to incredible precision. So they put this to work for designing a razor. And so the Henson's razor is beautifully manufactured, very precise piece of solid aluminum. You take a standard 10 cent safety razor blade and you put it on the Henson's razor and you screw the base to tighten it together. And this thing is so precisely built that you only have point and I'm looking at the number here, 0013 inches of the blade emerging past the edge on either side of the razor. So this eliminates the diving board effect you get with cheaper blades where the edge of the blade can move up and down and that's what gives you nicks. That's what can give you burn. When you have just the less than the thickness of a human hair sticking beyond the edge of your razor, you can get this very firm blade edge which does a really nice cut. And what I love about it is you're just spending 10 cent on the blade. All of the magic is in the razor itself and this really nice piece of aluminum. So you pay more upfront for this beautiful piece of metal, but then going forward, you're not paying very expensive monthly subscriptions for a subscription service. You're not going to the drugstore and buying those incredibly expensive plastic disposable blades where I believe it's up to now 19, but 19 different blades and the one big plastic contraction or whatever it is. You just have 10 cent safety razors, safety razor blades in this beautiful actual metal razor and you get the really good shape from it. You can keep it forever. You can use it your whole life. I am a big fan. It is the razor that I use. So it's time to say, notice subscriptions and yes to a razor that will last you a lifetime. Visit hinsonshaving.com/cal the pick the razor for you and use code CAL and you will get two years worth of blades for free with your razor. Just make sure you add them to your cart and then use that promo code when you check out and the cost of the blades will drop to zero. That's 100 free blades when you head to HEN SON SHAVING.com/cal and use that code CAL. I also want to talk about our friends at RON R-H-O-N-E. As we've talked about before on the show, I had long been a fan of RON's athletic T-shirts because they looked great. They were breathable. They were flexible. They were high quality. That's what I wear basically every day in the summer here in DC. It's why I was excited to find out that they now have a dress shirt. They call it the commuter shirt and it's the most comfortable, breathable and flexible shirt known to man. Here's why. It has RON's comfortable four-way stretch fabric. The same stuff I loved in their T-shirts. This gives you breathability and flexibility. It's wrinkle free. This is why I like the commuter shirt when I travel to a conference, when I travel to give a talk, throw the RON commuter shirt in my bag. It's going to look great. It's not going to be covered in wrinkles like a cotton shirt would. It has gold fusion anti-odor technology. When you're up on stage and it's hot out, it's hot and you're really getting into it about deep work, the shirt's going to stay fresh. It's going to take care of that sweat. You're not going to end up after smelling weird. I love the commuter shirt. It is lightweight. I really like this. I get hot. I run hot. It's very lightweight, very flexible. I really do. For me, this is my... I need to be exuding a lot of energy on a stage or in a classroom or on a multi-hour podcast interview. I want to look good, but I don't want to get too hot. The commuter shirt is my new go-to. RON, good for you for bringing your technology into this particular space of fashion. The commuter shirt can get you through any workday and straight into whatever comes next. Head to RON.com/Cal and use the promo code CAL to save 20% off your entire order. Just 20% off your entire order when you head to R-H-O-N-E.com/Cal and use code CAL. It's time to find your corner office comfort. All right, Jesse, let's talk to a real live person. Just a reminder, for anyone else who wants to potentially do a live call on our show, here's how you sign up. Just go submit a question like you normally would using the survey link that's right there in the show notes. At the bottom, it says, "Would you be willing to do this question on the show live?" And if so, give us your email address and just put your address down there. If we think it's good fit for the show, we will let you know and get you on the line. All right, Jesse, let's see who we have on the line today. Sounds good. Finney, thank you for calling in to the Deep Questions podcast. What is your question you have for me today? Hi, Cal.


Live Call - Debating a master’s program (29:10)

