Ep. 247: The Productive Life (w/ Sarah Hart-Unger)

Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 247: The Productive Life (w/ Sarah Hart-Unger)".


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.


Intro (00:00)

And so that's the, it's going to be the deep question we're going to tackle today. How do I adapt professional productivity techniques to my life outside of work? 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. Joining us always by my producer, Jesse. Jesse, interesting observation from my life I wanted to point out. As you know, I was in a busy period in the sense that I had these overlapping kind of major deep work intensive deadlines that I was switching back and forth between for months it felt like one after another, always two at a time. All that's temporarily done. So like this is great, I don't have a major time demand is now out of my life. It's just doing the loose ends of closing up the semester at Georgetown, getting my final lectures grading like this type of thing. And what I found this last week of having no major hard things to work on is that the small stuff just ate up all the time. Really? And I was ending days feeling rushed and feeling like I was not on top of things, which is crazy because objectively the amount of available time probably doubled. And what I really was going on is a Pareto principle type of thing. I was not structuring my days because I was like taking time off. I'd come out of all of this intense period like look, now it's easy. Go to class, just take care of some things and without structure the small stuff just metastasize and took a whole of the time. Like you can spend your entire day. Well, let me go back and forth with this person on email. Let me think about this. And the time just gets eaten up. So now I've had to return to, wait a second, even when you don't have a lot of do, you have to structure your time like you do have a lot to do. And what you get out of that is you reclaim your free time. But the only way I can reclaim my free time is to actually be really structured. And then if I'm really structured, it's like, oh, I'm done by two. I really thought about what's going on. It's mainly small, but let me consolidate this and push this aside and handle this real focus and things get done. But without structure, what I know objectively to be half of what I could handle on normal day expanded to take out the full day to be structured during your working day working day. Yeah. During the working day, time block planning, having a plan for the day. And so I'm thinking about this is probably a lot of people's experience of knowledge work is they're unstructured. So they're just their day is full and they're busy all the time, not realizing they're not actually as busy as they think. A little amount of stuff will expand to take over large volumes if it's left free. That we're actually our mental energy is incredibly diffused if we don't focus it. Yeah. And our time gets used with an incredible low density if we're not actually packing carefully. So it's an interesting observation. It was a good lesson for me. Good reminder that intentionality with your time when you work matters, whether or not you're busy or not. And if anything, I honestly almost dislike these days where I felt busy and I wasn't really doing much and it was all just small stuff. I felt more tired and dissatisfied with those days than I think a really locked in day where I'm working on something hard and it's kind of stressful, but everything is fitting in place. There's a lesson in there. You might have to fit in another book. Yeah. I was kind of hinting down that path. My wife is like, no, just don't do anything for a week. Don't work on any big project for a week. I secretly started working on the outline for my next book. Don't tell anyone that. I had to do a little bit of that. I had to. I had to work on my next book just a little bit. But one of the things that was happening during this time is the non-work stuff that had been pushed off to the side a little bit when I was very busy traveling doing all this other type of stuff all has collapsed back in on me. Right. And I have a large amount of non-professional sort of personal or household task that have piled up to a pretty big extent. We're talking about it's almost comical. I got the whole list, but both our cars need oil. The lights just all burnt out and stopped working in one of our rooms. There's electricity problem. The master lock on my garden shed, we lost a key. My lawnmower was in there and the grass was getting long and I couldn't get my lawnmower. So this is like a locksmith, locksmith type of situation. We have this big pile of boring but ambiguous time consuming tasks that our financial advisor need us to do. It's moving 529s between different states where you have to print all this stuff and it's all complicated. There's tax stuff going on. There's endless lists. And what got me thinking about this is like as I came out of this period of intense professional productivity and I'm realizing, oh, I need to restructure and get my arms back around during this lower density period, is that something we don't talk about as much on the show is how do we successfully take ideas from professional productivity and apply them to the stuff that happens outside of work. I mean, the one idea that we have talked about on a regular basis is that you can't schedule your whole life with the same structure and systems and intentionality that you maybe tackle your work with. But as I've learned recently with this giant pile of household stuff on my plate, it can't be haphazard about it either. That's a big source of stress or dropping the ball on things. And so I figured this would be an interesting topic to cover.

Work-Life Balance And Family Planning

Post Oxford Geometric Progress (05:40)

How do we think about productivity outside of work? So then coincidentally, as I was thinking about this topic, a friend of mine, Sarah Hart Unger, pinged me. So Sarah Hart Unger is a doctor who runs and has run a blog for a long time. The blog is called the shoe box SHU. It took me, I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realize that shoe stands for Sarah Hart Unger. But it's a blog, it started as a doctor blog, but became a productivity blog, very personal and very focused in particular on productivity outside of work. When you're a doctor, productivity is its only very specific managed thing, but it really focuses on productivity in life, productivity if you have a family. So Sarah thinks a lot about that issue. She also co-hosts the podcast with a friend of the show Laura Vanderkamp that talks about these issues. She also has her own podcast about planners, which is awesome. I've been on that podcast before talking about the time block planners. So anyway, she pinged me. She's like, "Hey, our family's going to be in DC because it's spring break." And this is where people come on spring break. Maybe we could podcast. She's like, "Yeah, come by. We can podcast in the studio." And then I realized, "Oh, that's also our spring break and we were going to Utah." So I said, "You know what? We'll just call into an episode. We can do it, you know, we can do it remote, but you think and have been writing about productivity outside of work, strategies and the unique challenges that presents you've thought a lot more about that than me. So why don't you call into the show and we'll get into that?" And so that's going to be the deep question we're going to tackle today. How do I adapt professional productivity techniques to my life outside of work?

Artificial Intelligence: Good Worry, Bad Worry (07:23)

And Sarah is going to join me in a second and going to help us look into that from a strategic and philosophical perspective. Then we'll do some questions that are all about productivity and organization outside of work. I want to preview, however, at the end of the show, I'm going to change gears substantially. And actually, I'm going to return to the topic of artificial intelligence, which we talked about on the show, I believe, a few weeks ago now. And I'm going to return to this topic of artificial intelligence and tackle directly how worried should you be about this right now? What's the right way to think about artificial intelligence and its potential risk? There's a really interesting article by Tyler Cowan. I'm going to use there as my foundation. So stay tuned for that. At the end of the episode, we're going to do some, we're going to geek out on some AI stuff.

Productivity Outside of Work (08:08)

But first, productivity outside of work with Sarah Hart Unger. All right, Jesse, let's get Sarah on the line here and get into this. Sounds good. All right, well, the good news is I have Sarah Hart Unger here to help me make sense of these issues. Sarah, thank you for joining the show, calling in and helping me make sense of this topic. I am happy to. I love talking about anything planning related or adjacent. So I thought what we would do is before we get into the weeds, and God knows my audience knows, I love to get into the weeds, talking productivity. Let's talk a little bit about your story. You and I have some parallels, which I think are really interesting, in that we both started blogging in what I think of as the heyday of productivity blogging, which was that first decade of the 2000s. Tell us a little bit about the first, the blog you started then, why you started it, when you started it. Oh man, it definitely didn't qualify as a productivity blog. In those days, I began my website in 2004, totally influenced by a friend of mine. I was in medical school and I just thought it would be cool to temporarily document part of the phase of my training that I was in. And then it just turned out that I loved writing about my life. I loved coming up with clever titles and posts and just kind of kept at it. I think that's a lot of different focuses over the years. I am embarrassed and cringe when I think of a running health blogger in the 2007-2009 heyday of those things. And then I started getting really interested in productivity. I still don't know that I would consider my website a productivity website. I think my podcasts would definitely fit in that realm. But it's a life website. I write about things that work for me. I'm passionate about certain things like planning. I don't think a lot of people spend enough time thinking about what they want to do with their lives. So that's a big focus of what I talk about. But it still at its core is a little bit of a personal website as well. So I don't know if I totally fit in that productivity world there, but then my podcasts have fit that genre. I'll say this is kind of interesting. Everyone who writes about these issues says, myself included, will say, look, I'm not this productivity guru trying to tell you how to do whatever. I don't think there is anyone who actually qualifies. No one's actually doing that. It's interesting. We all qualify. Look, this is just my own thing and I'm talking about my own life. But that's actually what I've come to believe that is what productivity discussion is. It's about yourself and your life and how I guess back in that early days, 2006 to 2009, there were some, I guess, gocker style life hacker. Like this is just, you know, here's how to do it. But it's interesting. It's a much more, the medium has always been pretty personal. So is that the right timeline? Do I have that right then? It's roughly that '07, '08, somewhere around there where you began talking about things like planning, like organizing your life on your blog to have been around for a while at that point? I think so. I think it started to bleed in and I remember being one of the first people to put little pictures of like what I was writing in my physical planner and Instagram wasn't around back then. So this was like kind of interesting to people like, oh, that's how she puts her checklist together or, oh, that's how she laid out her weekly planner. So yeah, probably around that time. At some point the podcast came. So, you know, my listeners, I've known Laura Vanderkamp for a while. Sarah has a co-host a podcast with Laura, best of both worlds. And you also have my favorite, a podcast about planners, best laid plans. When did those enter the scene? Yes. So I met Laura through my blog and her blog. I started commenting on hers and she's like this big name writer to me back then and then she starts commenting on mine and I'm like, oh my gosh, Laura Vanderkamp's reading my blog, like what is happening? And gradually began to actually get to know each other. I'm from outside of Philadelphia and she lives there. So on some trip to see my parents, we ended up having dinner and soon after that I wrote something on my blog about wanting to start a podcast and I got an email from her like, very good. And then we were like, very quickly after that was like, do you want to do it with me? This was 2017. Best of both worlds was born and now we are 300 episodes strong. It's all about mostly geared towards women making work and life fit together. So kind of the intersection of time management, but also work and family and it's been such a fun journey to do that with her and she's such a fun partner. Like, I can't wait for you to have her on as well. She, I've learned so much from her through the years. And then best laid plans. Total pandemic project. I'm in medicine. It was rough. I needed an outlet and I love planners. And so I started it thinking I was going to like do planner reviews, but quickly I kind of ran out of planners. And so it became all things planning and planning adjacent. My last episode was a probably Kalenu porti and rant about screen time. So, you know, I cover all things now and it's a really fun project. Although I also still do physical planner reviews as well. And I can't wait to have your next time block planner. Oh, yes. Yeah, I'm getting, you know, I'm getting the mock up and a few weeks because we're into the summer. There's going to be version two. So stay tuned. We'll have to geek out about that. I'll just preview spiral binding. That's what I'm excited about. That's what I'm excited about. And we should mention in terms of your work, you're a pediatric endocrinologist. I have that right. And so that's a job where so intercrenology doesn't mean you have to have work within a hospital system because of the equipment or. Is it outpatient? What's that actual work like? Well, there's not much equipment. So endocrinology is like treats kids with diabetes, thyroid, you know, short stature, puberty issues, et cetera. I am a board certified general pediatrician as well, but I specialized after that. And I am in a kind of medium size group at a sort of burgeoning academic hospital in South Florida. But I don't do research. I primarily do patient care and I work 60% as of last October. So it's three days a week so I can focus on my other pursuits as well. Very interesting. Very interesting. Okay. So what I want to talk about is going back in time, you're talking more on your blog.

