Ep. 243: In The Weeds!

Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 243: In The Weeds!".

1970-01-01T02:28:24.000Z

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


Introduction

Cal's intro (00:00)

If we want to invent a term for this because, hey, that's what I do, we can call this belief that the key to creative output is the careful maintenance and tracking of potential ideas, we can call this the notebook fallacy. Too much energy put on the organization of ideas, not enough energy put on the extraction of value from ideas. That's actually all the action is. 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, unlike normal. I'm here in my Deep Work HQ, unlike normal. No Jesse today. I have a little trip coming up that is going to intersect with our normal recording time. So I actually jumped back into the studio on Saturday night to knock this episode out so we would have it in the can even while I was away. Now, longtime listeners have noticed in recent months, we switched to a new format for these episodes. They're now built around themes. So the deep dive will look at a deep question. And then I will take audience questions that are all roughly related to that same idea. So the whole episode, for the most part, can circulate around a common theme. Now, there's a reason why we did this. It makes the show more approachable. So if you're a longtime Cal Newport listener, there is some comfort to the old format of I'm jumping from topic to topic and you're getting a tune-up or a touch-up or a homily of sorts and all of these different areas I talk about. And you put it on in the background and it just helps keep you in the mindset of I want to be deep, I want to be intentional. But if you're new to this universe, you don't know the Cal Newport cosmology, it can be a little bit unapproachable. But I'm jumping from thing to thing. It also made it hard for people to share episodes with others because you couldn't just say, oh, listen to episode 242. It's about the simple life. We were just talking about the simple life. Cal comes at it from a bunch of angles. It's hard to share when instead the episode is all over the place. It's hard to extract a single question from seven that you want someone to hear. So moving towards a more coherent episode format is something we've been experimenting with. However, today, because Jesse's not here, I'm recording on my own. There are no rules. I figured for nostalgia's sake, why don't we go back and do an old school episode? I'm calling today's episode In the Weeds because we are just going to get into the weeds on all sorts of different questions, technical, philosophical, dangerous for me to answer. I have no actual coherent organization to these questions, no particular way I am ordering them. We're going to touch on time management software. We're going to touch on the deep life. We're going to touch on career decisions.


Dis Discussed Productivity Systems, Multiple Tasking, Life Depths, Style Of Studying Math, And Characteristics Of Success

Why doesn’t Cal care about idea management systems? (02:48)

