Full Length Episode | #179 | March 7, 2022

Transcription for the video titled "Full Length Episode | #179 | March 7, 2022".


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Cal's intro (00:00)

I'm Cal Newport, and this is Deep Questions, Episode 179. I'm here in my Deep Work HQ, joined as always by my producer, Jesse. Jesse, it seems like we have two arbitrary milestones, one that we've reached and one that's coming up. So the one that we've reached, which we didn't notice because we're busy, was the 5 million download milestone. I've been tracking that for a while and then forgot about it, but we hit it. So I guess we're now a 5 million download show. So we got that in our first before we got to year two before we finished two years so that's impressive it's something you know now we're doing a million downloads every three months so that's accelerating the other arbitrary milestone i guess is episode 200 that feels like something. For sure. Yeah. Yeah. I don't know what to do about it, but let's see. We're at 180 on Thursday's episode. So we got to get 20 more. We do two weeks, 10 weeks. Okay. That's early summer. Yep. All right. Blow out. Blow out when we get to episode 200. We will have a huge audience. We'll do something big. Maybe not around here. Let me tell you, speaking of having crowds around here, I had my Starbucks coffee I grabbed this morning. And I felt like I had to solve the riddle of the Sphinx to try to figure out what to do with this Starbucks and wearing a mask. to figure out what to do with this Starbucks and wearing a mask. So for deep question listeners to know, we don't talk a lot about COVID, but this town, which is right on the border of DC, is probably one of the more COVID cautious places in the country. This and San Francisco and a few other places, for better or for worse. But now it's starting to confuse me because I went to the Starbucks today and they had a sign that said two things. So one, masks are recommended. And then below it, it said, we would appreciate if you still follow the CDC guidance. Well, the CDC guidance for D.C. where the Starbucks is, is not to wear masks indoors. It's low prevalence. They do not recommend wearing masks indoors, including in large congregate setting, even with young people who are not vaccinated. So the CDC guidance says don't wear masks. So the sign is basically saying, we recommend that you wear masks. We recommend that you follow guidance that says you don't wear masks. So I'm just throwing up my hands now, Jesse. I haven't really been paying a lot of attention to this because we have enough going on, but now it's confusing. So even I, who can track things really carefully, don't know what to do. So I don't know. I put on goggles. Was that the right silly? I was trying to say like, how do we do this? Or maybe I wear them, I cut a hole. I don't know. I don't know, man. But anyways, the point is when we have our giant episode 200 blowout in which we gather 50 to 60,000 people to come hear us record, maybe we won't do it here. Maybe we'll go down to like. Navy Yard. Yeah. Go to Navy Yard. Near Nass Park. Yeah. Yeah. We'll go down there. Best of DC. So we've got the Virginia where you live, where as far as people around here understand what they vaguely know about Virginia is that it's roughly like cowboys and bandits. It's like the Wild West. A lot of people would pick up trucks shooting shotguns or something. So we'll go down to Virginia and they will let us gather 50 to 60,000 Deep Questions fans without confusing us all. But you know what? I got my coffee. So sweet. Success. Yeah. Okay. Let's add this on our list of things not to do for the show so our list is growing we had become a sports talk show where i know very little about sports i believe we had i don't forget i forgot what it was we had a second idea for what this show should not become uh oh it was giving bad medical advice right so it was something about fiction science fiction oh yeah bad yeah. Bad. Yeah. Doing, talking about fantasy, but not knowing any of the actual like famous fantasy books. And then third, I think is like, let's, let's also not be a show that gives really bad COVID advice and rants about COVID restrictions. I think we have enough of those shows. That's a pretty, that's a pretty crowded space. I guess we'll stick with Deep Living and Productivity for now.

