Full Length Episode | #176 | February 24, 2022

Transcription for the video titled "Full Length Episode | #176 | February 24, 2022".


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


Cal's intro (00:00)

I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, episode 176.

Main Discussion Points

Cal talks to Jesse (00:16)

Here, as always in my deep work HQ, joined by my producer, Jesse. We're gonna do a good old fashioned listener calls episode, right, Jesse? Got some calls that we're gonna get through? - Yep, got five good calls. Take a listen. - I'm still interested in this idea of doing some of these live. If we figured out if that's technically possible, or is this one of these things, if we try that essentially the power grid in Maryland, we'll go down. - The two inches of snow already did that, but I think we can do it. - Yeah. - We should try it. - We should try, I think that'd be cool. - Yeah. - Or, you know, I did a thing for a charity, and maybe let's go with some sense of what we would expect. I did a thing for a charity a few months ago, where I auctioned off like a, basically like a call, you know, it was sort of like a private episode of Deep Questions, but it was just like a Zoom call for like a half hours, cool. So I got to just hear from, and then I doubled it 'cause it was pretty popular. So I was like, well, just, I'll do two, because there's two bidders that were real near each other. So it's like, well, let's double the money. And so like, I'll do two. And it was an interesting preview, I guess, about what that could be like. And I would say they were pretty excited. So I don't know, that would have to, we'd have to, that's something to keep in mind. I think they were pretty excited to be talking. That was weird for them. So that's something we'd have to get over. We'd have to get people used to like the, like, yes, you just talk to me, it's like a thing. It's not an unusual thing. - And then they can add counter, you know, questions to their initial question. - Yeah, and I could ask follow-ups, which I think would be cool. - Yeah. - Yeah. - Yeah. And we would charge a huge amount of money. So only the richest people could get wisdom and everyone else will be screwed. That'd be the key to it. But now we won't do that. All right, cool. So we're gonna try to figure that out. I think that'd be fun. A huge logistical headache, I'm sure. Because they have to be on Zoom and waiting and we do the episode's live, so they'd have to kind of call in, but we could figure it out. - Yeah. - I think it'd be cool. All right, well, so we got some cool calls today. I wanted to first do something, we haven't done it in a little while, which is an old-fashioned deep dive. We've been doing some core idea videos 'cause I've been trying to populate our playlist of here are the main ideas that we do on this show, but I wanna get into this a good old-fashioned deep dive, just a random idea on my mind that I wanna try to dig into more.

Deep Dive "Is TikTok a Good Thing?" (02:36)

