Full Length Episode | #178 | February 28, 2022 | Deep Questions Podcast with Cal Newport

Transcription for the video titled "Full Length Episode | #178 | February 28, 2022 | Deep Questions Podcast with Cal Newport".

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Introduction: Cal

Cal's Intro (00:00)

I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, episode 178. I'm here, my Deep Work HQ joined as usual by my producer Jesse. Now Jesse, do I look more tanned and relaxed? You look very tan. Given the- Like Mark Sisson. Like Mark Sisson. Yeah, I look like a 65 year old man. Like Mark Sisson. I just got back from Mark Sisson's home stopping grounds of Florida just a few days ago. And let me tell you what the important thing was about that trip. I didn't work. All right. And that's rare for me because when I go on any type of vacation, now this was a short one, but when I go on any type of vacation, I pretty soon get antsy. If I don't have things to think about, if I don't have progress to be making, so I'm usually working on a writing problem, a writing project or a math problem trying to solve. And I'll walk the beach and I'll try to make progress. And I didn't bring anything like that. I didn't write and I didn't try to solve anything. I mean, I did a little writing in my head, but I wasn't like actually typing and making progress and I wasn't trying to solve anything. It was nice. How many books did you read? Um, 12. No, one and a half. One and a half. Uh, so. Oh yeah. By the way, what are we now, the 25th or six? So yeah, we got, we got another book episode. Next time we record, we'll have books. I will admit, so we're recording this on February 25th and I finished my five books in February early in that trip. So now I'm working on two books concurrently, uh, that I'll finish in March. So I'm sort of on my, on my way and I'm working on a really big book in the background too. And I don't know how to report that because it's going to take me as an 800 page beast and so I just work on it a little bit at a time in the background and, and so it doesn't get captured in my monthly reports, but, but that things are rolling along as well. So a lot of good reading got done. Saw some sun, saw some dolphins, did not see Mark Sisson, but it was all in all a good trip, but not working is a big deal for me. Just actually wrangling family and looking at the ocean and doing what one does. So it's a good trip. Good to hear. So I figured we'd do a little deep dive and then get into some listener calls. I was thinking this might be a good time to remind people, Jesse, that if they go to cal newport.com/podcast, there's a link on there about how to submit listener calls. You can do it straight from your browser. It's easy to do. And we use those and appreciate those. We use those right in the show. Also I guess I should remind people, I always forget to do this. But YouTube page is up. So if you want to see videos of full episodes or videos of each individual question and segment we do, all of that is on the YouTube page. We finally have our own URL. So you don't have to just look in the show notes. You can just remember YouTube.com/Cal Newport Media. One word, right? Yep. What was the one we couldn't get Cal Newport, right? Somebody has it, I guess. Makes me nervous. But then when you try to go to it, it doesn't code anything. Yeah, makes me nervous. There's a Twitter account. So there's been a lot of fake Cal Newport Twitter accounts off and on. And usually they're fine. We had to get one taken down because it was getting pretty inappropriate. It was my picture and my name, my bio. But there's one now that's actually doing pretty well. I think there are 800 followers that they're clear in the description at least that this is not Cal Newport. He's not on social media. But as far as I can tell, the Twitter account is just my quotes. And I don't think the guy's been pretty well with it. So there we go. So hopefully YouTube.com/Cal Newport is not that weird. Remember we found that like Professor Cal erotic ASMR guy. So hopefully it's not going to be that with a picture of me, like a big prominent picture of me and just a bucket load of erotic ASMR. It's possible. So I'll pre-warn people. So it's Cal Newport media. That media might end up being critical. It could get rough. It could get dicey. All right. But let's do a deep dive. So I wanted to talk about this topic of tips for doing hard things. And what's going to be different about this deep dive versus past deep dives is I'm not giving my advice for doing hard things.


Deep Dive on Doing Hard Things (04:50)

