Ep. 235: Is Productivity Overrated?

Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 235: Is Productivity Overrated?".


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Cal's intro (00:00)

Does Cal still think that productivity is overrated? I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions. The show about living and working deeply in an increasingly distracted world. I'm here in my Deep Work HQ. I'm joined as always by my producer, Jesse. How's it going? You know, Jesse, there's something we did, actually something we failed to do last week that sent me down a rabbit hole in the days that followed. So I don't know if you remember this, but we had a website. I think it was like an archive version of my website. We were gonna bring up onto the screen because I wanted to show how I used to have affiliate links on my website and it didn't work because it was using the Wayback machine, which has frames and somehow it puts the old version within frames and it didn't really work with our tablets. We moved past it. Setting up for that though, got me thinking about the old days of cal Newport.com. I started that website in 2007. It was a blog early on for a while. Now it's a blog slash email newsletter that is still going on strong today, but I was going back through the archives and it was kind of nice actually to re-encounter some of the early things I wrote that at the time hit a chord. So back in 2007 or 2008 hit a chord. And so here's when I came across. I'm gonna load it up. I'm gonna go down memory lane here. Here's an article for those who are watching at YouTube.com/Cal Newport Media. This is episode 235. So if you're watching, you'll see this. If you're not, I'll narrate what's going on. I have an article on the screen from Cal Newport.com from August 31st, 2007. This is earlycal Newport.com. I started it, I think, early that summer. The title of this piece was Dangerous Ideas Colin. Productivity is overrated. Now I wanna actually just touch on a few points from this article because it's gonna lead us to the question I wanna dive deeply into in today's episode. But let me just touch on a few of these points. First of all, I just wanna say right off the bat, I say I should be careful here. Much of my livelihood as a writer depends on my good, natured efforts to help fellow students be more productive. So let's put ourselves in the context of 2007 Cal. I'm writing four students. I'm giving advice to students. It was much more narrow back then. All right, so here's the argument I make. Productivity is important for being successful, but its role in this endeavor is often blown out of proportion. Some of the most accomplished people I know are incredibly disorganized. They work at the last minute, they stay up all night, they constantly scramble to find what they're looking for, but they still get it done. Other accomplished people are incredibly organized. What gives? Now I have to say, looking back at the time period in which I'm writing this 2007, early in my academic career, I had just finished the course portion of my doctoral work at MIT. I was done with my courses and doing research full time. I'm sure I was being influenced by the professors around me. MIT Computer Science Artificial Intelligence Lab in the theory group within that lab where I worked had some straight up capital B brilliant professors, and they were all really disorganized. And so I'm sure that was influencing me because I was looking around my definition of accomplishment in 2007, was these MacArthur Genius Grant Turing Award winning professors who were killing it in the research literature, whose desk looked as if there had been some sort of disaster at a paper factory. And the rescue crews were on the way to dig through it to try to find survivors in the rubble. And yet they were still winning all these major awards. So I was being surrounded by this idea that organization has very little to do with whether or not you end up being successful. So in this article, I said, let me distill this into two underlying truths. Number one, being productive does not make you accomplish, but number two, it does however, make being accomplished less stressful. That was my best read on the quest to pursue productivity advice and put more productive habits into professional life. My best read in 2007 is this is about making your work less stressful, organizing your efforts. It is however, orthogonal to whether or not you end up accomplishing important things. As I go on to clarify, or let's say elaborate, is what you need to be successful is a drive to keep working with a laser-like intensity on something even after you've lost immediate interest, tenacity, a grading thirst to get it done. These are the precursors of accomplishments. Having good productivity habits compliment this crucial skill. They take this intensity and place it in a schedule. They keep small things from crowding your mind. They eliminate the stress of what appointment you might be forgetting or what vital errand has to be done, but productivity is not a substitute for this work. I thought that was an interesting article. First of all, let me just say, and Jesse, if you'll allow a moment of me bragging on myself, I think even in 2007, I was throwing some fastballs, right? Yeah, it's pretty good. I remember being frustrated back then because there was a lot of big productivity blogs. I felt like I was delivering to goods. That's like good info. And no one knew it. I was just lost in the woods. And you know why I think that was? Is because students were my focus. That was probably why because I would be so frustrated. I would remember very specifically, when lifehacker.com, which was like the big productivity website in 2007, when they would feature someone else's student advice, I'd be like, "Guys, I am killing it in this topic. "I'm throwing 103 and you're covering the softball players. "Come on, I'd be so frustrated." Like don't you know what I'm doing over here? But I think it's because no one cared about student-centric advice. And so I wasn't really on the radar. So anyways, self-bragging done. So let's step back and ask the question. Do these ideas about productivity being unrelated from 2007, do they hold up today? Or has my thinking or perhaps the culture surrounding these issues shifted? I figured it was worth doing a nuanced update on this old take of mind because these are still general ideas that people very much care about. So this is the deep question I wanna look at today. Does Cal still think that productivity is overrated? Now here's our plan of action.

Discussions On Productivity And Work Modes

Does Cal Still Think That Productivity is Overrated? (06:57)