How do you manage your family life together? (14:27)

This is pre-podcast, but you're talking more on your blog about issues around organization, productivity and how it intersects your life. If I understand, I was reading your about page a little bit. I think our timelines of children is very similar. So I think we both had our oldest in 2012. I think we might have that right. And we both now have three children. So there's a very similar timeline. What changed? So you're thinking about productivity, you're thinking about organization just from the perspective of I am a young doctor. Then you start having kids. If we go back and read your blog through this period, what are the changes we're going to notice and how you thought about these issues or what you thought was important or what wasn't important. I wouldn't say anything changed necessarily. It just got harder. It just got more challenging and every minute became just that much more precious. And I don't mean that in the precious way. Like Laura and I joke like, "Oh, I need to spend every moment with my 18-month-old. Like 18-month-olds are tough. Maybe I don't want to spend every single minute with my 18-month-old." But at the same time, there's just more balls in the air, more stuff to manage, more priorities to think about. And certainly the complexity of managing the admin of life does multiply the more children you seem to have. So I've had to come up with more robust systems to be able to keep up with what that entails. And I actually feel like that in some ways becomes more and more challenging the older the kids get. So I'm probably going to learn even more going forward. Yeah, carpooling. In the episode of my podcast that aired the day before we're doing this interview, I made it perhaps unfortunate but accurate. But accurate metaphor talking about the impact of kids on your time available to work. And I believe my metaphor involved a forest fire ravaging a city. As I was talking about, it kind of destroys a lot of things. And some people's houses, it all made sense in the context, Jesse will say. But somehow it was, some people's houses get burned down worse than others. But everyone is kind of in a hard situation because the city's on fire. And maybe not the most loving metaphor.

Setting goals and doing solopreneur work (16:33)

There's some truth that it really makes everything harder. So can we get, let's get a little bit specific then. So what type of system, when you think about organizing yourself right now, what are you using? And how do you differentiate between thinking about your practice versus everything else is happening outside of work? So I set goals kind of based on the time horizon. And I like to always think about the level of goals above where I am when I'm setting that time horizon goals. And that sounds more complicated than it is. Give it a fancy name to which probably makes things worse, called nested goals. And that means every day I'm looking at kind of what I had set my goals for the week and choosing my goals for the day. Every week I'm looking at the goals I set for the month as well as kind of like what's on my landscape and choosing my goals for the week. Etc. Going up levels to year. I never went above year yet. Although that's something I could consider. And I have really specific routines in place for each of these levels as well, which I think are flexible and they change as the kids have different needs or are in different stages. So for example, right now our weekly kind of family planning routine involves a whiteboard. I know really high tech that every single Sunday I put like all of the kids activities, what we're having for dinner, who's driving, anything. I have a full-time nanny. So I guess one other soapbox I'll stand up on is have more childcare than you think you need if you are able to because if you have a couple where both parties have pretty significant jobs and big dreams, then you're probably going to need some help unless you are lucky enough to have family that's able to fill that role. So total tangent. But I put all that information together. And as we're saying, your husband's a surgeon, right? So we can set the context of right. Yes, my husband's a vascular surgeon, not the world's most flexible job. A great dad. And just like you've mentioned, you know, parenting has impacted him too because I know that's one of the critiques that you've had to fight at times, but it's true. It's a fire for all of us. It's a fire for him. And the more we can keep things running smoothly, the less that fire will take us all over. So every week we look and see what's coming. We kind of proactively think about what the issues might be. And as low tech as it is, that seems to work for us on a weekly scale. But we have to go up levels too. Like we want to think about on a grand scheme. Where do we want to go on vacations? You know, what are our big goals for the family this year? What activities would be really great for the kids to look at? And for that scale of things, we actually, every year, my husband and I do like a little mini retreat where we kind of plan out the calendar. And so that is a collaborative effort to make sure our family is kind of moving in the direction that we want. And then kind of on the smaller scale, we operationalize. So yeah, I guess that's in a nutshell view kind of how we manage the rest of life. So what's on this? What's on the whiteboard use for the weekly planning? Is it drawing out day by day and you have notes on it? Is it just highlights? What would we see? It's a calendar. So it's an old whiteboard by Aaron Condorn that's not made anymore. And that's not terribly useful. But it has the days of the week and then there's a blank section. So there's eight, it's like a grid, four on the top, four on the bottom. And then the blank ones usually for like to do items are like right now we got in trouble because our roof is dirty. So I put clean roof or figure out someone to clean the roof. And then for each day I put like what the kids have, who's driving, what's for dinner, any schedule alteration from the norm if someone has to stay late, if I'm hosting book club, etc. And I really do feel like this kind of thinking ahead of time, where are the blocks of time I can grab? What are the things I want to do? And then planning around that rather than like let life happen and see what ends up fitting in, I end up getting to do so much more like get to do more of what we actually want to do. Two things come up, yes. So like you're saying if you see your thinking ahead for the week and your husband might say, you know what, we would love to go try out this new restaurant or something like that.

The role of joint planning and lunar cycles (20:24)

Because you're thinking about it in advance, you're now able to be like, okay, well here's what we're going to do. Let's arrange for the babysitter. Let's say no to these two things. We're play dates or whatever. Let's keep this day clear. By looking in advance at your time horizon, you're able to actually have more flexibility than if it was just, okay, now it's Wednesday afternoon. What can we do tonight? It's like, oh my God, we scheduled ourselves once again all the way tonight. Are we both working? And so that looking ahead, you're saying is allowing you to move the, we talked about sometimes moving the blocks of time around the sort of proverbial schedule. Chest board. Yes, and what I think when you mentioned like, you know, what did having kids change, I think you're getting at that right now, which is that like the spontaneity and theory is great. And maybe there, you know, you can like decide to go to a random West restaurant on a Wednesday night when there's no kids. But once there are multiple players in the mix, it does require a broader horizon to make things happen. And if you go ahead right now and turn to like, I don't know when this is airing, but like July 23rd, you're probably free. So if there's something that's important to you, put that on July 23rd now, because on July 21st, it's going to be filled with something else. So planning just becomes very, very important. And the more important something is to us, the farther back we probably want to be thinking about it. Interesting. So at the annual level, when you're on the retreat, this is where you might also look at different seasonal rhythms and work. I'm assuming like this is always a busy period because whatever all the kids have to get before school starts, everyone's coming in to get some sort of whatever. This is the heavy surgery season. So let's aim for right after this. We know March is a great time. Let's really protect this and keep this clean. This is when we can go whatever, relax or vacation. So I'm assuming on this annual level, you probably really get to make sure the important stuff falls. I mean, because I think about this sometimes when important events happen in people's lives, they're able to make time for it. You know, there's a medical issue, there's a relative gets sick, there's a major house issue, your roof has a big problem. Time is made. Things have to get canceled, things get moved around. So it's possible to make time, but there's a lot of force that has to be applied to do so. It never just sort of naturally opens up. So the more you're really looking ahead, it sounds like the more breathers, adventure, exploration, all of that can find a spot if that spot is protected farther in advance. So the planning aspect is really coming through at multiple scales here. And I think you're so right that when there's an emergency, we're going to be able to clear off those meetings. But I'm not going to be able to decide I want to run XYZ marathon in two days, right? Because that might be important to me, but it's not going to be the emergency type of thing that could just knock everything off. That kind of thing has to be thought out well in advance. So that's a great distinction to make. Another thing you mentioned, and I want to get soon to the operationalize this on the daily level, I think is where we're going to get some help I'm going to need.

The importance of planning together (23:21)

But I really like the partnership aspect of this. And I do calls and questions. So I don't know how much you get this in your letters or when people write in for your show. But something that comes up often on my show is the disaster that happens when you have two members of a partnership will say like a married couple. And they're both trying to do this separately. And each person is thinking about just, well, what do I want to do? What's important to me? And these things are just clashing left and right. And it's, you know, I want to run a marathon. And that's important to me. And I should be able to run a marathon. And now, wait, every single morning you're having to do this training. It really doesn't work with a big disaster. If it had been planned in partnership, it's like, well, here's the issue. Like, that really clashes really terribly with our schedule. But this other thing you might be interested in would work really well. And so I like that aspect where you're talking about you and your husband going to retreat to think about this. Your whole family looks at the whiteboard. Because it seems like this doesn't work when you have a group of people and everyone is on their own trying to just make decisions. Hey, what do I want to do? What's important to me? Or get in the tip for thinking, well, you got to do that. So I got to make sure I get to do this. And you're not doing it in a collaborative structure. That seems like that falls apart pretty quickly because these pieces are complicated. And they don't -- they make them fit together. You have to be incredibly intentional. It's hard to build a complex mechanism when you have two people with blindfolds on. I agree. And if you have one person that tends to enjoy doing more of the planning, then you hope that the other person at least can weigh in on, you know, have veto power. You know, like, they hopefully will appreciate the labor that it takes to the planning. And I'm very lucky. And maybe it's partly because I do a whole podcast about it. But my husband understands that this actually takes time. This is mental load. This is emotional labor. So if I work to put something together that he's not part of, he's going to be respectful about it. But the same time I want to include him. I'm not going to, like, plan some big adventures, some big thing just for me that's going to impact him without discussing it. And that's why I do feel like -- I mean, I called it a retreat. And we do. We go every year and we -- every few months -- I would say every, like, four to six months. We try to do, like, a trip where it's two nights, just us, and talk about a lot of these things and how they're going. And then once a year, one of those will be like what I would really formally call a retreat to, like, "Okay, this is our calendar. What do you prioritize? What should we do?" Yeah, I love that. And when we do something similar, I also like the idea -- and my wife and I do some of this -- you can do a balance responsibility here that lean into strengths. So maybe if one person is better at or prefers to be involved in, let's say, logistics or interpersonal logistics, the other person says, "Okay, well, here's five other household stuff, like the budget, like, keeping up on the household repair, the car repair, stuff that's maybe not interpersonal logistical but a pain. All right, I'll do all that stuff and you can kind of get a nice balance that leans into strengths. Like, "Okay, I'm willing to, you know, I like to get into it with the contractors and blah, blah, blah. And you like to talk to the relatives and figure out who's coming and who on Christmas." And so great, we will have a balance of powers here. We're all leaning into our strengths and, like, roughly speaking, stuff gets done. And I don't remember where I learned it, but someone called it vertical ownership, which I think is a great way to refer to things like, "I own pediatrician visits, so, like, I'm not going to bother him about them." And then he's going to own cleaning the roof. Like, if we get something from the HOA, I don't even want to know about it. And honestly, maybe not for every relationship, but I find that helps to just have, like, realms that are, like, owned by one person versus owned by the other. And you don't have to split by any traditional gender norms. I agree. They should be split by strengths. But it helps to just be able to hand something off entirely to someone. I like vertical ownership. I like that terminology. Occasionally, we do have couples we know. It is kind of weird where you're arranging something, like just when you're dropping off their kit or something, and both parents are in the text. And it feels like this can't possibly be the most efficient distribution of resources here that both of you are involved in thinking through, because it is much more vertical ownership, I think, is more common, and it works great. Like, okay, which parent am I talking to about this? Oh, this parent is doing the soccer carpool. Oh, this parent is really the playdate parent. And yeah, I think that's fantastic. All right, let's talk about operationalizing then day to day. So you have your, the annual helps influence the weekly. By the way, we call this multi-scale planning on my show, but I'm typically talking about multi-scale planning very professionally. Multi-scale, you know, quarter weekly daily, but very much in the context of I'm at my computer screen working. So this is great to see this adjusted. So the annual is influencing the weekly. The weekly is going to influence the daily. Now, how are we getting through in your approach day by day? Yeah, so this is perfect timing. I literally just, I have this thing called best laid plans academy, and I taught the daily session today. So this is fresh. But I think in order to plan your day, you need three things. You need a calendar that is reliable that I call like a one source of truth, a hard landscape that you know, like this is actually what I have going on. And in this day and age, there's a lot of people who are using digital calendars, but are like using multiple ones and like kind of like one for home and one for work. And this is on paper. And I really think having them in one integrated place is very important. So it's not a search and find when you're like, what do I have on my docket for the day? What are you using? I use paper. Okay. So my, I mean, I use digital tools. Obviously, I have to use outlook for work. I have to use Epic for the electronic medical record.