Discussion On Productivity, Collaboration And Tools

Cal reviews his February Books (04:28)

All right. So speaking of Deep Living and Productivity, this is the first show that we are recording in March of 2022. So as is our tradition, I wanted to do a segment in which I go through the books I read during the previous month. So the books I read in February 2022. As longtime listeners of the show know, I typically aim to read five books per month. I count books in the month in which I finish them. So you have to break that symmetry somehow. That is how I break it. I'll say, Jesse, this was a weird reading month for me. I have some unusual choices. It was an unusual month, and I was grabbing stuff kind of randomly. So you'll see, as will the listeners here. All right, so let's start with the first book I read in the month. I just grabbed this out of a little free library here in Tacoma Park and read it in a day or two. It was not a long book. It was called Living with a Seal by Jesse Itzler. It is a book where Jesse Itzler, who's an entrepreneur, among other things, I think he worked with like NetJets or one of these jet leasing. Do you know him? I've read the book. Yeah, I've read the book. Okay. So anyways, he hired who turns out to be David Goggins, though it's not revealed in the book, to live with him for a month and make him do these terrible, intense workouts. And so it was interesting. I was interested. I find Goggins to be an interesting character so I read the book. I will say, and I don't know how to say this without, this is going to sound a little bit snobbish, but I'm not that used to this style of ultra accessible nonfiction. So there's this style of ultra accessible nonfiction where the chapters are three or four pages long and it moves at a really fast rate. And it's, I don't want to say it's superficial, but it's just, we did this and that and this, and it's very compulsively readable. And I think this book sold really well. And what I realized, and again, there's no way to talk about this without sounding like a super snob, is that there's like a whole genre of nonfiction that's made to be very accessible, very short chapters. It moves really fast. It's sort of the opposite, I guess, of some of the nonfiction worlds in which I swim. And so that was an interesting part about reading this book was saying, oh, there is this sort of bubblegum nonfiction world out there. And I think it's good. I mean, I'm glad I was exposed to it. It's an interesting book. All right. Another book I read was Susan Casey's latest, Voices in the Ocean. So Susan Casey wrote The Devil's Teeth, which I really like. This is a book about the, what are they called, the Faroe or Faroland Islands off of San Francisco. Anyways, it's one of the great white shark hotspots in the world. It's just surrounded by great white sharks. They're attracted by the seals, and there's researchers out there who study them. And she went out there, and it's about the sharks and about the research. That was great. She wrote The Wave, which I really like, which is about large waves. But half of the book is her following Laird Hamilton to do big wave surfing. That's another fantastic book. Anyway, she has this style where what she does is goes on adventures. She meets interesting people and goes and does interesting things and uses that as the narrative spine for writing about a topic like great white sharks or large waves. So this was about dolphins. Voices in the Ocean is about dolphins. And so she goes on various adventures. She goes to travel to see various places where dolphins are being held in captivity. She goes to the Solomon Islands where there is a dolphin trading going on, and it's a little bit shady. She likes to put herself into semi-danger as part of these books. cove where they push these dolphins into these, this cove and they slaughter them and she goes there. And so it was an interesting book. Now I'll tell you the reason why I actually read this book. And so this was a bit of a disappointment is I'm interested in Susan's story herself. So Susan was a very successful magazine editor. So she went and she took over, I believe, Outside Magazine and really helped their reinvention back when they were starting to win all those national book awards. This is the crack hour era of Outside Magazine. And then Oprah tapped her to run the Oprah Magazine. Oh, the Oprah Magazine. And that did really well under her tutelage. So she had a very intense corporate job running these magazines. And then she would write these books sort of in parallel. And it reminded me of myself trying to write books while doing these other things I do. And what happened to Susan is she burnt out at some point, said enough of this, step down from those running the magazine type positions and move to Maui and lives there at least half the year and spends a lot of time swimming in the ocean. She's really into the ocean with dolphins or this or that. I thought that story was going to be in this book because I know this book was connected to her making that change, but I think she made the change after she finished the book. So unfortunately I did not get in in the book those insider stories of the overworked author shifting to a deeper, simpler life, but I enjoyed the book nonetheless. Then this was just random. I grabbed this from my library of Mice and Men, Steinbeck. I just realized, I don't know if I've ever read Steinbeck or haven't read Steinbeck since high school, and I saw the book in my library. It was a copy from the 60s. And so I grabbed it and read it. It was quite interesting. This, by the way, is an argument for having a library. I know there is a minimalist movement out there surrounding books that says, come on, don't hold on the books. Why are you holding on the books? It's clutter. You're never going to read them. I actually go old school. I have a large library spread over many rooms and many bookshelves and actually many buildings. I have a library here at the HQ and multiple rooms full of books at my house. And I like the idea of having, I go to my shelves and I pull books off and I read them. And I think this is an example. I grabbed Steinbeck off the shelf and I hadn't read it yet, and I did. I would say usually at least two of the five books I read each month are grabbed serendipitously from my personal