Full Length Episode | #163 | January 11, 2022

Transcription for the video titled "Full Length Episode | #163 | January 11, 2022".


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Cal's intro (00:00)

The New Year means, as is our new tradition here on the podcast, it is time to go over my reading list.

Discussion Topics And Book Reviews

Cal reviews his 5 books from December (that he read) (00:15)

So as long-time listeners know, my target is usually to read about five books per month, and we've started the habit of at the beginning of each new month reviewing the books I read during the past month. So now it is time to talk about the five books I read in December 2021. Are you ready for this, Jesse? I'm ready. Let's go. All right, so the first book I completed in that month was How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor. This is basically a George Lucas biography that has some pop culture reporting on the Star Wars phenomenon. Now, you might remember this, Jesse. This was controversial. We talked about this back in December when I was reading it. I asked the listeners, is it okay that I am skipping the chapters that are about the cultural reception of Star Wars? So early on, the book started going back and forth. It would be a chapter from the timeline of George Lucas's career, so biography. And then it would switch to a chapter that would be about, here's a group of guys that dress up like stormtroopers, and who they are and what's that like. And I was not so interested in the cultural stuff. I wanted the biography. This is part of my ongoing effort to my movie effort. I'm reading book after book about various people in the movie industry for some weird reason. And so I asked the audience if it was okay if I skipped that. And, Jesse, you gave me the thumbs up on that, I believe, if I'm remembering. Yeah, that was okay. That was okay. Well, so here's the thing. I have more defense for my approach because he stopped. The author Chris Taylor stopped doing that switching before, I don't know, two thirds of the way into the book. And so it became straight biography really for the end of it. So in the end, I probably only skipped, I don't know, 30% of the material. So I'm going to count that. So as I mentioned, this is part of my random project to really dive into the film industry. I just, this is maybe the fourth or fifth book I've read in a row that is on that topic. I'm not sure why this is interesting so much, but it really has been this fall. And I really wanted to learn about George Lucas having finished the biography of Steven Spielberg the month before. And a few things I learned. One, Lucas was a really good director. So in this scene, there was this scene centered around USC where there was Lucas and there was Coppola and Spielberg wasn't at USC, but he was in their circle. Scorsese was in their circle among some others. Brian De Palma was in their circle. So it's this big group of directors and they all knew each other. In that circle, Lucas was considered a hot shot. So he had this great animated student short that won a bunch of awards and put him on the map. Like, wow, Lucas is the guy that he's the altar. He's the guy with the vision. And then he did the student version of THX, which also blew people away. So I think people didn't realize that about Lucas. Coppola really was trying to get Lucas to direct Apocalypse now. But Lucas decided to do Star Wars instead, basically. So he was considered like the artistic guy. So that's kind of interesting. The other thing I found out about Lucas is like these other guys timing is important. Him and Spielberg came up just as the movie industry was changing just as they were leaving the studio system. So, you know, Coppola's first movie was Finnegan's Rainbow, which was a classic studio soundstage movie. Then he did the Godfather. So it was like right as they were transitioning away from the studio system. And they invented this idea of the blockbuster where you could have a movie that appealed to all these different age groups and could be in 3000 theaters and make all this money. And so their timing was right. They were talented. And Lucas, even more so than Spielberg, had a relentless go-big ambition. So if he was going to do a movie, just like a student movie, he was going to do THX student movie, he was going to find a way to get access to an abandoned military base and push the setting, push the technology. He was going to make a movie where you're going to say, "Wow, this is a lot bigger than I thought someone with that budget could do." And that was the approach that made Star Wars big. He was like, "We're going to invent new technology for the special effects. It's going to be bigger than anyone's ever seen." Clearly James Cameron picked up that torch from Lucas after the fact. So anyways, that's what I learned about Lucas is this guy was incredibly talented, incredibly ambitious. He wanted to do everything bigger than anyone had ever done it before. And really, really focused. Also very rich. So I don't know if you know that, but... Yeah, he's like a billionaire, isn't he? Yeah, he's a billionaire. Were you a Star Wars guy, Jesse? I've seen some of the movies, not all of them. Probably not as much as you are. Lucas and Spielberg friends? Yeah, they were friends. They all knew each other. And they were going back and forth. It's hard to overestimate how much money they were making back then. They were going back and forth, trading off who had the number one movie of all times. And they were trading this back and forth multiple times in less than a decade. And it's hard to overestimate just how phenomenally successful they were as filmmakers during the 1980s. I mean, it was... Let's see, what was... Well, ET blew it away. So Jaws was number one. And then Lucas got it back with Star Wars. And then Spielberg beat Star Wars with ET. Right? So like, they were just going back and forth. Jurassic Park, I believe, was number one for a while in the all-time box office list. And it's just incredible how successful those two guys were. Spielberg directed Raiders of the Lost Ark for Lucas. So as Lucas produced it, it was his project. And he asked Spielberg to direct it. So they ran in the same circles. They knew each other pretty well, both very rich. All right, enough about movies. Second book in Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré. This is a book, I think this was from the early 2000s, about the rise of various slow movements. So starting with slow food in Italy in the 1980s. And then it moved from there, slow cities, slow parenting, slow work. I read it because it was background for New Yorker piece. So there's a New Yorker piece, my most recent one came out on January 4th. And I was introducing this idea of slow productivity. And I read that book, Carl's book is part of it. So I talk about it in the article. So that's why I read that. So long story short, there was a slow work movement that said we should work less hours. And basically my argument in that article is going to a four hour, a four day work week, right? As has been proposed recently by Mark Tacono, Congressman Mark Tacono, is proposing a bill to make a four day work week, the official federal standard here in the US. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has now endorsed it. That's a hundred Congress people now endorsed it. And so I talk about that in the article that there's this push to shorten the work week. And then when it comes to knowledge work, my argument is that's not going to solve the problem. That's not going to solve burnout. The problem that knowledge workers have is actually the volume of work that's on their plate. The number of things that's on their plate that they have to make progress on, commitment, tasks, projects that people have thrown at them. And that when that volume gets too large, it creates a feedback spiral that makes work incredibly stressful and it burns people out. And so we don't need longer weekends. We actually need lower work volumes, which is going to require rethinking how we do work. And that was what I called slow productivity. So I introduced that concept and Carl's book helped me with that. Interestingly, Mark DeCono then tweeted about the article. It's what I've discovered Jesse writing for The New Yorker is in a past life, if I would cite someone who was sort of well known or right about him, it was in my mind, it was, well, I'm just writing for this small audience and they don't care. Now they care. Now they see it. I mean, the people I write about see these things. So I have to be a little more careful. What's an example of a slow city? I don't, you know, it's all the stuff was very late 90s, early 2000s. So there's some slow cities in Italy, less cars, more walkable, more local businesses, you know, nearby. Actually, there is an example. There's a model slow city that's here in suburban Maryland. Tacoma Park? It should be. We're slow. I agree. I agree. Tacoma Park is slow. But we came by it on us. We're old. We've been around since 1800s. But there's a planned city that's farther out in Gaithersburg. And I forgot what it's called, but he tours it in this book. And it's supposedly, you know, they built it to have a town center and everyone walks and what have you. But yeah, you're right. Tacoma Park has it right. It's a great model. We're, we walk from our house to the little coffee store, a block away from our little offices here, where we have our podcast recording studio. And, you know, when Jesse needs to get new gear, the hardware store is connected to the same building and he walks down there and, uh, yeah, come apart. That's definitely slow living. All right. Moving on, a novel, When the Lion Feeds by the late Wilbur Smith. Now I say the late because he died in December. That's why I read this book. It's his very first book. I like first books. And so I figured, oh, here's a novelist I knew growing up in honor. Or motivated by his death. Let's go back and read his very first book. I have a couple points about it. I am a genre fiction fan, especially the adventure and techno thriller genres is like grew up on those books. I'm a pseudo connoisseur of those two different genres of fiction writing. I really like them. They're not for everyone, but I really like them. Wilbur Smith was very influential in the rise of the sort of modern genre male oriented adventure novel. So he sort of helped figure out the 20th century adventure novel that then influenced subsequent writers in that genre like Clive Cusler, for example. So when the lion feeds is about, it follows a family. So it's part of a big trilogy more than a trilogy. He wrote a whole series of books that followed a family generationally. So this is the very first book. So it focuses on Sean Courtney, who starts the book as a kid, and he's middle aged at the end of this book. And then I think the next book goes through his adult years. And in the third book, he's on the periphery. He's an old man and they start following his kid. So it's this intergenerational book series. It takes place in British colonial Africa. Wilbur Smith wrote this book in the 1960s. It sort of follows this guy. He's on a farm, a cattle farm, and then tragedy befalls. They go to war and long story short, he ends up having to leave the farm and he starts over by wandering into this mountainous weld where they're just starting to discover gold. And a whole big portion of this book is it's like economic adventure novel. Him and his partner just building up a gold mining fortune, like the nuts and bolts. We had the borrow money, we bought this land, we brought in this gear, and eventually that grows into Johannesburg. And then he loses all that fortune. And so as one does, he travels into the bush to Ivory Hunt for a couple of years. He says, I'll just, I'll Ivory Hunt elephants for a couple of years and use that to start my next fortune. And the book kind of ends after that. Good book. Trigger warning, right? This is written by a guy, a British colonial white guy in the 1960s who grew up in Africa. So it is not quite, it is not quite up to modern political sensibility. So trigger warning, you can kind of imagine, you can kind of imagine it's not quite up to speed. If Edward Syed read this book, his head would have exploded. And if you get that Edward Syed reference, you should definitely not read this book because it's going to make you unhappy. All right, moving on, this one was a galley. So a publisher sent it to me. I don't think it's out as of this recording. It's coming out later in January 2022. It's a straight self-help book. I'm also a sucker for the straight self-help category. I mean, me and the people I know we write in this sort of New Yorker style self-help where you kind of cite science and Aristotle and you kind of gussy it up. Malcolm Gladwell invented the genre. But this is just straight self-help. I like straight self-help. It just gets right to it. Like here's the seven things, do this. Here's the worksheet. This book was called Hero on a Mission. It was written by Donald Miller. I appreciated the grandiose ambition. Like it's straight self-help on a really big thing. How do you make your life more meaningful? I liked people taking big swings at these type of topics. I think there's real value in even if you can't obviously capture all of the complexity of cultivating a deep life in one book, there is great value in trying to put some structure to it. I think it helps. The thing I'll just say on the side I really liked about Donald Miller is he talks about in the book that him and his wife bought 15 acres of land outside of Nashville. It was scrubbed forest land with a lot of invasive species and they're slowly like cultivating this land. They're selecting trees and getting rid of and replanting things. They have an orchard. They have a garden where they're planting pear trees to form a, they're working on them, shaping them to form a natural fence over the years. They're renovating the house and making it a place where they have events and retreats. I don't know. I love that idea of having land with a name like this one's called Goose Hill and spending a lot of time cultivating land. So I definitely got a lot of value out of that one. I don't know.