We will start with a deep dive. I'll go, we're gonna revisit this article. We're gonna pick it apart and talk about its relevance today. After the deep dive, we're then gonna go into questions. I have five questions from you, my listeners, that are all relevant to this general theme of productivity. Is it overrated? Productivity versus accomplishment? What's the difference? How do they compliment each other? We have five questions that's gonna get into that. And then for the final segment, we'll switch to do something interesting. A little word of hype for what's to come. The interesting thing I've chosen is relevant to this as well. So we have full unification today in the episode on this question of is productivity overrated? All right, so let's deep dive into that. Here's what I thought would be a useful frame for this discussion. I went through the article the other day, and I pulled out what I thought four of the main ideas were. And I wanna go through those one by one and answer the question, is this idea still right in 2023? So again, if you're watching this episode 235 at youtube.com/countyportmedia, you'll see I actually have these ideas on the screen and we'll go through them one by one. But I'll also obviously say them as well if you're just listening. So the first idea I extracted from this article was the notion that productivity equals organization. In 2007, I think that was certainly true. In common usage, especially online, productivity was most associated with the word advice. So if you're talking about productivity, you were typically talking about productivity advice. That's what people meant by it. And it was advice that was focused on how do you make sense of keep up with and prevent yourself from drowning in what seemed to be an increasingly intense day lose of tasks and communication and work. Now, I've later written quite a lot about this topic and my last book rolled without email and a lot of my New Yorker writing, I've gone deeper into this. What happened to course was the front office IT revolution when we brought personal computers to the desk of knowledge workers when we connected those computers with networks, when we introduced haphazardly speaking email and then later tools like instant messenger, it created way more work than we were used to before, a faster velocity of work, way more interruptions and contact shifting. So there was this explosion of interest in the first decade of the 2000s and what do we do about this? And that's what productivity meant. And so that comes through very clearly in my article. When I'm talking about productivity, I'm talking about productivity advice. And when I'm talking about productivity advice, I'm talking about keeping up with and organizing everything that's on your plate. In 2023, I think the culture around this term has shifted, especially in online or elite discourses. I would say productivity is now much more associated with culture today, whereas in 2007, it was much more associated with advice. So when people discuss productivity or refer to productivity today, they're talking more or they're more likely to be talking about a culture of productivity, a value framework around what produces worth, what defines you as a worthwhile person, what is the meaning of work. So it's a much more philosophical cultural discussion, much less a pragmatic technical discussion. Interestingly, the connection between productivity and accomplishments, like accomplishment in general, does not discuss that much anymore. I think it gets in the way of the current in fashion critiques of productivity. So if you wanna think about productivity as a culture or a mood that we can attack or destabilize with criticality, we don't wanna really focus too much on, could this be leading to real accomplishment? Are you doing things that's useful? Because humans are wired for that. We still admire people who accomplish things. So we've really disconnected discussions of productivity from accomplishment and see it more as a culture that we should discuss or critique. So on my checklist here for productivity equals organization, I'm gonna give that a red X. I don't think that idea still holds up the same in 2023. All right, second big idea I extracted from my 2007 article, productivity is unrelated to accomplishment. This I think was one of the big ideas from that piece. And what I meant, if you'll remember my quotes there, is that you could be organized or not organized. It didn't really specify whether you were going to be accomplished, whether you're going to accomplish something noteworthy. If you were organized, you might be less stressed, but it wasn't going to be organized, doesn't make you more likely to do a big accomplishment. Being disorganized doesn't reduce your probability of having a big accomplish. So that was one of the core ideas from my 2007 article. But the other related piece here of course is that productivity, at least when seen through this organizational frame, its main role is stress reduction, keep control of things, keep control of the obligations on your plate. I would say, yes, that's still true today. There is not a very strong correlation between the organizational notion of productivity and significant accomplishment. It still remains today like it did in 2007 that some of the most accomplished people in all sorts of different fields are a mess when it comes to other aspects of their life, their organization, how they keep up with things, how they plan their time. So I'm going to give a green check for that idea. However, maybe I'll put a little star next to it. I have additional thoughts on that. So something I missed in 2007, which I think was true that I missed, is what those disorganized professors with the Turing Awards and MacArthur Genius Grants were doing, it wasn't just drive. What they were doing is that they were very good at workload management. They were very good at saying no, or in the case of these MIT professors, they would implicitly say no by just ignoring the request. I write about that in my book, Deep Work. That was their way of dealing with email in the early 2000s was, I don't want to deal with this, this is a stupid request, you didn't specify it clearly enough, I'm just going to ignore you, try again. Maybe if you write it better, or give me more information than maybe I'll answer, they were very good at workload management. I think that's actually relatively universally true. People who do really large accomplishments, not people who are reliable at work and get good promotions, the people who do the things that turn heads are very good at workload management. The athlete that becomes a superstar is very good at blocking out everything in their life, but practicing that skills. The professors that win the Turing Award are very good at saying no or ignoring the other things coming in so they can work on solving that proof. The inventor that invents the light bulb is very good. It's saying this is what I'm working on right now. All of my resources are going towards trying different filament materials, and no, I'm not going to go speak on your trade commission or something like this. Now I think I missed that in 2007, but it was true then and it's true today, that that is a unifying skill of people who do go on the big accomplishments, is yes, they're disorganized, but they really have their act together when it comes to workload management. As a graduate student in 2007, I didn't get that because my life was too easy. Here's how it works at a tier one doctoral program like MIT. It's all about research, right? I mean, it's all about producing the best possible work that turns heads in the world of ideas, right? You're here because of your brain, put your brain to use, it's all about research. Because of that, they get out of your way. So if you are getting a PhD at MIT in computer science, courses are not at all important. You take the courses in your first couple of years, you take, I don't know, six or seven courses, it's not that important. You get them out of the way. I think I got A, my memories I got A's in all my courses, but it didn't really matter. You just couldn't get, I forgot exactly how it worked. I guess if you got two B's, it was a problem. I don't know, but I think they just gave everyone A's. It didn't really matter. After those two years, it's like, now do your work. Publish something good. And so our work loads as grad students was as low as any job anywhere in the world. It was basically work on a paper, six months from now publish it. So I don't think it was on my mind. Workload management as being a critical component to accomplishment was not on 2007, Cal's mine. 2023, tenured professor, father, Cal, oh my, it's on my mind. So I put a little star here for those who are watching online because that idea is right, the one I had in 2007, but it's also, we need to expand it if we really wanna capture the full picture here. All right, let's go to the third of four ideas from the original article. Number three, drive is underrated. So this came through in that piece, right? In the quote I read you, I said, "Here's the thing that really seems to matter. "This weird, I don't know where it comes from, "this weird mysteriously sourced, tenacious drive "of like I wanna do this well, "and I'm gonna keep shooting basketballs "until my hands bleed." Like Jesse, you would like this article, I have to find it. Someone sent it to the interesting, at cal Newport.com address was about Steph Curry, shooting basketball players. And it was saying a big part of understanding his success was he innovated practicing. Like he figured out how to not just practice more, but like make his practicing much more focused like a laser on exactly the skills that had the highest value. That type of drive, I don't know where that comes from, but every time you see a major accomplishment, that's very important. You don't see like, oh, what really mattered for Steph Curry was his inbox was clean, and his desk was clear, he had a tickler file. You better believe his tickler file was reviewed every month and he would move the scraps of papers. You know, it doesn't matter. What matters is he's obsessing about how can I get more out of a four-hour practice session? And I saw that back then, right? I mean, these professors I was around were super focused. So I'm gonna go ahead and give this one a green check. Drive is underrated because, you know, I don't think we understand it enough. What are the different forces that go into it? What are the social forces? What's your round? How you raise, genetics? I have this pet theory that often a major source of drive is there's typically some sort of event that happens that puts a chip on your shoulder in some sense. You know, I certainly had this where you're like, "I'm gonna show them, I'm gonna do this." Like there's some sort of thing that happens maybe early in life. So there's some sort of historical event that occurs. We don't know enough about it, but it is at the absolute core of people doing really important things. And I noticed that back in 2007, why is this person different than that? We don't really know. And I think we still don't really know today. So it was interesting, like around the time this article came out, this is when Malcolm Gladwell's outliers came out right around this same period. And he was trying to answer that question. But I think his question, he answered it more from the perspective of the what than the why. So he answered it from the perspective of getting really good in these big accomplishments, takes a huge amount of very hard practice. And so if you don't have the circumstances to be able to do this practice, you're sort of out of luck. The Beatles went to Hamburg and were able to work in these clubs, three or four shows a night and in this melting pot of different musical styles and really figure out their style. They could deliberate practice hundreds of hours a week and really emerge as a very tight group. There's like a classic Gladwellian analysis. But what was left out of it was the why. Why did they go to Hamburg? Why were they willing to play that much? Why were they so much more driven than all of these other bands that were coming out of Liverpool at the time? I still don't think we really understand that. So I think that's a good point. However, I'm going to, I'll draw a dot a little arrow from my star from before the dis one because drive is underrated. But that point we talked about with the last idea, that point we talked about workload management really mattering, that's also relevant here. So drive is the secret sauce, but drive coupled with workload management because all the drive in the world is still going to get your metaphorical car stuck if it's overloaded. So I could be super driven, but say yes to too many things and not going to be able to actually live up to my potential. So again, there's some sort of weird interchange now that I didn't articulate super well back then. Maybe I could articulate it better today, but this weird interplay between drive and developing this ability to say no and manage your workload. And these two things orbit each other. They orbit accomplishment somehow. All right, final idea from that 2007 article that I want to point out here is Cal is hungry to make a mark. I think that permeated that 2007 article. I think that permeated a lot of my writing early on is I was hungry for accomplishment. I felt potential. I felt I had ability and I was frustrated that things took time. I just wanted, man, and even know exactly what it was and writing and research. I wasn't quite sure it was like a start of business, but I just knew I wanted to do something. And I think that focus on like what matters for this accomplishment, you can see it in there. Productivity is important because I don't want to be stressed, but man, it's these driven messy professors who are winning these major awards. That's where it's at and that's what matters. And that permeates a lot of my writing in 2007. I think it comes through clearly. I would say 2023 Cal is still hungry, but also tired. You know, I mean, this is the difference. Now I have a bunch of jobs and a bunch of kids. I've done some things, so maybe I don't have that same sense of urgency, but that accomplishment above all else mentality that I had then I think is not there nearly as much in my writing today. I'm gonna give that a red X. Those who follow the show, for example, now see the slower philosophy I have about accomplishment that within the craft bucket of the deep life, you should be honing your craft, working on something important, what the Buddha would call right livelihood. Do that as much as possible with a good, deep to shallow work ratio. That's personally important to me, working on something important with craft, keeping the deep to shallow work ratio really good. I don't react well to large amounts of shallow work, but that is then just one bucket among four. So when you're working, that's how you're working, but then you also have community, and then you also have contemplation, then you also have constitution, and this slows things down more, but this is my philosophy of slow productivity, that's okay. Because when you look back at the end, what did I do in the last 30 years? You wanna point to some really important things. That's more important than in the scale of this month in my rock and rolling every single day. So I mean, I'm still hungry, but I'm not as hungry as 2007 Cal. My philosophies of the deep life and slow productivity, I think have evolved and we're not there. We're not there yet in 2007. So that's my look back at that piece. So yes, I do agree today that productivity is still overrated, productivity in the 2007 sense of being organized on top of your work, and I would say yes. We've changed what we mean by that term over time, but we still end up at the same place, which is the deep life, however you define that, is about much more than just how organized you are in your efforts. However, being organized in your efforts makes that life notably less stressful. So I think I was on to something back then, even if my ideas have changed. - Did you come across any other articles in your-- - Yeah, it was about interesting ones. - Yeah. I think I should maybe revisit some more in some future episodes. - Yeah, it's interesting to see. It's a real mix. My memory was for like at least a year, that blog was straight up student tactics. Like here is how you should take notes on a multiple choice exam. Here is how you should deal with choosing your courses for a semester, and there is a lot of that stuff. But what I forgot is I was writing three posts a week. - Wow. - Yeah, 'cause I was hungry, right? And bored because I was like, grad students, you know, there's not enough to do. It's an easy, easy job. So I did have much to do because I was a theoretician, so I didn't have any labs to go to or experiments to run. It just was solved proofs. So I was writing three posts a week. So yes, every Monday I was writing student advice. I called it Monday Masterclass. I forgot about that. I called it Monday Masterclass, and it was hardcore tactical student advice. But then I had Wednesday and Thursday and Friday. I think that's the other days I would post, and man, I was doing this type of stuff a lot more. I was like thinking about accomplishment, and productivity, and philosophy. It was a more interesting blog back then that I remember. - Yeah. - Yeah. Also just a lot of ideas that are still here today. They're just, I've just evolved them, but they're still more or less there. I don't know, a lot of seeds were being planted back then. So basically everything you hear me talk about is like an outgrowth of the first decade, 2000s, like online productivity culture. - Your walks along the Charles with your dog. - Yeah, well that came later. We didn't get the dog in terms of post-doc. 'Cause our apartment when I was in grad school didn't allow dogs. Yeah, yeah, so that came later. Anyways, so what we're gonna do then is we'll do five questions that are real people, real listeners with issues around this tension of productivity versus organization is productivity overrated. First though, I wanna mention briefly one of the sponsors that makes this show possible. That is our friends @blinkest. Let me tell you what blinkest is, and then I'll tell you why I think you should subscribe.