Yeah, so my question revolves around understanding my limits and setting boundaries to respect that. Specifically, I've noticed that I have a habit of taking on too much and overworking myself. So I'm looking for recommendations around parameters and guiding questions I should keep in the back of my mind so that I can recognize when this is happening and start to dial back before burnout sets in. Right. That's a great question because I hear similar complaints or similar concerns from a lot of my listeners. Why don't we start by getting a little bit more background? Could you walk us through, for example, a recent example in your life where you took on too much and the type of damage that caused? Yeah, sure thing. So my full-time job, I work in finance, and that's my full-time job. But then on my nights and weekends, I like to tinker with internet-type stuff, like taking pictures of my smartphone and writing things that I'm interested in writing about. And then about a month ago, I got a scholarship to do a master's level program, which was self-paced, so I thought I had some wiggle room. But as I started the program, I realized, well, one, I didn't have my study work on auto-pilots. And I know from previous experience that going two, three weeks into that kind of program, if you're not an auto-pilot, it's really difficult to do well in the classes. And so what I ended up doing was just dropping the class, and I figured I'll try again another time, but it was just too much to add full-time work plus hobbies and commitments like being part of a family and having friends that I want to keep in touch with and then adding school on top of that. Right. So you were trying with your full-time job and other non-professional commitments, you were adding in coursework and you're doing so without the structure of an auto-pilot. So I hear this correctly. You were basically kind of winging it. Hey, what's due? What do I need to work on today? Was that the situation in which the course became too much? Yeah. Well, yeah. So the course became too much, I think, for two reasons. For one, I felt like I wasn't-- when I sat down to model what a week-- typical week could look like, I felt like I didn't prioritize the relationships I wanted. I didn't give them a high enough priority outside of work and then on top of that, I wasn't able to get my study work on auto-pilot quickly enough. And I wasn't willing to jeopardize, like, sacrifice those relationships. And with the auto-pilot, not in place, it didn't make sense to stick with it. Yeah. Well, okay. I think you did the right thing in trying to sketch out an auto-pilot schedule that made sense. And this is where I'm going to lead into in my answer here. The exercise, I think, is going to be most revealing for you is actually going through the process of, as we say, facing the productivity dragon. And in this case, it's going to be actually working out a sample week schedule. Here's work. Here's other things happening in my life. Here's all of the different work I need to do for my class. Let me find time for that. Let me go through this experiment. So this is-- for the listeners who don't know what the auto-pilot schedule is, that's what it is, finding regular times for regularly occurring work. Work that all out for a week. And if you stare at that and says, this doesn't work, that is a really useful signal. That is a signal not to ignore. That is a signal that this isn't going to fit. I actually need more time if this is going to work. And if I can't generate more time, let's say, by temporarily reconfiguring my work, maybe I have a half day on this day where I can catch up on a lot more work. If you can't find the time, if the schedule doesn't fit, we have to actually face that reality and say there's going to have to be a significant change. I mean, that's often how I tell people to figure out if there's too much going on, is to actually stare at everything that's going on, move those puzzle pieces, and say, does this actually fit into a reasonable, sustainable schedule? And if it doesn't, let that be the motivation to make some sort-- there's going to have to be some sort of larger change, something that's going to have to give. And again, it could be a slight reconfiguration of work. It could be a slight reconfiguration of your life outside of work. The hobbies are going on the back burner. Saturdays are now dedicated to my course. I don't want to do this forever. I can do this for a semester. It might be that. Or it might be, I can't do these two things at the same time. And this is the evidence that I have actually facing me. How does that seem to you? How does that sound? This idea of actually just seeing the schedule and accepting what you see as it is. Not wistfully thinking, but looking at the reality. Right. Yeah. I mean, it was difficult. I think it was difficult to come to that conclusion that, you know, I looked at it, tried different configurations. And it just didn't-- it was too much to-- there was a mental load with that that I couldn't hold in my head. And so that's why it makes sense to say, OK, well, you know, this-- the chance to go to school is probably going to come up again. And ultimately, I think what I'm going to do is scale back a little bit and just do a smaller portion of that program and then pick up more later as opportunity presents itself as my career progresses. Well, I mean, Finney, this makes sense to me. I mean, what you're saying you did, this is more now a case study than a question. And the way I'm going to try to make this concrete for the audience is that this is the difference between a calendar-centric approach to your life and a resume-centric approach to your life. So the resume-centric approach is all I'm locking in here is how would this look to be on my resume? Oh, it would be really cool to have this degree to be really useful. Oh, it would be really cool to have written a novel. So why don't I do this? Oh, I want to run a marathon. That would look cool. Let me start training for a marathon. It's just managing that list of things that you want to display. The calendar-centric approach to your life is looking at the time you have available. And when you're trying to understand what mix of activities to bring into your life, saying, "Does this fit? Does the life to show me?" When I'm looking at how much time I'll have, does that seem sustainable? That's what you were doing. That's by the way how I approach my life. I get that exact same sinking feeling in my gut when I'm staring at my calendar and it's not working. My wife knows this. This is what she thinks of as Monday morning syndrome. When I'm doing a weekly plan, Monday morning, in a period where my schedule has got too complex, I just feel terrible because I'm forced to stare at the calendar and it doesn't fit and nothing makes me more unhappy. We got to trust that gut. So I'm going to say you have my stamp of approval for exactly how you thought of this. I'm actually going to thank you for sharing a case study with everyone else about how this calendar-centric thinking really leads to more sustainable lifestyle. You're still going to do awesome things. You're going to go to school. I think you're going to find an opportunity going forward where maybe you're going to be able to officially work this in with your job at some opportunity in the future. There's going to be a reduction in your hours. You can have time. There's going to be a sabbatical. I'm not sure how it's going to play out, but you know what you're looking for now. So I have no doubt that you're going to continue to do cool things. But I give you my stamp of approval for this approach to actually tackling this particular issue. So hopefully that makes you feel better, Fenny, but I'm giving you a thumbs up. Right on. Thank you very much. And I will say that I think, you know, I'm coming out of the, I just finished using the first, my set, my first version of your weekly planner. And I think that helped a lot. So please, thank you very much for doing this and I hope you continue. All right. Thank you very much, Fenny, and keep me posted for sure. We want to hear how this goes. Okay. All right. Well, that was fun. It's really nice talking to people back and forth that that's something different, but we don't want to neglect the bread and butter here, of course, which is the written questions that you submit.


How do I practice the “journalistic” mode of scheduling deep work? (37:42)