Cal and Jesse talk about land and doing work (15:13)

Jesse, my wife will tell you I have, I always will have this dream of I should have land and just spend there and work with the trees. But also I'm terrible at all that and have very little patience for it. So I think it would actually be disastrous if I really did have land. But for some reason that's my, I don't know, it's my day dream. I'm not sure if you're a land guy. Well, you're getting closer from buying the desk. So that's coming from the land for your new HQ at your house. That's how I do it. Exactly right. So I have people who have land build me things off of the trees they have on their land. That's good. That's my connection. It's a good first step. Yeah, I have a very small yard at my house. Jesse has seen it. I do not have a very small yard and I have a crew that takes care of it. So I should not have 15 acres of land. I think it would be somehow within six months, it would be on fire would be part of it. There would be somehow an oil spill. I'm not quite sure how that would happen. So it would be on fire. It would be like covered in noxious chemicals and would become a home for like invasives, invasive, aggressive, killer wasp that would start terrorizing the town. I think all of that would happen in about six months. Well, somewhere there, hopefully you would have a writing shed so that wouldn't get burned down. So you could just escape to there and yeah. Well, that is my dream is I want a writing shed and I don't have room for a writing shed. It is a dream of mine. So I need, I was having this conversation. For real, I was having this conversation with two different people in the last month, writers who have a getaway plot. So it's kind of an interesting model. A place they go, it's not like a large cultivated land and it's not nice. It's quiet and they have a place to write. So if a writer I was talking to who lives right outside New York City and a town that's kind of like Tacoma Park and about 90 minutes up 87, he has some land. I guess I'd be like the Southern Catskills. There's a little writing shed, you know. And then another guy, a good friend of mine was telling me, he lives in Chicago in the city in a row house and they just bought a plot that is four or five acres near one of the great, I don't know what the great lake is near there, but whatever that is Lake Michigan, it's not on the water, it's one lot in from the water. And it has like an old barn and they're planting an orchard on it and they can get there 90 minutes as well. And he's building, he was showing me these plans, like a fireman forest fire watch tower, you know, like you would build, they used to build for forest fires and at the top of this tower, so it's like an elevated gazebo and that's where he's going to do his deep work because you can see the lake. How's he get up there? Is he taking elevator or is he just going to be a ladder? Ladder? Yeah, it's a ladder. It's like icy up there. Well, you know, a little bit of danger gets the heart going. So I'm excited about that. So I don't know, maybe this is, I like this notion of having a getaway plot that it's not super hard to maintain. You don't need like a really big house. But the key to a getaway plot is I think it has to be non-trivially sub two hours away. If it's two hours or more, you can't go and write for a day and come back. Yeah, I see that. Two quick points. There's no doubt in my mind that you'll find something like that. You talk, I've been listening to your stuff for a long time and I think you'll find it eventually because you talk about it a lot. And then secondly, in terms of self-help books, I was listening to a Farish's podcast recently and he quoted you on giving him a suggestion for the self-help book that he read when he wasn't even going to read new books. So that was kind of cool. I just listened to that recently. Yeah, that's a good book. So it's Oliver Berkman's book, "4,000 Weeks." I talked about it. I told Tim about it and then Tim read it and then Tim did the thing that I think every publisher wishes what happened. I believe you listened to this. He released the first chapter like the audiobook version of the first chapter of Oliver's book on his podcast. Is that right? Yeah, yeah, I just listened to it actually. Man, could you imagine having the first chapter of your book of your audiobook on Farish's podcast. But that's... So 4,000 Weeks is a cool book. I read it a long time ago because I blurbed it. I read it back before it came out. It's a great concept. It's called "Time Management for Mortals." 4,000 Weeks is roughly how many Weeks you live. Oliver's whole point is most things you're not going to get done. You have a very limited amount of time. All these wild dreams you have, most of them won't happen and be okay with that. And spend more time enjoying what you do have and what you can do and don't be so aggressively goal oriented. It was that book hit a nerve well before Farish mentioned it. That thing crushed it. I think it's one of the better selling in our world of the people we know that write the sort of New Yorker style self-help. He's a guardian guy, very smart guy. I think that book is the one that really crushed it this year. I'm very happy for Oliver. I've always loved this stuff and he's been very kind to my stuff. So circle goes around. All right. One more book. I finally read some Windleberry. So I don't know. Do you know any, he's not as well known as I thought. Have you heard of Windleberry? No. Cool guy. He's old now. He's in his 80s. But he went, grew up in Kentucky on a small farm. Went to New York City. Got educated. I don't know, Columbia or NYU or something got sort of overly educated. Got a writing job in New York City. He wanted to be a writer and he was going to do the whole modern cosmopolitan writer thing where you live in a city. You're not from somewhere. You're just observing things around the world. And for whatever reason, he's like, I don't like this. I'm from Kentucky. I want to go back to Kentucky. I want Kentucky to be my muse. I want to be from a place and write about the place. I don't want to be just this abstraction writer that just is commenting on the world from a cosmopolitan detached place. It's like, I want to go back. So he moves back to Kentucky, gets a professorship at a small Kentucky college near where he grew up. Him and his wife buy, I think it's 12 acres, like a hobby farm. He grew up farming, but this is not a production farm. We're going to live on 12 acres. I'm going to be a professor and I'm going to write about Kentucky. And then another plot became available. We should probably buy that. And then another plot became available after that. We should probably buy that. And he ends up with like a real production farm, 100 plus acre farm. And this is why he's awesome. It's like, I'm not into this whole gasoline thing. I'm going to farm to where I learned to farm, which is teams of horses. And he's still, I mean, he doesn't farm. He's 80 now, but all throughout his career, he never went the tractors. He farmed with horses. This guy's awesome. So he leaves New York to farm with horses. This farm in Kentucky, rural Kentucky, and is a novelist, poet, but mainly an essayist. And he writes essays. He presages Bill McKibben, like, a very Bill McKibben style essays about the economy and the environment and a very influential writer and writes it from this farm where he doesn't own a computer. And you can't read, if you want to talk to him, you have to call the farmhouse and come out to the farm. He's like, awesome guy. And they just released the first sort of definitive essay collection where they pulled together. It's called the world ending fire. This came out in 2019. Do you get the audio version? I think Nick Offerman, who I also love from Parks and Recreation, Ron Swanson, who by the way is a guy who lives in LA as a working actor, but also has a giant woodworking woodshop in a light industrial warehouse in LA. And like he spends a lot of time building canoes. He like Ron Swanson, he does the intro or the prologue. So on the audio book, Nick Offerman reads it. Anyways, so I read my first collection, full collection of Wendell Berry essays. Are you going to take a field trip out there and check it out? I should, man. This guy's awesome. He has an essay in there that I might write an essay about for my newsletter that's called Why I Didn't Buy a Computer, which is cool.

