Full Length Episode | #153 | December 6, 2021
Transcription for the video titled "Full Length Episode | #153 | December 6, 2021".
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Cal's Intro (00:00)
So I've got my list here. And Jesse, I guess I'll get your take on these books. So as long-time listeners know, my goal is typically to read five books per month.
Discussions And Inquiries
The 5 Books I Read in November (Bonus Rant: Why did Jurassic Park need an assessment from a chaos theoretician?) (00:17)
This is possible, I find if you just, on a semi-regular basis, put aside non-trivial amount of time to reading. And then as you get close to the end of a book, just get after it and say I'm just gonna go and finish this book. So with a little bit of intention, it's often surprising how much you can read. So I thought I would go through what I read this month and we will get the official reaction of producer extraordinaire Jesse on each of these books and my weird reading habits. All right, so book number one I finished was a biography of Steven Spielberg called Spielberg a Life. This has been part of my kick of reading movie books. So as listeners remember from October, I read a bunch of books about movies. So I'm gonna go through this, pick that up. Quick technical note about how I do my reading list. There's multiple ways you can do this. The way I do it is I count the book in the month that it finishes. You can do it the other way and count the book in the month that you start. It's the same thing as long as you're consistent about it. So Spielberg, I actually started on this book way earlier in October, but it finished earlier in November. Pretty good book. So here's my question for you, Jesse. Here's a quiz. How much money would you guess? We talked about this already, Jurassic Park. How much money would you guess Steven Spielberg personally made from Jurassic Park? We have not talked about this. Let me guess. I remember when I saw that movie. $3 million? $2 million to $400 million. Oh, all the time. He made it himself personally to $400 million. There's a little bit of debate about what comes in there, but he had at that point, his deal was 40%. Oh, OK. 40% of gross, basically, and it was a billion dollar movie. Isn't that crazy? $200 million for one movie. It's good negotiating on his part. Yeah, the other thing I learned is that it is a pain. No matter how many people you can hire, no matter how much money you have, it is a pain to have many properties. It's another little tidbit I picked up. So Spielberg had a lot of houses and a lot of apartments, and his ex-wife hated it. She felt like it fell on her. And I don't know, this is like a rich person parable about context switching. There's just overhead, right? I mean, even just the overhead of I got to hire the right person to run this property. So it's a ton of overhead. Maybe that's why Elon sold all his houses. That's true. So there we go. This is our very approachable advice for our listeners this week. Be wary on the number of high-priced luxury properties you maintain because of the overhead involved. This is good. We've been really approachable here. Maybe just like two ocean properties. I don't want to be controversial, Jesse, but maybe just limit yourself to two oceanfront properties. More money, more problems. Exactly. All right. So book number two, so this was every year for Halloween. In the lead up to Halloween, my tradition is I always read some sort of book that is vaguely Halloween-y, so like a thriller that has to be sort of supernatural or Stephen King, something like this, longtime tradition. So I didn't finish my Halloween book till the second day of November. So it counts under November, but I went back and reread Relic. Have you heard of this one? No. Fantastic. Fantastic. This is Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston. Preston also writes for The New Yorker. And it is a book that came out right after Jurassic Park. So this was the big comparison, the poll quote on the cover of the paperback version of this book is better than Jurassic Park. That's the poll quote they put on it. But Preston, if I have this right, he has a background in archeology or paleontology, something like this. He occasionally writes New Yorker pieces on dinosaur bones. So something like this. He used to work or had some connection with the National History Museum in New York, which is like this massive old building that's multiple city blocks long with all these subbasements. And so the idea of this book, which is just fantastic, is that there is essentially a monster loose in the Museum of Natural History. And it's like emerging and killing people in a brutal way. And they don't know what it is. And it's a really, and in the end, it's not supernatural, no spoilers, but it's not, you know, there's actually a scientific explanation for what's going on. It has to do with this expedition that's cursed and there's this monster. And it's this great build up, so it's a great setting. The Natural History Museum is just a great setting. And there's this build up of the monster getting more and more bold until there's a giant gala event and it just all goes crazy. And people are having their heads eaten and it's fantastic. So I'm pro-rallic. They made a movie on it. I didn't like the movie as much as a great book. Was the book better than Jurassic Park? No. So I re-read Jurassic Park recently too, because my son wanted to read it. I thought, I don't know, is this appropriate? You know, he's nine. So I re-read it and it's like, okay, I think this is appropriate. Jurassic Park is cooler, right? I think Spielberg has these big ideas and it's like interesting plot and these character plotting is really interesting and the tech and the intersections is very interesting. Relic is a better crafted thriller. It's a beautifully crafted thriller. It moves in just the right pace, but Jurassic Park is just cool. You know, it's like dinosaurs and there's this, for some reason, a chaos mathematician is there and there are people are trying to understand, you know, the what's going on with the dinosaurs breeding and the fences are down and Muldoon has a rocket launcher. I mean, it's, I think it's a cooler book though. I did, you know, his board was talking to my discrete mathematics plus at Georgetown last week and we were talking about chaos theory, right? Because we were talking about recurrences and they're asking about, let's not get technical, but other close form solutions to all recurrences. I was talking about when you get the second or third order, you get these nonlinear recurrences that are hard to predict and that's chaos theory and this is what Malcolm's character is in Jurassic Park is a chaos theoretician. Book