Ep. 226: The Productivity Dragon

Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 226: The Productivity Dragon".

1970-01-01T03:28:42.000Z

Note: This transcription is split and grouped by topics and subtopics. You can navigate through the Table of Contents on the left. It's interactive. All paragraphs are timed to the original video. Click on the time (e.g., 01:53) to jump to the specific portion of the video.


Introduction

Cal's intro (00:00)

I think there's no shortcut here to facing the productivity dragon. A phrase we use often on the show to face the productivity dragon is to confront head on the reality of what is on your plate. Whether it's entirely tractable or entirely impossible. You do not want to hide behind a smoke screen of reactive busyness and just sort of hope it goes away. I'm Cal Newport, and this is Deep Questions, episode 226. So if you are new, this is a show where I answer questions from my audience and offer advice about cultivating a deep life in a world increasingly deluged by distraction. Now I'm here in my deep work HQ. I'm joined by my producer, Jesse. Jesse, I'll tell you what I am excited about today's episode. Back to basics. Fundamentals, baby. Fundamentals. We got a block of questions. We got another block of questions. We got the books I read in November. Yep. Just bread and butter, straight up advice. Now, what we tried to do here was be a little bit thoughtful about our two question blocks. So question block number one, this is going to be more work related, a little bit more nitty gritty. Now, again, for people who are new to the show, the reason why we talk about the guts of how you organize yourself at work, how you plan at work, how you manage tasks at work, the reason why we talk about this is not that we have some interest in increasing the rate at which you accomplish things, increasing the number of things you get done. It's because work has a huge impact on your ability to escape the shallows and live a deeper life. If your day-to-day job is just a reactionary whirlwind of email and Slack that you kind of come home from, but it's still going on and you have to check your phone all day and on the weekend on vacations, it's all just back and forth, always on, never in control. There's no depth to be found. So the first step is to have some control over your working life, to have some control over how things come in, how you handle them, how you organize them. Not only will that make your life better, give you more control, but it also is the first step towards making changes in your working life. Until you control what you're doing now, it's hard to shape what you want to do in the future. So that's why we get into these nitty gritty details. I'm not so interested in you got 10 more tasks done. I am interested in you having a working life that is sustainable and is something from which you can build a deeper existence. The second block of questions will be a little bit more psychological, philosophical, get to some bigger issues surrounding meaning and sustainability, getting away from cheap distraction. So a little more work nitty gritty followed by a little bit more philosophical. And then we forgot last week to do the books I read last month. So we will do it this week at the end of the show. I like to report every month about what I read the month before. Now, one of the things I want to talk about, Jesse, before we get into the questions last week with our interview with JT Ellison, who's a thriller writer, I was kicking off what for me is one of my favorite months of the year, December. I informally call it Thriller December because my habit is in the month of December, I read a bunch of thrillers. Oh, really? Yeah. It's connected to the holidays. The holidays are this nice break after you get going in the fall and you have all this work. Now you have days off, you have Christmas break, you have other types of things going on. So you have this nice break and work. I have fond childhood memories of like the Christmas season and toys and Christmas movies. And so for me as an adult, I rekindle that with reading thrillers. Like I used to read when I was young, typically I'll have some sort of snack with it. I make checks party mix and I'll sit there and I'll have it and I'll sit by the fire. And I've been doing this ever since we had kids. It's what I do in December. I read a bunch of thrillers. So everyone else should, uh, consider doing their own equivalent. I like thrillers. If you like mystery novels, do mystery novels, like cozy mysteries, do cozy cozy mysteries like romance do romance you like whatever niche is the thing you like to read i'm a big believer in taking a month and rediscovering the ability of non-digital analog entertainment to really provide you that type of richer escape than what you get by just letting the screen grab your attention do you parlay that with any of the movies that you watch in the cinematography stuff? I don't do thriller movies. That's a good question. I could do thriller movie December. I haven't. I've actually been on a western kick recently. Got it. Did a little Sergio Leone. Showing my kids some editing from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly last night. The showdown scene. I was showing them the pacing of the cuts and the increasing zoom and the Morseconi, uh, score behind it. I don't think they cared. Uh, I did the searchers recently. So I'm, I'm sort of in a, I'm in a Western, Western mood. Uh, but my thriller writing is coming. Thriller reading is coming along. Well, I finished two. I'm halfway through two more. So picking up some ground, maybe in January, we'll talk about what halfway through two more. So picking up some ground. Maybe in January, we'll talk about what I read. Yeah. So Thriller December.


Call - How do I balance different productivity systems? (05:34)

This is the month to read things that are fun. I was just wondering, like, how would you suggest dealing with what I would consider an overwhelming amount of, like, productivity information? productivity information and i guess what i'm trying to ask is like like how do you recommend shifting through the resources of like productivity because like there's like your podcast your books that you write but they're also like you know a million other people online talking about productivity talking about you know school work etc and i was wondering like what resources or how do you how would how do you know like what resources are good for you in terms of like helping you with your productivity and what resources not to use and what number like how many resources you use like what's like a cap that you would put on the number of resources how would you would use to actually learn about productivity and how to essentially optimize, I guess, your productivity life? All right. Well, Ruan, first of all, I had a college roommate with that same name, so it's sort of nice to hear again. So if Ruan is out there, my old roommate, hello. Good question. It's a good question. So I have a warning to offer you before I give some practical pointers. The warning, and I think this really applies to younger people in particular, you have to be very wary of productivity becoming one of your essential, essentially a leisure interest, like a hobby, like a topic that you're really, really interested in. There are these internet based productivity rabbit holes where you can ramp up your obsession, the precision of your language, the little knobs you're turning on your tools to an extreme level. There's whole Reddit threads you can go down. There's a whole YouTube universes of videos about this. And if you fall into this, like productivity is my hobby. I'm really interested. I want to spend a lot of time in productivity. You will paradoxically probably negatively impact your ability to sustainably do important work. So the challenge for you, especially at your young age, is to be able to have a focus on what's important to you, what you're trying to accomplish. And that's what you're focusing on. And you deploy good enough productivity ideas as needed. It should be, you are the race car driver. What you care about is winning the race. You're going to make sure you use good oil for your car, but it's not what you're all about is obsessing over oils. You just want to make sure you have a good enough oil so that won't get in the way of you winning the race. Maybe that's a metaphor to use here. So be very wary of especially youth-oriented internet productivity culture. It gets kind of weird out there. When I started writing about this stuff, it was mainly books. It gets kind of weird out there. When I started writing about this stuff, it was mainly books. There wasn't a huge internet culture around this. Now you have these study videos. So we want to warn you about these, where people will put up these time lapse cameras and show themselves at a desk studying for 12 hours in a row. And this is a YouTube stunt. It is, you're doing something highly demonstrable and catchy to capture eyeballs. It's really no different than, you know, Mr. Beast early videos. I don't know if you know about this, Jesse, but his, some of his first videos, his first stunts was, uh, he was counting. Yeah. I was thinking about the exact same thing. Like how he counted up to like a million or something. Yeah. Yeah. And it's just like, oh, look at this. It's, it's, it's so extreme and over the top. I got to watch. There's a lot of this going on right now, and especially the student-focused productivity space. Like, look, I'm going to study for 12 hours straight, and it's a whole weird culture. So be very wary of a lot of this internet culture. You just need good enough productivity to get done what you want to get done. So your focus should be on what are you trying to do? What do you want your life to be like as a high school student? What do you want your college career to be like? What do you want your life after college to be on what are you trying to do? What do you want your life to be like as a high school student? What do you want your college career to be like? What do you want your life after college to be like? You want good answers to this, good, well-rounded answers, not just how good are my grades and what school I get into. What is my Saturday like as a senior in high school? What is my experience like as a 21-year-old at college? What does my life look like when I'm 26-year-old? What type of place do I live? What role does work play? What role does community play? You want to have these clear visions. And then we just work back and say, what do we need to execute that? That is the context in which you just start worrying about how am I organizing my time? How am I studying? A means to an end. It cannot become the end itself. So in terms of practical pointers, well, I mean, I'm going to somewhat, I suppose, self-aggrandizingly point towards my own work because I know my work well. I would read my book, How to Become a High School Superstar. In particular, I would look at chapter one, maybe I call it part one. And the more narrowly than that, the part one playbook in that book is a 20 page section of the book. That's just for high school students. Here is how to manage your study habits and your time. High school students specific. You might also look at my book, how to become a straight A student. It's aimed at college kids, but it's tested timetested strategies for managing your time, managing notes, handling reading. Not all of it is high school specific, but there's interesting advice there. The High School Superstar book essentially adapts that advice to high school students in that part one playbook. That's why I was pointing towards that. I would also say look at the first year to two years of the archives of my blog. Go to calnewport.com slash blog. Click the archives on the side. 2007, 2008. You're going to get a wealth of articles on concrete time management productivity ideas that are tailored for students. Now, I trust my own work because I don't like obsessing over productivity for obsession's sake. All of my advice is tested in the crucible of real students. All of my advice is aimed at being able to do what you want to do with your studies while still having a full and well-rounded rich life. So I trust my own work will not lead you down a rabbit hole to these 15 hour study sessions or Reddit obsessed compulsive tweaking of little systems and software setups. I worry about that productivity prawn world. So I trust my own advice. But the bigger picture thing here is whatever advice you use, again, know what you're trying to do and only then say, what do I need to take off the shelf of time management, organization, productivity strategies, that just helped me make sure I get there. Good enough tools is what you need. Not an obsession. All right, Ruan, heard that name in a while. All right, let's go to a written question. What do we have next, Jesse? All right, next question is from suddenly senior in Seattle, a 26 year old database administrator. What is some All right, next question is from Suddenly Senior in Seattle, a 26-year-old database administrator. What is some advice you can give to somebody who has been burnt out but recently got thrust into a lot of responsibility? Basically, a more senior co-worker quit unexpectedly and left me with all his responsibilities.