Cal talked about essay "Why I Didn't Buy a Computer" (23:23)

And I think this was the 80s when he wrote this essay. And he's like, look, here's my rules for technology. And it's very much like I wrote about in deep work where I go and I talk to a farmer, Forrest Prichard, and say like farmers care, farmers have like pretty strict criteria for why when they're going to spend money on a new tool, otherwise they'll go bankrupt. And we should have that same strict criteria when thinking about technology. We shouldn't just say, I don't know. I heard about TikTok. I should probably use it. Like we should have a farmer's mindset. That was my point in deep work. It'd be like, what's the value? What's the cost? Is there better ways to get that value? Windleberry wrote this essay about this in the 80s. I didn't know about this. He gave his whole list of like, here's how I decide whether or not to use a new technology. And the computer doesn't pass that test. And he published it in Harpers. But what's cool about it is he got in trouble. And they published like the whole thing is in the essay collection. So he wrote this essay. He's like, I don't need a computer. And see if you can see the part here we got in trouble. He's like, yeah, look, I write my things long hand and my wife types them up and, you know, we're good. So that got in a lot of trouble. And in the essay collection, they published the article, like the Harpers published a lot of these letters and they published the letters in the essay collection. So then a lot of people got mad about that and they say, oh, well, you have a great technology called wife. And that's how you actually blah, blah, blah. So then he wrote an essay in response, right? This is like analog Twitter, like Twitter. But if like Twitter was in Harpers magazine and there was like a week between every, you know, he writes this thing in response and he's like, basically screw you, you don't know our family. You don't know what's like, how our marriage works or this or that and goes on this whole big long, you know, whatever. And he's like, why are you also defensive? I must have touched a nerve, like saying, I don't need a computer and you're also mad at me like you're all techno determinist, apologist, like it's really interesting, like this heated back and forth. And then he entered this was kind of interesting. He introduces this very grounded in farming idea of home economics, which is quite different than sort of what you would see in suburban DC, where you know, it's all salary job, dual income government families. He's like, we, we have a home economy is very farmer way of thinking about it. And that we're, we all are everyone in the family, me and my wife, we're all part of, we have this farm we run and there's all these different things that have to happen and this fence has to get repaired and the milking has to happen and the courses have to be fed them out and that works. And we're all just working on everything as part of keeping this, like, you know, very incorporated this household economy functioning, which is a very sort of pre when you're not thinking about salary work, but like I'm producing from land, it's the way you think it's like we, we, we have endless things that have to happen that we're all working on and trying to keep collectively our farm running. He thought of his article writing, he just placed it in that same context. He's like, yeah, like these articles to go out is sort of part of what keeps the household economy running, we're all just part of it. I do some writing, she does some editing, we do some whatever, like it's just like I, I, I put the staves on the fence and you whitewash him. And so it was really interesting to see this. Uh, clash that was happening, it's like a culture clash is that he was coming from a world where you like owned land and that was your source of income. It was very, you're a, I don't know what the right term is, but like yeoman farmer type thing, like, I'm trying to make a living off of our family, trying to make a living off of our land. We all work together to try to do it. He was coming from that mindset, but in the 80s, everything was shifting towards like most people weren't on farms. Most people weren't running their own small businesses in town. We're just the whole family works at it, the donut shop to keep it running. It was salaries and it was typically dual income salaries. And so this whole discussion about work and meaning and, and, uh, who's working and not working, like all of that was just beginning and this, uh, why don't buy a computer came out? Boom, right as that was happening. And you get a C in that Frision. Like this is when this huge cultural shift was happening. So it, you know, it's, that was a cool part of the book is in this essays and the letters in the back and forth, you can see like these worlds colliding. And in the collision, you actually got more insight than what any individual essay or letter letter was saying about there was like a very dialectical thing. It was really cool. It was like in the collision of Barry with these letter writers in the 80s, you got more insight into the changing culture than you got from just reading anyone individual essay about that period. So I just wanted to point that out as a pretty cool part of the book. You should send him a letter because earlier you were talking about how your friend saw you the mention on Twitter, but this way you only get in touch with them. It's a letter. That's literally how you get in touch with them, by the way. You know, I know you should do it. That's how reporters do it. I mean, that's how this essay book came to you have to send them a letter and then like he may answer. He's very old now. Um, probably doesn't get much mail. Yeah. I wonder what that's like. If you only do letters, I like getting mail, but it's the internet age. Does he get like a lot of? I'm sure he gets a lot of, you know, stuff from publicist, like books. Will you blur this like that type of stuff? But, um, anyways, Barry is a cool guy. I'm going to read some more Barry. All right. Uh, so anyways, that's what that's what I read in December 2021. I'm deep in the working on January 2022 books and we will check in at the end of this month with how my current reading is going. And with that, why don't we go answer some listener questions. So we'll start as always with some questions about deep work. We did a pretty long opening segment. So I am going to be pithy. Of course I've said that before. We'll see if that actually works out. All right. Our first question comes from Clarissa Clarissa says, I'm writing my dissertation and I am struggling.