recommendation, by the way, side note chaos by James Gleek. It's a science book about the rise of chaos theory. Fantastic. So anyways, my argument to the class was there is no world in which it makes sense. If you are the insurance company, ensuring is law new Blar where they're building Jurassic Park, there's no world in which it makes sense where you say what we need is a chaos mathematician to come out here and take a look. Have you thought about that? It makes no sense. It's just a guy who get vaguely speaking yet chaos theory. Look, here's what chaos theory is about. There's these certain recurrent equations. So it's an equation where you put in the value from the prior time step into calculating the value for the current time step. Even if they're nonlinear, so you raise things to powers bigger than one, they can become really unpredictable. So it's really if you change the input a little bit and then run it a thousand times, your number ends up in a really weird place and chaos theoreticians study these and find that there's these deep beautiful structures like Lorenz attractors. If you go, if you look at the derivatives or the second derivative and it's like really interesting math. It has nothing to do with keeping large animals properly contained within electrical fences. It has nothing to do with it. I never even noticed that the chaos theory character was in there. I was just kind of more concerned with the dinosaurs. Yeah, it's a Jeff Goldbloom. You know? I guess, yeah, you're right. Yeah. He's a cool character. He's a cool character. But all he does, all he does is say, I study mathematical equations that are unpredictable. Ergo, it might be unpredictable to have dinosaurs that you bred and they might get loose because it's hard to predict. You don't got to fly him there. What's he looking at? What's he looking at? That's an email. I think it's a problem, but I'm sure we should go do this work, but I'm sure that Michael Crichton came across chaos theory, maybe even read the James Gleak book. I think that's from the 1980s and just said this is cool. I got to put this in the book somehow and he just wanted to find a place for the character. So anyways, it's a bit of a problem. Other thing I noticed is I reread "Adronomistran" and I mentioned that on the show. The science there's a lot tighter because I think Crichton had more time. It was his first book under his own name and the science gets pretty loose. It gets pretty loose in Jurassic Park. All right, so that's book two, Rallick. Book three is a digital ethics book. It's not, it's academic but not super academic. It was called "Future Ethics." It was sort of a survey and it was okay. It was interesting. Someone surveyed a lot of different ethics. The thing it did, a lot of which is fine, it's just not my particular jam is a lot of just let me as the author just think through hypothetical scenarios. To me, that's not too interesting. But it was an impressive survey of a lot of existing theory and it took the book I had read the month before, "Moralizing Technology," which was more academic and had this really cool framework called "Mediation Theory," which I talked about on the podcast, which I think Peter Paul van B. Carroth's book is on this something that is a fantastic normative theory framework for digital ethics. It should get more attention. The book I read next, "Future Ethics," gave a really good summary of that, which actually helped me understand it better. For that alone, I think I enjoyed "Future Ethics." Did you incorporate in that in your New Yorker article? Which one are we talking about? Which New Yorker article? The "Ethics One" where you were talking about the digital and then you interviewed those different people. Yeah. No, I haven't gone that. Not really. I sort of obliquely mentioned some of these philosophical frameworks. Because in that article, you gave five different examples of people you talked to about their view on... Yeah, that's a good question. This was the... I don't know if we talked about the podcast, but I wrote an article about Instagram, basically. Well, kids in social media. The title was something like the question we're not asking about teenagers in social media because... Again, I've talked about this on the show before, but it always strikes me to degree that the coverage of anti-social media coverage, the sort of standard media response to social media from both sides of the political spectrum, completely sidesteps the issue almost always of what should our personal relationship be to these tools. And so there was this leak. There's this whistleblower and she leaked some internal data from Facebook where they were interviewing teenage girls who were saying this technology makes me unhappy, makes me anxious, increases suicidal ideation, makes me feel bad about myself. And it was something like a third of the people they interviewed were reporting this, right? And so that's bad. None of the coverage said, "Okay, so maybe teenagers shouldn't use it." All the coverage right now is so fixed on just... Facebook is our political enemy. We need the control and then punish them and get them to do what we want to do, which is all fine, but also we need to have the other conversation of, "And shall we maybe not use these?" Or maybe teenagers should not use these, or maybe we should rethink our relationship to these tools. So yeah, I wrote a piece where I was investigating that question and I interviewed four experts. None of those experts are really philosophers, I guess, is the issues. They're more practical. This is more in the weeds, this philosophy. But I want to try to bring some of this out of the weeds with some of my future writing. I think there's some really smart thinking going on about understanding technology from an ethical perspective. And I'm pretty convinced this mediation theory that Peter Paul Verbeek has pushed is... describes digital minimalism. That digital minimalism, the philosophy in that book is actually a real world instantiation of that philosophy. Accidentally, so I didn't know about that philosophy, but I think it is. So I'm thinking about writing an academic piece where... sort of talk about this practical theoretical dyads where how do you take these sort of philosophical frameworks which are kind of complicated. I mean, mediation theory uses late stage Foucault and it's not super general public friendly. But digital minimalism takes to core ideas and makes it very general public friendly. And maybe we should be doing more of that and be thinking, "How does that actually work as an academic process?" So something in about that. All right, so then I did another hard turn. So after future ethics, I finished a book I had started over the summer called "K", the letter K. And it was subtitled as something like the history of baseball in five pitches, maybe ten pitches. But it's one chapter per pitch, you know, fastball, curveball. And it's a history of that pitch in the sport and kind of the influence it had on the sport. That's cool. Yeah. I actually, can you identify all the pitches when you're watching on TV with their phone? Neither can I. No. I'm always impressed by the announcers. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, a lot of them have been played for so long. I think that's part of it. Well, it's definitely part of it. Well, I learned from this book it's pretty subtle, right? Because I mean, curveballs are easy. Fastball is easy. But the off speed stuff is all, you know, is it cut? Is it a slider? Is it a change up? I mean, I don't know. I got pretty good at Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg's pitches because they had, you know, Strasburg's change up was very demonstrable. It would just, the floor would open. It would just go off stage through a trap door seemingly six inches in front of the bat. And Scherzer had a slider that just would, like, someone had a rope and just would pull this thing as it was coming towards the hitter. And Strasburg's curveball would basically be 20 feet above the player's head and then come back down again for a strike. So I could kind of, like, I could kind of register those though we're not allowed to mention Max Scherzer's name on this podcast. I was just going to ask you about that. We're not allowed to mention his name. I think your next guest should be Steven Cohen and ask him how, you know, what a stop process we're in. You're like, man, for $43 million a year, I'm not going to complain that Scherzer went to the Mets and I found out so I have more sympathy. So for non-baseball people, the Mets are in our division. We play them all the time. But Scherzer's oldest kid, I think, is staying in school here in D.C. So it's one of the reasons he wanted to stay in the Northeast quarter. So now he can see his kids more. And he's getting 43 million a year. So I'm not mad at Scherzer. And I'm not mad at the Nationals. He should not be paying $43 million a year this year for Scherzer. But still, still, I mean, I still had a hard time this year seeing Bryce Harper play for the Phillies. So it's going to take me some time. All right. All right. But that's in this is literally insider baseball. All right. So final book was, I have it here actually. It was called Number by Tobias Dansig. This is a book written in the 1930s. And it has a cover quote from Albert Einstein. So like as blurbs go, I think that's pretty impressive. Here's what is a cool book, but here's why I'm embarrassed. I'm going to explain to you why I'm embarrassed. So I got this book. I got it from-- got it for free from a free library. A 1954 edition of this book, it first came out in 1930. Albert Einstein quote, "It's a book about a cultural history of numbers." So it's a cool book. It's a little mathy towards the end, but it's a cool book. But I get this book and I'm thinking, this is cool. This is from the '50s. And the version I have and it's from a different time and it's really interesting. And I'm thinking, I should collect old editions of books. This would be a good hobby for me is get early editions of books or first editions of books. It seems like it makes a lot of sense. And then this is what happened. So the viewer at home doesn't see this. I ripped the cover off. So maybe I should not be trusted. Maybe I should not be trusted to collect rare books. It's a beautiful 1950 copy. I ripped the cover off by accident. So I don't know. Maybe I should stick with things that are less damaging. But good book. All right, so that's my report. What do you think, Jesse? So when you go into the-- when you bear it out and get the reading done when you're getting to the end of a book, what does that look like? Are you reading for like five hours nonstop? Like, constant people work. I'll do, yeah, I'll do like hour sessions or like 90 minute sessions. And I'll put aside time, you know, like specifically to do it. Like I'll take an hour out of my day to just like go and read. Like I start getting hungry for the time or I'll decide that what the family needs tonight is reading time, which my kids love. Like we're all going to read. So yeah, it's just like I start doing a lot more of it. But I just-- I'm just about to finish my first December book and I'm honing it on the second. So I have a good head of steam. This is the recording that's on the third of December. So I'm getting my first book done in the first few days and so it feels good. One other question. Do you count sometimes audiobooks with these? Yeah, Spielberg was an audiobook. Yeah. Yeah. So every month the five that you have ones in audiobook are-- Usually? Yeah. So during the little league season I was making a lot more progress because there's a lot of just sitting at fields while my son was doing practice or baseball. And then I could really get a lot of audiobook time. So now it's a little harder because it's not little league season anymore. But I'm almost done with a George Lucas biography that I started right after the Spielberg biography and that's audio. It's like I'll probably finish that up in my ears at some point during this month. So just for the audience, can you give your thought process on the audio versus reading same thing? Yeah, it's-- for me it has to be a very specific type of book. If it's a business/biography, if it's about business for whatever reason or a business type biography, like a director or a CEO and it's their life or Disney-- I did a lot of the Disney stuff and I went down that rabbit hole with audio, that is very good for me to listen to. I can't do novels. I can't do more serious nonfiction. There's a very small number of things I can actually do in audio. So I usually stick it for bio-business-y type stuff. All right. So there you have it. Well, that is the-- that's the November reading list. Hopefully everyone else has their own target, whatever it is they're going for. And let's wrap this up and move on to some questions. And our first one today comes from Sabine. Sabine asks, "When you're in the stage of building career capital, is it worth becoming good at skills that you would like to eventually stop using?" So if we go on to the elaboration here, Sabine says, "I still have four years to study until I can legally be allowed to be hired in my ideal work. In my current situation, fundraising is a skill that would allow me to get access to the niche expert sooner so I could easily find out their stories, how they got where they are now, and what skills I should focus on to become so good I can't be ignored."