I want to give a talk about this topic. I recently wrote an essay about this talk and I published it in my email newsletter, which if you don't get, you probably should. You can sign up for that at Cal Newport.com. But I figured I just wrote that this morning before we started recording. I said I want to talk about this on the show. So I brought in some of my notes from it. So here's the setup. The video is from 2020. It's from the fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson who wrote a bunch of bestselling series. I've read some of his books. I read Name of the Wind and whatever the second book was in that particular trilogy. And it's really good. And I'm actually now one of the books I'm reading right now is I decided I wanted to read some Ursula K. Gwen and I was going back and reading some of her Earth Sea Chronicles, which has that's from the 60s, but it has some ideas about the true names of elements being critical to the magical system that Sanderson plays with. Anyways, think big successful fantasy novelist. And he gives a talk in 2020 that was titled, I have it here, the Common Lies writers tell you, but this was not really what the talk was about. The talk was about doing hard things. And Sanderson comes right out and you know I'm going to appreciate this. He comes right out up front and says he dislikes the fact that the media keeps telling young people that you can do anything you want to and you should follow your dreams. And he said, look, that is way too simplistic. That's not the way it works. That's not going to help anyone to say that. There's definitely a perspective you would hear, for example, in my book So Good They Can't Ignore You. And he says, okay, here is the more realistic claim. I'm quoting them here. I can do hard things. Doing hard things has intrinsic value and they will make me a better person even if I end up failing. He said, that's the right way to talk about ambitious goals. Is there's value in doing hard things? You're able to do hard things and you're going to get value out of it no matter what actually happens, whether it makes you a famous novelist or not or whatever that dream happens to be and that this is better than telling people, no, of course you'll succeed and you could do whatever you want. And then for the remainder of his talk, he said, so let's talk about doing hard things and he gave three tips, three tips for the reality, reality-based tips for dealing with hard things. So I thought what I would do here is I want to go through these three tips. I'll tell you what he said and then give a little bit of my own commentary on each. So the first tip he gave was make better goals. So when it comes to doing hard things, he thinks we are not good at setting the right goals and we don't help people set better goals. So he mentioned for example that in an AP literature class in high school, he won a minor contest for a story he wrote and decided, oh, my goal is to be a successful novelist. And he said that was not a good goal. It was a way to long-term vague and grandiose. How do you make progress on that particular goal? In particular, what are you supposed to do tomorrow to make progress towards that goal become a successful writer? He said what you should do instead is make goals that you have control over. What Sanderson ended up doing was writing 13 manuscripts before he actually had a book he could solve. And he said his goal should have been focused on producing a certain number of manuscripts as an act of practice and having a commitment with each manuscript to be more ambitious than the last to push and develop his skills because that's a goal he could make progress on. I can write another manuscript. I can for sure make this next manuscript be even more ambitious in this way, this way, that way. Those are achievable goals saying be a successful author. That was too vague. All right. Now my take on this is I write about something similar in my book, Deep Work. In that book, Deep Work, I talk about this methodology, this business methodology called 4DX, the four disciplines of execution. And I talk about how this methodology, which was designed to help teams and companies do better, gives us some insight into accomplishment when we apply it to individuals. And one of the core ideas from that methodology is lead versus lag indicators. A lag indicator is the big goal you eventually want to accomplish. I want my next academic paper to get into a top tier journal. The problem with lag indicators according to 4DX is that it doesn't give you a clear action. So they said instead you should focus on what they call lead indicators, which are things you can track and do in control. And they should be chosen such that if you do well with those lead indicators, you're likely to have success with the lag indicators, but it gives you something concrete to focus on. And so for that example, the right lead indicator might be, I'm going to do 15 hours of deep work per week on the paper. I'm writing. And that I can track. That creates friction I can push back against. Now I can actually make real changes in the intentional application of my energy, cancel things, move things, wake up early, progress can happen. So I like Sanderson's idea there and I've talked about variations of that. All right, his second tip, learn how you work. So Sanderson, when it comes to writing, thinks it's a real disservice. He hears people say things like, real writers have an overwhelming compulsion to write. And that if you don't have that compulsion, you should do anything else. And only people who just can't help but write and that's all they can do should be people who should be writers. He thinks that's nonsense. He says writing is hard and it's hard work to figure out how to get yourself to do it. He is a professional writer. And I'm quoting him here, I love writing, but I have a hard time sitting down and writing. So even for this very successful professional writer, he says writing is hard. So his advice is when it comes to doing hard things, you have to put in a lot of effort to figure out what works for you that basically get yourself to do that type of effort. And it could differ from person to person. Sanderson uses daily word count tracking in a spreadsheet. It's like a game for him. He likes that. But he says other people thrive under the social pressure of a writer's group. Other people need a deadline. Now I talk about this a lot of my own work. I talk a lot about how deep cognitively demanding efforts are unnatural. It uses a lot of energy. More ancient parts of our brain cannot immediately see what benefit they're going to get from this energy. What's the threat we're escaping? Where's the food or mate source that this thinking is going to give us right away? And it doesn't have an answer for that. You try to convince your brain, for example, that your 460,000 word epic fantasy novel is going to help you in mate selection. Your brain's not going to buy it. It's going to see that you're talking a lot about wizards with names like Gargamel who are passing wind spells on elves. And it's going to say this is not going to get us children. This is not going to get us food. Why are we doing this? And this is generally true when it comes to doing cognitively demanding work. It's unnatural. So a lot of effort is required to trick yourself into doing it. So I like what Sanderson talked about. I would also add scheduling philosophy and ritual. That's why this plays such a big role. Get rid of any decision your mind has about when you're going to do this work instead you have a philosophy. It's always these days at these times. Or at the beginning of the week, I put it on my calendar and it's right there in the same color as meetings I know I can't skip that time is protected. I don't always feel like I want to go to a meeting but I saw my calendar I'd go. I don't always feel like I want to write but it's there on my calendar. That's what I'm doing next. And this is also why ritual matters. Writers will build out these spaces that seem over the top or go to weird places like I wrote about in my New Yorker piece last summer about working from near home. Where writers will leave perfectly nice and good homes to go to weird eccentric locations to write just because they associate that transit. They associate that new environment just with writing. That's why Peter Benchley left his bucolic carriage home on Eastwell and Avenue there. I know he's on Curlers Avenue. Curlers Avenue there in Pendington, New Jersey to work in the back room of a furnace factory. So I Steinbeck would balance a legal pad on a boat in Sag Harbor. It's why Maya Angelou would go to hotel rooms and take everything off the walls. There is zero distraction and right laying down on the bed propped up on an arm doing this so often that she built up deep calluses on that arm that she was supporting herself because it's hard to do this work. You got to figure out how to get your mind into there. So scheduling philosophies and rituals especially