Cal begins with questions about Deep Work (29:30)

As a clinician by trait, I struggle with this phase in my PhD program. I'm somewhat traumatized by my advisor who criticized my ability to write two years ago. I always received excellent grades during coursework, but now in dissertation phase, she is beginning to compliment me, but I'm still insecure. I've hired an editor and a communication coach. I buy all the books and how to write a dissertation, but I still struggle with the writing process. Well, Clarissa, what I'm going to do first is de-emphasize the writing aspect of you putting together your dissertation. This is a, it's a complaint I've often had about the rhetoric around dissertations that I used to voice a lot when I was early in my professor career because I had a background in productivity advice. I was asked to come to a lot of what are known as dissertation boot camps, where you get together a bunch of grad students at a school who are working on their dissertations. They all work together to try to get progress and they bring in speakers and I spoke at a lot of these and this was the point I often made. Stop making writing the only verb you use to describe working on a dissertation. Stop making the whole focus on, did I get my pages in? How often am I writing? How many hours of writing am I doing? Because when it comes to academic work of this type, 80% of the effort is thinking, figuring out what you want to say and making it something worth saying. Now, what this actually means depends on the field. I mean, if you're in a more humanities based field that you're doing philosophy or something, this really might be like the framework you're trying to put together. If this is more of a clinical research based dissertation, which sounds like might be your case, figuring out what to say is actually doing experiments, looking at what you discovered, coming up with better experiments, understanding the literature, figuring out the thing you want to say is 80% of the work and where almost all of the value comes to them. 20% is just getting that down in a way that people can understand. The writing is a small part. I'm saying that, Clarissa, because I want you to feel better. You are not trying to get a Pulitzer for a book of fiction you're writing. You are not trying to pitch the New Yorker to do some long form piece where what's really going to matter is the craft and the poetry of your writing. Now, what you're trying to do is take lots of deep thinking on something that's new and important and just express it in a way that people can understand. You need to be clear and you need to be grammatically correct. You need your writing to not get in the way of what you're really trying to do, which is deliver the idea. Clear writing, well constructed, simple system, sentences, good grammar, great. Everything else goes into actually figuring out what you want to say. Look, you hired an editor that's fine. They can help you with the clarity. And that's all you need to worry about. Have them look at a couple chapters and they can, hey, you're using word repetition and be careful with your comma is great. They'll help you with that, your writing will be clear. That problem is solved. I don't want you to worry about that anymore. Again, you're not Joan Didion. You're not thinking, can I create poetry with my sentence rhythm? So don't worry so much about the writing. On the other hand, be very systematic when you think about what do I want to write about? Experiments reading the literature, working over what you want to say, checking that with people does this make sense. Do you buy this argument? Let me just give you this argument in words. Just you buy this argument, workshopping your ideas. Be much more relentless on thinking about what you're going to say. And once that's right, again, the writing when it comes to dissertation is just, can I get this information from my head to your head without roadblocks wronged away? And Clarissa, I think you already can do that. And the editor will give you a little bit of extra confidence, but you're there with that. All right, let's move on to a question from Kavindra, who says, Cal, I have been implementing ideas from digital minimalism and a world without email. And I have found that my workday has so much extra time in it. As side, everyone finds this when they actually begin being much more intentional about their time allocation, when they become much more intentional about the processes by which they collaborate, they realize that I only need this much hours to get my work done. It's a little bit of a secret. All right, going back to the question, I only need less than three, fours of my work hours to be completely on top of my duties. Now that I have this time, I am realizing that there is much in my not work buckets that I can tackle. However, I do not want to mix non work things with being at the office for my own mental clarity. I also don't want to look like a slacker. Do you have examples of how people handle this in between time? So Kavindra, my standard suggestion here is that you should take a phantom part time job. So this is my terminology for the very common occurrence among my listeners and readers where they get very intentional about their time, realize that end processes, time and processes, realize they have a lot of extra time in their day. They can stay on top of their job with a lot of extra time, which again is not surprising because most people are terrible at the mechanics of what they do for a living. So when you're not terrible, you realize you don't need as much time. And what I recommend is this idea of you really treat it like I have a part time job. And that's what I do in that extra one fourth, in your case, one fourth of my time this free. And you schedule your work for this phantom part time job, just like you're scheduling your work for your main job. And it happens during the work day. And you can decide if you want to, let's say, in your work day implicitly at three and then switch to your phantom part time job or interleave your phantom part time job during the day. Or like a lot of people will do their phantom part time job first thing in the morning, then switch over to their other job because there's lots of meetings and stuff that happen more in the afternoon in the morning. However, you want to do it, but you really treat it systematically. Like I have two jobs. You call the second one a phantom part time job because you don't make it visible and you don't talk about it. Now, what do you do with your phantom part time job? You have three options. One, you use it to move to the next level or open up new opportunities in your existing work. So you could be dedicating this time to, let's say, cultivating a new rare and valuable skill that's going to give you a lot more options or control or autonomy once you do it. Two, it could be a side hustle. I'm starting to write a novel. I'm starting a business on the side. I'm starting a podcast, whatever it is. So you're working on a side hustle that may just be for interest or maybe that you wanted to eventually generate enough income that you can renegotiate your main work situation to be maybe part time itself. Or three, your phantom part time job is a completely non-professional personal interest. I want to master coffee appreciation. I want to master a genre of fiction or whatever. Just something high quality leisure that you really want to invest in and get better at. The key thing here about the phantom part time job is that it's focused. You are putting this time towards one thing repeatedly and carefully planning when it happens. That is going to get you away from this weird scattered feeling of just, I'm slacking or doing lots of hobbies and work or getting lost in rabbit holes on the internet. So I love the focus of the phantom part time job. Choose one thing. I am going to do this thing over the next six months during my work hours in the one fourth of the work hours I have free. When you're that consistent and focused you can do really cool things with that time. All right, moving on. We have a question here from Lisa. Lisa asks, how can I take regular eye breaks for eye strain in a way that accommodates deep work? Well, Lisa, I want you to do more productive meditation. Make this a bigger part of your habit. That is in almost any circumstance where thinking has to be done. All right, I'm putting together this strategy memo. What is the outline I want to use? I've received an email from a client or my boss and it's going to be pretty tricky. Like, how do I answer this right? I got to really think this through like what I want to propose here. I have computer code I need to write. But I really don't know what type of object do I need here or what's the right algorithm approach. Whatever it is, whenever you come across what should be if you're non-entry level on a regular basis, some contemplation that has to be done, do that on foot away from a computer screen. This is what I call productive meditation, working on a professional problem in your head while walking. This will be hard at first, but you'll get better at it with practice and bring a notebook with you. When we walk, take notes, walk, take notes, you're away from a computer, notebooks do not cause eye strain, and then you come back once you've thought it through and are essentially transcribing that thinking back into your computer world. So if you do most of your non-trivial contemplation on foot, your head walking and notebook, this will automatically induce a regular rhythm of breaks from your computer screen that really should