Elizabeths Hard Landscape Calendar & Daily Schedule (29:00)

I know how to use Google Calendar because honestly, that's how I send my husband stuff, but I prefer paper as my integrator. So I like to use a vertical weekly layout where I can, it almost looks like a version of Google Calendar on paper. Okay. And then how can you walk us through what's the landscape? So per page, what do you have? What's the actual layout? Interesting. So I have an actual calendar view. I wish I had a visual. I could have, oh well, could show it at the end. I'll send you a picture. So it's a vertical weekly, which is what I prefer. And then part of it is set up like a calendar. So I love Japanese products because there's a lot of room to write. So like Hobo Nichi right now I'm using one by Sterling Inc. But basically like, you know, I can block out the hours of what I'm doing, but I also have rows along the bottom that I've used in late night hours where I'm sleeping to put what my workout is for the day and kid activities that are happening for the day. Any priority tasks that I know are assigned to a specific day, I put in little tiny boxes along the top. And then along the left side, I have like my tasks for the week that I've identified on my previous weekly review. So is it one day per page or is it seven days? You have seven vertical columns or five vertical columns per page? So I use both. So, but when I talk about my hard landscape calendar, I'm talking about a seven, seven calendars, seven columns plus a column on the left for like tasks. So that makes eight columns total. And then as I'm planning my day, I refer to that source of truth, which again, in my case is paper, but it could be your Google calendar, your fantastic calendar, your whatever. And you have to have your schedule and then you have to have your task list that you're going to decide what is important to work on that day. And that should be influenced by your schedule and by your energy and like by what's the most pressing. So those three things kind of get integrated. You decide what actually goes on to your list. And the third component of planning your day is just like, if you have any specific rituals or routines, like Laura does certain things every day, I do certain things every day, you do. I think you check off certain metrics. So there might be things that are just like sort of non-negotiable. You walk, you exercise or whatever it is. So that might kind of influence how you structure your day as well. And I actually do go through the ritual each morning, looking at my hard landscape, looking at like what I have to do and deciding what I'm going to tackle that day. And I write that on my daily page. That's a little different from your time block planning method. And honestly, might even be considered list reactive. So I'm always like, Oh, Cal's not going to like this. But for me, it works. And I think in part, it works because when I'm seeing patients, those days are so structured that like, I don't need any more time stress. Like if I'm getting something done, it might be like during my lunch hour or between patients. So I can't time block plan that. And then on my non-patient days, I just want to be more free because I am so constrained on the patient days. So I prefer that. But I like to think that so much thought goes into making that to-do list, that it's not really list reactive. I've like kind of already prioritized it. And I'm just seeing where the blank pockets of time are. And then I can go about it in a methodical way. Well, and doctors professional days are, as you mentioned, they're already time block planning. So you are doing time block planning. It's I mean, it's being done in your patient scheduling system. And but that the doctors already time block plan because that's how patient calendars work, right? Where if you have a job where you don't have that and every day is just you and your inbox. That's where, okay, I need to add some more artificial probably blocking, but you're already time blocked with her. You want to or not. But this is, okay, so this is fascinating. I want to poke at this a little bit just from an understanding perspective. So this paper calendar is your hard landscape. And this is hard landscape of just non-work. Like work is just blocked off. Like this is a work day. So I just know from eight to whatever I'm at work. And then when you get to work, you have your system for patients. And so this paper keeps track of work days and on work days and then specific appointments and calendar events that are non-work related will get written into this calendar. So when you get to that day, you'll say, Oh, I have a whatever. We're meeting friends at this place. It's it's in my understanding that right how this is used. Correct. And also like I have days that are at work, but not clinical work. So, but you're absolutely correct. And in my clinical days, the work just says like, patience and there's a line like there's nothing demarcating each patient, whatever, like, why would I do that? And also it wouldn't be legal because that's confidential info. But then like if I have to start late that day or have accepted a meeting or I'm interviewing some candidate for some position or if it's a Tuesday or Thursday and I'm doing podcasting stuff, then that stuff gets scheduled. And I don't, you know, I may get sent an electronic invite, but I haven't accepted it for real in my mind and body until I've written it on my weekly calendar. And I know if something's important, then I put it on there right away. So it's never I never feel like sinking is like an issue because once I've committed to something in my mind, it gets written down. And I do carry my planner with me. So that's a barrier for some and why they prefer, you know, using Google Calendar, but mine's not that big and I drive a lot of places anyway. And so, and then if I understand correctly, so you get to a non-clinical day and there'll be some things that are already on this calendar and they're there because they're time specific and you committed to them. You're interviewing a candidate, you're meeting a friend for lunch, you're doing an interview for the podcast. And then what you're saying is you get to the day like, okay, here's the things that are scheduled. What else do I want to get done today? And you're writing out, you say you don't time block those things. You're just going to write. Here's the other things I'm doing today. And if I understand, you're saying you're just writing that at the bottom on the same column. I write it so I have like a daily page. I write it for me. I put the calendar stuff to the left and I happen to use a notebook that has this tiny little timeline. So it like makes it easy to see where the things are. Oh, you have a daily. Okay. You have a daily notebook. Okay. So you copy.

Elizabeths Daily Notebook & Task Management (34:33)

There wouldn't be enough space in the weekly. I see. You copy over on your daily page, you'll copy over preexisting appointments from your hard landscape calendar. And then also you have a lot of room there to sort of just sketch out or plan your day. And it sounds like that's somewhat freestyle. So it might be a list of things, a reminder. Maybe you're sketching out. Like I really got it during this period of time. I have to go run these errands. You're looking at the day. You're making a plan in a way that has the information you need. And that can vary. Yeah. Exactly. And I also, you know, you do your metric tracking. I have my own metrics. I have like a little symbol I used to track those. I will take notes on that page as well if I need to. So yeah, exactly. And my tasks are just like in a list form. But I know when I get to one of those breaks between my scheduled stuff that I need to like look at that list. Okay. What's highest priority deal with it? Go to my next scheduled thing. Repeat. And at the end of the day, when things inevitably don't get done, I'm getting, I'm pretty good, honestly, at time estimating. So I don't tend to like give myself many more things. But sometimes stuff comes up, get sick, whatever. Then I decide how I'm going to migrate them either to the next day directly. Like if I put it in that top column on the weekly, or if I'm just going to like leave them on my weekly list to pluck out another day when I have time. Interesting. And though I would say this year, I don't know if you have the same experience in Florida. The right question is not, is a kid sick today? Is this one of the few days where a kid is not sick? So that'll give us a lot less information. It's a lot less information. But yeah, there's been a lot. Every time. Every day. Every day. All right. So then I want to get to the task aspect.

How Lisa manages household tasks (36:04)

I mean, just to give a personal anecdote, this is a 48 hour period. My wife and I realized I'm trying to think of all the household things that went wrong at once. We lost the keys to the padlock to our shed where my lawn mower and all the lawn care stuff is and our yard looks terrible. Our dryer broke. Our air conditioner broke. Both cars need oil. The lights in our house. We had electrical work done. All the lights in one room are out in another room. They're all shaking. Our current backyard spotlight motion detector thing isn't working and our car and registration needs to be updated. We realized this all about a 24 hour period. It was like the household tsunami. The household works in the army. So let's talk about how you keep track of household or life admin stuff that needs to get done. This is not work related. Where is that tracked and how does that, when it's not tied to a specific appointment, where is it tracked and how does that make it into your day to day? Like actually eventually gets done. And I'm thinking notes by the way because we're really down here. You might not like my answer. For some of that stuff it's vertical ownership and my husband will laugh if he hears this. I just put it on his desk so the surgeon can get home from work and be like "Oh my god the roof needs to be cleaned." But truthfully we're not both going to deal with that. Some of these things will be him. Some of these things, again we have a full-time nanny who at this point my kids are in school for most of the day. So she can help with some house management things so I might make a list for her to help me with some of that. And then other stuff I'd probably put on my planner. Like the more urgent stuff on a more open day to be like "must do car registration and oil changes." And maybe I'd pick a pretty free morning and think "Okay I can write blog post while I'm at the oil change." But you have a list somewhere. So there's a list somewhere where you're just keeping track of... If it's mine. If it's yours. If it's completely defected to my husband then I'm probably not going to track it. That may be like a flaw of mine. Sounds fine to me. I think that's like if you know Gretchen Rubens for Tendency. A couple of others don't like to manage other people's stuff. Once they've decided it's somebody else's they're like "that's your thing." So it may be like a personal flaw. Yeah but for the stuff that you own. But for the stuff I own, that stuff would all go on the weekly list. So I categorize, you mentioned like your stuff is all with work. Because I'm managing different realms I kind of sub-categorize on the side home which involves like any of that stuff. Plus anything with the kids. Clinical and then like blog and pod. So I have like sort of like three separate sub lists going on. And pretty much all the stuff you mentioned would have ended up if I wasn't going to completely hand it off to somebody else on that home list.

Planning home tasks (38:48)

