Ep. 242: Why Is "The Simple Life" So Appealing?
Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 242: Why Is "The Simple Life" So Appealing?".
Note: This transcription is split and grouped by topics and subtopics. You can navigate through the Table of Contents on the left. It's interactive. All paragraphs are timed to the original video. Click on the time (e.g., 01:53) to jump to the specific portion of the video.
Cal's intro (00:00)
So this brings us to today's deep question. What do we really seek when we seek the simple life? I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions. The show about living and working deeply in an increasingly distracted world. I am here, my Deep Work HQ joined as always by my producer, Jesse. Jesse, as of today, you are now officially much older than me, isn't that true? Yeah. Jesse and I have very close together birthdays. We're separated by a few months. So there is a window of, let's see, what's in March, April, what? Three months each year where Jesse is a year older than me. So while I remain only 26 years old, Jesse is now 27. Yeah. So you can chime in with your wisdom that is born only of age and experience, Jesse, throughout the show. Sounds good. As you see fit. I assume you're going to celebrate by reading quietly and deeply for hours. That would be a pretty good celebration. I wouldn't mind that. Honestly, that's all I want these days. Yeah. That would be a great gift for me. Just go into the woods with a book you like and... Like I have a plane ride coming up and I have several New Yorkers and I'm wired and something else in the sports illustrator. So it's like, that's going to take a while. It's nice. You start working your way through them. Yeah. Yeah. I have a plane ride coming up as well, but it involves also a 10 year old and 8 year old and a 4 year old. It will not be as deep. Let's put it that way. A lot of walking back to the bathrooms with toddlers though. So that'll be fun. All right. Well, anyways, exciting. Happy birthday. Let's get rolling with what I have in mind for today's show. Today's show is actually motivated by a book I read a couple of weeks ago. The book was called Living the Good Life, How to Live Sainley and Simply in a Troubled World. Now, this is an old book. It was written by Helen and Scott Nearing in the 50s. It came out in 1954. It was then reissued in 1973. And actually, I think this reissue ended up being influential, especially in the Back to Land movement, which picked up speed in the 70s going on into the 80s. So I went back and found a used version of this book as I like to do. I don't want to be on Kindle. I don't want to be in a new paperback version. If there's a book that actually existed in a time period is of that time period intertwined with that time period. So I have the 1973 edition. I read it. It was interesting. It was about this couple who during the Depression decided they wanted to remove themselves from being so intermeshed into the capitalist economy because they were seeing a course during the Depression that these major changes could happen, that they had no control over and that weren't their fault. They could really affect their livelihood, really affect the quality of their life. So they said, you know what? I'm going to do this. Let's leave New York City where we're living and we'll go to Vermont and we're going to live simply and deliberately in part to free ourselves from all these forces that are out of our control, in part because of a thorough style wanting to not have taxes being paid towards efforts like wars and in part to be a demonstration to others about the ability to live in different ways or more intentional ways. So they did this, started in the 30s, wrote a book about it in the 50s. I have some photos here. I'm going to bring them up on the screen. So if you're watching at youtube.com/countnewportmedia or at the deeplife.com, just look for episode 242. The pictures I have on the screen are actually not from their property in Vermont, but they're later property in Maine. So basically they lived in this homestead in Vermont for a long time, including when they published this book. And at some point they moved to Maine and did the same thing. They built up a new homestead there. So these pictures give you an idea of what their life is. Here is Scott nearing tending his organic garden. Here they are in 1931, Helen and Scott. So that's what they look like when they moved this homestead. They weren't young when they did this by the way. I mean they were well into their middle age when they made this switch. Here they are building a wall they were really into doing masonry with this very particular type called slip form masonry, which is something that could build really durable, really useful structures without having to have a lot of materials or a lot of expert builders. So they built their house in Vermont with this. They built walls with this. The eight simply they're vegetarian. They ate with a simple wooden bowl and spoon. I put that on here. Here's some of their stone buildings. So they built a house like this in Vermont as well. He built out a stone. They built it from scratch. They've got these cool gardens. All very scenic. All very bucolic. Anyways, I'm reading this, right? I'm reading this book because I needed it for research for the deep life. The book I'm writing on the deep life. And there is an interesting dynamic that arose. So at first glance, at first encounter, when you read the story of the nearings, what you think about is these are people escaping complexity. These are people escaping business. So what appeals at first when you read these stories is the perceived simplicity of their life. There is no running errands or traffic or whatever the 1930s equivalent was of answering email when you're building your slip form masonry walls up in the wilds of Vermont. But when you read this book farther and pay attention, you see this assumption that they're living a very simple life is actually challenged. They were quite busy as reported in this book when they were in Vermont. They had a lot of projects going on. And in order to do these projects, they were having to experiment with and master all sorts of new technology. So they learned how, for example, to do this masonry, they experimented and worked with greenhouse growing. They built complex, terrorist irrigated garden projects. They figured out how to do wide scale composting. They built a sugar house and built a complex maple syrup production center. This is actually what generated the cash they needed to survive. They built it off of maple syrup. Constantly projects going on, long days, working throughout the days, to the point where they would have visitors come. And the report in the book, this became an issue because the visitors expected, we're going to be hanging out with the nearings. You know, we're going to set out in their cabin and smoke a corn cob pipe and talk about simple living. And the nearings would say, look, if you're here, you got to work. We're going to be working all day long. We can't just sit around and entertain you. In addition to what they were doing on their homesteads, the nearings also wrote books. This was not the only book they wrote. They traveled. They lectured. After a while, they began to host interns and other types of visitors at their properties to sort of teach them about this way of living, to disseminate the word throughout the culture. So they weren't living a simple life in the sense that they didn't have much to do. They weren't living a simple life in the sense that there's no busyness, that they were just sort of going through their day and most of their time was free. So the things that we imagined when we first conjure moving to the wilds of Vermont were not actually the things that the nearings were enjoying. So this brings us to today's deep question. What do we really seek when we seek the simple life? So what I want to do is start with a deep dive and deconstruct more carefully what is it about this story, stories like the nearings going to Vermont that attracts our attention.