So let's do a deep dive to start today's episode. And the question I wanna tackle is the following, is TikTok a good thing? Now, it seems like an unusual question for me to be asking. There's a lot about this service, TikTok, that does not exactly seem to be right up my Cal Newport style alley, right? I mean, I am not a huge fan of the fact that they are trying to basically cut out the middleman and just make a direct path to your brainstem. It takes addictive entertainment and says, "Well, can't we just pump that up to 11?" Instead of making this accidentally addictive, well, we actually just get the absolute perfect format with the exact right music cues and just shoot these things that people want after another with an algorithm driving it. I don't love that. I don't love the fact that they manipulate the content creators, emotional systems to get them to spend more time doing it. TikTok just says, they admit it. We manipulate your views, like a slot machine that gives you a few quarters every once in a while, so that you'll keep pulling that proverbial handle. So if you're new to TikTok, they will early on show your video to a lot of people. So you feel like you're right on the cusp of breaking out that people really like what you have to do, that you have this audience out there, and then they pull it back, they withhold. No views, no views, and they'll show it to a lot more people. Another video, and you're like, "Oh, I'm almost there. I gotta keep going. I almost had three cherries. If I get three cherries, I'm gonna be Kim Kardashian." I don't love all that. Wouldn't be my favorite thing to do. But I'm very interested and I have a very optimistic view on TikTok because I believe it represents an evolution in the social media industry that ultimately is a very positive evolution. We've talked about this before in various question answers scattered throughout recent episodes. I wanted to consolidate these thoughts right here into this deep dive. Starting around 2012, 2013, we entered this period of monopoly social media platforms that brought with them, and this was the key part, an expectation of universal usage. So there was this era of Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and a few other claimants to the throne that came and went, "We're not only that everyone used them, but it was weird if you didn't." And again, I talk about this a lot on this show, but I know that from firsthand experience because I was pilloried for not using these services. It was considered extreme. It was considered monastic and unusual. There is people that were driven to anger by the concept that I wasn't on these platforms that wanted to debate me publicly and couldn't imagine it. I was ambushed on national radio shows, the New York Times commissioned op-eds just about the weirdness of not taking social media serious and Cal not using it. I mean, it was a technology that was assumed you had to use. And this was the piece of the social media revolution that always made me really uncomfortable. I used to say this again and again, I think social media should be like game of thrones, something that a lot of people really like and enjoy, but there's also a ton of people that have nothing to do with it. And that's what it should be like and it wasn't. It was like if you didn't know what the dragon writers, spells were in game of thrones, you were gonna be yelled at. That's what it was like for a while. TikTok represents something different. TikTok is pure entertainment. And the way we got the TikTok, the way we got there is that the social media services that we've talked about before on the show, they used to be about connection. They used to be about everyone you know is on here. This is where everyone is. This will connect you to those people, people you know. You have to use our service because your cousin's not on this new service. Your cousin's on Facebook. If you want to know what your cousin's up to, you have to be on Facebook. And then they shifted and said, how do we get these people to click on our app more? And they said, let's be about entertainment. We're gonna give you a news feed or infinite scroll timeline of interesting things to look at. So they shifted away from connecting you to people you know and towards, let's give you a infinite scrolling torrent of algorithmically optimized content. And it was in that world that TikTok said, hold my beer. If that's what we're doing, why don't we just do that well? Forget like post from your cousin, forget Ben Shapiro articles being retweeted. Let's just go straight to the jugular here. Videos with music and they move really fast and they're short and it's one after another, one after another, one after another. And we aggressively use algorithms to find the video that you really want to watch. They just cut out the middleman and purified this infinite stream entertainment model. And the reason why this is a good thing is that it does not bring with it an expectation of universal usage. Yes, TikTok is very popular right now. There's over a billion users worldwide. That's a very popular service, but no one thinks it's weird if you don't use it. If I say, I don't use TikTok, people say, I don't care. It's like saying, I don't watch Game of Thrones. People say, well, I mean, I'm a little surprised. You do seem like a nerd, but like, I'm not mad at you. I'm not threatening to debate you. I'm not ambushing you on radio shows. I'm not commissioning New York Times op-eds about why aren't you using it because it's just entertainment. And it's good at it for now and it has cultural relevance and then other things will come along. And I think this is a very positive movement because once we have shifted these platforms to pure diversion, we've gotten rid of the network effect advantage that everyone you know needs to be on these platforms. It opens the door for a lot of competition. It opens the door for a lot of varieties and it opens the door for a lot of different personal preferences about how they engage with these media. Seven years ago, it was incredibly difficult to be 21 and not using Facebook. Today, no one cares if you don't use TikTok. And TikTok will comment, it will go. And there will be three other things that come in its wake. And then there'll be 12 other things that come in those wakes. And some people will use those services and some people will use long-tail social media services where you pay a little bit of money and it's a niche crowd and it's very niche information. And some people will ignore social media altogether and use podcast and streaming services. And there's gonna be a whole variety of different fragmented varied approaches to diversion and entertainment. And I think that's fine. And that's a perfectly fine use of the internet. And once we're away from this expectation of universal usage, people now have breathing room. And they can start to say, "What do I value? "What do I want to spend my time on?" And in digital minimalist fashion, construct lives that use technology in a useful way. That was impossible to do when you would be looked at like a leper if you weren't on Instagram. It's very easy to do in a world that we're heading towards in which there's 17 TikTok clones and 50 other types of things that people use and everyone uses their own combination of things for entertainment and diversion. In that world, you can create combinations that are good for you without raising an eyebrow. So yes, I don't love TikTok as a service in the sense that I'm not gonna spend a lot of time on it. I don't know that I would say that it is a good thing if you were spending hours of your day on it. But as a indicator about where the industry is going, I think it's positive that it exists and is so popular because it is a death knell for that age of monopoly universal usage. It is a death knell for that age where if you weren't on one of these three platforms, you were somehow outcast from society. That was, like I always said, a weird temporary period and I am thankful that I think now we are moving out of it. That's my thoughts on TikTok. Have you used it, Jesse? - I've never used TikTok. - Yeah. - I have some good buddies who use it in the world across world. - Yeah, but see, that's what's good about this. And like it doesn't, it's not a surprising or weird thing that you haven't used TikTok. Whereas this was five years ago, if I was like, hey, have you ever used Facebook? And you said, no, like that'd be a weird thing. That would be an unusual thing. We're here, it's like, yeah, I have some buddies who use it and you probably have a bunch of buddies who don't. - Exactly. - Yeah, I think that's better. I think that's better. So I'm not anti-TikTok. Again, I'm not using it myself, but. - Until you start doing your dancing video. - Well, again, yeah, that's what we should do. We've talked about that before. That's really what's gonna break open this channel is gonna be, we lean in heavy on TikTok and wait, no, I thought the idea was that you would be dancing aggressively in the background while I was delivering the information. - Yeah, that's right. - Yeah, yeah, hold him a lacrosse stick. That's gonna do it. That will drive the very last listener off of our show.

Cal talks about Headspace and Blinkist (11:21)

Oh my, all right, let's do a couple sponsors here. Pay the bills. We gotta get good sets for the TikTok video. So we gotta kind of pay the bills here. So let's talk headspace. Headspace, I am glad to have them as a sponsor. I think it makes a lot of sense that they are a sponsor of the show. If you haven't heard of headspace, you probably have, but if you haven't, it is an app in which you can select from a large library of guided meditations. It is what we need in our current age of uncertainty and anxiety and those winter gray blaws that have these guided meditations to get your head, where you want it to be, to get your thoughts where you want it to be. I mean, we all say the word fine. When people ask us how we're doing, say fine. We never really ask, what does that mean? That's not an emotion. For a lot of us, a lot of times when we say fine, we're really feeling anger, for stress or anxiety, we feel completely overloaded. That's why we need something like headspace, which is scientifically proven to help you manage your feelings and mental health. There's one recent study that recently proved that in just two weeks, headspace can't reduce your stress by 14%. So whether you want to relieve stress and anxiety, sleep better or improve your focus, headspace is your everyday dose of mindfulness for real life. Jesse, I was telling you about this earlier. I was working with the Headspace app and found they have a whole section of focus related guided meditations. So I want to work on something hard. I'm all over the place. I just saw the TikTok video of Jesse dancing aggressively with a lacrosse stick while Cal is trying to give advice and I am just distracted and devastated with the state of humanity. And you want to get your focus, because I need to work on something real. You can do a guided meditation on focus. It walks you through it and you're locked in. - Gets you organized. - It was pretty cool. - Yeah. They didn't ask me to do that. They should have been, I don't want to ask me to narrate the focus one. - They probably will. - Yeah, I should be like, ♪ Focus ♪ ♪ Focus ♪ ♪ Focus ♪ ♪ Work deeper ♪ So now the good news is they do not have me narrate the focus guided meditation. So you can be rest assured you don't have to deal with that. So anyways, Headspace makes a lot of sense, especially in our current uncertain anxiety producing times. So however you're feeling, try Headspace at headspace.com/questions and you'll get one month free of their entire mindfulness library. That is the best Headspace offer available so go to headspace.com/questions today. That's headspace.com/questions. It's also talk Blinkist. Blinkist was one of the first sponsors of the deep question podcast and for good reason because they offer something that our listeners really need. Blinkist is a subscription service that gives you these 10 to 15 minute summaries of some of the best and most important nonfiction books that are out there. These summaries are called Blinks and in just 10 or 15 minutes you get the core ideas of all of the biggest books currently published. So for example, and this is from my own life, I read Yuval Harari Sapiens, I like a lot of people found it really insightful and then he wrote Homodios as a follow up. Like a lot of people I was like, I don't really know what that's about. I like this guy but I don't really understand what that's about should I read this book? You know how I figured that out? I read the Blink. 15 minutes later like, oh, I get what's going on here and I can decide do I need to go further and read this book? Another example I've been recommending to people is my friend Adam Alter's book, Irresistible, which gets into the mechanics of how digitally engineered distraction works. This is a topic that's really relevant. You can get the big ideas from his book in 10 or 15 minutes and then make the decision, ah, do I want to buy and read the whole book or is I learned what I need for now? And that's how I recommend using Blinkist to survey the landscape of a subject matter you care about, learn domain terms, learn domain ideas and figure out which of the books you might want to dive in deeper and read in more detail. So right now Blinkist has a special offer just for our audience. Go to blinkist.com/deep to start a free seven day trial and get 25% off a Blinkist premium membership. That's Blinkist spelled BLINKIST. Blinkist.com/deep to get 25% off in a seven day free trial. Blinkist.com/deep. All right, some ads. Let us, let's get into some calls. How many do we have today, Jesse? What's our collection look like? - We have five calls. - All right, I like it.