And then I would desperately like look for blank space where I could do it. Or if anything can be put off I might schedule it in at a later date. Okay so you capture things in the appropriate list. And those lists would mainly get reviewed during the weekly. So when you're thinking about your week you're looking at that list. And like you know this registration really needs to get done and whatever this is on my list. And then at that point you're going to put that, you're going to transfer that to some sort of weekly list that you'll then be looking at through the week. And/or actually put it onto the hard landscape calendar for a particular time if it requires that. Do I have that right? Correct. I mean all those things sound kind of urgent. So I wouldn't put them on a monthly or seasonal list. I'd put them on like that week's list. Because like we got to do that stuff now. And then yeah any available time I would just start kind of plugging away and putting on that days list making the calls when I had free time. Or again outsourcing for help when I needed it. Like if I had a full day of patience on my husband was in the OR I'd have to ask for help because we need a dryer. I mean what are we going to do? What are you going to do? We literally air drying socks on the shower rod. That's where we are. The part's on its way we're going to try to fix it tomorrow which means for sure our dryer will be more broken tomorrow. It's a latch. It's nothing complicated. In theory we should be able to fix it. I just want to point out that the point about outsourcing. I mean I think this is something, Laura does a great job of talking about this I think. That we don't especially parents for whatever reason we really deprioritize or bring off of the realm of feasibility. Spending more on this type of making the running of a family in a household easier. It's for whatever reason we'll spend money left and right on all these other sort of things and feel fine about it. Here's my expensive car lease and we have this expensive whatever camp and this and that. But if it's Laura talks about this pain someone to do the laundry. It's some sort of a failure even though it's probably less than people are paying on their golf habit or hobby or something like that. Or the idea that you keeping the full-time nanny even after the kids are of school age because wait a second this makes everything easier to have this backstop for whatever. The cable guy has to come in the middle of the day and we could have someone at home. I'm glad you pointed that out because it feels like this should be, I had this conversation with someone recently. I was like you should be spending money on this. You're going to get such a return in your life. Don't spend it on that. But for whatever reason our culture feels maybe we just haven't adjusted the dual income yet. It may just can take another decade. I don't know. But that seems eccentric to us almost. Well you have to go as the guy and if you're not out there with your yard. Doing all this work and thinking like I don't want to I can't deal with this. I'm not good at this. I'll somehow end up lighting it on fire. This is not like good for anybody for me to spend like hours with plants right now. I have seven jobs. Sounds good. I just want to point out I'm glad that you emphasize maybe people do it and they're worried about talking about because this is very different people can do different things. But I don't think we should be worried about talking about it. Some people can do a lot more than others. We have to be careful also just there is privilege inherent in this and I know we're going to get like you're going to get emails like but I can't I can't do that right now. And I get it. I mean I couldn't do that when I was a resident either. And there is inherent privilege and at the same time there are families who probably could do more than they are currently doing. So I do want to recognize that you know not everybody is well compensated enough for this to work. But if it is and you have two big jobs you know it's kind of like we have a 2011 Prius okay. That's where our priorities are. Yeah yeah maybe when you think of it more about shifting resources spend less on this the more on this and what those amounts are different for different people. But yeah there's this interesting block that with with yard work and housework and logistical stuff that there's this sense of you shouldn't spend money on that because you know there's a thrift in theory even if you have them like but in theory I could do that. I think the in theory I could do that is probably created more unnecessary stress than almost any other mind. I guess it's true like in theory I could I could rake the leaves but it also takes me a really long time. All right this is great though. Oh go ahead go ahead. I'm just going to say there's like parenting tasks that like I want to outsource and some that I don't like I want to be there to help my kids with their homework. And if that means that I'm not doing the laundry like I have a planner I can see how many hours there are I can't do everything. Yeah. And also like at the rest and stuff that I need so we do have to make intelligent choices or thoughtful choices about what we decide to outsource and that doesn't mean that it's nothing because in reality can't do everything.

The power of time awareness (43:32)

Now what do you think about this theory because it sounds like you might exemplify it with your own life as well. That when people get more serious about planning they tend to be not just less stressed but they're less likely to talk about themselves as being overloaded. And the fallacy is oh that's because with planning you can juggle a lot more things where my theory is the reality is with planning you learn a lot more about how much time you really have and how much time is really how much time things really take. And so planners have this good source of back pressure that gets them limiting things on the intake. Now you have a really good sense of I'm not going to agree to do that. That's too much because you're used to seeing your plan on these different scales so planners are less likely to be overloaded not because they can somehow make better use of their time though they do but more because they're familiar with their time and they can avoid getting into the time trouble in the first place. You end up drowning when the intake maybe was not well curated and you get to Wednesday and you agreed to the four things on Thursday and your kid sick any of the busy workday and the stress comes from that's impossible but it's impossible in part because maybe you weren't thinking through the last 50 weeks of doing this weekly planning and seeing what happens. I don't know so what's the role there what do you think about this theory that just being more aware of your time can be as big of a role than you feeling less overloaded than actually just trying to squeeze more things into your schedule by being careful about your time.

Time Management And Schedules

How Laura has a full schedule and still avoids overwhelm (45:01)

I think it helps. I think I mean I have to be again be careful because I know some people are facing such challenges that like it doesn't matter how much planning they do like they're going to have some stress and that's tough but I also think there are a lot of people that can be helped by doing more planning and that I do do a lot of things and generally don't have a lot of stress about them. Yes stuff comes up but if I've kind of been overall kind of looking at the big picture what's ahead so that I can be a little bit more proactive than reactive when the surprises do come they're not going to set things into like such as disaster mode and so things are less stressful overall. I also think you're right it helps me be more realistic about saying no to things and more real sometimes just getting ahead of stuff makes stuff easier like if you ask someone to give a lecture in six months for example they're probably going to say yes and your task is done you've asked it you've filled it you're done. If you are trying to find someone to fill a lecture in two days or you're trying to like get a fancy restaurant reservation in two days like it's like it's very hard because all of a sudden like the options are not open to you and so by thinking about it's not going to be a good thing. So by thinking a number of steps ahead you can actually make certain things easier. So that helps as well. You have lots of free time over the next month you have very limited free time over the next day like there's a general rule of thumb so if you're thinking far ahead you have plenty of time to do it and if you're thinking about oh now I need to do this for tomorrow. Yeah that's what happens to college students back when I used to advise college students they actually have plenty of time but their issue is they wait till the deadline arises to say oh I need to work on this now. And then you're just plain scheduled roulette because if two things have the same deadline now you're staying up all night and now it's screwed. And I was talking like if you just looked at even just one week ahead or two weeks ahead you have plenty of time just start that paper two weeks ago when you have nothing to do and then the week before the paper you can study for the midterm and not have to do both and but I might as well be telling them just flap your arms really hard and you'll begin to fly because to them it's just as believable that they're going to do that but. I also have to say this is going to be like compliment to you which is that all the planning and time awareness helps you realize certain things are very time sucking and not important and I do credit you for like one of the things that's gotten me entirely off of social media. I'm just like don't have time for that's not a priority for me like I have so many other things that I want to do that I plan intentionally that if I'm like spending you know two hours sucked into Instagram that I'm not going to get to do. And by completely crossing that off of my list which honestly you are really like part of what helped me do that that that's also opened up a lot of time but I think that the planning awareness and your influence like came together in a nice way there. How do a junior husband think about your portfolio of kids activities to balance kids need stuff to do it's important for them but also certain combination of activities are going to have a much bigger footprint on our schedule and our stress levels than others. Where does this fall into the way when you do your planning? I think I tend to land more on the Laura side which is like if a kid wants to do an activity like I'd rather than do that activity then they end up wanting to be on a device which is what they want to do otherwise. So my kid is trying out for trouble soccer so it's like I mean what can I say I guess that's where the outsourcing and the carpooling and the networking and the planning so that I can make that carpooling work comes into mind. But I guess I would be loath to turn down one of my kids an opportunity for convenience and I know some families love family dinners but confession we don't really have them that often because my husband is not home in time not because I don't want them but it would be like me and the kids and like you know sometimes I do eat with the kids and that's one version of family dinner but I don't have a family dinner sacred ritual that would be disrupted by my kid having later night soccer so instead it just kind of fits in and gets in. It's in and gets planned in etc so I think especially as my kids get older if they have passions I just want to make it happen for them. Yeah I had a similar change of heart when my kids were young I used to think about time intensive sports like I don't understand this it seems like such a pain and like the parents time is important too and this takes so much time and then as your kids get a little bit older you're like oh this is much better than the alternatives especially I have all boys like okay you can go run for hours and instead of just being at home and bothering me or trying to play video games like oh now I understand why kids do so many sports it's because if you think abstractly you have all this time when the kids are not in school if you can take a significant portion of those hours and they're outside and there's another adult that they have to listen to and they're learning skills and you know not bothering you directly I'll carpool some people. I started to get that now it's interesting how that shifts. So how have you seen and I just want to do a 30,000 foot question here you've been doing talking about these issues for a long time how have you seen the culture or your audience response to the types of things you write about what are the inflection points like how has that changed since 2009 to 2023 when you're talking about things like organization planning productivity as your audience been pretty constant or have you found how they approach these issues is something that's evolved over time. Yeah I feel like people are always looking for like one prescriptive system and sometimes it takes me kind of being like no you kind of have to build your own but here are the elements that you need.

What do women struggle with (50:35)

I definitely find that people struggle with giving themselves enough time to plan and then sometimes you know I'll suggest something like well you could get to work 10 minutes earlier and like do a little planet and they're like oh my god I could like they didn't realize that that was something they were allowed to do. I think people tell themselves like stories or mythology also about like what they're supposed to use their time for or what's a good use of time or not and really like that has to be all our own decisions. Have I seen it change? I don't know how much I've seen it change I'll say that the biggest like theme that seems to come up tends to be either like time or task overload and then also so many people wanting to curb destructive stream. Screen time slash distraction habits like how do I create a plan for my day where I'm not going to get distracted and derailed by like less important things. Yeah that's that's come up a lot. That's interesting and I also think it's interesting your decision sort of similar to mine to not engage on social media because there is and I don't know this world better I don't know it that well but there's a big social media housed productivity culture that's based on Instagram and I suppose TikTok and I don't think it's on Twitter so much and there's a whole world out there have YouTube videos too. I don't know that world very well but especially when I talk to young people they'll talk about it so there's a whole new productivity online world that I'm not that familiar with. I have my newsletter blog readers who I love and have been around forever and I by the way think that type of early web 2.0 style interaction is is pure distilled web. Here's these readers who have been commenting on my things for years and I know some of them and they send me emails and it's so much better than this is going out into Instagram where God knows who's going to start commenting on this or it's going on Twitter where it can get retweeted and cause a pile on or whatever and I think it's the way it's the right level of interaction but there's that whole world out there. I don't do you know anything about it or are you happy like me that you can deal sort of with individuals a more reasonable size crowd. It can be more personal. It can be more reflective. It can be more responsive and it's not this almost tribal warfare field that's out there where everyone is looking around and I don't know painting brave heart paint on their face before rushing in the battle or something like that. I think it's telling that you and I are not in that world of productivity but there is a whole world out there that I don't know maybe it's given our world a bad name but I don't know much about it and I don't know how much you've seen that. I know Laura's not that interested in that world either. No Laura I think has fun with Instagram but doesn't do a lot with it professionally. I mean she writes books books that do really well so she probably doesn't need that other platform. I probably could use that platform. I just really don't want to. I don't have the self control and neither do I think most people to use it a little bit or use it professionally and then I feel like the people who kind of use it professionally but aren't really using it like how much benefit are they getting out of that. I feel like I have enough connection with my listeners. I have people signing up for my courses. I'm doing a live course and I'm super excited. It's almost full. I'm not big and I don't necessarily need to be. I would love to get into the actual book writing club someday but honestly even without that I'm happy. I'm reaching a lot of people. I get lots of great emails and I feel like I'm getting more than I would lose so much from doing that and I'm getting so much more. I'm getting so much without it that why would I add that in? How is the course going? Tell us again what it's called and a little bit about it because I think there should be more of this but tell us a little bit about it.

Best Laid Plans (54:18)

It's called Best Laid Plans Academy and I've done one full round of it so it's seven online sessions. It's done via Zoom. It's live like me in a classroom and the sessions are all about the different levels of planning. The first one is more of a kick off getting started but then the second one is on annual. The third one is on daily. We zoom down and then we go weekly, seasonal and then some extras. There's a little bulletin board component where people can share little things but there's no social media based at all. People can do a little one on one with me but it's been really fun. The first session it was 30 people. It was all women. I would love to welcome some men into my courses as well so who knows maybe they'll find it via you and be interested. But we talk about all the challenges and I share my methods and help them with theirs. It's like a classroom size group so there's enough kind of interactivity. I'm doing the second session which is the spring session and I'm applying everything I learned from that first section and then I decided I wanted to do something like IRL. I just wanted to see people so I decided probably against my better judgement to host a live planning retreat. Kind of like what I do with my husband but for other people in South Florida. That's awesome. That's my nightmare. Organized in a real person event because I'm a weird introspective troll. If I loved what you're doing and I would love to attend something like that. We've got to get some men into your class. We have to change the culture so that men feel like being sort of ninja level household planners is what being able to use the barbecue was 30 years ago. I want to make that culture shift where it's something like dads are really proud of. It's like men or productivity and women are planning but I feel like I'm very productive and it's my planning that helps me be productive so I don't think those are different worlds. It's interesting split that people will think about planning. We're on with you. Planning is at the core productivity. It's like how you actually organize the resource that is your time and match it with what needs to be done so that you have an intentional mix of activity given the resources you have available. Planning is the engine there and you're right. Productivity gets changed into other things where it's more about this high energy grindy. People define it in lots of different ways. They define it the way they need it for whatever point they're about to make. That's the way that works. One last question before I move on to my listener questions today. The other parallel I wanted to ask you about between us is that we both have these elite trained jobs. You're a medical doctor. I'm a fake doctor and professor. We do talk about these other types of issues that are pragmatic on the side. What's that like as a medical doctor? Do people care? Is it awkward? I love it. I've helped a number of my colleagues tame their epic inboxes and it makes me so happy when I can apply these lessons with the people I work with.