How do I deal with a sudden increase in my work responsibilities? (12:40)

Well, I get this. You're 26 years old, so you're still relatively early in your career. Someone quits. Now you have a lot more work than you were expecting, a lot more work than you were asking for. I think there's no shortcut here to facing the productivity dragon. the show. To face the productivity dragon is to confront head-on the reality of what is on your plate, whether it's entirely tractable or entirely impossible. You do not want to hide behind a smokescreen of reactive busyness and just sort of hope it goes away. You need to see what the new challenges you face. So what I'm going to suggest is that you actually write this out, use a document, put it up on a whiteboard, however you want to do it. But I would list out every one-time responsibility and ongoing responsibilities that are currently on your plate. The stuff you had before your coworker resigned, all of the new stuff that just got added. And I would divide it into those two categories. There's one time is this needs to get done. This conference is being organized. This update to our system has to get completed. It's projects that when they're done, they're done. And in your ongoing list, it's, I now I'm in charge of support for this part of the system. I'm now in charge of whatever client testimonial gathering. So you have all of your one-time responsibilities, you know, about all of your ongoing responsibilities, add all the new stuff, write it down, stare at it, let the sweat come, let the heartbeat go up, but face it. This is what's now on your plate. Next you say, let's start wrangling and see where we are. So for these one-time projects, start figuring out rough timelines for how you're going to get these done. Okay, I have this thing here needs to get done. Next week, I could start gathering input from the whatever stakeholders. And then the week after that, I can on Tuesday and Wednesday, I can actually just get this thing done. You're doing that type of timeline specific thinking for as many of these one-time projects as possible. So you're actually looking to your calendar, coming up with a plan, writing it down. And of course, as you're coming up with these plans, tentatively mark them on your calendar so that you're not double-dipping on this time. If this day is already busy with something else, you can't use it for this project. For the ongoing work, figure out your processes. All right, so now I'm in charge of all these type of support requests. How am I going to do that? I'm going to let them gather in this tool. And on Mondays, I look at them on Mondays and Wednesdays. I look at them. You have to start figuring out how it's going to happen. Oh, I have to hear all these reports from the employees who used to be under this coworker who just resigned. Well, I'm going to set up an office hours and they can come to me on this office hours on these days. This is when we discuss these issues or we have a stand up on Friday morning process. You can change these later, but come up with a reasonable process for each of these ongoing things. All right. So once you've done this, you look at the reality and say, what really fits? Probably you have too much to make this all work. When you're trying to figure out these execution plans, you run out of time. When you're trying to think of all these processes for your new ongoing responsibilities versus your old, you're out of days. You're out of days to actually implement everything you want to implement. This is when you can now in an informed manner, start deferring, delegating and deleting. Because you're seeing the whole picture. You're seeing what fits, what's not fitting, what's really causing the problem. And so you can defer some things and say, look, we can't do this project till the next quarter. This is going to have to wait till next year. This all just fell on my plate. I'm trying to figure things out. I need to move this, this, and this to the summer. And this we're not going to do till the spring. You can delete some things. Look, we got to stop this initiative and this initiative. We just, it's too much. We lost them. We lost this guy. I already have this going on. I'm looking at my plate. I'm facing the productivity dragon. We got to prioritize here. And I think we need to put this on hold and that on hold and delegate. Look, we need someone else to do this and someone else to do this. This is important. I have too much now. I'm trying to make this all work. If we could delegate this to Sam and this to Rachel, then this is going to make more sense. So you're deferring, you're deleting, you're delegating, but you're doing so not from a defensive crouch of, oh my God, this is due tomorrow. I just have no time. You're doing it from an informed stance, shoulders back, chest out. I see everything. I've been trying to work with the plan. This is a killer. If I can move this, eliminate that, shift this over here, boom, this all works. So it allows you to be informed. This is hard. You're 26. You're probably relatively new in your job. So you got to have some confidence here. You're going to have to stand up a little tall and say, I'm going to come to my boss. I'm going to come to my boss. I'm going to come to my team. This is what we need to do. They will detect the confidence that comes from you having faced a productivity dragon. If you don't, they're going to see desperation. They're like, ah, this guy can't handle it. He's anxious. He's overwhelmed. He's not cut out for it. You faced a productivity dragon. They say, this guy knows what of what he speaks. He's got his arms around things. He's got his plans. Okay. We're willing to go along with it. So that's what I would suggest. The worst thing you could do here as again, just go into your inbox every day, your calendar's full and you're just whacking away at incoming, you know, kudzu like, uh, just trying to survive each day. You'll get overwhelmed. The dragon will kill you with his fire breath when your back is turned. Face it now, make the best plan you can move things, delete things, delegate things until the plan works. Be confident about what you're asking for. I think that's the way to handle a situation like this. Yeah. I love that advice. All right. Ooh, our next, next question is a Scottish. Yeah. Scottish gentleman. Chris from Scotland. My question is about the waiting for column on my task boards and how that interferes with my weekly and daily planning. I have no way of knowing when in progress tasks on my waiting for calm will be released, which means I don't know how much time I need to set aside in my weekly plan.


How use the “waiting for” column on my task board when crafting a weekly plan? (18:40)

