Ep. 259: The Four-Hour Work Day

Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 259: The Four-Hour Work Day".

1970-01-01T04:02:31.000Z

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Introduction

Cal's intro (00:00)

So let's use for today's deep question the following. What happens when you cut your workday in half? I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, the show about living and working deeply in a distracted world. So I'm joining you once again from the Deep Work HQ North up in Hanover, New Hampshire, joined by my producer Jesse who is down south in our DC version of the HQ. Jesse, how's it going down there? It's going well. It's good to be here. I'm excited about your comment last week about the new desk that you want to put in the office. Yes. Yes. I'm looking forward to my vision of a custom built three wall wrap around desk. It's great to daydream. I'm actually podcasting right now. You can't see it from the camera because the camera is just on me. You just see a wood panel background behind me. But I'm actually podcasting right now from, I guess I would describe it as a conference room. So the house in which I'm staying that this fellowship program put me up on has a walkout basement conference room where they really do run conferences down here and other types of events. And I'm facing three massive arched pained windows, probably 10 feet tall that are looking out over ackampon beyond this. But I'm at a table that must be, maybe think about our desk, I don't know, 15 feet long, a giant solid wood conference table that I'm sitting at right now. Maybe this is what got me thinking about our solid built in desk in the HQ. It's a big sturdy piece of wood. Yeah. So I always feel, I feel like I'm at the diplomatic negotiation is happening every time I sit down here, the podcast. So I like it. Big solid, big solid piece of wood. That's kind of cool. And I will say here's the danger of today's podcast, not to open the curtain a little bit, but we're recording this one a full weekend advance. So this is coming the right after the weekend of the 22nd and the 23rd. I'm very tempted, Jesse, the talk just watching national space ball. We had our first series sweep since 2021 against a playoff contending giants. I think we could fill an entire episode easy with trade deadline discussion. So let me just say everyone out of the audience should be thankful that I am resisting my urge right now to go really deep on the controllability of Lane Thomas or candies, third base defensive run scored or whether or not CJ Abrams is going to break one war on the season, which I think he definitely will. All of the instincts of my body, Jesse, are saying do not go serious on baseball, but I'm in a good mood because the baseball team's been playing well recently. Yeah, really good series win for them. Yeah, yeah, can't go wrong. I still have not succeeded in convincing either the learner family or Mike Rizzo that they need deep work taught to their players to really get to the next level. And the right way to teach this is to have the person who wrote the book be in the club box because you see, you need me there. I think the really get a feel for it. You need me in the club box, probably in the clubhouse, let's be honest, so I could really get a sense of what's going on there. So again, my call goes out. You really need me in the clubhouse for the team to get to the next level. I mean, I think honestly, me being there on game day is like a three win above replacement bump. I'm a three war player. Okay, that's enough of this. Jesse, we're going to lose all of our listeners. Speaking of our listeners, though, one thing I've noticed, and I don't know if you've seen the same thing, but it seems to me the links and ideas that people have been sending to us at interesting@calnewport.com, have been unusually good recently. I'm getting lots of really interesting articles and links and case studies that people are sitting to be. It's really kept me rich in ideas to think about. And it's actually something that someone sent to me recently that I want to make the focus of our deep dive today. It's an article from Friend of the Show, Oliver Berkman's newsletter. So Oliver Berkman is a calmness and writer from the UK. He wrote most recently 40,000 weeks. I always get it wrong, 40,000 weeks, which is his time management for mortals. So this is very popular book, rethinking time management about, we only have so much time. You're not going to be able to do most things you want to do. Now what? And it really hit a chord. There is vibes of slow productivity in there. There is vibes of Giniodel in there. I think it really hit a chord and it's done very well. The paperback version is coming down the US right around now. So certainly check that out if you haven't bought it yet. But anyways, he has a newsletter called The In Perfectionist. And he wrote recently about an experiment he conducted with his own time management where he dealt with feeling overloaded by actually drastically cutting back how much he worked. So it's an experiment that really touches on the fixed schedule productivity strategy we talked about recently and the slow productivity philosophy more generally. And I thought what we would do is let's go through it. I want to go through his newsletter and react to certain pieces about why he did it and what he learned because I think there is some lessons we can identify in that as well.


Discussion On Workday, Personal Experience And Tech Mentions

What happens when you cut your workday in half? (06:01)