handle the eye strain, but also I think make you more effective at your work. All right, we have a question from Sophie. Sophie asks, "How do you manage long research projects while reducing anxiety?" And Sophie has some elaboration. She says, "I'm a PhD researcher in economics. From the start of a research project, a publishing the paper usually takes three to four years." Wow. How do I manage this type of long and drag your research project, perhaps intertwined with other concurrent projects? All right, well, that's long. Three to four years is quite long. I'm assuming at that duration, what happens is, is three to four years of work and then a bunch of papers you produce at the end of it. If not, make that the case. I don't know economics well, but I do remember Adam Grant explained this to me at some point. I was talking to the author Adam Grant, who's also a professor at Wharton, and he talked about this, that in their work, which is very data analysis oriented, he's very economics oriented, even though he's a business professor, there's a long period of trying to get access to data sets that are good. And then once you have those data sets and you've really learned them, you pluck a lot of fruit from them, paper, paper, paper, paper. So that might help, by the way, you might amortize here. When you're doing these long projects, think about getting lots of papers out of the project. The other things I'll suggest, this was sort of an approach I've seen a lot in academia, the two plus one rule. So we have two big projects you're working on at one time, but in different stages. So you have a project that's really in the hardcore, we're analyzing the data, we're starting to write stage, have another one that's in the very early stage. I'm negotiating with the French Census Bureau to try to get the data I'm going to need to do my big Thomas Piketty style, you know, economic growth analysis or something. So different stages. So the early stage project where requires sporadic attention and you can put it on hold for a couple of weeks, the time is okay, you feel better about that because your second project is much closer to completion. And once that's done, your first project gets closer to completion, you can add it in another early stage. So that's the two of the two plus one rule. The plus one is do something small that ships at least once every four to six months. So you feel like there's some progress happening. So hey, every semester I'm going to write, I'm going to publish a book review, I'm going to do a short paper, I'm going to go back to this data set I really analyzed and wrote some epic papers about, let me take a month and put half of my research time onto extracting an additional cool little insight that's going to be a short note or conference talk or something like that. So there's some wheel of public production that spins at a faster rate. So two plus one is a good rule for these type of research fields. All right, let's do one more question about deep work. This one appropriately enough comes from deep academic. I think if your parents named you that, it would be, you know, would be a shame if you became like a YouTube influencer. So I guess you didn't have many options about what your job was going to be once your parents named you deep academic. Here's the question, how do you handle paper rejection as an academic? How do you help your students get over it? Yeah, it's a good question. I struggle with it. Nonacodynamics don't realize this. They don't realize how incredibly competitive academia is, especially sort of 10 year track R1 research institutions. There's these venues in which you can publish your papers that are very stratified. And it is incredibly hard to get your papers published in the good venues. It's very competitive. Most things get rejected. So you're constantly in this competition. I think the public sometimes has this view of academia where a they call it teaching, which again, research oriented academics, it is a source of frustration that their job is described as teaching. It's like if you're a professional basketball player and people were like, oh yeah, you, you, you, you, you do leg pressing. You know, like, well, yeah, I do leg pressing in the gym as part of my training for being a really good basketball player, which is incredibly competitive and hard. The hardest thing in academia is trying to publish these competitive venues. It's intellectual warfare, the very smartest people in the world fighting for a small number of slots 10 to 15% of what is submitted is going to get accepted. It's very difficult. So you get a lot of rejections. It's competitive and it's difficult. I struggle with this. I've gone through different phases in my career. So when I was a graduate student, my pace of publication would be much less at maybe one or two papers a year when I first got going and it would hit me hard when a paper would get rejected because it's all I had worked on for a few months. And I have notes on my moleskins I can go fine of me reacting to rejections. I took them hard. Then as I hit my stride as a junior faculty member, the wheel started to click and I published a lot and I really got a lot of stuff accepted. So there's a nice golden period where I published a ton of papers, got tenure early, got distinguished professorship. Things were really rolling well as publishing four or five papers a month. And then I more recently, I've talked about this on the show, the pandemic knocked me back to the world of not submitting as much, more, but way more rejections for the small number of things I was submitting. So I'm back into that world of rejection. And briefly, what happened there for people who are non-academics, again, because it's so competitive, there is an incredibly high quality threshold. And so what happened to me during the pandemic is two things happened. One, I got knocked out of my collaboration cycles because I have collaborators around the world and we meet in person twice a year. And there are pop-notch collaborators. I've known most of them since I was 22 years old at MIT. And they're all over the world, but we meet twice a year. Usually there's a time in the summer, for wherever there's a conference we all go to. And one of my close collaborators, longtime collaborators, comes back to DC every summer as families here and we bring in other collaborators and we all get together. And that's where like most of the ideas were generated that we then write papers on. Turns out, if you don't have those meetings as happened during the pandemic, you don't have the good ideas to work on. And two, I just didn't have the time. I just had, it was the typical impacts a lot of people had, especially people with kids with the pandemic. I didn't have as much time to spend on research. So I went to about 50% effort. The issue isn't competitive academia. 50% effort doesn't mean, oh, you published 50% less papers. It means any paper you write, the quality falls just enough that they're all below the acceptance threshold. And so I did that for a year, basically didn't publish anything. And then I realized like, oh, I should probably just put all of my energy into less papers. And last year published like a very nice paper where I put my energy just, if I can't have as much time to spend on this, let me put all the time into one paper because I can't fall below it. But anyways, I've been really struggling with it. It's the lowest publication year last year was the lowest publication year I've ever had as a professional academic because of the pandemic. I still struggle with it the academic. I think it's hard. The best thing you can do is tune up your process. So after some hard rejections, tune up the process. What's missing here? What do I need to do? What would I need to do to not get rejected as often? Do I need better collaboration, more work, more whatever it is like, figure out like, how do I tune up my process? And by the way, you can decide, I don't want to do that. I don't have time to do that. That's not where I am in my career, but be clear about it. And then to do the real work. There's no shortcuts around it. You probably just have to do the stuff that's hard. Read the papers, understand what's going on, push your ideas farther than you think they need to be polished. Do the work does require tune up your process. It's the best you can do. And then keep in mind there's some stochasticity too. There is going to be some luck and that should even itself out. But anyways, I'm with you. I came off a five year period of hot shot publishing down to nothing. And now I'm crawling back out of that, but carefully, because I don't know that I want to go back to hot shot computer science publishing. There's so much other interesting stuff happening in the world now, especially my involvement in digital ethics and some of the public facing right. And I'm doing so I'm rebuilding my life from scratch academically. They will have more publications than I just had, but maybe not as much as I used to. It's hard. I feel your pain. Tune process, do real work, recognize there's luck. And otherwise try not to obsess too much about it because man, paper rejections is tough. All right, that's all the time we have for questions on deep work. Why don't we try to do a few questions now about the deep life? Moving on with questions about the deep life. Our first one comes from loves deep work. Good name. This question is, what are your thoughts on fasting and deep work? Well, I will say I do this accidentally quite a bit as my wife will tell you and complain about sometimes when I'm really locked in on a deadline.