I liked in the original question, Chris described himself. I forgot exactly what it said, but it was like, I'm from a wet and dreary coastal corner of Scotland, which I would love to see everyone. I've said this on the show before. I should be Scottish just from like a climate and, uh, aesthetics point of view that I should be, you know, in Edinburgh and have a cabin on the North coast and some golf gloves. Now that's you. I had your friend of the show. Uh, Dave Epstein was over at the house the other night for dinner and he was telling me about, he did a speaking gig recently in Edinburgh and I was jealous. He was like, yeah, it's everything you've said positively about it. He's like, yeah, it's true. He's like, you could walk, you're in a castle and you walk for 30 minutes and you're at, you know, on some moor with some beautiful like steep cliff and it's all accessible and it's there's statues to David Hume and it's there's a whole intellectual culture. You could write Dracula too at that castle that Bram Stroker wrote from. Yeah, that'll be my thriller. It'll be a mix-up. Dracula Productivity. So it'll be a Dracula book, but really be about sort of how he organized all the different, you know, because it's complicated. You got to keep the castle going. You got to suck a lot of blood. Like how do you work that out? And you got to have like a coffin, but no one, so it'll all be, it'll be like a productivity Dracula thriller. And that's what I'm gonna do. I'll write an end to bro. All right. So Chris had a question about the waiting for column on his task boards. All right. So, uh, as longtime listeners know, I'm an advocate of using task boards instead of lists for keeping track of your open professional obligations. I say have a different board for every role, have columns on each board for the different categories that you're moving tasks around on. Every board should have a waiting for column. So if there's something you're waiting to hear back about, like this person has to get back to me with this information, I'm waiting for a draft of the report from this person. You can put something on that waiting for column so you don't have to keep track of that in your head. Every time you check your task board, you can you can just see right away, oh, these are things I'm waiting to hear back from people for. That actually is going to open up a lot of cognitive real estate that otherwise would be caught in these loops and anxiety about forgetting things. So it's an important column to have in any task management system. Chris's complaint is that his coworkers are unpredictable. So if he is waiting for something from someone, he maybe has a note about that on his board. So he hasn't forgotten it, but he doesn't know when it's going to come back. So he doesn't know how to plan his week because he doesn't know what on those waiting for columns will come back this week. And different things require different amounts of time. So he doesn't know how much time to put aside for these things because he doesn't know what's actually going to come back. Well, that's a common question or a common issue, Chris, and I have three options for you. All right. So option number one, deal with things that come in the next week. And you could just communicate this with the people you work for. I schedule my weeks one week at a time. So just so you know, when something comes in, So just so you know, when something comes in, I will most likely get to it the following week in that next week's plan. So that's one thing you can do. Hey, you do your draft report, get it back to me when you're ready, but just know it'll be the week after it gets back before I can then do my next work on it and just plan accordingly. Two, get people to actually commit the times. I know you say your colleagues are hyperactive hive mind type people, but say, look, this is on your plate. When are you going to get this back to me by? I need a schedule. I need to put aside time to deal with this. So when should I expect to have this back by? Great. We now agree on this. If you need to do it, do a shared calendar event, but instead of for a particular time, it's just a shared all day event that says, you know, Jesse gets back the report. So that shows up on their calendar and hold them to it. So then if they don't do it, there's some people who just won't because they're not organized in their time. They live reactively and their lives are stressful and we should feel bad about them. And they just won't get it back. Well, then there's a clear consequence. Like, look, I had put aside time. We'd said Wednesday, I'd put aside time Thursday to work on this. We blew past that. So, you know, get it to me when you can, but it might be a while now until I can turn it around. So it's like they had a chance to get back. You had negotiated a time. They'll learn pretty quickly, most of the people you work with, you're pretty serious about this. You're pretty tight on your time. And when you set a deadline, you've actually put aside time. And if they don't get it to you in that time, that time is going to be wasted for you and it's going to slow down the whole project. So you'll probably get more compliance that way. So that's your other option. The third option is to schedule less stuff. Maybe you're scheduling your weekly plan too tight. You have too many things in your schedule that now you don't have any flexibility when something else comes in. I would loosen up my weekly plan. This would be option number three and do more work on your daily plan. So your weekly plan should maybe be a little more higher altitude. Like here's a couple big things we need to get done. Here's a heuristic. We're working every morning on this, that level of things, but you're not dealing with every, every major task you want to work on every major initiative you want to work on. You figure that out day to day. Now I'm doing my daily time block plan. I'm going to fill every minute. So now if something comes in on Tuesday, it's not like Wednesday has already been completely filled on your weekly plan with every minute. When you get to Wednesday, you can figure out what you want to do and you can integrate this thing that you just got back more easily into your plan. So schedule less stuff on your weekly plan. Going along with that, if the issue is your calendar is too full, so you keep saying yes to all these different meetings, and now you don't have enough time left in your day to get the unexpected thing that arrived done or processed. Schedule less things on your calendar and maybe have an ethic of, I don't schedule things before noon, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don't schedule anything at all. Whatever heuristic you need, give yourself breathing room that way. So those are your three options. Deal with things the week after it comes in. Two, negotiate deadlines from people so that you can put aside time after those deadlines and hold people to it. Or three, just schedule less stuff on the weekly scale so you have more flexibility day by day to fit in what might fit.


Cal talks about Blinkist and Rhone (25:13)

All right, so those are a few nitty gritty questions. I want to move on in a second here to some more philosophical, psychological questions about the deep life. First, I want to take a brief moment to mention a sponsor that makes this show possible, and that is our longtime sponsors, our longtime friends at Blinkist. As I always say, ideas are power in today's society, and the best source of ideas are books. Unlike a tweet, unlike a quip on a podcast, unlike a newsletter, when you're reading a book, you're reading years of systematic thinking on a topic. You're reading the result of probably a whole year of just trying to figure out the right way to express it. It's the highest quality form of ideas you can get. So books should be critical. How do you figure out what books to read? Use Blinkist. So Blinkist is a subscription service that offers you 15 minute text and audio summaries of over 5,000 nonfiction books in 27 categories. These summaries are called Blinks. So you can read a Blink or listen to it in your ear. It won't take more than 50 minutes and get all the main ideas of over 5,000 important nonfiction books. What this allows you to do is quickly triage potential books to read. Listen or read a blink for a book. If it catches your attention of, yes, this is right in the sweet spot of what I need to know about, then you go and you buy the book. If it's not, you've saved yourself buying the book, starting to reading it, seeing it's not relevant, and you still have the main ideas of that book. So you can file those away and use them as needed. Blinkist has also added Shortcast, which are blinks for podcasts. So before you invest three hours of your time listening to some author like me on Sam Harris' show, you can listen to a short cast and get the main ideas and figure out whether or not that's worth investing more of your time. So Blinkist is a intellectual triage tool. Books are key to the deep life. Blinkist is key to navigating books. So right now, Blinkist has a special offer just for our audience. If you go to Blinkist.com slash deep to start your free seven-day trial, you will get 25% off your premium Blinkist membership. That's Blinkist spelled B-L-I-N-K-I-S-T, Blinkist.com slash deep to get 25% off and a seven day free trial. Blinkist.com slash deep. I also want to talk about our friends at Roan, R-H-O-N-E. In particular, I want to talk about a newer product from them, which I am loving. I've long worn Roan products. I'd long worn in particular their athletic shirt. I use it to exercise. In the summer, I wear them all the time. This is why I was excited to hear they had this new product, which is the commuter shirt, a breathable, flexible, wrinkle-free, really sharp looking dress shirt. So all that technology we like about Roan put into a dress shirt. Look, dress shirts were in need of a radical reinvention. And I think the commuter shirt from Roan accomplishes this. So what you get with Roan is their four-way stretched fabric, which I know so well. Breathable, flexible. Lets you enjoy what life throws your way, be it a long commute or 18 holes of golf. Jesse, you should think about the Roan commuter shirt for all of your golf audience. What's the requirement at your club? Collar shirt. Collar shirt. It's got to be tucked in. Tennis is 50% white, so either shorts or a shirt. So this would be perfect for the golf because these shirts, it looks nice, super flexible, super breathable. So it's like you're wearing an athletic shirt, but it looks nice. Probably be good for tennis too because you have to wear a collared shirt in tennis. There you go. Yeah. It's wrinkle-free. This is critical. This is what I like about the commuter shirt is when I go to give talks. So I have to wear button down shirts to give talks. It's in my bag. I don't travel with a hanging bag. The Rhone fabric in their commuter shirt is going to come out of that bag. I hang it up. It looks great. I don't have to iron it like a pure cotton shirt. It's not going to wrinkle. When you're traveling, when you're doing business travel, all of that makes a big difference. It also has gold fusion anti-odor technology. So you're at that conference all day, it's hot, you're sweating at certain points, the Roan commuter shirt takes it. Not going to get a smell or whatever. It just uses its gold fiber, however that works, gold fusion and takes care of it. So they sent me some commuter shirts. I'm using them when I teach this upcoming spring. So I didn't teach this fall. I'm teaching this upcoming spring. The commuter shirt is going to be what I'm going to wear. Flexible, breathable all day, get in front of the class. I'm teaching two classes. That shirt's going to last all day. I'm glad they invented that. So the commuter shirt can get you through any workday and straight into whatever comes next head to roan.com slash Cal and use that promo code Cal to save 20% off your entire order. That's 20% off your entire order. When you head to R H O N E.com slash Cal and use that code Cal, it's time to find your corner office comfort. All right. Let's, uh, let's do some more questions, Jesse. What do we got next? All right. Sounds good. Steven, 31-year-old engineer. I really like your idea of working at a natural pace that ebbs and flows. I struggle with thinking that I'm never doing enough and your philosophy would give me permission to let myself let up a bit when appropriate and go hard when appropriate. However, this seems to clash with a concept I read about in your friend Greg McKeown's book, Effortless. He describes a race to the South Pole between two expedition parties. The team that won picked a distance to travel every day and did not stray from that goal. The team that pushed hard during good weather and laid back a bit during tough weather, lost horribly.