So let's get into some of those. Jesse, what's our first written question of the show? All right. First question is from Harry. How do I apply the journalistic mode of scheduling deep work when I'm feeling exhausted and fatigued most of the time? Well, you do a quick preview here or review, I should say, not preview, review of what he means by the journalistic mode of scheduling deep work. In my book, deep work, I said you have to have a scheduling philosophy, some sort of strategy or philosophy about this is how I scheduled deep work sessions. You need some sort of philosophy or strategy. You cannot just wing it. You cannot just say, I'll wait till I'm in the mood to do deep work and have nothing else going on. And then I'll actually get into it. If that's your plan, you're never going to do deep work. So in the book, I said, okay, let me give you some examples of general categories of deep work scheduling strategies that I have seen people succeed with. And I gave three different examples, three different categories, rhythmic, bimodal and journalistic. So Harry is asking about the journalistic mode of deep work scheduling, how to succeed with that, and in particular, how to succeed with that when he finds himself overworked and tired. In his elaboration, I'll point out he's a CEO of a startup, I believe. So someone has a lot going on. So to answer that question, let's just do the quick run through of what all three of these scheduling strategies entail. Rhythmic scheduling of deep work is perhaps the most obvious. You work the same times in the same days, week after week. So when you hear someone say, I get up at six, I work on my novel for 90 minutes every morning before I get ready and go to work, that's the rhythmic schedule. When you hear people say, I don't teach on Fridays. So from 10 to four on Fridays is all research. That's the rhythmic schedule. It's the same time, same day, same week. So you don't have to think about it. You just know when the deep work happens. Your brain gets used to the idea of that when deep work happens as well. So you can get into the mode easier. Bimodal is more extreme. It's where you go back and forth between two different modes where either you're doing no deep work or you're in a mode where all you are doing is deep work. And this applies on different types of time scale. So if you take a summer to write your book as an academic and then don't work on the book during the academic year, that's bimodal. In the book deep work, I give the example of professor and author Adam Grant who implemented bimodal on a smaller time scale. So he would go two or three days in a row where he was doing nothing but deep work on his research, completely unreachable. And then when he was out of those sessions, he was 100% reachable. My door is open. Adam's really big on answering emails quickly. And so he would just go back and forth between these modes. Carl Jung, this opened the book deep work. I talked about Carl Jung going to Ballon's End Tower. This fairy tale inspired stone house he built on the shore of Lake Geneva near the town of Ballangen. That was a bimodal work philosophy. When he was in Zurich, very busy, when he would go out to his fairy tale house on the lake, he would lock himself in a meditation room and just think. Different modes. Journalistic, which is what Hari's asking about, is where you look at the days or time ahead and sort of figure out on the fly, when am I going to have time to do deep work? So it's one week will look different than another. You're finding room for deep work sessions where you can. I call it the journalistic method because journalists often get really good at I find times to write, I just have to write. I'm on location. I'm reporting on an election. I'm reporting on a war. And I just the work has to get done. I'm just going to have to sit down and write my article draft right now in the back of this truck. So that's why I called the journalistic method. So how do you succeed with the journalistic method? I argue more recently, I typically argue that this is best implemented at the weekly scale. So when you're doing your weekly plan, you find those times when you're going to do deep work that week and you schedule them on your calendar like you would any other meeting. The reason why this is journalistic and not rhythmic or bimodal is that it's not rhythmic because the days and times you deep work depend on the week. So it's not regular. So this week I have a busy Tuesday, but Wednesday, nothing's happening until noon. So I'm going to take Wednesday morning. The next week, Wednesday is like a horror show, but if I do Tuesday and Thursday morning, I have time to do deep work. It's different from week to week. It's also not bimodal because you're not spending one or more days just in a state of deep work. The sessions fit within a day that have other types of activities. So in my own life, when I wrote deep work, I said I'd mainly do journalistic. I would say now that varies. So I'm writing a book right now in a semester where I'm not teaching. So I have a big queue of deep work efforts and a lot more flexibility on my schedule. So I have more of a rhythmic thing going. We're almost every morning I work on the book first thing. And then I hybridize that with journalistic scheduling by adding extra blocks on different days depending on what's happening in my schedule. So Hari, to get to your question about exhaustion. So how do you succeed with this when you find that you're exhausted by time you get to these scheduled blocks? Is I would say two things. One, do less. So your exhausted may just be a symptom of you have too much going on. Your brain is fatigued. I mean, you're exhausting your brain. It's not your scheduling system's fault necessarily that you're exhausted when it comes time to do deep work. You're asking too much of your brain. If you are an athlete and you said, look, I'm having trouble doing this particular type of training because my muscles are so fatigued by the time I get there, I would say if that type of training is important, then you need to do less exercise of other types. You're burning out your body. The second thing I would suggest is if you're dealing with overwork and exhaustion, you might want to step away from the journalistic and head towards the rhythmic. The rhythmic scheduling philosophy can deal better with heavy workloads, especially if the rhythmic approach is first thing in the morning. First thing I do every day when my energy is the highest is a little bit of deep work on this thing is important. That's probably the most resistant, the most fatigued, resistant, deep work scheduling strategy that's out there. So if you've got a lot going on, simplify your deep work life. First thing in the morning, you'll have better luck with that and then see if you can actually just reduce the total load of work you're doing because again, if you're overwork in your mind, you're overwork in your mind and there's no system that can reverse that reality.


How do I determine when something I’m working on is good enough? (44:37)

All right, Jesse, what do we got next? All right, next question is from Roger, a senior level consultant in Wisconsin. For mid-sized projects such as preparing a large proposal for a new client, my tendency is to allow the effort to fill the available time up to the deadline. How do I know when something is good enough to be done? Yeah, these type of perfectionist issues are common, especially in knowledge work where you have many different things you're being asked to do. It can be psychologically difficult at some point to say, "This is good enough. Let's move on." If you can't get to that point, you end up like Roger is talking about here, feeling every minute, staying up late, letting other things fall on the wayside because you're just not quite comfortable finishing because it could be better. What about this? What about that? That can be damaging both psychologically but also to your career prospects. One thing I would recommend, Roger, is clearly identifying the subset of things you do in your job that are what I call needle mover activities. These are the things that really make the biggest difference in your career. These are probably going to be the things that most heavily leverage your hard-won skills and/or produce the most value for your organization. These are the things that if you can do them at a very high level, will give you leverage over everything else. This is what we care about. If you are an ad copywriter, a madmen type situation, it's like, "How effective are the ad campaigns you're writing? Are they actually generating a lot of business for clients?" That's the needle mover activity. If you're the developer at a startup, help crisp and robust as your code. If you can write really sharp code that's very stable and very efficient, that's what matters. That's what allows our product to work. It saves us all these hours of repair and support. It's the skill that matters. If you're a professor, papers. Are you writing papers that are attracting citations and are being published in top venues? These are needle mover activities. Once you clearly identify what the needle mover activities are, you can be much more comfortable with the psychological toll of saying, "This is good enough with everything else." The ad copywriter, "This is the thing that really matters." When there's a one-off thing you're asked to do, "Can you get together client testimonials for our website?" You're more comfortable saying, "I'll just do a good enough job. I found some testimonials. I made a plan. I found them. I checked them. I did it on time. It's at a reasonable level of quality. Great. Let me get back to the thing I really care about." The professor doing a committee, making sure I'm responsible and reasonable and I show up and do the stuff I say I'm going to do and I don't want to hand in crap. I'm keeping this pretty contained. I have an hour for it here, a half hour for it here. I'm happy with just that's good enough. When you know what really matters, you don't sweat so much about the stuff that doesn't matter so much. Keep in mind, if you don't take this approach. If you instead fall back on the perfectionist approach, I just want everything to be beautiful. This can actually be counterproductive for your career. If people learn, "Oh, you're someone that no matter what I give them is going to do, they're going to obsess about it and it's going to be 2x better than I would do myself." If I tell them to get client testimonials, it's going to be they're going to find all these different testimonials and go back and get them revised and they're going to find images and it's going to be really great for the website, I'm going to start wanting you to do more and more of these things. You will become my go-to person for these type of activities. What you're going to find yourself then is drowning in what in the research literature they call non-promotable activities. Activities that are not directly related to the main thing you do. You're the professor who everyone wants on their committees because you really do such a good job but now you can't do your research and that's what ultimately matters for you keeping your job. The ad copywriter that everyone wants to pull onto their internal facing initiatives because they know that stuff will get done and because of that you're not producing the award winning campaigns on which you could build your career. There's a cost beyond just the psychology of, "Oh, my schedule is full because I can't let things go." There's a cost to your career trajectory if you're too good at too many things. Put your energy into the needle moving activities, be reasonable, a reasonable, responsible human on everything else. I won't be late, I won't drop the ball and it'll be fine but I'm not really trying to blow you away with the stuff that doesn't really matter. I think it's actually better for your career growth paradoxically to be worse at some things and better at others. It's not the case that because as good as possible to all the things you do is actually going to be the fastest route to progression inside your career.