Well now just to set up the experiment that Oliver decided to conduct. So he said something I've long understood about myself is that whenever I get stressed about the number of things on my plate or anxious about the challenges of a specific project, it's an excellent idea to do the opposite of what comes naturally to me. So scrolling down here he says, "And so recently when I felt myself on the brink of overwhelm, I thought I'd try pushing this principle one step further. It had started to feel as though even 20 hour workdays would be insufficient frankly to get a handle on my to-do list. So what if I were to deliberately limit myself to a preposterous, clearly insufficient four hour workday instead?" Alright so that's our setup. He was feeling overwhelmed and said, "I'm going to run this experiment. What if I do the opposite of my instincts?" I want to point out here before we even get farther into Oliver's particular experience. As I've talked about on the show, I did something similar though for different reasons during my years as a postdoctoral associate at MIT. Now I wasn't feeling overwhelmed. I actually had the opposite problem which is I felt as if I didn't have enough work to do which is very common for a postdoctoral position especially in theoretical computer science. And since in part those positions are a holding pattern while you go out to do your academic interviews to try to get an academic job. And also you just don't have classes, you don't have a dissertation to work on. Your research is mature so typically you are just continuing research projects that you already started but haven't yet finished. You want to get those finished in time to go on the academic job market so you can feel especially in theory, a real drop in your time obligations. And I got really worried at that point because I knew that that was going to shift dramatically in the other direction when I became a professor. Professors have a lot more on their plate. You have to teach classes, you have to research, you have to supervise students, you have to find grant funding, you have to do service. And so I did something similar to Oliver when I was a postdoc. I slashed my working hours down because I wanted to get used to working on my research in a much smaller amount of time because I knew that was the only amount of time I would actually have available once I became a professor. So I'm familiar with this setup but I came at it from the exact opposite angle. I came at it from when I was not busy enough, Oliver is trying this when he was too busy which I think is interesting. Alright so let's keep reading here to see what happens. So let's go on here. Alright he's very clear about this. I'm not talking about the three to four hour rule for getting creative work done. Now as an aside Oliver has this principle of work on something creative for three hours maybe four and then stop. That's about how much time you can make progress on something creative. But what he's emphasizing here is this is more than this. He said no this was more of a shock tactic. Just for a while I dedicate no more than four hours to any kind of work. So this was not just about work deeply for three hours and don't do any more. He's going to do no work after four hours. So he said he was going to then make myself stop and use the extra time to do fun things instead. Not that I expected him to feel fun I expected to find it seriously uncomfortable to walk away from work like this and reader it was. He then goes on to give the caveat. He says look here's the obvious caveat I'm well aware of an unusual degree of autonomy over how I portion my time. It's a specific experiment won't be feasible for many. Though there's a caveat to the caveat it's worth asking if you might have more autonomy than you realize. I do think that is a important caveat to the caveat. He's saying yeah of course I'm a writer I can do this a lot of people can't do this. But do keep in mind you might have more autonomy over time than you think and really the spirit of this experiment is reducing artificially your work hours to see what happens. Not that you specifically maybe reduce it to exactly this many hours or exactly the way he did it. Okay that's the setup. He's overwhelmed four hours then he has to go try to do fun things. He had three observations. Three observations that came out of this experiment. So let's go through these one by one and I'll give you my take. Alright so the first I loaded up on the screen here for those who are watching the first thing he noticed. Just by making the activity a smaller part of your day you'll find yourself looking forward to it more. It shifts from being something you have to do for hour after hour to something you get to do. There's times with the research of the psychologist Robert Boyce quoted in 4000 weeks who found that the most productive writers were those who made writing only a modest part of their schedules rather than letting it dominate. Motivated to return to it day after day they produced more output over the long haul. Alright so this is a classic slow productivity principle right here. So he's saying when it comes to the deep stuff you do when it comes to the skilled stuff you do putting a limit on your time is not bad. You do better work when you actually work you look forward to it more and over time this quality output is going to aggregate into a quality final product. Okay so this is classic slow productivity for high quality efforts. Slow but steady is how people produce masterpieces not in frenzied burst of activity. So I think that's important but what we're missing is what about all the other stuff you have to do it's not all just sitting there and writing. So let's keep going get his second of three observations. Alright second there's a palpable shift in your experience of agency of being in charge of your life. It's easy for a major project or a long to do list to start to feel like an angry god you must ceaselessly placate and that the best you can hope for by the time evening rolls around is to have held it at bay for one more day. Even on the days you manage that it's a horribly oppressive way to live. Radically restricting your hours flips this picture completely merely by deciding on strict limits you're putting yourself in the driver's seat which brings a totally different energy to the situation. Now instead of resentfully grinding away or procrastinating in a stubborn attempt to defy your oppressor you're choosing to dedicate time to the task and four hours spent in this manner I can attest is vastly more effective than eight hours spent in the other way. Well here I think is an insight that is new to me and I think is a smart one the psychology of your workload. Personifying your workload as an enemy against which you are essentially doing battle. So by saying I am going to not just stop working when I'm just so exhausted it becomes a practical to do anything else because that's the workload monster winning. Say I'm going to choose when I work and it's going to be less than that. Now you feel like you're in charge and Berkman is pointing out when you feel like you're in charge like you have autonomy you bring a fresh energy to that work it's something you're choosing to do you are going to feel more motivated about how you work. Now look I've seen something similar to this back when I used to work with college students. When I would find college students especially at least schools begin to have massive procrastination problems almost always what was going on was a short circuiting of their motivational system if they're grinding grinding grinding especially if the work was for classes they didn't even sure why they were taking them is because they were pre-med because their parents or they should be a doctor they're grinding grinding grinding what would eventually happen is their motivational system would fry out when their system fried out they couldn't do any more work. Berkman give us an interesting insight in understanding what's going on there in some sense it is your oppressor finally just crushes your spirit so simply by saying I have control I'm going to work a lot but on my terms and not as much as I might otherwise do you feel like you're doing this on your own motivation that this is intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivation and that's much less likely to fry your motivational system you're much less likely to burn out so I think that's a really insightful way of looking at it by working less you actually feel better about your work and again the results you produce might therefore end up not being less than if you had tried to put in more hours something that he keeps coming back to again and again. We got one last conclusion from Oliver here finally you learned a crucial lesson that the sky doesn't fall in when things get neglected we quote unquote insecure overachievers and I know there are plenty of you reading this drive ourselves so hard thanks to an unconscious sense that if we don't some catastrophe will occur and look it's really good to meet deadlines keep commitments answer messages promptly and so on but for almost everyone in almost every context it isn't actually essential in this existential life or death since to do so when you put a hard limit on your work hours it's inevitable that on any given day you'll fail to do everything you think needs to get done in fact that's true whether you limit your hours or not the limit just makes it impossible to ignore and what happens the world doesn't end which is liberating because it allows you to accept your finite capacities rather than living in fear of them and because you get to spend less of your work time feeling like you're for stalling catastrophe and more of it making