There's a student in there with a question. There's a husband for some reason asking me to tell his wife that she's wrong. Good luck getting me to do that. All of the classic type of questions all thrown in here. So I think we should just jump right in and rock and roll. All right, question number one is from Andrew, who says, you wrote a post back in 2011 about a mission-directed closed-loop research system. I'm curious, do you still use this system? Well, Andrew, I think a clue to what my answer is going to be is the fact that I had to go and look up this post you referenced to see what is this mission directed closed looped research system of which you speak. I put a link to this article in the description of this episode so you can load it up if you want to read along. So this article I have it in front of me here. This article I wrote on my birthday in 2011. And I write about the research system I put together because, and I'm quoting the article now, now that I'm a month away from starting my new position at Georgetown, I've arrived at a relatively stable research strategy. I assume it will evolve as I gain more experience as a professor. And I'm somewhat nervous that the more experienced among you will scoff at my naivete, but it's just starting point, a way to start my new position with a proactive, not reactive mindset. So this post was describing the research system I'd put together in preparation for becoming a professor. I'm going to actually read some details of this, and then I'll tell you how I think about it now, looking at it through hindsight. So in this post, I talk about this research system as levels, the bottom level up to the middle level to the top level, and I even have a handy diagram I drew. So here's how I talk about the bottom level of this research system in my 2011 post. At the bottom level is background research. Every week I try to learn something new about my field. I either read a paper, attend a talk, or schedule a meeting. To ensure that I'm really understanding the new idea, I require myself to add a summary in my own words to a growing document that I call my research bible. There's a screenshot in this post of the table of contents on my research bible. It's a LaTeX document and LaTeX document, and it has all sorts of different topics in it of where I'm collecting notes and all sorts of different things I'm thinking about. All right, middle level of this research system. I'm quoting now from the article again. My background reading and brainstorming generates concrete projects. Borrowing a nice concept from Peter Sims, I call these projects little bets. Each little bet has the following characteristics. All right, and I list some characteristics. I try to keep only two or three of these bets active at a time, and I attack them aggressively, tracking my hours using the tally I discussed in a previous post. Ooh, that might be one of the first appearances, first early appearances of my deep work tally. That's interesting. This provides a simple metric I can aim to maximize. I also force myself to be specific about my timing for these little bets as I find I get better work done faster when I'm fighting to meet a specific deadline. All right, and I show a screenshot of a Google Doc where I have these active Google, active little bets with notes on timing. And at the top level, I'm reading from my article again. My little bets lead to publications and grants. And my recent experience, maybe one out of every three bets leads directly to something larger, but the system is too new for me to be confident. And all of this feeds into my mission. And I have a mission for my research and I use the feedback on what's working and what's not to update that mission. All right. I have a nice diagram in this article as well. So Andrew's saying, do I still use that? And the answer is no. I did not remember that system. I do remember the conference when I started coming up with those ideas. I reference in here being at Terminal 2 at the Zurich airport, having an espresso and working on these ideas in my notebook. I do remember going to that conference. This was right before I became a professor at Georgetown. I do remember presenting a paper there about this unreliable network model that I had helped develop. I have this memory of the time of it being like a neat paper that no one cared about. The math was pretty, the results were nice, but I invented the model and no one else was buying it like great cal uh i gotta get back to working what i want to work on and i bet that was really the impetus for me really to get thinking harder about i need a more systematic way of tracking ideas because i need better ideas that'll lead to better publications which will lead to a more clear research message i mean i just had this sense i remember I mean, I just had this sense. I remember this palpably. I had this sense. I need my work to be more noteworthy. I needed to have more impact and be more interesting to work on. And I felt like I was wandering. I was smart and I had skills. You know, I trained at the Theory of Distributed Systems group at MIT so I could write good papers, but they weren't gaining the traction I wanted at the time. And I thought a lot about how do I make my research more important? And that was the context in which I wrote and created this kind of complicated system. I don't use it anymore. An interesting thing that I have noticed reflecting on this issue is that other professional thinkers I know, established professors, established writers, the circles that I run in, when they get to the higher level of these fields, established writers, the circles that I run in, when they get to the higher level of these fields, they're much less likely to have any sort of organized system for making sense of potential ideas to work on. They're unlikely to have systems like my research bible here, where they can systematically collect information so they don't forget it. They're unlikely to have some sort of Zettelkasten style setup where connections will be surfaced through the mechanisms of the system itself that will bring to their attention new insights they never had before. This miserly hoarding of potential insight that could be evolved into value into the world at some point is something that becomes increasingly rare, at least in my experience, as people move up the ranks of professional idea creation. And this is what I've learned through my own experience. Ideas are easy. Writing is hard. Having a good idea is not the hard part. It's not the crux, the bottleneck that prevents professional idea type people, writers, professors from succeeding. professional I idea type people, writers, professors from succeeding. It's taking an idea with potential and realizing that potential that is really difficult. Here's the typical, I'm just reflecting on my own experience here, but here's the typical tempo in recent years for me. When it comes to professional idea work, there's always a stream of ideas coming by me. A lot of them are bad. Some of them are interesting. Some are good. always a stream of ideas coming by me. A lot of them are bad. Some of them are interesting. Some are good. Every once in a while, you get that JK Rowling on the train, having the idea to write a story about a boy discovering he's a wizard type moment. Not that often, but sometimes you have those ideas. That's pretty exciting. Deep work was maybe like that for me. But these ideas are sort of coming by all the time. There's plenty of ideas. The more you read, the more you're exposed, the more you create ideas for a living, the more your brain is good at becoming a pattern recognition machine tuned to the particular pattern of potentially good ideas. Now, once you're ready to do something, you finish the book, an article, a paper, you're looking for something new, you just grab one of these high potential ideas. How about this one? It's not as random as I'm making that out. I mean, your mind, again, at this point is a good pattern matching machine. So it's pretty good at saying this idea has got potential. It's a more subtle decision than you think, but you grab one. And then all the effort goes into how do we actually turn this into something good? And that's really, really hard. And now you have to research. So when you think about professional writers and professors with very detailed note-taking systems, this is not about keeping track of potential ideas. This is for trying to get their arms around the particular idea that they want to develop. It's when I'm writing a New Yorker piece and my Scrivener project for that piece grows to 250 different article notes and citations that I've captured as I try to get my arms around this particular idea. It's the long sessions of writing, the thinking, the solving proofs. Now, I'm using writing here with quotation marks. I don't typically like writing being used too generically as a verb. If you're a professor, solving proofs is not writing. Coming up with new experiments is not writing. Executing experiments is not writing. So I don't mean to be too generic on that term, but you know what I mean. It's the execution that takes that potential thought stuff and alchemizes it into something that actually has value to other minds in the world. That's really hard work. That's where all the skill goes into. That's what determines how successful ultimately something is. And then here's the interesting thing. When you succeed, okay, I've put in all of this work and I've produced something good. And then here's the interesting thing. When you succeed, okay, I've put in all of this work and I've produced something good. And in particular, when you produce something better than you've been able to produce before, you deliberately pressed your threshold of ability higher. That pattern matching mechanism that identifies the ideas in the stream and says, this one looks good, gets better. And when you come up for air and say, what do I want to do next? The ideas that's catching the attention of your pattern matcher, they're more sophisticated. They're more nuanced. They have more potential. So in this loop, all of the effort is in executing. The ideas aren't so important. Professors at a high level aren't scared of someone scooping their ideas. The hard work is actually solving it. Writers at a high level are not trying to hoard their book ideas. Ideas are cheap. Writing good books is incredibly difficult. And so this is what I've come to realize. Now, I'm sure this is not universal. I'm sure there's a lot of professional thinkers who have complicated systems for tracking potential ideas. I'm just saying it's also not universal. And I know a lot of people who don't, and I don't. And the higher I move up the hierarchy of people who create ideas for a living and have some impact, the more my attention turns towards the execution and the more the coming up with the idea seems like the easy part. When it's time to come up with something, you're like, yeah, this thing has caught my attention. I can't really ignore it. Let's do that. So anyways, those are my two cents. If we want to invent a term for this, because, hey, that's what I do, we can call this belief that the key to creative output is the careful maintenance and tracking of potential ideas. We can call this the notebook fallacy. Too much energy put on the organization of ideas, not enough energy put on the organization of ideas, not enough energy put on the extraction of value from ideas.