Do you have More Official? Sarah did keep this separate but prefers it in Silos for Better Me (57:15)

I would love to do more work with physicians. I don't do it in any official context in my workplace. That was something I thought about at one point but then decided I'd rather keep it more neutral and not specifically medically based. Every so often a patient will be like, "I found your blog." That's why I actually think it says, "If you're a patient, it's fine. This is public. You can say hi. I don't mind." I'll own it. It's fine. If you found this because you were googling me because you just signed up for an appointment. It's okay. Exactly. It's fun. I'm very much in the doctor mindset. I don't think about the stuff when I'm at work. I'm sure you're the same. I'm not thinking about this. I'm thinking about that. I'm amazed that you can do both. At least to some extent. It's really fun so far. When the split is with this particular topic, you can do both because this particular topic makes it much easier for you to do both because the whole topic is about planning and being okay with your time or whatever. If we were really into bird watching or something completely unrelated to planning on the side, then maybe it would be a problem with this particular. I'll say it's been weird for me because early on for a while, when I was writing online or writing books, it really was very solidly in the productivity space. We just had this clear Chinese wall. Over here, I'm doing algorithms. A lot of that has changed for me in the last six or seven years as more of my writing has turned towards technology, technology, and society. As my writing moved towards that, my academic role moved more towards that. Now those worlds are blended for me in a way. It's almost harder. It's better because it's not as much overlap, but it's harder. I do miss the simplicity of my doctoral advisor coming back from the bookstore and saying, "Did you write a book?" "What's this thing I just saw in the bookstore?" I'm helping at the time, I'm doing a lot of student productivity. It was great. It was a nice, clear thing. I'm a good triathlete and I'm a doctor. I'm like, "Yeah, great. That's a great hobby." Or whatever, other thing you do in your great shape or something. It's almost a weirder for me now that my writing is a lot of my writing is now part of my job. That separation is not there.

Sarah mentioned working on a meal rotation system as well as reviewing to-do lists (59:30)

That's a great progression, though. I think it's cool. Your story makes total sense. Yeah, well, I'm having fun. I like thinking about things. All right, well, Sarah, this was great. I really appreciate you coming on. Hopefully, my list has got a lot of good advice out of this thinking about your systems and how you approach life admin. I certainly did. I have some notes here I was taking, so we're going to put some of this in the action. All right, so, Sarah, if you're looking for Sarah, the blog is the shoeboxSHU. I am embarrassed, Sarah, to admit that it wasn't until I was preparing for this interview that I thought, "Oh, Sarah, hard to say." Oh, it's a terrible name. The name's from 2010, and it should probably just be SarahHeartHunger.com. I tried to get BestLaidPlans.com, but it was like $25,000, so I couldn't do it. Oh, come on. You're in Laura can swing. Get somebody advertising money. You know what, though? They say that. I had to buy the DeepLife.com. Again, you hire someone to negotiate. You can have outsourcing on your behalf. There's a whole industry out there, everyone. Domain, name, whatever it is, negotiation. The shoebox.com, and then that links to the blog, which is fantastic, but then also both of the podcast. You can find out about both of the podcast there. The course, I'm assuming, all that information is on at the shoeboxSHU, SarahHeartHungerShooBox.com. The THGSHU, B-O-X.com. Excellent. All right. Well, thanks, Sarah. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for having me on. This was so fun. All right. Well, thank you, Sarah, for joining the show. That was great. Jesse, I already have some ideas off of that. It's funny how different productivity can seem. I mean, it's a completely different game, and in some ways, it's a very similar game. When you're talking about life outside of work, it's a part of my game that I need to clean up, so Sarah's sort of my guru there. Her podcast with Laura, which is, what does that podcast called? I think it's best of both worlds. I'm just going to load it up here, so I'm not, I know we mentioned it, but let me just make sure I'm saying it right. Yeah, best of both worlds. That does a lot of productivity outside of work, a lot of productivity with the family. So if you're interested in this stuff, check out that podcast. They get into it all the time. All right. So I want to do some questions generically on this topic. First, however, let me mention one of the sponsors that makes this show possible. And that is our friends at Henson Shaving. So here's the thing with Henson Shaving. What you get from them is a very well engineered aluminum razor. The company that builds this specializes in manufacturing and precision parts for the aerospace industry, so they have the proper machinery to mill incredibly precise specifications. So this razor is milled in such a way that the blade only extends beyond the actual boundary of the razor by .0013 inches. That's less than the thickness of a human hair. This gives you a secure and stable blade, no vibration, no diving board effect. You get a close shave and you get it without the irritation or without the nicks. What's cool about this is this razor, because it's so well designed, you can just use a standard 10 cent safety blade in it. You do not need one of these next generation disposable razors that you buy at the drugstore, where you have to plug it into a computer and there's laser trackers that shine on your face and the whole thing vibrates and there's 75 blades and somehow chat GPTs involved. You don't need all this weird, fancy, shaking, 90 blade contraptions. If you have a really precisely milled razor, 10 cent blade gives you a perfectly nice shave. It's what I use as well. So I think it's really cool. You buy this thing up front and then your cost of replacing blades is very, very low. So you quickly make up the cost of having this beautiful piece of machined equipment. I like tools and this is a really cool tool. So it's time to say, "Notice subscriptions and yes to a razor that will last you a lifetime. Visit hintsinsaving.com/cal to pick the razor for you and use that code "cal" and you will get two years worth of blades for free with your razor.

Huel Fuel with Providing Us An Efficient Meal Option through Automating (01:03:38)

Just make sure that you add them to your cart before you type in that promo code. That's 100 free blades when you head to HEN, S-O-N, S-H-A-V-I-N-G.com/cal and use that code "cal". I also want to talk about our friends at HUEL. Long time listeners know my approach to healthy eating is to automate breakfast and lunch. I don't want to think about it. I want as much as possible to have the food I eat for these meals to be convenient and pre-planned and healthy. And then I can care about food for dinner and cook and appreciate things and that's when I can actually expend energy on food. I don't want to waste time and energy thinking about breakfast and lunch. I want to automate it to be things that I know are good. We'll give me energy and I don't have to worry about it. This is where HUEL, a black addition, enters the scene. It is a high protein, nutritionally complete meal in a convenient shake. I like to use it as a breakfast replacement. I know it will give me everything my body needs in just two scoops. This includes 27 essential vitamins and minerals and 40 grams of protein. Each scoop contains 200 calories. So if you do two scoops, you get roughly a normal size 400 calorie meal that you can adjust that depending on how much you want to consume. 400 calories, so it works out to be about $250, $250 a meal. So it's cheap, but it gives you what you need. The HUEL black addition is vegan, naturally gluten-free, lactose-free, zero artificial sweeteners, naturally flavored, low GI, omega-3 and 6, GMO-free, palm oil-free, vegan vitamin D2 and D3 are in there. It's available in nine flavors. I like the flavors. It's a good flavored shake. If you go to HUEL.com/questions, you will get a free T-shirt and shaker with your first order. I used the shaker because you put in the scoops in the water. It has the little ball in there to shake it up. You know how much to put in. It's convenient. To go to HUEL.com/questions to try out HUEL black addition and get your free T-shirt and shaker.

Household Management And Free Time Utilization

Household Management (01:05:45)

All right, let us do some questions all vaguely about organization productivity outside the context of work. Jesse, what do we have on the docket first? First question is from Yui. How do you manage your personal and family-related tasks like Life Admin? I figure we should start with the core tech question. What tools am I using right now in my household? My wife and I are using Trello to organize and keep track of all of the various different tasks in our shared household life. There are three boards here that are relevant to me. Two of them are shared with her and one of them is just for me. The one for me I call personal. These are things that it's for me to do. She doesn't need to know about. Some of it is actual personal like it doesn't affect a family or family stuff that I thought of. I need to do it. I'll just put it right on my list. Then we have two shared ones. One that just has generic family stuff and one that's specific for financial and financial-related tasks. For the shared boards, they both have a Julia's Doolini and Cal is going to do column as well as sort of just general capture columns for different categories of tasks. Things get moved on to my list or her list once a decision has been made about who is going to do them. Then there's a list for what's actually being worked on this week. Things can be captured on here. At some point they might get moved to one of our responsibilities. Then we look at the list of our responsibilities to try to figure out things to work on each week. We do do a rough weekly plan similar to what Sarah talked about earlier. I like the detail that Sarah gave. Maybe we need to up our game there. We also rely heavily on a Google Calendar. Our calendars show up. Her calendar and my calendar to share on each other. I can see anything she adds. She can see anything I add. So either of us can add things. Family things, household things. The other person will see it. Critical to our operations. I in particular have a pretty complicated calendar. For her to be able to see my time and when might work or might not work and vice versa, that's really useful. We bought one of these digital picture frames that displays that shared calendar in our kitchen. It's a touch screen. You can see our shared calendars there and get a sense of what's going on in the day. We're not using it much though. We both check our normal calendars enough on our normal devices and everything is shared on there. Having another interface for it didn't turn out to be as useful as we suspected it might be. The final thing we do, this is a conceptual system, not a technical system, is we are big on something that Sarah talked about in the Deep Dive earlier. There are clear spheres of responsibility. There are certain types of tasks that show up all the time that we've just figured out. I always do this. You always do that. That's useful for the system as well. It's not everything has to be considered and planned and assigned when it comes to doing the budget or paying our estimated quarterly taxes, for example, or mowing the yard. These are just on my list. It doesn't have to go through a full system of being surfaced and captured and assigned. I just do them. Typically these things, a lot of them are recurring on my calendar. I just know I do it on the weekend. We do throw in spheres of responsibility to try to reduce pressure for bespoke on-demand scheduling as much as possible. That more or less works. Sarah had some great ideas in this Deep Dive. We'll probably check in on our system soon and see where we might need some upgrades. How often do you check the Trello? Weekly plan. That's what I do with my work Trello as well. When I build my weekly plan, if there's key things I want to get done, those get moved on to my weekly plan. I'll highlight them in there. I can do the same with personal things. Hey, remember, these three things have to get done this week. If I have a lot of little things, if I'm doing a weekly review on either a professional or personal Trello, I'm like, man, there's 10 or 15 little things. I'm like, right? To make that concrete in my work life, this week I had a huge number of little things that all involved just my class. Just little things that had to happen as we wrapped up the semester. In that case, I won't copy all that to my weekly plan, but I'll say in my weekly plan, we got a big bunch of tasks. They're small that need to get done on a few different things. So, have a, and I'll put a plan for it, have a 30 minute task block at least three times this week and go to the Trello and just start task whacking. This, this, this, and this. So, I'll go back to the Trello, I guess is what I'm saying, is if my weekly plan says, I have moved a whole bunch of stuff for us to do this week and a lot of it's small. You just need to have sessions that just start, start whacking through it. And so in that case, I will return to the Trello, but the big things when I do my weekly plan, that's when I figure out what I want to do that week and the big things will actually put it on to my plan, make sure to do this. If it's really big, I'll put it on to my calendar and for the little things, I'll just remind myself in the weekly plan, hey, there's a bunch of little things. So, here's how much you need to go back to this and just start going through things. Got it. And then the other times you go to Trello is when you add new work to it. Yeah. Yeah. So, if I'm shutting down at the end of the day, and I've captured stuff, I'll put it into the Trello. So, I see Trello a lot, but it's not a systematic part of my plan, "Oh, check Trello every morning. Check Trello every hour." Once I do the weekly plan, it's more ad hoc when I go back in there and deal with it.