Should I take two months off work to write in a cabin? (49:31)

All right. Rolling right along here. What do we got next? My next question is from Medi, a 30-year-old engineer and PhD candidate. I work full-time and do a part-time PhD. I'm currently writing my dissertation. I have the opportunity to take up to two months off work next year. I fantasize about using it to go deep into a deep immersion mode. Maybe you can spend a portion of that time in a cabin or room elsewhere where all you do is wake up, drink coffee and write, take deep walks. Is this a good idea or should I write more gradually? I think you should write more gradually. I think if you tried to contain your dissertation writing to two months in a cabin, you're going to get cabin fever and a far from complete dissertation. That's not really the right way to do this. What I would recommend doing instead is a more slow accumulation strategy. I would say maybe four to five mornings a week and you can use a weekend morning in there. You're staying in the morning when your energy is highest before you go to your other job. You're working on your dissertation. One to two hours of very sharp thinking. You're collecting maximally sharp thinking day after day after day. If you work all day in a cabin, maybe you have two hours in there that are particularly sharp and seven hours in there where you're exhausted, but because you're in the stupid cabin of nothing else to do, you're trying to force the work and trying to keep things going. One, one to two hours a day, it's sharp, sharp, sharp, sharp and that accumulates this chapter that took 15 days to write is 15 days worth of sharp thinking and it shows slow but steady, carefully building everything you do. It's not too much, but what you do is really good, really sharp. That's probably the better way if you're working on a dissertation part time. That's the better way to do it. Two extra things I'll say there, instead of spending two months on an unpaid leave to write your dissertation, take a one day of vacation every two to three weeks. Now you can throw into your mix. Every couple of weeks I take a day off from my main job and it's a day that I can go super deep on. Maybe there's a really complicated thing. What's the thesis for this chapter? I really got to figure that out. Then I can write it for two weeks. I really got to figure out what I'm saying. I'm going to take a day off and walk the woods and think, do that every two to three weeks. You're going to get way more bang for the buck out of that than putting all those days together and having the pressure up, everything has to come out of this. The second thing I'll say is where a retreat typically is more useful in this type of work is closer to the end. I've been working on this a while. I have most of my ideas down. There's 50 small things that have to happen for this dissertation to finish. I have to go back and do this and I have to change all these citations and I have to figure out a conclusion for this. There's all these little small things that have to happen and I feel like all these loose ends will never get tied up. That's where taking two weeks could be really effective. I'm going to shut this thing down. I'm going to close down this project and get it out the door. I'm close. Now let's push it to the finish line. That is effective for taking time off. To do the whole project in a period of concentrated work like that, I think that's unlikely to be as successful. I think slow and steady is the way to go. Jesse, this comes up in book writing a lot, especially in nonfiction. You'll see this often, especially in pragmatic nonfiction, so non full time writers. I'm going to write this book on whatever, marketing. You hear people say this all the time, "Oh, I locked myself away for six weeks and just pounded out the book." That's going to be a really bad book. Because most of those hours are going to be fatigued hours. Most of those hours are going to be pulling from an already emptied reservoir of creative insight. It's going to be a book that's forced. It's going to be a book that feels like writing for the sake of writing, a book that's full of lazy colloquialisms, rhetorical questions, and conversational tone because you're just trying to fill in those pages because you have four or five more hours to go. Professional writers who write really good books, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work day after day, week after week, month after month. They're coming out at Sharp, day after day, day after day. And they're building this thing very carefully. That's how really good work comes out. I see this in nonfiction right now at the time. As soon as I see a writer brag about I was in monk mode in a cabin for two months and did nothing but write this book, I immediately think this is not going to be a good book. That's interesting. The writing's not going to be good. All right. What do we got next? Next question is from Carl.


Is answering email quickly really a good marker of talent? (54:08)