a calm and power choice about what would be wise us to prioritize the miraculous result once more is that you end up neglecting less of what truly matters so I think again we have some interesting psychology being brought up here so he has this term insecure over achievers for this idea that I have to keep working because if I neglect something it's going to be a problem people are counting on me they need this to get done and so you push yourself longer hours to try to each night get to this place of okay I think I've taken care of every open loop we see this a lot in inbox and security this idea that if there's an email in that inbox from someone I work with that needs something that's a problem and so I got to empty out this inbox I got to answer all these messages and I have to keep checking even after the workdays over because it makes me really stressed that there's a message in there waiting for me you see this a lot when you have interactions with people who are maybe new to knowledge work or aren't as inculcated in a world of knowledge work and you will see this sort of desperate quick responses to your messages that are almost always apologetic and it's because they're still conceptualizing this communication like they would an in person interaction oh my god it's rude to ignore someone every minute I have not answered this message is a problem that's a minute where that person is just sitting there see the where is my response you see this inbox and security as a concrete instantiation of insecure over achievement I actually have a I come to a similar issue sometimes from a different direction so I have this weird worry where I'll think okay I have these various things that I need to get done what if I am sick tomorrow or what if you know equivalently I don't sleep well you know I'm going to have a hard time getting some of these work these things done so if I can actually get this all done today even if I have to push really hard and skip a meal I will get some relief knowing that tomorrow I'm not dependent on feeling good I'm not dependent at being at my full power this of course is another Sissafian mindset because there's always another day there's always more work to be done days are short life is long it's much better to say let's just take each day as it comes it does a reasonable amount of work and they'll be good days and bad days but overall things will get built up but it's very easy for me to think at the moment if I could make tomorrow easier by working harder today I'm going to get some relief and of course I get to tomorrow and then say well you know if I could make today harder to make the next day easier than I'm going to get some relief and the reason why you never catch up of course is that there's always more work you can pull in there's always someone else with a message you could get back to there's always another project you could initiate so I think these subtle psychology to overwork are all very interesting there is now that we're stepping back okay so we're stepping back from Oliver's article there is an overlay I want to add on to this that he doesn't talk about but we talk about a lot on this show and I think it is really critical and that is the overlay of workload management so a lot of what happens when you add let's say a four hour work day right so you're adding an artificial limit the reason why that works like the reason why you don't in Oliver's case end up spiraling out of control the reason why you don't end up with people constantly irate at you and on the phone is because all work limits be it the eight hour work day a ten hour work day a four hour work day they're all artificial they're all just lines in the sand of this is how much time I have to work and I stop working after this time is over in almost every non-entry level knowledge work job there is way more available tasks than you'll ever have time to do so you're always at some point drawing a line and say no more after this this is why Oliver finds that his whole thing doesn't fall apart because we're already implicitly doing this all the time we stop working at six or we stop working at seven or when we decide for example that we're we're not going to work till four a.m. every morning and all this is possible you know by the way I do have a friend who does this who will work to three or four a.m. most days right so you might say well wait if I'm working till seven p.m. like there's no more time to work you know that's filling my whole time no you could be working many hours after that right so it's all kind of artificial where we draw these lines and what happens is when we draw these lines is that becomes our implicit workload management system this is how much time I have if I have way more work than I can actually stay on top of in this much time that's back pressure and that back pressure says I'm going to say no to more things I'm going to take some more things off of my plate I'm going to spread out how long I spend to work on things so the back pressure of your artificial work limits really determines what your workload is like if you switch down to four hours and you're able to get away with that let's say you're you're highly autonomous you're not going to break the norms of your company what's going to happen is that back pressure will just adjust your workload if all of us stuck with four hours or work a day give it six months and you will see these implicit but notable shifts in what's on his plate because you adjust I'm not able to keep up with this many things I'm working this many hours I said no to this I took this off my plate I'm spinning twice as long for this you would adjust to that new workload and the thing is what he's noticing and I think this is true is even a relatively drastic shift in your workload so down from what you can fit in eight hours to four hours in the end will likely not seem to have a major difference on your impact as a professional the quality work that you produced that actually moves the needle because often when we're pruning back this workload we're pruning stuff that's less important and we're working more efficiently and more quality deeply on the stuff that does matter so we do have a lot to give so why don't we see more experimentations like this it's typically norms you know and that's what it really comes down to and that's probably the piece that's missing from all of our essay the most is it is very difficult in most knowledge work situations to be saying no we're turning things down when you could be seen yes you're not doing things in the afternoon because you don't work in the afternoon it's a time people normally work it's a it's an amount of work people normally take on it is very hard to walk back from that so norms will drive us towards your workload level of busyness the schedule you use should fit something we're more or less used to so we end up with a particular artificial limit around eight or nine hours which is okay but kind of stressful depending on the work even though it could be much less just like it could be much more of course my answer to all of this and it's hard but my answer to all of this is we should just move workload management away from the implicit we should move it away from just the outcome of back pressure on your time limits and then that just leads you naturally to say no to more things I think we should just be much more explicit with workload how much should you be working on what are you working on when is that to this is a reasonable load you're not going to put something else on it and we can tune that up and down and that should be something negotiable that should be something you could say here's the salary ranges for this job depending on what's work load you're comfortable with and I can come in and say great you know what I have some young kids at home I'm going to do this four hour workload and we actually manage it that way and it's it's somewhat less money but it's worth it and then I can tune it up later in life I think workload management should be explicit but outside of a few small knowledge work fields like software development we do not do this and I think that's ultimately my takeaway message is this is this whole piece gets to the way that we implicitly deal with our workload right now which is just I don't know I'm out of time I feel like I can't fit anymore so this back pressure will lead me to change my habits it should not be so implicit it should not be so emergent we should have a better way of keeping track of what are you doing and how much you want to do and use that to not only prevent overload but to allow us to fine tune this in ways that it has a more diversity of loads and is a lot more sustainable it's not the sexiest of topics workload management but I do think it's actually at the core of a lot of what a lot of people care about inside knowledge work it's at the core of a lot of the sources of unhappiness that I think people have in their jobs these days so there we go Oliver thank you for that enlightening article I'm jealous I'm thinking about I would like to do something similar and I think you let us hit on some some really interesting points you kind of work similar hours anyway right I mean it's hard for me to say I guess be don't include your teaching stuff yeah because I have multiple jobs yeah I mean if I if I focused on any one job if I was just a writer or if I was just a professor I'm probably already doing something like that a reduced a reduced work day compared to what my peers are doing and it helps me manage my workload and it improves the quality of what I work on and actually I think most people don't notice so you know so I think you're right if you pull out my individual jobs you see I'm doing something like