How Can I Apply Deep Work into my Sales Role? (16:03)

So let's look up for the first one. - The first one is Thomas. And he basically has a question about deep life and how that applies to sales. - Nice, all right. - Hey, Cal, my name is Thomas. First I wanted to say thank you for all that you do. Your work has really helped me live a better life. Anyways, I work for a software development company and I'm starting my own recruiting agency as well. For both companies, my main focus is currently sales and business development. I'm usually focused on outbound sales work like calling, emailing and curating and sharing relevant articles with prospects. My question is, how can I incorporate deep work into my role and how does it apply to sales? Also, how do you see outbound or inbound sales for that matter, evolving as buyers continue to be inundated with emails and calls? Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. - Well, Thomas, I mean, I think when it comes to any work activity, probably the relevant term and I think you're mixing two similar terms together but I'm gonna separate them. Probably the relevant term here is deliberate practice. Maybe even more so than deep work. So deep work and you can go back and watch my core idea video about this is an activity. It's an activity where you give something focused without distraction. And it's a mental state in which you produce at a high level for your cognitive capacities. I mean, clearly on a sales call, you know this. You wanna be doing just that and you don't wanna be checking your email at the same time. But I think what's really relevant here is the related topic of deliberate practice. It's something I write about in my book, So Good They Can't Ignore You. How do you take this concept and apply it to the really varied and weird and kind of squishy to measure type activities and make up typical office style work? And my argument is we should be trying to do these efforts. We should be trying to deliberately improve in the office. We should be applying deliberate practice which means we have to design activity specifically to stretch our ability beyond where we're comfortable using feedback to help keep us aimed in the right place and in that stretch we get better and better. That's probably the key thing for sales. It's continually saying what are the key skills here? What makes a better sales call versus a worse one and designing activities to stretch your abilities, getting feedback to make sure that you're aimed in the right direction. And this might be something you do with mentors. This might be something you do with studies or courses. But there's a lot of improvement to be done here and what really works and what doesn't in the type of sales that you do. You should have the mindset of I wanna get better at this in a month than I am right now. And I'm not gonna be better in a month just by doing a lot more calls. I'm gonna get better by doing a lot more deliberately structured activities that stretch me in the places where I am not yet good or I could be better. So you gotta get in the information about what matters here and the design activities to stretch you. That's how you get better and better. Once you have that mindset, the issue of the mediums changing, people aren't listening to emails as much, people are more inundated with distractions or how do we sell better, you're gonna react to that naturally because you're already gonna be in this mindset of trying to figure out what works and stretching yourself towards what's better, getting back metrics, seeing what works, what doesn't moving towards the things that do. So you'll already be in that mindset. So you'll already be shifting away from the trouble areas and towards the new modalities that work better. So that's what I would suggest. This is a deliberate practice play. You wanna train at sales calls like an athlete training to pick up a new type of shot, like an athlete trying to get an accuracy higher. You wanna train like a chess player trying to master a new type of opening, deliberately structured work. And we do this not just for success for the sake of success. We do this because it makes you better than you were, which gives you more career capital. And with that career capital, you get more flexibility and autonomy over your working life, which is ultimately the whole game here. Is get that capital, gain control your working life, move it towards what resonates and away from what doesn't. All that's built on skill, the skill comes from practice. So that is the term Thomas I want you to have in mind, is deliberate practice, not necessarily deep work.