Is it worth becoming good at skills that you only need short term? (19:59)
So the basic idea here is Sabine does not want to be a fund-raiser long-term, but in the current situation that skill would be useful to be good at could open up access to people from which learning could be done. I would say a moderate yes is probably my answer here. By a moderate yes, I mean it's completely reasonable as part of your career journey to build up skills in the moment that are very valuable at this current stage just as part of your efforts to differentiate yourself as reliable, someone who can deliver, someone who is valuable. That's always a good thing. And if one of the primary ways you can do this in your current position is fundraising, I think it's fine. Like let's do this well, let's get good at it. However, the reason why I say this is a moderate yes is that there is a big trap lurking. If you're really good at getting good at things and listeners to this podcast probably are because we talk about it all the time and we talk about the liberal practice, you might start to get really good at this. When you start to get really good at something like fundraising, that is where you're going to be directed and you're going to get a lot of praise for it and more importantly you're going to get a lot of money for it and you're going to get a lot of cool positions and you're going to have that momentum behind you and it can be difficult to then say that was just temporary. What I really want to do is just completely unrelated skill. When things are going well, it's difficult to move off of that path. Now in my book, So Good They Can't Ignore You, I talk about this. I call it one of the two autonomy traps. The first autonomy trap is trying to make a bid for a lot more autonomy in your work before you have the skills to back it up. So this is the classic 22 year old saying I'm going to go out on my own and start my nonprofit that's going to save the world. The problem being you don't have the skills or the understanding or the connection to actually run an effective nonprofit yet. The second autonomy trap, which is what's relevant here, is that once you actually get to a place where you have the career capital to have a lot of control, you're so good at what you do that there's going to be incredible pressure to keep doing it. We might as well call this the law partner trap. It happens a lot. The lawyers, you come out of a good school. What do I do now? I'm a part, I'm accomplished. How do I keep proving to the world I'm good? Oh law school is hard to do. Okay, I'll go to law school. Look, everyone's impressed. I got into Harvard law. This is very impressive. Okay, great. Oh, I did well in law school. I know how to do this. Look how I'm getting a praise. That's great. I got a job in a big law firm. Those are competitive. I have a big paycheck. You know, they're starting me. My first year associate salary is 170. That's a lot. I feel good. People know on a big list that I'm impressive. Okay, I'm going to try to do my work well. Okay. Hey, I'm getting more cases. But for partner, well that would be really prestigious. Here we go. Now it's seven years later. I'm a partner. I'm high six figures, low seven figure salary. And wait a second. I am completely stuck here. I've just been following this path getting better and better because that's what I'm used to doing and now realize I'm working a hundred hours a week and im miserable and what can I do? We have a lifestyle that's built around this. There's no easy transferance of the skills and now I'm just sad. That's the second autonomy trap. So there's a long way of saying be wary of that. Sure, do what you're doing now. Well, it's always better to be doing what you're doing well than be doing it wrong. Be reliable, deliver, deliver at high levels of quality. I always give that advice to people who are new in their career. But I would start right away thinking about what are ultimately the skills that you can build the long career on, the skills that are going to give you those interesting options. Once you actually get good at it, have that in mind right away and try to get that parallel track going right away. Because I got to tell you, things that are valuable, if you start doing them at a high level, you will get sucked into a path in which you were being pushed with great force to keep doing that at a higher and higher level. So do what you do well, but be wary about only working on a skill that you really don't want to do. All right, moving on. We have a question from Pierre. Pierre asks, how do you manage your online presence when doing phantom part time jobs? He elaborates that he's a software engineer and he is concerned about his boss monitoring his work status using Microsoft Teams. So he goes on to elaborate, if you stop working early, how do you deal with tools like Teams that communicate your online status? For example, my supervisor might start asking questions if I'm often listed as being absent or don't respond to messages. So while I like the idea of phantom part time jobs, I feel like Teams prevents me from effectively doing it. Any advice for this issue?
How do I seem present online when working on side projects? (24:57)
All right, so just quick backgrounds, phantom part time jobs, of course, is my terminology for when you get really on your game about organizing your work, full capture, quarterly weekly, daily planning, you're on top of things, you're going to free up a lot of time because most people are not on top of things. So you're going to hit whatever the reasonable workload is for your position in less time than your peers. And now you have two options. You can take that extra time and invest that into your main job and therefore accelerate the acquisition of career capital and opening up more options or advancement in your career. Or you can take that time and say, "I'm going to invest it in other parts of my life." So maybe I have another endeavor I'm working on or maybe it's a non-professional interest. I'm now going to spend much more time on it. I'm going to take advantage of this free time. Now my argument from an ethical perspective is that if you're in a non-entry level, knowledge work style job where you're not being paid by the hour, you're being paid a salary to fulfill a particular role. The strict number of hours you work does not really enter this equation. If I am hiring you to be the associate director of marketing for some startup or something like this, I am hiring you to do that role and the things that come along with that role and to execute them at a high level. I'm not hiring you to punch seven hours or eight hours into a particular time clock. That is a crude proxy for productivity that I think we've moved beyond. So I think it's completely appropriate if you think you're executing at a high level. My definition of a high level is you seem that you're doing better than your peers that are in the same company. Oh, my act is more together. I'm being praised for what I'm producing. I'm getting things done. I'm getting things done. When I say I'm going to get them done, we're hitting objectives. People seem to be happy with my work. If you're hitting those markers, then I don't care how many hours you're spending. And if this is taking five hours a day, you have just freed up more time to do something else. I think that is completely fine