Does Cal still use Workflowy to capture tasks? (13:07)

That's actually where all the action is. All right, question number two. This is from Mac. Mac says, in your video, a look inside Newport's productivity system, you demonstrated how work flowy was integral to your task management system. Do you still use this tool? If not, how has your task capture mechanisms changed? Well, the video I should say, first of all, in case you're looking for this video and can't find it, this video that Mac is referencing, a look inside Cal Newport's productivity system. I believe this was a video that was part of the pre-order promotion for my 2019 book, Digital Minimalism. So if you pre-ordered that book, one of the things you got was a video of me explaining my productivity system at that time. I don't know where that is. I did not have a YouTube account back then. It was probably my publisher posted an unlisted YouTube video, if I had to guess. So I don't remember that video, but Mac is saying I talked about Workflowy. Well, I do remember using Workflowy. I like that tool. It's simple. Tools that are simple and their simplicity can be leveraged in creative ways by the user are things that I really enjoy. And so here's how Workflowy worked. It was a bullet point list software. It was web-based, so you didn't have to have it running as an app on your phone or on your computer. It was a URL you could go to from any browser on any device. And it was bullet points. You type, hit enter, the next line's a new bullet point. Hit tab, it indents the bullet points. Click next to a bullet point and it collapses or expands that level of indentation. So if I tab in and have five sub things on a particular bullet point, I can click next to the point and those will all collapse in so I don't have to see them until I want to. The other feature this had was tags. Put a hashtag anywhere in your text. That's now clickable. If you click that hashtag anywhere you see it, Workfully will only show you bullet points that have that same hashtag written in there by you. I love the flexibility of that. I don't want, if possible, I don't want my software to force how I have to organize information. I don't want, if possible, I don't want my software to force how I have to organize information. I don't want it to come and tell me here's the paradigm of how stuff works and you have to build up these views and you can carefully populate them. I love the flexibility of workflow. You could use hashtags for whatever you wanted, type them wherever you wanted to type them, change whenever you wanted to type them, and you could just throw information into there. So I used that for a while to keep track of tasks because it was very, very quick. And if I had a project or something, I could put some sub tasks under and I could collapse it. I also remember I would go through and add a hashtag that said this week. And then I would click on that like, Oh, what are the tasks I really need to do this week, I liked it a lot. Eventually, I had to switch to Trello. And I switched to Trello because in my roles at Georgetown, these roles themselves got more numerous and sophisticated. So I began to have multiple different roles I had to keep track of, a professor advisor role, a teacher role. Maybe I was a chair of a conference, and that's a whole separate role. There's various other service positions I had, search committees, director of graduate studies. And each of these roles I wanted to keep separate. And then I learned after a while that the information relevant to what was going on with these roles, these tasks became bigger and more voluminous. And so the ability to have a separate board for each role, have a separate column for each type of task, process, inactive, needs to get done, to discuss next time you meet with this person associated with this particular subproject. I could have cards in each of those columns on which I could put tons of information. I could attach files. I could put checklists. And all that just became more convenient as the amount of information got bigger and harder to organize and the roles got more and more.


Are women better at multi-tasking than men? (16:58)

It just was too much information to have in bullet list. And so I switched over to Trello. But I like Workflowy. If it's still around, I guess it is. I recommend it. I love its simplicity and its flexibility. All right, let's do a question here from Derek. Uh-oh, a dangerous question from Derek. Derek says, my wife seems to struggle with focus when she works her studies at home. And I often tell her she would get done faster, get things done faster if she hit her phone or turned off Netflix in the background. She responds by saying that women are better at doing more than one thing at a time than men. So she continues her errant ways working late into the night. Is this a myth? How would you respond? Well, I think my response would depend on who I am, uh, who I am talking to here. Um, like, so Derek, I would say, look, the answer you need to care about is she's right. Say, sorry, dear. Of course you're right. Trust me, why get into this argument? My secret answer to the crowd when Derek's not listening is, well, no, I mean, of course she's not right. You cannot, context switching back and forth from your phone to whatever you're doing, from TV to whatever you're doing, from text message conversations to whatever you're doing, induces a large cognitive task, a large cognitive tax rather. It does slow down your ability to think. It exhausts you. It burns you out faster and you produce worse stuff and you produce it slower. So yes, if you have your phone out while you're working on something, it will take you longer. And no, women do not have some special, different, fundamentally different type of brain than men. This is a reality of the brain. Network switching takes time, a lot of time. It's not something you can train yourself out of. It's not something that some people are substantially better at than others. My third answer, which is going directly to Derek's wife, so I'm making sure Derek's not around, is I understand what you're really saying is, Derek, leave me alone with this Cal Newport crap. I know, you know, that the multitasking does slow you down. I feel however, that your husband is annoying you and you're basically trying to brush him off. So I actually understand what you're saying. I know that at this, this is just your way of saying the last thing I want after a long day with a lot of crap is hearing my husband tell me about Cal Newport. So I feel your pain there. All right. So three answers depending on who is listening. Got a bunch more questions to go.


Call talks about Field of Greens and Stamps.com (19:46)