How Do I seek out the best counter arguments? (20:10)

All right, here we got next, Jesse. Next up we have Anthony. He has a question. You've been getting a lot of these questions lately about seeking counter arguments. - Hi, Cal, Anthony here. Thank you for your books, your articles and this podcast. They truly inspire me to keep living the deep life. Keep up the great work. My question is about your advice to seek out the best counter arguments when developing a philosophy or stance on an issue. I think the advice makes sense. I was just wondering if you could provide some tips on how to actually go about finding the best counter arguments and engaging with them. What does this process look like? How do you go about doing it? Any details you could share would be helpful. Thank you. - Well, Anthony, this question has come up a couple times recently. And the answer I gave last week in responding to a similar question was, find someone that you know or trust or respect that is on the other side of a topic and then ask them what are the great sources here? Like what's the writing that inspires you? What's the writing that's the foundation of whatever it is you care about, right? So like let's say your natural instinct is towards a sort of big government political theory. You know, like I should probably understand what these libertarians are about. So I kind of understand the opposite side of it. Find, you know, everyone has the libertarian friend. They kind of advertise. And be like, what's the thing you're reading, man? What got you into this? Like who do you think the big books are here? The ones that made you into this? And then you find they tell you, like, great, okay, so these are the books they read that were quite inspiring to them and then you know what to go read. So that's what I'd recommend. Find someone that seems reasonable on that side of the argument and ask them, not for their arguments, not for their particular reasons, but what they read that was most inspiring. It's usually not that hard to find. Almost every stance and almost every position on almost every topic has some foundational text. So it's all about going and finding foundational text. Here's the added benefit of doing that that I wasn't able to mention last time. Put aside the particular content that you are exploring when you do this exercise. You are being exposed when you do this on a regular basis to foundational text. Foundational text in abstract are incredibly interesting and useful to encounter. 'Cause what makes a text foundational? It means someone was able to come in on some topic and deliver such a well-organized and persuasive structuring of the world that many people changed the way they lived their lives because of it. Those are cool books. I think Tyler Cowen calls these Quake books. They cause an earthquake in your personal intellectual life. Just being exposed to that type of writing, I think, is exciting and it also really sharpens your own rhetorical skills because you're being exposed to the very highest level of people trying to be persuasive about understanding the world. So even if you don't care about what they're saying, even if after you read what they're saying, it doesn't change your mind because you read a Quake book on the other side and when they combined, you realize like that side's probably right, you're still picking up the raw craft tools. And it's a really interesting, fun reading experience and it infuses in you the power of nonfiction done right. So that is the hidden benefit I wanted to point out here is that not only do you enriching your own understanding of a topic by reading the best stuff on the other side, not only does that give you more authenticity, not only does that give you more deeper roots of understanding, not only does that give you the confidence to take actual action, it also exposes you to a really cool genre of writing, those type of books that can change the way that people live. And I gotta say, I just have to, I continue to double down on this idea that it is not wrong to expose yourself to people that you worry you disagree with. Be very, very wary of anyone who says, "I don't want you being exposed to that "because you might be tricked." I won't be, I'm smart, I'm sophisticated, but you might be tricked into believing the wrong thing. So I don't want you to listen to that. And in fact, we should probably make that thing go away 'cause people might hear that and be tricked. We need to be very careful about what you hear. That is always the character you don't wanna be in the Orwell novel. That's always the character in the Huxley book that you're saying like, "Ooh, that's not the guy I like." All right, so just be very wary of that. I can think of no better way to build convictions than to expose those convictions to good arguments that disagree, it's going to nuance and sophisticated your understanding. And as I talked about last week, it means you're gonna take more action, more action in the service of things you care about if you're exposed to the countervailing arguments because you get more confidence in your stance. You get more nuance. You're not just online firing emojis at people. You actually say, "I get this and feel strong about this "and I have a sophisticated, dielectrically formed vision "on this, so why don't we actually get out there "and make some change." So a lot of great things come out of that strategy, Anthony. So seek out those books, read those books, and you will be well off.

Do you still allot time to "little bets" as your career progresses? (25:28)