Podcast Discussions And Ads
Today’s Deep Question (07:56)
Because I think if we really deconstruct this appeal, we find a more complicated set of answers but also a set of answers that we can more easily act on in the near future, even without a radical change to our life. I then have a collection of five questions from you, my listeners. They will all roughly orbit this general topic of engineering a life that's less busy engineering a life that's simple. I might have actually said that wrong. I think I did today four questions in one case study. We've got four questions and we will get one case study. And then we'll shift gears as we normally do at the end and talk about something interesting. All right, so let's look deeper here at this question of what is exactly about the nearings moving to Vermont that attracts us if it's not just they have plenty of free time now that their life is less crowded. And I think the right way to think about this is to divide our investigation into two categories. Category number one is the things we want to escape when we head towards the simple life. So let's start with what we want to escape when we think about stories like the nearings. I would say number one on that list is going to be overload. It's not do you always have something to do? That's not an issue. The nearings always has something to do. It's do you have too many things that you need to do more things than you have time to actually implement that is what overload is. And it's different than being a little bit different than being a little bit different than busyness. It's different than constant activity. It's not about how much of your day you're working. It's about how much stuff is on the list that you're trying to get through. And when that list gets larger than you actually have the time resources or capacity to execute problems arise and these problems are psychological in nature. So one of the arguments I make I've made on this podcast before it's also an argument that I'm elaborating in my new book on slow productivity is that there is a tax a psychological tax on every obligation that you've committed to. You know it's there. You know you have to get it done. That psychological tax then expands beyond just being on your mind into actual taxes on your time. Most things that are on your list that you need to do have this regular background demand of your time and attention. And you got to follow up with this person. You need to set up a meeting. There's some emails that have to go back and forth. You have to do a little bit of research. There is that new pharmacy in the place that we're going that I can get my subscription sending there. So these things don't just sit. Most things don't just sit idly on your task list. They have these little demands of your time and attention and I call that an overhead tax. So if your task list gets too big, the sum of this overhead tax itself becomes larger. Until after a while you find yourself spending most of your time tending and worrying about all the things waiting on your list, which greatly reduces the time you have to actually make progress on things, which means you fall even farther behind. Your list gets bigger and the overhead tax grows even more intense and your window to actually accomplish things gets even smaller. This is a terrible spiral. It's incredibly stressful. It's also an incredibly inefficient way to try to do important things in the world. So one of the things we want to escape when we think about moving to the wilds of Vermont like the nearings is overload. Not having things to do all the time, but having more things to do than we have time to actually accomplish. The other thing I would say we want to escape when we think of these scenarios is struggle. So the simple life, let's say, that the nearings are living up there, reduced financial worries. They lived very cheaply. They were largely dependent on growing or producing their own food or bartering. The cash that they did need, they generated from their maple-sickering operation. They just figured out exactly how many dollars they needed to handle the things or acquire the things that they couldn't barter for or grow themselves. So they had freedom from the struggle of financial worries. They had freedom from the struggle of stressful work. They worked all the time, but they weren't on tight deadlines. There was no boss who was bothering them about when is your slip form, masonry wall going to be finished. There wasn't the stress of, oh my God, what if we lose this client? We're going to be able to pay the lease on our office building. So the struggle of stressful work, they're escaping. They're escaping the stressful environment of the city. It's crowded. There's noise. There's crime. You're being jostled on the street. Your senses are being overwhelmed. So there's a simplicity to the quiet of the forest. They're also avoiding the struggles that you get with things like long commutes or other types of parts of your life that are not that subjectively nice. So there's this escape from struggle that's also part of the appeal of the simple life. There's a lot of things that are unpleasant that if you go to this quote unquote simple life, you can reduce. All right. So there's the things you escape. But part of the appeal of this life, these type of lifestyles is also what we want to pursue. How do you try to gain by shifting to these simpler lives? Three things here. Number one is autonomy. The nearings had complete autonomy over what they decided to do and how they spent their time. So again, they always had work to do. They worked hard, but was on their own terms on projects that they thought were important. They were also looking for meaning. So not only were they escaping a sort of lifestyle that they were critiquing, not only were they escaping being intermashed into an economic system where they thought they had lack of control and could be pushed around because of world events. They were also trying to proactively demonstrate to the broader world alternative ways of living. This is why they wrote books. It's why they did lectures. It's why they brought visitors and interns out to their homestead in Vermont and later in Maine. They were trying to spread the word and they were successful at this. The 1973 edition of this book really did play a big role in driving a lot of people from the baby boom generation attracted to the counterculture as demonstrated in the most distilled form by the hippie movement to embrace back the land style movements. And for a while, this was quite a powerful social movement. The other things we try to pursue when we think about the simple life is slowness. This is a property that I don't think we talk about enough, but it's a property that's of particular importance to me. And it's not the idea that you don't do things. But it's the idea that no one day, no one hour is critical. So if I'm Scott Nearing, if I'm Helen Nearing, most days most hours I am doing something. But I know if I didn't feel well or if the weather was bad or if a relative came to visit, if I didn't do my normal work tomorrow, it's okay. Nothing bad would happen. If I skipped working on this wall for the next hour, nothing bad would happen. There's no one who's going to yell at me. There's no client who is going to complain that they're emailed and get responded to. So I'm going to call that slowness. And I actually think this is a fundamental property that is well suited for the human condition. And it's something that we didn't even know we need until now we find ourselves missing it. I, in particular, am very wired for this type of slowness. I will do a ton of work if left to my own devices. If you tell me go write books and articles, I will write a lot of books. I will write a lot of articles and be happy about it. What makes me unhappy is if you say tomorrow you need to come do this radio appearance and then you need to go to this meeting and then you need to go get this done in one hour. It's the notion of this has to get done on this day. This thing has to happen on this time so that if you get sick, if you get tired, if your kids are sick for the hundredth time, this is going to be a problem. That causes me stress. Work is fine, but work in which I don't have to worry about any particular day being critical is even better. This is the other type of thing that you are pursuing when you think about these visions of the slow life. All right. So we had two things you want to escape overload and struggle. We had three things you want to get closer to autonomy, meaning and slowness. So what's my goal here in talking about those? Well when we can get this discerning about what it is actually deep down that's attracting us to stories like denierings, we can isolate these components. We can begin to ask, well, is there anything I can do right now or in the next couple of months or in the next year or so? Is there anything I can do right now that will help me get away from those things I want to escape, help me get towards those things I want to pursue? Even if I'm not able to in the near future, leave everything and go move to Vermont. When we get past just the instinctual attraction to a big grand gesture and deconstruct it, we can identify these underlying components that we can do something with right now, even without that same degree of radicalness. So let's go through this experiment with these particular properties that I just delineated. What are the types of things that someone who reads this book and finds it really appealing? What are some things they could do in the next couple of weeks that would move them closer to these properties that they are attracted to? Well financial simplification. You could do this next week, overhaul your finances, reduce your expenses, get control of your spending, find yourself feeling like you have a buffer. Okay, we have way more money than we actually the need. So there's some flexibility here because of the way that we're living, we're living below our means and so we can take that stress off right away. Think about new work quota systems. Okay, in my job, I'm going to start to establish specific quotas on how many of projects are going to get different types. I actually do it any one time. And when someone tries to add another one to my plate, I say, I'm happy to help. But look, I've got this quota that I don't do more than three committees at the same time. And so I have three right now. So I can't do that right now. So you put in these quota systems that right away could also help with something like overload, right? So financial simplification could help with struggle. Quota system at work could help with overload. Simplifying your extracurricular personal activities could help with struggle. You could put more seasonality into your work to help with overload. You know what? I'm going to pull back in the summers. I'm not going to make a big declaration about it, but I'm just going to be pretty clever about how I take on projects to make sure that during these two months, I'm doing less. I have a phantom part time job. I'm ending my work technically at like two and no one really notices it. That type of thing could help. You can rebuild your leisure time around a smaller number of much more meaningful activities to really get into. These are all things you could do right away. It's not as radical as moving to Vermont, but you're actually working with escaping the things that we really want to escape in the stories and pursuing the things we really want to pursue when we're attracted to those stories. Now let's move up to a broader timeframe. Let's say we're thinking about the next two years. And again, you want to approximate as much of the benefits of a radical change like this as possible. Well, now we can start thinking about things like redesigning your career, maybe not quitting your job to become a full time homesteader, but maybe you're able to over the next year to make the shift to say, okay, I'm going to become fully remote. And the way I'm going to justify that is by trading accountability for accessibility. And you set up a situation where you say, look at how many units I ship, how much code I produce, how many clients I bring on, but in exchange, I want this relationship to be one where we have a meeting on Monday to check in on everything and you don't necessarily expect a lot of accessibility outside of it. You might imagine a pragmatic move on the one the two year timeframe, maybe not again to a homestead in Vermont, but maybe you leave a crowded suburb to go an hour outside of the city to a quieter rural area where the schools are fine. You can still commute back in once a week when you need to see people, but now you can have a different