Ep. 227: Visions Of The Deep Life?
Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 227: Visions Of The Deep Life?".
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Cal's intro (00:00)
That is by design and it makes a huge difference. If I did not care about my particular tolerances, the particular stresses, it would be so easy for me to fall into a place where I have overload stress all the time. I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, Episode 227. If you're new, this is the program in which I take questions from my audience and offer advice about how to live the deep life in a world increasingly be set by distraction. I'm here as always in my Deep Work HQ, joined by my producer, Jesse. Jesse, I recently received a text from our superintendent of the building with the news podcast producer probably at least wants to hear. So she said, we're gonna be doing work on the space below us. What used to be the restaurant republic, which then closed, a new restaurant is coming in. She said for the rest of December and all of January, there will be construction going on, often loud. So just to get the geography right for the listeners, that the location where that loud construction will be is, and I'm using approximate terms, immediately blow us. So this should get interesting. Yeah, but you know what, we'll get a restaurant out of it. And what if it's a cool one? I mean, I'm hoping it's a restaurant, I don't know what your hopes are for it, but for me, I want it to be a place that it's another option to grab food, either there or to go. Like, oh, I could just grab a lunch there, it's like a variety. And I hope they have, and some more your expertise, but I hope they have a lot of bar tops. So like, if we have a guest in the studio or someone's coming by, you can just be confident, oh, we can swing by and grab a drink, like they'll be a seat. Yeah, we'll see. Having those like individual bar tables is cool. In the bar area. Yeah, now it'll probably end up being like a vegan soup. No, restaurant. No. With one communal table. But we'll see, which they have to hammer out, which is gonna take them six weeks to construct very loudly. We'll see. But anyways, I'm excited about that in the long term, not the noise in the short term. All right, well, let's, I wanna get into it pretty quick today. We got a good show. Another old fashioned, I've been liking this. It's kind of old fashioned show back to basics. So we're gonna start with a deep dive. After the deep dive, we're gonna go into a block of questions and calls from you, the audience. And then for the final segment, the return of three interesting things, where I pull out three interesting news items. Sint from you to me, am I interesting at kelmnefort.com? Email address that I think are relevant to the general quest to cultivate a deep life. All right, that is our plan. Let's get going right away with today's deep dive.
Discussion And Community Impact
Deep Dive - Should I Manage Time or Stress? (02:58)
The topic is the overlooked power of stress management. Now, this is something I actually think a lot about. My wife and I together collectively think a lot about this, but I haven't talked about it that often on the show. So I thought this would be a good excuse to do so. So when we think about crafting the deep life, we think about the professional component of crafting a deep life, there's a lot of discussion here and elsewhere about time management. So how do you actually make time for the various obligation tasker projects on your plate? And we talk about a lot of that here. We have multi-scale planning, there's time blocking, weekly planning, quarterly planning. How do you make the decisions about how much to bring on your plate by having a detailed understanding of how much time and how much time you have available, all of that. Classic time management. And it's important. If you do not have some sort of time management system, you are now at the mercy of everything coming towards you, being pushed towards you and you're just gonna get overwhelmed and stressed. So time management's important. We don't talk as much about stress management. Now, to me, stress management is where you figure out how to craft a professional life that keeps you within your ideal ranges or limits for various types of common stress. So, in other words, you're saying, this is a key element of how I'm gonna plan out my vision of my ideal lifestyle is with the various types of stresses to various things I do will generate. And I wanna make sure that what I go for with my life, especially my career, keeps those various types of stresses within reasonable levels. Now, this has a huge impact on the quality of your life. Stresses past whatever your threshold is, generates intense and immediate negative affect. So if we wanna talk about just the subjective quality of your day-to-day life, staying within your stress thresholds is one of the most important things you can do. We often ignore this. We often focus on other goals such as, you know, what you want you to work to be, success, monetary goals, et cetera. Sometimes goals that aren't professional that still rise to your stress levels. And that can wipe out any of the advantage you have from all the other engineering you're doing about your life. So I wanna talk about how you manage stress in this deep dive. I have a three-part approach to this, right? So we have three parts, the outline of what I'm gonna discuss. Part one, we're gonna review the main categories of professional stress, not all stress is created equal. So we need the right vocabulary. Two, I'm gonna present the key question you should ask about the role of these types of stress in your life when you were doing lifestyle since your career planning. And three, I'm gonna outline how to put those answers into action to actually change things or make decisions about your life going forward. So we got three parts to this. All right, part one, what are the main sources of stress, especially in the professional sphere? I have four. Number one is overload. So this is stress caused by having lots of things that you need to do and barely enough time or perhaps not enough time to actually get it done. This is the classic stress of a college student who realizes the papers due tomorrow but they also have a midterm and their lab report also needs to get done. I have, all these things have to happen. I don't have that much time to do it. So we see this comment in the professional role. I wrote down some examples here. So the classic business executive fighting fires, you have six or seven different things going on and you're jumping back and forth on email, trying to take care of all these different types of issues. The freelancer that's navigating multiple client projects are all supposed to be done around the same week and you're bouncing back and forth between these clients and trying to get the work done overload, the stress caused by having too much to do. The second source of stress is expectations. So this is where you have very high expectations on something you need to deliver. The issue is not having enough time to do it. The issue is meeting those expectations. So this also can be an acute source of stress. One classic example of this would be just looking to my own life. An author needing to deliver a good book manuscript. I got this big advance. Now I owe this publisher a really good book. Expectations are high. A professor needing to deliver really good research. Like I got to get these papers published in top journals or I'm not going to get tenure. Think about the startup entrepreneur. I just took this seed investment from this prestigious venture capital firm. This startup has to make progress. I can't let this fail. They have these high expectations that this is going to be a successful company. Expectations are a source of stress. Third source uncertainty. So facing the possibility of bad things happening. I think financial uncertainty is probably the most classic presentation of this source of stress. So look, I went out on my own to try to make this thing work. I quit my job and if this doesn't work, I don't know how to pay the mortgage. I don't know how to pay the heat bills, right? So the uncertainty of something could go wrong and that looming out there is a source of stress. The final one I want to mention is conflict. So that's having to deal with people that create conflict in your life. So this could be in person like a toxic work environment. Just say your boss, your colleagues, it's just fingers on a chalkboard, cortisol raising, stressfulness just to be around them. It can also be digital. Think about how many media personalities feel like they need to be engaged in on Twitter all the time to build an audience to promote what they're doing. But because of that, they're spending so much of their day in combat with other people from other tribes. That's also could be a source of conflict stress. It really has driven a lot of people. We talked about this, if you remember Jesse when we had last year, Jamie Kilstein on the podcast and he talked about the physiological stress of back when he was a sort of liberal podcast, radio personality and was like constantly on Twitter trying to do combat on behalf of his tribe. But he described to us the physiological impact of that felt like you were in a war zone. - Yeah. - Remember that he was like, I felt the same way you would feel if you were expecting at any moment someone to jump out of the shadows and start punching you. So that's a serious source of stress. All right. So we have four sources of stress, overload expectations, uncertainty and conflict. Here's the key question. Here's the key question to ask about these types of stress. For each, how much can you tolerate before it negatively affects you? So you wanna figure out what's your threshold for each of these types of stress? So for most people, the conflict type of stress is one that people have very low threshold for. So we're gonna take that as a given. There are like a few people that seem to thrive on that, but honestly they don't really, they're completely wired out of their gourd, but some people are better at making it seem like they don't mind a combat. No one likes it. So that will just take as a given. If you're in a toxic work environment or you're doing combat on Twitter all day, people have very low thresholds for that. For the other three types of stress, there's a lot of variation in the population. Let's take me as a case study. I really dislike overload stress. If I feel like I have too much to do and not that much time to get it done, that is very uncomfortable for me. On the other hand, I don't mind expectation stress. You know, fine. You need me to deliver a great book. I could probably do it. Let's go for it. I have to get this research down to Good Tinnier. I bet I could make it work. That doesn't cause a lot of stress for me. And then I'm moderate on uncertainty stress. So I'm not highly susceptible to that, but on the other hand, I'm not let's just go for it, invest in this, try this, take risk. I'm just kind of in the middle. Like for example, I'm conservative with money in the sense that I'm pretty careful. Our family's pretty careful about let's keep our living expenses like always way below where they could be. But on the other hand, you know, I'm pretty clear-eyed about risk and willing to invest in things. I remember for example, investing in this office and building out a studio space. And it was before Jesse was here. Wasn't making enough money from the podcast to pay for this at the time. But I was like, you know, I bet they have a good shot of this happening. So I put aside, you know, put aside money for the lease payments for years. Like if it doesn't work out, I could probably just, hey, it would be interesting for a year. Like, so I'm okay with uncertainty. I'm not a wildly investing in things type of person, but it doesn't stress me out too much. A lot of type A types are different. A lot of type A types I know are, they love overload stress. Like that's fine. They don't mind overload stress. In fact, they embrace that overload stress because it is something, and this is common to type A type personalities. It's something they know they can succeed in by just investing a lot of energy, by just grinding. Okay, I take a lot of my plate and I have to run around to put out these fires. If I just work long hours, I will get this done. So it's like a source of, you know, feeling like accomplished, but they're sure they can do it. Whereas these same type A's often really just like expectation stress. 