library. And I like the idea that my kids are growing up just surrounded by books. So of my cement, it was good. It was good. It's interesting because it's old enough. It's old enough that the style, there was so much formal innovation in fiction that took off not long after that earlier period of Steinbeck that it seems almost old-fashioned, right? That it's largely third-person perspective, just observing on the characters, establishing characterization almost entirely through dialogue and action. And it just feels like, oh, this is just old-fashioned, old-school style for novels, but Steinbeck is very good at the style, and it sticks with you. He does very interesting characterization through dialogue and action. And when it's over, it sticks with you. So it's interesting. So there's no formal flash in it. All of the modernist stuff that followed and then the postmodernist stuff that followed that in terms of formal innovation, it has none of that, right? I mean, Faulkner started doing his modernist stuff so quickly after this period, and then you get the post-modernist doing their stuff with fiction after this, and you get Pynchon and all these other writers that all took off after mid-century. So it was old-fashioned, but you heard it here first. Steinbeck is a good writer. There you go. You heard it here first. Steinbeck is a good writer. There you go. All right. Then I read a book by Boyd Vardy called Cathedral of the Wild. So Boyd was actually a guest on Tim Ferriss' show. And that's actually what brought this book to my attention. So that worked. He was on the show and I bought his memoir. So that worked out well. Did you hear that episode, Jesse? The line tracking yeah yeah right it's interesting guy right i've listened to all those episodes for the most part right so i listened to boyd on ferris and then said i gotta i gotta get this guy's memoir and crazy you would actually you might like this book jesse uh because i was watching i've been watching this series Yellowstone on Paramount Plus or wherever it is. And it's, you know, the story of this ranch family or this or that. And I was thinking, forget that. Like someone needs to make a series about the Vardy family's life. It's this crazy story. So they're, they're South African. They're South African, and his grandparents, I believe, bought this land that was considered worthless in eastern South Africa. It had been overgrazed, and so you couldn't really farm on it anymore. And they basically created one of the first wildlife preserves that was set up around sustainable safari, right? And they figured out how to do that, how to rejuvenate the land so that animals could come back to it and you could have a diverse ecosystem of animals and then support it by doing ecotourism. So people could come and do what they call photo safari, where then you could, tourists would pay a lot of money to come take pictures of these animals and that helps fund the recovery of the land but it's this their story is crazy i mean these are this is a story where he has stories of getting uh attacked by a crocodile the crocodile trying to pull him in and he was just lucky enough that his foot was in the crocodile's mouth and he hit inside the crocodile's mouth the whatever valve they breathe through and as a reflex the crocodile's mouth whatever valve they breathe through, and as a reflex, the crocodile spit it back out. There's black mambas crawling over his body. Him and his dad are sitting there. No one can move because if you get bit by the mamba, you're dead in 30 minutes. Crawling across their bodies, like looking at them and then crawling away. like looking at them and then crawling away. Nelson Mandela, this is where he came after being released from prison on Robbins Island. This was the reserve he came to to recharge and reflect, and they have all of these stories of being there with Mandela on their reserve, on their preserve, watching as he's figuring out how to bring South Africa back together. There's stories about them desperately trying to get a radio phone going because there was a brief revolution attempt by right-wing elements in South Africa that was happening, and he was at their preserve. All of this happens at the same place. Crazy stories like, Jesse, you probably heard on the Ferris podcast about, you know, the flying adventures. They would fly these bush planes around and the, the stork that crashed through the windshield of the plane. And the pilot had a stork head and neck sticking out of his head. Like it went into his head. And, and so the pilot passes out, the dad takes over the plane. The pilot finally comes through, pulls the stork beak out of his head, passes out again. The mom is in the back reading the checklist for them to land. They're covered in gore and feathers. The windshield's broken open. They land the plane. They're flying to the commercial airport. And they land, and they go on and get on their commercial flight. Walk down the aisle. So anyways, I thought it was great. I actually read it. We were on vacation down in Florida and we were going to some wildlife preserves and stuff like that. So I was reading it down there. So, but it's just, I've never heard or I've rarely heard a more interesting memoir. Someone, if someone does not own the rights, the film rights or the series rights to this life, get on it. I think it would be a fantastic show. And he's a really interesting guy. I mean, all right, you heard the Ferris interview. Have you ever been more jealousy induced than the opening of that interview where Tim asked Boyd Vardy, all right, so where are you right now? And he's like, okay, I'm in the, this cabana on our property and I'm looking out the window at a baobab tree and there's a cheetah in the tree and I can see elephants walking by the river down by the river below or something like that. I was like, okay, that guy wins. He's got a good voice too. I bet you his audio book is good. Yeah, that's a good point. Maybe I should have listened to it. I looked up their place, by the way. think the the dollar is relatively strong against the rand and so i thought it would be crazy expensive i mean it's if you look at it now it's super luxury now like really nice uh you know beautifully appointed but you can rent like your own villa and it was it's like a thousand something u.s dollars