rhythm to your life. You're away from the stress of say Northern Virginia or Montgomery County, Maryland, but you're not moving all the way up to coast. You're not moving into the deep countryside. That could all make sense in a short term one to two year timeframe. As code, for example, radical scheduling to work. Maybe you over a one to two year time period, talk to your boss about, okay, I want to go to reduced hours, say 20% less hours and we'll take a reduction in pay and like, okay, that makes sense. You say, but here's how I'm going to do it. It'll work normally nine months out of the year, ten months out of the year, and the other two months I'm not going to work at all. So it's not, oh, I'm working less hours, but because of email and meetings, I end up working 40 hour weeks. Anyways, it's more radical reconfigurations about when you work or when you don't work. These type of things are all pragmatically proximate to where you are now. These are changes that you could imagine making in the next year or two. Even though it doesn't seem as radical as first as making a complete overhaul of where you live and how you work, they are useful. And they're useful again because we know what really appeals to us about these stories is not just I want to build a composting heap in Vermont. It's the escaping overload, escaping struggle, pursuing autonomy, pursuing meaning, pursuing slowness. And this is the general approach I want to keep in mind when we think about the deep life writ large, when you encounter a story or a case study that appeals to you at a deep level, you pick up the nearings book, you watch a documentary about Laird Hamilton in Hawaii, something about Simon Winchester's farm in Sanford, central Massachusetts just captures your attention. When something captures your attention resonates, don't stop there. If you stop there, all you're going to get is a short burst of aspiration plus a sobering reality that I can't move to Hawaii and be Laird Hamilton. I'm not a full-time writer who can live on a farm in central Massachusetts and then you just fall back into whatever you're doing before. The right approach here is to do what I just did with the Scott and Helen nearing story. Deconstruct that aspiration. What are the specific elements of these stories that are really touching you in a deep place? Now once you have isolated those things, you can say, "Okay, even if I don't make that big move, what little moves put me in a better position with respect to these components." Sometimes the deep life is about changing everything, but sometimes the deep life is about learning from people who have changed everything to make a bunch of small changes that add up to make your situation much better than it was before. So those are my thoughts on the simple life. I like it. We have a lot of different blank life terminology on this show. The simple life, the good life. So if you saw writing the book? Yeah, yeah. Which book are we talking about? The deep life because you're researching it. No, I'm not writing it yet. Where I am now is with slow productivity. I've written that whole book and now I'm revising it. I just finished the revised version of the first half of the book earlier today actually. Over the next few weeks, I'll be finishing my revisions of the second half of the book. I have it all mapped out. I haven't done the writing yet. By the end of April, we have a really pretty good version of that manuscript submitted. We're going to go back and forth, but by June of this year is when it's locked. It has to go on in the production. By June of this year, slow productivity will be locked in en route to a winter 2024 publication. And then at that point, I can start thinking about the deep life. But I'm already, right now I'm just reading and thinking. And I'm not trying to, I'm not just to give a little bit of an insight into the process of writing these books. If I was to at this point start to actually translate ideas like I just read from the beginnings into outlines or potential chapters for the deep life book, that would create a cognitive issue because it's overlapping too much with the slow productivity. So alchemizing ideas into structured chapters begins to capture your mind around that project. So I'm not, right now all I'm doing is just exposing myself to a lot of interesting stuff. And it'll be the summer when I'm up in New Hampshire and doing my fellowship at Dartmouth that I'll probably then be able to just go walk in the woods and begin massaging the ideas and the chapters to really begin thinking about how the book's going to come together. So when we start writing it back in the fall of 2020. I'm not sure. It's a good question. I got to figure it out. I mean, part of my issue is I'm a little burned out right now. Because like last summer you were writing every single day all through the summer but you were on leave technically, right? Yeah. So I'm not going to be writing this summer. I mean, I'm, I'm, I've been working on a lot of things. Being Georgetown related, person life related. I'm a little burnt out. So I'm not going to write this summer. I am going to think, it's my favorite thing, I'm going to read and think, but I'm not, I am going to need some breathing room. So before I'm writing every day. When you potentially write the deep life, you'll probably be teaching that. So you're not going to have as much free time as you did when you had soapbox. Yeah, I'm a little worried about it. Yeah. So I'm only teaching to give yourself more time, right? Because before you like you banged it up. I think that's what I'll do weeks. Well, yeah. And also like, I don't have the summer off this summer. I'm doing the fellowship at Dartmouth. So I'm going to be teaching a course and, you know, et cetera. So I don't have the time I had. Now I'm only teaching two courses next year, which is good, but they're not combined. Like I was able to do when I was writing a slow productivity. So each semester has a course. So it's going to be not until the summer of 2024 that I get any sort of notable break from where I'm not teaching. So we'll figure it out. I think I'm just going to go slower. I think I'm just going to slow productivity this thing. I don't have as much time as I per day. So I'll write less and just relentless. A little bit, little bit, little bit. I'm telling you, a lot of little bits add up to a lot. But anyways, I know I need at least a summer as a breather because my brain makes Austin. I am exhausted. I mean, it didn't help that anyone who has kids knows that this year because of the immunity debt that built up over the COVID years has been just like a disease artillery barrage. It's just sickness after sickness after sickness. They're all bigger sicknesses and they would have been three years ago. And it's just relentless. And so you have that and all the extra work and get my brain a bit of a breather, I suppose. All right. So we got some questions. Before we get to the questions, I want to briefly mention one of our longtime sponsors here on the show. And that is our friends at Grammarly.
Cal talks about Grammarly and Blinkist (27:00)
So I want to talk about in particular is their new advanced tome suggestion feature, which is integrated into Grammarly's premium service. So Grammarly premium can sit on the devices where you do your writing, working with the applications in which you do this writing to help that writing be better. The new advanced tome suggestions is a great example of how sophisticated this tool has become. So the tone suggestor can actually help you communicate confidently and reframe your words to be positive, more positive, but also more productive. So people understand what you're saying. You seem like you really know what you're talking about and better results are generated. All right. So here's a suggestion, an example. I mean, here's an example of Grammarly's tone suggestions helping you make your communication more confident. So this is a real example. So if I typed, we may want to consider providing an update. The advanced tome suggestion said, no, no, make that we should consider providing an update. This is the type of feedback you would get from a boss who was really helpful or a mentor and editor. You can get this now from the tone suggestor. All right. Here's another example with a tone suggestor is helping to reframe overly negative language. So if I write the marketing strategy isn't right, the tone suggestor might come back here and say, you should say the marketing strategy needs to be different. These small differences in how you phrase things make a big difference in how you and your ideas are received. This is something I have learned in my life as a knowledge worker and a professional writer. And I'm very impressed by how humanlike Grammarly premium can be in making these suggestions to you. So look, in knowledge work, ideas or power, writing is how you convey ideas. The better the writer you are, the more successful you will be. Having Grammarly premium is like having a copy editor or mentor sitting with you as you do while you're writing, making it better. It is invaluable if you write a lot in your job. The right tone can move any project forward when you get it right with Grammarly. So go to Grammarly.com/tone to download and learn more about Grammarly premium's advanced tone suggestions. As long as we're talking about ideas, which again, I really think in our current culture, ideas really are the best currency, where do you find these ideas? Well, books. And who is going to help you figure out which books you should have shown it read? Blinkist. Blinkist is another long time sponsor of the show and for good reason because they offer a service that is right in the sweet spot of what deep questions listeners are looking for. So the way it works is if you subscribe to Blinkist, you get access to short summaries of over 5,500 nonfiction books and podcasts. The summaries typically take around 15 minutes to read. They also have audio versions of these summaries that you can listen to in 15 minutes or less. Now the reason why this is so useful is it lets you very quickly triage potential next things to add to your reading list. If there's a topic you're interested in or a book you've heard about, you jump on the Blinkist, you read or listen to the Blink. This is incredibly effective in helping you decide, do I need to buy this book or is it not exactly what I thought? And if it's not exactly what you thought, you still just got all the main ideas. You can work that into your vocabulary, you can work that into your existing cognitive schema for understanding the world. I know for example, Jesse, you keep a list of books you want to read, you just keep that in Blinkist, right? Is that what your strategy is? Well I keep the list in Evernote but then I go through it and look at all the blanks for those potential blanks. That's your triage process. When you grow this list, when you want to buy a new book, you read the blanks of whatever until you come across a Blink that makes you want to buy it. What's your hit rate do you think? What percentage, how effective is this triaging? Is it like 10% of books you say I should read or is it 10% of books you take off the list for you? What's it like? Well I also have Scribbids so I can just grab those books. If they're in there, I can just get them essentially with my membership. So if you see high, like 30% probably? 30% get cut or 30% you read. I read. Yeah. See, I mean, so think about that though. So even with that high percentage, if you didn't have Blinkist, you would just be 7 out of 10 books you started reading you'd be disappointed with. Yeah. Yeah. Well, so there you go. So if you're serious about the reading life, you do need Blinkist. They also have a special offer going on right now called Blinkist Connect that allows you to essentially get a free membership for the cost of one that you can then give to a friend who you think would like this. So right now Blinkist has a special offer just for our audience. Go to Blinkist.com/deep to start your seven day free trial and get 45% off a Blinkist premium membership. 45% is good. It's been lower than that historically. So that's pretty good. That's Blinkist spelled B-L-I-N-K-I-S-T. Blinkist.com/deep to get 45% off in a seven day free trial. Blinkist.com/deep. This particularly good discount offer is only good through April 30. So you got to get on this. And remember, for a limited time now, you can use Blinkist Connect to share your premium account so you'll get essentially two premium subscriptions for the price of one. All right, Jesse, let's do some questions from our listeners that are relevant to this general topic of pursuing a simpler, deeper life. Sounds good.