Cal answers questions about Deep Life (48:50)

I will just work all day and not eat. And I'll be honest, it doesn't seem to affect my work, though. It does make me a real annoying person to be around afterwards. That's why she does not like that. My producer, Jesse, though, knows more about fasting. Jesse, do I have this right? You don't eat what lunch or you don't eat breakfast.

Cal asks Jesse about fasting (49:12)

What you have some fasting thing going on. You probably know more about this. I basically just dinner every day, but I started, I discovered it through Tim Ferris's podcast when he was interviewing Terry Cruz. Terry saw a picture of me, he looked jacked anyway, and he's like, yeah, Ferris asked him if he could do one thing, you know, he's 50 something at the time. What would he do? He goes out of facet earlier. And I was like, immediately started doing that. But I started an eight, eight hour period. I did that for like a year, then I just narrowed it even more. So now I just eat dinner. So what do you get out of that? What was Terry Cruz pitching? If you do it, you get cut. Interesting. Like, because your, it all comes down to calories in and calories out. So I mean, I wanted to get more cut and I work out a lot anyway. And it was amazing. It was like, I am, well, not immediately, but over time, like, I got a lot more cut more cut than I've ever been. And I've been doing this now for like four or five years. So by the way, those are all phrases you would never hear at a computer science faculty meeting. I wanted to get more cut. I mean, I'm working out a lot anyways. These are all these are all phrases you wanted here. But what about your concentration ability? Do you get hungry? Do you get, do you find that you're not able to think as clearly? Do you get the opposite when it comes to this question about deep work? What do you think the impact would be? I think you actually think more clearly. Are you hungry? Do you get hungry? Yeah, I definitely get hungry. But every day is kind of like a battle. So like every day, you kind of just get through it and eventually you get to the evening and you can eat. And it's, you know, I'd, and the other thing about it too is you can't really gorge at night either. You still got to eat healthy if you, especially as you get older and stuff. So that's one thing I realized. And but the healthy food, just the nature of that food also probably just regulates what you can eat, right? Because if you're eating vegetables or whatever, there's only so much you can eat. Whereas if it was like a bag of tortilla chips, you could probably crush three of those. Yeah, you can't any processed foods for the most part unless you're cheating. I was just reading, I just revisited Tom Brady's TB 12 like book where he has like a nutrition chapter in there. And it's, it's simple stuff. He doesn't do anything that crazy. He just eats healthy foods. And you, you have to do that most of the time. But in terms of thinking and doing work, I think it really helps. And plus it doesn't, it, it limits the cognitive strain of having to buy a lot of stuff and think about getting food all the time and stuff like that. All right. So it sounds like maybe if this listener wants to experiment, experiment, start with the eight hour. So skip breakfast or something. Yeah, I've had a lot of buddies because I've been doing it for a while. And some of them do like eight and eight and a half hours, which I did for a year. And then I, I was like, I think I can crank this up even more because sometimes, you know, in the evenings and stuff, I'll, you know, I want to still be able to like have beer and stuff every once in a while. So like, I wanted to have more flexibility. So then I was just like, let me experiment with narrowing the number. And then it just became basically like an hour and a half to two hour pretty narrow window. All right. So I think we now have a bestseller here. Here's the diet. Only beer for eight hours. And then you go to food for the four hours that that remains. The one thing I have heard, I've tried this before informally, I might try this more. I do know a couple buddies who swear by they do like Laird Hamilton's coffee cream or something like this, like a coconut oil, like a healthy fat in their coffee for breakfast and no other food. And they swear by that really giving them mental clarity, you know. So it's like the caffeine, I guess there's a couple things that goes on. One, the, the fats they use in these sort of high fat creamers, slows down potentially the spread of the caffeine. So it spreads it out. And I don't know if there's a ketone situation or just an energy situation. But I do know people who swear by that that they do one of these, I don't even call them, clean fat coffee creamers. And the one I've tried is Laird Hamilton's. Yeah, I've tried that too. I like it. Yeah. Most of the time I try to drink my coffee black, but three times a week, I give myself the flexibility to have some cream. Yeah. So that's something you could try. Maybe the, what's his name, Dave Asprey has something too, the Bulletproof guy, they have some other, but it's all the same thing. It's like, yeah, coconut fat style, MCT oil. You know, you give that a try and then just wait till at least lunch. The only thing I know for sure is true is that high carb or processed food crashes your thinking. Yeah, 100%. I mean, the food marketing industry is like, that's one of the best marketing campaigns of all time commencing us that we need to eat. Go to any grocery store and you can see aisles and aisles and stuff that you should just avoid. Yeah. So I mean, if you're, if you're eating, you know, a burger and fries for lunch, you're not, you're not deep thinking that afternoon. All right, we'll go on to a next question here. This is from Calfan. All right. So this must be someone who went to school in California. How do you maintain a