First, I want to take a brief moment to talk about a brand new sponsor of the podcast, and that is field of greens i was looking at this cdc study the other day that was saying i should eat six cups of fruit and veggies a day i imagine taking a glass shaker glass pint glass and just filling it with spinach when i hear that and just trying to chug dry spinach and i think i am not going to meet this limit. And then I feel bad about myself. And then I remember I have fields of greens. Unlike other fruit and vegetable supplements, field of greens chooses eat specific fruit and vegetable for specific functions they're trying to support, like heart health, liver, and kidney health, immune system, and metabolism. The supplement gets you what you would normally need from all those cups of dry fruits and vegetables in an easy powdered form. It helps you stay healthy. Now, the reason why I like these type of things, I've talked about it before, is that I have a very simple health routine, which is until you get get the dinner automate your health and your food and nutrition automate it so you don't have to think about it just do the same thing without wasting any time thinking about something that's going to support energy something that's going to support health so throw in a field of greens serving a field of greens have the same type of lunch every day have it be drink a bunch of water have it be healthy don't even worry about it then dinner, you can care about food and cook fresh stuff and, and enjoy life again. So field of greens is a big part of my automate food before dinner mindset of balancing health and worrying a lot about fitness. Now here's the interesting thing. This is what I wanted to highlight here. They have this better health promise. Field of greens has this better health promise. If of Greens has this better health promise. If you take Field of Greens and at your next doctor visit, your doctor doesn't say something like, whatever you're doing, it's working, keep it up. You can return the product for a refund. I think it's pretty cool. All right. So to help you get started, I got you a 15% off your first order. Plus you'll get another 10% off if you you subscribe for recurring orders, visit field of dreams, greens.com and use the promo code deep that's field of greens.com promo code deep. Let's also talk about stamps.com. You do not want to go wait in line at the post office. You have too much going on in life to sit there while the one person behind the counter spends 25 minutes because the person in front of you has brought in a pallet full of irregular bags of chicken feathers that they need to ship with insurance media mail to uh antarctica research station and they forgot to bring any boxes or packing tape. And 45 minutes goes by and then finally it's lunch break and you're going insane. You don't have to go to the post office. Just become a stamps.com subscriber. All you need is a computer and printer. They'll even send you a free scale. So you'll have everything you need to get started. You print your postage right from home. You schedule a pickup of your package right from the stamps.com dashboard. No more going to the post office. They also give you huge carrier discounts on your USPS and UPS shipping. So you get extra savings as well. For 25 years, stamps.com has been indispensable for over 1 million businesses. Get access to the USPS and UPS services you need right from your computer. Anytime, day or night, no lines, no traffic, no waiting. So set yourself up for success. When you get started with stamps.com today, sign up with promo code deep for a special offer that includes a four week trial, free postage, and a free digital scale.


What is the difference between pursuing depth versus passion? (23:14)

No long-term commitments or contracts. Just go to stamps.com, click the microphone at the top of the page and enter that code deep all right we're doing well here let's do some more questions this next one comes from jesse spelled with an i not an e so it's not actually from our missing producer but from a different jesse though it would be funny if this was actually just Jesse's pseudonym. He just changed one letter in his name so he could secretly bother me with questions. And the whole question is just a bunch of very narrow critiques about things they do during the podcast that make his life harder as a producer. That would be a, that would be funny. Funny to me. Maybe not you, but I think this is a different Jesse. Let's see what this real Jesse has to say. You increasingly talk about the deep life, including radical changes. How would you distinguish that from following your passion? Okay. We're getting to the distinction here between everyone's favorite acronym VBLCP and the passion hypothesis. VBLCP is values-based lifestyle centric planning. It is my alternative to the passion hypothesis. The passion hypothesis says the number one determination if you're happy or not is whether or not the content of your job fits a pre-existing passion. If you get a job that fits your passion, you will be happy. If you fail to do that, you will be miserable. This was a simple story that was taught to us millennials in the 1990s when we were kids. Following your passion is what matters. This, of course, turned out not to be very useful advice because simply matching the content of your job to a pre-existing interest is not in any way capable, all on its own own of transforming you into a sustainable, meaningful life. And most people don't even have work-specific pre-existing interest to make this match on in the first place. Values-based lifestyle-centric planning is my alternative. It's where you build an image of a lifestyle that is resonant, not a career, a lifestyle, all the different aspects of your life, where you live, the rhythm of your day, who you're with, what you're doing, what type of climate you're in, what your activities are like. The feel of your work sure is in there, but it's just one thing among many, how stressed or loaded you are, how famous famous you are how much impact you're having what is your day-to-day like you build an image that gives you uh resonance and then you work backwards from that image to say how do i move my life to be closer to that image now i call this value-based lifestyle as a career plan because you start with your values and you build towards off those values towards these lifestyles so it's's a much more involved approach. Now, is this a gussied up version of follow your passion? I mean, maybe, but it's something that's actually much more successful because it doesn't place all of the emphasis on job content. It recognizes all of the other things that really matter in that weird chemical process that leads to human happiness, Stress, location, climate, activities. People have different answers to this question of what lifestyle resonates. And so once you have that image, you can work backwards and start constructing or moving your life towards that. And that's going to lead to decisions about your career, sure. But where you live and your hobbies, your other things that are going on in your life, it really can be a directing force for many aspects of your life. And it's one of the key concepts of moving towards the deep life. So what's this radicalness that Jesse is talking about? Well, as we talked about, once you understand the elements of these resonant lifestyles, you're reconfiguring your life to be closer to those elements. A advanced strategy, a pro tip is to take one of those elements and make a change that's somewhat radical. Now, the idea here is by making a radical change, you are signaling to yourself that this is something I really take important and I am making it a priority. That then boosts the value that you get out of it, A, because you perceive yourself as caring about it and B, because you do care about it and you're putting a really big emphasis on it. So being outdoors and outdoor sports in the mountains, and this is very, very important to you. And in all of your visions of your ideal lifestyle, what resonates is these people who are mountain biking and seeing these vistas, then making a move to a radical environment. I'm going to Moab. I'm moving myself to a place that is centered on this type of activity. And on a regular basis, I can build it into my life. That's a radical move, but that's actually as part of a bigger lifestyle overhaul could be quite beneficial because it signals to yourself, I really do care about this and you get a lot of value out of it. So I don't know, is that different than follow your passion? Yes, it's much more systematic, much more systematic. Now, ironically, if you're going through this systematic process, the thing you personally might end up deciding that you were going to make the radical change on could be a career shift that you have this whole image point figured out and you realize, hey, this type of thing that's really important to me, I could shift my career to be centered on that. And I'm going to make that radical change my career. That could be the radical change you make. And from the outside, that is just following your passion. And it is. But you got there as part of this much more systematic process. You didn't start there. So when you make your move to start becoming a novelist after you've sort of been building up your writing skills and have really figured out that you want to be able to live in two different locations and having a job that's not tied to an office is critical and the money kind of works now and you make that move to become a novelist, you are following your passion, but it's at the end of a long values-based, lifestyle-based, centric planning process.