Are daily deep habits too frequent (32:40)
First question is from David, a 40-year-old from Australia. Is a weekly time horizon in deep life habits more effective than daily habits? For example, if I try to exercise every day, I might end up with 70 or 7 30-minute sessions but lack those 90-minute sessions that might be better physically during the week. So I think what David's talking about here is when I talk about the deep life, one of the concepts I talk about is these keystone habits where in each of the big areas of your life, what we call the buckets, you have some habit you do every day. You track every day, did I do that habit. That's why my timeblock planner has a metric tracking space on every weekday. So he's saying, "Hey, some things aren't best done every day. Maybe they're best done twice a week." This was his example, if I'm reading this right, is he saying, "Maybe it's better to work out 90 minutes twice a week than to work out 30 minutes every day." Now, Jesse, when it comes to this specific example, you know more about this in me. Now twice for 90 minutes does not sound like the right way to exercise, right? That's a pretty long workout session, isn't it? Or is that... I think it depends on what you're doing. If you're playing tennis, that's going to take at least 90 minutes to two hours. That's true. So sports, yeah. But if you're doing weights or something, I'm assuming more... You probably want more than two sessions a week. Probably. Yeah. Not that this is that important, David. I just was critiquing that particular example. All right. So here's my take on that. You need to separate Keystone Habits from other type of habits. So the whole point about having a Keystone habit in each area of your life that you think is important is it indicates to yourself that you take that area of your life seriously and it builds a foundation of discipline bespoke to that area of life. So if you're doing a fitness something every day, then it helps indicate to yourself you take your health seriously. So if that Constitution bucket of the deep life is important to you, now you have a foundation of discipline on which you can then build other types of pursuits or rituals or habits. So not everything has to be every day, but every bucket should have at least one thing that is every day. Now, there's two ways we can nuance that. One way we can nuance that is a daily habit doesn't actually have to require the exact same activities every day. What's important here is that you're checking off every day that you did something. So you can imagine, for example, I have this daily exercise habit. And every day I want to write in the metric tracking space of my time block planner, EX, that's the notation I use, to indicate that I did my exercise today. However, what that means can depend on the day. Maybe every other day, EX means you walked for an hour. And on other days, it means that you did a 30 minute wait workout. And so every day is not the same, but you're not going any day without doing something. So daily accountability doesn't necessarily mean daily similarity. You can have a habit that looks different from day to day. Now when we move outside, however, of these keystone habits, then certainly you can have other types of things you do in your life that are not at all daily. And maybe, for example, you do have like twice a week, you play tennis like Jesse was talking about. That's fine. It's not your keystone habit. It doesn't happen every day. That's not something you're using just a lay of foundation and discipline. What does help in those cases, however, is if you can autopilot that schedule. So if there's something you only do twice a week, if you know you always do that Tuesday and Thursday at five at the club, you're more likely to be consistent with it. So you can use autopilot philosophy to make non-daily habits still regular. So non-daily habits are fine, and you're more likely to keep them consistent if you're doing autopilot scheduling. When we look specifically at keystone habits, you do want something to happen every day, even if the activity can vary from day to day, because there's that not breaking the chain power and just knowing every day I do something towards this bucket I care about. All right, Jesse, what do we got next? All right, next question is from Overwhelmed from Toronto. I'm very thankful for your advice that podcast should focus on research. Postdocs. Postdocs. It changes the tenor of this question quite a bit. However, I find I am in the middle of too many non-primary author projects, leaving me to work on my primary projects in the evenings and on weekends. I tried setting up autopilot, fixed schedule, but I have no time to do it all.
How do I juggle more projects? (37:16)
How do prolific professors, you included, balance so many projects when I find I can't even handle four at a time? Four to times too many projects, and we don't do that many projects at a time. So I think what's going on here, Overwhelmed, is that you might be suffering from what I like to call the time compression fallacy, which is typical when you're surveying from a distance the resumes of someone who's very accomplished. What we tend to do when we do this is we see all in one place this list of all these different things that they have done, and then in our mind, when we imagine that person doing this work, we compress the time in which this work unfolded. So that in our mind's eye, we imagine this person working on lots of these things all at the same time. This used to come up so common when I used to write about very successful students that I had a phrase I used to say, I called it the paradox of the relaxed road scholar. I did a study once where I interviewed a bunch of road scholars, and a lot of this got integrated into my first book, How to Win at College, which came out back in 2005. What I learned from these road scholars is that from the perspective of other students, they had all these different things they had done. And so you assume they'd be very, very busy, but when you interview them, they weren't. And the secret to this was, yeah, I did these six things, which look incredibly impressive when you see the press release about me winning a road scholarship, but I didn't do them at the same time. This is over four years. It added up to a lot. But at any one point, I wasn't doing all of these things. So that's the time compression fallacy in action, and we see it through all sorts of different stages of people's careers, all sorts of different career fields. So if you look at my own academic life, for example, I have published a lot of peer reviewed computer science papers. I had to do all this math recently because I'm submitting my application for full professor. I published something like 80 peer reviewed computer science papers. This is they've been cited something like 4,500 times. For those who know the lingo, it's a generated in H index of 31. You read that all it wants. And you think, my God, you must be just writing all sorts of papers all the time. But if you actually go back through my timeline through the now almost 20 years that I've been a professional academic, what you see is that, no, no, what I learned, this is the method I learned at MIT, was just constant practical progress. Always be working on a paper to when you finish one, work on another, just make that the background, that's the background, how much of your life is like you're always working on a paper. You're not working on five at once. You're working on one or two at once. But if you're always are working on things, it adds up. This comes out, that comes out, this one comes out. And over time, it adds up to the 80 or 90 papers or whatever it is that seems really impressive. But if you zoom in on, you know, Cal in 2007 as a grad student at MIT, I didn't have that much else much going on. Like I worked on this one paper for a couple hours today. Now what am I going to do? You just repeat that over enough years though and a lot of things add up. So overwhelmed, people don't do as much work at the same time as you think. In fact, the paradox here is if you try to do too much at the same time, you sabotage those projects. They sabotage each other because you're pulling from too scarce of a cognitive resource and you end up producing less overall. Work it on less things at a time can actually help you produce more. So you need to do less. You have too many projects. Your issue here is not that you haven't properly auto-pilot scheduled, you haven't properly fixed scheduled all of this work so that it works. Your issue is you have too much work to schedule. As a postdoc, you can't be doing four papers at once. You want to cut that down to two, maybe one primary paper and one non-primary paper. You don't work on any more than one on a given day and you stick with a paper until it's done or at a milestone where there's going to be a long period of time until you can return from it. So whatever, we have to now wait two months to get back results from a lab and then you can switch to something else. The key here is not going to be quantity at any one time but just making sure that you're continually working on something and as soon as something is done, you start working on something else. That's how real piles of impressive accomplishment build up. Very impressive people are actually less overloaded than you might imagine unless like me, they for some reason, have seven jobs. But that's a different problem. Don't do that. All right. What do we got? We got a lot of fake names here. I'm looking at this next one. Window B. Yeah. Yeah, that's probably not. Unless Window Berry is writing us a message. I think we got another pseudonym coming in. Maybe it's this topic. You think it's B for Berry or just it's Window Berry? It is. I think so. Okay. I didn't even think of that.