Have you read Tyler Cowan and Daniel Gross's recent book, Talent? I'm curious what you think about their claim that answering email quickly is a good marker of talent. Well, I haven't read talent yet, but I do find it to be a safe bet to not disagree with Tyler Cowan when the opportunity arises. So I tracked down the particular paragraph that Carl is referring to here. And it looks like if I found the right passage, there's a conversation between Cowan and who I assume is Sam Altman, the former president of Y Combinator, the current president of OpenAI. So Cowan asks, "How quickly should someone answer your email to count as quick and decisive?" And Altman says, "You know, years ago I wrote a little program to look at this, like how quickly are best founders, the founders that run billion dollar plus companies answer my emails versus our bad founders. I don't remember the exact data, but it was mind-blowingly different. It was a difference of minutes versus days on average response times." And then it zooms out from that conversation. So I think this might be Cowan or Daniel commenting on that exchange. And they write, "In essence, this quality of speed and response is picking up on how much the individual is focused on being connected to the world and responding to plausibly important queries." All right. So that, of course, seems like it's in direct contradiction to everything I'm warned about in a world without email where I talk about quick responses like that means you have to constantly be checking inboxes. If you're constantly checking inboxes, you're constantly in a state of attention residue, which means you have a drastically reduced cognitive capacity. Now my argument is a psychological, neurologically verifiable hypothesis. I think the evidence there is clear. If you are keeping up with digital conversations as a priority, you cannot produce complicated thought matter at the same level, the same speed of level of quality as someone who is not context switching. That doesn't however mean that Sam is wrong. And that's because he's talking about founders of early state startups. That is a very specific place to be in the world of work. And it is a place that I talk about in my book, Deep Work. So in Deep Work, I specifically pull up the example of Jack Dorsey, who at the time was the CEO of both Twitter and Square. And I go through his schedule because it was considered so unusual to be a CEO of two companies at the same time, a lot of articles were written that got into the details of how Jack Dorsey worked out his schedule. So we got a rare insight into the daily schedule of a tech startup CEO. And I went through these schedules that I was recreating from profiles. Now, saying look how interrupted it is, Jack is constantly answering questions, giving feedback, giving feedback back to people all day long. He would move from one place to the other. He'd sit in this open desk. People would come by all day long. I was like, there's no deep work happening there. And what I argued in my book was that's fine. Where Jack Dorsey for that job, for that person, maximizing the quality and quantity of high end cognitive output is not that important. That if you're a CEO of a fast moving startup, the particular role you play that's valuable there is a decision engine. The most valuable thing you can do for that company is be a source of decisions on lots of different things. And if all these decisions go through you, you can have a consistent vision applied to these decisions. So the startup evolves at this early stage in an aggressive, consistent way that aligns with your vision as a founder. So a founder of a company in these early stages doesn't need five hours of uninterrupted thinking. You hire programmers to do that and be very careful to not make them be on Slack all day. But you as the founder actually, and this is exactly what I argued in deep work, are most valuable if you are available. So all of these different action decisions come through you and the answers to come out are coherent. And that helps the startup grow. So what Sam is saying is absolutely right, but it should not be generalized. Because for most people it would be a disaster. For most people whose value comes not from you being the brilliant founder of a company that's laying out the vision on which the company is going to unfold, if that's not you, then you need to be producing at the height of your cognitive abilities. If you're writing computer code, if you're writing business strategy, if you're putting together consultant reports, if you're writing academic papers, your value is not maximized by being a consistent source of aggressive decisions. It's maximized by you producing really smart cognitive output and you want to reduce cognitive context switching to do that at the highest possible level. So most people aren't Jack Dorsey. Interestingly, after Deep Work came out, I got a note from one of the early funders of Twitter who knows Jack well and remembers him during this period. And he said, "You're right in the sense that he made a lot of decisions and there's big parts of the day where he's very accessible." But he's like, "You're wrong when you say that Deep Work was not important for him." Jack would also preserve periods of deep concentrated work for thinking through strategy at a higher level. So even I was being a little bit too bullish there. And this person said, "Yes, he was very accessible, but not all the time." And he really did prioritize Deep Work as well. So even Sam Altman's founders, yes, you want them to be decisive and responsive and being able to filter what's important and what's not important. But you should also be happy if you're Sam Altman to know that your founder has two hours a day where you can't find them because they're thinking really intensely and organizing their thoughts. So when they spend the rest of the day making all those decisions, they're coming from a place of really considered projections and theorizing and strategizing. And so that's my response. So do not take that, the rest of you out there who aren't Jack Dorsey, don't take that conversation as an excuse to, "Oh, I should check my email more and that's really going to help my career."


Is there a tutorial for Cal’s planning system? (01:00:15)

All right, let's see, Jesse. We got a couple quick questions. I'm looking at our notes here. Yep. Got a couple questions with fast answers. I'm excited about. All right. Here was a question from Charlotte. Is there some kind of document I can find on your website to help me start using your quarterly, weekly, daily planning technique? Yes. It's not a document. It's a video on the YouTube page, youtube.com/countyaportmedia. Look at the core ideas playlist and the video in their title, time management. And I just go through that system. I believe also, Jesse, this is what we, Tim Ferriss played, right? The clip he played? Yeah. So also, Tim Ferriss on his show sometimes will collect clips from other people's shows and package them together. So last month, I was involved in one of those packages and the clip that we sent them was the discussion of that multi-scale planning. So that's the best document for that right now. There's also timeblockplanner.com where they can, there's a video up on there too, right? Yeah. So if you want it, that's a good point. So for the specific piece in there of daily planning with time blocking, there's a pretty good video I did at timeblockplanner.com where that's just about time blocking. So yeah, you might watch the core ideas, time management video to get my whole system. And then you might also watch that time block video at timeblockplanning.com that really hone in on the time blocking. And of course, all of these issues we've talked about individually as well. We've done a bunch of stuff on weekly planning, a bunch of stuff on strategic planning, but that video is the best document I have right now for that planning system. All right.


When is the new version of the Time Block Planner coming? (01:01:53)

What's our other quick question? All right. Question from James, speaking of timeblock. You mentioned several months ago that a revised edition of your timeblock planner was in the works. Do you have any updates to share with your listeners? Well, I do your timing is good. James, we're working on this as we speak. I have a bunch of dummy planners for the new version at my study at my house right now. We've honed in on exactly that. We now have finalized all those details. Yesterday, I submitted my responses to the copy editing of the new text for the new version of the planner. So we're actually in that process right now. So the good news is a really cool V2 of the planner is coming together. Just to give you a preview of some of the things that will have spiral binding, completely lay flat, thicker cover, no warping issues. I've condensed the weekend. So instead of having two full double page spreads for the weekend, which kind of goes against my advice of don't time block the weekend, we now have a weekend page where one page is custom designed for looser weekend planning and the adjoining pages for the weekly plan. This saved us a lot of pages. We've added a whole other month worth of weeks to the planner. So you're now going to get four full months worth of planning in one planner. Also we're updating the design interior, making it sharper. I updated the front matter. There's an author's note about what I've learned since the first planner came out and some tweaks to the advice. So there's a good news. There's a really cool V2 of this planner coming out. The bad news is because of supply chain issues, we're looking at late summer. So it's going to be a little while till this is ready. And again, this is just supply chain nonsense, which is afflicting everyone. But we have everything standing by to come out as soon as that's possible. So I would recommend don't wait. You know, if you're currently time blocking with my current planner, keep doing it. When the new planner comes out, you can switch over to those. If you're thinking about time blocking, don't wait until next summer to start. I mean, the current planner works great. Learn to have it now get going and just know at some point you'll be able to upgrade that to an even better planner and some point after that, I'll probably update it again. As I tell people, when you're buying your first time block planner, it's less about this one physical product you have. It's more about the system you're buying into. As you go through these, you'll keep buying new planners over the years. The planner is physical formal update. It's the commitment to time blocking that really matters. So cool stuff is coming, but don't wait for it if you're thinking about doing it now. And as we mentioned, the last question, timeblockplanner.com explains the whole thing. Here's the planner, here's how it works. Here's a video that explains the system. So go there to learn more about my time block planner.