Cal talks about Blinkist and 80,000 Hours (25:20)

So blinkest is a subscription service that gives you access to short summaries of over 5,500 nonfiction books. These short summaries are called blinks. You can either read them or you can listen to them about 15 minutes to read them, about 15 minutes to listen to. It gets you the core ideas of all of these important nonfiction books that are coming out ever more each week and each month. The reason why they've been a longtime sponsor of the show is because I think reading is critical to living a life of ideas. A life of ideas is critical to stand out or succeed in our current knowledge economy. There are too many books, however, for you to successfully keep up with which ones you should buy and which ones you shouldn't. So you use blinkest to help you make that determination. You come across a book, you say that could be interesting. You listen to the blink, you read the blink 15 minutes later, you have the big ideas. And now you know, either this is all I need. I can talk about this big idea. I'm not gonna buy the book. Or you say, wow, I can't wait to buy it. So if you are someone who has books integrated into your life and you absolutely should, blinkest should be your companion. Blinkist is a critical tool for anyone who embraces the reading life. Now they have this nice new feature I wanna mention. I think it's called connect, blinkest connect. And it allows you to essentially give a blinkest account to a friend for free. It's a two for the price of one promotion that I wanted to mention so that you can share with a friend that you also want to support their reading life. So just until February 28th, coming up, just until February 28th, blinkest has a very special offer for our audience. If you go to blinkest.com/deep to start your seven day free trial, you will get 40% off a blinkest premium membership. So if you're gonna sign up anyways, do it now. While that deal is still there, that's blinkest spelled BLINKIST, blinkest.com/deep to get 40% off and a seven day free trial, blinkest.com/deep, that offer is good only through February 28th. And for a limited time, we have that blinkest connect per notion as well that allows you to share your premium account. So you can get two premium subscriptions for the price of one. I also wanna mention these guys have known for a long time, 80,000 hours. Let me tell you what it is, and then I'll tell you why you should check them out. 80,000 hours, where does that number come from? How many hours you will work in your life? 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, times 40 years gets you to 80,000 hours. The idea behind this organization is recognizing that the time you spend working is your biggest resource. It's your biggest opportunity to make a difference in the world. What career path you follow might be the most important decision you ever make, especially if you care about leaving this world better than how you came before. So 80,000 hours is an organization that has spent the last 10 years working alongside academics at Oxford University to conduct research on how to make the most out of your working life. They have three different things. So if you go to 80,000hours.org, there's three different things you can find there. One is their website. The website has profiles answering profiles of some of the biggest problems that you can face with. You can try to help with your career. They have career reviews. There's even an eight week career planning course. Articles on there are really good too. There's one I read recently, "How many lives does a doctor save?" They did the math. If you become a doctor of a certain type, how many lives will you expect to save throughout your career? There are kind of quantitative nerdy over there. That's why I love them. And so you get that type of stuff. They also have a podcast that has in depth conversations with experts on the world's most pressing problems, the 80,000 hours podcast. Check out their somewhat recent episode with David Chalmers, the Australian philosopher who's a leading thinker on machine consciousness and intelligence. I actually just read a lot of David Chalmers for an article I'm writing and that interview was a useful resource. Finally, 80,000 hours offers a job board where they have a curated and constantly updated list of hundreds of active job openings that they think might help you make an impact. All right, so I've known these guys for a long time because I was writing about careers and what to do with your careers. Around the same time, they were starting up 80,000 hours at Oxford. So I've been in touch with these guys and we've been talking back and forth for over a decade now. So it's really top notch. If you wanna make a difference with your career, you gotta check out 80,000hours.org. Now if you're gonna go over there, go over to 80,000hours.org/deep. The slash deep lets you know that you came from here. So head over to 80,000hours.org/deep. Check out their articles, their podcast, their job board. Sign up for their newsletter, 80,000hours.org/deep. Find out how you can make all those hours you'll be working your life, make a difference in the world. All right, the time has come to do some questions sent in from you, my listeners all, and this episode will all be about our general question of productivity being overrated. Jesse, what do we got?