Every Hour Of The Day, Every Day? (01:11:34)

Got it. My trail. I met the CEO once, you know. Yeah, I think you mentioned that. Yeah. Nice guy. Good guy. All right. Let's move on. What do we got next? All right. Next question is from Gerald. Do you think that if you don't have at least an informal plan for every hour of the day, you are losing part of your day to ineffectiveness, even if it's recreation or family time? Or do you think having intentions for every part of your day leads to burnout? Well, Gerald, I mean, I do stand by time blocking at the level of intensity that I recommend for the professional day will burn you out if you don't have a break from it. So, if you're locked in, what's next? Oh, my God. I have a limited amount of time to get this done. I'm going to let the pressure of that time boundaries actually motivate me to focus even more. I mean, that's a very effective way of producing a lot of cognitive output in a fixed amount of time. But if you're doing that all hours of the day, you will burn out. It's just too much. On the other hand, I think you are right. If you come to your evenings and say, "All right, I'm done with work. Time to relax and maybe get some stuff done." You're not going to end up as relaxed as you think. Stuff is not going to get done. But more importantly, you're not going to actually commit to the type of activities that maybe would give you satisfaction or meaning. You're going to drift from thing to thing. Your phone is for sure going to insert itself into your time there and really dominate your attention. Your head's going to hit the pillow. You're not going to be particularly happy. So, we need a middle ground. Between, I'm looking at my planner and I got seven minutes to get these three things done.

Sketch a plan for your evening; (01:13:10)

And I've just been on my phone for the last four hours. And I guess I need to go get, you know, a napkin because my eyes are bleeding. I'm staring at memes on my screen. We need something in between. So, I recommend sketching a plan. I use that terminology. Let's sketch a plan for your evening. Sketch a plan for your weekend. And what that means can vary depending on the specificity. So, it might mean, look, okay, at this exact time tonight, someone's coming over. I want to watch this show. And so, some stuff might have time. Other stuff might be more lower-grained. Like, try to take care of the tax stuff right after work. And let's try to exercise. Here's what we're going to do for dinner tonight. You know, let's, I want to get some reading time on my book. So, most of it's not attached to times. It's relatively loose. But it gives you some sense of, I want to do this and that. And here's what's happening tonight. And you're sketching a plan for a reasonable night. And then you do your best to more or less follow that. And if you miss times, something you added a little bit too much to it and something took more time. That doesn't really matter at all. What matters is, I had some intentionality with my time. I thought through, like, what do I want to do tonight? And I more or less followed that the best I could. That's the win here. Not, I got through this many things or I'm on top of things. I said, like, I wasn't adrift. And these sketch plans can have plenty of downtime, but it's downtime on your terms. I said, well, downtime, I could just sort of look at my phone while I'm eating dinner. Or, you know, if I, we ate early, I could go for a walk on this nature trail and listen to this, this novel I'm really enjoying and really get downtime that I really enjoy and is really relaxing and it feels really intentional. Or if I think about it, why don't we start bedtime? 45 minutes earlier, like, I can actually read a book with each of the kids. And, you know, that's actually really enjoyable. But I had to think about that if we were just going through the motions and just looked up and said it's bedtime, we wouldn't be able to do it. So I'm a big believer in sketching a plan for non-professional time. Intention is what matters. But don't care so much about how much you're fitting to that plan or whether you get everything done. I just want you to avoid wandering haphazardly during your time. And there's a difference.

What do we do with free/hobby time? (01:15:23)

There is a difference on the spectrum from wandering haphazardly to being incredibly locked in. There is a gap in between there, which is where I think evenings and weekends can comfortably exist. All right, what do we got next? I like this question. It's from Ricky. There is one area in my personal productivity system that I haven't found a good way to handle ongoing activities. Usually these are things that can sometimes be broken up into projects, but the overall area is something that you've never done with, like getting better at hockey, a hobby in mind. Any suggestions on how to handle staying on top of these? So, Ricky, there's a different category of organizational commitment that becomes relevant here. This is what we can call systems habits or routines. So it's things that have been worked into your schedule that you do on a regular basis at Infinitum. This is just what I do. I exercise on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, and I do it after work, and I do it in the basement gym. That's just what I do on those days. Or I play hockey with this adult league on Saturday mornings, and I do rink time on Monday evenings, and then I run two days a week for exercise. I just do that. It's not a task that I'm done and I take it off my list. It's just part of my routine. So we all have some systems, routines, and habits in our lives where we just get used to doing it. So how do we install these things? Well, typically, you put them on your calendar and/or you do some sort of metric tracking on it. So you have something to check off each day. Did I really do this? So you instill the habit. There's a lot that's been written on how to instill a habit. And then once it's there, it will become more of a background part of your life. It generates a sense of identity, positive feedback, and then it's more likely to stick in. The issue is you can only fit so many of these. So if you don't have any, that's a problem because it's a very powerful weapon. When you work something into a background routine in your life, it just happens every week, you can just look up a year later, and typically really cool stuff has happened. It's a proverbial exercise routine. You make it a routine. You stop thinking about it. You just do it. But then a couple of years later, you say, "Actually, I'm in pretty good shape. This paid off over time. I'm glad this is a part of my life." Another example would be my five books per month routine. I just do that. And now I don't think much about it. It's just that this is what I do. I read five books a month. We talk about them on the podcast. And that's really positive over time in my life, but I don't have to think about it. It's something I've instilled. There's a limited number of things you could do. Maybe a fitness thing, a high-quality leisure thing. There's a few of these you can do where you're able to regularly put aside and protect time for a habit routine or ritual. And so you want to choose them very carefully. If you're not doing any, you're leaving a powerful weapon in the armory, right? And that's an issue. But if you have five or six different things, they're going to collide and you're going to have to fail in your commitment to execute again and again. And that destabilizes your commitment and it eventually will dissolve. So when it comes to these sort of serious, I do it all the time. Five is probably the limit depending on how big we're talking about. And maybe three is more reasonable. So it's almost like you want to have these slots written up on your wall. It's a draft. What do I want to draft? I have three slots for like major routines I could have in my life outside of work. What are they going to be? And if something hasn't earned that place, I'm going to take that out and replace it with something that's even more valuable. So you do want to take those seriously because you only have a limited capacity if you really want to stick with them. But you do want to be using these. So sports or athletic pursuit could be one. Everyone should have something here that has to do with fitness probably just doing it again and again relating to fitness. I really like the idea of having some sort of intellectual high quality leisure in here. Something you do on a very regular basis above the normal baseline that the average person would do that's pushing your mind. That's helping you psychologically or philosophically or theologically in some sort of regular way. I think that's really important. Beyond there, it just kind of comes to your interest. Maybe it's cooking or maybe it's a craft like with woodwork, you're getting. I don't know. There's different things you could have in there. Maybe it's programming or microelectronics. But they have three maybe four of these things that get serviced with rituals that you instill as I just do this on these days. I just always do that. I think that's part of a deep life. So that's what I do with hockey. If I was you Ricky. Golf. Golf. Sure. Yeah. Tennis. Tennis. Yeah. I was a golf. I just read a book about tennis. How do you do that? Not too many. Not too few. Yeah. I like those. All right. Let's do a longer deep play. Let's do another one more question. All right. Sounds good. We got a question from John. I'd like to calculate my implicit hourly rate determined if I should outsource a task instead of doing it myself. I struggle though when it comes to personal tasks that would take place outside of work hours like yard work, home improvement, stuff like that. For these types of tasks, it's unlikely I would use the time save from outsourcing the task to do more work that would earn my hourly rate because it's a weekend and I don't want to work then anyway.

Scheduling your yard work (01:20:48)

Yeah. So I've heard about this approach. This is the approach where you take your salary and you divide it by the number of hours you work. And then you say, this is implicitly my hourly rate. And the idea is in a professional context. When you're considering whether to do a particular annoying task, I'm going to format a presentation or whatever fly a better flight that's going to save me time that's more expensive or something like this. You say, well, how much would it cost for me to hire someone? How much would it cost for me to take to better flight? And then say, is that more or less than what it would cost me in terms of my hourly rate? So if my hourly rate is $500 and it would take me three hours to do this annoying task, but I could hire someone for 300 bucks to do it, you should hire someone for 300 bucks because you're not out 300 bucks. You're actually saving $1,200. That's the mentality. It's a hack or heuristic that people sometimes use in work. John is asking about trying to use this with chores outside of work and he says, the analogy kind of breaks down because it's not as if the three hours I spend doing yard work is three hours I could be earning $1,500 working because if I wasn't doing the yard work on Saturday, I wouldn't be working anyways. And I agree with that, John. I don't think the monetary framework is necessarily what you want to use for evaluating the worth of activities outside of work, at least in a very specific way. There's another way where I think money does matter here, but let's put that aside for now. Instead, the cost I want you to think about is in footprint on your schedule and stress. And so you look at how big of a footprint on my schedule is this particular household thing going to have. If it's highly disruptive, it eats up the core of the weekend day that you otherwise as a family can be doing lots of other things. That's a heavy cost. If it's something that's very stressful for you, that's also a heavy cost. This was like me doing my own taxes. My issue is not that I am not quantitative or mathematical enough to understand taxes. The issue is I'm too mathematical and quantitative. And so my mind would hone in on the inevitable ambiguities or inconsistencies in the process of trying to fill out these different tax forms and it would drive me crazy. And at some point my wife said, you're hiring someone to do the taxes. Because most people are like, it's fine. This is probably fine. I know what this means. Fine. And I'm obsessing about, well, wait a second, how does this match with this? And is this really? And I'm trying to figure out the whole thing? It's my type of... So that's a high stress impact. It says very costly to me. So when it comes to outsourcing or eliminating non-work obligations, that's the cost that you care about. If it has a highly disruptive footprint on your schedule, outsource your limit if you can. If it has a high impact in terms of your stress level, outsource your limit if you can. That's what you should be thinking about, not what your time is worth or your hourly rate or something like this. I agree that that doesn't come into it. So money is relevant here in the sense that outsourcing can take money. And that's fine. So you also have to factor in, can I afford this? I do want to underscore, though, a point. We talked about this in the deep dive earlier in this episode when I was talking with Sarah Hart Unger. We talked about this a little bit that I think we take off the table too quickly the idea of investing in elimination of disruptive schedule footprints and overhead. We just take that off our list of things where it's valid to spend money on even if we could. And we spend that same money on other types of things. We're very comfortable, let's say we're talking about, you know, dual-in-clumb middle-class coastal America or something like this. People are very comfortable with, well, we'll spend more money to have a nicer car. Or, you know, the environment's important, so we're going to have a $70,000 Tesla. We will spend that's $50,000 more than we need for the transportation. But like this is, we think it's important to us and that's a good thing to spend money on. But if on the other hand, it's a few hundred dollars a month to take out this yard work chore that just eats up your schedule and is annoying for your family. You say, I don't want to do that. Because technically I could do this and that feels like a waste of money. You know, and we have these sort of inconsistencies happening all the time. Well, here's an activity. You know, kids kind of interested in this. We'll spend thousands on this activity. But the idea that we could hire a laundry service like, I could do the laundry technically. And so, no, I don't know. I don't want to do that. It's somehow a failure. In fact, that last one is a point that Laura Vanderkamp talks about a lot is many more people could and should be outsourcing their laundry. But they don't because it's not in this list of psychologically appropriate things to spend money on. So I think we're weird and we'll spend a huge amount of money on this and on these things that have a cost in terms of schedule impact or stress outside of work, we're very reluctant to spend money. And I think we should change the thinking about it. So I think that's one issue. The other issue, and Sarah talked about this, is people don't like giving that advice because anytime we talk about investing money in anything, there's this knee jerk response of not everyone has the money for that.