All right, we've been right along here, Jesse. What do we got next? All right, next up, we have a question from Joe, and he talks about little bets, a concept that you introduced in your book, so good they can't ignore you. Hi, Cal. This is Joe from the Midwest. I wanted to thank you for answering my previous questions, especially the one about getting, recognizing that we were going through a year of a dumpster fire and to spend the summer really chiseling away at the deep work and getting marine stove. I didn't get the marine stove, but I did spend the summer working on the big project, and it helps keeps me sane. My question is about little bets. You mentioned it was so good they can't ignore you that you allot time to pursue little bets. Any test amount on your blog, it's for a little blog post, or you test them out in different ways. I'm wondering, as you get deeper into your career, do you still allot a significant amount of time for these little bets? For me, I'm very fortunate that I got my first book deal. I'm working really hard on that project and a couple of other really big rocks for my career, but I don't really see short of a theme of bursting out of my skull, how I can allot specific time just to pursue little bets when these other looming deadlines and big projects need my attention now. So if you could spend some time talking about what role does little bets take as you get deeper into your career, I think it would really help. Thanks. - Well, Joe, congratulations on the book deal. Shame, however, for not buying a marine pellet stove is that is critical, that is critical to any deep work shed space for people who don't remember this question. It was Michael Pollan. When Michael Pollan built a writer shed in the woods behind his house in Kent, Connecticut, he heated it with a marine pellet stove. So it's like a pellet burning stove you put on a boat. So it generates heat, but it's like small, because it's mean just for a heating us a boat. And so you put a pellet, marine pellet stove in your teeny house, and that's how you heat it while you look out over the snow strewn fields and the snow-laden boughs of the birch trees in Kent, Connecticut, and have that warmth as you write in your cabin, wood-lined cabin. That's division. So yeah, you still need to buy that stove. I actually went, I went out to Kent, Connecticut a few years ago and was doing a speaking gig out there. And it was like at a conference. Like one of these conferences they used to do for rich people, basically. And the rich people come, and then a bunch of speakers and writers come and give talks and stuff. And the speakers and writers come because they wanna meet the other speakers and writers. And then the rich people come because they wanna hear from the speakers and writers. It's kind of a weird thing, but kind of a cool thing. And it was in Kent, Connecticut. So Michael Pollan was there because he still kept that house in Kent, Connecticut. And who else was there? Henry Kissinger was there because he turns out to have a house in Kent, Connecticut. He's very old now, but he was there as well. But that was interesting. So that's when I learned like, oh, Pollan has the house here. And I can tell you, it's like a beautiful town. It has like this kind of fancy main street and then it's all hills and trees. And I get why people flee New York to move to Kent. And so that's my Kent, Connecticut story. All right, but let's get back to Little Bet. So Little Betz was a concept I talked about and so good they can't ignore you. It was coined by, I believe the author's name was Sims. Maybe Phil Sims? Yeah, I'm not quite sure. You have it Jesse, you could look it up, right? Well, Phil Sims is definitely a NFL quarterback. So I was so happy about that. He's an NFL quarterback who also writes about business strategy in his book Little Betz. All right, so probably not Phil Sims. Can you do like a Joe Rogan Jamie thing here and see if we can find out? I feel bad, I feel bad that I'm using the wrong name. Anyways, I think the guy's name was Sims. I mean, this is a decade ago, I wrote this book. But it was a self-explanatory concept of in your career and your business, what you wanted to try to do is take steps for which you can get feedback. And then you can see and that can direct it. Oh, I get feedback, like this isn't resonating, this is, let me go that direction. Let me try a couple more bets. And by making sequential bets and making your future actions based on the feedback from those bets, you can actually have like an evidence-based way of guiding what you do. And this is better than he would argue coming up with a huge big plan in abstract. And then like, I'm gonna go execute this three-year plan, you know, and I hope it goes well. So Sims was saying, take bets and get feedback. John Sims, is it John Sims? That doesn't sound right. Can you find the book Little Betz on? I look for it. Yeah, like Amazon or something like that. If it is Phil Sims, that'd be awesome. If the quarterback was writing that book, Phil Sims is on Mad Dog every Friday, I love that spot. Okay, so Phil Sims is on Mad Dog every Friday talking like Harvard Business Review style career strategy. Like Mad Dog, let me talk to you about getting feedback from the right market segments on your consulting firm. So Joe, I mean, I think the key thing to take away from Little Betz is- Peter Sims. Peter Sims. I was close. Yeah. Yeah, Phil Peter. Here's a little known fact, younger brother of NFL quarterback, Phil Sims. I'm just gonna put that out there. Just get to clear that. So the feedback's what's key. So Joe, the feedback's what's key, right? And so I'm thinking about your situation. Yeah, at some point, as you get feedback and you move along, you get to the place where the steps are pretty big. But if you're thinking about a book, you're writing a book now, but how did you come to write that book? Hopefully there was a sequence of Little Betz where you were finding these ideas, what resonates, what seems to have an audience. And so you have this clear feedback before you actually go to the stage of writing a book about it. I think that's a clear example. I mean, take something like my most recent book, A World Without Email. How many years can you go back and hear me talking about these things? I mean, you can go back and like my first appearance on the Ezra Klein podcast years ago. I'm working through a bunch of the core ideas that became A World Without Email, right? Years before, how many articles that I write, there's actually an article I wrote for the Harvard Business Review to promote deep work. So all the way back in 2016, that was about getting rid of email and working through some concepts that made their way into the book. So years of, I work out concepts of my Little Betz or I write about them or I talk about them on this podcast or I talk about them on other podcasts or I write articles about them and I see what the response is. So like I'm thinking now, I might write a book about slow productivity. I've been testing out this idea. I wrote a New Yorker piece about it. Got some pretty good feedback that was useful. I did a podcast video about this, a core idea video that was useful. I talked about on Tim Ferriss's podcast and I could see when he split up that interview in the segments, he did a clip of the slow productivity discussion and that's the most viewed clip of all the clips he did from the podcast. That's feedback on this. So there's a little bets that are helping