over the top rituals. You play a big role. I'll say when it comes to writing there's a quote I've said a few times it's bounced around a few times which is basically what some people call writer's block by some people I mean amateurs is actually just the physiological feeling of what it writing. The writing experience is that feeling of I don't know what to say. I don't feel inspired. I don't know what to say. I'm stuck. It's like great. Now you've started writing. That's what it feels like. All right Sanderson's third tip break it down. Maybe his most prosaic tip out of the three but basically if you have a big goal break it in the manageable pieces so you have something to go after he noted that the book he was writing at that time was longer than the entire Hunger Games series put together. So he's saying that's such a big hairy epic goal because he'll write 400,000 word plus books which is crazy. By comparison my books are usually 70 to 90,000 so it's like five deep works. So you've got to break that down. That can't be your goal. I'm writing this book. It's no no I'm trying to finish the chapter cycle that establishes the backstory for the wizard Gargamel that passes the wind spells on the elves or whatever it is. I obviously know a lot about fantasy books. I think that's good work. I think the key part about this final tip is that he says in figuring out what those goals are that's where all the magic happens is that we don't give people enough training especially in creative fields to figure out what those smaller goals are. He said this is a particular problem in writing where if you talk to a professional writer and say look I really want to do what you do what's your advice. They'll just look at you and say well you got to write. He says that's too vague. No no what you need to tell me is it's going to take about six manuscripts before you get your chops down and those manuscripts have to be successfully harder in this way and here is the level type and source of feedback you need on each to make sure that you're gaining particular skills. You do one on your own. You do one with two with a writing group for the fourth maybe you want to hire an editor a day of their time to come back and give you a harsher the fifth you want to submit and get notes from the publisher that you submit to. You need that type of detailed roadmap it's non-trivial and it's not obvious you don't just tell people if you want to write right if you want to be a musician play music. You want to be an artist paint. No these are big hairy goals that you need to break down and it's not obvious how they break down. The thing I talk about a lot on the show in particular is that if you're going to get this information you have to go get it and by what I mean by that is you have to go to people who know what they're doing and don't just say what's your advice because they'll just say right they'll just say paint say I want to hear your story. How did you get there? What was the first thing then what was the next thing oh oh Sanderson you wrote 13 manuscripts oh I didn't realize that so you mean I can't just do national novel writing month and have the name of the win be the book that comes out of it. Oh okay now I get that I don't like that's reality but that's reality okay I have to write 13 manuscripts how long is that going to take you know maybe I'm going to need much more time on this and I think you get the reality not what you want to be true you get the reality of what actually matters for the endeavor you want to do you get that reality from people who came before not by asking for advice but asking for their story you look at that and you find out what really matters I talked about this if you want to see a more extensive conversation about this when I was on the Tim Ferriss podcast earlier in whenever this was January I guess I was on his podcast we get into how I got started in writing and going to detail the story about how through connections with my family I got in touch with an agent a literary agent who I promised I'm not going to try to sell you a book and I had that agent walk me through step by step what exactly would a 20 year old need to do to get a book deal with a major publisher and she walked me through here's what matters here's what doesn't here's the process here's the steps and it was not at all what I would have guessed and it's not at all what most young people have met who say I want to write a book do but it was the reality and it took me two years when I followed that plan and sold that book and wrote that book as a senior and everything else unfolded from there so that's my advice there is yes you need to break down your goals the more manageable goals it's not always obvious how to do that ask the experts but not for their advice but for their story and you can extract from their story the reality of what matters alright so Sanderson thank you for giving that talk excuse me for my my wizard elf jokes obviously you're very good at what you do and I am of great awe that's good advice don't just follow your dreams focus on doing hard things for the the meaning of doing hard things and treat doing hard things like a complicated endeavor that requires a lot of nuanced nuanced feedback there we go you a fantasy guy Jesse um yeah yeah I am do you read fantasy books I read a lot of like science fiction right now I see so I keep trying I feel like I should be more in the fantasy and I've read some like the classics but like I get I think I should be a huge fantasy fan just given my demographics it's like a semi semi nerdy computer science whatever guy who reads a lot and I don't know I I lose steam but I've read the classics I've done the Lord of the Rings I'm doing Ursula Gwynne's Earth Sea Cycle I'm reading the at least the first one just why not I like name of the wind so I like Brandon Sanderson's book I mean man it's long but but I like that um but I've tried a lot of other things that I've just I don't know I can't get in I tried Robert Jordan how is the Lord of the Rings I read you know I reread that again at some point and it's cool it's written in a mythological meter if that makes sense right so he writes it he writes it almost like you're reading because he's an expert in Old English like it's mythological where like now things are more boldly expository like I'm the third person observer just explaining everything that's happening but this had like a more especially the first Lord of the Rings book I don't know there's like more of like a mythological than I remembered meter to it's the language is a little chewy you know like it's it it kind of sets the scene and it's not all just pure action and sometimes the description feels more mythological than modern just objective description of what's happening so it's a very impressive very impressive book did you like the movies kind of get bored in the movies I don't know do you like them I did yeah yeah I just that's my memory I rewatched some of them recently it's my memory in the theater was getting a little little antsy here's my okay okay here's the Lord of the Rings question about the movies because I don't know no one else seems to agree with this but to me and this is probably unavoidable because of budgets the world seems so uninhabited it's all just empty fields and mountains and then they'll eventually come to like a city with a king but it'll be 70 people in the middle like a giant empty field or this or that is this feels like there's no people in that world and and so is that supposed to be because after ancient warfare it's like largely depopulated or it's just a very sparsely populated country but but nowhere in the Lord of the Rings universe in the visual movie universe you ever have this feel of like medieval England or something where there's big cities and villages and stuff it's just everything is so empty was it that way in the books you know I'm trying to remember it yeah I don't know I don't remember it's a good question I mean I think the I read a book about Lord of the Rings as part a couple years ago I read a book about the making of the movies that was actually kind of an interesting book like what everything that went through like the movie rights and how Peter Jackson got them and how they like how they filmed it and where they found that like to me that was actually more interesting and I think the reality is like they can't afford to you can't make medieval England it's just too many people so it's easier for it to be sparsely populated yeah but let's add this to our list of directions for us not to go with this podcast next to we had from last week becoming like a hardcore sports talk radio show but the premise is I know nothing about sports but I'm very enthusiastic about it and like Pat McAfee where a tank top and stand up and yell but know nothing about sports and then two let's not become a like hardcore fantasy and discussion podcast this is a lot of like I don't know I didn't like it I didn't read it I don't know those are on the list our