'Cause it's not something they can just, for sure grind their way to a success. So if I say, yeah, take on a bunch of stuff and stay up late and be on Zoom and email all the time, you're a type A type, you can do that. You know that'll work. As long as I just keep working, stay up, that'll get done. Or if I say, write this book and it has to be successful, that's scary. 'Cause you can't just all grind and then I'll be sure I have a book. It's more uncertain. So different people have different stress levels. Different tolerances to these different stress types. Let's put that way. So this brings us to the third part of stress management, which is acting on your answer to those questions. You should let your answers to those questions heavily influence your lifestyle centric career planning. We often do not use our self assessments of stress tolerances when thinking about our vision of a life will live, our vision of the deep life and this can get you into trouble. You can carefully construct a lot of aspects of your life, but if you get there and end up in a situation where you're consistently jumping beyond your comfort threshold on some of these stress categories, it's all basically moot because that will be such a negative source. It's such a negative subjective affect that all the other advantages you've just engineered are basically wasted. So you really have to keep your ideal stress levels in mind as a major factor in the vision you construct of the lifestyle that you're trying to pursue. So again, let me just use me as a quick example. I think about this heavily. I've thought about this heavily since I was a grad student, if not before. My wife and I do a lot of planning of our vision for our family with stress management of these different types of stresses at the very top of how we think about things. And this is why, for example, it shouldn't be a surprise, given what I just told you about what stresses I mind, which ones I don't, that I have two highly autonomous jobs that are huge on expectation stress, but make it possible for you to be very minimal on overload stress. I'm a professor and I'm a writer. Both of those are jobs that have high expectation stress. Think about professorship at a R1 institution like Georgetown. You have to publish papers and a lot of papers in top places. It's very competitive. Most papers get rejected. So they have to be great. If you don't do that, you lose your job. That's tenure. Think about writing. We're gonna give you this money in advance. You better go sell copies of this book. And if you don't, we're gonna stop giving you money for books in the future. Just go away for a year and come back with something that's worth this money that you can get hundreds of thousands of people to buy. These are super high expectation type endeavors. Perfect for me. I'll get up for that every day of the week. On the same time, because there's so much autonomy in those two jobs, if you're careful and you know I'm very careful, I'm very careful with my time management. I'm very careful as I think about workload in my systems, you can really reduce if you're careful overload stress in these positions. And I put a lot of work to do that. So I only have very few periods in a typical year where I have an overload of things to do. Maybe if I'm doing book publicity, but that's only once every two or three years for just a month or so. And then occasionally in academia, typically it has to do with a couple of service things will maybe fall together and they'll be a busy month. But otherwise I have a lot of control if I'm careful. That is by design and it makes a huge difference. If I did not care about my particular tolerances, the particular stresses, it would be so easy for me to fall into a place where I have overload stress all the time. It's very easy as a professor, if you're not very careful about crafting your work and your obligation, your systems to fall into that. It's very easy as a writer to allow what we're doing here to turn into a huge source of obligations. Jesse knows this, I keep our operations here in my media company really small. We do the podcast, that's basically it. We have this down to a science that has a very constrained footprint. We know the expectations. I resist like so many other people I know in similar situations in writing from building out a staff of 10 people and having to, that is a source of overload stress. Now I think for type A types, that's great because they're shifting some of their attention to overload stress away from the expectations of writing books, I would hate that. So all I'm trying to say here is different people react differently to these stress types. Know how you react, plan your life accordingly. There are few decisions you are gonna make that will have more of an impact on just the daily experience, the positivity or negativity of your daily experience going forward. So stress management, put that into your toolbox when you're thinking about crafting a deep lifestyle. We don't talk about it enough but we should, it matters. Do you put any of that in your values, plan? That's a good question. We actually have a question later in the show where someone is asking me about how I structure my values, plan and I have it with me. So I'm gonna load it up later in the show and I'm not gonna read in detail. I'm gonna go through exactly how I've structured. So I just looked at it in prep for the show. It's not in there. Where this is reflected in my core systems is actually in my strategic plan, so quarterly plan or I call it strategic plan. The professional, my professional strategic plan has, and maybe I should just load this up. Let me grab my computer here. All right, so for those who are listening, I'm grabbing my computer because I wanna see exactly how I have this. So Jesse is asking me and I think it's a good question. Where in my systems do I have any record of my ideal stress levels that I can use in planning? So I'm going now, I'm in my core directory here, I'm going to my quarterly or strategic plan for work. At the top of that I have vision. So I have a section called vision, and it has one, two, three, four, five elements of my general vision for where I want my career to be. So this is not a specific plan. It's kind of at the top of this planning document, but it's much more bigger picture than I'm working on this this quarter. So this is a quarterly plan, but I have this big picture vision at the top of this. I remember writing this about two years ago. In this vision, I have notes that you could think of as stress management notes. So in particular, I have a section in this vision labeled autonomy. Where I get pretty specific about what I want my workload to be like, what I want things to be like in my academic job, teaching load and service, where I talk about time affluence. I actually have time affluence highlighted in this. And I talk about my deep to shallow ratio working on really important things or a remarkable setting. So I have a vision, as part of this vision of my work, I have notes that captures what I want that work to be like from a stress aspect, like how much work I'm doing, when I'm doing that work, the rhythm of my work. So that's where I have this captured, not on my values plan, but actually in my strategic plan for my job. The idea is that I see this every time I update my strategic plan each semester. And so I keep this in mind as I'm moving forward. - So then say you have a week where your stress levels are high. How would you note that so that you could change behavior in the future? - It's really demonstrable. If I have a week that's above my stress threshold, my wife notes it right away, I note it right away. And I will almost always react by saying, I need to ying ying balance this out. And so I'll usually go forward like, okay, this is a really stressful period. I'll go to the next period that's still somewhat unscheduled and I'll usually go through and like aggressively claim and protect time. I'll say, I'm gonna balance this out with an unusually light period as soon as I can. And I'll do this on multiple scales. So if I have a really busy day, maybe we have, you know, whatever, I'm doing an event or we have a visitor on campus, I'll try to take a day later and a week and under schedule it. If I have a busy month, I'll try to make the next month a lot less full. But I also do this at the seasonal level, you know, it was actually stress management that led me to stop taking summer salary from my grants for the summer. So I really can take the summer essentially off from a lot of my Georgetown obligations. In theory, Georgetown pays me 10 months a year in the summer, I'm on my own. There's a financial investment there 'cause I have to pay my own salary those two months. But when you care about stress management, it's like, oh, that's worth it. If I can afford it, which I can, oh, that's a great investment because those two months of having huge flexibility can really offset other more stressful parts. It's why I'm worried, for example, about this upcoming summer. I have a fellowship at Dartmouth where I'll be living up there with my family and teaching a course and doing a bunch of stuff. That's gonna be really cool, but I usually completely take my summers off. So it's gonna be interesting to see what is the impact of me to go from a normal semester at Georgetown to basically a summer semester back into a normal semester next fall at Georgetown, followed by a semester with a book launch. So we'll see how that goes. So yeah, I do try to balance out, when I do a busy periods, overload periods, balance it out with periods of under scheduling. So really reducing that stress to minimal levels. All right, well, before we get into our questions, I wanna talk about a new sponsor of this show. Did you hear that sound?