Should I abandon my careful plan when I get on a roll? (30:46)

As our first question of the episode. All right, first question's from Andy, a 39 year old IT director. Sometimes it takes me a couple hours to feel my way into a task before I start to make some proper progress. At this point, I have banned the rest of my time blog schedule and just go with it. Is this okay? Andy is a common question. Deep endeavors can be hard to start. Deep endeavors can get their grips on your mind once they get going and blow up your schedule. I have been there before. Anyone else who does deep work on a regular basis as been there as well. I have a small and big answer. So sort of a small tactical answer and a bigger picture, strategic answer to this question. So the small tactical answer is, well, let's not make your deep work so hard to get started. I noticed that in your question. You said you have to feel your way into a task for a couple hours before you start to make proper progress. You can make that much smaller. That lead up time, so you really get not a role. You can make that much smaller. And I think that's gonna help prevent deep work from blowing up your schedule as consistently. I've talked about this a lot on the show. You need better rituals. So when you do the work and where you do the work, have rituals, consistency. These are the times each week I do deep work. These are the locations I go to do the deep work. I have the location set up in an over the top way. All of this is about signaling to your brain. We are shifting modes. And once it's learned to trust that signal, it's gonna shift your mode faster than if you're just at your crowded desk, working on email and then just changing nothing else. Attempt to wrench your attention away from slack and over to Microsoft Word and say, I will now write brilliantly. That's really hard. But if you instead, no, no, I always do first thing in the morning, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. And I hike through the woods and I go to this out building behind my house and it's a deep work chamber. And that's when I do my writing. You're gonna get started much faster. All right, so rituals will help you get that prefix of wind up time much shorter. The big picture answer though, comes back to the theme of today's episode, which is separating productivity in the, let me be really organized and make sure I get through things efficiently, definition of the word and accomplishment that you actually care about. As we established in the deep dive, these are not the same thing. Making steady work on something important so that over time you produce important things that you care about. This is basically orthogonal from, I have a time block plan where I'm filling every minute with various things. Once you have that in mind, what you can do is give yourself more breathing room in your schedule. So for example, maybe what you do is you say, I don't know, I handle some small things in the morning and then switch over to deep work. And it takes what it takes. And if I'm done early, I'll go for a walk. And if it takes until dinner time, then it takes till dinner time. But I'm not blowing up a schedule. Like that would give you plenty of breathing room. You wouldn't worry about deep work exploding in time or not. It would require that you're doing less because now you are spending less work on shallow work. Your schedule has to have a lot more breathing room in it. But you know what? A lot of people are in a situation where that would be fine, but they're just used to thinking, I have to be productively feeling every minute or I'm somehow subverting my chances at actually being accomplished. Those are two different things. So if you are reducing what's on your plate by 20 to 30%, so that you have much more flexibility on your deep work, I don't think the outside world will even notice, I don't think your income's really gonna make a difference. But you psychologically will feel a great advantage if you just have breathing room. If this takes long, it takes long. I'll do this shallow work first, switch over to the deep work, go to my shed so that it doesn't take me two hours to get started and I'll just see what it takes. If I'm not feeling it, I'll move the yard. If I am, I'll get more work done. So we're gonna see this come up, I think, in several answers today. Separating, highly efficient organization from accomplishment now allows us to play with things like workload, now allows us to imagine a life with accomplishment being something that really impresses us and impresses others and makes us feel fulfilled. And separating that from a vision of a life where, if I don't get every minute of this time block plan done and every minute dedicated that I'm somehow going to, there's gonna be a real problem. It allows there's possible to be accomplished without being completely overwhelmed with work. So I don't know Andy if that's what you're expecting to hear, but do less and give yourself more breathing room for the deep. If you can pull that off, that's gonna be the most sustainable answer. All right, what do we got for question number two? All right, next question is from Avi. Some weeks I'm very motivated to do work and I feel so good. On others, I just don't feel like it. This leads to negative emotions and I completely lose the motivation to do work and indulge in pointless social media.

How do I achieve slow-and-steady work mode? (35:50)