Can I quit my job to reach online full time? (41:57)
Well, anyway, next question from Wendell B. I currently serve as a minister in a full-time position but want to make the transition to teaching full-time in an online capacity. I believe this move would better suit my desires to stay in the academy, work from home and farm. What steps do I need to take in order to know when I can step away from my position and focus on teaching full-time online? Well the key here with anything like this, where you get a vision for an alternative career around you build your life. Whenever you get a vision like this, the key thing to do is to ground it in reality. And grounded in reality means you have to find people who are doing the thing you want to do. And you have to find out what is it really like? Like does it generate enough income that they can live off of it? And then you have to find out how did they make this happen? What was the path or credentials or opportunities that were required for them to end up in this space? Real people, real case studies, real information. The reason why this is important is because human beings, especially dealing with this particular issue that were sort of privileged to have this grapple with in the modern era of what do I want to do with my life. We have a tendency of falling to the trap of writing a story about what we want to be true. And we get really into this story because it has the elements that we hope actually exist a little bit of challenge but we overcome it and we get pretty excited about this story. And it can be hard to let go of a story that's really appealing but if that story doesn't actually match the reality of what you have in mind, it's only going to lead you probably into a worse situation. So that's why I always say ground in reality. And you might not like what you find. You might find, you know what, this online teaching full time position in the subject matter where you're an expert doesn't really exist, at least not in a way that it could support you full time, you're going to need another plan. That might be what you discover. You might also discover that, okay, this does exist because, and then you heard of someone who did it, but when you actually learn more, you discover, oh, they were able to do it because they were already a famous academic that had this big reputation and they were able to sort of create their own online thing. But that really required them being really well known. You're not in that situation. You weren't going to be able to do the same thing. You might discover something like that as well. And you got to be ready for that and say, okay, I need a new plan. But if you are working backwards, like I talked about in the deep dive at the beginning of this episode, if you're working backwards from the elements of this vision that inspire you, you can pivot. If you're working backwards, not from all that matters is I'm a full time online teacher who farms, but instead you have these underlying elements of that lifestyle that really draw to you, if this doesn't work out when you ground it in reality, you have other options to look into. Well, how else could I use the career capital I've already acquired to make a lateral move into a situation in which I get more of these properties? This is why property centric thinking, this sort of lifestyle, this value based lifestyle design thinking is so powerful is because it gives you the freedom to experiment with ideas and approaches to find one that will actually work. It doesn't require you to latch onto one particular story and hope it works. So I don't know what you're going to find, Wendell. You might find it's impossible. You might find it's easy or you might find it's possible, but you have to do more work than you thought to make it possible. But whatever you find, knowing why you like this story in the first place is going to be helpful. Now, I've been having this discussion with someone recently, reminds me of this, Jesse. As a student, I met just like a cool idea for a book. And it's like, this is great. I love encouraging people of cool ideas for books. And it's like, what do you want to do with this book? It's like, I want to publish it, like have an impact on the conversation, publish it with the real publisher. Like, that's great. And so I said, let me send you, he's like kind of talked to you about like how to do this. Like, yeah, it's like, you know, I've written up an article about this because I get asked this question a lot. And just this article I wrote in 2008, after I published my first two books, it was like, here is how you write and sell a nonfiction book to a major publisher. And I put everything I've learned in that article, there's five points in it. As what I send people when they're interested in becoming a nonfiction writer, it's like, let's ground your idea in reality because nonfiction writing is a place where you might otherwise write your own story. Well, he didn't like that. He had written his own story about how he wanted the world to exist. It was the story in which, and I hear this, especially from entrepreneurial people, they often write these own stories, but well, if I'm particularly clever about how I go about like writing this book and hiring this firm to help me in doing this and that, I can sort of make an in run around the normal process to get my book published without having to do the standard thing, the starting with an agent, convincing the agent, writing a proposal, selling a proposal to a publisher, working with a publisher to write the book. And I said, look, that's not really a great path. I'm telling you, I've done this eight times. This is how nonfiction writing works if you want to publish with a big publisher and I haven't heard back. I think it's very tempting. And writing, I hear this all the time. Writing is definitely a place where people write their own stories about how they're going to become a writer. And usually their own stories involves if you're diligent and clever and take advantage of new services that people might not know about yet, you can greatly increase your chance of being published and sort of get around having to be judged by a gatekeeper early on. The stories are very enticing, but they're not true. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, maybe if you had like an end with some agent that was going to pick up his call and read the transcript because this is great, but I mean, the chances of that are probably really slim. Yeah. I mean, I want to get too much of the details, but he, anyways, what he was proposing, well, there's, let's just say there's companies and services out there that are happy to take your money. Yeah, exactly. And you have a lot of people who are happy to help you get your book published. Yeah. Yeah. Spoiler alert. If that was like a back road in the getting your book published, you know, other people would do it. Book publishing actually has a pretty good model. I mean, basically the model is there's a lot of, there's agents. So for nonfiction writing, you sell your idea to an agent by sell your idea. I mean, this metaphorically, you sign with an agent because they're convinced that you've got a great idea and you're the right person to write it. The agents then turn around and help you sell the idea to a publisher. And the agents are very well suited to do this because they have relationships with the relevant editors at the relevant publishers. There's not this over the transom type model of a pile of submissions arrive at the publisher and they look through them that aside with the publish. Most books are actually sold over lunch, right? It's, it's my agent knows these editors. Like, hey, I have this new author. Are you interested? You think there's another editor might be interested in. And they sort of match. There's this informal matching that goes on editors who have that same sensibility. And they say, yeah, let me see it. I'm interested in it. And then the agent helps you write a proposal that covers the things the publishers need to know. I mean, the, I don't want to go on a rant here, but, but even when I know people who get signed with agents, they follow the process, they, especially the entrepreneurial ones, all want to in run around the proposal process. Like, okay, I have an agent, but I shouldn't have to do this. But no, there's a reason why you write these lumbering big proposals is because the agents are all former editors and they know exactly what the editor needs to be able to sell their own acquisition editor on pain for this book. So you're writing, when you're writing these proposals, what you're really doing is doing the homework for the editor so that if they love your idea, they can turn around and have a better chance of convincing their boss. Let's pay for this. Yeah. Right. So again, you can't, there's no, you don't need to do it. There's not an in run here. He's like, I don't need to do this. Like I've got a big audience. I've, you know, whatever, you got to just do the proposal and it's a pain, but that's how it works. And then they can use this to try to sell it internally. Then you get your advance, then you write your book. It's actually a pretty good process because the agents are desperate for sellable books. Yeah. The editors are desperate for books that can be published. They don't need every book to be a knock on Gladwell bestseller. They need a pipeline full of books that are coming out. Their whole model, especially as publishers consolidate is you need a huge pipeline of books coming out. Everyone wants you to succeed. They want you to be good. They want your book to be sellable. They want to be able to publish your book because everyone along the way needs more books. Yeah. Tell the whole system works. So the only thing that trips you up along these ways is not that you are being unfairly cast a guy's, you know, unfairly cast out because of an ossified system. It's that there's something that's not right yet. Yeah. You're not the right person to write this book. The idea is not as sharp as you think it is. You know, your writing's not where it needs to be yet. You have to get to a new level. I mean, the reasons you get kicked out of this system are typically there is something that's not quite right yet for you to actually produce the book. And I think it's the avoiding of that feedback. People think I could just avoid that feedback if I hired the service and did all this and then like the publisher at some point, like, "Oh, look at this thing over here. We got to publish that book." And it happens occasionally. The Martian was that's what happened with the Martian. Okay. Right. And why am I forgetting the name Andy Watt and Andy Weir. So he was actually writing the Martian in installments on the web. Yeah, you wrote an article about that, right? Yeah. Yeah. I was just publishing installments. He was just thinking, he just thought he's an engineer. He's like, "I want to think through like how would you survive if you were left alone on Mars? Like, let's get the science right." And so it was like a fun project. He was writing about it on the web. But then that got really popular and a publisher came in and was like, "This is great. Like, this could be a really good novel. That does happen." But it happens like twice. You know what I mean? It's not a consistent route to follow. It's happened like twice in the last five years or something like that. Yeah. You've talked about the need of how these agents and these publishers just want to keep on putting out books. And you've said this for a couple of years now. And it really dawns on me because then I notice all the books and then same with TV shows, programming on Netflix and stuff like that. There's just always stuff. And books is that times 10 because it's way less money to produce. Their pipelines are bigger. Yeah. It's way less risk. When I think about the book publishing sales pipeline, the whole key if you want to go into that world is not to be disqualified. It's less than you might think than really trying to convince someone to pay attention to something that they'll love once they see it. It's more about how do you avoid the things that could disqualify you around the way? And I don't really preach this. I was like just knowing the process, the little professionalism details that come out of knowing the process makes such a big difference as you go through it. It just shows through at every stage. And so here's what I've learned because I do recommend a lot of people. Like you should write a book. You should write a book. What I have found is like, okay, a lot of them don't end up being able to write the books. It's hard to avoid all those disqualifiers. And I maybe earlier in my career made it seem simpler than it was like my own entrance into the publishing world. The hard thing is if you're not a professional journalist, you really have to have this hard to find combination of a topic that people are going to feel like they have to read about. Plus you being the right person to write about the topic. So if you're a professional journalist, what makes you the right person to talk about a topic is typically I'm a professional writer. So it really opens up what you can write about. But if you're not a professional journalist or a historian, your personal experience has to make complete sense that you're the person writing this book. And then you have to combine that with having enough writing experience that they don't have to worry about amateurism. I mean, you don't have to be gay-tell-ees, but you can't have amateur tells in your writing because they can't publish that. Random House can't put out a book that has non-professional writing in it. So you have to be past some threshold, which is not hard to do. But you do have to have some experience. It's really hard to get those three things right. And what I've found when people have, I know, have had trouble in this process, it's just they usually have two out of three. So they'll have an idea, maybe, that's kind of killer, but it's why are you the person to write about this other than just you think it's interesting. Or they're the right person to write about a topic, but it's not killer yet. It's still a little bit vague. And I don't know if people realize like in a non-fiction book proposal often, like how razor sharp the idea is pitched in those proposals, even if they maybe balloon out a little bit. Anyways, I'm ranting about the publishing industry. Well, writing a proposal too must help sharpen those ideas. It does help sharpen it. Yeah. And you have to do a lot of stuff that's annoying, but it's actually kind of good. You have to go find competitive titles. Here's similar books that aren't quite what I'm doing. Because if something out there is exactly what you're doing, they don't want to publish it. So here's similar books that are similar to what I'm doing. Here's exactly how many copies they sold. Like you have to make the case. You actually have to make the case. This book, this book, this book, they all did really well for these reasons. My book sits at the intersection of them. So this is why we think we could do something similar. You have to like exhaustively talk about, here's how I'm going to publicize this book. You see, I know these people, I'm in this world. I'm going to be on this podcast. I mean, all of this stuff seems annoying, but it's really, really important for them to try to conceive internally at the publisher. How many copies realistically are we going to, is this book going to end up selling with this type of publicity, looking at what comparable books do? Anyways. So when they'll be, I know you didn't ask about publishing, but it all comes back to just grounding what you want to do in reality, though a big source of friction in the moment is really what's going to open up a much smoother path in the long term. All right. Let's do another question here. All right. Jenny, a 34 year old stay at home mom from Chicago. How can I convince my husband that the deep life doesn't mean he gets to ignore spouse most of the time.