Cal talks about Shopify and Master Class (22:03)
That is the sound of a Shopify sale and for so many online business entrepreneurs, that sound is music to their ears. So if you haven't heard about Shopify, it's a service that makes it simple to sell to anyone from anywhere online. Whether you're selling planners or, let's say, what else would we potentially sell one day, Jesse? Shirts that say, I don't know what slogan we would have on shirts. If we had merch, I don't know what our slogan, our slogan would be, yeah, I'd rather be deep working. I'd rather be deep working than talking to you. That'd be a good shirt. So if you wanna sell, if we decide, we're gonna sell a, I'd rather be deep working than talking to you or a planner online, Shopify would be where we would do it. Shopify is a platform that simplifies commerce for millions of businesses worldwide. They allow you to customize your online store to your brand, discover new customers and build relationships that will keep them coming back. They cover all sales channels to successfully grow your business from in-person POS systems to an all-in-one e-commerce platform. Oh, so we could sell our shirts in person with Shopify at the vegan super restaurant downstairs. We'll see if they'll give us a kiosk down there. Even across social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, I don't know if it'd be ironic or like a great idea to sell, I'd rather be deep working shirts on TikTok, right? Because like it's the opposite of what that shirt is asking for, but that might actually, I think be a great place, a great place to sell it. Because exactly the people like, you know what? This is what I need. They also have 24/7 support and free on demand business courses, it's here to help you succeed every step of the way. It's how every minute new sellers around the world make their first sale with Shopify and you can too. You have probably shopped at a lot of Shopify stores and just don't realize that anytime you've shopped at a store that's not Amazon, and you're like, this is great, that it's an individual site, but the experience is super easy. They're probably using Shopify. So it allows all of the rest of us that aren't like a giant company to have really great e-commerce solution. So when we sell our shirts, Shopify has got to be the way we are going to do it. So when you're ready to take your idea to the world, do it with Shopify, the commerce platform, powering millions of businesses down the street and around the globe. Now it's your turn to try Shopify for free and start selling anywhere. Sign up for a free trial at Shopify.com/deep. This is important, keep that all lowercase. Deep has to be lowercase for them to know that you came from us and to get that free trial. So go to Shopify.com/deep to start selling online today. Shopify.com/deep. Another new sponsor, newish sponsor that I'm excited about is Masterclass. So with Masterclass, you can learn from the world's best artists, icons, and leaders anytime, anywhere and at your own pace. They have over 180 classes from a range of world class instructors that things you've always wanted to do is closer than you think. I'm a long time Masterclass subscriber. I went down a film in cinema, rabbit hole with Masterclass. Long time listeners know that's an interest of mine. So I did Aaron Sorkin's Masterclass on screenwriting. I did Ron Howard's Masterclass on directing. First of all, the Ron Howard Masterclass was beautiful. They built this giant, I mean, I'm talking 15 feet tall. 30 feet long, sort of curved giant screen that Ron was sitting in front of. And so he could play, freeze, play, freeze, play, clips from his movies, which I think was really great. What I particularly liked though, was actually the Aaron Sorkin's screenwriting Masterclass because they add as part of it footage of him sitting with students in a screenwriting course, doing deconstructions of their actual scripts. So students would show a draft of their script. You would see Sorkin himself give feedback on it, which I thought was incredibly useful. I'm not even a screenwriter. I was like, this is just fascinating to learn about how that world actually works. So if you're a fan of this podcast, you're a fan of big thoughts, you're a fan of learning hard things, you're a fan of the intellectual life. So you really should be a Masterclass subscriber. So I highly recommend that you check it out. This holiday, you can give the perfect gift of an annual Masterclass membership. If you do that, you will get one free. So here's a chance for you to give the gift of knowledge and then in return get a free membership as a reward. To do so, go to masterclass.com/deep today. That's masterclass.com/deep. You need to slash deep to get that special offer terms applied. All right, Jesse, I think it is time for us to do some questions. Feeling coffeeed up and ready to dispense some wisdom. Who do we have first on our docket here? All right, here we go. We got Steve. So Steve says, as a freelance web developer, I'm constantly having things pushed onto my plate by clients on retainer.
How do I switch from a push to pull model of task management? (27:31)
I would like to transition into a more project-based workflow where I pull things when I'm ready, but I don't want to lose the financial security of my clients on retainer. All right, push, pull. I love the distinction between push and pull. I actually wrote a whole section of my book on slow productivity I'm working on. There's a whole section on push versus pull. So this is somewhat on my mind. As a quick reminder, so you can understand what Steve is asking about here, when it comes to task management and knowledge work, most people implicitly rely on what I would call a push system. Anyone can push work onto your plate. So if you work at a big company, this might mean any of your colleagues or managers can just email you and like, hey, what about this? Can you do this? Can you join this? Can you help me with this? So anyone can push work on your plate. They don't know what your plate looks like or what you have on it. There's no particular criteria for deciding, can this person take anymore? Anyone can push to anyone at any time. This is also true in freelance client work. This is Steve's issue. He has these clients on retainer. So they're paying a monthly fee. He's in web development. So it's probably just to help them like update their websites or deal with issues. And so they can just push work on the Steve's plate whenever. Hey, I have a problem with this. I wanna add this feature. I wanna change my site here. The contrast to push, the alternative to push, is poll-based systems. Now other economic sectors do this really well. Knowledge work doesn't. In a poll-based system, you work on a small number of things at a time. When you finish something, you then pull in something new to replace it. Poll-based systems are a much better match for the way that the human mind operates than push-based systems. We are really wired to work on one thing at a time. Here's what I'm working on. Let me build an internal plan for it. Let me execute that plan. Let me get the reward. How did this go? Let me integrate that into my memory of this work. Okay, what's next? We are not wired to have seven or eight things going on at the same time that we keep jumping back and forth between our mind can't maintain, for example, internal representations of plans for multiple concurrent projects that it can easily just shuffle in back and forth. We do one thing at a time, shut that down, move on to the next. That's what we're supposed to do. So having a unlimited task list that can always grow is not a good match for our mind. This is different than, say, a computer processor. For implementing the computer processor, you're gonna have a, what any sort of computer engineering or computer science student can tell you. You're gonna have what's called a pipeline of commands waiting to be executed. And the processor doesn't care about what's in that pipeline. It just executes one op after another. And in fact, one of the key things you do in processor design is to try to keep that pipeline as full as possible. 'Cause what you worry about is there being a cycle where you have nothing for the processor to do and that's wasted. So a processor would say, "Fill up my queue of things to do as full as possible "so that I'll never be idle. "Humans aren't processors." You fill up the humans queue, which in our case would be a to-do list, a task board with a huge number of things. All of that's claiming mental real estate. The switching back and forth is causing context switching issues. We have a hard time. So pole-based systems actually make a lot more sense. And knowledge work, we don't do them. It's very easy to have a setting where I can push work to anybody at any time. If we get rid of that, it becomes hard. So in a office environment, it is possible if the whole team agrees to shift to a pole-based system. I'm talking about this in my upcoming book. I talk about a little bit in my last book as well, a world without email. And the way you would do this, if everyone's on the same page, everyone who's assigning works on the same page, is you do something like a Kanban or Agile-style methodology where you have a common receptacle for work the team needs to do. And you have a set system by which you assign work from this common collection to individuals. So you can see very clearly, Jesse already has something assigned to him. So if we have more things that need to be done, we just put it into the common collection. When Jesse is done, we can make the collective decision or he can make the decision of what he wants to pull from that next. And you can see really clearly in one place, who's working on what and what's pending. This can work fine. And there's a bunch of case studies of this. It has a bunch of advantages. People work on one thing at a time. Workloads are transparent, so you can't overburden someone. It also lets you figure out what things are non-vital. So if something really lingers in the collection area and no one ever pulls it, never gets assigned to anyone. It's a good indication like this must not be the priority or we're not set up to do it. So it's actually like a great way of triaging work as well. All right, now let's get back to Steve. He's a freelancer. He has a bunch of clients pushing work onto his plate. He can't do this. He can't do the solution of, hey, we're all gonna use this common system where we'll make a collective decision of what am I gonna work on next? Because clients are different. Clients don't wanna know what other clients are assigning to Steve. Clients have no interest in cooperating with other clients. It's not something they should have to worry about. They can't be pulled into a common system in the way that people who all work for the same company can. So what are Steve's options? Well, I wanna float here the notion of stimulating a pole system. Now, I wrote a whole thing about this in my new book. These ideas are still new. So I'll just do a cursory summary right here. But I'm increasingly convinced that it's possible that someone that's in Steve's situation or someone who works for a big company where their colleagues are not on board with switching to a whole new task management system can still internally simulate a pole system, get most of the benefits of a pole system without anyone else having to know what they're doing or sign up for it. So how does a simulated