me put together what I want to do and at some point I'm going to write a book about it. So Joe, I would say that's the takeaway message is you want to get real feedback from people, not people like friends, but actual unbiased feedback. Are you buying this, you paying for this, you're giving me money and allow that to help direct you towards which direction you go. But I think you're absolutely right to point out that a little bet strategy will eventually lead you to really big things to take time. You do a lot of bets on topics you might then end up spending two years writing a book. Do a little, bunch of little bets on a product. You might end up at some point taking on investment and going all in on a business. And that's a multi-year commitment one way or the other. So that's true. Little bets lead to big commitments, but the key is not to jump right into that big commitment just because you hope or you have a reasonable story about why what you're going to do would be useful, that you actually have some evidence. And if you doubt that, talk to NFL quarterback Phil Sims, he will fill your ear with thoughts on little bets. All right, I had to blast for the past. So good they can't ignore you was 2012. So yeah, we're at the 10 year anniversary. Interesting. That's when I kicked off my writing career as a nonfiction idea book writer. I wrote these three books for students. That's how I got my ceilings, that's how I built up my craft. And so good they can't ignore you was the vision I had all along of, I wanna write idea books, nonfiction books, table of Barnes and Noble, on NPR, New York Times articles, that's what I wanted to do. And that's where I kicked off that transition. So it's like a really important book from you. It's the first time someone said, okay, you're allowed to write a hardcover book about an idea, it's a crazy thing. Just an idea you made up. And you can just put that in a book and we'll see what happens. So that was definitely a big transition for me. That's a cool story. Yeah. And it was good that book went to auction and at the time it seemed like a lot of money is how we bought our first, it was the down payment for our first house and how we bought our first car as we came out the Georgetown was because that book was really, I wrote it right before I came out here. And it came out like right after I got here, it's my memory. My memory is right after I got the Georgetown it came out but I wrote it as a postdoc. So it was exciting, like it was some money and not like life changing money but like bigger. Bigger by far, like factorify bigger than I was getting for the student books or whatever. And then it didn't do well out of the gates. Right. So there's a story in that. Like we, there's a big push, we hired a good PR company and it just kind of disappeared. We're like, oh man, I guess, you know, 'cause I didn't know how publicity, I had no idea how book sales work. I still don't know how that works. And it's like, okay, I guess, do I get to keep doing this? I don't know. And so I pitched them deep work, finally, and like, yeah, but we're gonna pay you less money. But if you wanna write it, go ahead, you know. And it was just a funny thing. It's just good ideas or good ideas. And it took years, but then it just, it picked up and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. But like it was, it seemed like a dud out of the gate. And I'll say the two things that seemed to matter was podcasting came along about two years after I wrote that book. So I wrote that book, I did a thing for the New York Times and like it got a good, you know, there's a few things I did that kind of disappeared. And it's some radio, but some stupid radio. And then starting around 2014, podcasting became a thing. And so I became, I was like a very early guest in podcasting circuits, doing a lot of these early podcast. And I just did a lot of podcasts, like why not? I thought it was fun. And I think that built the slow burn. If there were like 2014 to 2016, I was on a lot of shows. And that's how I got kind of good at it because I was doing podcasting really early on and I sort of learned to medium. And I think that's what really two years after it came out, started that burn and then deep work did something similar, but it's burn was much more intense. Like that, that books have a lot of copies. And I think that also just pointed people back towards that original book. So that's how it all got started for me. I was got real excited, got this deal, got this book, it disappeared, thought that I'd be done with publishing. And then podcasting came along and deep work came along. And that's actually like a turn out to be a very successful book. - The other thing too that you talk about and others talk about is you have another job too. So you aren't lying on that to survive. So I mean, you could like give it some time. - Yeah, exactly. I don't, it would have been harder if I was, well, what happened in the nonfiction space? - Much more stressful. - And you have to become like a super speaker. That's what was happening back then. If you're trying to make a living off of nonfiction advice books, you had to be doing 30 to 50 speeches a year. You know? And like what a lot of writers would do in that space. And it's very lucrative by the way, but it's tough. But a lot of writers would just do year on year off. So like 50 speeches, killer. And then a year writing, then 50 speeches a year writing. And you always had to have the book came out. And then your whole life is built around the speaking. So fortunately I was a professor and so I didn't have to do that. You know, I could just say, I don't know, I guess this book didn't do well. I waited a long time. That book came out in 2012. And then I didn't, deep work came out four years later. So I was having kids and trying to get tenure, you know? And so that was kind of a fun time actually. I mean, there's something innocent to it. I would do, it was entirely homegrown. This is the way I remember it. Is like I would do podcast in my basement. And that was it. And then at some point I started writing deep work just sort of on my own. And that was it, right? And then everything else was just organic. And so that's my view. If like if a book is right, it will eventually sell a lot of copies, regardless of what happens early on. I don't know how to make a book sell a lot of copies right up front. I've never been able to do that. - It's kind of like what the book says. It's so good you can't ignore you. So if like the book is good, they can't pick doors. - Yeah, I don't think anyone knows. Like my editor, I love the editor on that book. He's like, this is a great idea. Like this, and he was right in the end. We sold a ton of copies of that book. But he was like baffled. He's like, why aren't we early on? Why isn't, why is no one buying this? It's such, I just don't think people understand. Or they don't understand the degree to which like email lists, these other types of dynamics and cultural, cultural awareness, like this stuff plays a huge role in things like taking off right out of the back. But it's almost like that's orthogonal from whether or not the book is gonna be. So we'll see, we'll see. But it was a cool story. So that started that whole chapter of my life, which was, that was an interesting one. All right, what do we got here? Who's our next question? - Next question's from Greg. And it's about information overload. - Hi, Cal. I struggle with information overload.