for non-entry level, non-hourly knowledge work. You have a problem here that there seems to be a hyperactive hive mind culture at your workplace where work is coordinated in ad hoc fashion with back and forth unscheduled messaging in your case on teams. Yeah, that's a bigger problem. That's the whole issue I tackle in my book, A World Without Email. It's a terribly ineffective way of getting a bunch of human brains to coordinate and collaborate on producing value. So that's a bigger problem, maybe buy them a copy of my book. But for you in the short term, what should you do about your phantom part-time job? I would say spread it out. I think it's the simplest solution here. So instead of having the mindset of I can now get my work done in five hours instead of eight, instead of having the mindset of then I will work till two and then stop working. Instead say, okay, I am now going to spread three hours of other types of things throughout my day. That's much more maskable. That's much less notable. The other thing I would recommend here is even if your boss is a big believer in a hyperactive hive mind culture and you don't want to confront him about this and it's too difficult to change the whole team, you can still move your individual interaction with him and the rest of your teams or her and the rest of the teams. You can move it away from the hyperactive hive mind. I talk about this in a world without email by just thinking about internally what are the different things I'm involved with again and again in my job, call these processes. Given just what I can control, assuming I cannot control anyone else, what changes can I make into how I execute these processes that will minimize the number of unscheduled messages that show up in teams or emails that have to be responded to? Just focusing on what you can control, you can often make a drastic reduction in the amount of these unscheduled messages that arrive that require a response by just nudging people into better implementations without telling them you're doing that, without calling them better implementations. Were you just sort of say casually, yeah, with the bug review, I think what we should do here is use this bug review tracking software seems to be really great. Then you have put it in there, I will go through it on Monday and I will give you a call Monday at one or stop by your office. I have any questions and then I'll sort of know what we're up against. I don't know if that's what software developers actually do on making up all these words, but you see what I'm doing here, kind of specifying what you're going to do in a way that minimizes back and forth messages without ever talking about bother me less. I'm too distracted. Stop doing this. Simuless messages. All people care about is this thing will get taken care of. It's clear how it's going to happen. Great. That's one less thing I have to worry about and they will move on. So here, that's what I would say you should be doing is spreading out your Phantom part-time job and then two, slowly starting to nudge the way you work with your colleagues away from the hyperactive hive mind. That's going to give you a lot more leeway. All right, we got a next question here from Daniel. Daniel asks, "When your schedule gets thrown off considerably, such as losing a full day or two unexpectedly, do you revise your weekly plan throughout the week?" Yes. Short answer, yes. When your plan gets messed up, fix it. Now you're used to me saying this for daily time block planning. That's baked into my time block planning philosophy is that you're building a plan for the hours of your day in advance, but it's just your best guess on what's going to work. And then when it gets knocked off, when you get knocked off that schedule, you adjust the plan for the time that remains next time you have a chance. It's why if you use my time block planner, you will see there's multiple columns for your time block plan.
Should I revise my weekly plan if things change? (30:55)
Those columns are there for only one reason updating your daily plan. Do the same thing with your weekly plan. Okay, it got knocked off. There was an emergency. All of Wednesday, we had to deal with a client emergency. Okay, that's fine. That's part of your job is like, "How do you deal with emergencies?" You don't get gold stars for sticking to a plan. You get gold stars for actually doing your work well. So next time you get a chance and it might not be until Thursday morning or maybe Thursday afternoon because you have a lot of meetings Thursday morning, you sit down and say, "Okay, given the time I have less than my week, how do I want to update my weekly plan?" And you know what? If we're going to start moving up the ladder of time scales here, do the same thing with your quarterly plan. Those get knocked off all the time. A giant project falls on your plate. "Oh, this is what I'm doing this fall now. I had this more optional project I had planned to work on at the beginning of the fall. I should probably update this quarterly plan to reflect this is the new thing I'm doing." I think that's fine. Or you had a vision for a plan and it's not going well. Okay, update it. This happened to me. I was working on a book proposal. I'm talking about some of these books on the podcast, what I've been working on. I was working on a book proposal over the summer and I wanted to finish it in the summer before my schedule got busier for the fall. And that was my plan for that particular quarter. But as I got into it, I realized, you know, I'm not ready yet to pull together these threads. This is going to take more thinking and reading and grinding, cognitive grinding that I'm going to have time to finish in the summer. So I updated that plan. Okay, that's no longer what I'm trying to do by the end of the summer. I'm going to do that by the end of the fall. So at all scales, at all scales, you make the best plan you can. When you get knocked off, you fix it. When you next have some breathing room to do so. Remember, the goal here is always intention. Do I have some intention with how I'm tackling the time that's coming up next? It is the tackling of time with intention as compared to tackling time haphazardly or reactively that creates all the big gains when it comes to work. Not sticking to a plan, but always doing your best to have a plan for the time that remains. That's where the big wins happen. So Daniel, don't worry about fixing your weekly plan. Do it when you get a chance. And you know what? If your schedule blows up on Friday, then maybe you never get around to fixing it. That's fine. You're just doing your best to have intention. I think we have time for one more question here. This one comes from Brian. Brian says, "I'm seeking a pragmatic strategy for keeping track of things to be read and a process for implementation. I have shelves of print books awaiting my good intentions as well as multiple folders containing hundreds of articles, papers, reports and other digital content that I really want to read. I could use help thinking about how to organize this. Any advice on an effective systematic method for capturing, storing and prioritizing all the various things to be read that are in both digital and physical formats, not to mention many great conference talks that I receive via streaming services?" Brian, I'm exhausted just listening to your question here.