Cal talks about Blinkist and Athletic Greens (23:55)

list is growing Jesse our list of things we should not try to discuss on this show is growing growing with each week fantasy book reviews with Callen Jesse like although seems kind of nerdy what's next we add here in like a crisp five minutes oh man all right well we have calls call an episode looking forward to it but as always let's talk about this week's sponsors I will start with Blinkist long time friend of the show you heard me talking about him in Monday's episode the subscription service in which you can get these 10 to 15 minute summaries of thousands of the best most important nonfiction titles that are out there if you want to know what this book is about 10 to 15 minutes later you will have that information I recommend that people use Blinkist to help learn about ideas and figure out which of many books written on a topic they should read I like that idea Jesse let me put you on the spot here you have your computer there let's go to blinkist.com let's see what's see what's popular so what's popular right now so we get a sense of what it would be like what value you could get out of Blinkist if like me you're curious about books and curious about the world of ideas and so we're doing this I'm prompted all right so if we go to blinkist.com what do we what books are they showing there that are popular now this is where Jesse should lie and say deep work digital minimalism a world without email or in a category at the top called can't miss modern classics deep work digital minimalism a world without email the Bible they are there's in their own box but be under that box Jesse what do we got well I actually just signed up for my blake's account last week so on a different computer so when I'm going to this one it's making me sign in oh so then I need to get my password well what's the first blink what's the first blink you considered once you signed up for Blinkist I read what I read I read two of them earlier this week there were a couple like philosophy things what was the name of it philosophy is a good topic for blinkist right because it's let me see what this is before I get into the book well let me ask you this though for either of those two philosophy books you read blinks on that either of them then passed a bar of like I should buy this or were they both like I know what I need to know from this book and I'm kind of glad I did it the cool thing with that is I have a scribbbit account do you know what scribbbit you might have yeah yeah I think Ryan Holly talked about it so it's like ten dollars a month for book so I just I went to the blink and then added to the scribbbit that's a good one to put it there yeah so then you can dive in all right so Jesse is it invented I think a really good one to punch there so now you can really you can move quickly through a lot of blinks and then scribb it the things that catch your attention and then then the things that really last after that you can put it into your library if you really want to get into it the other thing cool thing with the blink is is you can listen to the audio yeah so you can listen or read now right yeah yeah yeah I like the listen I like the listen options great because in my commute it's about thirty five minutes to no problem yeah no I like I like to listen so there you go so blink is to use it to get that information quickly about what some of these books are about so you can figure out the land and decide if you want to read further the good news is right now Blinkis has a special offer just for our audience if you go to blinkis.com/deep to start a free seven day trial they will give you 25% off your blink is premium membership so as blink is spelled BLINKIST blinkis.com/deep to get 25% off and a seven day free trial blinkis.com/deep let me talk about one other sponsor now Jesse this is an absolute true story and I think you'll you'll recognize when you hear it that it's an absolute true story not long ago I decided I think I might be missing some nutrients that I might need some minerals I might need so I'm going to go to GNC and I'm going to get pills I'll go talk to them in that store and I walked in the GNC and I was kind of confused because there's all these different things and all these different pills and all these cardboard cutouts of like weird scary people that do these extreme sports and the staff of GNC ran up and they beat me with crates of jocko fuel beat me with them because they could tell that I did not know my way around that store they beat me with with crates of whatever and that's when I discovered this is absolutely true story as I drew me out at the door to the gutter I saw going by in the gutter in the in the water going towards the drain there was a travel pack wrapper from athletic greens so I said I got to find out more about this right here I'm bloodied in there I got to find out so there I am in the gutter bleeding take out my phone let me look up athletic greens absolute true story I think everyone will recognize when they hear this is absolutely true and that's when I found out oh this is what I need athletic greens is a company that says we will do all that work for you of figuring out the things that you need to be healthy the vitamins the minerals the probiotics the adaptogens and we do nothing is the company talking here we do nothing but obsessed about getting the highest quality most ingestible forms of these things and they put it all into one product they only do one product they're a g one green athletic greens powder it gets shipped to you in the mail you don't have to go into GNC and you put it in cold water mix it up drink it every morning 75 high quality vitamins minerals whole food whole food source super foods probiotics and adaptogens you do that once a day you know they've got the right stuff you know they've been thinking about it you know they keep improving this one product and then you don't have to worry about this anymore so after I healed and you know again true story it took me 14 months in the hospital but after I healed I picked up my habit of athletic greens every morning which actually that part is true I do take my athletic greens every morning they convinced me when I talked to them so that is that is how I came across athletic greens but but if if you want to make sure you're getting all the right stuff just do the a g every morning problem solved good news to make it easy for you to sign up athletic greens is going to give you free a one year supply of immune supporting vitamin D and five free travel packs with your first purchase I definitely do the vitamin D you have to add it separately with a dropper because again they are obsessed with if it's not going to work we don't want it and they figured out the vitamin D can't be in powder form it needs to be mixed with vitamin K and an olive oil suspension if it's going to work so you have to add that and I added every morning because it's cold and flu season and I have three young kids in three different congregate settings every day which means I get roughly 17 colds a week I believe my kids are probably the source of the evolution of covid because there are so many coronavirus is going back and forth so I care about this so I take my vitamin D so you get your vitamin D and you get five free travel packs so when you travel like when I went to Florida you can bring it pre-portion and all you have to do is visit athletic greens dot com slash deep again this is athletic greens dot com slash deep to take ownership over your health to pick up the ultimate daily nutritional insurance and to avoid savage savage beatings at the hands of people in the physical supplement stores where you'll have to go if you don't use athletic greens true story I've told you that story before right Jesse I heard it yeah yeah that's why I have the limp I have the limp all right let's do some calls all right so why do


People who are bad at planning (31:50)