If I adopt a natural pace to my work will I lose the race to success? (31:20)

How can we square your advice with the case that I described in Greg's book? So this idea of doing enough, what Stephen's referring to is working at a natural pace. So my principle of working at a natural pace, which is one of the principles of my emerging philosophy of slow productivity. So I have these three of my emerging philosophy of slow productivity. So I have these three principles for my philosophy of thorough productivity, do fewer things, working at a natural pace, obsessing over quality. So this is the middle one. And so the natural pace means let's escape just being pegged at 10, you know, day after day, all day long, maybe a little break on the weekend, week after week, month after month, year after year. Humans are wired, I argued, for much more seasonality or variability in this space. And in fact, in my recent New Yorker article on what hunter-gatherers can teach us about how to handle modern work, I actually talked about the paleolithic origins of exactly this idea that if we study what work meant for the first two to 300,000 years of our species existence, it was highly variable. Intense periods, non-intense periods, busy parts of the day, slow parts of the day, quiet weeks, busy weeks, all sorts of variability. So what we're doing today, let's say in a knowledge work office environment is quite artificial. All right. So does this clash with Greg's story of racing to the South Pole? And I would say, no, it's just all about timescales. So Steven, you're applying the wrong timescale when you're thinking about natural productivity and the race to the South Pole. The right timescale there is during the period in which that's teams were trying to get to the South Pole, whatever that was, a hundred days or however long it took, that was a busy period. And then presumably after that expedition, there was a period where they could rest and recuperate. So the seasonality relevant to that story is on the scale of months. We had these two busy months as we were part of an expedition we had been preparing for for years. And then maybe we had the month after that, we were trying to learn how to operate without the toes, we lost a frost bite. So much lower intensity. You were applying the wrong time scale here in your analysis. You were applying a daily time scale to this period of intense expeditions and saying, well, should you be having busy days and non-busy days while you're trying to get to the South Pole? No, when you're doing that, you should be trying to get to the South Pole. I think that's the tricky part about working at a natural pace is that you have multiple scales at which it can possibly apply daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and annually. At all of those scales, you can have variation of intensity. You can have a busy morning followed by a nap in the afternoon. You can have a busy week followed by a less busy week. You can have a busy spring followed by a less busy summer. You can have a couple-year period where you're fighting, let's say, for tenure that is busier as compared to the year after you get tenure if you're fighting, let's say for tenure, that is busier as compared to the year after you get tenure if you're a professor. So all of these different scales, natural pace can apply. This does not mean, however, that that natural pace should always apply at all those scales. So it's variable. So you're kind of figuring out at what scales am I applying this right now? And so if you're in a very busy period, there's a deadline you're trying to hit. You're trying to get to the South Pole ahead of someone else. The daily scale is not relevant. You're going to be working hard every day, but the monthly scale is probably relevant. We got to offset this hard period with a recovery period. If you're in a career where you're trying to, like we talked about with the example with tenure, you might be really thinking, annually is a big thing you're thinking about here. A busy two years of publication, but I'm really going to, then I have sabbatical right after that, and I'm really going to take my foot off the accelerating pedal. So different scales matter and you kind of mix and match. And so maybe for a while you're on this annual thing, there's going to be a hard two years, but you try to look for there. Let me find some months in this year that I can take off to just give myself a breather, or I have a tough week, but Friday, I really could take Friday and I could take your foot off the accelerator. It's a constant exploration, tinkering, experimentation process of figuring out at which of these scales are you able to operate with seasonality, recognizing it will never be all the scales at the same time. So that I think is the right way to look at it. For those people in those situations, the relevant scales were larger. At other times of their life or your life, you might be able to do seasonality at smaller scales. Now, hopefully that helps. I'm working this out in my book. So when that book comes out, which right now we're thinking, by the way, So when that book comes out, which right now we're thinking, by the way, February of 2024. So not the February coming up in a couple months, but the February after that, that's our current target for my slow productivity book coming out. By the time that book comes out, and I've already written a draft of this giant chapter on working at a natural pace. By the time that comes out, I'll have worked out through a lot more. I'll give you a preview though. All right, let me give you a quick preview because you'll all forget about this. By February 2024, you'll have forgotten about this. One of the stories I've been working on, one of the case studies I've been working on for that chapter is Lin-Manuel Miranda and the premiere of, not Hamilton, but In the Heights, this was his first play Broadway play won the Tony for best musical. And then Hamilton came next. And I, I did a lot of research on, on Miranda because there's this, there's this story of like, look, he's a super precocious guy. He debuted in the Heights as a college student. As a college student, he did a production with other college students, this precocious guy. But when you actually get into the story of what he actually did in college and when this play was actually ready to premiere on Broadway, there's a five-year gap between there. And I really get into how he nurtured this thing over years with ebbing and flowing of energy and other things going on in his life and other jobs that he had, but how he kept coming back to it. And there's busy periods and non-busy periods. He took his time. It wasn't, I'm this brilliant 19-year-old and then next year I have a Broadway winning hit. So it's one of the stories I work on in that chapter on working at a natural pace is Lin Manuel Miranda's. It's an example of somehow the pace required to create something great is sometimes a long one. Another story about this, which I don't have room for it in the book now, but I spent a lot of time researching it, was Rachel Carson. So Rachel Carson is, you know, as the author of Silent Spring, which created the modern environmental movement about DDT and its impact on, for example, birds. And she actually wrote that not far from here, Silver Spring. Her first breakout book was called The Seas Beneath Us. Might be Underneath Us. I think it was Beneath Us. It was about the ocean. And if you go back and look at Carson's story, she was working for the U.S. Fisheries Bureau. She had to actually drop out of graduate school because it was the depression and she had to help support her family. She got a temporary job writing about the ocean for the Fisheries Bureau. Actually, she was writing scripts for radio. They're doing 52 seven-minute long radio segments about the sea and she was writing scripts for radio. They're doing 52, seven minute long radio segments about the sea. And she was writing these and that morphed into a full-time job. So she was in a world where she was writing about the ocean. She had this job. She wanted to be a full-time writer. That's what she was trying to figure out how to do. And she wrote a book early on about the sea. It was called The Sea Wind and it didn't do well. She wrote that kind of fast. And so she realized, okay, I've got one more shot at this. If I can write a really successful book, I can quit my job at the fisheries bureau and write full time about nature, which is what she wanted to do. And I did all this research about this really long process. It took her five years to write her next book part-time while she was also working at the Fisheries Bureau because she realized this thing has to be great. It has to be so good it can't be ignored. And so it was this drawn out process with busier periods and other periods where she had to pull back. And she crafted this beautiful book where it had all of the modern science about the history of life on earth which was very new at the time and she got it all just right and she went back and talked to every scientist confirmed every fact then she wrote and rewrote every sentence multiple times and then she read each sentence out loud to her mom to get the sonority just right like how does this sound is the language really working and by the time she was done and this book came out it was was a monster hit. 88 weeks in a row on the New York Times bestseller list. That book she had written five years earlier that didn't sell, barely sold a copy, they re-released it, New York Times bestseller list. The book was so good that in the month before it came out, Bill Sean at the New Yorker excerpted basically half of it in three consecutive issues of the magazine in June of that year. This was 1951. Half of the book he excerpted in the New Yorker because he knew there was something so special there. So again, these are the type of stories I've been thinking about with the natural pace. Sometimes things take longer and it's up and down, up and down. And sometimes it's, I'm going to the South pole and this is what we're doing for the next hundred days. And then, you know, we'll rest for the year after that. So natural pace can mean a lot of things. But the thing that I don't think works is just, I'm just pegged out of 10 day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. And that's just my career. We're not wired for that. Different paces matter. How do you find those examples? You know, yeah, it's a good question. Um, well, I read a lot, so I just, I just, I often have these things in the back of my mind, threads to pull. And sometimes I just think, I bet there's an interesting story there. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda. I just thought, uh, after I saw Hamilton, like, I just want to know more about this guy's story. Got it. Right. And I'm really good at researching this. Like I know I can tell you beat by beat starting in college to Hamilton, what went on with Lin-Manuel Miranda. That's pulling from profiles. That's pulling from press releases. That's pulling from obscure articles like in playbill magazine about uh you know when in the heights got accepted into this development program up in connecticut and a repertory theater has this program to help develop uh musical productions and and young playwrights and they write up these summaries of it all these pieces i pulled together and then i see the whole trajectory and then i look back and say what are the lessons here that's hitting me? And that's like with his story. This is what hit me was he's not just this precocious genius that came up with the idea and wrote the play as a, as a, in college, actually the version of in the Heights that he released in college, they produced was not very good. It didn't have any of the elements that originally had it. When a Tony, he stopped working on it and did another play for the rest of his time at school. And the play he did was not very good. It was really afterwards. It was some alumni of his school who looked him up in New York and said, I think there was one element of this that was working. You're introducing a hip hop idiom into an otherwise sort of melodic classic musical theater idiom. And there's something there that's working. And they started workshopping and they started, there's this long process where they were, these people owned a theater company in New York. And so they would, they would bring in actors and they would do readings and he'd work on it. And there's this long process. And then eventually, so the book wasn't very good. This was not Miranda's strong point was the book for plays, like the actual lyrical content. And so they brought in this young playwright and this was so fortuitous. This is a talented playwright who then went on five years later, won a Pulitzer prize. Right. So they got this phenomenal talent. She was this phenomenal talent. So now they had her working and, and now it was like really starting to come together, but it took five years. I mean, the guy had to figure out how to do it. He had this, all this talent. I mean, he's got talent coming out of his eyes, but it was still five years of work and it was up and down. So he was involved in a lot of other things. I, and I talk about a lot of this. I mean, he was really into this like freestyle rap troupe that would tour the country and was a journalist and a reporter and was a, at first a teacher. He went back to his, his school that he attended in high school was like a history teacher. All this stuff was going on and it's a much messier, more interesting story. And, but that was the pace it had to happen. I don't think 20 year old Lin-Manuel Miranda could write that play. And then when Hamilton came along, now he had all those skills built. And then Hamilton was just, you know, um, I've learned how to swing the bat and I'm going after the home run record. Like then it was just flexing, like, but it took him all that time to build up the skill base to do something like that. Yeah. All right. I've completely diverged from whatever Steven was actually asking, just because I liked these stories. I did. These are just in my head now, these like stories of the, the long, slow, careful development of interesting things. And you know, it's what it comes back to is it's not all, am I pegged at 10 every day, it might be like, what was I doing the last five years, I was slowly cultivating something great. It's a different pacing, a different way of thinking about productivity, but I think it's a good one. All right. I don't even know where we are. Let's go back. Let's, let's get a new question. Let's start fresh. Jesse, what do we got next? All right. We've got another engineer, John, 22 years old from so good. They can't ignore you. You talk about career capital. I have an idea for starting a small business and cornering an open market, but I currently work in nine to five. I have financial stability that I can quit my job and spend a few months to a year actually really building, fleshing out this idea.