Do I read too much? (39:47)

Basically, I think I read too much. All the amazing articles, books, papers, newsletters and blogs that are available by thousands, no matter how narrow a person's interest is. I mean, I'm interested in programming Haskell. And just for that, I have a dozen papers, three books and about 50 bookmarks. Even if I try to drive my reading backwards from goals and have a philosophy of just in time, not just in case, there are other reasons to read widely, like the responsibility of being a good citizen, the steward of family wealth, or even being the head of the household. This all means keeping up as important. And that involves a lot of general reading. Have you thought about this much? It seems like FOMO, but is less frivolous. Thank you. - Yeah, Greg, it's a good point. It sounds like you are, you probably are reading too much. But more importantly, you're probably putting too much pressure on yourself about all these different things that you need to master. And so I'll give you a couple practical suggestions for structuring what I think is like a reasonable, aggressive but reasonable life of reading. So you have your books and you wanna read a fair number of books each month, that's fine. So you have some sort of goal like that. I read five, whatever you want your goal to be. Don't care too much about what they are, diverse different types of books, different genres examples. You're kinda keeping that intellectual life going. When it comes to mastering a topic. So you have a personality type, which is common, but not everyone has it where you really like mastering a topic, reading a lot about a topic and mastering it. I think that's fine and you wanna lean into that, but do it sequentially. Sequentially, it's a hard word. So what's the thing I'm trying to master now? Okay, I'm doing Haskell now, or there's a personal finance thing I'm gonna obsess about now. Or I wanna learn about whatever some new hobby or something like that. I think that's fine, but just do it one at a time. Like here's my obsession of the moment. And if that's your personality type, it's fine to have an obsession, but just do one at a time. And maybe have a nice place for actually keeping notes on that if you want, you can use some sort of system where you type up a lot of notes and keep track of them and do your research so that you're not losing that information and that's fine. But you just do one of those things at a time. So you don't feel this pressure if I have to keep up with everything. So now, so we have books. I wanna keep reading books, wide variety. You're a singular obsession, only one at a time. Now that obsession might include books that will influence what some of your books are, but don't let your obsession take over your monthly book quota. The final thing to add in there is serendipitous entertaining or shorter form reading. So you have newsletters and magazines, and there's these type of things. And you find some benefit to this. I, you know, a Cal Newport article that might get me thinking about this, and maybe I subscribe to like Ben Thompson's and that gives me some like interesting insight into the world of business and maybe like you subscribe to The New Yorker and there's like a YouTube channel of someone you like to watch, but it's more funny. Like you have all this type of stuff too. So what do we do with that? And I would say for that third category, work backwards from time slots. So you see that all as programming like on a TV channel, like HBO or something. And you put aside time you watch HBO. Like, okay, it's Saturday mornings and I like to take a long lunch break on Fridays right in my day early on Fridays or whatever. Like you have it figured out there's certain times where I just want to expose myself. I don't want to overthink it to the interesting, the random, the serendipitous, the funny. I'll, what the internet has to offer. And maybe this is where social media comes into play too. Just as platformer like to go on, I follow these people I want to see what they're up to. Set the times and then work backwards to what am I drawing from in those times? So when I'm out of time, I'm out of time. So that leads to a natural curation. Like, okay, well, I don't usually pull from these four podcasts. So I'm going to stop, you know, listening to those. And these email newsletters I don't read by usually like this guy's email newsletter. So I'll keep subscribed to this guy. I'm not going to subscribe to those. You can use tools like Flipboard, et cetera. There's a lot of tools like this where you go into the paper where you can kind of pull information from the web and various places into like a clean, easy format. You can put on your tablet and bring that tablet to the coffee shop and that's where you sit and read. I'm a big fan of that. So pull it out of context. But you have a set amount of time and that puts back a natural curation. For someone like you Greg that's interested in information, likes information, likes having obsessions, like understanding things, that's my three prong suggestion. I have a fixed number of books you read, have an obsession, but you only do one obsession at a time. And for the serendipitous, random and funny, have set times you do that. And if it doesn't fit in that time, you don't get to it and that will naturally curate what you actually pull from. Do those things. I think you have, you're keeping up with your responsibilities, you're keeping life interesting, you're going to be exposed to a lot of interesting things, but you're not going to have that stress of, I can't keep up with everything. And you're not going to have the accidental side effect of let's say the frivolous or serendipitous takes over all your time from the deeper book you wanted to read or the obsession gets in the way of anything interesting in your life. This gives you a nice balance.

Cal talks about Munk Pack and JUST egg (44:59)

All right, so thanks for that, Greg. Now, we do have one more question, but we want to take a quick break before we get there to hear a word from our sponsors. In particular, I want to talk about Monk Pack Keto Nut and Seed Bars. All right, so these are a granola bar style snack, except for unlike the junk you would find in those normal types of granola bars, the Monk Pack Keto Nut and Seed Bars have one gram of sugar or less, two to three grams of net carbs, and they're only 150 calories. So the keto is in the name because if you're following a keto lifestyle, they're perfect for that, but you don't have to be following a keto lifestyle to get a lot of value out of something that tastes so good and yet is so good for you. They have that perfect balance of sweet and salty, a crunch from the whole nuts and seeds, but still managed to be soft and chewy. The soft is really important to me. I don't like the fully hard granola bars and these are soft, but they have those seeds on them. A lot of great flavors, caramel sea salt, peanut butter dark chocolate. My favorite is sea salt dark chocolate, like just a layer of dark chocolate on it. Here's why I eat those. There'll be these times where I'm exhausted, I've been working a long day, time blocking, time blocking, don't have a lot of time. I'm hungry and tired, so I'm not gonna go make a salad or something like that, but I don't wanna eat junk. I can grab one of these Monk Pack bars and it feels like a treat, it feels like a special occasion, but they're not filling me with sugar. They're not gonna crash me five hours later, or five minutes later, I should say. They're also gluten free, plant paste, non-GMO, no soy, no trans fat, sugar alcohols, or artificial colors. So it is a snack that gets the job done. So try it for yourself and you'll see, we have a special deal for our listeners, get 20% off your first purchase of any Monk Pack product by visiting MonkPack.com and entering our code deep at checkout. They are so confident in their product that it has a 100% satisfaction guarantee if you don't like it, they will exchange it or refund your money, whatever you prefer. So to get started, go to MonkPack.com, that's M-U-N-K-P-A-C-K.com and select any product. Enter that code deep at your checkout to get 20% off or 20% off your purchase. Monk Pack, delicious, nutritious food, you can count on. Speaking of delicious, nutritious food, I also wanna talk about just egg. Now I am a egg eater, you know this about me, I eat eggs almost every day, feels like a lot of eggs. I like 'em, but it feels like a lot of eggs to be eating, which is why I was so excited to hear about this next sponsor. Just egg is a cholesterol free, plant based egg that will give you the most decadent queses of your life, the fluffiest scrambles and the easiest egg sandwiches of all times. It has the same protein as a chicken egg and less saturated fat, plus just egg is packed with cholesterol lowering polyunsaturated fats. Chicken eggs wish they were this healthy and because just egg comes from plants, you're also helping to save the planet. So in my life, it allows me to still feel like I'm having eggs every day, but I can throw the just egg into my rotation and have a nice cholesterol lowering plant based alternative on some days. I think this is a great idea for a product. So if like me, you like the idea of eggs, but you don't like the idea of eating chicken eggs all the time, check out just egg, you will enjoy it.