Do you have some advice on how I can keep doing the good work every day in slow but steady manner? Well, this is another prime example of why just focusing on productivity is not in itself a sustainable strategy. So if all you're working on is, I'm doing the right organizational things. I have my multi-scale plan, I'm time blocking every day, strategic to weekly to daily. You could be doing all the things, have all the tools, have all the rules. That alone is not gonna make you fulfilled and feeling like you're accomplishing things and being excited about work every day. And that's what's happening with Avi here. And his extended answer, or his extended version of the question he talked about, "Hey, I do all your things, all your productivity things." But he still will just like fall out of like, I don't really wanna work on this and lose whole weeks and the spirals will sell foul as he spends more and more time on social media, et cetera. So again, this is the sort of necessary but not sufficient precondition type situation. Productivity, these tactics are gonna really be a nice precondition for a sustainable, accomplished, deep life, but they're not sufficient on their own. So Avi, let's try to go forward and fix your problem here. "I think the issue is either your mind doesn't trust your plan "or your mind doesn't like your plan." I mean, this is what causes people to just stop working and get lost for three days on social media. Either the thing you're working on, your mind says, "This is not gonna work." We're spending all this time on whatever, like our influencer YouTube channel, and it's not good. And we're not gonna become famous and it's not gonna pay our bill, or we're writing this novel, or this business ideas. I don't even know what this is, we're just jumping on calls all the time, and it's like a simulacrum of business. We're not actually like doing something or producing something. So your mind might say, "I just, this work, "I'm not gonna do it. "This isn't gonna lead us anywhere." You know that, you're just spinning your wheels in a highly performative way. Or your mind says, "Okay, maybe this will work. "I just don't like the plan. "This, what we're working on, what this job is, "is grinding and boring or against my values. "I just don't wanna do it." So it is your mind against whatever plan your productivity system is saying it should be doing. So if we're gonna fix that, there's two things we can do. The first thing we wanna do, of course, is focus on the craft portion, the craft bucket, and your overall deep life buckets. That requires some work here. It requires some work to sort of think through, what am I working on and why? What are the projects I'm taking on? What is my workload? What is, is there something in here I just really hate? How do I re-engine you around that? Is there something in here I think is really important? All right, so how am I gonna do that work? Like, let's start thinking that through. Let's not be so haphazard, and just see if we're in the mood for it and what our mind says. Let's take that a little bit out of the picture. Like we talked about with Andy in the first question, maybe we'll set up a location for this work, and it's different than what we do that. Maybe my workload is out of whack, I need to take things off of my plate, maybe I need to more radically shift what I'm doing, but we wanna get the craft bucket in order. So you gotta know what you're working on, why you're working on how you're working on it. You want all of those pieces to come together, and that might take you about six weeks of really thinking and tinkering and trying to optimize that part of your life. The second key then, maybe a little bit more surprising, is looking at the other buckets of your life after that as well, the other areas that make a deep life deep, and start systematically getting your house in order in each of those other areas as well. Constitution, your health, community, how you're serving or leading on behalf of others that are important to you, contemplation, how you're making ethical, philosophical, and theological concerns, something that you're engaged with and at the core about how you structure and live your life. You get these houses in order, and even then when you're in a hard part or a hard phase in work, you're much less likely to fall into, let's go on YouTube all day. Let's go on TikTok all day. That spiral of activity, the self-accrimination that comes out of the spiral self-accrimination that comes out of you falling deeper into activities that you know are ultimately shallow, and not useful to you or your vision on Earth. When you have the other buckets tuned up, even when work is hard, they're gonna support you. Even when, okay, I have this, whatever. I'm in year four, med school, my residency, and I think this is important, but it's just so hard and it's exhausting, they support you. And you say, I wanna lead other people. I wanna be, I'm exercising, I'm outside, I have the celebration bucket, I have this hobby, I'm really into film, I have these other things that are more meaningful and quality, and they're there to fill my time. And even if I have to take a break from work for a few days, what I'm going into is something else that's important, something else that I think is useful. So these are the two aspects of what's pushing to the spiral. One is that your relationship to work itself needs some work, the craft bucket has to be overhauled, but the second piece is you don't have other options for when work is getting you down. So it's, I'm being pushed towards I need a break, and I have nothing else quality to do with that break. So, you know, I end up on TikTok, looking at ASMR videos, which I think is what people do on TikTok. So those are your two options, okay? So you gotta get the whole deep life and order, and it's not gonna get rid of hard things, it's not gonna make your job feel good every day, it's not gonna solve all your problems, but I think that's what's gonna be your best bet for getting out of this cycle of self-doubt and self-recrimination. All right, Andy and Avi, oh look at this. So what we need now is someone whose name starts with a B, it's exactly what we have. Ben, yes, I think. 24 year old software engineer. I alphabetize all of my questions now, I think that's very important.

How do I make my the most out of idle time? (41:45)

I think people have high expectations. All right, what we got from Ben here. As a sophomore developer, I sometimes have to wait up to 30 minutes to merge a new bug fix or feature into the main branch of a program. These durations are unpredictable, what should I do to be productive in this time? Ben, you have to figure out in these 10 to 30 minute breaks how you can both be exercising, reading, and cleaning out your inbox at the same time because not a single moment can be wasted. Now I picked this question because again, I think it gets to the distinction between productivity and accomplishment. It's good to be organized to take stress off your plate, but that doesn't mean that you need to deploy those skills of organization to fill every minute with work. So one solution here, Ben, is to just chill. And this is nice, like just periods around my day where I submit a merge of my program branch and I have to wait for my manager to approve it. And I'm just gonna go see what people are up to. You know, or kick back a little bit, it's nice outside. I'm gonna go sit outside and go for a walk while I wait to hear back. I'm like, I don't know, I don't have to have something planned. This is something I both appreciate and have to work on because I do too many roles in my life. My professionals have too many roles, and especially since I have my nine to five job, you know, my nine to five framework where I work nine to five. So like my work has to fit in there. I often enter these areas, are these spans where I have to use every minute of the time because, you know, three different jobs need things. And because I have these 2007 style productivity skills, I can do that. I can control everything and interleave and make it all work. But I don't wanna do that all the time. And this is the situation, Ben, is you should have the ability to do that sure, but don't do it all the time. So what I constantly seek and what I'm happiest is when I'm not in those modes. And what my productivity skills then gain me is that like I'm working four hours out of the day and I can end early and go do something else. Go hang out with my kids or prepare a project for them for when they get home from school. So this again gets to this core distinction between productivity and accomplishment. You can be a very good programmer and produce great code and be respected for it and hone your craft. And take breaks when you're waiting for, you know, compiles or features to be merged in. And so I might suggest that bit. Like don't over plan that time. Just like see what you're in the mood for me. You just need to like rest or you're reading something or you're doing something that's vitally important. Like trying to follow up on the last minute minor league signings with invites to spring training camp that the nationals are doing. Like that's the type of thing you should probably be spending those breaks doing. But you don't have to necessarily fill every minute that time with what could I do that's productive. So I'm using this example bin to try to make that distinction. You can be honing your craft and doing things that are important and enjoy your accomplishments. You can be organized and you can be productive. All of that can be true and you don't have to be filling every minute with work. And Jesse, when I, because you know, these systems are useful and I'm good at them 'cause I invented a lot of them. I can squeeze a lot into a day. - Yeah. - But it's exhausting. Like it's not a sustainable way to live. I mean, it's this weird balance. If you don't have these 2007 style productivity skills, it's really stressful if you have anything but like the easiest job. It's just, right? Behind, I'm stressed. There's this meeting, I'm staying up late because I didn't even remember this until it's seven and it's due at seven the next morning. Like it's no fun, no fun. When you have these skills, you can avoid that. But it's this temptation that once you have them is like, I could get another thing interleaved here. - I could add another job, I could add this project. You could add another job. Why not one more job? You know, because you can do it. It's possible, but you don't want to necessarily unlock that power. So that's the way I, I'm getting better at that I think, but this is what I'm trying to gain towards is I've over-provisioned my productivity toolkit. So when I get into temporary moments of overload, I can handle it, but the steady state, I have more time than I know what to do with. To me, that's the sweet spot. So we'll see. - You pick up your books and some of you read your books. - I do read a lot of books. Yeah. I just finished a monster, 450 pages on the history of the NFL. - Really? - Yeah. For my sports book group. - Wow. - Yeah. I know a lot about the NFL now. - A lot of Lombardi in there. - A lot of Lombardi. - Yeah. Lombardi, yeah. I'm not, you know what? I was just about to start going on a long tangent about the 60s in the NFL and the low hanging fruit of these major innovations in the sport that were all still happening. So there was this period where if you were Paul Brown or Vince Labardi, even as late as maybe Walsh in the 90s, there's still areas where you could figure out something new and your team would win for four years before like the rest of the league caught up and figured out how to do those same things. But I'm not gonna go down that road. I could, but I'm not. I choose not to. Just like I could add enough job, but I don't. 'Cause I recognized the power. All right, let's keep going. What have we got here? - And this episode is gonna come out right after the Super Bowl. - Yes, yes. We should edit in, like they did in the Simpsons, Cruddy Sunday was the name of the season 11 episode where they go to the Super Bowl, but they obviously have to do the animation before the Super Bowl even though it aired after it. So they just edited in the names of the team. So I think we could do that. Yeah, we'll show you a bet slip. Yeah, Jesse, that was a very good game by the fellow Delta Eagles. I really appreciated how they won by a score of 21, two, seven. I felt bad that Mahomes had to leave the field when his ankle broke off. - All right, nothing on since. All right, next question from Michael, a 32 year old marketer.