Cal talks about Shopify and Cozy Earth (25:23)

Oliver is doing and I do do fine no one really notices you know it does it does work out okay all right so I pulled some questions that all I would say roughly have to do with work the amount you work the trade-off between work and going off to have fun so sort of all within the same Berkman style how do I control my work and my workload and its relationship to other parts of my life before we get to that though I want to briefly mention one of the sponsors that makes this show possible and that is our friends at Shopify Shopify is your no excuses business partner you can sell online without needing to code or design bring along your best ideas and Shopify will help you open up shop it makes it easy for you to show up exactly the way you want to you can customize your online store to your style with their flexible templates and powerful tools they have new AI enabled tools powered by Shopify Magic to instantly write compelling product descriptions once you start selling Shopify makes getting paid simple by instantly accepting every type of payment Shopify now powers 10% of all e-commerce in the US and Shopify is truly a global force powering all birds, roffees and Brooklyn in among millions of other entrepreneurs of every size across 170 countries Jesse have long said this if and when we open up our deep questions with Cal Newport shop for sure Shopify is how we would do that e-commerce experience I mean I know so many people who are running their merch that goes along their online media companies through Shopify it's got that great checkout experience you can make it look just like you want it takes all of the different credit cards and payment sources it helps you with all of that so we have our e-commerce partner Jesse we just need to figure out what our merch is going to be I think that's the hard part it all Shopify also does a good job of pre-populating your existing information like your name and your address and stuff like that yeah because it's it's for the buyer it's common across all the different Shopify site so if you've shopped at any Shopify site when you come to the deep question store we're going to open it knows your information and it can plug it right in so I yeah I do really appreciate that so sign up for a one dollar per month trial period at Shopify dot com slash deep all lowercase go to Shopify dot com slash deep to take your business to the next level today that Shopify dot com slash deep I also want to talk about our friends at cozy earth I have to say of the things I am missing most being up here in New Hampshire is our cozy earth sheets from back home in Tacoma park I've mentioned this before on the show my wife and I love their sheets so much so that we had one pair they had sent us and we really were depressed the weeks where we would switch you know wash them and we'd have another pair of sheets on the bed so we bought more so we went and bought more so that we could always have cozy earth sheets on our bed incredibly comfortable temperature regulating I'd never had fancy sheets before this made me into a believer now here's the thing if you try it and you don't agree with me well a that means you're wrong and a heathen and a barbarian and I don't want to know you but also they will refund your purchase price plus shipping no questions asked they'll give you 100 nights to try them out that's right 100 nights they'll make that type of guarantee because they know it's great there's a reason why this brand has made Oprah's favorite things five years in a row it's really comfortable sheets they're made from vscuse of product of bamboo so it traps less heat but it's still very soft and comfortable great sheets so here's the good good news for a limited time you can save up to 40 percent on cozy earth go to cozy earth dot com that's c-o-z-y cozy earth dot com and enter the promo code deep questions at checkout that's with a space deep space questions at checkout and you will save up the 40 percent now that really makes a difference you definitely want to use a discount code so if you want to try cozy earth sheets for 100 nights try for 100 nights and if you don't sleep cooler send the back and ask for a full refund but to get that discount you have to go to cozy earth dot com and use that promo code deep questions we probably could have just brought these Jesse I probably should have just brought our sheets up here I didn't I didn't think that through I was actually thinking that when you were talking about it yeah I know well we got a lot of things to bring camera equipment you know exactly yeah I got I got all these lights kids it's another thing I had to bring which took a lot of space it turns out all right now let's do some questions who do we got first all right first question Natasha from New York I was hoping you can spend more time elaborating on what the celebration bucket may include and one of the most recent episodes you


What does the “celebrate” deep life bucket include? (30:25)

mentioned hobbies but do you also include actual celebrations like birthdays or graduations or even vacations yeah celebration is maybe not the most descriptive term but let's just step back and set the stage so our old way of conceiving of cultivating the deep life just focused on these buckets identify the different areas of your life that matter and overhaul them one by one supported by habits one of those buckets we would often give was celebration that was one of the example buckets now if we want to put this into the context of our deep life stack the new way we think about cultivating the deep life these buckets or areas of your life are relevant in the final layer of the stack that's the vision layer the layer in which you plan for the remarkable and so you take different areas of your life and try to overhaul them in a remarkable direction so that's how this maps onto our new way of thinking about the deep life celebration that term was being used because it started with a C and I was trying early on to try to make all of our sample buckets I gave sample areas your life to alliterate and I'll start with Cs but but this is I think it's a good point that Natasha makes when you hear celebration you think about literal celebrations birthdays graduations or vacations what I actually meant when I talked about the celebration area of your life was more celebrating the nice aspects of life so other terms here that might be appropriate would be gratitude or enjoyment or appreciation and if we want to be a little bit more specific here we think about this area of your life in which you are doing things for non-instrumental reasons so activities or experiences that don't have some other goal like this is going to help grow my business is going to help me make more money this is going to put me in better health or fitness but things you do for no other reason than just the pure enjoyment or appreciation of the experience right so types of activities that this area of your life might entail include high quality leisure so you really get into the craft of building something or rioting or painting where it's woodworking it's just the appreciation of the craft you're not selling it you're not trying to use this as a way to get over here you just appreciate the craft of something and it can be lost in that adventures fall into this you know we're going to go hike one of the one of the high peaks of the white mountains just for the experience of being above the tree line and what it's like and it's dramatic up there and it's meditative and just there's gratitude for life and the world when you're up there that's a classic celebration bucket type activity other well-engineered experiences even if they're not adventures counting here I mean for the gourmand to go to a restaurant where they just really appreciate the food or for the cinephile to go to see the the movie of a director and just to really appreciate the cinematic experience so this brings us to connoisseurship more generally that really falls into this area of life as well developing over time a real expertise in something just so you can enjoy the quality of something you can appreciate what's makes this good versus bad why is that car such a cool classic car why is that book such a well written novel all of that falls into this area of your life so when you get to that plan level the vision level layer of the deep life stack and you're looking for areas of your life to overhaul I think this is a fun one it's how can I inject into my life in some really intentional ways much more of this really just sort of appreciating non-instrumental quality experiences and I think this is a good one for almost every face of life right when you're in that hard charging phase of life in your 20s your professional ambitions might start to drown that out and that could be an issue say I need to make sure I have this in my life in an intentional way having kids can kind of push this out of your life at first and you really want to try to claw back into your life as soon as you can there's sort of the upper middle age malaise as your kids are getting older and you're sort of ossifying in your career how do I inject something new something new I'm learning how to do something new I'm mastering the adventures I'm going on you know I'm thinking a lot about this now I'm trying to think about how to get more of this in my life as I leave that okay I have a bunch of young kids all hands on deck stage to have a little bit more breathing room be able to do things with them just moving on in my career where it's more stable this is definitely an area when I get the that layer of my stack each year that I'm starting to think about more so I think celebration is probably not the the right term anymore let's now say when you get to the deep layer stack the one area of your life that you might think about is we could call it quality or enjoyment and maybe that terminology is going to work better I'll tell you Jesse people up here understand that by up here I mean New Hampshire I think especially because two things the winners are hard and the summers are beautiful I think there's this sense of in a way that you can't get away with you could get away with this in DC or New York where you could just be yeah I'm just my job and I just work we kind of work late and because we didn't go to like a cool restaurant or whatever around here I think people are much more intentional about these non-instrumental things in their life it's like the winter is coming someone told me at dinner the other night if you're not skating or skiing you're going to be in trouble like you need to lean into the winter when the summer comes you better have things that have nothing to do with your work that you're taking advantage of the weather and I think in the cities you can get away without this it's you know whatever I don't have a hobby I just I work a lot and because you go to cool restaurants and bars there's like stuff going on you can be distracted and you don't need the systematic intentional development of areas of your life that are non-instrumental and high quality but up here I think there's less to go do there's not 50 interesting bars and restaurants you can move between there's not restored historic movie theaters where you can just go you know see the latest thing there's not museums and all these readings going on so you have to get careful what am I doing with my time outside of work to really lean into it I do appreciate that that's good point yeah you're good at that Jesse I think you have a good you typically have a pretty fair collection of things you think through pretty intentionally of outside of work yeah big difference between yeah cross-bed and then I don't have kids yet so that I have a little more time on that end but yeah in terms of even even sports like tennis and golf that like you have to play if you want to get any better and then you have to fit that in so right but then it's fine for the better that you do right because it's a nice counterpoint to other things because you have to yeah I mean it keeps the outside of your moving it's social yep and it's like you're thinking the entire time so it's like a you know it's a test of like your mental ability to focus for a while especially if I could plan and matches and stuff yep yep at any level at any level of like either sport yep I got just be focusing on this I can't let my attention wander yeah so yeah it's really easy to do and like either sport like you could up all of a sudden like look to look ahead to the next point or something like that I remember Michael Jordan said like never look ahead just like play like now yeah make this what it's hard to do yeah all right so good there we go all right let's move on what we got next all right next question JT from Texas Kalloffin talks about individuals who make big changes in their lives in pursuit of depth what's a useful way to think about when a big change is appropriate versus attempting smaller optimizations around the edges yeah I thought this was relevant to that same top layer of the deep life stack we were just talking about you plan