Case Study - A Freelancer Crafts a Deep Life (01:04:40)

All right, I just wanted to do a case study. I like doing case studies so we can see some of my ideas and action in the real world. So I have a written case study here from Liz. So I'm going to read what Liz sent me. Thanks to your books and podcasts, I doubled my income while cutting my hours in half. I am a freelance copywriter working in the advertising space. I came up through the ranks working the 60 plus hour weeks that advertising is known for. But along the way, I created some commercials and campaigns that got national recognition and earned me enough career capital to go freelance after the birth of my first son. My career capital was enough to get me clients as a new freelancer but not enough to get me the lifestyle I was hoping for. I was still working crazy hours and feeling burnt out. This is where your ideas changed my life. I began implementing office hours with my clients via Slack and devoting large chunks of my data doing uninterrupted writing. This immediately increased my quality of work while cutting my hours by at least 30% if not more. My clients didn't bat an eye because I was still agreeing to use their preferred method of communication which was Slack and I was responding promptly to them during my next office hour. It also didn't hurt that I framed those office hours as a way to maximize their money because at the end of the day, every client will acknowledge they aren't paying me to talk to them on Slack, they're paying me to write good ads. I also quit all forms of social media which has given me so much more mental clarity than I ever could have imagined and I think has increased my overall productivity just as much as time blocking and office hours. Since going freelance I have raised my rates twice without losing any clients. Right now I am on retainer with two different agencies for a total of 40 hours but since implementing your practices has allowed me to work so much quicker, I often complete my work in half that time. I spend this extra time picking up odd freelance jobs for extra income, reading books or going on phone free walks. I also stop work at 3pm every day to be with my older son when he gets home from preschool. It's exactly the lifestyle I had imagined with going freelance and I couldn't have done it without you. Thank you. So Jesse, I love this case study for multiple reasons because it has multiple ideas we talk about working. And so I'm looking at my notes here about this case study. First is just the career capital framework. I think that was absolutely the right framework for Liz to think about her career. So her ultimate goal was to be freelance with flexible hours with good compensation but I'm done with work by three. And so she got enough career capital to go freelance by being so good. She couldn't be ignored. She had some ad campaigns that won awards, got national recognition but it wasn't yet enough to get her to the schedule she wanted. And so there she threw in, she had a capital for it and then she threw in tactics. So it's this combination of career capital and tactics aimed at the particular vision you have in your lifestyle. She put that together really nicely. If she had only done one and not the other, it would have been a problem. If she had only focused on career capital, as we saw, she was still crazy busy even after she was nationally recognized. And if she had only focused on strategies, she would have had trouble because if she wasn't doing work that was being nationally recognized, no one cares what your time management strategies are, they're not going to hire you. And so I thought that combination was very powerful. The second thing I noticed here was this notion, I talk about this in a world without email. People are afraid of if I put structured a communication with clients, they will not tolerate it. They demand accessibility. I always argue that's not true. Clients don't need accessibility. They need consistency. They need to understand if I need to contact you, how does that work? And if they understand how that works, the accessibility is not so important. Accessibility is only important if there's no other system. So if it's just, I don't know, we just slack back and forth, then I really need you to answer my slack right away because otherwise I have to sit around and wait and I don't know what I'm going to get an answer. But if you have something that's consistent and clear, like office hours every day, that's when I will answer you, that's completely fine because what you're providing for the client is clarity. Oh, okay. So Liz, I can't just slack her right now, but at three o'clock or two o'clock or whatever, I can and she'll answer. Or I can send this to her now and expect an answer at two. Great. I have clarity here. It's consistent and clear. I don't have to worry about this. Let me move on with all these other things I care about in my life. I don't care that she answers my slack right now. I care that I know and can trust when she will. And so this clarity overaccessibility is a theme that comes up often. Liz lived that out. Her clients were fine. Yeah, okay. I can wait until office hours. I don't care. Just tell me how I do this. Great. Office hours, good. Let's roll. And so she lost no clients doing that. I also like, she quit social media. We often see this as two different magisteria. There's your personal life being on your phone. This is like digital minimalism applies. And then you have your professional life. It's about email and slack. And that's where books like Deep Work and a World Without Email apply. They're not so separate. And as Liz learned, especially as a freelancer, what she was looking at at her phone, the distraction that engendered, they're not coming from clients and not directly related to work, distracted her from her work. And it was taking her much more time to get things done. So when she got rid of social media, she's locked in. When I'm working, I'm working and you don't have this back and forth. I think that's a big part of my own success is my lack of social media use means when I'm working, I'm working. This is why a lot gets produced even though I work a very standard number of hours. And the final thing I'll say I really liked about Liz's case study is that it is lifestyle centric career planning. She was a copywriter working big hours. Instead of just saying, I just want to quit or I want to make more money, she said, what lifestyle do I want? She wanted autonomy. She wanted to be done by work by three to spend time with her kids and have similar compensation to what she was getting from working 60 plus hours. And there wasn't a switch she could flick. Tomorrow I'm going to have that. But she knew what she was working backwards from. And she changed after change. Let me get really good. So good I can't ignore you. Let me go freelance. Now that I'm freelance, let me though in tactics, let me tame the way I deal with clients. Let me work with distractions. Work, work, work, work all towards this eventual goal and then she hit it. So she started with the lifestyle and that drove all of these decisions and she finally got there. And as she says, it's exactly the lifestyle she had imagined. So Liz, I really like that case study. This is my advice and action for crafting a deep life. Making double the money too. Oh yeah, so I had that wrong. Yeah, she's doubling. Yeah, she's raised her weight rates twice and she's on a 40 hour a week retainer. Yeah, so she's probably making more bank than she was doing 60 hour weeks. I like it. Yeah. All right, well good work Liz. All right. Well, we have one more segment in the show.