we what are we starting off with today all right so we got a call the first call is basically about the different types of people and how they go about planning hi Cal my name is Johann van de Pitter I'm a Belgian psychologist and I've been thinking that there's probably a continuum at one end of it you have people who are skilled at planning or they have become skilled at it and then you have people who a bit like me aren't so skilled at it I guess planning involves dividing up life into tasks and then allocating these tasks to pockets of time I guess it requires some spatial skill I think I'm not very good at it it is hard for me to do and it makes me sometimes stressed and a bit anxious when I try to do it you have any suggestions of how people who maybe aren't so talented at it how they could like move in this direction without attempting to be to become very good planners in the short time thank you well I think it's an important question and I am going to give you what I think of as planning baby steps like a way to ease yourself into something that looks more like my time management philosophy and for those who are interested about that we did a core idea video about my time management philosophy that you can find at the Cal Newport or what's at youtube.com/calinuportmedia youtube page you can find that core idea video on time management so I do have some baby steps to help you get into that but let me just first emphasize that yes planning is anxiety producing and that that shouldn't come across if this happens to you should not come across as if there's something wrong it's just the reality of planning is that it's anxiety producing and the reason is is because you are confronting you are confronting this typically two large stack of things that you have been committed to doing you can't easily imagine how they're going to get done the planning centers of your brain short circuit when they're faced with this type of overload scenario that short-circuiting causes anxiety I'm simplifying this there's a lot of other things going on but that's a that's a simplified way of understanding what's happening so in particular when you do weekly planning this is my experience when I am looking over all of my to-do lists when I'm looking over my calendar when I'm looking over my strategic plans and I'm trying to figure out what am I going to do this week I get very anxious it is a natural reaction it's similar to having your heart rate your heart rate increase when you're running on treadmill so don't fear that don't think that's a problem that anxiety then fades once you're done planning when you go day to day and do your daily time block planning if you follow my system that's much less stressful because now your weekly plan is already confronted the productivity dragon it's already confronted the the short circuit inducing overload of tasks and come up with an idea for your week that makes sense and now you can just look at that idea for your week when you do your daily planning it should be less stressful so let's start with that it is supposed to cause anxiety now what I'm going to suggest is for your baby steps is essentially have low granularity plans plans that don't get into a lot of detail but are more structured than just what's next to my inbox what do I feel like doing next so for talking about daily planning I want you to do some time blocking this is when I'm working when I'm working I want to have some saying advance about what I want to do with my time get you out of the mindset of the list reactive method where you just react to things that come in and occasionally glance at to-do lists but to get started with time blocking make your time blocks very large and quite generic here are my meetings while I might as well copy those down into my time block plan let me take this big chunk of time here not get too specific about it but just say catch up on email and small tasks and let me just find one block in that day I'm going to say work on something specific all right this is where I'm going to work on that report and any other time you might just say whatever email and small tasks so like when you're starting off you're really trying to have maybe one block each day where you specifically say even though it's not on my calendar even though no one's forcing me going to do it even though I might want to do something else I'm going to work on a long-term cognitive demanding task during that time and the rest is like by default like let's do you know shallows let's do email let's do task then you might get a little bit better the way you get a little bit better is add in a focused admin blocks you do this for a couple weeks now you say this block right here I'm going to go run those errands you know I have an hour between this meeting and this meeting so I'm going to eat lunch and then I'm going to swing by the drugstore and the bank so now you're getting used to like let me be a little bit more conscientious about admin certain times being better for certain tasks and then just do that for a while of a simple time block plan there's that like one big block in there somewhere for focus on something deeply there's one block in there for like a specific type of admin task and everything else is like whatever list reactive email looking at to-do list you'll just get used to that after a while and then you can begin to add more granularity and I get into a lot of details about this in the in the front of my time block planner in particular I actually have a chapter all about there's like a book chapter at the front of my planner that's just all about the the mechanics of doing time blocking at a much higher level of detail and getting really good at it so you can find out about that planner at timeblockplanner.com and I really get into it but that's how I would start and the same thing with your weekly plan do a weekly plan and feel the anxiety and trust it's going to go away but you can make that weekly plan kind of bad at first you know it's like uh I'm looking at my calendar you know let me just write down a few notes about this week like I need to get started this week on this report that's doing two weeks because next week is busy or something like this or friday is going to be a good day for catching up on something like just make a couple decisions and maybe uh have a reminder for some habits like don't do anything not complicated but get in the habit of doing it and that's the main advice I'm going to give here is the binary from doing none of this planning to doing some of this planning bad is the key binary that's the hard shift I do a weekly plan I don't care if it's terrible I do it I do a daily timeblock plan I don't care if it's pretty terrible there's only a few meaningful blocks I do it that's the shift that matters going from that to doing those things well that'll come later it's not too hard you'll get used to it you'll feel it in pulse like if you've done this for a while like one might as well make this better that's not a big deal it's going from zero to one that's the flip that's going to matter and don't mind again don't mind that anxiety around weekly plans that's just your brain doing what your brain is supposed to do so say uh I don't know how much I can talk about it Jesse but we are deep in discussions about version 2.0 of my timeblock planner and what it's going to be like I have a lot of upgrades in mind because as I told people like if you the timeblock planner you're not buying a single thing you're buying into a system because you know they you have to get new ones when it fills up and like over time it's going to keep improving and probably the the longest cycle of improvement is this one we just went through because we printed a bunch up front so it's like okay until we sell we we have to sell the ones we have before we do new ones and and uh and we've done that so now we're working on the next one and as we print them in smaller batches making tweaks going forward will be cool so I can't talk about any specifics yet because I got to tell you in a global supply chain crisis moment it's surprisingly hard to design new paper product type things stuff you wouldn't even think about being potentially scarce like glue can be so it's been a bit of a a journey but I should have announcements to make soon about new and improved timeblock planners exciting stuff yeah I'm looking forward to it yeah definitely um but let's move on what do we got okay moving on here we got a question um basically he has a question about he thinks your mom might be a computer scientist and she she was a computer programmer okay so he's got a question about that and types of values she instilled in you all right hey Cal business Michael from fall church Virginia I recently read and won the magazine article so we're I think it was a New Yorker you said your mother was a computer scientist so I can imagine some estimates still some values and habits into you that are different for most mothers your generation growing up could you publicly share some of these values and habits that she instilled in you that the helped shape who you are today thanks and I hope to see you at an in-person event or a talk or a bookstore around DC or in these days well yeah first of all to your second point yes we should hope to see you in person at some point once just and I get our act together to organize something false church is not too far from here so that would be great um yeah so my mom the article you're talking about was an article I wrote early in the pandemic about remote works she wasn't a computer scientist she was a computer programmer co-ball programmer


What Cal learned from his mom, a computer programmer (41:36)

on series seven IBM mainframes for the Houston Chronicle back when we was born and raised in Texas and uh so yes so I talked about in that article the fact that she was one of the first remote workers and they had set up a terminal but that's important for your question because what it meant was is we had computers personal computers in our house in the 80s at a relatively early period because again as a very early remote worker she had a personal computer that she could connect into the mainframe and program from home there in Houston so we had computers in our house in a very early age so that had an impact on my interest in computers and eventually in computer science because I could ask her what she's doing and she'd tell me what computer programming was I knew what computer programming was we had computers in the house so at a pretty early age I started computer programming and and I got I got pretty deeply into that and that set up my whole computer science career of course ironically as soon as I got the MIT and grad school I said I'm done with computer program and I want to be a theoretician and I haven't programmed a computer since more or less uh but that was very useful and the other influence here and I'm going to say right now I'm just focusing on influences relevant to my public professional life obviously there's very important influences on my values and my me as a person and character but I don't want to get into all of that right now but in terms of things that are publicly visible in my professional life the other important thing that I got out of my mom is that when we moved we moved to New Jersey and I have three siblings so there's four of us and we moved to New Jersey she stopped working for the Houston Chronicle and was just helping to raise the kids because that we were at an age where it's four kids it's really hard hard job and we generated a lot of chaos there's a lot of paperwork and things that happen when you move and my memory was it was quite overwhelming until she one of her friends sold her on a Franklin Planner it was like the the the Franklin Planner is a productivity organizational system that was in particular quite popular in the 80s and 90s and she got very organized and it made all the difference in the world and it went from chaos like a completely organized household completely organized childhood in a way that that was very impressive and very comforting so I had been exposed all throughout my childhood to the power of being structured and organized in terms of your calendar your to-do list your days your plan for what should happen there's a lot of ideas from that original Franklin Franklin Covey system that that permeate the time management systems I talk about today looking to the week ahead figuring out in advance when things were going to happen full capture of things you had all the information in place avoiding the chaos of what do I want to do next and instead having the structure of what's my plan for the day a lot of that I saw happening as we were growing up and it meant a very stable structured household oh it's this holiday happening those decorations come out there's these events we do everyone gets there we got to get closed for the kids that was a big thing like because you grow out of your clothes so fast and my mom would bring down the catalogs like okay you have to go through and circle what you want and there would be the day she called and ordered it and that I think I took that I took the heart for sure and I would lead me to be someone that had productivity and productivity systems instilled in my DNA so those are my two things I will say in terms of my mom's influence on my public my public professional visible lifestyle me as a computer scientist and me as someone that does some productivity goorying that goes back to her that's a good question all right what do we have next