What are the “Contemplation” and “Celebration” buckets in the context of the Deep Life? (28:58)

It's not the beginning. So I don't know if I'm obfuscating that or not, Jesse, but basically let's just be a little bit more structured in this thinking. All right, let's do another deep life question here. See if we can be clear. This one's from Amit. Amit asks, can you elaborate more on the contemplation and celebration buckets? more on the contemplation and celebration buckets. Both are more elusive in your deep life framework. So as long-time listeners know, when thinking about the deep life, I like to divide the different areas of your life into their own separate buckets so that you can, for each, think about what's important to me, what lifestyle aspects related to this bucket resonate, and how am I carefully cultivating this part of my life to serve these things I care about. And there's a bunch of different buckets I talk about. Two of them are contemplation and celebration. Celebration captures enjoying quality, generating awe, and appreciation, right? So celebration is where you build up a real appreciation of cuisine. And you can really just enjoy a meal that you spent a long time cooking with some craft. Celebration includes awe. You know, you hike out to see the sunset on top of the mountain once a month, and just being able to appreciate that, appreciate these things of life. Celebration is you become, you cultivate your cinephilic tendencies and can just really appreciate what makes this movie so original and interesting while you're watching it. It's that craftsmanship, understanding craft, understanding quality, having awe for the sublime, having awe for the impressively constructed. It's a really important part of the meaningful human experience. And it requires effort, not just to build up those skills, but to take the mental space and time to actually revel in them and feel that gratitude. Important bucket. You should be thinking about what role does this play in my life? Contemplation is theology and philosophy. What is the foundation built on wisdom of those who came before you that you are going to use as your foundation to get through the hard parts of life? It's very easy during the easy parts of life to say, I'll just figure this out on my own. The rest of you guys, you have these superstitions, but I'm smart. I have a history degree from college. I'll figure out how I'm going to structure my whole life. That goes well until things don't go well. And then if you're not Siddhartha, you're probably not going to come up with something on your own that is going to be pretty profound. So having some sort of philosophical theological core where you can build on ancient wisdoms that can act like a operating system for your soul, rituals, practices, beliefs that you put yourself into as a way of tapping into these deeper intimations that you feel and making sense of them in your experience of the world in a way that helps you tap into the divine, whatever you think that means. And in doing so, be able to actually find meaning and joy through all the other contingencies of messy human life. But you got to think about this. So you give it its own bucket. So what happened? What am I doing here? What's important to me here? Do I have a keystone habit? Have I added some part of this to my life? Let me come back to this and tend this part of my proverbial lifestyle garden. So all of these different parts matter. Contemplation and celebration, I think, are buckets that people often forget or push to the side. Craft they get, yeah, I want to crush it at my job. Community they get, my family's important to me. I'm kind of worried. I'm crushing up my job and I don't have enough time with my kids. I understand that tension. I'm working on that. Constitution. Yeah, people get that. I should be in more shape. I'm going to work out more, but we often stop right there.


What’s the best way to study math? (32:57)

And then you get to your forties and you got your midlife crisis because you're like, well, what is this job? Am I going to keep doing this? And I'm not around as much. And okay, I got in shape, but then I got out of shape. And what's it all about? And you're not getting that marrow out of the bones of life. And you need celebration and you need contemplation. We've got a question here from Joe. Old school. Joe says, I will be entering college soon and am interested in studying applied math. I often find myself reading a passage in a textbook and wondering if i understand it enough to move on to the problems how can i do better joe you got to read my book how to become a straight a student sold that book when i was still a high school senior wrote it during my first few months as a grad student i get all into the proper way to study for technical classes. I'll give you the 30-second version. Point one of two. Go to lecture. Try your hardest to understand what is being said. Copy the examples down that are being given to you exactly. When you get confused at any particular step of any particular problem, mark it with a giant question mark near the margin with a circle around it. The clock starts ticking right then. You have 48 hours to get every question mark that you wrote down in your lecture notes filled in with your understanding. You cannot let these questions wait until you're studying for a midterm and realize that a quarter of the material you have no idea how it works. How do you fill in these question marks? You have different circles of opportunity depending on how much time you want to wait. Opportunity number one, raise your hand and ask right there in class. Opportunity number two, ask the professor right after class. Opportunity number three, talk to a classmate or a TA. Opportunity number four, go to office hours. Opportunity number five, take out your textbook and try to figure it out on your own. Somewhere in there you can get an answer to these questions. Fill in your understanding so that everything you're taught you know within 48 hours. Point number two, when you study, do sample problems. That's all that matters. Sample problems, sample problems, sample problems. Can I solve this problem on a blank sheet of white paper from scratch without looking at my notes, narrating out loud what each step means? If you can do that, you know it. If you can't do that, you don't. It's everything that matters. Get sample problems. Use your problem set problems. Use examples given in class. Use examples from the textbook. Get them from wherever you can, but make sample problems the key to your study. In my book, How to Become a Straight-A Student, I go into more detail about how to structure those efforts, how to construct what I call mega problem sets, how to go through those mega problem sets and start reviewing the problems and returning to the ones to give you problems.