healthy body posture while being at a computer throughout the day? Don't be at a computer all throughout the day. It's much easier than, you know, having to buy one of those Twitch streamers, style jet engine, jet fighter pilot, gamer chairs to try to get your posture just right. Just don't be at your computer all day. In response to an earlier question, this episode, I suggested anytime you have actual non trivial, contemplative thinking to do, do it on foot. Just have that rule and you're going to do better thinking, but you're also going to be up a lot more. So that's the key. Make, make the posture, I mean, have good posture, but make it somewhat irrelevant because you're not at your chair long enough at a stretch that non perfect posture is going to cause a problem. All right. A question here from MonkeyMind. Hi, Cal. What do you suggest to people who pick up habits and suggestions you give, but not stick to them for more than a few days? I tell them they're losers. I tell them they need to give up and just watch TikTok videos. Now, this is here's the thing. You're probably, you're probably bring it on too much at a time. It's probably unrealistic and your mind is probably not on board with all the different things you're doing. So if you have all these big plans, there's a deeper part of your mind, the planned evaluation center was probably saying, I don't know, MonkeyMind, this stuff is not all going to work. This is too much and we're not going to do it. Right. So you kind of overloaded that planning. So what I usually tell people is the foundation, the foundation to any of these type of professional style habits is daily metric tracking. That's the one thing you have to do. It takes seven seconds at the end of each day or you can do it each morning and you have some metrics you track and you always do it. That's the thing you have to commit to. It's why my time block planner has this metric planning section on every daily page is you do that. Now, these metrics then can point towards the habits you're trying to do through the day and you keep track of it with the metrics. Did I time block plan? You know, check. Did I do my whatever? My morning deep work session check. They do my exercise, you know, section check how many chapters they're in, whatever you're tracking and you track it there. The key thing is you track it even if it's zero, even if it's no. And even if it's again and again, no, I didn't do this. I didn't do this. I didn't do this. That's fine. But you're tracking. Here's what actually happened. That's the foundation for any consistent habit formation when it comes to professional habits. Then you begin to experiment with, okay, what is the right first step collection of habits that my metric tracking, I eventually actually start positively marking those things down on a consistent basis and you start small. Like all I want to do is a good morning planning session. I'll give a check if I do that. Okay, I'm doing that. I'm doing that. All right. Now all I want to do is time block plan my day. Let me check if I'm doing that. So then you slowly start seeing what works and what does. And if you try something and you have the evidence in your metric track, you're not doing it, you pull it back. Let me try something else. You slowly build up these habits. But you have to have that foundation of I'm keeping tabs and a record every day of what I did or didn't do. Your mind knows it's being tracked. It's embarrassed if you blow with things off that you could do. That is the foundation. So do the metric tracking even if you're embarrassed by what you're tracking and then slowly and experimentally add things into your life. Want something sticks, move on to something else, give this a year of work and you'll come out on the other side with a pretty good set of carefully tested habits that work really well for you and your situation that you consistently follow. But it takes work and you can't do that work without tracking metrics. I will do one more question here. This one's from Alexander who asks, how does a digital minimalist find interesting books to read? Well, my advice here is don't overthink it. Books are interesting just by definition. It's someone who has thought a lot about something be it a fictional world or an idea or a period of history or event and they have put a lot of effort into getting their thoughts on the paper. Just read. Don't overthink what you read. You're more likely to do more reading if you don't care so much about what it is exactly that you're reading. Go back and listen like at the beginning of this episode or from last month or the month before the segments I do on the books I read each month and you will see it is all over the place. I'm not trying to impress anyone. I'm not trying to rigorously expand my knowledge of some niche area. I just wander all over the place. I've been obsessed recently with Hollywood figures. Why not? Let's read a bunch of books about that. I'll read random fiction. I'll throw in straight up self-help but then I'll mix that in with essay collections and journalistic nonfiction. I don't care. I grab stuff. I finish like I need a new book. I grab stuff. I don't overthink it. You shouldn't overthink it either.

Brain Development Through Reading

Cal talks about how reading are pull-ups for the brain (59:45)

Reading is like calisthenics for your ability to understand and think about the world. Don't sweat exactly what grip you're using on this metaphorical pull-up bar. Just get on that bar most days and do some exercising. All right. Well, that's all the time we have for today. Remember, if you like what you hear on this podcast, you will like what you read on my long-standing email newsletter. You can subscribe at calnewport.com. We'll be back on Thursday with a listener calls mini episode and until then, as always, stay deep.

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