Cal talks about Blinkist and ExpressVPN (01:11:58)

There is some recent news about teenagers and smartphones, including a story that might surprise you before we get there. Let me just briefly mention another sponsor that makes the podcast possible. That's our longtime friends and our longtime partners at Blinkist. As I often say on this show in our current culture ideas are power. The best source of ideas are books. This is where you get to see the end result of years of years of careful thinking and experience and careful crafting of the ideas into a really clear, legible, written form. Books are the best source of ideas. The problem is figuring out which books to read and which books to pass on. This is where Blinkist enters the picture. They offer 15 minute text and audio explainers called blinks of over 5,000 nonfiction book titles spread through 27 different categories. So now if you're interested in a particular book, you can just listen to while you're doing the dishes or read real quick on your phone a 15 minute summary of that book, get the main ideas, get the lay of the land and say, okay, is this really what I'm looking for or not? If not, hey, I got some good knowledge out of this move on. If it is, now I know this is the book I should buy. I use Blinkist to triage my book buying decisions. And not only does it help me not waste time on books I shouldn't read, I actually get a lot of use out of what I learned from those 15 minute blinks. You'd be surprised by how often I say I didn't end up reading that book, but I got a term and a definition and a couple theories out of that which I'm actually going to be able to use. And so you learn from the blinks themselves. I'm really, really big believer of it. They have now also added something called short cast, which provides 15 minute summaries of what was discussed on popular long form podcasts. You can begin to extract information from those as well without having to listen to everything all the way through. So right now Blinkist has a special offer just for our audience. If you go to blinkus.com/deep to start your free seven day trial, you will get 25% off a Blinkist premium membership. Because Blinkist spelled BLINK IST Blinkist.com/deep to get 25% off any seven day free trial. Blinkist.com/deep. I also want to talk about our longtime partners at ExpressVPN. Using the internet without ExpressVPN is like checking in your baggage at the airport without a lock. You think your stuff is private, but you never know who's going to go through all of that embarrassing stuff you have hidden in there. Well, this is what happens when you use the internet. You think it's private. Hey, no one's looking over my shoulder. So I'm going to whatever embarrassing website or shopping or what have you. But your internet service provider is looking at this. Like, oh, what's Cal up to? Let me keep track of what he's doing. You know why? Because I could sell that information to advertisers who say, "Oh, Cal is really into this weird thing. Now we can sell him ads." People watch what you do on the internet. A VPN prevents them from doing so. When you use a VPN, you create an encrypted connection to a VPN server. All your internet service provider or anyone sniffing the packets out of the radio waves and the air around you, all they learn is that you are sending encrypted packets to a VPN server. The VPN server then unencrypts those packets and sends them along to who you really want to talk to, the website you really wanted to go to, the streaming movie you really wanted to watch. When those packets come back to the VPN server, they re-encrypt them and send them back to you. So everyone who's trying to observe what you're doing finds out nothing other than the fact that you are communicating to the internet through a VPN server. You have to use a VPN, especially when you're traveling. If you're going to use a VPN, express VPN is the one I like. They have more servers all around the world. So you're just often you're going to be able to find a server near wherever you happen to be. They have a lot of bandwidth. It's very fast and the software is really easy to use. You turn it on on whatever device you're using with just a click and then it's seamless and you're using the internet like normal. It handles all of the tunneling to the VPN server on your behalf. So express VPN is how I protect my internet traffic and it's what I recommend for you as well. So secure your online activity by visiting expressvpn.com/deep today. It's e-x-p-r-e-s-s-vpn.com/deep and you will get three extra months free when you go to expressvpn.com/deep. So don't forget that/deep. That's where you get the free time. All right, Jesse.


Reaction And Insights

Cal Reacts - New Insights on Kids and Phones (01:16:55)