Can I jump from a master’s at a small school to a PhD at a prestigious one? (35:20)

That book gets in all those details. Read that book, Joe, you'll get better grades. I also have a question here from Alice. Alice says, I'm doing a master's degree at a small R1 school. I would like to jump to a prestigious university after I finish this degree to complete a PhD. Is this jump possible? And if so, how? Well, it is. There's two things that would make that possible. Ace your courses. It is. There's two things that would make that possible. Ace your courses. That's how you demonstrate to the admission committee of the PhD program that you can keep up with this material, you understand it. Number two, do research, be a co-author on peer-reviewed research that will indicate to a potential advisor at the prestigious PhD program that you will be useful to them. advisor at the prestigious PhD program that you will be useful to them. That Alice co-authored a paper, a good conference on a hard topic similar to what I work on. If she came onto my research group, almost right away, she probably could be helping writing papers. So that's what I care about. Very good grades. One or two papers published at a prestigious place. That's what you need to catch the attention of admission committee. It's all that matters. I emphasize this point again and again, having sat on many of these committees myself, this is not like college admissions. There is no admissions officer pouring over your CV to get a sense of your potential and what interesting activities you're involved in. It's professors who are overworked, stressed out, who are trying to identify students who can come and be contributors to high-end research programs.


How do I know if I’ve successfully cultivated a Deep Life? (37:13)

So they quickly say, where did you go? What grades did you get? That's what we qualify just baseline that you got the right brain stuff to handle the material. And then they say, can they do research? And that's just publications. So good news is it's easy to list what matters. Bad news is those things aren't necessarily easy. We've got a question here from JJ. JJ says, how can I know when I have successfully cultivated a deep life? Are there particular metrics or things or feelings I will have when I'm getting closer to living a deep life. JJ, it's not a goal you accomplish. It's an approach to engaging with your life. It is a approach that you will continue to refine throughout your life. Your vision of the deep life, the buckets that matter, what you're doing in those buckets to pursue the things that matter, that vision will look very different 10 years from now as it looks today. And that is good, and that is expected. Your priorities change, you gain more experience, your circumstances change, your opportunities change. All of this is going to evolve how you engage with life. The key is coming at life with this sense of, I want to work backwards from what matters, and with intention, I want to integrate those things to the best of my ability into my life. That is the ongoing process of the deep life. And there is a trap in here that I want to warn you about. And that's the trap of moving too fast to refine and update these visions. It's a common tendency because there is an actual joy in hatching the new plan. There's an actual joy in saying, I have this new vision for this part of my life, a new workout plan, a new engagement with philosophy, a new commitment to read every morning by the stream. And you get this benefit of imagining all the good things this is going to create. And it allows you to think about the things right now that are hard in your life and say, in this imagined future where I'm doing this new thing, they're not going to be there. I'm going to feel better. And you get to essentially borrow against that future perceived happiness right now, and you can get some great joy out of it. And that's fine, but it can also lead to an addiction to refinement and change where you're constantly overhauling your system. It's the change itself, the hatching of a new plan itself that becomes what you're pursuing that will eventually devolve into anxiety because your brain gets burnt out by this. So you need to be refining your vision of the deep life, but not all the time. You want to be living your version of the deep life all the time, refining it occasionally. When you're not refining it, be able to sit in it and enjoy it and have gratitude for the things that are good. You know, I know this will change over time, but right now I'm really enjoying how this is going. I'm proud of how this is happening. These things I'm doing with my kids and my job right now and how that's working and this routine with me mountain biking every morning, like this is great and I enjoy it and I have gratitude for it. And then over time it'll refine, but you sit with it for a while. So being able to figure out that balance of pace, you don't ossify and just get stuck, but you also aren't changing constantly. That balance is often key to a sustainable deep life practice throughout your life. So one thing I can suggest there that could help is the birthday plan. Use your birthday as an opportunity to really check in deeply and say, where do I need some changes? And then you're executing those changes often in the next few months. But after your three or four months past your birthday, you're steady state again and enjoying the new updated version of your life. That's useful. Every once in a while at your birthday, you'll trigger a really big overhaul that might take a year or two to completely unfold. But a lot of times you're just replacing something, tweaking something. So it keeps you evolving without you having to think about it constantly. So that's a good way to get some balance. All right, we got more questions to go in our question extravaganza i'd be remiss however i didn't talk about our good friends at hinson shaving the razor i use every day you've heard me talk about them before what i like about this company is that they also produce precision aerospace parts so they have these precision cnc routers they can use to make products at incredibly precise specifications.


Cal talks about Henson Shaving and Policy Genius (41:11)