Student working on the weekends (46:10)

okay our next question is about weekend planning weekend planning okay Hi Cal my name is Lucia I'm a law student from Spain thank you for your writing on your student advice it has helped me a lot my question is this you recommend that people don't time block their weekends because it may lead to burnout however we students often need to work on weekends in order to live up to the study load how do you recommend that we approach weekend planning thank you so much for a student what I would rely on is my autopilot schedule philosophy which is where you figure out all the work that regularly needs to be done and you get the days and times in which that work is actually accomplished so I always use whatever Thursday mornings is when I do the problem set that's due on Friday and I do my lab right up right after my lab on Monday I have a tour a window where I just stay in the science library right there and I do the lab right up that's due every week and so you just have fixed on your schedule here's the times when this work gets done this work I know that always has to happen so that gives you a realistic vision of how much do I really have to do and where does it fit and now if you're already filling that up autopilot the weekends you might have autopilot things scheduled on the weekends right so I don't have to think about it I'm working on the weekends but I don't have to think about when or how I do it this is just what I do on Sunday afternoon this is what I do on on Saturday morning so when you're building your autopilot schedule as a student feel free to just use the weekends as well and this is different than time blocking autopilot scheduling is different than time blocking because you just get used to I always do this work on this point and that's very different than I'm wrangling a whole day beat by beat what I'm doing I have to keep turning my attention from one thing to another complicated intricate schedule where you're locked in until you're done now on the weekend it's like look I do Sunday mornings and Saturday after noon as I just always do that I go to the library I don't have to think about it it's not going to burn you out the same way so you're right to note that students often do make use of the weekends but let your autopilot schedule do a lot of that work now what about the one-time things papers and exams studying for exams writing papers for that what I what I used to recommend in my books on this and also my writing on the study hacks blog is that you are going to create a plan for prep and execution for these one-time big things at least a month in advance and you figure out what really needs to be done to study for an exam what is going to be involved in writing this paper and you get that work onto your calendar far in advance and I would even suggest when I used to talk about this to students I would say at the beginning of every semester go through your syllabus for each class find a major one-time things find the exams find the find the papers go back one month from each and put a note on your calendar that says make a plan for this so you do that at the beginning of the semester now as you're going through your semester executing your autopilot schedule everything's fine you're not time blocking every minute of your day you're just executing the schedule it's the same every day every week and when you get to this note that says hey time to start thinking about the midterm then you make a plan and you put that work on your calendar like doctors appointments or other other classes and now you're back to just that I'm executing autopilot schedule oh my autopilot schedule plus today I have a block of time on my calendar so let me do that oh today I only have it Saturday at my Saturday afternoon where I always work on my my CS problem set but you know what this Saturday I have a study session in the morning on my calendar because I have a midterm coming up so let me just do that too and when you're starting a month out and really spreading this stuff out what you avoid is this thing is due on Monday it's Saturday morning I now have to work all day and all night and all day the next day and all day the next night to try to get something done because you're spreading workouts you have plenty of breathing time plenty of time to recharge and it does not feel the same an autopilot schedule augmented with these pre-plan sessions for papers and exams does not feel the same as let's say my situation where I will say okay I have eight hours I'm working today and I need to get everything out of those minutes let's go because as a student you do not have that chronic overload issue of people are just piling work on you you have more in your plate than you could ever imagine actually doing no you can actually wrap your arms around your work as a student you autopilot schedule the regular stuff you pre-plan the one-time stuff if that's too crowded get an easier schedule make sure you don't have too many extracurriculars you can control this and it's not going to be nearly as stressful as time block planning even if this work is happening on weekdays and weekends you know the good news about that question that caller we should say is that she's thinking about this yeah that's the biggest issue with college kids in these issues and with student stress in college is that most students that are doing the traditional um 19 doing a four-year residential college those type of students is they don't want to hear it you know like I don't want to hear study advice you know it's going to make me uncool or something like that I'm fine I can just do it and it just it's so needlessly stressful and overwhelming college if you do it right if you keep your schedule reasonable and don't do the 70 extracurricular nonsense and don't do the triple major nonsense and you autopilot schedule and pre-plan your exams and papers like you don't have to


Cal talks about JUST EGG and New Relic (51:30)