Should I quit my job to pursue a new business idea? (45:15)

Should I go for it? Yeah, it's interesting. So in the full version of John's question, there was like more stuff going on. And he was what I now think of as he was push polling me, P-O-L-L-I-N-G. You know, push polling is where you're surveying someone, you're asking them a question. But in the way you word your question, you're trying to get the respondent to go towards a particular answer. So you're like, are you in favor of proposition five, even though it probably means your kids will die a horrible death? Yes or no, right? Your question is trying to push someone towards the answer you want. John's full question was trying to push pull me towards, you should definitely quit your job. Like he goes on and on about like, I could do it. I'm young and this is going on with my job. Like He wants to quit his job and pursue this idea. Here's why I'm wary. Uh, John is a common trap when thinking about cultivating the deep life is using disruption as a proxy for depth. There's something you're unhappy about your current setup. And it's easy to become convinced that just in the act of making a major change, all the things that make you unhappy are going to go away and you'll find much more fulfillment. You fixate on the disruption itself. Can I make a change? What big change can I make? That change will give me deliverance. I want you to downgrade the importance of disruption. I don't care about that period of disruption. I care about your steady state. And the only way to figure out the right steady state is to have a clear vision of a lifestyle that is meaningful and sustainable to you, all of the aspects of it, and then build a plan for what is a pragmatic way to get from where I am now to this vision of the deep life that is specific to me, that I've crafted. I can smell it. I can taste it. I can touch it and it touches all my buttons. It really resonates. And then you work backwards to figure out how you get there. That's what matters to me. Maybe you'll have to do some big disruptions along the way, and maybe that'll feel good for a couple of days, but I don't really care about the disruption. I care about the steady state. If you have a path to a steady state that is going to get you this lifestyle you've envisioned that is meaningful, that resonates for you. So I think you're focusing too much on the disruption itself. What I want you to work on is your vision for five years from now. And if your vision for five years from now, you say that the practical way to get there from where I am now is to have my own business because of the flexibility or the financial resources or whatever it is. If that comes up as a good pragmatic way of getting from here to where this vision you have, okay, good, let's put that on the table. And if we're putting having your own business on your table, what's the right way to do this to minimize the risk and maximize success? You don't just quit your job and do it. You read the part of So Good They Can't Ignore You that talks about using money as a neutral indicator of value. You figure out how to develop at least a prototype of this business, a small version of this business in your spare time in which you can actually test it in the marketplace. Are people spending money on an early version of this product? Am I able to get clients willing to pay me to consult them for whatever service I think I am going to offer? Can I attract an investor that will actually give me a check, will give me money of theirs to further develop this idea? Use that as your main way of assessing, does this really make sense? And then at some point, yeah, you'll maybe transition to doing that full-time. I want that transition to be boring. It's so commonsensical by the time you make it that it's not even that exciting. Well, of course, I'm going to now do this full-time or take a leave of absence. We've built it to this point. I have the investor money. We have a reasonable client flow. All we have to do is increase that by a third and we have enough income. I want that to be boring. And if this is sounding bad to you, if this is sounding like a letdown to you, I think it's because you're focusing on the disruption itself as your savior. Disruption is not a substitute for depth. Disruption cannot give you long-term satisfaction. A lifestyle that you have carefully designed that satisfies your vision of a life well lived, that is what you want to well lived. That is what you want to get to. That is what matters. The path there needs to be pragmatic, maybe even kind of boring. It's the destination that accounts, not the radical turns you take early on that I think matters. I get push-pulled a lot. Yeah, I would think. Yeah. I mean, I usually edit out those parts of the question. They're like obviously push-pulling. There's one other question coming up that was really push-pulling. I took a lot of the obvious things out of it, but I get that a lot where it's like, well, I know you would normally say this, but, you know, and then nine different things that makes the answer they want seem like it's inevitable. And then at the end they say, but what do you think? Can't fool me though. I know when you're push-pulling, I get down to the core of the matter. All right. What do we got next? We have a question from M, a PhD student who has to take on a few extra jobs for financial reasons.


How do I handle a short period of having too much work? (50:20)

No matter how much I've tried to out-organize what's left on my plate, the fact is I'm overbooked and will be for the next six months. It's a relatively short time to survive, but I'm so tired. What do I do? So, and my question here is what's the bigger plan, right? Because let's say that if the case is really just, you're in this circumstance or you're in this PhD program and for six months you have to take on these two extra jobs and it's really hard and then after six months you're back to your PhD program and that's it it's just some weird whatever happenstance financial happenstance you have the six month period yeah that's survivable that's survivable you organize you simplify other parts of your life and psychologically you prepare yourself for this six months will be hard people go through very hard six month stretches. This is true. Medical residents do this. My brother was an officer on nuclear submarines. When they're on deployment, they sleep four hours a night in shifts. It's hard, but then the deployment ends. This is possible. But I'm worried that there is a deeper issue going on here. There are some alarm bells ringing for me here. What is the lifestyle? And I'm going to come back to exactly what we talked about in the last question. What is this vision of a deep life, the specific vision that you have in mind, that what you're doing now is a pragmatic path to get there? Because I suspect this is a more complicated morass that you have stumbled into here. It's possible that you have just a more cursory connection to this idea of, I just need a PhD because whatever. It's something to do. It's impressive. It's just something I've always thought about. And it doesn't really make sense. You have these other financial issues. There's other things going on in your life. It's not like there's some clear vision of, oh, no, no, I'm at this great school. And if I get this PhD, I can have this academic job and I have this whole life I really want. I concerned here, and I don't know if this is true, but I'm concerned that this is much more haphazard. It's much more knee jerk and instinctual. And you're not actually on a pragmatic path towards a well-developed vision of a life well lived towards a well-developed vision of a deep life. So I want you to step back for a second and just go through this exercise. Where do you want to be five years from now? Where are you living? What type of work is it? What's your day-to-day like? What are the sources of stress, the lack of the sources of stress? What's your connection to your community, to a family, to a partner? What are all the aspects? Are you outside? Are you in nature? Are you in a city? What's your fitness? What's your spiritual life like? You really have this vision. You have a vision of a deep life that resonates to your core. And then say, what are the shortest distance, most practical paths from where I am today to that vision five years from now? Do that exercise again and make sure that there's an answer to that exercise that, that passes through you doing a PhD program right now. Because it's possible you do this exercise and say, actually having this PhD doesn't connect to any one of these visions. And it doesn't make sense to try to be doing this right now because we have these other, maybe unfortunate, but unavoidable financial constraints. I need to be supporting my family. The particular program I'm in is not paying me a stipend. I owe the money. I don't have the money. There's a real clarity that comes from stepping back. Here's the destination. What paths make sense? There's a real clarity to that. And you might find out what you're doing makes complete sense. You have a six-month hiccup. All right, you're the submarine officer. You're hot bunking with someone else. You're sleeping five hours a night, but it all ends when the submarine gets back to port. Fine. But it might instead say, I don't know what I'm, where am I trying to go here? Does this really make sense? I'm doing this. Do these types of jobs make sense? Why am I trying to work 14, 15 hour days? Like, is this just going to keep going on? Do I need to completely rethink what I'm trying to do here to make this work? I don't have all the details in, but I do know nothing bad will come from you actually just stepping back right now and clarifying that thinking, because I have some alarm bells going and I'm worried that there's, there's more structural issues underlying this plan that maybe is coming through in this question. And it happens a lot, Jesse. I think people, I don't, again, I have no idea what's happening with M, but I'm just using her as a stepping stone for making this more general point, but it's easy to become fixated on milestones on the path to depth that are irrelevant or sometimes even actively an obstacle. are irrelevant or sometimes even actively an obstacle. So I think we had that prior question where the young man was fixated on, I want to quit my job. Right? So you get fixated on this like act, I quit my job. That's what I need to, all my problems will be solved. How can I quit my job? That's what's really going to matter. But that's a distraction. That's a little milestone. What's the full path? That's what matters. Or it's easy to get fixated on graduate school happens all the time. Yeah, PhD, I don't want to quit. I told people I was doing this and I didn't know what else to do with my life, but it might not at all be the right thing to do. It might be you're at a program that is not a sufficient caliber. It's not putting you on the track for a sustainable academic career. It's costing you money. You the track for like a sustainable academic career. It's costing you money. You're at a time in your life where it's actually very difficult to be trying to do this. And you don't even really know why you're doing it other than it's like, I don't know, it's what I chose to do. Like I see that issue happen a lot with graduate school as well. And when you, when you're working backwards from a destination and trying to point out pragmatic paths, this really solves a lot of these issues because often you're like, oh, this is the most meandering possible path to that destination. And it goes through the alligator swamp and up this mountain. And I really could just go through this valley over here. And there's a lot of clarity that comes when you have the destination in mind, but especially people earlier in life, we just will fixate on things like, well, maybe this will be my savior. If I have this degree or if I quit or if I move and you just get concentrated on the specific without ever thinking about the general. Common issue. All right. What do we got next? I think we have time for a couple more here. Okay. Sounds good. Next question is from Mukil, a 21-year-old student. I'm a computer science student, my third year. My school was closed for an extended period of time during the pandemic. Now that everything is more normal, I just don't want to study for my academic stuff anymore. It feels like an absolute burden, but I don't want to drop out. I only enjoy my deep work sessions when I'm working on my internship or my personal projects.