The are big life changes the right thing to do? (38:54)

for the remarkable so you take areas of your life and overhaul them when possible trying to push them to be more remarkable this is where you would make major changes often I'm going to completely change my work I'm going to move I'm going to hike the Appalachian Trail this is when you're aiming towards the remarkable is when big changes actually come through so I think it's a really good discussion to have when is it appropriate to make a big change versus smaller changes optimized around the edges just changing parts of your life so I thought we'd start by saying what's the wrong reason to do something dramatic now it's either wrong reason to do something dramatic is because you think just the drama or boldness of the move itself is going to be invigorating I think this is pretty common I mean I see this a lot where people get interested in the change itself I'm going to feel like I'm shaking up my life I'm going to feel excited I'm going to feel a sense of possibility when I move to the woods but you're making the move not because of concretely where it's going to lead or what it's going to change but just because you like the idea of making a move itself and often when people do this they will take off the table other factors that really matter in their life what's the side effects of this going to be they say I don't care what what's important is I just need to do something big it's the change itself that's going to break me loose for my ossification now that's the wrong reason to do it because the energy and excitement of a big move wears off once the move is done so you change your quit your job you move to the woods you begin hiking on the Appalachian Trail and if you're just doing it for the sake of doing okay fast forward two weeks that excitement is gone you're now in a new reality is that new reality the new lifestyle configuration this has generated is it much better and if it's not demonstrably better you've made no progress you may have burned bridges you may have made other aspects of your life worse so I think the right reason to make a major change is when it is part of a considered plan that moves you closer to your vision of an ideal lifestyle and when I say considered I mean there's two things going on here one it is pushing you towards something you do care about so it's taking something you do really care about and making that remarkable so it's not just a change itself it's the change is actually signaling to yourself that something that's core to you is something you take seriously so you're making the move to this new location so that you can be closer to your family now you're doing that that perhaps signal to yourself that family and family connections are important so you want a to have an actual value that's being amplified by this big change and two you've thought through its side effects you've thought through holistically when I change this part of my life what's going to happen to other parts of my life and am I net net going to be much closer to my ideal lifestyle or is it a wash or is it perhaps even worse off again I mentioned this before but it's worth re-emphasizing there is a blinders effect that I see often when talking to people where they get so in love with the idea of changing something that they will purposefully obfuscate the negative side effects I don't want to think about that that might talk me out of it I just love the romance of we're moving to Spain I love the romance of I'm quitting my job to row across the ocean or whatever it is you're now thinking through well what about the other parts of my life and what about family what about my kids what about financial stability what about what I get by living in a city all these other aspects of your life you put blinders on is problems so a big change really should be something where you thought through all the different side effects for all the different areas of your life and you like where all of it ends up so let me give you two case studies I'll give you two case studies one where a big change is a good idea and one where just blindly making a change would be a bad idea so an example it's a good idea this is a story I elaborate in my slow productivity book that's coming out in March is I told more of the story of Paul Jarvis who we've talked about before on this show I know Paul because he wrote a book once called company of one that argued for not growing your business but instead keeping your business as you get better at it keeping it purposefully small and leveraging your increasing value as you get better at what you do to actually work less oh I can I can make the same amount of money in less time now so that so that actually you skilled the biflexibility not to generate more money it was a really cool book but I learned more about his story and I'll give you the bare bones version of this but essentially he was a web developer living in Vancouver Vancouver is a big city he was living in the high rise he described it as a glass cage so just up in this high rise is expensive real estate working really hard to you know try to pay the rent and him and his wife decided at some point well we don't like this we don't like living in the city we like nature she likes surfing in particular so you know good things she lives in Canada and they didn't mind the web development stuff but he had no real interest and you didn't want to be an entrepreneur with a big company don't want to make a lot of money and so they moved to Vancouver island which is very rural outside of Vancouver in the water there they moved to the west side of Vancouver island to a property in the woods near a small town I think it's called Tulfino where there's actually a surf break it's like the best Canadian surf break is on this small town on the western coast of Vancouver island they lived real cheaply they built greenhouses and gardened in their their property they had here this was not a fancy property it was sort of isolated and he said they worked it out and he said that I could do I could do client work remotely and that's what he did and he got better he charged more and had less clients and then he eventually added in some products he would build because he wouldn't have to talk to clients at all to see how they would go and they just lived cheaply that was a change moving to the woods that made sense and all the aspects of the life they cared about their ideal lifestyle this image of this is we want to be a you know near a small town and surfing every day and working on our gardens and only working just enough to make ends meet and my skills are lucrative enough that we could we could do that it was a move that made sense that big change made sense because all the other aspects of their life were thought through and it helped them and it really leaned into the central value if he didn't care that much about work outside of just doing enough to get by let me give you another example where a massive change would probably not make sense use myself what if I just said like right now you know what I'm tired of I have too much on my plate which is true I've too much on my plate so enough of this I am just going to quit academia and move to Vermont to just write full-time now again it's one of these things that on paper you say something like that you're like oh yeah that's exciting you know you could see someone like me getting swept away in the excitement of just we're moving to Vermont and everything's off my plate and I'm just going to whatever just write books and it feels like a solution to your problems in the moment and the drama is very romantic but let's think that through in my case we say okay how would it change like that what's the impact is going to be on other parts of my life what's the impact is going to be on my vision for myself and my work and suddenly all these issues try to come up I mean first of all I enjoy academia I enjoy old universities I like the fact that George Town where I am is an 18th century university Dartmouth where I am right now is an 18th century university these are places that you know George Washington visited old buildings I love that history I love professors and being around the classrooms I really like that what about you know my kids for example all there the school they go to that they that we're really closely connected to all the friends we have around there what about financial stability writing can be hit or miss you know you can have drought periods and it's not nearly as stable as okay I also have you know a paycheck with health insurance and benefits what about separation from family we live in a place that's like close to our family what about the reality of full-time living in Vermont I mean it's great in July but call me in February it's a different type of picture right so if you you unstep back from the romance of let's make a big change this situation we say I don't know I don't have an ideal lifestyle vision in which just living somewhere completely new and cut off from this type of work I've done my entire adult life a lot of that would start to suffer and so that would be a place we say there are smaller optimizations to make that would get you closer to your ideal lifestyle there's any number of flexible moves you can make within the umbrella of academia and within the realm of your own habits that could reduce the burden of I have too much to do you could reduce what's on your plate you could lean into sabbaticals and off semesters you could if you needed to perhaps even change your situation somewhat within academia that this would be a case study where small intentional changes could help dampen down what was causing the problem while still making your overall lifestyle image largely be matching the things you care about so anyways these are off the top of my head but I want to give two examples where in one a radical change led to an overall better life and another one a radical change wasn't going to solve the problem it causes many issues as benefits and there's probably smaller fixes to get you closer so I don't know that's maybe get a little bit specific but that's the type of mindset I have what I'm thinking through throw it all and move throw it all change your job or I think working within the system is going to be better all right and all of our monster realtors just cried all right let's do uh let's keep rolling Jesse what do we got next all right next questions from deep name I read in your deep workbook and in your Tim Ferriss podcast that you rarely work past five or six p.m. but you didn't mention what time you start your workday 2 a.m. though not really not really um so in the normal school year I my workday it can't be until after I drop the kids off at the bus stop so that's 8 30 ish I would say so yeah no I really work past five or six p.m. I don't start early I'm not an early riser it doesn't make sense to work before we get all the kids fed and packed and you know out the door to the bus stop so usually the earliest I'm working is probably thinking on my walk back from the bus stop after dropping them off I might start thinking in my head about the first thing I'm going to work on so I can hit the ground running when I get back so yeah my my day actually does stay pretty reasonably nine to five all right picking up speed here who do we got next