Ultifactors & Using Outsourcing (01:26:11)

It's true of everything. It doesn't mean we shouldn't give the advice because for a lot of people it could be helpful. So that's what I would say, John, is look for, forget your hourly rate. What is the cost instead of in terms of schedule disruption? What is the cost in terms of stress? And be more willing to invest in that than you might have otherwise been. More willing to invest it optimizes the outsourcing that than you otherwise might have been. The final thing I want to say is often the solution here is not financial. It's elimination. So you have some sort of setup in your life that actually you could just stop doing this. You could step down from this position. You could reconfigure the specific teams that your kids are on. There are some things you could do that might have a huge win in terms of schedule, input or stress. And you don't because it's, well, there's some advance to this or someone might be disappointed. And we don't take elimination seriously enough. But often elimination is possible and people forget about it two weeks later, no one cares, but you've had this big gain as well.

Global Optimization And Impacts

Schedule Optimization Strategies (01:27:16)

So outsourcing is one way to get rid of these high cost out of work activities. Elimination is the other. And they're both things that we don't think enough about. And so I'm glad you brought this up, John, because I think it's, I think these are both strategies that when we're thinking about organizing life outside of work, we should all think about more. I love eliminating things. My wife actually asked to push back on that. Like, why don't we just stop doing it? Why don't we just cancel this? Why don't we do nothing? And yeah, it's a little more complicated than that. Like kids should be doing things. Yeah. But like some sports leagues make your schedule impossible. And this sports league just still play in the sport, but it's like way more reasonable. Like, you know, sometimes those type of things. Having kids play hockey is a great talk because like ice time is always so like limited. It's late at night. It's late at night or early. Yeah. Yeah. Hockey. Hockey can be a rough one. That's the one advantage of baseball. Like it can't be played early in the morning. Can't be played late at night. So at least you know. Unfortunately, it takes a very long time to play. It's got soccer too. Soccer is pretty good. Yeah. There's no early morning fields. Rowing is bad. A lot of early morning. A lot of early mornings with rowing. All right. So I want to change gears. I've got a kind of hot take on AI. I want to get to before we do just to take care of some business here.

This Episode Is Brought To You By Impact Theorys Own Powered (01:28:42)

Let me mention another sponsor that makes this show possible. And that's our friends at Field of Greens. This is a whole organic fruit and vegetable non-water down supplement. So what you do with Field of Greens is we've talked about this before, but you want to automate what you can about your health or fitness fields of greens is this powder supplement. You add in water, take it and you know regardless of what you're eating that day for whatever meal that you're getting things that your body needs. A lot of these existing fruit and vegetable supplements aren't great, right? Because they just use extracts of common produce department fruits and vegetables with few health benefits. The nice thing about Field of Greens is they care a lot about exactly where the beneficial substances in their supplements actually come from. Each ingredient in Fields of Greens is scientifically chosen to support vital organs like heart, lungs and kidney health. They support immune system blood pressure, metabolism and healthy weight loss. So what you do is you just take your Field of Greens every day as a supplement to whatever eating you're doing just to make sure that your body has enough of the things that is there that is good for your body. So you'll probably look better and feel healthier fast. Your energy will also go up as well if you start a Fields of Green habit. Your best proof however will be at your next checkup when your doctor says whatever you're doing, it's working. Keep it up. So let me help you get started with 15% off. So let's go ahead and take a look at Fields of Greens.com. I also want to mention our friends at ExpressVPN. Let me put on my computer scientist hat here. I don't know what a computer scientist hat would actually look like, but we can assume it would be pretty nerdy. Let's be honest about it. It would involve a circuit board and a Star Trek reference. But if I can put on my computer scientist hat for a second, I will tell you you should be using a VPN. All right, here's the idea. Here's how a VPN works. Instead of directly connecting to a site or service from your phone or computer, you instead form an encrypted connection to a VPN server. Over this encrypted connection, you tell the VPN server, this is the site or service I really want to access. The VPN server then talks that site or service on your behalf, encrypts the response and passes it back to you on that encrypted connection. Why does that matter? Because everyone who is watching your connection now has no idea what site you're visiting or what service you're using. Now, here's the thing. That's a big deal because if you're not using VPN, people are paying attention to that. If you're using a wireless connection, let's say a coffee shop, anyone nearby can sniff your packets. They can look at your packets. And even if the contents of what you're sending is encrypted, you're using something like SSL, they can see what website you're talking to or what service you're using. Your internet service provider at home, it knows who you're talking to. It can gather and sell that data and you better believe they do that as well. If you're using a VPN, all these people are out of luck. All they learn is that you're talking to a VPN server. They have no idea who that VPN server is then talking to on your behalf. Your internet activity becomes once again private. It becomes once again yours. So if you're going to use a VPN, I would suggest the one that I use, which is ExpressVPN. They're really a best in industry service. You set it up on your devices. It's easy to turn off and on with a click. Once it's on, you just use your web browser or apps as normal. It just works in the background. ExpressVPN has servers all around the country, all around the world, rather, in addition to all around the country. So wherever you are, there's probably a server nearby you can connect to and close by is good because you're going to get a faster connection. They also have a lot of bandwidth. So it really is going to be seamless. You're not going to notice any impact on your speed. So stop letting big tech and others leech on your data freely. Use my link, ExpressVPN.com/deep right now and you can get three extra months free. That's eXPR ESS VPN.com/deep to get protected with the VPN rated number one by CNET tech radar and most importantly me. ExpressVPN.com/deep. Alright Jesse, let's switch gears for something interesting segment. Let's return to AI. We talked about chat GPT a few weeks ago in my article for the New Yorker about how it actually works. Now I want to return to the topic of how should we think about the AI revolution happening now? How worried should we be? What is the philosophically the right approach to this current moment? The article I want to use is our foundation here. What got me thinking about this was the article I'm bringing up on the screen right now. So if you're watching this is episode 247. You can find that at youtube.com/calnewportmedia or if you don't like YouTube at thedeeplife.com. Just look for episode 247. You can find this segment so you can see the article on the screen. If you're listening I'll narrate what I'm talking about. So the article I'm talking about here is titled "There is no turning back on AI".

FPP #246 Vacher Cowon (01:34:24)

It was written by the economist Tyler Cowen nearby here George Mason University. Professor and prolific writer of public facing books. This is from May 4th. He published this in Barry Weiss's newsletter, The Free Press. I want to highlight a few things from this and then I'm going to riff on it. Here's the first point I'm reading this from Tyler's article. Artificial intelligence represents a truly major transformational technological advance. We're starting right off and saying this is a big deal. He goes on to say, "In my view, however, the good will considerably outweigh the bad." He makes a comparison here to Gutenberg. He says, "I am reminded of the advent of the printing press after Gutenberg. Of course the press brought an immense amount of good. It enabled a scientific and industrial revolution among other benefits, but it also created writings by Lin and Hitler and Mao's Red Book." The printing press brought good. It brought bad, but in the end the good outweighed the disruptions and negativity that came along with it.

Being Long-Term Optimistic with Tyler Cowan (01:35:47)

He goes on to say, "We don't know how to respond psychologically or for that matter substantively." Just about all of the responses I am seeing, I interpret as "copes" whether from the optimist, the pessimist, or the extreme pessimist. This is the setup for Tyler's article. He says, "I think there's this disruptive change that's coming. It's going to be like Gutenberg. The good will eventually outweigh the bad." But he is making the claim that as a culture right now we are not psychologically handling well this reality. We don't know how to respond to it. He is going to move on now with a critique of how we are responding to what he sees to be that reality. Here's his critique. The first part of his critique of our current response is saying no one is good at protecting the longer or even medium-term outcomes of radical technological changes. No one, not you, not Elazar. He's referencing here someone who's on the extreme "x risk" AI is about to take over the world and enslave us. Not Sam Altman and not your next-door neighbor. He's arguing we are very bad at predicting the impacts of disruptive technologies in the moment. He makes it clear, how will the people predict the final impacts of the printing press, how will the people predict the impacts of fire. He's saying they did it. In the moment it's very hard to understand what's going to happen. So, Tyler is making this point. We know this disruptive thing feels like it's about to happen. But we're not handling it well. In part because we're missing the reality that it is very difficult to predict what really happens. A lot of the reactions right now are what he calls "copes" which are based off of very specific predictions about what will happen or what definitely won't happen. He thinks that's all just psychologically bankrupt. It's not really based on reality. We're just making predictions we have no right to make and then reacting to those. Then he goes on to apply this critique specifically to the existential risks of things like artificial general intelligence. He says when it comes to people who are predicting this high degree of existential risk, he says, "I don't actually think arguing back on their chosen terms is the correct response. Radical agnosticism is the correct response where all specific scenarios are pretty unlikely. I'm still for people doing constructive work on the problem of alignment just as we do for all other technologies to improve them. But he's making the case, you don't need to be worried about that. People should work on these issues. But the only actual intellectually consistent position on something like the existential risk of AI is this radical agnosticism. A lot of stuff is possible. All of it's pretty unlikely. There's a lot of other existential risks in our life where it's in that same category and we could put this in a similar place. He goes on to say, "I'm a bit distressed each time I read an account of a person arguing herself or arguing herself into existential risk from AI being a major concern. No one can foresee those futures."