I’ve lost my will to work. What do I do? (56:45)

Well, Mukil, I included your question. I don't often do student specific questions, but my answer here, I think, is relevant beyond just students. So this is why I included it here. What I think you're suffering from, just based off your question, is what I used to call in my newsletter and blog deep procrastination. Now, this was common in particular among students, high-performing students, but it's an issue that affects people outside of school as well. Deep procrastination is different than depression. So with depression, what you have is a ahedonia, the inability to even imagine yourself having positive affect in the future. There's a sort of hopelessness. I can't even imagine ever feeling good again. This is what you get with depression. With deep procrastination, if this is what you have, with deep procrastination, it's not a hedonia. There's stuff you still enjoy. You can actually have exciting visions for your future. It's a motivational defect. You just can't do your schoolwork or whatever it is your main work is. It's like, I actually can't just get started and do this work. I like this other stuff. I'm still excited about things, but I can't start my term paper. I can't start working on this report. I literally can't muster the motivation to actually go. So I don't know if this is what you're suffering from, Mukul, but in your elaborated answer, you're talking about scheduling your work and just not being able to do it. I also picked up a lot of optimism about other stuff in your life. So that's why I think this is deep procrastination and not depression. Though, of course, I could have this wrong. But let's talk about deep procrastination. I studied, focused more on student issues. And it seemed to be, again, it's a disorder of the motivational system that tends to stem from the combination of a real feeling of extrinsic motivation. So the thing you're doing, you've really lost sight of why you're doing it beyond just like it's expected of you or your parents wanted you to do it. Combined with just the hardship, it's hard. You know, third year of computer science program is hard. Deep procrastination would often emerge, especially with elite college students, I would find around this time. Because you have the combination of, I'm in this really hard pre-med major. I'm not even really interested in being a doctor, but it was just my parents that it's the only reasonable career. And my courses are getting really hard because I'm no longer in my introductory courses. So the work is really hard. Lack of intrinsic motivation plus difficulty can create this disorder in the motivational system where you actually just lose the ability to do work to the point where you can fail out and have to take semesters off. Like this is due. I'm going to get a zero. I've gotten two extensions. I still can't do it. I'm going to get a zero I've gotten two extensions I still can't do it that's deep procrastination so the way you get out of it is you work on both sides of that problem so to work on the motivational issue you now have to do the legwork and we're coming back to this theme again and again in today's episode because I think it's such an important theme you have to do the legwork of figuring out where do I want to be five years from now? What is a vision of my life that is deep and meaningful? Not just how successful do I want to be, how impressive do I want to be? All aspects of your life, where you live, what type of work you do, what that work is like, your connection to other people and community, spiritual, physical, all of this stuff worked out. A vision of a life that really resonates with you. And you're working backwards from that to figure out how to get there. And probably, Mikko, your vision of that life will involve a university level education because probably the type of work that you want to support your vision is going to require that education. So now you have a motivation for your education that's rooted in something you really care about. Okay, so my plan is I do this major, I get these skills, this opens up these type of jobs, which after a few years, I can transition over here and then get to this vision. So now you have an intrinsically sighted locus of control, to use the motivational psychology term, on which to build your academic work. You also want to reduce the difficulty of your work. So you're going to throw my type of early productivity habits at it. Let me be organized. Let me use autopilot schedules. Let me study like Darwin. So I'm constantly writing down and optimizing and improving my study habits. If you're just coming off a deep procrastination, you want the easiest possible semesters when you first come back. So maybe do a light load, put in some easier courses, leverage credits you already have. So you can have two courses instead of three, four courses instead of five. So you want to bring down the difficulty while bringing up the intrinsic quality of your motivation. The final thing I might point you towards is I had a series I wrote on my blog back in, I don't know, 2008, maybe, but you can just Google calnewport.com romantic scholar. And I had a series of articles about how to infuse an intrinsic love of learning back into your college experience as a insurance policy against deep procrastination. And it's all about injecting into your life elements that signal to yourself that you're interested in this material beyond just the instrumental need to get a grade that'll help you get a job. It's you're going to lectures, you're reading books. I had a famous post on this called Heidegger with Hefeweizen. You're at a pub and you're reading a book on this topic for no other reason than you're interested. And you start signaling to yourself that I enjoy the academic life. I enjoy these topics. There's intrinsic value in it. That really matters to you and your brain in warding off deep procrastination. So it's a common problem that we don't talk about enough. It's a disorder of the motivational system. I think a lot of people felt this outside of the academic context during the pandemic. The pandemic was a real source of deep procrastination for a lot of knowledge workers in particular. This is what I think is going on. So hopefully that type of advice is relevant beyond just the students, which is really the epicenter of where I first started observing this issue. All right, let's do one more question before we get to our books. Hi, sounds good. This is from Peter. You were recently mentioned in a marketing email from a planner company. Here's the quote. Instead of scheduling your day by the hour, Newport suggests organizing your day into distinct longer time blocks. By scheduling your tasks by morning, afternoon, and evening, you can focus on your work rather than your tasks.


Does Cal get annoyed when people incorrectly cite his ideas? (01:03:05)