How does a deep work lover survive the shallows? (47:37)

I run my own business. Sometimes I can let deep work take center stage, which I love. Other weeks, the most important things requires that I sift through dozens of websites and sends dozens of emails. This leads me feeling frustrated. Now that I've learned to love deep work, how do I survive the shallow work? - So Michael, I'm gonna give you a more exaggerated version of the answer I gave to our original, the original question we tackled in this segment because you're self-employed. You have flexibility here. Let's take advantage of it. What I'm gonna suggest is consider the schedule. Deep work every morning until lunchtime, followed by like an hour of core, like email, just keep the lights on business work. On weeks where you have larger, shallow projects demanding your time, like you talk about in your question, where like I have to like send a dozen emails and have to go to a dozen websites. Then you can do that work in the afternoons. Weeks where you don't have that, then you can go to the movies. Now to make this possible, you're gonna have to reduce to some degree, not as much as you might think, but you might have to reduce to some degree, the amount of work, the number of projects on your plate. But if you're doing deep work every day, every week, until lunchtime, you're gonna be able to produce a lot of really good stuff. And then some weeks you have necessary, shallow, rich projects you have to work as well. Working every afternoon on that, you can be on point, use some of my organizational skills so that you're being pretty effective in those times. That'll work as well. So I'm thinking maybe like a 20% reduction in the projects on your plate would make that schedule possible. That is a schedule in which you were never gonna be so frustrated or disappointed because you're always doing deep work. Also it's gonna be a schedule where it's gonna be sustainable and quite enjoyable because you will often have weeks where you're whatever, going to the movies. I did my deep work, checked in on my email. It's two, I don't have a big shallow project going on right now. I'm gonna go train for my triathlon. I'm gonna go work in my woodshed. I'm gonna go watch a movie or whatever. That's actually, I think, a really enjoyable, sustainable lifestyle. It sounds shocking when you first say something like that. But I bet Michael, if you did that right, the difference in your income as a business would be minor. Like an amount of money that you would pay to be able to have a schedule like that. But again, this comes back to what's really holding us back there is probably not a fear that your company's gonna go out of business. It is like we've been talking about this intermingling between productivity and accomplishment. This idea that if I have the ability with productivity tools to fill every minute of my day, and I'm not doing that, then I'm diminishing my accomplishment. So that's the trade off I'm making. Where when we recognize they're relatively orthogonal, hey, if you do deep work every morning most weeks, you're gonna do really good projects and build stuff you're proud of, your business is gonna be fine. That's what matters. Oh, and then for the other stuff doing the afternoons and some weeks will be busier than others, but have a workload such that that's always enough time. So you have to cancel a couple projects, cancel a couple projects. That is completely a reasonable approach. If you believe that my accomplishment requires this, my productivity can serve that. So that's what I think, Mike. I think you should try something like that. It could be a different schedule, but I think you should try something like that where you're never far away from deep work and your shallow demands, your provisions so that like the worst shallow demands you can handle and schedule that still has deep work. And on the good days your schedule is something that like you won't even tell people about because there'll be two jealous that three days in a row, you were able to just kick back and do something else. So give that a try. All right, let's do one more. All right, sounds good. Next question's from Marie.

Does productivity require that you’re anti-social? (51:20)