How do I convince my husband that the “deep life” isn’t an excuse to ignore me? (55:50)
He insists that he's unavailable during work hours to minimize distractions. Well, as Jesse knows, one of my best purposes on this podcast is being a marriage counselor. I think it actually was before your time, Jesse. I used to get a lot more of these questions and it was like an ongoing joke. I don't know if you remember from the old days of the show, but it used to come up a lot, whereas like, yeah, I'm glad you're asking me for relationship advice. Yeah. This is going to go really well for you. This is going to go really well for me. We're all going to end up better. I listen to them all. Yeah. Sure. It used to come up more often. Well, okay, I have a general thing to say, Jenny, a specific thing. The general thing is if that's what he's saying, he's using the term deep life incorrectly. The deep life is not just about avoiding distraction in work. I mean, there's a craft bucket to the deep life where you're trying to envision what's important to you in the world of work and maybe under there at some point you have when working on things important, trying to avoid context switching is vital. But that's a sub point relevant to just one bucket of many different buckets that are relevant to living the deep life. And if you're married, as I've long said, these visions need to be collaborative and synchronized. It does not work if you have your own vision separate from your spouses and you don't really talk about it. Or if you do talk about it, it's just to tell them, here's what I'm doing, get out of my way. Being visions of the deep life is incredibly corrosive to a long term committed relationship. Married couples need to have a collaborative vision of this life that involves both of them. What do we care about as a family, as a unit in all of these areas? How are we collectively going to build our lives? So now when you're talking about craft, for example, it's not just about how can we each be as successful as possible in our jobs? And instead becomes, especially if you have kids, what configuration of work is going to best satisfy the various constraints we have? We want financial security. We want to keep our stress under control. We want to be able to deal with, let's say, the issues of our kids that arise in a way that doesn't make it a constant source of anxiety and make sure we have enough time. They're like, how do we find this balance? You're making a collective decision. What are our different jobs? What's our available flexibility? Should someone pull back and push forward? Should we both pull back? Should we do this for two years? It should be decided together. Same thing for Constitution. Same thing for community. Certainly same thing for contemplation. Are you going to have a religion? What's that going to be? All of this has to be collaborative. So that's my general response here. Your husband having some vision of the quote unquote deep life that he's essentially just imposing on you and it annoys you is not the right way to do this in a married couple. All right. Now I'm going to take your husband's side and say, let's talk about this very specific issue of just how accessible does he need to be during work. I think you can work together and come up with this very narrow thing, a set of rules that's very reasonable that everyone agrees to. So for example, here's a common thing I've heard in these situations. Anything that's an emergency, you actually have to have a quick response or a kid is going to the pediatrician. You need to come home and pick up the other kid from work, hint them speaking from experience here. Something like that. It's very time sensitive. Okay. You can always call my cell phone and even if I have my cell phone and do not disturb, I just have it set up so that obviously your number is whitelisted to come through. That's very easy to do. All spouses should have their spouses number set up to calls to come through no matter what focus mode they're in. All right. That's easy. Then you can have a simple rule about text messaging. I think a completely reasonable rule about text messaging is I will check text messages at least two or three times throughout the day. But on the other hand, if I'm in the middle of a blocked, a deep work block, I'm not going to check text messages because if I do, it completely ruins the, and this is where I'm taking your husband's side, this idea that, hey, it would be very useful for me if you always just respond to my text messages right away, it could ruin a whole deep work block if you have to do that context switching throughout. So I think this notion of there's going to be a two hour stretch here, an hour stretch here where I'm not checking text messages. But a couple of times a day I am, so non-urgent things I'll see, urgent things you call me. And if we find we have to be doing a lot of coordinating throughout the day, then we probably need to work on our household admin system in general. It's probably too chaotic. I, in this case, I'm planning to roll up your husband and probably not involved enough in actually sitting down and working out with you what needs to be done this week, who's working on what. We probably need a better weekly planning set up, a better shared calendar, a better shared task set up. There's a whole household of man, admin solution here that probably would reduce the need to just have hyperactive, hype mine back and forth throughout the day. But it's completely reasonable to say, I'm accessible, but not always accessible unless it's a emergency. Now, you can make your own rules here. I don't know what's going to work. I don't know your situation. I don't know what your husband does. I mean, maybe he's a Navy Seal or something. And this, you know, he can't answer his phone because he's saving someone from pirates or something like that. So my point here being for this very narrow issue of accessibility between, you know, partners, you need rules. You need to agree on them. There's a lot of reasonable options there. And then everyone's on the same page. Don't just wing it. And if you can't come up with a set of rules that works, then you have to fix something else until you have a set of rules to do. My bigger picture point here, however, is the deep life in general for couples is a collaborative effort. It does not work if you each have your own vision. You're going to buy that or they both now just mad at me. It's usually safer just to take entirely one person's side because you know, at least one person won't be mad at you. Yeah. Yeah, husband's going to show up at my door. He is going to be a Navy Seal. He's like, I have come to get my revenge. All right. I went to a case study before we move on to something interesting. I like to do these occasionally where someone sends in a example of the type of ideas we write about on the show playing out in the real world.