work at night and like you're rarely have a busy day it's not that much work it all changes when you get out there in the real world if you if you follow and have like an ambitious difficult job so it doesn't be hard but the main thing is thinking I'm actually going to be systematic about how I approach my job as a student like that's the zero to one binary for college life that makes all the difference and did for me all right well let's do a before we do a final call I'll talk about a couple of other sponsors here real quick this next ad comes to you from a company that's cooking the best omelets you'll have all year all while changing the world one egg at a time it's called just egg now I talked to you about just egg on monday's episode but let me remind you what this is just egg is a cholesterol-free plant-based egg that will give you the most decadent keyshows of your life the fluffiest scrambled in the easiest egg sandwiches of all time as I mentioned I eat a lot of chicken eggs it feels like too much chicken eggs just egg was the solution I needed because I like the taste of them of chicken eggs I don't want to have them every day so I can throw just eggs into my schedule instead and get a nice cholesterol-free plant-based product that I can enjoy the one thing I'll say Jesse that I I'm not sure about just egg and it worries me because I haven't tested it yet is what if I want to throw this at someone that I am trying to jeer or indicate my displeasure because this is one of the the key uses of eggs is throwing them at people right you egg people when they when they're saying something you don't like you suspect they might be a witch or a sorcerer or if they are trying to push some sort of unpopular cause and and you know I got to say this is something I think we need to test out we need to pelt people with just egg it's not actually a it's liquid form so I was gonna work so we're gonna have to figure out how to actually take that product and turn it into something that we can actually pelt at someone but once we have solved that problem and combine it with the fact that this is a cholesterol-free plant-based egg that tastes great and helps to plant because it's good for you I think we'll really be on to something I think like a disposable sling or something like that I'm trying to think like because it's you know we get it's liquid but we could get it into some sort of thing so that you could you could throw it at someone that you're jeering I can think of I was like you in the field of the Lord of the Rings doing that it would be counterproductive because there's no one else there it would just be me alone and like eventually a Brandon Serenson type character would come by and cast a wind spell on an elf and I would uh pelt them with just egg there we go so that's what's gonna happen but now keep your eyes open for just egg I this has been an important part of my my routine I love throwing it in there because I'm an egg guy hi cat all right let's also talk briefly about oh new relic yeah so I'll tell you if there's if there's a topic that Jesse won't stop bothering me about in just casual conversation it has to do with getting transparency into debugging for your entire software stack it just bothers me about this he's like hell I no this is not this is not in Jesse's wheelhouse but it's in my world as a computer scientist and I'm around a lot of uh computer engineers people who run computer companies and I can tell you new relic is one of these critical products in that world right so if you're running one of these complex software stacks and something breaks you need to figure out where the issue is and what a lot of people do is they just start calling people and using ad hoc tools and going on to their cloud interface and seeing what's going on with their processes that is a chaotic way to deal with problems the better solution is new relic which combines 16 different monitoring products that you'd normally buy separately that allows engineering teams to see across the entire software stack in this one place you can pinpoint issues down to the single line of codes you know exactly why a problem happens you can resolve it quickly it's why dev and ops teams at door dash github epic games and more than 14 000 other companies use this tool if you're in the dev or ops business you do you know new relic if you're in that business and you're not using new relic you should be I don't know why you want it so whether you run a cloud native startup or are a fortune 500 company it takes just five minutes to set up new relic in your environment so the next time uh next time there's the next issue is what I mean to say see I'm thinking about pelting wizards this is my problem now I have that in my head pelting wizards with liquid egg the next issue is just waiting to happen so you should get new relic before it does you can get access to the whole new relic platform and a hundred gigabytes of data free and forever no credit card required sign up at new relic.com/deep that's any w-r-e-l-i-c .com/deep new relic.com/deep all right Jesse I think we have time for one more call because I'm running late today but let's get one more call in who do we have here all right sounds good we got a question a call about living a deep life there we go hi Cal this is karan and I took a break from my 33 jobs to retreat to a cabin in the woods and think about who am I what is identity and how is it crafted and I came up with this heuristic that I would love your thoughts on and I have a question I put a lot of thought and research into first part of this heuristic that I came up with his identity who am I and how do I live a deep life and I go very descriptive into that area next is philosophy digital minimalism helps back up that identity then we have framework we use


Conquering Deep Life Challenges: Anxiety

Living a Deep Life with anxiety (57:25)