pole system work? Here's the key ideas. You implement what I call a holding tank. This is separate from your list of the things you're actively working on right now. The holding tank is where things you've committed to do build up. But in terms of what am I doing today, you're only looking at that active list. And that has like one or two things on it. When you finish something on the active list, you then move something from the holding tank to the active list. And that's, you make that decision right then. So most of your time, you're just executing a very small number of things. You only pull something in new once you finish something. Okay. How do we now deal with the expectations of all the other people who are pushing these things onto your plate? All right, this is where we get a little bit technical, but here's what I recommend. When something comes onto your plate, so a client says, hey, can you handle this? What you wanna do as you add that into the holding tank, I call this the holding take intake procedure, is you wanna put a time estimate on when you're gonna get that done and label it with it. In order for this to be a reasonable time estimate, what you do is you look at all of the other time estimates of the things that have already been put into the holding tank, right? So this is a inductive or aggregate process. So if we assume that everything in your holding tank so far has a reasonable time estimate, and you label your new thing with a time estimate that respects this. So maybe you're looking at the five things and you're like, well, these will all be done by next week, then I can have this thing be labeled for the week after. So you have to come up with a time estimate that makes sense, given all this work you've seen your holding tank that it themselves all have time estimates on it. Two, you communicate this expectation immediately to the person who gave you the work. And in doing so, you can even talk about the magnitude of your holding tank, be precise. Be like, yep, I receive this. Yeah, this makes sense. You want me to update the client page on your website. Great. Just so we're on the same page, I have eight other client updates queued ahead of you right now, looking at my estimates. I should be able to get to this by a week from Wednesday. If it looks like I'm not gonna be able to make that, I will give you plenty of advance notice if I have to shift that and we'll tell you the new deadline. And then you mark that, you put it down. So when you put a time estimate on one of these new tasks going to your holding tank, you communicate the expectations with the person. People are often worried about communicating this to clients or to other peers that they won't tolerate anything other than just get this done right now. But the precision almost always destabilizes the immediate reactionary response. Because really, what's my right response? So I'm a client and you say, I have eight things ahead of you that each have a time estimate. And so the next free slot will have this get done by next Wednesday. All they can argue is either put me ahead of those other things, but they have to argue like, why am I better than these other clients? Or you're lying. You don't have that many things. Or work overnight or whatever. Most people aren't gonna make that argument. Most people, and we argue this all the time on the show, what really matters to them is not immediate action or responsiveness, it's clarity. They just wanna be able to get this off their plate and trust it's gonna get done. This is why the system actually works. If your haphazard, then I want you to do this right away because otherwise I have to keep track of it and keep bothering you to see if you get it done. If you say I have seven things ahead of it and this will get done a week from Wednesday and you show me time and again that these time estimates are right, that's just as good as you do in an immediately in 99% of the cases. Because both of those settings I can say, great, I don't have to worry about this. It'll get done. Right, so that's how this system works. The only subtlety here is if you have a really large thing in your holding tank, you know, something's gonna take weeks and weeks, you don't wanna pull that into your active and just do one thing for weeks and weeks. So in that case, you have the big thing in your holding tank with all the details you need. I mean, so I recommend using something like a digital task board to keep track of all this. You can attach files and notes to each of these things. I mean, then you identify the next step for that project. That's the thing you actually give the time estimate on when you pull the big project to your active list. You're only doing that next step. And when you're done, you identify the next step, update the time estimate and put it back in your holding tank. So there's just a little subtlety there if you're talking about really big projects. You can do just one step of those big, pull in one step of those big projects at a time. I was actually gonna ask you about that, how the holding tank correlates with the task boards. Yeah, so I would use a technology like a task board 'cause you wanna be able to have one place where all of the information relevant to each of these things is kept. And so like, let's say a client sends you a few more emails to update you on the website task they have for you. You can just copy those and paste those right into the notes on the back of the task board task. That's what I use. And I think that's probably the right way to do it. So you can, and files, you can attach files to it. Like here's the, whatever. Especially if it's a project with a lot of steps and it keeps going back and forth to your active, you just have this big record of everything relevant to it. And so I would use a task board or you could use like shared documents is fine. Like, you know, some people will just have a big document and just have bold headers for each thing and then just put as much text as they need underneath it as many notes as they need. That's fine. If you're more tech savvy, you can use Notion. You can use Obsidian. You know, you can use one of these database-based, link-based note-taking systems. - So the holding tank is basically like the to-do column on like a task board? - Yeah. Yeah. So it's like the two. - For the project. - And you would probably still have, most people who, and this is the simulation of Poll is new. So I can't talk about this with a lot of experience. I would assume that most people who are doing this are also gonna have a standard task board setup because not all work is gonna fall into this paradigm. You're still gonna have like things that discuss at the next meeting with my boss column. There's still gonna be like things to come in that don't fall into this like HR needs you to fill out a form or you know, there'll be things that happen or self-initiated. So you can imagine these being like yeah, columns on your task board, the holding tank and active from the holding tank. I would probably have a dedicated task board for simulated Poll and then another one for, you know, what's left for the different roles. But anyways, this is new, but I'm a big advocate of Poll versus Push. I've mentioned this a few times in the New Yorker writing as well in the last couple of years. I'm really trying to seed this idea out here. But just because everyone in knowledge were with the exception of I guess computer programmers, does push. Does it mean that that's the only way to work? And I actually think it's a terrible way to work. So one of the biggest mistakes we're making is push-based hash management. It's like such a source of stress in knowledge work right now. All right, let's go move on here. Maybe do a, looks like we have a little bit of a less technical question next. So let's move on with our next one.
Where should I live? (40:28)
All right, sounds good question from Rosa. As a remote worker, how do I decide where to live? A good question, Rosa, this is more and more relevant. As more and more people get fully remote jobs, they get complete flexibility in where they live. This is a paradox of choice. Good news is you have complete flexibility, bad news is you have complete flexibility. Now you have to make a choice, everything's on the table. You worry about making a wrong choice. So you got the advantages of full flexibility and you got the disadvantages. So Rosa, you're right to ask this question because it does matter, your location can play a big role in your efforts to cultivate a deep life. So it's like one of the biggest factors. I mean, I think this and the specific work you do are two of the biggest factors, I think, in terms of having the most day-to-day impact on your success in cultivating a deep life. So what I recommend is, as I usually say, go back to Lifestyle Central Career Planning, get this really clear lifestyle that you can see, touch, and smell of what an ideal lifestyle would be for you. It's not just job, it's all the elements of your life. And then when you're thinking about location of where you're going to live, what you're trying to do here is come up with a location that's going to give you the most net benefit on these various aspects of this vision. So let me be a little bit more concrete. That's a little bit big. Let me be a little bit more concrete. Here, I have five different, what I have here, five different elements that might be a part of your vision of the deep life, your ideal lifestyle. There's five different elements where your location will play a big role. One is in community and family. So the role of community and family, what's the community like where I live, how close am I to family? Non-professional activity opportunities, right? So if you're a really big, I want to be in nature and outdoors, living in Colorado is going to have a very different effect on that aspect of your vision than let's say living in the middle Atlantic. Work opportunities. So you have a vision of this type of work you want to do. If that vision, for example, is really fast moving, high charge, your in suits, making master the universe type plays, like a city is going to really support that in a way that Boise would not. Viber attitude of where you live. Those of us who are in the Northeast sort of don't realize the degree to which there's a background current of stress and anxiety around here. I mean, you can just see it in the drivers. It's different in different places. It's different. If you live in Vermont, people just aren't, it's just not as stressful day to day as it is if you live in suburban DC. So like, if your vision really has a sense of, are you like relaxed or is it, no, I'm plugged in and doing lots of, like however you answer that question, location is going to play a big role. I mean, then expense is the other one. If a place is cheaper, obviously that gives you more flexibility. You don't have to earn as much money to have the same type of lifestyle. And so expense can play a big role. So basically what you have to do is, you know, you have these different attributes of your lifestyle that you're envisioning, what you want those things to be like. And you were evaluating different possible locations against those things. Now the right way to do this, and Rosa, you'll have to excuse me being overly nerdy and algorithmic here, but I'm going to use a sort of quantitative framework here to capture something that I think is a little bit actually more vague than that. What