Student Questions

How do I accomplish my many goals as a medical student? (48:43)

All right, Jesse, that's what we got for sponsors. I think we have time for one more caller. Who do we have here for our final caller? - Final call, we have Walker. It's basically about your tagline, do better, do less, know why, and he's also has a question about the journey of his medical student career. - Okay. - Hi, Cal, my name's Walker, and I've actually had the privilege of you answering a few of my questions on the podcast before. They were extremely helpful, so thanks for that. My questions today arise as a bit of a related set of questions to that. Namely that philosophically, how do you square the maximum of doing better, doing less, and knowing why? With the journey of a pre-medical student, I ask this because if you ask any pre-med students traditional or not, they can attest to the slew of expectations proposed by admissions committees, advisors, et cetera, that require you to excel in the classroom and work, research, clinical and non-clerical volunteering, and perhaps curing cancer and winning an Olympic gold medal on the side. How does that square with your maximum? Is it a contradiction? Does it hold up as an exception to the rule? Curious to your thoughts on this. And then specifically, how might you advise someone in my situation working full time and trying to fit in all of these goals and accomplish them and achieve them? Thanks. - Well, Walker, it's a good question. We're talking about admissions here. We're talking about academic admissions and how that fits with the old motto of my website. And I would say sort of the new motto of the deep life writ large, which is to do less do better, know why. Two points about pre-med. Number one, in the vast majority of cases, the thing that is vastly most important is your grades and MCATs. Get good grades, get good MCATs. That's what's gonna matter for almost any medical school, especially for you, you're working full time and you wanna go back to med school. That's basically what you have, the knobs you have to turn. Yeah, your grades, those are probably already set. You wanna get good MCAT scores. And you get good MCAT scores by practicing on actual tests, deliberately improving your skills until you can get the score you want under time conditions. There's no shortcut for actually practice, get better, practice, get better until you can consistently hit the score you want. So that's probably what you need to do. Does that take a small number of med schools off the table, probably? There are small number of med schools where there is such selective admissions that everyone might be, you could fill a whole class with people who have peg, degrees, and MCATs. So they have to use other factors to differentiate. Well, that's probably not gonna be the med school where you're gonna go, that's fine. Go to good med school, pick up the skills, create a good career as a doctor. Now let's step back and say you're in a situation and you wanna try to get into one of those top med schools and you think stuff beyond just your grades and MCATs are gonna matter. Well, I wrote a whole book about this for college admissions but the same ideas apply to, let's say, medical school admissions. And that book was called How to Become a High School Superstar or How to Be a High School Superstar. I forgot which verb it was. And it got into what makes people impressive. And it was looking at it from the standpoint of college admissions but again, I think this is similar to these type of highly competitive med school admissions. And it said, again, put aside grades and test scores or 99% of the battle. So that's destiny. But beyond that, what can you do? And the answer came down to guess what? Do less do better, know why? This idea, we write these storylines that somehow the quantity of things we do is impressive because wow, it's so hard to do a lot of things but that does not correctly characterize how we assess impressiveness. You're gonna be assessed more on the thing you do best and how interesting or unexplainable it is. Do less things, do the things you do at a really high level and have a really good reason for doing it is what's gonna play. That's what's going to impress people. Not that I did seven different things. And so there's a lot of ideas in that book about how to do this. First of all, it tells you to become interesting. You have to be an actual interesting person which means you probably have to do less 'cause you need time to read and explore and go to talks and have thoughts and develop interests that are non-artificial. And that's hard for a lot of people but doing less is the foundation for becoming more interesting which allows you to get some attention. When it comes time to do better, the book talks about when you have an interest you follow that particular interest to interesting places. And you can't plan it all out in advance but you do it really well. That opens up opportunities. You take one of those opportunities that you do that really well. That opens up new opportunities. And what you really wanna try to do according to that book is trigger what is called the failed simulation effect. Eventually get to a place where people say, "I can't even understand how Walker did this." Like I wouldn't even know how to go about doing that. And that triggers a much more bigger burst of impress of this than instead trying to go into a direction with an incredibly well-defined competitive structure, like being an athlete and saying, okay, my goal is to be win that structure and be an Olympic athlete. Yeah, one person succeeds at that. So good luck. It's much better to go this failed simulation route where instead you say, yeah, you know, I wrote a book and like have this podcast and wrote a book. Like I don't even know how a young guy writes a book. That's really impressive. Even if it was actually in terms of net effort, way easier to be coming in Olympic athletes. So that book gets into a lot of these type of ideas. So don't just assume you know really what makes people impressive beyond their test scores and grades and these contexts. Usually people construct these stories as a self-defense mechanism. I mean, Walker, what you were saying there, the way you listed what you have to do in med school to me just felt a little bit like self-defense. Let me just list things I know like it would be implausible for me to do. So there's some protection there. Impressiveness is a scurrly subject, my friend. That's not as cut and dry as in clearly defined competitive structures. How high are you? Or in terms of sheer difficulty of number of things you did, how many did you do? There's room there for creativity and unusual and uniqueness and that's the path that most people need to go. So get your grades and test scores. That'll determine your score. If you're one of the few number of people where you actually have to add activities, it's better to be an interesting person who did less but did the things they did really well and took them to interesting places. It's a more interesting life and it's more refreshing and interesting to those admissions officers. So I'm a lot of thoughts to say about those type of admission processes but we have a lot of learning to do on it. So that book is a good place to start but for you Walker, if you're working full time, don't worry about it. Get your MCAT scores good. Go to a good school. Try not to take on too much debt. You know, do very well in that med school so you get matched into a good residency. Good things will happen from there but from here, we are out of time. So thank you everyone who submitted their calls to today's episode. Go to cal Newport.com/podcast for instructions on how YouTube can submit a call. Remember videos of all these calls and the full episodes are available on our YouTube channel. See the link in the show notes and if you like what you heard, you will like what you read on my weekly newsletter. You can sign up at cal Newport.com. We'll be back next week and until then, as always, stay deep.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Wisdom In a Nutshell.

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

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.