This is basically the opposite of your actual recommendations for time blocking. Does it bother you when people do this? It happens, Peter. People, if you're at all in the public eye, especially in the idea space, people will get your ideas wrong. Sometimes it is innocent in the sense of, I don't know, this planner company was trying to cite me to promote better organizational habits and got me wrong. And yeah, the way they're citing me incorrectly, I suppose fits well with their particular product, but they probably just really think like, yeah, doesn't Cal say something like this? Where this happens more often will be more sort of social critic idea writers who will ascribe some kind of crazy straw man theory to me, often the opposite of what I preach, and then do a takedown of that idea and be like, look how sort of smart I am. What I've learned about that particular thing is, A, it's nice that people think of you as someone to try to set up a straw man for and take down. Like, wow, I must really be, my name recognition must be growing. Like people actually think enough people know my name that taking down a fake theory of never a spouse will make them look better. So I take some pride in that. I was like, oh, that's great. You know me enough to dislike me. That's a step in the right direction. And two, often these writers aren't very good. And so I think a lot of the readers, when they read these takedowns, because the takedowns themselves are often kind of annoying and sanctimonious, they're like, oh, this is Cal Newport guy. Honestly, if this is the person this person's against, I want to check this guy out. Maybe he'll have something smart to say. So actually, I think it might even help me. But you know, Peter, I think that stuff happens and I'm used to it. For people that are new to the show, can you explain the more specifics of your time blocking and how that quotes? Yeah. So this quote was saying, don't schedule your day by the hour, but instead have three big blocks morning, afternoon, and evening. And didn't say like, what do you want to do in each of those blocks? And they're like, yeah, this is what Newport recommends. It's not what I recommend. I actually recommend giving every minute of your work day, a job. So time blocking says you look at your day and you assign specific work to specific time. So you don't just look at your day and you assign specific work to specific time. So you don't just say, here's all the things I want to do this morning. Does that fit? How long are these things going to take? How long is your morning? What do you want to do when? That's not nearly detailed enough. What I would say, like, no, you say this thing I'm doing during this half hour, and then the next hour I'm going to work on this, and then I have a call, and then I have a half hour between the next call, and during that half hour I'm going to try to get these three tasks done. You actually are assigning the specific time to specific tasks, so you actually have to give every minute a job. It forces you to face the reality of how much time you actually have available. It forces you to learn about how overly optimistic you are about how long things take, because when you're new to time blocking, your plans don't work. Everyone at first when they time block plans for the best case possible scenario, as opposed to planning how long things are actually going to take. So you learn pretty quickly, oh, I'm not going to empty my inbox in this 30 minute window that takes 90 minutes, or this meeting, I say an hour, but it's really going to take 90 minutes, then I need another 30 minutes just to make sense of what was said there. So I really need to put aside two hours. You learn about the reality of how long work takes and you spread it out more realistically. And three, time blocking allows you to better make use of the time you have available. Because when you see the whole board, you can start moving your pieces around more strategically. I got it. This morning block is open and I put something hard there. This 30 minute block between back-to-back meetings, I'm going to be toast. Why don't I just do these three errands there where I don't have to actually shift into a deep work mindset and try to solve a big problem? You know what? This meeting here makes nothing work, but if I move this, I can merge these two blocks together and actually get this chapter done. So now I know I should move this meeting. So when you can actually see the whole board, you can make much better place. So that planning company is wrong. Don't break your day up into two morning, afternoon blocks. Actually give every minute of your workday a job. It's a much better way to make use of your time. Well, let me talk. I want to talk about the books i read last month in november before i do let me just briefly mention another sponsor that makes this show possible and that is our friends at my body tutor i've known adam gilbert my body's tutors founder for many years he used to be the fitness advice guy on my blog back in man 2007 2008.


Cal talks about Express VPN and My Body Tutor (01:07:31)

So I've known him for a long time. His company, My Body Tutor, is a 100% online coaching program that solves the biggest problem in health and fitness, which is lack of consistency. The way they do this is by giving you an online coach who works with you to develop your nutrition plan, to develop your fitness plan. And then you report back to this coach every single day. And that coach gives you feedback every single day. So by having another person in the loop, you actually get more, you actually are much more likely to be consistent and get it done, but because it's online. So you don't have to have a trainer come to your house. It's done through the internet. It doesn't have to cost all the dollars in the world. So it's a great idea. It was always a very successful company, but during the pandemic, I think MyBodyTutor emerged as a big company. It really made a lot of sense. It's very popular. So Adam and his coaches are great. They're the best in the world at delivering highly personal accountability and coaching. So if you're serious about getting fit, go to MyBodyTutor and mention deep questions when you sign up, and they will give you $50 off your first month. That's at MyBodyTutor, T-U-T-O-R.com. Mention deep questions and get $50 off your first month. first month. I also want to talk about our friends at ExpressVPN. I am a big believer. I talk about this all the time on the show. I am a big believer in using a VPN. That's short for virtual private network. Now, the way a VPN works is instead of just directly connecting from your device to whatever website or service you want to access, you instead form a secure encrypted connection to a VPN server. You then tell that server through your secure encrypted connection, this is the actual website or service I want to connect to. And the server does that on your behalf and then sends you back to results through this secure encrypted connection. So everyone who is monitoring what you're saying has no idea where you're going. No idea what website you're reading. No idea what service you're connecting to. Here's the thing. People are monitoring. In fact, even your internet provider could be keeping track of your internet traffic and selling that information to advertisers. We're talking AT&T. We're talking Verizon. They can see all the websites you've clicked on. They can see how much time you spent on them. They can sell that information to advertisers. If you're using a VPN, you take away that ability. All your service provider sees is Cal was connected to a VPN server. I don't know what he was telling it because it's encrypted. I don't know who that server was connecting to on his behalf. I don't know what he's doing. I have no useful data to sell to anyone else. I have no real idea about what this person is doing. So you need a VPN. If you're going to use a VPN, ExpressVPN is the best in the business. It works on all your devices, your phone, your laptop, your tablet. It's seamless. You just turn it on and use your internet like normal. They have servers all over the world with great bandwidth. So you're never that far from a server you can connect to. So your internet experience is fast. You don't even realize you're going through a VPN. So you need a VPN and ExpressVPN is the company you should use. So visit expressvpn.com slash deep, and you will get three extra months for free. That's E-X-P-R-E-S-S-V-P-N.com slash deep expressvpn.com slash deep to get three extra months for free from the number one rated VPN. All right. Well, like we do each month, I like to talk about the books I read in the previous month. As longtime listeners know, my goal is to try to read at least five books a month. And I do this by just regularly putting aside time to read. I read in the morning. I often will put aside time in the evening to read.


Recommendations For Literature

Books I Read in November 2022 (01:11:52)