I've got one more segment today. A quick news reaction segment. I want to start with this article from the Wall Street Journal. This was published on November 5th. It's written by Julie Jargen. It's an awesome name by the way. The name of this article is this school took away smartphones. The kids don't mind. That's a very interesting national experiment. If you're watching on YouTube, I had this up on the screen but I'll narrate what I'm doing here. Here's the setting. There's a school called Buxton. It's very small, 57 student high school in Williamstown in northwest Massachusetts. It's a small school that had prided itself on its sense of community. They began to worry. The students and the staff began to worry about the impact of phones on their students. They saw their students retreating more to their screens, not socializing. The brief closure for the pandemic seemed to make this even worse. They had a couple negative events happen where someone was live streaming a fight. They said, "Okay, enough. We are going to take the phones away." Keep in mind, this is a boarding school. These students live at the school. When we say we're going to take their phones away, they don't mean no phones in class. No, your phones are back at your house in California. You don't have a phone with you where you live on this campus. You literally don't have a phone with you. As the article says, many students thought that the school wouldn't actually do that, but it happened. Let's see what happened. This fall, students were not permitted to have smartphones on campus of the Buxton schools, and the teachers also agreed not to use their smartphones while in the classroom or while on campus. What the school did instead is they gave all the students light phones, L-I-G-H-T. If you're watching on YouTube, I'll show you a picture of a light phone right here. That's what it looks like. I wrote about these in digital minimalism. It's just a very simple phone, well designed but very simple phone. You can call and you can do simple text messaging, and that's it. No internet browser, no social media, no YouTube. Now it's been two months. We want to check in on what happened at the school. It's November. They tried this this fall. You should know. I should emphasize this, not surprisingly, when they made this announcement at the beginning of the school year, it resulted in chaos. The principal said, "Everyone was crying. Kids were yelling at us. Parent feedback was really mixed." Now that we're two months into this experiment, let us see what happened. I'll scroll down here a little bit. I numbered a few observations about what happened. The report in this article. Number one, students have gotten used to not being glued to their screens all the time. The one student they profiled said, "It's nice to see other students walking around campus without looking down at their phones." Number two, here's a senior at the school, says, "It has been a relief." Now she can go on strolls or study without being bombarded by notifications and the pressure to respond to text. Number three, the teachers say they had to adjust and they realize this adjustment has been for the better. So here's a math teacher talking. I used to have my smartphone on my desk when I was teaching and there are moments of checking in with the outside world. Now there's nothing that brings me out of the classroom. Number four, the first assessment to the school conducted about how this experiment was going led to them discovering that the ban hasn't been as bad as the students feared. Teachers are reporting that students are more engaged in class. Number five, there's a quote here from Ann Limke who wrote Dopamine Nation. She's been on a lot of the big podcast. You maybe have heard her on Huberman. I think she went on Joe Rogan. She has been encouraging for a long time that schools adopt similar bans. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect students to please themselves without help. So I put that as number five because I think it sums up what we're seeing at the Buxton School in Williamstown, Massachusetts. When you remove phones from these teenagers' lives, they get better in almost all the ways. If you expect the teenagers to have to do this unilaterally, good luck. You are in an unstable, suboptable Nash equilibrium when we're talking about the social dynamics of a high school. I can't be the only kid who is not using my phone, who's not on whatever social media kids use these days, who's not on the group pecs. If I'm the only kid not using this, there's huge negative externalities. Because that applies to each individual student, the equilibrium here in a game theoretic sense is we all just have to keep using this. But if the school comes in and says none of you can use it, they're free. And they can all exist in a state that has all of these other advantages. Now I definitely picked up this vibe three years ago when I was on the road doing the book tour for digital minimalism. Time and again, I would hear from teenagers or from the parents of teenagers who are talking about there is this exhaustion with all these tools. 15 year old, 16 year old, 17 year old, 18 year old, they're tired of it. They're tired of having to be on Snapchat. That was the thing back then. And all these group pecs, the exhaustion of trying to keep up with what's going on. Having a TikTok and keep track of the, you know, did you see this TikTok? What's happening with this TikTok I was doing there? This is exhausting to them. They feel like they're trapped. So kids are very culturally savvy. They're very attuned. And so they're no fans of the titans of Silicon Valley. They don't love this idea that their time is essentially monetizing Mark Zuckerberg's fortune. That their time is monetizing Elon Musk. It's not like they're big fans of these companies. So we have this perfect mixture for trying to break free from this situation of teenage phone and social media overuse, which is they're exhausted by it and they don't even really like the companies in the first place. But they're trapped because it's hard to unilaterally move out of this by yourself. So we need to find ways like the Bucks in school did to normalize this. We cannot take so seriously the argument of like, well, everyone else is doing it. Kids these days, what can we do? What can we do? We can actually step in and say, let me make your life easier. There might be crying and yelling upfront. We're not using phones in this house until you go to college. We're not using phones at this school at all. You can't even bring it into the school. We have a whole wall of light phones if you need to call your parents. Don't worry about it. The parents have to get more involved here. The educators have to get more involved here. So I want to jump to one other article to help motivate this. Why this is so important. This is a new paper and I'll just briefly mention the abstract here. This is a economist Elaine Gao. It's a working paper that she wrote. So this is not yet peer reviewed. She's a job market paper. So it's a work she wrote as part of her process of applying for professorships. The article is called Social Media and Teenage Mental Health, quasi-experimental evidence. So Elaine did a really cool study here. She correlated in British Columbia, particular towns, looking at a couple different towns in British Columbia, a couple different pieces of evidence to try to get at the impact of social media on teenagers. The hard part about doing these type of studies, of course, is confounding factors. This has been the big issue with these giant social science databases where you have all this information demographic and answers to questions about mental health from a lot of different kids. You try to go through and find these correlations. I wrote a New Yorker piece about this a year or two ago. It's complicated. If you're just trying to find correlations, like the people who said yes to social media are also more likely to say yes to having issues with mental health. There's a lot of confounding variables. And so there's more effort in the field now to find ways to pull apart these variables and get a cleaner look at, can we isolate everything but social media in a way that lets us see more clearly what is impact is free from confounding variables. Okay. Elaine found a way to do this. So what she was looking at was the arrival of high-speed wireless internet in different neighborhoods of this region in British Columbia because she had shown it's easy to see that when high-speed wireless internet shows up, social media use becomes much higher in those areas. All right. That's an easy mechanistic explanation. If I have high-speed wireless internet, I can do social media on my phone. There's going to be a lot more social media use. So she could look at the arrival of high-speed internet in these neighborhoods and basically have that be a pretty good proxy for the arrival of heavy social media use. She then used 20 years of student records from these neighborhoods to get at specifically student mental health issues. So now she could look at in these different areas what was happening with student social mental health and what was happening with high-speed internet arriving or not as a proxy for social media. All right. So she built a complicated model. It's called a triple difference model. And here's what she found. Estimates indicate, I'll highlight this here, estimates indicate high-speed wireless internet significantly increased teen girls severe mental health diagnoses by 90 percent relative to teen boys over the period when social media became dominant in teenage internet use. I find similar effects across all subgroups. When applying the same strategy, I find null impacts for placebo health conditions. And the final check is really important. You see, let's look at other types of conditions and make sure that we don't see some correlation that when high-speed internet came, that also got worth. That might point to some sort of other confounding factors like, no, no. When high-speed internet arrived, the main thing that got worse in these student health records was mental health and it was mainly in teen girls. This tracks completely with the way that John Hight, for example, summarizes the current social psychology data on this, heavy social media use with teenage girls, has a strong, strong signal in that data. This is coming at this question from a completely different angle with a quasi-experimental design, finding the exact same thing. But as I always say, forget the data. Talk to a teenage girl. We are not trying to isolate a subtle correlation between there's a dioxone chemical in the water supply here that's creating a 5% increase in cancer rates where you really can't figure out this connection unless you get the data just right. You can just talk to these people. Teenage girls, especially heavy social media users, will tell you, this thing has taken over my life. It's an incredible source of anxiety. It's sucked in all of my attention. I can't sleep. This is all I'm doing. They will just tell you directly that this is a problem. So we shouldn't be surprised that as we design these good studies, we find these impacts again and again. But I point this out one more arrow pointing towards the same conclusion that especially for young girls, social media use is damaging to their mental health. I point this out because of the article I talked to you before. It's a call to action. We can take action. We cannot just say kids these days will be kids. I listened to rock and roll and my parents didn't like it. This is different. Rock and roll did not send you to the hospital for self harm at an unprecedented high rate. Rock and roll did not lead to you having a huge generational spike in mental health disorders. This is a small number of companies in the pursuit of profits damaging the psychology of a big segment of American youth. So I like that Buxton school example. We should get more involved and we should be more willing to have kids as happened in Buxton school cry, scream and yell at us because it was two weeks later that those kids were all reporting man, my life is a lot better. All right, Jesse, it's a long one. I think that's all we got the energy for today. So let's wrap things up. Thank you everyone who sent in your questions and your case studies and your live calls. Man, there's so much going on. Thank you also people who sent in these interesting articles. I love your links and pointers. Send those into interesting@calnewport.com. I'll be back next week with a new full-length episode of the show and until then, as always, stay deep.


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