How should I manage reading I want to do? (34:15)
There is an near infinite amount of material that you could consume in the world and it is more accessible than it's ever been. Well, that's good and bad. It's good because it means that if there's something you want to master, you actually have access to more information on whatever that is and you probably would have had it any other time in history. It's bad because you can drown. It's too much stuff. I think you are setting yourself up for frustration when you are trying to put in place these generic capture systems for any and all forms of interesting information. It will always be too much. You will always feel behind. You have created a necessary stress generation machine. What should you do instead? Well, here's my approach to the information consumption. Adjust as needed for your situation. When it comes to books, as is known, I have a number of books I try to read each month. For me, it's five, but that number could be different for you. That creates a background rhythm of long form interaction with content. It also naturally engenders a diversity of different types of books. You might have a longer book you're listening to when time gets short at the end of the month. Sometimes I'll switch over to a shorter book and you end up with a real variety of different types of books. That's how I handle books. If I'm reading five a month, I'm being exposed to a lot of ideas. That's enough. I don't think about all of the books I could read. I don't make lists of all the books I want to read. That'd be too frustrating. I basically say, "Okay, I've finished one. What's next?" Now let's think about things like articles. As a computer scientist and a writer, I have to draw from articles. My computer science papers have to draw from existing academic papers, from writing a book chapter or a New Yorker piece. I'm probably going to have to pull from other types of papers, other types of things I've encountered. Where my strategy has always been a project-based pull approach to content consumption. It's a project-based, so P, B, P, A, C, C. That's the really natural acronym I want to see. What I mean by that is I allow a specific project that I'm committed to do and is already important be the thing that pulls information into my world. I think it's a much more consistent way to do it. If I am writing an article on trees in, I don't know, the rainforest or something like that, let that deadline. I might need to read that article, push me to go out there and very quickly find a bunch of good articles on trees and read those things as quickly as possible and talk to some experts and learn a lot about trees. That deadline, the commitment drew that into my life. As opposed to, I'm just walking around one day and saying, "I might like to read about trees." Let me put in a folder somewhere, trees as a topic and have some sort of elaborate system that bubbles that up. I want the projects to dictate it. I do the same with my academic work. Hey, I like, I want to write a paper on this. I heard someone give a talk on it and I think I could do something here. That motivates me to read the related work. That's how I read related work when I'm trying to support a particular push towards a new result on my own. This just hacks the motivational system in a very effective way. It's much easier to motivate to grab and read things when you need it for something you're working on. You're going to cover a lot more material. And two, it puts some structure. This gives some structure to all the information out there. The reason why I'm reading about trees is because I'm writing an article about trees. It gives you some clarity about what you should have shown it being writing about. Or reading, I should say. And then the final aspect of my system is serendipity. How do you come across ideas you never would have known about but might down the line generate new things? And how do you start to spark creativity lead to a new article? How did you find out that trees are interesting in the first place? Have a limited number of interesting high quality, diverse incoming information channels that you expose yourself to on a regular basis and let that be your entire serendipity engine. I live in Washington DC, for example. So I subscribe to the paper version of the Washington Post, a great serendipity machine. If you're on the internet, it's all algorithmically selected articles to press the buttons that you're already interested in. The paper doesn't have any algorithms. The things that are on the front page are on the front page. The things on the front page of the metro section or the front page of the metro section. It's not selected for you. It's not more of what you already like. And so I get exposed to a lot of interesting news locally internationally. That's a good engine. Podcast or another great engine. You have a few podcasts you listen to that just cover interesting topics. I mean, I can't tell you how many people I've talked to that do this with the podcast. 99% invisible. A lot of people do this with planet money. There's a lot of podcasts like this that cover a diversity of topics. And just, okay, I've wondered two of these things I listened to and it exposes you to a lot of interesting, a lot of interesting ideas. I got a note from a lot of readers, for example, that I was referenced in a recent Planet Money episode, which I think just underscores that is an incredibly high quality source of very important things you should know about. All right. So that's my system. Remember books you read do that. You're good for articles and other types of things. Let specific projects that you're committed to be the thing that draws in what you're going to read into your life. And when it comes to serendipity, fix some high quality serendipity channels and just expose yourself to those do those things you'll be fine. There's no reason to have an elaborate system where you have a thousand books you one day want to read. There's no reason to have these folders of different types of article types that you're going to sort through and take one out once a week. You're never going to do any of that. That system's going to frustrate you. So do something like my plan. And I think you're going to be have all the information you need without feeling like you're always falling short. Our first question comes from Sadronalio who asks, how do you apply deliberate practice and deep work to socializing? He goes on to elaborate, I'm currently a young architect working for a recognized construction firm. Although I enjoy my job and I'm good at it, I have plans to start my own firm in the near future. I have some clients now and I currently work some hours outside my main job. The biggest constraint that I have is that my network is very small. I have very few context friends or potential clients and this isolation is aggravated by my Asperger syndrome. How would you apply deep work and deliberate practice to learn to socialize create networks and clients? It's a good question. I think networking/social life are two good topics that are related to cover.