CASE STUDY - A Writing Shed For Slow Productivity (01:01:53)
So this particular case study was sent to me from Julie, a 51 year old writer from Maine. So I'm already on board. I love the idea of a writer in Maine. All right. So here's what Julie says. "I took your advice and converted the utility shed in my backyard into an office space. I have worked in every corner of my house and it was finally time for a dedicated space for me to write in. I knew it helped me with focus and uninterrupted time, but I was not prepared for the mindset shift that went along with it. Once the writing shed was up with everything just like I wanted it, I felt a lot more like a professional writer. And if I'm a professional writer with this really cool writing shed, it shouldn't I spend my time in here writing? What would be the point of doing all of this work of building this thing if I just sit out there and scroll Twitter? I've gotten so much more writing done just being in the space we built specifically for this purpose. Also I've never had a space for a place near my desk to sit and read. When we renovated the shed, we built in a storage bench and put a cushion and pillows on top to make a couch. When I feel my focus shifting, I get up from my desk and move to the couch away from my computer and either read or write in a notebook. I'm less likely to want to check for an important email if I'm working comfortably on the couch with my dog snoring next to me. There's definitely a slow productivity aspect of building a dedicated writing space as well. Since I'm not in the house facing laundry and dishes and interruptions for my family, I don't feel nearly as frantic about the work I'm doing. Because it's easier for me to take control of my deep work sessions, I'm getting more writing done and embracing the time it takes to get the books done. There may not be a Sanderson layer, but it's pretty great. Julie, I love that. And of course, I talk about all the time of the show. I wrote that New Yorker piece where I introduced the acronym Work from Near Home to capture this concept. But it all comes down to the degree to which we ignore the cognitive aspects or the psychological aspects of doing cognitively demanding work. Having a dedicated space just for that work doesn't necessarily make sense on paper. Doesn't necessarily make sense when you're sitting there trying to make a plan. It doesn't make sense when you say, "Look, we just bought this house that has a home office, so why in the world would I go build a shed in the backyard?" But it makes all the sense in the world when you realize the psychological demands of trying to actually concentrate on something complicated. This is hard for humans to do and your brain needs every ounce of help you can give it. So if you have the capability of doing something like this, and it doesn't have to be fancy, but getting some sort of dedicated space where you just do some type of work, as you learn from Julie's case study, there is a cascade of advantages in terms of productivity, in terms of sustainability, in terms of your happiness, in terms of clarity. There is a cascade of advantages that follow. So Julie, I do appreciate that case study. Yeah, that's a good case, honey. I'm always trying to encourage people to build, who have yards of sufficient size, build a deep work shed. How is your library working out? That's working well. Have you been? That's, I've been writing in there. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think the key to the, and I've been writing here as well, so I've been coming to HQ to write as well. But writing the library has worked well. There's no permanent screens in there. You bring it a laptop to write. You bring it out when you're done. So if you're reading in there, there's no screens, which I appreciate. How often do you go in there and read? I mean, that's the main place I read if I'm reading at home. I mean, until now that it's getting warmer, I like to read outside, but in the winter, that's where I've been reading. Because we have the fireplace, you know, like turn on the, turn on the gas fireplace. So writing in there has been good. And again, it's like a necessary thing to build this whole library out and build the bookcases and get these library lights and do all this stuff. It's like, there's probably better uses for that money. But I know how it is there because I make a living thinking. Yeah. And so I see that library the same way that Chris Hemsworth sees the big expansive gem he built in his house in Australia. He plays Thor. It's like really important that he's able to as easily as possible lift heavy things. And so I'm like, okay, if I'm going to be an intellectual Thor, I need a library. Yeah. So that's been nice. I've been liking the library. And I've been liking coming here too. It's good to have spaces, big believer in spaces. We don't give ourselves a big enough break when it comes to doing hard work with our brains. It's all these knowledge work jobs. It's like, what's the big deal? Just like be on email all day and jump and zoom and just work from your kitchen while your kids are in the background. Like, what's the big deal? Just turn on your brain and execute. And no one ever thinks about like, it's really, really hard. Yeah. You're dedicated space advice for like doing different works has been really helpful to me over the years. What's your favorite space of the moment? Well, I have different spaces for different works. Even just within your apartment or like around town? Both. Yeah. Like, I have two places in my condo. I can come here. I can go to like, there's like a coaching area, like a Gonzaga. What about, there's a club? There's a club have any interesting spaces? It doesn't have any. It does. It outdoors. It got some great spots. Yeah. Like if you're reading, like you could probably, yeah, outdoors, like real good, but that's obviously weather dependent. Yeah. Like my Spanish class out there. And then, indoor, there's, I wish there was a little bit more. You know what the coolest space I ever sort of was in proximity of? When I lived on Beacon Hill in Boston, when I was a postdoc, right there is a private library. It's a subscription library that this is Boston. So it's probably been around since, you know, 1694 or something like that. And they had, it was cheap if you were a student, like a grad student or whatever. That was so cool. I, you know, I just discovered it right before we moved into Georgetown. So I never was able to actually make that a big part of my life. But I was thinking, I was like, that thing was so cool. They had these read, this reading room, or they would bring in all of the like the papers from all around the country or whatever. And you'd go in there and there would just be like a bunch of upper middle aged dudes, you know, like reading their newspaper and drinking their coffee. And then they just had these long tables and these statues and I was like, that's cool. Yeah, that's cool. If you're going to have like a superfluous sort of Alita space, why not dedicate it to like thinking, yeah, as opposed to, I don't know, TikTok videos, dot content. I don't know what, I don't know what rich people do. I don't think this place was that expensive. I think it had like a big historical pedigree. I can't remember what's called though, started with the anatheum, I think, anatheum. Yeah, I just thought that was always cool. But I want to do something interesting, but personally, briefly mentioned another longtime sponsor of the show, our friends at my body tutor.
Cal talks about ExpressVPN and My Body Tutor (01:08:40)
If you want to get in better shape and you don't have access to Thor's gym and all of his trainers, my body tutor is the way to do it. It's a 100% online coaching program that solves the biggest problem in health and fitness, which is the lack of consistency. It works by connecting you to a dedicated online coach who works with you in your specific circumstances, your specific goals, your specific constraints to come up with a plan. What are we going to do with eating? What are we going to do with exercise? And then you report back every day, how did it go? And you get feedback and encouragement from your coach. If you need to switch things on the fly, the coach can help you do it. Oh, you're traveling. Here's what we're going to do. So having that dedicated coach you talk to every day makes all of the difference. And because it's 100% online, it doesn't have that same massive expense that you would require to have a trainer come to your house, for example. So if you're serious about getting fit, they are going to give deep questions listeners $50 off their first month. So if you go to mybodytutor, T-U-T-O-R dot com and sign up, just mention you came from deep questions. They will knock off $50. Mybodytutor is the right way to get healthier. I'm a fan of those guys. No, Adam Gilbert for a long time. He runs a tight shop there. They've been doing that thing forever. Yeah. It's a great company. I also want to talk about our friends at ExpressVPN. If you use the internet, which I assume you probably do, you need to have a VPN or virtual private network. So here's the problem with the way that most people use the internet is that people can see what you're doing. So if you're connecting through a public Wi-Fi access point, people can sniff your packets off of the wire and see what site or service are you talking to? Even if the contents of your message maybe are encrypted, the destination is not. So people can see what site or service you're talking to. Let's say you're at home. No one's sniffing my packets. Your internet service provider sees who you're talking to. And you know what? They can collect that data. And you know what? They can sell that data. And you know what? They probably do. This is where a virtual private network comes into play. It works as follows. Instead of connecting to the site or service you want to talk to, you instead connect to a virtual private network server, a VPN server. And you send an encrypted message to that server saying, here's who I really want to talk to. The server talks to that site or service on your behalf, encrypts the response and sends it back to you. What does this mean? This means your internet service provider or people sitting next to you in Starbucks? All they know is that you're talking to a VPN server. They gain no information about the actual site or the actual service that you're using. So this is internet privacy and security 101. So if you're going to use a VPN, the one I recommend is ExpressVPN. They have servers all over the world. They have a lot of bandwidth for these servers. You can have a fast, high bandwidth connection. So you'll notice no lag in your internet connection. And their software is very easy to use. You click a button once it's installed to turn it on. And you just use all of your apps and browsers like you normally would. And in the background, it's something all of your information through a local server. So you need a VPN. And I think ExpressVPN is the one you need. It's also rated number one by CNET-wired tech radar and countless others. So stop handing over your personal data to Big Tech or your internet service provider that weirdo next to you at Starbucks and protect yourself with the VPN I trust to keep me safe online. So you can go to ExpressVPN.com/deep. That's e-x-p-r-e-s-s-vpn.com/deep. And you will get three extra months free. Don't forget that .com/deep. So ExpressVPN.com/deep. Don't forget that/deep to get your extra three months free.