you want to avoid is allowing a clear positive on one of these aspects to paper over negative impacts on a lot of the other ones. So you do not want to apply, if we're going to be nerdy here, a max function to this evaluation. So let's think of this a little bit more quantitatively. Let's imagine you have these, whatever these attributes are. Like in my case, I said community activity work vibe and expense. So you have your list of things that are relevant in your deep life vision to your location. Imagine for each location, you're able to come up with a numerical score of that location's impact on that attribute of your life. So the more positive the impact, the larger positive number you score it, the more negative the impact, the more negative number you score it. So, you know, if you really want to relax place, a relaxed lifestyle, but you're going to move to Manhattan, you would probably score that attribute with a big negative number. The mistake a lot of people make is to look at all these different scores. We have a bunch of locations, so a bunch of different score sheets for each of these locations. And to evaluate each on a max function, which of these gives me the highest positive score? That's what a lot of people implicitly do. So like we're going to move to Idaho because there's this one element of my life I really care about, it's activity opportunities. Or we're going to move to like San Diego because like surfing is really important to me. And I get a big positive score for surfing. There's like a lot of surf breaks there. And so that's what we're going to do. I love the surf, let's go to San Diego. If that same decision is giving you like little negative scores on everything else, that negative can all add up to swamp out the advantage you get from this one positive. So you can't just apply a max score. Say which location is going to give me the biggest boost on something in my life. What you want to do instead is do a summation of each of these scores. Add up all the positive and negatives and see how it comes out. And what you're looking for is a place that ends up with the sum being as large as possible. So again, I'm being algorithmic here to try to emphasize a point that's actually way more fuzzy in practice. But to be concrete, let's give some concrete examples. If going to San Diego gives me like a high like a score of 10 on this abstract scale, positive 10 for non-work activity opportunities. But gives me a negative two on everything else. It's far from my family. It's the type of work I do is not available there. The San Diego attitude is like not at all, you know, what I'm looking for and it's expensive. Those negatives are going to add up to basically negate that positive score. Now let's say you considered another location where, you know, maybe you're living in like New Hampshire. You have family near there. It's a small town with a sense of community. It's great for the type of work you want to do because like, yeah, if you could just go in the Boston once a month, it's fine, it's cheaper, there's no property tax. And so all these are like these like reasonable positives. When it comes to activities, hey, you can still surf in New Hampshire. You go to the coast, you wear a wet suit. You know, my sister-in-law does it. So maybe it's like a positive three instead of the positive 10 of San Diego. But you add up all these scores, you get a much bigger number. That's the right choice. So I'm being needlessly technical to get to what I think is a much more fuzzy point, which is your goal in seeking a location is not to take one aspect of your life, to choose one and say, how do I boost this as high as possible? It's instead to get the highest overall boosting on the things that matter. And that's going to give you the largest day-to-day benefit. So, Rosa, that's the approach I would take. And then my final advice would be, all of this is imprecise. So as long as you have the decision that by some reasonable scale of scoring seems good, don't second guess it. Because it's not a science, it's an art, but these are the big mistakes we want to avoid the big mistake of taking one big swing in one aspect and making everything else not work. I don't know. Is that the technical, Jesse? What do you think? - No. - It's an algorithm. - I don't think it's too technical. - Yeah. - I think it makes sense. - That's the way I think about it. The aggregate drag of lots of things that aren't quite right can really kill even like a really positive. I mean, this is known. I'm just being clear about something I think people know intuitively. It's the common thing. The most common place we see this is moving somewhere for the work opportunity. We're like, everything else kind of sucks. Like it's not like it's terrible, but you got a 45 minute commute and it's a little bit stressful and the schools, you know, and you don't really like the people. Like all that stuff just drags down the benefit you get of like, yeah, but I really wanted to work for, you know, company X. So there's more systematic way of doing that. - All right, what do we got next? - All right, next question's from Rudy.
Is “rare and valuable” the same as “impressive”? (49:13)
Do you think rare and valuable skills from your book so good they can't ignore you are more or less the same thing as being impressive from your book High School Superstar? - Yeah, that's a good question. In the elaborate version of this question, Rudy posits like, you know, he's old, an adult. Rudy posits like maybe these are the same things. They're not, but let me quickly review what they are. So High School Superstar is a book I wrote. It's a third book I wrote. This was, I think, 2009. Interesting book. It's, what if Malcolm Gladwell wrote a college admissions guide? So it's kind of a quirky book, right? I deconstruct the psychology of impressiveness to understand the select group of people, students, who get into really good colleges without, they're not geniuses, but they're also not stressed out. They're not over scheduled, they're not burnt out. This was a huge issue at that time, that first decade of the 2000s, this was a huge issue, the stress of college admissions, and so I sort of wrote this contrarian book. And so I really deconstructed impressiveness and how a 16 year old or 17 year old can generate a high level of impressiveness that might help them get into a good school without having to be overworked or stressed out. And so good, they can't ignore you by contrast. I talk about career capital. As you build very invaluable skills, you acquire more of this metaphorical material or substance I call career capital. That's what you invest to take control of your career and shift it towards things that resonate and away from things that don't. Rare and valuable skills are different than high school level impressiveness. And the real distinction here, and Rudy, this might be bad news for you, might not be what you wanna hear. But the real distinction is that when you're talking about the impressiveness of a 16 year old on a college application, you're judging that 16 year old on their potential for accomplishments down the line later in life. Is this someone who has the potential, when they're more trained up and older and have more opportunities and are ready to really go do things of obvious accomplishment in the world? So you're judging potential. When you're in the doubt, when you're in the world of work, you're not judged on your potential to go do good things. You're judged on the things you've done. You know, all right, Rudy, what are your accomplishments? Is this impressive or not? How hard was this? How much money did this company make? How many people read that book? How many, whatever? Much more concrete. So you only have this little window where you'll be judged by your potential once you grow up, so to speak, you're judged on what you've actually done. And so there's really that, the possibility of hacking goes away. So High School Superstar talks a lot about this impressiveness thing that we use to judge the potential of a 16 year old. It's really kind of fuzzy and you can hack it. This is how students become, getting the good schools without being stressed out is you can kind of hack this psychology. 'Cause we were just dealing with like, is this someone who's interesting to me? There's a lot of ways to hack that so that you don't have to try to whatever do 10 clubs. You can't hack actual accomplishment. You know, experts in your field knows did what you do is harder not, right? And so it's just much harder as an adult, that sense of, you know, I can finagle my way around. I'm just kind of an interesting guy and I'm doing these interesting things and people are just impressed by me. That kind of goes away as you get older. You actually have to do impressive things. And it's harder. So I don't know if that answers your question, Rudy, but I do think it's a good distinction to make, is do not mix up what it means for a student to be impressive, for what it means for, let's say a 30 year old to be impressive. The 30 year old has a much harder job facing them there, much harder task. I like that book by the way, Jesse. It's one of my favorites. It's my least selling book because of the time it came out and the subject matter in the title. But it's a really cool book. Yeah. It's wild. It's wild. I've talked about this on the show before, it's because I sold the book and then to an imprint at Random House. Then right after I sold the book, Random House bought Penguin. And everything got reshuffled, right? So they fired a lot of people. That my imprint went away. And as I talked about it got passed, I don't know the count. I think at least six editors it passed. Because everyone's getting fired and moved around. And by the time it finally landed, right? And it landed eventually at the dog walker of the assistant of my original, right? Because it was just like, I don't, actually I don't know where it landed. It landed with a very good editor. But the point is it landed with an editor who had no involvement in buying it, had no idea who I was. So they're like, it's chaos over here. The buildings on fire, half the people's got fired. Just like, go right what you want to write. And I took advantage of that freedom to write a crazy book. It is an insane, I mean, it's an insane book. I'm talking about counter signaling theory from biology and how this like affects how admissions officers are thinking about whatever. I feature Ramit that Sethi's younger brother, - Oh really? - Anish is featured in that book. Yeah, young Manish, he wrote a book in high school, which helped him get into Stanford. It's a really cool book and it's my least read. So more people should read it. I think the title makes it too. It's just 'cause the title's too narrow. It's like, oh, this is only for high school students. But it's really about the psychology of impressiveness. I like that book. They have more of my players read it. J.B. players read it. The only person who's ever told me it's their favorite book of mine was Dan Pink. And I think that's only because when that came out, his kids were like just getting to high school age. It was like super relevant for, it just hit them at the time where it's like super relevant. - Yeah. - Yeah. Anyways, good to talk about that book. All right, let's do a call. Let's hear a voice. Let's do a call here. All right, sounds good. Hi, Cal. My name's Jay and I'm a business systems analyst for a large corporate retailer.