How can I take a deep approach to networking? (41:05)
I just want to do a quick wording tweak here. So you say the phrase, how do I apply deep work to learning to socialize, create networks and clients? Let's be very specific about how we actually use the term deep work. All deep work means is that you're doing something in the absence of context switching. Sometimes you're giving something your full attention trying to do it at a high cognitive level. So probably the right word here you also gave is deliberate practice. Maybe that's better. That's a verb. Deep work is a type of work without distraction with concentration. Deliberate practice is what you're really talking about here is how do I systematically improve? That's the verb that's relevant here. How do I systematically improve at this? Well, when it comes to networking/professional networking, that's not my specialty. There's a lot of books that have been written about networking. But the one thing I will say, the one Cal Newport take I'll give on networking is in almost every circumstance, the thing that matters more than anything else in finding new clients and attracting new opportunities is being really good. In a lot of fields, there's a lot of people with a lot of different personalities, some of whom are not very sociable at all, that you wouldn't really want to spend much time around, but they do what they do really well. Everything opens up from that. You become so good you can't be ignored. Clients find you because they've seen the work you did. You get referred because you're so good. That snowball is on itself. I actually talk about this in my book, How to Become a High School Superstars, known as the Matthew Effect. So as you start doing things that are good, more good things follows the whole thing snowball. Those who have get more, that's the paraphrase of the Matthew Effect. It definitely happens in the professional circumstance. So I don't want you necessarily worrying too much that you're not a glad-handing at the golf club, shaking hands, slapping people on the back type socializer. It's probably not necessary for what you need to do. What's necessary for what you want to do is to crush the work. It's fantastic, incredibly high quality. You keep pushing your skills, good things will follow from that. So I just want to take some burden off of you. Another related question you didn't ask, but a lot of people do. How do I get better at socializing non-professionally? And there my advice typically is do not approach your non-professional socializing with the same systematic fervor that we often approach professional issues on the show. It shows through. It shows through if you have a chalkboard somewhere in your apartment where you have different people's names on it and you're trying to add up your average active monthly user interaction minutes and trying to hit a median target. That kind of shows through in the way you interact and people don't like it. So when it comes to just socializing, I think the most important thing you can do is take the heart, the chapter on conversation versus connection in my book, Digital Minimalism, which says real world interaction being with someone sacrificing non-trivial time and attention on behalf of someone else that's important to you. This is foundational for human flourishing and you should just be trying to do that. And if you're not doing a lot of it, try to do more. It's like exercise is like eating healthy. It's almost like oxygen. So just have a general appreciation of real sacrifice requiring interaction and time spent with other people. It's something you just feel you want to do and you feel uncomfortable when you don't. Everything else will work itself out. So that's how I would handle the personal side. Our next question comes from Steven. Steven says, "I'm very interested in the deep life, but sometimes sitting down to do it is tough while wildfires, social and political turmoil and a deadly virus are ever present and overwhelming. Is it wrong to shut off the outside world when the outside world needs so much help?" So Steven, I think this is a good question. I think when you're using the phrase deep life, you actually mean something more specific. I think you're talking about in general doing one thing at a time, having a small number of things you really focus on and getting lost in those activities versus an approach to life where you're more constantly plugged into the hive mind of what's going on, what's the latest news, what's happening in the world. You see someone like me who maybe doesn't use social media and just reads an old fashioned paper, newspaper and you think, "Okay, you're not fully up the speed with what's going on and this somehow seems worrisome."
How can I focus on deep work with so much suffering around me? (45:45)
Or it just seems very difficult to do because all this stuff going on out there in the world really pulls out your attention. It's a very timely question. There's a lot going on in the world right now that can be constantly pulling out your attention. The media, of course, does us no favors. It is in their interest to pull our attention as much as possible and so they will push everything. I'm using they, just a matter of who we're talking about here, they will push everything in a way that's alarm bells going. It is constant emergency alarm all the day. The camera is going to set a forest fire that's going to steal your identity before pushing your democracy into an authoritarian dictatorship. It all is just going together and it's all just terrible. Here's the reality, Stephen, you cannot function if you're bathing in that. I have serious empathetic concerns for professional journalists right now that have to be marinating in that world because it's their job. I think we should be thinking about post traumatic stress style benefits for these journalists right now because the drum beat, the negativity and the alarmism and everything that's out there, it overloads the brain. Our brain can't handle that much. You do have to be, I think, quite careful in how you let this into your life. If you were constantly consuming information, especially coming from the internet, especially information that has gone through the attention centric filters of tools like social media, you will fry your brain. If you are, God forbid, receiving coronavirus news through Twitter all day long, you are going to be digging out a bunker and you're never going to leave it. If you are, God forbid, looking at conversations on social media to be your barometer of what the political discussion is like in this country, you are going to be, again, digging that bunker even deeper because civilization is about the end. It's going to fry your brain. You've got to be way more careful about this. You have to be way more selective about it. What I would argue is that as part of going through your process of trying to intentionally cultivate a deep life, part of that should be figuring out how do I want to consume information about the world? Let's get specific about it. Let's do it with intention. You can put this if you want. If you're using my bucket system where you figure out the buckets that are important to your life and then go over each of them, this could go in various places. The community bucket, I think, makes sense because you want to know what's going on in the community writ large to be a citizen of the world. Be incredibly specific and careful about how this information comes in. I'm very, very careful about it. I look at the paper newspaper every day. It's not like I'm going to miss a very important world-changing event. I can see it. On almost everything else, I have to be very careful to titrate the information that comes into my world. If it comes to coronavirus, for example, as