This turns out to be critical for shaving. So the Henson razor is this beautifully made aluminum razor, and you put a 10-cent safety razor blade in it. And the reason why you get a great shave out of this is that when you put the top and screw it on top of that 10-cent blade, why you get a great shave out of this is that when you put the top and screw it on top of that 10 cent blade, it allows only a 0.0013 inch of the blade edge to extend beyond the metal top of the razor. So it's just enough edge to cut, but not enough edge to create the diving board effect that leads to razor burn or nicks. Not enough give to clog as things get in between the blade and the razor. And so this is really cool. So you get this really nice razor itself, this beautifully manufactured piece of metal, and you pay a little bit for that upfront. But then going forward, it gives you great shaves with 10 cent blades. None of this subscription service that's eating big chunks out of your wallet every month. None of this going to the drugstore and trying to find the person who's going to unlock the cabinet to give you the super expensive plastic wrapped blades where you have 19 blades with laser vibrations on them or whatever. Just get a 10 cent blade, put it into this beautiful aluminum razor. You get a great shave. So it's time to say no to subscriptions and yes to a razor that will last you a lifetime. Visit HensonShaving.com slash Cal to pick the razor for you and use that code Cal and you will get two years worth of blades free with your razor. Just make sure to add them to your cart and then you type in the promo code and the price becomes free. That's 100 free blades when you head to H-E-N-S-O-N-S-H-A-V-I-N-G.com slash cal and use that code cal. I also want to talk to you about life insurance. If that just gave you a flush of anxiety, I get it. You are probably like a lot of people in my audience. You know you need life insurance. You maybe vaguely know you have a little bit through your job and you know it's not nearly enough to take care of the people that you love and you do have no idea how to get started you have to go to a doctor's office do they have to take your blood and run you through a bunch of tests and physical trials to see if you're worthy of insurance is this going to be something that's going to take weeks of your time i mean it's like how do you get started and so you don't and then you feel really bad about it because you're not protecting the people you love and you get anxious when you hear me mention the word well i have the solution for you policy genius all right so it is policy genius this is a website that was built to modernize the life insurance industry. Their technology makes it easy to compare life insurance quotes from America's top insurers in just a few clicks. You click just a few things, put a little bit of information, and you will find your lowest price. With PolicyGenius, you can find life insurance policies that start at just 25 dollars per month for one million dollars of coverage some options offer coverage in as little as a week and avoid unnecessary medical exams all right so your loved ones deserve a financial safety net you deserve a smarter way to find and buy it head to policygenius.com or click the link in the description to get your free life insurance quotes and see how much you could save that's policygenius.com or click the link in the description to get your free life insurance quotes and see how much you could save.


How do I become a successful political nonfiction writer? (44:34)

That's policygenius.com. All right. What's a couple more questions in here. I got one here from Mark. Mark says, I am a high school student interested in becoming a political nonfiction author. What can I do now to improve my writing skills and determine if this is a good path for me? Well, Mark, all that matters, and I think my audience knows I'm going to recommend to you, is that you focus on your Twitter game. Most of success in writing is about your Twitter follower count. If you're more sophisticated than maybe your TikTok follower account. So I want you to put all of your attention into having particularly clever tweets. Maybe what you want to do is get yourself involved in a Twitter war with someone who is more famous than you. Maybe you can instigate a pile on and people will just be like, Mark, you are so clever. We love you. And then if you have a lot of Twitter followers, they'll buy whatever you write. So that's what matters. I am, of course, joking because that is the opposite of the reality, though it is what a lot of people do think these days. All right, Mark, you're still young. You want to become a professional writer. Let me tell you how I did it because I got started young. So I was a voracious reader. I will recommend that to you. That is how, as the grist, you need to eventually mill good words. And that's the type of metaphor you get from a professional writer there, Mark. Grist being milled. I was a voracious reader. You should be a voracious reader. When I got to college, I started writing for whatever the most competitive on-campus writing things I could find. I worked my way up, auditioned to become a regular op-ed columnist for the Daily Dartmouth newspaper. I started at the bottom at the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern humor magazine. I eventually worked my way up to be the editor of that magazine. And I just wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote. I'm going to push myself up. I'm going to improve my skill. I'm going to submit on time. I'm going to submit multiple things. I just wrote as much as I could while continuing to read as much as I could. In my junior year, I decided I wanted to write a book. So, and I've told the story a lot of times, so I'll be very quick, but I found an agent, a fiction agent. So there's no worry that I was trying to pitch her to be my agent and just had a conversation to learn about the industry. And I learned from her how it works, about how you have to sign an agent first, what that agent's going to look for, and the agent's going to sell you to the publisher. And then the publisher is going to give you an advance, and then you're going to write the book. She laid out what all the stumbling blocks would be for me as a young writer. From her advice is where I learned, okay, before I have a chance of selling this idea to an agent, I need to do some writing for non-college publications. So I spent six months writing for student-focused publications since my idea was a student-focused advice book. I use some of these article commissions for these small student-focused publications to actually get the research done for my book. I use some of these article commissions for these small student-focused publications to actually get the research done for my book. And when it came time to pitch my agent, I selected very carefully the agent I pitched. Here's why I'm choosing you. Here's my idea. Here's why I'm the right person to write it. Yes, I know I'm young, but this is about young people. So it's good that I'm young. I've done all the research. I can show you exactly what the chapters are going to be. And here's a bunch of writing samples. I know how to write. Once I wrote that book, how to win a college, I really wasn't yet at a position of having differentiated myself. There's thousands of college kids who could have written that book. It's not particularly good writing. I purposely made it into very short chapters so that it would be easier for me to write. So what I think was important is then what happened next. I said, now that my foot is in the door, I did everything I could like trying to fit picks into a lock to open up the publishing industry to me as a 21 year old. Now that my foot is in the door and I have a book coming out, year old. Now that my foot is in the door and I have a book coming out, how do I build on that to actually become a legitimate writer known to people outside of small niches, maybe someone who could even make a living on it? And that's when I began really, I don't want to say scheming, but planning what to do. And so for my next book, which I sold right away, even before How to Win at College came out, I was like, I'm going to sell the next one. Whatever advance, I'll do the same advance. Don't worry about it. Let's keep moving. And my next book moved to a more complicated chapter structure so I could push my skills. And after that book came out, I went and started writing for some other online publications. I started my blog as well. I started trying to push my writing towards idea writing. I sold a third student book. And this time I wrote it like the type of general audience idea nonfiction book I one day wanted to write. I wrote my third student book like that. So each book in a row was becoming more complicated, becoming more ambitious. But each one made sense given the book I had written before. And it was very systematic, this very systematic march to the point where when I wrote finally, this very systematic march to the point where when I wrote finally so good, they can't ignore you. My first general audience hardcover book, the industry was ready to have that from me. My skills were ready to deliver that. I was ready to take that step. I was ready for that swing. And I sold that book in my later twenties. So Mark, if I'm going to try to generalize everything I said there, read all the time, write all the time, especially in college. By the time you leave college, you want to have already done some writing for non-college publications. Then you want to get your foot in the book publishing industry any way you can. You want to fit yourself like a key into a lock for a book project where you were the only person who could write that book. There's an audience for it. You clearly are a good enough writer to do it. And you don't care if it's a giant book. You don't care about a big advance. You're just trying to unlock the publishing industry. And you want that unlocked as soon as you can. If your vision is to be a political nonfiction writer, I want that lock to be open for you by the time you're 22 years old.