Integrating Deep Work to create a Deep Life (55:04)
Well, I agree with everything you say about deep work and living the deep life. I can't seem to implement it consistently in my own life. I will have a few good days of time blocking and deep work sessions. But inevitably, I find myself back to mindlessly surfing the web and looking at my phone. This has been going on for the past year and I'm not really sure what to do next. Could you please give me some advice? Thanks and keep up the good work. - All right, well, Jay, you're on the right track. You recognize the importance of cultivating a deep life in a world deluged by distraction. So you have the goal. You've recognized that deep work in your professional life is a piece of that. Building your professional life to degree possible around working on hard, valuable things and trying to avoid more of the shallow distraction. So you have a piece of it. I think what you need is to start filling in some of the other pieces of the deep life as well. This might not make sense when you first hear it, but it's absolutely true. Squaring away non-professional parts of your life, other parts of your life that have nothing to do with your phone or your computer actually makes it much easier to get those distractions under control. When you start locking in a community, constitution, contemplation, when you have a vision for your role in the lives of people around you, that you're sacrificing non-trivial time and attention on behalf to serve. When you're putting yourself into excellent shape and developing that identity of discipline. When you are exposing yourself in a systematic fashion to big ideas, you're building a philosophical or theological base, you're structured and disciplined all based on a foundation of intention aimed at the goal of having a deeper life. As all of these aspects of your life begin to tighten up, the appeal of let's see who's yelling at Elon Musk today. Diminishes. So there's a holistic transition towards depth that helps you achieve that in all aspects of your life. And so it seems like all these different areas of your life are unconnected. What does your gym routine and the time you spend helping to organize the youth group at your church, what does that have to do with you checking email too much, looking at social media during work, but they are connected. The prioritization and pursuit of depth is an identity. It is an approach to life that once you are committed to, it will suffuse everything. And it will make, for example, idle phone checking feel off, feel like the athlete who's eating the twinkie and is like, this isn't right. This is like out of step with everything else that feels important to me. And so I think that's what's going on, Jay, is you're on the right track, but don't just focus on the work. Am I doing enough deep work and my time blocking? Start working on the other aspects of your life to try to make those deep. As everything comes together, they all begin to sing in harmony. And once they're singing in harmony, it's a song that you don't want to stop. All right, let's, we got time for a couple more. What do we got next year? All right, next question is from JT. How do I balance my lifestyle vision with my husband's vision?
How do I reconcile my lifestyle vision with my husbands very different vision? (58:23)
He has a high paying job and loves the city. I have a low paying job and want to live somewhere quiet and close to nature. Well, JT, I'm thinking murder and get the life insurance money. I've been watching white Lotus. Jesse, that's what's going on here. I just finished it. Yeah, okay, so I won't spoil, but that's a white Lotus C type. It's a white Lotus C type answer. All right, JT, assuming you don't want to murder your husband and get the life insurance money, I will say a couple things. One, at least this is my opinion on it. I think it is very important for married couples to have shared visions of the life we'll live. It is difficult, I think, to successfully navigate a life together when you have separate visions of the life we'll live. I see this a lot, especially in the sort of crowds you might run in in a sort of major coastal city. We have a lot of highly educated sort of aspirational type A type people. It's common to see a setup where both members of the relationship have their own unique visions and they see their vision as in competition with the other. And so this might just lead to a lot of resentment. Like, why do you get to do that? That doesn't serve my vision. Or you see, this is kind of common is the sort of take turns model of like, well, look, you've been able to be pushing your vision stronger than mine for the last couple of years. Now it's my turn to push mine and you have to pull back. So it kind of ensures that at all points there's someone who feels like they're being alienated from their vision of the life we'll live. That's not good either. This can create a lot of gender disparity issues. So if you have a husband and wife that have similar visions, like you're both this commoner on here. You're both lawyers. And then you have kids. And now the wife is doing more of the work and has to have their vision. If they have a vision of being less like, you both have a vision, let's go get after it, law partners. Theirs gets diluted and their husbands doesn't. Huge resentment and tension, right? Because that's individual visions. You both, everyone has their own vision of like, whatever it is, and it's very hard to avoid tension. So I think shared vision, if you're gonna share a life with someone, the best strategies to come up one way or the other of a shared vision. Now this takes work. So JT, the answer here is not to decide is your husband's vision or your vision the right one. And you have the other person has to just follow the other person. The right vision here might be one that looks like neither of what you've come up with. It might require some creativity. You really have to step back and go through this exercise together. Well, what do we really care about? What are the things we really care about? Where's our common ground there? And you might come up with answers that surprise you. And it's not just we'll do my thing or we'll do your thing. It's like, oh, there's this whole other thing we could do. And this is quite different. I mean, I'm thinking, for example, of my aunt who was living in Manhattan. She moved to Manhattan to be a teacher at a prestigious school there, somewhat later in life. Like this was a somewhat like a midlife move. And she got remarried after she'd been living. She shifted to Manhattan and got remarried a little bit later in life. And that she was marrying someone who was from New England. And it was working, also a teacher, but working in a boarding school that's more, it's not rural up there, but not the city. Like Manhattan is like a really specific thing. So this is two different visions. He was very used to that lifestyle and she was really used to the city lifestyle. But they figured out a shared vision, which was like they teach and they live in Manhattan, but then they go to New Hampshire for the summers. And there's other aspects of the vision, some details here, but it was a shared vision. Like how do we have these different aspects all have all these different aspects lived together? So I think that's what JT you need to do, is you and your husband have to together start going through your vision of the life well lived. And again, you might be surprised by what comes up as being important. And it might have very little to do about is it the country or the city. That might be a red herring. Or maybe that's important, but there's other things you share that are really important and you construct this particular vision. Or maybe what you end up with is you're in a city, but you're in a second city, not in DC, not in New York, but it's a more tractable city where you have a, and it's less expensive. And you have a cabin, whatever. I mean, I'm not gonna give you a plan. I'm just being influenced here by something I just read from someone who they live in Las Vegas, but then have a cabin in the mountains and they kind of go back and forth. So there's like all these options out there. But you can't navigate them unless you sit down together and say, what do we really care about? Where do we agree on that? And I don't wanna give away too many of like how we actually answer this, but I will say from the very beginning, this is how my wife and I have always operated. It's all about five year visions for us and the whole family, me, her and the kids. And this vision has shifted, you know, again and again, we've shifted this on these five year increments, but it was always something we figured out together where we lived, the work configurations, the school configurations. It's always this shared vision. And it's been, I think that's been really successful. I think if we had gone into this with just like, hey, look, we're both Ivy League grads and like we're just gonna each do our own thing and try to be as successful as possible. It would have been, you know, sparks on whatever. So there's many more options out there than you imagine, but you gotta be clear about it. What do we care about? What do we want to do with our lives? And until you make those decisions, I get worried. A lot of rocky roads could otherwise be ahead.