When does Cal “start” his work day? (49:18)

Jesse all right next question buzz from Vancouver I'm 35 and live in Vancouver and work as a communications manager I live a very fun lifestyle centric life centered on outdoor sports the problem is that I'm only managing to save small months money every month but every time I research the next pay grade in my profession it entails more responsibility in the management of bigger teams I'm not saving it enough for retirement but I don't want to disrupt my current lifestyle to do so well there's two levers you can push here so one lever is to spin less all right you


How do I save for a good retirement without making my current lifestyle worse? (50:35)

reduce the cost of your lifestyle and therefore you're able to save more of the money that you are already making other related sub paths in this general journey would also be to generate other sources of passive income so this could be a situation where you rent out the house you currently have and buy a different cheaper house and now you have that rental income all of these type of things you could probably find more specific examples in the fire community F.I.R.E financial independence retire early they are all about reducing their expenses so that they can save much more of the money that they're actually making now what you would be talking about here in the the fire community would probably be what they refer to as fat fire because your goal here is not necessarily I want to save a huge amount of money very quickly and retire in 10 years your goal here is just I want to make sure that I'm saving enough money from my job not that I want to retire early but that I can retire when the time comes so fat fire is what they refer to as you do cut your expenses back so that you can save an unusual large percentage of your salary but you're not trying to save 75% of your salary you're still living a relatively full life it's not this sort of Spartan what's really batten down the hatches and not spend any money lifestyle so that's probably where you would fall you would check out mr money mustache would be a good source maybe check out the frugal woods that's another good source I think right now the frugal woods who actually don't live far from where I am right now neither of them work full-time jobs anymore they use their house from Cambridge right outside of Boston they kept that house and they rent it and I think they're living largely off of that rental income and lizzes freelance writing income so you know they're living very cheaply so that direction you would check out fire the other direction is to make more money now of course what you're saying here is well to make more money if I just kept going on my current job path the next level up is more work and more responsibility and then I can't do this other stuff I love about being in Vancouver I can't do all the outdoor sports all right so you have a couple options here one you can throw at this issue of gaining more money but not wanting to give up too much autonomy you could throw much more advanced self management self-organization tactics so you could throw at it pure cal Newport multi-scale planning hyperactive hive mind busting processes I mean you could just come at it I know how to organize myself and my work so even though you add more responsibilities I can still keep control of my scheduling a way that I could still do the fun outdoor activities now you might be surprised by what you can get away with most people are really bad at this if you're not really bad at this then you might gain a lot of autonomy over your work the other way you could make more money without losing your autonomy is to say I have to be more creative than just simply what's the next promotion at my particular job and there you need to start thinking about career capital theory the type of thing I talk about in my book so good they can't ignore you right now there might not be another option for you other than just taking the next rung up and having to manage teams but is there a skill you could develop that is sufficiently rare and sufficiently valuable that it would give you enough leverage that you could shift your situation to be more money without having to give up a lot of autonomy is there a skill you could develop that allow you to let's say trade more accountability for accessibility judge me on my work and I'm going to do this work at a high level because I'm really good at this now but you're not going to expect accessibility you're not going to expect I can reach you at any time it's instead going to be we'll see what you do do good work as long as you're producing good work we don't care that you're not available at three on Thursday because you're out mountain biking so career capital that is building up rare and valuable skills can give you leverage for a lot more creative ways forward so we have two different directions here you can spin less and there we said look at the fire community especially the fat fire community or you could make more without unnecessarily giving up more of your autonomy and there you're going to want to care about being better organized about how you manage your obligations and attention and also thinking about career capital theory building up skills that you can then cash in for gaining more autonomy the right answer is probably some sort of combination of the two so probably what you're going to do is think through your finances more carefully find some ways again the fire community will be very helpful here to to increase the amount of money you're saving to maybe generate some other source of passive income that can all go towards savings and then mix that with some sense of how do I make more money without giving everything up and again some notion of I'm more organized than most people or I'm working now very intensely on skills so that three years from now I can change my situation into one that is going to allow me to have more options I can make more money without having to completely give up my Tommy I would look at both of those paths at the same time if you're serious about both those paths you will find some combination where I think you're going to feel financially pretty secure and still be able to do those other things you care about and the main thing I appreciate here is that you are looking at the full lifestyle holistically and you know for you right now at your stage of life these outside sports these adventure activities are a key part of what earlier in the show we used to call the celebration bucket and now we said we should rename to something else that you know that's important and you're trying to build a lifestyle that includes that and includes work this is what this more holistic lifestyle centric planning looks like you're trying to make changes where pushing this doesn't drop this or we can improve this while not hurting this and I think it's a great example of exactly those types of trade-offs all right so what I want to do instead of a final question is actually a case study this is something a listener sent in and it felt very relevant to the type of issues we've been talking about on the show so let me read this here I'm I'm obfuscating a little bit obfuscating a few details here because I don't know how much anonymity is being expected so I'll I obfuscated a few details here all right so here's the message and I'll read this here I am