Question On Survivorship Bias During Discussion On Deep Work

Is the Deep Work hypothesis affected by survivorship bias? (50:38)

Once you have your foot in the door, then you start planning. All right, I have an editor. I have a publisher. I've written a book let's start laddering up more sophisticated, more interesting books, let me start carving out my niche let me start building my audience and that's where things start to get interesting alright, let's do one more question this one's from Jackio he says, to what extent are you aware of deep work success being affected by survivorship bias for example, are you aware of consistent deep workers who are not successful? Well, Jack, the deep work hypothesis, which talks about the way that we undervalue deep work, so unbroken concentration in the current knowledge work environment, and therefore this probably creates opportunities, niches for those who systematically develop this skill to move ahead. That hypothesis was more inductive than it was deductive. This was not a hypothesis that was formed by starting by studying successful people and saying, what do they have in common? Ooh, they're very good at concentration. Therefore, concentration is important. That is not actually how the hypothesis was formed. That type of deductive reasoning is, of course, very vulnerable to survivorship bias. Because it could be the case that, yes, successful people all concentrate, but lots of other people concentrate too and don't succeed. In fact, it's maybe orthogonal to whether they succeed or not. Or maybe it is important. It is a precondition for success, but success is still really, really hard. So just doing that's probably not going to get you there anyways. There's other factors that matter more. So deductive reason is vulnerable to that type of bias. But the Deep Work Hypothesis was much more inductive. It was much more bottom up in its formation. It starts by understanding the basic building blocks of how the human brain works. This is neuroscience and psychology, network switching, context switching. What do we know about what happens when we have to switch our attention back and forth from different things? What do we know through self-reflection about our own psychology when we have to see an inbox with 15 unrelated messages and that gridlock, that cognitive gridlock that it creates. How does it feel when we're trying to write something, but we have to keep checking our email inbox versus when we were at the cabin and there was no distractions. We have our own psychology that we can plumb there and we're getting these bottom-up realities about how the human brain actually does that dark alchemy of taking thought stuff and creating something that other people objectively value. We build that up to, okay, well, how did jobs function today? What's happening in jobs? Why are we doing all this email and meetings? What is our actual function? Is this getting in the way or is this helping? And again, we're building up this hypothesis. These serve this purpose about coordination with low friction, but based on what we've now learned about how the brain functions, it's probably getting in the way of that. And only then do you start looking for examples, natural experiments of like, where are there people who differ from other people, mainly in the variable that they've constructed their setup so they can have more concentration. This is like Adam Grant specifically building a bimodal schedule and you see, whoa, big jumps when they do that. So now you're really starting to get multiple lines of evidence that all come together to say, of course, concentration is important if you use your brain to make a living. Of course, concentration is very hard because of the way we communicate and collaborate. We all see that. This now becomes supply and demand. This is valuable. It's rare. It's probably good if you're one of the few people to do it. So I think of the deep work hypothesis as being more bottom up. It's this inductive gathering of evidence from different strains, the building up towards this image of maybe there's a better way to do work. Now, I think the key issue here, however, is that it's not necessarily the clear-cut dependent variable in this experiment. It's not necessarily career success. There are many, many jobs in which it's actually rewarded that you just have the stamina to put up with constant frenetic context shifting more than everyone else. I'll work later at night. I'll answer emails faster. I'll work my way up to management ranks. There's a lot of jobs where if you're resisting that, it's actually a liability. And so I don't even think about career success as necessarily the dependent variable like, oh, successful people, this is what they do. Most people who are quote unquote successful in the fields probably don't do deep work at all. What I do think is important is that if you cultivate this skill, you're going to find sustainability, you're going to find meaning, you're going to find satisfaction. You're going to equip yourself with the ability to produce value at such a level that if leveraged properly, you can use that as the foundation of a good lifestyle, such a career planning to make your working life into something that's great. If you're trying to produce something that's very elite, then okay, almost certainly you're going to have to do a lot of deep work too, right? So it's a more complicated picture than these guys with the fancy car in the parking lot at the office park must all be working deeply. They probably don't. But the guy who's not in the parking lot, because he's in his cabin in Vermont, where he's finishing up the manuscript for his book that's going to make a big enough splash that he can continue to stay at that cabin throughout Vermont without having to go to the office park. That's where you're going to find the deep work much more consistently. So a good question, Jaco. Survivorship bias is important to talk about. I don't know how much comes into play here. All right. Well, anyways, I think that is enough of me talking by myself in this room. Hopefully people enjoyed this flashback to the old fashioned format of just question, question, question. I had fun doing it. We'll be back next week with a normal episode, me and Jesse, etc. But this was fun. So thanks for joining. Until next week, as always, stay deep.


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