How does Cal structure his values document? (01:04:05)
I always get nervous when I get marriage advice. Yes, yeah, I don't think that's what people come here for, but, you know, I do my best. All right, let's do one more. All right, last question from Johannes. How do you structure your values document? All right, good question. As I previewed earlier in the show, I brought up my computer. I'm just gonna load it up and I'll tell you exactly how I have it structured. All right, so for those who are not watching at youtube.com/calanuportmedia, I am loading up my laptop. I can't tell you, Jesse, by the way, how many people now write me to despair or make fun of or marvel about my keys on my keypad? It's pretty impressive. I don't know. People are sending me like all sorts of options of like silicon covers and stuff like that. Let me tell you why it's a problem. My kids can't use my computer. So I was like one of my son wanted to write a story. I was like, oh, you can use my professional writing software or whatever. They can't touch type, right? So I have no, I'm looking at my keyboard now. Here's the letters that are left on my keyboard. Q, Y, U, J, Z and X. Those are the only letters still legible on my keyboard. So like they can't use it because I don't run into numbers or I just, I don't look at my keyboard. It doesn't matter. I know I just know I'm a touch type or just 'cause I'll type my whole life. So my kids can't use my keyboard. Do they, don't they teach touch typing in school with all the computers? I don't know. Not yet. I think they do eventually, but not yet. I had mine on a typewriter. We had apples, I think. Mavis Beacon, you didn't have Mavis Beacon? We had some computers in the school for sure, but the typing course was on a typewriter. That's interesting. You know, I was in a, I guess this all makes sense given what I do now. But my school had this gifted and talented program for writing essentially. And so in the third grade, I got pulled out into this and it was like six of us. And all we did, so instead of having to like read the normal books and do whatever, they'd give us books to read. But mainly we would just write like really long stories just again and again. Like we just wrote and wrote. We must have wrote hundreds of thousands of words in typical year. Wow. So as like a third grader and a fourth grader, we were just writing these, you know, is mainly fiction and some like non-fiction response. And we would read really hard books. But for some reason, I kind of had forgotten about that. And now I was bringing it up the other day. It's like, oh, that probably explains a lot about me going into the writing. That like a very young age, I was holding to a programmer, they're like, you just need to write all the time. You know, practice makes perfect, I suppose. I don't think they do as much gifted and talented programs like that anymore. But it was good for me. So shout out the Mrs. Doudich, the G&T reading teacher. Ironically, I was not pulled into gifted and talented math. - Really? - Yeah. I'm a IT and becoming a math professor, basically. So, you know, I don't know what that tells you. That's why I'm more known as a writer than a mathematician. All right, anyways, who was this question? Johannes. Okay, how do I structure my values document? I have it loaded in front of me now. I structure it by role. So I have one, two, three, four, five roles. Father, man, professional, community member, spiritual. For each of those roles, I have a first person narrative of how I want to be or act in that role, that narrative implicitly captures my values, right? So I want to blah, blah, blah. The vision of manhood I strive for includes blah, blah, blah. I want in my career to blah, blah, blah. So it's narrative, first person narrative for each of these roles that captures my values. So what do I want to be doing? How do I want to be showing up as a father? How do I want to be showing up as a man? How do I want to be showing up as my work as a community member in my spiritual life? So roles and somewhat narrative. That's different. I've had this structure different ways into far past of my life. So I think when I first created my first value document, I had just a list of values. It's bullet point, you know. And then at some point, I organized them in the categories. This shift the roles I did at some point after I started having kids. And I actually liked this role-based narrative capture. Because you have like a narrative for each of these roles. It's like an image of like someone living the way you want to live. To me, that was more tangible than just like an abstract list of values. So Johannes, that's how I do it now. And for those who aren't familiar with the values document, the idea is you just review this on a regular basis to remind yourself of what really matters. At the very least, review this once a quarter when you update your quarterly plans. So that your long-term planning remains aligned with what really matters to you. I recommend looking at it each week, just at least glancing at it. Like keep going back to more than anything else, living true to my values is what's gonna matter through the good times and the bad times. So I fall away from this, I'm very, life becomes fragile. So you should have this document. You should review it commonly. That's how I do it. All right, well, I gotta tell you, Jesse, at least four or five times from this recording, I've looked at my watch. The very first time I looked at my watch, I correctly recognized that I forgot to wind it. And so it's not, it's saying it's six o'clock, right? Like I need to wind it. So it doesn't have the time on it. I've checked it four or five more times. I just keep looking. - So you have to wind that every day? - Yeah, about every day. - Yeah, it can maybe get two days. But yeah, yeah, it's all, which I love, analog baby, all springs. And I don't wear it every day. - Yeah. - So that's, if you wear it every day, it's no problem. It's just like you do it when you first take it out. The problem is I don't wear it every day. So then it dies. - Mm-hmm. - So there you go. So I see the real time on here. All right, let me grab, what am I looking for here? We've got the questions. What I'm looking for is the rest of my script. Here we go. All right, so we got coming up our final segment. Three interesting things where I go over three interesting things people have sent me relevant to striving to live a deep life.
Cal talks about Blinkist and Rhone (01:10:28)
Before we get there, let me briefly mention another sponsor that makes this show possible. Those are friends at RON, R-H-O-N-E. Jesse and I are both fans of RON's new product, which is their commuter shirt. I love their T-shirts. I had long worn their workout T-shirts. I should get you a RON workout T-shirt. I think you would like them. - Yeah, they're very sturdy. They're flexible, they most are wick. Anyways, they've taken all that expertise and put them into a nice looking dress shirt, which they call the commuter shirt. The dress shirt was due for a radical reinvention and RON stepped up to this challenge. Their commuter shirt is the most comfortable, breathable and flexible shirt known to man. And here is why, first is their fabric. I love their four-way stretch fabric. It's breathable, it's flexible, it's very lightweight. It's like, Jesse, you could play golf in this. I could give, spend the day in a conference with this and you're not gonna feel hot and itchy and sticky. It's very lightweight, very flexible fabric. It's fantastic. It also looks good, wrinkle free. This is why I like these RON shirts. Throw it in the bag, I'm going to give a talk at a conference, it's gonna look good. It's gonna look good. Their wrinkle release technology makes sure that it's not gonna get wrinkled. It smooths out as you wear it throughout the day. It's actually pretty cool. It also has gold fusion anti-odor technology. So those long, hot days, you're going to smell fresh. So I'm a big fan of RON and I'm glad they moved into the dress shirt market. So this commuter shirt can get you through any workday and straight into whatever comes next. Hit the RON.com/Cal and use that promo code, Cal to save 25% off your entire order. That's 20% off your entire order when you head to R-H-O-N-E.com/Cal and use that code Cal. It's time to find your corner office comfort. Jesse, when we get our merch made, I'd rather be doing deep work and talking to you shirts. We should have RON manufactured them. - Yeah. - Get a little bit of four-way stretch fabric in our ironic tees, that's the way to do it. I also want to talk about our friends at Blinkist, one of the longest standing sponsors of this show and for good reason. As I always say, in our current world ideas are power and the best, most high quality source of ideas are books. The challenge is figuring out which books are worth actually investing your time and money to read. That is where Blinkist enters the picture. If you subscribe to Blinkist, you get access to their 15 minute Texan audio summaries of over 5,000 non-fiction titles spread over 27 categories, including many of my own books. So if you want to know what a book is about, 15 minutes later, you know. You can listen to the summary while you're doing the dishes or read it real quick on your phone or you're pretending to work in a boring meeting and you get the big ideas and you're able to make the assessment right there. Ooh, is this something I want to buy and read? Or I think I got the gist. I know this is about, I'll use that information. I don't need to actually buy the whole book. So it is a triage service for the reading life. Everyone who lists this podcast, I assume, aspires to have a life-riching book. So you need Blinkist as your assistant, your sidecar, your sidekick in navigating the world of the written word. So right now Blinkist has a special offer just for our audience, go to blinkist.com/deep to start your free seven day trial and get 25% off a Blinkist premium membership. That's Blinkist spelled BL, I-N-K, I-S-T, blinkist.com/deep to get 25% off and a seven day free trial. Blinkist.com/deep.
Three Interesting Things (01:14:13)
All right, final segment of the show. Three interesting things, all three of the things I'm gonna review today were sent to me at my firstname.lastname@example.org, email address. Always interested to see interesting things about the quest to live a deep life. Please send your links or pointers to that address. All right, here's the first interesting thing of our segment.