digital minimalism as that framework for living a deep life but we also have the atomic habits by James Clear and I use that as part of the framework category after that we have behavioral and techniques and this is like where like the nitty-gritty I leave my phone at home and I go for a walk I enjoy solitude and then we have outcomes which is really important because we got to know how do these behaviors what outcomes do they have I back on how my anxiety goes down now I'm reading Brad Stolberg's book on this idea of how I wanted to keep improving and this idea of always trying to optimize everything and this is where my question comes in because the last part of my heuristic is feedback I want to make sure I do better at living the deep life but this compound one percent interest that you and James talk about and that this idea that Brad talks about it can be like how do I if I keep trying to optimize living a deep life how do I get rid of this background of anxiety well corona I appreciate the thought you put into this and let me just preface my response by saying just the fact that you were putting this much intentional thought into how you want to structure your life is 80 percent of the battle most people don't do that most people go from one distraction or moment of chemical pleasure to another and hope the string along enough of those to get later on in life it's not the way to do it you need a plan you need to be intentional the second thing I'm going to preface it is these type of plans evolve over time and that's great the goal is not to figure out the one true plan that's absolutely optimal and then you have it all figured out then you execute it you don't want paralysis by analysis here you come up with something you live with it check in twice a year check in at your birthday to make changes so you want to make sure that you're spending a lot of time living life and not just thinking about how you're going to live life so those are some prefacees all right now let me start with your last point about beating back the background anxiety so that you can live a deep life these are unrelated anxiety will do what anxiety does you will feel anxiety sometimes other times you won't there will be periods where it's heavier there'll be periods where it is not heavier your goal is not to make that go away your goal is to live a deep life even though you live in a world in which you sometimes feel the physical symptoms of anxiety constriction of the task chest a little bit difficulty of breathing there's very specific physical symptoms that comes and goes great what's next how do i still build a deep life so i don't want you to think about banishing that which you cannot fully control from your life as a precondition for it being good for being enjoyable and i'm going to i'm going to recommend the book here so there are uh i don't know how much you know about modern psychotherapy but there's roughly speaking people think about there being three waves of modern psychotherapy you have the first wave where you have talk therapy which sort of came originally out of Freudian modalities let's talk things through and try to understand the source of issues uh largely this was non-evidence based therapy modalities then the second wave really is like cognitive behavioral therapy and this was one of the first major approaches to issues like anxiety in which they were using studies and evidence and saying this type of thing worked and the in the core book the canonical public-facing book in second wave psychotherapy is feeling good and i believe this came out so the 70s or 80s and it introduced cognitive behavioral therapy to a a larger group third wave psychotherapies are built more around what is sometimes called acceptance commitment therapy or ACT ACT there's some other things in there but it pulls more from some eastern philosophies as well this is where i want to turn your attention and i want to turn your attention to a a book that popularizes ACT and that is the book i believe it is called the happiness trap actually jesse can you look that up and tell me what the uh what the author's name is i want to make sure i got that name right but it is a book that introduces acceptance commitment therapy to a broader audience and this is a evidence-based methodology it's something that that's studied pretty well and i like it a lot i think it's uh what i want to preach to you right now because at the core i can tell you what's at the core of acceptance if you'll excuse this digression into this psychotherapy if you but at the core of this is this notion that oh we have a name here yeah Russ Harris that's right and it is the happiness trap jesse did i get that right yeah that's right so at the core of acceptance commitment therapy is they look back at cognitive behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy directly addresses ruminations ruminations these uh insistent hard to control conversations you have with yourself in your head are at the core of both major anxiety and depressive um disorders because if you're obsessively worried about you have these talks you just conversation your head about bad things that could happen it's anxiety and if you have these hard to control consistent voices conversation your head about what you've done that's bad and why you suck uh that's the foundation for depression so it's the same thing as the voices and cognitive behavioral therapy again if you'll excuse the lecture here focused on directly confronting ruminations and so you would say wait a second this is the thing i keep talking about let me actually point out the ways in which that thinking is distorted because often in anxiety and in depression is very distorted thinking there's names for the distortion this is black and white thinking this is predicting the future and you call it out and you push back at it and say this is the problem with this rumination and over time that can actually diminish the power of that rumination to keep cycling faster and faster and this can be quite effective for a lot of things in fact i use this quite successfully if you want a personal story when i was first having bad insomnia problems early in grad school and there's a whole backstory to them but basically there's very little i get anxious about in my life even as i do pretty ambitious big things it should be scary and my theory has always been all these things i'm doing that should be really anxious anxiety producing all that anxiety just got funneled into this random weird thing which was i got very anxious about sleep and i felt physical anxiety every single day i wasn't i was sleeping but the anxiety about not sleeping is every single day and i read feeling good i read the book about cognitive behavioral therapy and this was a case where that worked really well because the the ruminations that were creating this anxiety about not sleeping were disordered they were clearly exaggerating i could call out the distortions and i had a system where i said twice a day in the morning and in the evening i'm going to address these thoughts and point out the distortions but not in between and in between my mind's like let's think about sleep and why we're worried i would say i thought about this i went through it in the morning and wasn't that impressed and i'll do it again in the evening so just wait till then and then we'll get back to it in the evening and that actually worked and the day to day anxiety and that for this particular anxiety it took a long time but it went away it was very effective. ACT came along and said there's certain things for which that doesn't work right because what if the thing that you're anxious about what if the story there is accurate what if it's not distorted and the key thing that really the key thing that led to the divergence of ACT my understanding of ACT from cognitive behavioral therapy were panic attacks so even with panic attacks you get a rising sense of panic leads to a place where you kind of tip over an edge and have a your your heart goes it feels like a heart attack you can become faint and it could be like a really just just disturbing public thing and what the ACT people pointed out was that's not at this if you're anxious about that happening you're going to go on stage or anxious about that happening it's not a distorted thought like it really could happen and they maybe this has been happening to you quite a bit so you can't look at yourself and convince yourself oh you're just distorted of course you're not going to have a panic attack like I just had three I very well could so cognitive behavioral therapy didn't work as well for for panic attacks and so acceptance commitment therapy was about okay you're not trying to challenge the thought you make space for the thought but instead of getting into it like once really get into it you say despite that I'm going to go commit to doing something that's value driven because what matters is is living true to your values and like that's ultimately what matters I'm going to commit to do that even though something bad could happen and ACT is all about and you'll learn you'll read this in the happiness trap you're able to separate from the feeling of anxiety it's there it's the eastern part of it but it's just a sensation it's just physical great I'm feeling that it's like my knee hurts great what's next and you you learn to separate from the part of your mind it wants to tell the stories we got to think about this but what if there's a panic attack and what if this happens and what if you you know this or that happens right and you say I see that story there and I'm not mad at that part of my mind it's like a character and I give it a name and maybe this is the this is the the patron of panic attacks and I I'm not mad at that person that character in my mind but I'm not going to get into it with them what I'm going to do is this thing right here because it's important to me and I want to live true to my values regardless of what happens and so you go do it anyways and so when they would deal with people with like severe anxiety they say you go to the party anyways and you give the talk anyways and you do whatever and I like that so this is a very long very long way around the saying um the deep life is about living in a value driven way despite everything else that happens not about creating a life that that these specific good things happen and there is no bad that's called the fantasy life right that's not a life that you're going to achieve no one no one achieves that life we all have our issues I have to deal with the anxiety with the sleep thing I don't have I have not classic panic attacks but I've gone through I've had I have weird stuff happens to me I have whatever automatic autonomic nervous system panic attack style reactions I've had this all the time um faint uh I'll have like a severe sort of I'll get lightheaded and like my whole body will break out and sweat like look man I've been through all this stuff and you want to talk about high stakes how about like okay you're about to go on air on this network or you're on stage in front of like a huge number of people or you're here sitting next to the dean and and so I've gone so we all have this stuff we go through and because the point is our goal is not to avoid bad things from happening avoid bad sensations and have only good things happen to us the goal is to live deeply to live true to your values despite it is the act mindset it's the mindset that Russ Harris talks about in the happiness trap so that's the piece I really corona the the focus on here is focus on what you can control in building this good life the stuff you can't control will come and go you'll do what it does whatever you and you can't allow that you can't control be happy when it's hey I'm not feeling this thing I don't like great I'm happy but when it's there don't be devastated like crap but I'm still doing this thing I really find important so I think that's good now onto your framework I mean look I nerd out on this stuff all the time so yes I I like what you're doing here you know you're building out a system of different layers you're thinking things through I think of what you're doing is called a personal operating system that has these different stack layers that meet together my only word of warning would be make sure that the the fiddling of the knobs doesn't take over the actual living in the end you actually life is hard and complicated and some days you're anxious and some days you get sick and you're out of commission for two weeks and you can't follow your system and you want to make sure that in the end you're you're you're you're you're present and have gratitude and are doing interesting things and enjoying good moments and that you're not speaking all your time thinking about your system but I'm glad you're thinking about it I like your heuristics try them if they don't work change them feel free to simplify them if you feel stressed by just the complexity of your system I think that's all fine but let's go back to this original point is the goal of the deep life here is not to avoid the bad it is to live good even when the inevitable bad comes and goes all right crime well talking about going I am running late so we should probably wrap up this episode thank you everyone who sent in their listener calls if you like what you heard you will like what you read in my email newsletter sign up at cal Newport calm you'll also like what you see on the youtube channel youtube.com/cal Newport media we have videos of these full episodes as well as individual videos for each individual question and segment we cover I'll be back next week and until then as always stay deep


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