How do you balance the desire to optimize systems and maximize productivity with the value of making genuine human connections? Yeah, again, just comes back to the same theme. That's why I put this in here. When you're in, when I'm in super time block mode, because all three of my jobs are humming at the same time, it does hurt human connection. I'm not on text threads. I'm not, I don't know what my family's texting about. I might not see email for a couple of days, you know, on the inboxes that aren't directly related to what I'm working on. I'm not having sort of long phone calls with people I know. I become sort of hard to reach. And that is a reality of very productive days. You can put quotation marks around productive, but if you're gonna use my techniques to their full extent and time block every minute of your day, you're not gonna be chiming in on casual text threads. In fact, I form an antagonistic relationship with text messaging, non-professional text messaging during my busy periods, because I'll just see out of the corner of my eyes, like various people are, "Hey, what about this and texting me things?" And I'm thinking, "A, I can't deal with this right now. "I'm in the middle of a 30 minute block "and I know what it needs to be, "but B, now you put something in my head "that I have to remember." Now there's an open loop. And I'll almost be antagonistic, which is not the relationship you want with your family and friends. So what you're pointing out here, Marie, I think, is true. And I think the solution to it is to work less. So don't be in those super tightly timed, super tightly time block days all the time. That have a steady state, a sort of normal state where you have breathing room in your schedule. And you can actually put aside time. I'm gonna take a whole hour for lunch and I might call someone and check in on some text messages. I will unsolicited just send someone something, a friend of mine like, "Hey, I read this "and I thought about you. "Have the breathing room to actually "proactively service your social connections." I think that's the right way to do it. The other thing that people do, which I think works just as bad as always having every minute time block, by the way, is saying, "Well, because I don't want to ignore people, "because I want to be friendly, "what I'll do is just do my work bad all the time." So I'll just always sort of have this here. And if anyone texts, I will stop whatever I'm doing, I'll answer that text. And I'll just sort of always be involved in back and forth throughout the day. I think a lot of people fall back on that default. They don't want to ignore people. And so that's what I'm gonna do. But then all of your work is bad. You're constantly context shifting and you're reducing your ability throughout the entire day. So that's why I think the right middle ground here is, I will schedule time. I've been a breathing room in my schedule that I can schedule time to check in on these other things in my life that are important to me. And when I'm doing that, I'm gonna do that. I'm gonna do it well. And when I'm not doing that, I'm doing something else. I'm not gonna mix up. So we don't want to completely mix work with socializing. We don't completely want work to push socializing out of the way all the time. So what we wanna do is have a reasonable enough work schedule that there is time in it dedicated to social activity. Now you couple that with a clear schedule, shut down, complete rituals so that when you're not working, you're not working and of course you are opening people. And you can be incredibly social. I mean, the one thing, I don't know if this is where Marie's trying to get, a lot of people try to get there with me where they say, I just want you to end up in a place where the answer is just, it's fine that I'm on my text all day. And I'm not gonna end up there. What's the point of having a job if you're just gonna do it poorly? Like you're putting yourself in a cognitive state that makes it very difficult to do whatever you do. So that's what I think we should be aiming for is when you're working, you're working. So put breaks in your work to actually connect to other people. That's a sweet spot. I gotta do more of that. I mean, Jesse, when I'm time blocked up to the hilt, I'm soft to radar. I am off the radar. People are saying that you've seen this, like if I'm in a reasonable day, I'll answer your text messages. And if I'm not, you're just not gonna hear from me. And it's not like I'm looking at my phone and saying, forget you, Jesse. It's like, I haven't seen my phone in three hours. Like I am rock, rock, rock, rock, rock, rolling. Yeah. You don't wanna live that way all the time. I feel like that's the theme that's emerging from these questions is you need to know how to organize yourself. It's stressful if you're not. You can still be very accomplished if you're disorganized, but why have the stress? But don't take those skills for granted. Don't push them to an extreme. Don't use them to fill every minute, every minute of your day constantly working because if you're always are in that state, it's unsustainable and it creates all these other negative externalities. I feel like all of my answers today have been about finding this smart balance. How do I deploy these skills, but not, but still have intention about what I want my day to be like. Back in 2007, when you wrote that article and you were talking about the drive that you think about money a lot, was that a factor? No, I had gone to grad school instead of industry. So psychologically, I'd already walked away from money. So I had a job offer on the table from Microsoft, which back then, so that was in 2004 when I had that offer. So this was Google wasn't a thing yet, Facebook wasn't a thing yet, Microsoft was the Amazon was small. So this big offer from Microsoft, they're gonna send me to business school. It was, what was his name? Not Bill Gates, but-- - Bomber? - Bomber had this pet program where he's like, we're gonna hire engineers and we're gonna send them to graduate school at Northeastern at Kellogg. And we're gonna send them to graduate school. It's easier to train talented engineers to be business men than it is to train business people to be engineers. And we're gonna send them for free to business school, to be project managers and there's this whole program. And it was, I remember for the time, it felt like a lot of money. And then I was, I'm gonna go to grad school instead. So I'd already made that decision. So psychologically, money was not on the table. So what was on the table, why you go to grad school, what's on the table if you're at school like MIT, is citations impact publications. That was what accomplishments was. Was you produced, and this is why I'm so obsessed about ideas, 'cause this was the entire atmosphere I was in. You produced an idea that was influential. It was smart, everyone's citing it. Everyone's using that to do their own work. You wrote this book that everyone's reading. It was all an ideas economy. And everyone just sort of had enough money. I don't know, I'm a professor, I'm bad with money, but I have, I live, I haven't thought much about it. I live in Boston, it's fine. It was like everyone had enough money, no one really cared about money. It was all an idea economy. And everyone to be rich at that economy. So all that stuff is so influential to the way I think about things now. Yeah, yeah. Interesting times. All right, so I wanna switch over to something interesting. Before I do, I wanna mention another one of our sponsors, our friends at Henson Shaving. That's a true story, Jesse, on my way over here today. A lot of traffic, I was waiting to cross the road as someone from across the street caught my eye.

Cal talks about Henson Shaving and Stamps.com (58:21)

Busy street, Carroll Avenue in Tacoma Park. And they pushed a family out of their way into the traffic. And the cars were all screeching and piling up as they sprinted past the opening that made, that corridor that made that crossed the street as this family was on the ground and the cars were crashing into each other. So they could make it across the street and say, I really like your shave. That shave looks really good. And you know who gave me that shave was my Henson Shaving experience. Henson, I talk about them all the time now. It is the razor that I use because it is not a plastic thing that you throw away, you know, every week. It's not one of these things you get behind all the security things at the pharmacy or have mailed to you every week in a box. Instead, it's this beautifully engineered piece of aluminum precisely manufactured, beautiful old school capital T tool. And then you take a standard 10 cent safety razor, little razor blade and you put it onto this piece of aluminum and it screws in the place and it's so precisely engineered that you only have 0.0013 inches of the razor blade extending past the aluminum beveled edge of the razor that allows you to get a very close shave without the diving board effect. If you have too much blade sticking out, you get a diving board effect. So with one 10 cent razor, which you use this beautiful, beautifully engineered aluminum razor, you get a great shave that you would otherwise need with one of those plastic subscription bands. And I might be exaggerating, but I think they have 17 blades in them now, is how it works. So if you wanna get a good shave with a cheaper made razor, you just have to throw a lot of blades at it. And I think now the subscription service, it's a wall of blades that you just, you have to kind of slide down the wall of blades. With a Hinsons, one 10 cent safety razor blade put into this beautifully engineered piece of aluminum razor, you get a shave that can literally cause traffic pileups. So I love them, I use them. It is what I use every day. It makes me enjoy my shaving experience. So it's time to say, "Notice subscriptions and yes to a razor that will last you a lifetime. Visit hinsonsaving.com/cal to pick the razor for you. And then use that code, Cal, when you check out to get two years worth of blades for you with your razor. So all you gotta do is just make sure you add the two years of blades to your cart, and then type in Cal as the promo code when you check out, and the price for the blades will go down to zero. So that's 100 free blades when you head to H E N S O N S H A V I N G dot com slash Cal and use that code Cal. And I also wanna talk about stamps.com. The post office as I pointed out in Tacoma Park is right down the street from our HQ. So I often see the lines of people building up there. I don't wanna spend my time waiting in line at the post office. You probably don't either. This is where stamps.com enters the pictures. For 25 years stamps.com has been indispensable for over one million businesses. It gives you access to USPS and UPS shipping services that you need right from your computer. Anytime, day or night, no lines, no traffic, no waiting. You print your postage, you stick it on, you schedule a pickup, and you are done. So especially if you run any sort of small business that requires a non-trivial amount of shipping things or sending things through the mail, you need a stamps.com subscription. So you should set your business up for success when you get started with stamps.com today. When you sign up, use that promo code deep for a special offer that includes a four week trial plus free postage and a free digital scale. No long term commitments or contracts required. So you go to stamps.com, click the microphone at the top of the page, enter the code deep to get that special offer. stamps.com. All right, so to wrap up the show, I like to pull at least one thing interesting that listeners have sent to Jesse and I at the interesting@calanuport.com email address.