listeners know, I spent about a year or so doing a daily newsletter for my family and friends where I filtered through a lot of information and tried to give them a less alarmist, more fact-based presentation of what's going on. After the vaccines came out, I stopped that newsletter because honestly, I thought it was more healthy for the people I know now that they weren't facing immediate potential grave harm to focus on living other parts of their life. But in doing that, I became really closely acquainted with the various sources of news, what doctors really got it, what experts were non-alarmist but very accurate, really knew what they were talking about, interviewed some of these or some articles I've written as well. Now, for coronavirus news, for example, there's a small number of people that a couple times a week I check in to get their take. You know what that's done to my stress level? Dropped it all the way down, right? I know probably more about this still than most people I know because it's kind of ironic if you just bathe and Twitter, you're all over the place and other types of things come in and affect you and political biases or where you happen to live or your anxiety, national anxiety levels and you end up in random places and how you think about what's going on. But I'm very specific. I'm very specific to the next week, a couple experts, good I know what's going on, I'm out. You can do this about almost any area of domestic or international news and Steven, that's what I'm going to recommend for you. Make this part of your plan to live a deep life is to be incredibly intentional about how you bring in information. You can know what's going on in the world without having to marinate in a frenetic stew of anxiety. And it's not only possible, I think it is critical because we can't keep living this way. It's not good for you. It's not going to make you a better citizen. There is never going to be a case, Steven, where, you know, a tweet will come through that says, if Steven can get this tweet in the next 15 minutes, this forest fire can get put out and you missed it and you screwed that whole part of Australia that burned, never going to happen. You'll be fine. The news on Tuesday will be fine even if you missed it on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Hearing from one non-alarmist expert, here's my take on what's going on. We'll bring you as up to speed as if you followed 50 Twitter feeds five times a day, right? So cut back, be intentional. I think that is the only way to live deeply in a world of so much anxiety producing information. All right. So we have a question here from Caroline. Let's see what we got this. Caroline asks, how would you teach students not to buy into the hyperactive hive mind? She's like, work as a lecturer in academia in the UK and the students we have are constantly emailing for support rather than finding out information for themselves. So Caroline, typically my recommendation there is sender filters. So that's an idea from my book, Deep Work. But essentially, you have various communication channels that each come with a description of how they should be used. And then you just give this information to the people that are going to be interacting with you. So this is, you know, with students, I think this is quite straightforward. You can be pretty clear about it. Okay, for this type of question, this is how you ask it for this. This is how you ask it. This should happen at office hours. This you can take me. I have 10 minutes right after class. These type of quick questions. That's when you should ask me those type of quick questions, et cetera.
How do I teach my students to not buy into the hyperactive hive-mind? (52:25)
You just have clarity here are the different ways to contact me or the staff here, what you should expect and how it actually works. The big fear people have is that, well, that's going to be, it's going to really annoy people. They'd much rather have constant access. For the most part, that's not true. Clarity Trump's accessibility. That's one of the primary ideas behind a lot of my dealing with digital communications. As long as I know how to contact you and it's not up in the air and I'm not stressed, like I need an answer and I don't even know if Caroline's going to respond or not. As long as there's clarity, oh, this is when I ask these type of questions, here's how it works. Great. I don't have to worry about that anymore. People tend to be okay. Then you'll have like 2% of people who will be mad. But here's the thing, Caroline, 2% of people are going to be mad at you no matter what you do. So you might as well get that madness in exchange for something really worth it. So just be really clear for this type of communication. Here's how it works. When people go around that, you just push them back gently towards the thing that you've planned in advance. All right. So we have a question here from Sam. Sam asks, "Do you have any advice for jack-of-all-trades type people who want to become so good they can't ignore you?" Well my typical advice for that question is go read my friend Dave Epstein's book, Range. Range is all about this. It's about all the benefits of having multiple different skills. It's about the serendipity that can unfold down the road where you don't really know where you're going. But this skill plus that skill plus this skill combined to be something that was really uniquely valuable. I think he does a really great job of talking about how this jack-of-all-trades approach can work. The thing I will add, and Dave and I talked about this when it came on my show, you can find an older episode where I interviewed Dave and we talked about this, is that even if you're doing a generalist or jack-of-all-trades approach, you still have to get good at the individual things.
Cal'S Advice For 'Jack Of All Trades' People
What’s your (Cal’s) advice for “jack of all trades” people who want to become so good they can’t be ignored? (54:26)
You still have to get to what we called in that interview the non-amature level. That is the table stakes for a skill to potentially be useful in some sort of unique combination going forward. In my book So Good They Can't Ignore You, I talked about this as well and I called it the auction market of career capital where you build up career capital in several different areas and then the combination is unique. Then you can apply that unique combination to get cool things in your career. Same idea. You still have to build a capital. You still have to get good. If you want to combine a master's degree in science with the ability to write like Dave Epstein did, he still went through and got the master's degree in science. That was time consuming. He still learned how to write by building his way up from entry level positions to higher and higher level positions. Then those two things came together. He could do science writing in a very interesting way. That's the only thing I would say. You don't have to just have one skill that you're trying to master and be the best in the world. That is one approach. It's not the only approach. It's fine to build up a collection of skills that might come together in interesting ways. Just keep in mind that you still have to build the skill. There's no shortcut in getting good at something. If you're not good at something, it basically doesn't count. It's not a tool in your toolbox. So you don't have to be the world's best scientist to bring a science skill over to your writing career and have it help. You also have to do more than just read one book on science. You actually have to do some hard work, maybe get a degree, really learn what's going on. So that's what I would say there. Get non-bad. Leave the amateur level. Then you have something you can play with.