Case Study - The Joys of Doing Less (57:01)

the quote-unquote exhausted professor from episode 197 a little more than a year has passed since Cal answered my question about how to plan my time during my sabbatical not only has it been had it been a decade since my previous sabbatical but I was also recovering from having been department chair for the previous five years so I was at that time exhausted Cal advised me to operate at the 30% level recharge my batteries work on things that are interesting to me and make myself as scarce as I had been back when I was doing field work in Antarctica turns out that's exactly what I needed to do and I'm so glad I had Cal's blessing to do it I read a lot of interesting books hung out with my friends and family and spent lots of quality time with my dog during the final few months of her life I also gave my career some serious thought did a little lifestyle center career planning and ultimately left my 10 year position at my state university for a different career at a top 10 school while I was sad to leave my old colleagues and students I needed a new adventure I started my new job in May and I totally love it I have wonderful new colleagues and students and my work is very fulfilling and ever so thankful to Cal for imploring me to recharge not worry about being productive many thanks to you for choosing my question for your great work on the show so I thought this was a great case study for a couple reasons I think one that shows the slow productivity philosophy in action to just always be going full bore I am busy I am feeling feeling every hour of the day not only is it not sustainable but it becomes an obstacle to actually evolving yourself and evolving your life by taking more time having seasonality here let me come off a busy period to go to a slow period this listener was actually able to gain the insight needed to not only recharge but make some interesting career decisions to do a really thorough lifestyle center career planning analysis that led her to leave tenure to take another type of job in academia what she's really liking so I'd like this idea of slowing down sometimes not everything should be full bore figuring out what's going on getting reconnected with the things that really matter and seeing what decisions you might or might not make what course corrections you need to do that really thoughtfully not to just lash out not that just in year five of your department chair chairmanship to say you know what enough of this I'm quitting and moving to Vermont and say okay hold on a second this is almost over then I was a bad a goal let's give this some space let's slow things down and think more more critically about what I want to do and recognizing in general that life is long days and seasons are short the long scheme of things no one's going to notice that you didn't do a lot of work during your sabbatical but for for this particular person it made a really big difference so I thought that was a great ending case study for our discussion today of Berkman's idea of doing less on purpose and seeing what you discover because in this case what she discovered was a lot about herself and what she cared about and made some big changes that was a cool case study all right so I want to jump on to a final segment here where I react to something that's either


Cal talks about Grammarly and Policy Genius (01:00:12)

happening on the internet or someone sent to me but before I do I also want to take the opportunity to talk about another one of sponsors that makes this show possible and that is our longtime friends at Grammarly and in particular I want to talk about their new product Grammarly Go so Grammarly Go harnesses the power of generative AI to help you produce better writing now there's two elements here that go back to what I talk about a lot first of all writing I've talked about a lot being able to communicate clearly and effectively is critical to success in our current world and then when I've talked about AI I've often said this is where we're going to see the difference especially with generative AI is in these narrow applications to specific parts of our life that are linguistic where it can help and so Grammarly Go this new product offered by Grammarly is the collision of these two ideas that I have talked about a lot so what can you do with Grammarly Go let me give you some examples here so one thing you could do for example is their reply feature the Grammarly Go reply feature which will summarize when you're working with your inbox when you're working with email it will summarize the email and give you suggestions on how to reply so you can get through your inbox quicker so you sort of get a first draft of what you are going to reply it can also help you with ideas give me ideas for decorating a taco truck that's something you can ask Grammarly Go it'll give you some ideas you can use that to help write the thing you need to write give me ten possible taglines for this video thumbnail it will give you ideas starting point for your creative process let me go with this one and let me polish it it'll also help you rewrite for different tones or styles so you can write out something pretty quick and then say okay the Grammarly Go make this sound more professional it will rewrite it in a more professional tone make this sound more exciting it will rewrite it in a more exciting tone the large language models behind generative AI are very good at working with styles and so this is just examples of the type of things you can do with Grammarly Go so anyways I think it's a very interesting tool you're already doing a lot of writing your job and you want this writing to be as good as possible you want to be efficient in all this writing this is like having an assistant looking over your shoulder that has one goal to make you more effective at communicating so you'll be amazed at what you can do with Grammarly Go just go to Grammarly.com/go to download and learn more about Grammarly Go that's g-r-a-m-m-a-r-l-y.com/go that's one talk about our friends at policy genius if you have a family or someone who depends on you then you know that it is important for you to have life insurance in the worst case if something happens for you you do not want them to have to worry about money this is common sense so if you know you need life insurance or you know you need more life insurance but you don't currently have it the question is why not and the answer is almost always because it's a pain it's ambiguous how do you figure out what insurance to get where do you go who do you talk to you're gonna have to go to a doctor's office and have test made it it seems ambiguous and hard and so we procrastinate on it this is where policy genius enters the scene because it makes it easy to find and get a good life insurance policy their technology allows you to compare life insurance quotes for America's top insurers in just a few clicks because you're comparing you can save money with policy genius you can find life insurance policies that start at just $25 per month for one million dollars of coverage some options offer coverage and as little as a week and avoid unnecessary medical exams their license award-winning agents can help you find exactly the type of insurance you need for your needs they work for you and not the insurance companies they do not have an incentive to recommend one insurer over another their incentive is to make you the customer satisfied this is why they have thousands of five star reviews on google and trust pilot so your loved ones deserve a financial safety net you deserve a smarter way to find and buy it head to policy genius calm or click the link in the description to get your free life insurance quotes and see how much you could save that's policy genius calm all right let's go to our final segment now where we talk about something that i've encountered in my week that i thought was worth discussing i'll say uh today's thing i want to react to is connected to a deeper dilemma i have and so maybe i'll solicit Jesse the comment of our audience here to help me answer this dilemma the thing i'm going to show today i would say 12 different readers sent to me and it's about the director Christopher Nolan's technology habits and i thought i would feature this today because his new movie Oppenheimer is out now in theaters i'm a big Chris Nolan fan