Twitter, Attention, and Democracy (01:14:36)
It is an article from The New York Times, a column by our good friend Ezra Klein. I've been on his show multiple times, so if you haven't heard that, you should go listen to those. This column he wrote on December 11th, and I should say if you're watching the show at youtube.com/calanuportmedia, you'll actually see the article. If you're listening, I'll explain to you what's on the screen right now. All right, so the topic of this article, the title of this article is The Great Delusion Behind Twitter, so you already know I'm on board. Here's the key point. I should say what's the first of two key points. So the first key point here is, Ezra says, "It feels like for ages we've been told that Twitter is or needs to be the world's town square, but that this metaphor is wrong." All right, this should be a familiar point. I'm glad to see Ezra make it. I've made this point many times, including my last article on Twitter that I wrote for The New Yorker, I argued exactly this point. That the issue with Twitter is not the details of how it's run, it's the fact that we keep trying to tell ourselves that it's vital, and it's not. It feels that way to reporters, but to the rest of the population is not. We don't need to obsess over exactly how Twitter is run. We need to stop obsessing over Twitter. All right, so Ezra gives three reasons. Why the metaphor of the time square is wrong. So these are interesting. They're a little bit different than my argument, so let's briefly summarize them. Number one, there isn't, can't be, and shouldn't be a global town square. It's a good point. Why do we need a single location where all people for all issues can gather to talk? This doesn't work, right? And we've seen that with Twitter. Having a single place with a uniform interface where everyone looks exactly the same, all tweets look exactly the same, there's no distributed curation, there's no social capital, there's no hierarchy of ideas built through reputation, it's just anyone can show up and say, do better, not see, and it looks the same as anyone else. Of course that's gonna fail. I mean, imagine if we had a literal global town square, like people from all countries can all come gather in this place to argue about things with no holds barred, everyone wearing, it's just not gonna work. All right, number two. Town squares are public spaces governed in some way by the public. All right, another good point from Esra, it's like where you do see town squares, they're not at the global scale, is they're at the scale of a town or a city. The public owns them and has a say in how they operate. This is not the case for a service like Twitter, it's a private company that's trying to make money by monetizing people's eyeballs, that's not a public square, that's a movie theater, that's a Colosseum, it's an entertainment venue. Esra's third point, what matters for a polity, isn't the mere existence of a town square, but the condition the townspeople are in when they arrive. Yeah, so if you, let's say you have a town square, you're gonna stretch this metaphor. You have a small town, you have a town square where people can gather and the public decide like, okay, this is where we're gonna gather to discuss things. But if the way it works is that on the way to the town square, everyone is given a six pack in some meth, and then as they get closer, they're put on like scary, purge style mask and given weapons, and then a town square itself has like strobe lights going and Trent Reznor sort of unsettling discordant sounds, that's not gonna be a situation in which you're gonna have some good discussion going on, and essentially this has led Twitter's the digital equivalent of this. It's just the dynamics of Twitter, plus just a cultural reputation is built up is when you get onto your Twitter account today, you're there to swing a bat at somebody. So the conditions aren't right. So there's a good points from Ezra. This is not some global town square that serves the goods, so we should stop calling it that. Okay, and so we got a little summary here. Billions of people use these services, their scale is truly civilizational, and what have they wrought? Is the world more democratic? Is GDP growth higher? Is innovation faster? Do we seem wiser? Do we seem kinder? Do we seem happier? These are the core questions. Like finally, like what Ezra's saying is like, the final way you'd wanna evaluate the necessity of a given metaphorical town square is like, is it doing the things you'd wanna town square to do? And Twitter is doing none of those. It is not making the world more democratic. There's a period in 2009 where we thought it was gonna spread democracy throughout like the Arab world. There's the Arab Spring moment, and then beyond that we're like, "Nah, it doesn't work." That's not happening. It's not helping the economy, it's not causing more innovation, it's not making people smarter, kinder, happier. So it's achieving none of the things we would want, yet we're still obsessed about it. And it's vital and it has to be protected and we have to care about it. Right? What's really going on here, again, it's the, I believe a lot of this like obsession over Twitter and lineization of it as this like critical thing to this civic life is far from a universally held belief. It's a belief that is held incredibly strongly by an incredibly small group of people, elite journalists. It's at the core of their life, their self-definition, their professional success, and a lot of how they feel good about themselves. And so the voices we hear talking about Twitter are the voices that are obsessed with it. And so we get this portrayal, we're forced to read about this on the front page of our newspapers and magazines of the news programs. We don't care about Twitter. We as the regular polity, as Recline would say, shouldn't have to suffer from, you know, a Fox News or CNN reporter's Twitter obsession. This is like a playground for you guys. It's not a town square and it's just making it worse for the rest of us. So that's my theory on that. The second point from this article that I thought was relevant and I'll just briefly mention it. Just, I think there's something really deep here but we don't have time to really unpack it. Ezra talks about a paper by Benjamin Farr, F-A-R-E-R, political scientist from Knox College, who argues that we have mistaken the key resource upon which democracy depends. That resource, the actual key resource is attention. Not your attention or my attention or attention. Attention in the sense is a collective resource. It is the depth of thought and consideration a society can bring to bear on its most pressing problems. And so with so many collective resources from fresh air to clean water, it can be polluted or exhausted. So I'll leave you on that thought from this article that not only is Twitter not a global public square that's critical to the functioning of the world and improvement, it actually is making the world less democratic. When you exhaust a collective attention of a population, they do not have that resource left to invest in the things that really matter. So it's actually robbing from us. It's not just failing to match what we want it to do. It's actually making everything else worse. So I wanna talk about this article. I try not to talk too much about Twitter these days, even though there's only so much social media talk I wanna do, but look, if you're going to live a deep life, the role of these attention assassins matter. And it's why I keep going back to things like Twitter. If you're obsessed with it, if you're on it all the time, if you think it's the key to civilization, you're sweating all day about exactly what the rules are, how it operates, you're making it very difficult for you to cultivate a deep life. I always talk about the deep life as being something that is in opposition to distraction. This is one of the more purified forms of distraction that we've yet had to face as a people.
Walking helps thinking (01:22:10)
All right, Twitter lecture over, let's go to the second item. This is a lot less controversial. Here is a study. This appeared in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. It's not a new study, what is this from? 2014. Several people sent this to me though recently, so someone must have mentioned this probably somewhere in the last couple of weeks. All right, it's a study this title. Give your idea some legs, the positive effects of walking on creative thinking, it's by Marley Apposo and Daniel Schwartz from Stanford. I mean, the study finds what the title implies. I'll just give you the abstract here. Four experiments demonstrates that walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after. So here we have an experiment validating a key toll in the cultivation of the deep life that we talk about often, get moving. I do a lot of my work on structuring articles and book chapters as well as a lot of my work on the mathematical proofs I do. The key insights almost always come from walking. It's been a lot of time on foot. That is my engine for making breakthroughs. It's not the mode in which you follow through on the breakthroughs. It's not the mode in which I write the article, it's the mode in which I figure out the structure of the article. It's not the mode where I get every math detail right on my proof. It's the structure where I get, it's the mode where I get the insight that makes the whole proof possible. So walking is an insight generation machine. If you wanna live a life that's deeper, less affected by distraction, walking should be a big part of your professional routine. Not some exercise you do when you have time when work is not in the way. A core element of how you actually get your work done.
Interview With Ian Rankin
Novelist Ian Rankin’s slow productivity (01:23:52)
All right, the third thing I wanna talk about here is a profile from the Guardian. It's of a Scottish mystery, I think detective writer, Ian Rankin, this is from 2016. Someone sent this to me, I actually use examples from this in my manuscript for slow productivity. So this is why this was on my mind. It's a case study, a deep life case study. I love these deep life case studies. There's just a couple aspects of this writer Ian Rankin's life that I just wanted to mention here. Just let's just be aspirational for 30 seconds. He's talking about his typical day writing. And he gets into how it's very difficult for him to get good writing done at home because there's all these distractions. So then he says his solution, and I love this. I'm quoting him here. "I've got a house on the northeast coast of Scotland. "3 1/2 hours by car from Edinburgh. "Very limited mobile phone signal and no TV. "There's a land line, but I haven't given the number "to my agent, publisher or any journalist, perfect." I'm in the middle of a new book right now, it's going, well, the first draft took me to 27 writing days. It's rough, really just checking the plot works. The second draft needs polish. Let me go to where he talks about. So he talks about blah, blah, blah. The pace at which he writes, but what I wanted to get to here is, okay, so what is his actual habits at this house? The day starts at 11 a.m. or two in the afternoon or 70 evening, two things always take precedence. Newspaper and crossword. Oh, and strong coffee. I don't smoke, but it used to be a demon of mine. I'm kicking the habit. I break for more coffee and tea and stare as the kettle as I ponder the next few lines of my book. When I go up north, I write in a room at the top of the house. If it's cold, I'll light the wood burner. When the sun's out, I often go for a walk. There we go. You leave Edinburgh, which is already like an awesome city with a castle in the middle and a statue celebrating David Hume. It's just like a great place to live an intellectual life. You leave that already cool place and you go to the coast. I actually looked up exactly where this guy's house is. It's awesome, nowhere. It's on the coast of Scotland. You go up there and you're in this house with a wood burning stove. He really gets into this, what Scottish people do. Every second of sunlight you get outside because it's not gonna be much. You walk the moors and the fog comes in and then you go and you write in the attic, your mystery novel. I love that. I mean, look, most of us aren't gonna have a house in Scotland, but I love taking a bath in the pool of aspiration of deep living. This is deep life personified. A writer in his house in Scotland. One day, Jesse, one day, I'll go to Scotland and have my house. Or again, I always say the goat in that is Neil Gaiman with his house on the Isle of Skye off of Scotland where he lives in essentially like a fairy village. It looks at the land you would film a fairy movie in and he lives out there some parts of the year. I love it, guys. Everyone has their own personal visions of deep life, but it's good to just expose ourselves to extremes, to keep that fire of death stoked. All right, well, according to my non-functional watch, it's still five to six, as it's been throughout this entire episode. So I'm just gonna guess it's late enough that we should probably wrap this up. Thank you, everyone, who sent in your questions. If you wanna submit your own questions, the link is right there in the show notes. We will be back next week with the next episode of the podcast, and until then, as always, stay deep.