Something Interesting (01:12:36)
Go there now to learn more. All right, so what I want to do with our last segment is, as I often do, talk about something interesting. So as you know, I maintain this address email@example.com in which anyone can send me any article or link or video they think I might like. And even though I can't respond to most of these messages, I do read most of them. And it's a real cool source of interesting material. So today I want to talk about something that you sent me in this address. This is an article. The version I have here is from ABC, though this was widely covered, that is discussing an interesting piece of recent news. Here's the headline of this article. Oh, man, there's a, I don't know if this shows up on the screen, Jesse, but it's interesting. So I'm on the ABC News. Yeah, it's coming up. That's interesting too. So what I want to talk about is this article from ABC News. And the headline is Utah Social Media Law means kids need approval from parents. But if you're watching online at youtube.com/calnewportmedia, episode 242 or at the deeplife.com, you'll see that ABC is dominating the screen by a picture of an impossibly fit old lady next to a bear who I'm assuming she's married to. I mean, it's not exactly clear from this context, but that's what I'm going to assume. They seem like they know each other very well. And what is the headline for this? "Innerment and fasting for seniors." I don't know, Jesse, maybe this is what we should be reading. This like super jacked lady who's married to a bear. She's going to eat the bear. This is about fasting. Well, all right. So you got to see this. You got to go to youtube.com/calnewportmedia to see this picture. Otherwise, I sound like a crazy person. But let's talk about this actual article. All right. I'm going to-- with great regret, I'm going to shut this ad. All right. Let's talk about this actual article. "Utah is passing a new law to help restrict kids social media usage." So there's a couple of things this law includes. I'm reading here from the article. "Children and teens in Utah would lose access to social media apps such as TikTok if they don't have parental consent. They face other restrictions as well, such as, for example, a prohibition on kids under 18 from using social media between the hours of 10.30 pm at 6.30 am, as well as age verification of anyone who wants to use social media and a few other things as well." I think one of the more controversial parts of this bill is if you're a minor using social media, your parents have to have access to your account. There is a lot of these laws percolating up at the state level right now. The coverage and reaction to these laws is very complicated because they keep crossing back and forth over our standard political partisan line. So it's a Republican governor, Governor Spencer Cox in Utah, who's suggesting this law, Blue State Massachusetts has a similar law. You look at people lining up to talk about these, you can see the confusion because most organizations know here's the way it works. We belong to one particular ideological team and we want to see something our teams or the other teams thing. If it's the other teams thing, our job is to make sure it looks bad. If it's our team's thing, it's our job to make it look right. But for this particular issue, the teams are all scrambled. The Surgeon General of the Joe Biden administration is in favor of 16 as a minimum age for using social media. Josh Hawley, Senator Josh Hawley is also in favor of 16 being a minimum age for social media. You cannot have two people that were farther away on the political spectrum. So even in this article itself, you see this confusion. Electronic Freedom Foundation is coming out strong. We don't like this. This is no good. Common sense media is coming in and see, but actually wait, maybe this is good. Kids are getting pretty addicted to these things. No one really knows where to stand on this. So it's amusing to watch as well as a source of consternation because of the partisanship that especially dictates so much online discussion. Self-referential discussion on how people should use online services are confused and complicated. So I got to cut through to what my emerging thoughts on this. I think simplicity is key here. There is an existing job, COPA. That is an abbreviation. I always get the actual acronym, the details of the acronym wrong. It's in this article, so I'm scrolling here. But there's an existing law on the books that's abbreviated as COPA, Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. This is a law that's federal and it implicitly establishes 13 as the minimum age to use social media. I say implicitly because the way the law is actually worded is it's talking about the minimum age at which an individual can consent to give up their data or privacy to another company because social media by definition does this, it's implicitly a de facto age limit on social media. An interesting side note about this law, which I learned from a social psychologist, John Heit, who's not a lot of good work on this issue, is that the original draft of COPA had this age at 16. It got changed because of intense lobbying from the tech industry. They brought it back to 13. So I think we should simplify things. This Utah law honestly is too complicated. Time limit on when people of certain ages can use different types of technologies. I don't even know if this is a legitimate proposal or it's just trying to motion towards you signal that you care about this issue, but this is way too complicated. If you want to do something legislatively here, take the law that already exists, go back to the original age. It's 16, not 13. We don't have to invent new mechanisms. We don't have to do things at the state level. In general, I'm wary of legislative solutions to a lot of these issues because not that I don't think there are issues that need to be solved, but I've never seen progress made. They're very difficult issues to actually legislate, but this is a case where there's something simple that could be done. Change the age and that law to 16. Now one of the pushbacks about doing that, and it shows up in this article I have here, the pushback says, "Yeah, but you can enforce that." Kids under the age of 13 still sign up for social media accounts. My argument to that is that's not a problem right now. What do we want to do? Why would we want a law that says you need to be 16 to sign up for a social media account? Why would we want that law? To prevent anyone from under the age of 16, ever get on that account? No. What we want to do is give some help and protection to these poor parents who had the misfortune of having kids in the 90s in such a way that these or in the 2000s such that these kids are coming of age just as this new technology, social media and smartphones just arose. So they have full access to these technologies, but we haven't had enough time yet to digest culturally how we actually want to deal with these and figure out how kids could use it. So we have this 10 year gap, this 10 year window where people are being subject to a giant public experiment of just good luck. Here's a phone like 12 year old. I hope you do okay. Of course, I think in the future, this is going to change. We're learning more about this, but right now the parents of these kids need all the help they can get. It is very difficult to turn to your 14 year old and say, I don't want you on a smartphone doing social media and they say, all my friends have it. You are going to make me be socially outcast. These parents need support. And what better way to push back when your kid says, but my friends are doing it than to say it's illegal. This is why you can't have TikTok 14 year old daughter because it's illegal. And now the teens are in a place where they have to say, I know, but we should break the law. And they know that's not going to go over well. Now here's what happens. This allows a lot of parents to hold the line. A lot of parents hold the line. And when you get to your middle school classroom, there is a large contention of kids who don't have phones and access to social media. No, it's not 100%. Forget 100%. What we need is just enough of those kids in the classroom, not on social media, that if you are feeling particularly harmed by this, if seeing all the sort of mean performative demonstration of the things that you're missing out on, the things where the teenage girls you know, know that you weren't invited to this party and find a nonsense reason to send you an Instagram story about it. And they have some nonsense reason like, hey, look, there's that dress you were talking about. Someone is wearing it, but the real reason they're doing it. So you can see that you weren't invited to this party. When you can opt out of that, you have covered up out of that because some people do. Not everyone, but there's a sizable contingent that does. And now you can join that contingent if you really need it. The people who are having the most trouble with this have social cover to walk away from these technologies. That makes a huge difference. And so I think right now we need to give ammunition to parents to be able to enforce certain restrictions that they are seeing every day evidence of what helped the mental well-being of their kids. And so if we made this official federal age 16, no, we're not going to eliminate all social media use from all kids, but that's okay. It's going to give cover to the parents. You see this is a problem. It's going to give cover to the kids who are exhausted of this, but can't be the only person who's not on the services. So I'm increasingly coming around to this idea of let's start with what's simple. There's a couple simple changes we can make right now that would probably go a long way in the helping the mental health of teens. But I am glad that a lot of people are thinking about this. And I do find that amusing that this issue crosses the partisan lines. I find that amusing to watch the online commentators have their head start spinning around and then the cartoon steam comes out of their ears because they're not sure who they're supposed to be mad at. So that's also entertaining. But there's a serious problem here and I'm glad other people are finally starting to recognize that. So there you go, Jesse. Kids in social media. I have to give a whole talk about this at my kids school soon. Yeah, you were saying that we'll do a video on it. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So it's coming out. It got postponed for various reasons. After I give that talk, I'll record a video version. Unless it goes terribly. So let's see how it goes first. If my kids are kicked out of that school due to the general intellectual and moral degeneracy of their father is based on his talk, then I won't record a version of it. Maybe my idea of the first 20 minutes of the talk is let me show you all the worst things I was able to find on social media. And I just show a picture after picture of just terrible things. Now, if the talk goes well, I'll record a version of everyone else. All right. Speaking of things going well, I think it's a good episode, but we got to wrap things up. Thank you everyone who sent in their questions. If you want to submit your own questions, the link is right there in the show notes. You can also go to thedeeplife.com/listen and the link is there as well. If you like what you heard, you will like what you see. You can watch full videos of these podcasts at youtube.com/calnewportmedia. We'll be back next week. Actually, I'll be back next week. I'll be back next week with another episode of the show. Until then, as always, stay deep.