Chris Nolan On Phone Ownership

Chris Nolan doesn’t own a phone (01:05:50)

i think dung Kirk is a masterpiece so i'm very excited about what he did here but before we get to this quick news hit about Chris Nolan's technology habits here's my dilemma do i see Oppenheimer kind of yeah Jesse knows and do i see it up here in New Hampshire or do i risk waiting until later in august when i'm back in dc and i can actually see a large format projection there's a risk what if it's no longer in theaters when i get back it will be in theaters you think so yeah that's all i think i should it's only like a month away well i think i should wait because Nolan filmed most of this in a combination of 70 millimeter and iMAX format which is a 65 millimeter format to see it and look i don't want to disparage the hand over nugget movie theater because again i have good experiences there i went here when i was a college kid their screens are not massive and their projectors are not large format projectors the one nice thing about dc is there's plenty of iMAX theaters they could project this capacity also the afi theater non-profit theater in silver spring not far from where i live has a 70 millimeter projector as well in fact i saw dung Kirk when i saw dung Kirk for the first time i went to see the 70 millimeter projection so op-it-heimer is filmed in large format so this is this is what i'm trying to weigh should i risk it'll still be clean i'll wait okay yeah if it's if it's out of the theaters though jesse i'm gonna be upset yeah like if i get back fire me yeah i'm mad dog and see tory just like mad dog and see tory i'll be like jesse you're out of the city here but what we'll have to do after we convince the washington nationals that uh deep work consulting is worth three wins above replacement for their season we then have to convince chris nolan and his team that deep work is somehow going to be critical to their work and then i'll be able to go see a print with him and his personal his personal projection room yeah all right i was thinking about two if you get the if you get the natch job and you know they want you there you have to get there early so you have plenty of time to read so you can read for like you know 90 minutes before you have to do your thing so i do want to be up in the owners box reading you know having a cigar with mike and then it's like time for me just to get the team kind of fired up and telling you i'll hang out with with uh charlie slows and dan colco it'll be fun all right let's get to this actual news item by the way you can chime in if you think i'm making the wrong risk in waiting to see op-and-heimer in large format but i'll tell you i looked it up the nearest i max to hand over that i could find was a hour 20 minutes so it's another reason another issue with living up here full-time you got to have your large format all right so let me show you this this uh small thing i found i've actually written about this before my blog but this is just an honor this is an honor of mr nolan a lot of people sent this to me all right this from the hollywood reporter i'll load it up on the screen here so here's the article uh it's about nolan from mid-july the headline is this can't be safe it's got to have bite chris for nolan and cast unleash op-and-heimer the director and star cillian murphy and lee blut and matt damen on the stakes that make it an r-rated three-hour cgi free summer flick about the godfather the atomic bomb it's got to be beautiful and threatening an equal measure this is why i have to see this thing in i max they actually built a practical it's not actually an atomic bomb but they the bomb explosion is real they they built from scratch a 65 millimeter black and white camera which did not exist the black and white i max camera and then they they uh a super high speed camera of the same type they had originally developed for the trinity test in los olimos so a camera that can record at super high speeds and they did a real massive explosion and really filmed it with this camera they built from scratch to simulate the cameras they used to record the original atomic explosion so they didn't have to use computer graphics it's all really cool but here's a quote i don't know where it is in the article but i do have it just written down uh in my notes so later in this article there is a quote let me see i think i wrote it in here here we go all right so later in the article and i'll stop to sharing here there's a quote that reads it's not just in his filmmaking that nolan prefers to rely on analog methods he doesn't use email or carry a smartphone and when he writes his scripts he does so on a computer that isn't connected to the internet my kids would probably say i'm a complete luddite he says i would actually resist that description i think technology what it can provide is amazing my personal choice is about how involved i get it's about the level of distraction if i'm generating my material and writing my own scripts being on a smartphone all day wouldn't be very useful to me that is of course music to my ears i think there should be many more professions in which that's really normal you say why would i have a smartphone i'm training an elite athlete why would i have a smartphone i'm a full-time writer and that's only going to get in the way of what i do uh i love those types of examples i think the more we see people doing incredibly focused activities where they their intention about their technology the more we'll see that bleed into maybe less uh attention catching roles we'll see more of that bleed in from movie directors and we can have more of that in just your life as an executive or a teacher but mainly it's just cool and i think chris nolan is cool and i think his movies are cool and i love the fact he doesn't use an internet connected computer and he doesn't own a smartphone because he's trying to build three hundred million dollar movies he doesn't have time to be following the latest sort of attention economy distraction so nolan good for you i'll have to find another way to convince you to hire me to come watch op-and-heimer with you in person i can't email you so we'll try to go through your people but don't worry jesse's on it he'll work it out and if he doesn't i'll fire all right uh that's all the time we have for today thank you everyone for listening we'll be back next week with a another episode of the deep questions podcast and until then as always stay deep


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