Memory Aid On Academic Productivity

Something Interesting: Rethinking productivity in academia (01:02:55)

This is where people send me things they think I might be interested about from the world of the internet. And I like to feature some of these on the show. So today, I'm gonna switch over to it. Now today I chose something someone sent me just the other day that was really relevant actually to our conversation. So I thought it would be good to focus on. So this is a, it was a article I suppose. Let me see if they say where this is from. I have it on the screen now. So if you're watching again episode 235 if you're watching on YouTube, Calanuport Media, it's from a magazine called Change. It's from their January, February, 2023 issue. The title of the article is the productivity trap. Why we need a new model of faculty writing support. So I won't read the whole article, but there's a nice abstract. So we can go over a couple points from the abstract here because I think it's interesting and it gets to, gets exactly to the point of our episode today about thinking about the complicated relationship between productivity and meaningful accomplishment. So here's a couple bits of summary from this article. One, productivity is so entrenched in our visions and good work and a successful academic career that has become normalized and thus very hard to question. Valorizing exceptional productivity normalizes escalating standards. It is hard to know how much is enough, especially when more always seems better. The myopic focus on productivity feeds the illusion that we can and should live up to its demands. So let's just start, stop there for now. This is an interesting critique of academia, which at least based on my experience of computer science, that's my field. So I don't want to speak for other fields, but at least based for my field, there is a lot of truth to this. There is a notion of productivity that has taken hold a long time ago in my particular field that's based on quantity. How many papers have you published? Papers in top venues. What I learned coming up is more is better than less and I got really good at that. I was trained to do that. How do you publish five plus papers a year? In good venues. And when I got to Georgetown, I had been trained upright at MIT and I could fire up that engine. And because I was very organized, I could find a way to do it. It wasn't going to completely dominate all my time. And it could go up and get 10 year early. But it does feel like a trap because if five, why not six, six, why not seven, it really does push you towards quantity. And everyone you talk to in my field would say, that doesn't seem that important. It's kind of crazy that this is what we have to fix it on. So what would be the alternative? Well, in computer science, the alternative is quality. Have you produced something that's important, that's really changed the field? Like that's actually literally speaking what's going to matter. I produced a new idea. It took me a long time, but I produced a new idea that changed the way we saw things. It increased our understanding in a non-trivial way. It's hard to have those breakthrough ideas when you're publishing five papers, six papers, seven papers a year. So I think this point here is interesting. Now, what do we do about it? Well, in computer science, there was an interesting proposal. So there's a trade group called CRA. And they had a, I guess it was a task force to look into this question. And they came back with a recommendation which I thought was simple but brilliant. And they said, here's what we should do. We should say, when you are being hired for an academic job, you send us your three best papers. You publish this grad student. And that's all we'll look at. How good are your three best papers? I don't care if you publish 50 others. How good are your three best papers? And when you later see you get hired, go up for tenure, you send us five papers. These are the five papers I think are my best work. And we say, how good are these papers? What is the, what's your highest quality work? How quality was it? And everyone who hears this idea says that would be great. If I could spend two years trying to make an idea right, I would not feel like I was on this treadmill. I would produce much more important work. I think my accomplishments in the long run would be more meaningful. But it's very difficult to shift over to a model like that because everyone has to shift over together or it doesn't work. How do you get tenure, for example? It all comes down to, for the most part, letters from other academics in your particular field from around the world. And they look at your resume, they look at your publications, they should know you at this point and they write letters for the university rank and tenure committee that says, here's how we think about this person. What is their reputation in the field? How good are they? Not a bad way to do it, right? Let's just get people who know the field to say, is this a serious researcher? Let's get rid of the games, what's their reputation? The problem is, if everyone else out there is still thinking about quantity as being the main metric, when those letters come back in, if your institution says, oh no, we just care about your three best papers and that's all we sent out, those letters are still judging you on whatever the cultural convention is. Which is, how only published seven papers since he's been an assistant professor, like, that's not great. So if we can't switch over everyone, it's hard to make changes incrementally. So this is why I think trap is probably a good word, it's hard to get away from that. So this article, I'm looking at a couple other points here, they say academia will not be inclusive as long as we fixate on productivity. That is absolutely true as well. I think when quantity is what matters, then you really begin to sort out who is gonna be able to really excel based in large part among about available time they have for work. You know, the most successful grad student I know, for example, due to visa issues, could never travel, could never go home, was basically stuck here and just work 12 hours a day every day, except for three hours on the weekend, on Sundays for exercise, right? So it really makes a difference. And then you begin to shift. And now you're not shifting based on underlying brilliance, impact of ideas. You're beginning to sort academic implicit ranking based on how much time do you have available to work, which is that really what we wanna do? You're probably leaving a lot of potential Einstein's on the table. If you require anyone who wants to try to be the next Einstein to also have the ability to work as many hours as he does, they also say, when we shift the primary goal of writing supports a sustainability, we acknowledge that faculty writers are valuable resources worth protecting from this perspective, valorizing peak productivity is extractive and exploitative of individual writers, one another and the larger scholar ecosystem. So, you know, I think this is an interesting case study of the issues with completely melding more tactical, quantitative notions of productivity with more subjective, long-term, impactful notions of accomplishment. And there's some interesting ideas about what can we do to get away from that? It's a hard problem, but I'm glad people are thinking about it. I do have one bone to pick. I've been picking this bone ever since I first started speaking on doctoral boot camp committees as a young professor. Writing is not the right verb. This is my one complaint about people talking about academia. Writing is not synonymous with productive, useful, accomplished academic work for mathematicians or computer scientists or physicists. Most of the work we do is thinking and proof-solving, writing is just what you do at the end to put it into a paper. This is a big bugaboo of mine that literally no one else cares about. But in a lot of other academic fields, they use the verb writing to mean research. And in computer science, I'm on a whiteboard. I'm in a notebook. Writing is like when you put it all together at the end into a paper that you submit, that takes four days. So I used to terrorize doctoral boot camps back when I still had time to talk at doctoral boot camps. And I would say stop using the word writing. It's thinking, it's reading, it's trying to solve things. It's deep work. Some of that actually involves putting words on paper, but not most of it. So that's my one bone to pick that no one else cares about. But I think there's a few other mathematicians out there that are clapping right now. They're clapping really loudly. Yes, Cal's got it. So anyways, I thought that was interesting, Jesse. Here is real world evidence of how other people are identifying and grappling with the same type of issues we talked about today. All right, so I think that's all the time we have. Thank you for sending whoever sent in this Productivity Trap article. Thank you for ever sent in their questions as well. We'll be back next week with another episode of the show and until then, as always, stay deep.

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