What Does The Future Have In Store (01:39:07)

Once you keep up the arguing, you also are talking yourself into an illusion of predictability. And he goes on to say, "Once you're trying to predict a future, it's easy to predict a negative future than a positive future because positive futures are bespoke. They're built on very specific things, lean to other very specific things. That's really hard to try to imagine. It's much easier to say, "It all collapses." That's an easier prediction to make. He goes on to say, "For this particular issue of existential risk from AI, he says, "It is indeed a distant possibility. Just like every other future you might be trying to imagine, all the possibilities are distant. I cannot stress that enough. The mere fact that AGI risk can be put on par with those other also distance possibilities simply should not impress you very much." There's a lot of potential futures to negative things happen. We're already used to that AI doesn't have a particularly new thing to offer to that landscape. So in the end, when he's thinking about how do we consider AI, he says, "Look, if someone is obsessively arguing about the details of AI technology today or arguments they read on a blog like Less Wrong from 11 years ago, they won't see this. But don't be suckered into taking their bait. The longer historical perspective you take, the more obvious this point will be." Let me step back here for a second. What he's arguing that I agree with is an unusually pragmatic take on this issue given our current cultural moment, which I'm going to summarize everything I just said. We are bad at predicting the impacts of technologies, so don't trust people who are being very specific about what's going to happen with AI and then trying to react to those. We can't figure that out with AI, just like in 15, whatever, Franz Aguttenberg couldn't even look 20 years into the future about what the impact of the printing press is going to be. So the problem I see is what I think Cowan is very right about. The problem I see with the current discussion about artificial intelligence and its impact is that what a lot of people are doing is they're looking at often cherry-picked examples of these technologies at work. And because these are linguistic examples of we're talking about chatbot examples, they feel very close to us as human beings. We then try to extrapolate what type of mind could produce the type of thing I'm seeing in this example. We might imagine, you know, my four-year-old couldn't do that. Maybe my 13-year-old could answer those questions. So maybe this thing is like a 13-year-old's mind in there. Once we've imagined the type of mind that could produce the type of things we've seen, we then imagine the type of impacts that that type of imagined or in mind might have. Well, if we had that type of mind, it could do this and this and that. Now we've created imagined scenarios based off of imagined understandings of the technology, and we treat that like this will happen, and then we get worried about those scenarios. And this is exactly what Cowan is saying that we've shown it do. These aren't actually strong predictions. These are thought experiments. If we had a mind that could do this, what types of damage could it wreak? And then we're getting upset about the impacts of those thought experiments. So what I think we should do instead, culturally speaking, is stop reacting to thought experiments and start reacting to actual impacts. I don't necessarily want to hear any more stories about well in theory, a chat bot that could do this could also do that. And if it could do that, this industry could disappear. I think for the broader public, what you should filter for is tangible impacts. This industry changed. This job doesn't exist anymore. This company just fired 30% of its staff. When you see actual tangible benefits, not predictions about what hypothetical minds might reap, that's what you should filter for.

AI Impacts (01:43:04)

That's what you should use to refine your understanding of whatever ongoing change is happening and adjust accordingly. I think that's the filtering we have to do now. And look, there's no shortage of people actually attempting things that will generate real impacts. I spoke on a panel a couple of weekends ago out in San Francisco on Generative AI. I spoke on the panel with one of the VCs that funded OpenAI. And he was saying OpenAI already is bringing in on track to bringing more than $100 million in revenue, commercial revenue of people and companies paying for API access to their GPT for back end language model. It's possible they'll be on track for $1 billion revenue, annual revenue within a year. It's an amazingly fast climb. But the point is there is a ton of people investing money to try to use this technology and integrate it into their work. So it's not as if there is a shortage of people doing things that could generate impacts. So I think the time is right, then my advice is let's filter for actual impacts. That's what unless you're in a very rarefied position that needs to very specifically make predictions about what's going to happen to my company in the next six months. Filter for impacts. If you hear someone say this could happen because of this example, change that to the Charlie Brown voice. What you want to hear is this company just shut down. That's interesting. That's a data point you should care about. This publishing imprint just fired all its authors. Oh, that's a data point. Okay, now I'm starting to understand what's going on because there's no real reason to get upset about things that are these predictions that are based off hypothetical minds because most of them won't come true. This is cognitive behavioral therapy 101. It's called the predicting the future cognitive distortion. It's not worth getting upset about predicted futures. It's much better to confront things that actually have happened. There is one place where I disagree some with Cowan. Cowan takes us for granted that we know now that there will be a major disruption in Gutenberg style. He takes up for granted. I think very wisely says you kind of have to just go along for the ride, react to actual impacts, not the prediction of impacts, etc. I'm not convinced yet that a major disruption is going to happen. I'm not convinced that it's not going to happen either. But we need to still take seriously and tell disproved what I call the AI null hypothesis. The AI null hypothesis is the claim that the ultra large language model revolution that kicked off two years ago with TPT three in the next five, the five or seven years is not actually going to make a notable impact on most people's lives.

Understanding Ai'S Impacts At A Global Level

AI null hypothesis (01:45:54)

That hypothesis has not yet been disproven. The way that will be disproven, and this is our Karl Popper here, the way that that hypothesis will be proven is when actual impacts, not predictions of impacts, not thought experiments about if it could do this, then it could do that. When actual impacts do show up that begin having a material impact on the day-to-day experience of people in their lives, then it will be disproven. But until we get there, we do have to keep that as one of the possibilities going forward. And based on what I know right now, I would say it's not a given. It's not even necessarily the likely outcome, but I probably the percentage chance here that the AI null hypothesis proves true is probably somewhere between 10 to 50%. It's not trivial. And so I think we do have to keep that in mind. It's possible as well that it turns out that these ultra large language models, though impressively linguistic, when we begin to try to make them focused in and be spoke on these particular issues, the issues with hallucination, the issues with non-conceptual thinking, the limits that turn out to emerge from under the hood, what you're doing is token guessing with the goal of trying to create grammatically correct sentences that match content and style cues that that may end up being more limited than we think. The computational expense is larger than it's worth it. We have an open AI gets a couple hundred billion dollars worth of API subscriptions and then it dwindles back down again because it turns out, this is not really opening up something that I didn't already wasn't already able to more or less do or to use a bespoke AI model or to actually just hire someone to do this. And then that's very possible. And that we're actually at the peak right now of 100 million people just liking to use the chatbot and being impressed by what it does. I'm not saying that's going to happen, but it's also not a weird thesis. So I do think that needs to be in the hypothesis is the AI null hypothesis itself is something that's still on the table. So we have a wide extreme of possibilities here from the AI null hypothesis to the most extreme AGI's where a couple years away from being enslaved by computers. We have a whole spectrum here and we're not very certain at all. So I want to throw that out there. But here's the big thing I think is important. The big takeaway I want for people who are thinking about how to think about AI is think less and react less to the chatter right now, filter for actual impacts.

Change that actually happened (01:48:21)

And I think there's at least a 50% chance that Cowan is right. Those impacts will come. And it's best not to fight him. There's nothing you can do about him. Be aware of the actual impacts, adjust as needed, hold on for the ride, probably will end up better off than worse off. But also be ready. If you're looking for these impacts, they may never really come at a rate that has any impact on your life as well. That's equally as possible. I completely agree with Cowan however, is unless again you're really plugged into this world and is part of your job. Do not spend much time debating with arguing with or trying to understand people who are making very specific predictions about what hypothetical minds might be able to do. We don't know what's going to happen yet. I'm willing to see. I think it's important to recognize that Gutenberg did change everything, but we don't remember all of the other innovations and inventions that really were exciting at the time. But then it ended up fundamentally destabilizing the world. There's more of those in the first. So let's be wary. But let's get more concrete. Let's stay away from those weird YouTube channels where people are just yelling about everything that's going to happen good or bad. We'll take Cowan's advice. We'll take in the concrete stuff. We'll roll with the punches. It'll be interesting. A little bit nerve wracking. Interesting to see what those punches are. I don't know what they're going to be yet. Don't trust anyone who says that they do. There we go, Jesse. The AI null hypothesis. No one's talking about that because it's not exciting. You don't get YouTube views for it.

Actual impacts (01:49:50)

There's no article clicks to come from it. I'll tell you this. I get sent a lot of people who are in my network. They send me a lot of chat GPT fails, for example. One thing I think is going on here is there's this highly curated element to what people are seeing. People are generating these really cool examples. Then you see a bunch of these really cool examples. Then you go down the rabbit hole of what type of mind could do this. If you could do that, what else could that mind do? Then reacting to that. I get sent all sorts of fails of these models just failing to do basic useful things. Because in the end, again, these are not conceptual models. They're token predictors. They're just trying to generate text, at least in the chatbot context, generate text that's grammatically correct using existing text to generate it that also matches the key features from the query. That's what it does. OpenAI talks about it as a reasoning agent. They talk about some of the things that these models have to learn to do in order to win at the text guessing game. They're like, "Well, it's as if it understands this or that because it has to be able to understand these things to be able to do better at predicting the text. But in the end, all it's doing is predicting text." There's lots of interactions that lots of people have had that are non-useful and non-impressive, but they just don't post those on Twitter. I do think that effect is going on as well. None of this is helped by not a lot of transparency from OpenAI. There's a lot of questions we have that we don't understand about how this technology works. There's not a lot yet on how people are using this concretely. We get the chatter on social media. We get the chatter on YouTube. I'm trying to work on this topic. Now, boots on grounds, real companies actually using these interfaces. Are they having transformative change or is it being very minor? We just don't have a good sense yet.

Concrete impacts (01:51:43)

Yeah. I saw one concrete thing where the CHEG CEO, like that online homework thing, their sales went down and they contributed it too, but that's whatever. Yeah. Okay. These are things we should focus on. What are concrete impacts? Maybe students can... It's good at generating text on topics. So maybe that's going to make the places where you buy the pre-written solutions less valuable because you can now create mills where you just... Instead of paying students, just have chat GPT generate a bunch of those essays. Maybe. I'm also not convinced, however, that these responses aren't pretty easily identifiable. At some point, you identify the... It's not hard for teachers to identify the text of these models versus their students. Yeah. So there we go. But that's a concrete thing. So it's like, how worried does that make you? That thing by itself doesn't. Yeah. But these are the type of things we should be looking for. The other thing I thought about is to open AI's real big on... It does a lot of useful stuff for coders. They have a customized version that helps you if you're coding and it can generate early versions of code or help you understand library interfaces or this or that. But what came to mind is the biggest productivity boost in coding in the last 20 years was when the common interface development environments like Eclipse introduced... I don't know the exact terminology for it, but it's where... It auto fills or shows you, for example, here, you're typing a function. Here's all the parameters you need to give me. So you don't have to look at it up in the documentation. Or if you have an object and object oriented programming and you're like, I don't know the methods for this object. You type the object name, press period, and there's a big list. Oh, here's all the different things you can do with this. And you select one and it says, "Oh, here is the parameters." And I noticed this when I'm coding my Arduino with my son, build video games in Arduino. It's really useful. It's like, "Oh, I need to draw a circle." Instead of having to go look up how to do that, you just start typing in draw and it's like, "Oh, here's all the different functions to start with draw. Oh, here's draw a circle. You click on it." It's like, "Okay, so here's the parameters. Give it the center and the radius and the color." Like, "Great, I don't have to look this up." That's a huge productivity win. It makes programming much easier. No one thought about that as, "Is this industry going to be here?" But it was a huge win, just like version control. It was like a huge win and made things really much more productive for software developers. But it wasn't, "Will this field still exist?" And so there's definitely a future where the LLM impact on coding is like those things. Like, "Wow, a bunch of things got a lot easier. I'm really happy. I'm glad that got easier." It reminds me of when GitHub came around or IDE started doing AutoFill. It wasn't an existential restore industry, but it's a march towards making our life easier. So there's a future in which these are the type of things we're talking about. And so I'm waiting to see. I want to see concrete. I want to see concrete things.

Critical Analysis On Ai Null Hypothesis

The AI Null Hypothesis Challenge (01:54:44)

So we'll find out. But anyways, AI null hypothesis is possible. You should talk about it. Regardless of what happens, focus on the impacts, filter the predictions. People like making predictions, but a lot of them are nonsense. All right, speaking of nonsense, should probably wrap this up, Jesse. Thank you, everyone, who listened. We'll be back next week with another episode of the show. And until then, as always, stay deep.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Wisdom In a Nutshell.

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

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.