If I have extra time during lunch, I'll read occasionally I'll time block blocks to read. If I'm getting close to finishing a book with just a little bit of effort put into freeing up time to look at the pages of a book and a commitment to not instead dedicating that time to your phone, it's surprising how many pages you can actually get through. All right. So Jesse, I want to go through the five books I read in November of 2022. This is in rough, I guess that's the order I finished these. All right. Number one, Life is Hard, How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way by Kieran Setia. Kieran wrote Midlife, which I loved, and I talk about a lot in my book, Digital Minimalism. He's a philosopher at MIT. So Life is Hard is he's pulling from big ideas from philosophy to help you get through life against the backdrop of the fact that life is hard and hard things are going to happen. So obviously this is a popular subject. It seems sometimes like the only consistent answer we get to this seems to be Stoicism. Kieran is drawing much more widely from the world of philosophy to try to help provide answers about how to get through life. Really good book. Some really strong ideas. I think the earlier chapters, which drew from experience from the disability community to give insight into how to deal with loss or bad things happening, I thought was really particularly strong. It was a philosophical stance to life in which you don't focus on what has been taken away from you, but instead focusing on what is possible or what you can do. And there's this whole philosophical backdrop to this about most things you're not going to get time to do anyway. So it's not actually rational to focus on, well, now I've lost, you know, this has been taken out of my life and I can't do this one thing. Well, there's a thousand things you're not going to get to focus on the things you can and how you can actually build a life, a real meaning around loss. I thought that was really good. My main critique of this book is, uh, throughout there's these somewhat heavy handed injections of, I don't know what else to call this other than wokeness, I suppose, um, injections of, I don't know what else to call this other than wokeness, I suppose, that take you out of the book. So there's these sections where it seems more like Kiernan is writing to a, suddenly narrowing his audience to fellow academics and just saying, don't yell at me, don't yell at me, don't yell at me. And I think the book would have been perhaps more broad and timeless, perhaps without those interjections. It really did feel like an editor at some point said, someone might get mad about this, someone might get mad about this. And you had to go back and add these self-defensive sections and I think it hurt the timelessness of the book a little bit. All right, book number two, Superintelligent Paths, Dangers, and Strategies by the philosopher Nick Bostrom. So this book's 2016, maybe 2017. Really popular among the tech set, the techno-libertarian set, who's concerned about artificial intelligence. Basically, Bostrom, who has the center at Oxford, looks at threats to humanity's future, with a very straight face, very systematically goes through all of these scenarios of how super intelligent AI, the various ways it might essentially take over the world and potentially convert the world into a fuel source as it sort of takes over the whole galaxy to try to fuel its computation. So it's like all abstract, all mind experiments, but let's think through as super intelligence arises, artificial intelligence, all the different things that could happen, all the ways it could unfold. Spoiler alert, most of them are bad for humanity. So I don't know, it's an interesting book because he's taking this issue very seriously. I mean, when I'm reading this book, I keep alternating between I mean, when I'm reading this book, I keep alternating between perceiving it as bracing and perceiving it as absurd. And I bounce back and forth, which I think is the mark of a provocative book. This caught the attention of a lot of tech types, caught the attention of Bill Gates, Elon Musk. I'm thinking of various people who blurbed this book and said, we should be worried about this. So it's interesting. I think what it also reveals is this strong belief among these type of particular brand of thinkers who are concerned about AI and think we should start preparing now to deal with these threats is they have this certain determinism for the future of humanity that's really rooted in this idea that of course we need to get to a place where we expand beyond Earth and harness more of the resources of the galaxy, of the solar system and beyond. And it's this sort of sci-fi type of extraplanetary future vision for humanity. And I think it's just kind of baked into the thinking, I think, of a lot of these thinkers is like, this is where we're heading. So when you pick this up reading the AI prognosticators, it makes sense. Something like Elon Musk and how he thinks about Mars suddenly makes a lot more sense. Like, oh, this is a very common mindset. We're going to leave Earth and we need to build Dyson spheres around the sun. And how much energy is available in the solar system and how a million years from now can we harness all of that? So the reason why the Nick Bostroms of the world are so concerned about AI becoming a super intelligence is that they think that will stop us from this vision of expanding throughout the universe. And B, but maybe if we're really careful, it could help accelerate that. So that undercurrent is something that I would say most people don't think about, but in this particular circle, it is just assumed. Like, yeah, this is the whole ballgame is 20,000 years from now, we better be harnessing 80% of the energy from the sun as we become a multi-solar system species. So along those same lines, I read Life 3.0, Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. It's by Max Tegmark at MIT. I found this book to be much more energetic, interesting than Bostrom's book. Bostrom's is very ontological. It's like very clearly break down these different possibilities and go through them. Tegmark has a lot of energy, a lot of originality in his thinking. Tegmark, he's a physicist at MIT, but he's like very broad. He touches on a bunch of different topics. And so you get a lot of this. It was a much more enjoyable read in my opinion, but he's all over that. You know, it's like, let's talk about AI. Let's talk about, let's get terms right. But let's also let's talk about like all these different ways that we might harness energy from the universe. And let's talk like he bounces around to all these ideas. He's a smart guy. He's a creative thinker. He is also much more, he's much more clear about this in Bostrom, but he's just like Bostrom is very much aligned with a course, a course, a course, the whole point of humanity is to leave the planet and expand throughout the solar system and beyond. And, and it's just taken as a granted that that's what the whole ballgame is about. It's a more eclectic book than Bostrom. It was a more fun book than Bostrom. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed that. TechMark's an interesting guy. scientists, and engineer types who are saying, I'm worried about AI. So Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk, all three of their quotes about we should be worried about AI, that's all Tegmark's doing. He is the one who organized this big conference in Puerto Rico, where he brought all these people together and really kicked off this idea of we have to start thinking now about the future of AI before we actually get to a place where it's dangerous. And so he's really the cultural orchestra conductor of this big names in tech and science expressing concern about AI. Tegmark is a huge initiator of that movement. Shifting gears, I also read Sacred Nature, Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural World by Karen Armstrong. I'm a huge fan of Armstrong. I think she's one of the most interesting and talented religious historians writing today. The main value in Sacred Nature is a short book that will very quickly bring you into the Armstrong philosophy, which he's developed over multiple books now about the nature of religion pre-enlightenment being something that is based on action and ritual and activity that insight is gained through doing. It's not gained in a linguistic sense. It's not gained by just studying a text or deciding in the abstract whether or not to assent to a creed or not. That religion insights were often experiential. By doing these things, you over time directly experience, lived experience, the insight of the religion. And until you're actually doing all the different things, you're not getting insight. You can't evaluate a religion and decide to follow it or not, or if it's true or not, just based off of reading its books. This is this key Armstrong insight. Her best book on this is The Case for God. Sacred Nature is short, but she actually, you get a really good sort of sampling of her thinking. As an actual proposal for rethinking our relationship with nature, you know, I don't know. It's a combination of this incredibly insightful breakdown of the way that various spiritual traditions saw an energy infused throughout all of nature. And this is very fascinating and how the Abrahamic religion sort of moved away from that. And by citing their religion in particular time in history, that actually sort of changed the relationship with nature, made it more instrumental and less infused with the divine. All that is fascinating. And that's grafted on with a very middle-of-the-road standard climate change polemic that there's no insight there. And therefore, we should care more about climate change. That part almost feels tacked on to what is otherwise like incredibly insightful religious scholarship. All right, last book. It's my favorite actually of the five. Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino. Fantastic book. It's basically just him talking about his experience with the cinema in the 70s, which was a influential period for him as a kid. The exposure he had to cinema in the 70s which was a influential period for him as a kid the exposure he had the cinema in the 70s each of the chapters is built around a particular movie but it goes all over the place like each chapter is sort of anchored with a particular movie so they'll be talking about bullet or they'll be talking about deliverance. But then it goes all over the place. Why I love this book is because it's so original in its tone and approach. So this captures in prose, essentially the essence of Quentin Tarantino, right? So it's divergent. It's obsessed with pop culture. It has a foundation and deep intellectual confidence, and it bounces around between, he knows all these movies. He knows these directors. He's connecting them in interesting ways. He's jumping from this, this, and back to this. He's not trying to show off. And yet he just is, there's like a profound intellect behind a critique, but he's not trying to prove that he's smart. And so it's like watching a good Tarantino movie, but in the written form. And there's so little innovation that happens these days, I think, in idea nonfiction. I mean, there's so much sameness in tone. And it's a bunch of people like my age who are putting on their sort of deep professor voice and trying to, I'm so smart and let me be very careful and resigned or whatever. And then Tarantino comes in and it's just like a fire hose. It's like, boom, it's energy and divergent. He's brilliant, but he doesn't care. And he's all over the place and you come away having learned a lot. So it's one of the most original works just in terms of tone and delivery of idea nonfiction I've read in a long time. So whether you're a movie geek or not, I enjoy cinema speculation. One warning though, if you get it on audio like I did, of speculation. One warning though, if you get it on audio like I did, Tarantino reads the first chapter. And it's great. You're like, oh, here we go. We got eight hours of him. It's because his voice matches the content. It switches to a third-party narrator for the second chapter. So a little bit of Bane switch. So be prepared for it. The narrator's fine. Tarantino should have read the whole thing. But he's a busy guy. All right, Jesse, those are my five books from November. With the life is hard when you were talking about, you know, the ending there kind of reminded me when you're talking about caveats with Sam Harris last week. Yeah, there was a little bit of that, you know, because I mean, well, also just he's pulling from these philosophers over 200 to 300 year period. So it's, it's very, um, timeless and broad, but then half the chapters in the end, it's like, uh, and where this all should lead you is to like very narrow, like whatever, basically like, um, 2022 elite academic thinking on political issues, like whatever that current, very contemporary thought is that all just leads you to there. And that felt tacked on, you know, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, they didn't know about postmodern influence, critical theories. Five years from now, the trends in academia are going to be different. So that's, what's going to make it seem less timely. Like he obviously was writing this at home during the pandemic post George Floyd. And like, this was really influencing him. And he was thinking about people reading this and how they're going to react. Um, but even like five years from now, I think where it gets specific and contemporary is going to feel dated, which is fine. If you're writing a book that is contemporary and founded in a particular moment, but this is a book about timeless timelessness philosophies that covered all sorts of different periods, all sorts of different, uh, innovations and political thought, all sorts of different, um, uh, intellectual, uh, favorite ideas of the time and all these philosophies that were all these different things were going on. And so that's, maybe that's just me, but I just felt like this book, you didn't have to cap. Yeah. It was caveat. You don't want to get yelled at, but, um, cause you were talking to Sam about that. And I'm talking to Sam about that. I think talking to sam about that i think it's i think you gotta trust the reader yeah yeah i mean you know if you need to prove to a certain subset like i'm with your tribe wear a shirt with a slogan but uh when you try to put too many caveats into your writing it doesn't work it it i think it reduces the impact trust your reader the readers can add the caveats they can apply it to the whatever moment they're reading it in and draw those draw those insights and and so when you when you add these caveats. They can apply it to whatever moment they're reading it in and draw those insights. And so when you add these caveats to either avoid being yelled at or to signal you're on a particular team, regardless of what that team is, I always think that diminishes the value of nonfiction writing. Trust the reader. The reader knows what they care about. They're sophisticated. They will take your ideas and adapt them and apply them to their own lives and to their own situations, to the causes they care about them. They'll stress test them against these other things going on. If your book is not particularly about these issues to graph the issues on, it doesn't end up making it better. It doesn't end up, I mean, maybe it does protect you from, I don't know, some nasty tweet, but no one really cares. That's the reality. It's like, no one really cares about you. And this is what I've decided. No one cares about me. No one really is following it that closely. People see what you read, right? It's just something in here that's useful to me and they move on with their life. So yeah, but I did talk about that with Harris on the podcast, my philosophy of caveats. And we've talked about on the show before, but how caveating, well, this advice might not apply here or there is very relevant to one-on-one conversation where it's just reasonable and polite, but doesn't work well when it's one-to-many. When you're doing one-to-many broadcasting information, then you got to let the recipients add the caveats. So it's two different modes of communication. All right. Well, Jesse, I think we've done've done our duty here i gotta go pick my kids up from school so let's wrap this up uh thank you everyone who sent in your questions there are links in the show notes about how you can send in questions or record voicemails we want your questions we love your questions follow those links send us more things we will be back next week with our next episode of the show and And until then, as always, stay deep.


Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Wisdom In a Nutshell.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.