a night which like that's a lot of money but not a lot of money for being in a a luxury i mean the villa i was looking at has like a dock almost it comes out of it that that so you're it comes out of the villa and it's out up above a riverbank and there's a bathtub at the end of it so you so you're it comes out of the villa and it's out up above a river bank and there's a bathtub at the end of it so you can take a bath in the bathtub and the elephants walk by in the river right below it so that in miami would be like 10k a day yeah yeah exactly because i was in florida i was like oh yeah a thousand dollars a day would be like entry stakes for like a reasonable resort so maybe we'll do that for episode 200 we're gonna go to void vardy's uh safari down in uh safari down in south africa um i don't know how many south african fans we have so but maybe we could gather gather a crew you can see the headlines now minor podcaster podcaster from DC killed by black mamba trying to take a bath near elephants. That would be the headline. All right, that's four. What was my fifth book? Oh, and then I also read a techno-criticism book by Jacob Ward that just came out that's called The Loop. book by Jacob Ward that just came out that's called The Loop. These are just the type of topics I keep up on in my semi-academic role when I comment on and think and write about tech and culture. Jacob Ward wrote this book called The Loop. Jacob Ward's a science writer, technology writer, that focuses on the ways that artificial intelligence can create these feedback loops with the human brain, especially the natural biases and heuristics that the human brain already uses, the type of things that you see Danny Kahneman talk about, for example. Kahneman shows up a lot in this book. And Ward's argument or concern is that we have these biases and heuristics that we use to sort of simplify how we think about the world. And those can get stuck in a feedback loop with AI, which exploits them. And then that feeds back to the AI, which feeds back into those biases. And then the AI itself can actually push human behavior into ways that are actually pretty distant from how we might actually want to live or what we actually value. So he's worried about these tight feedback loops between the human subconscious bias and artificial intelligence. And so that's, it's always a, look, all these topics are interesting. I thought it was an interesting book. I don't know that there was a knockout blow of an argument in this particular one, but I'm glad that people are looking at these issues. AI is definitely on my radar. I'm not quite sure exactly how I think about it yet, but good book. All right. So those are my five. Jesse, someone asked me, they said, when you do your books, we'd like to hear something that Jesse's reading too. So I'm putting you on the spot, but I know you're doing an interesting reading project right now. Maybe you'd want to share what the project is you're working on with the wars and maybe mention one of the books you read recently. You mean Neil Stevenson? Weren't you doing a project where you were reading, like trying to read a book from every major, about every major war? Oh no, that wasn't me. That wasn't you. Who was doing that? Maybe one of your students. Maybe one of my students. I was thinking about starting to get into some of the, you know, the World War II and World War I. And you mentioned the one book about. Maybe that's the conversation we had. Okay. I haven't started that yet. I've been kind of reading a bunch of Neil Stevenson stuff. And then I'm also reading a book on John Thompson, the former. He went to Carroll High School, ed school. And then I'm reading a book. I bounce around a lot like you do too. I picked up the Sisson book from last week. So dived into some of that. The Primal Blueprint? Yeah. Yeah. And then there's a book that I found on Amazon just about how people in Congress fought all the time back in the day. Like maliciously fought. Yeah, we talked about that. Yeah, we always think things are worse, but. It was bad back then. They got killed. And like that cane beating was really serious that happened to lead up to the Civil War. Yeah. It took that guy two years to recover. Yeah. You just beat him with a cane. The interesting thing about Stevenson is, Meele Stevenson's books is he, I'm listening to one on audio reading one and then have another on hard copy. But the one on audio is before the one that I'm reading and their characters, some of the characters carry over. So what are the two? Uh, Reemdy and then the fall. Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So Reemdy was first, I think. Yeah. And it must be because Zula's older in the fall. Which one? And then fall's when Dodge dies. Which one has, so the fall, is this the one where there's a, it's like a heaven type world, but it's virtual? The fall is Dodge dies and they're trying to save his brain. Spoiler alert. They try to save his brain. Yeah. So I'm kind of like in that part where and then there was like a fake like nuclear thing and they can like upload people's um is this the right book where they can upload people's into like the virtual world or something like this probably probably get to that point because i'm not i'm only like 25 percent in yeah the last stevenson book i read was seven eves i'm reading that too that's a cool book yeah yeah that one's yeah it's a fun book i read that the moon blows up and the moon blows up and the world gets destroyed and yeah it's interesting i here's the thing about you'll see when you get to the end of it is i love the stevenson you know let's work through the details like he has that andy weir instinct like let's work through some details but then he also has has like the Ursula K. Gwyn instinct of, I really care about people and characters in a way that like Andy Weir, you know, does not. And so he has that mix of really interesting characters, but he takes his time and unfolds the story. And it's interesting and captivating. Then you'll see when you get towards the end of the book, it's like he ran out of time. He's like, and then it was like a lot of, a lot of years later and this was going on and surprise and a couple of spoilers and we're out. So it like is this, I think really interesting unfolding story. And I liked the Neil deGrasse Tyson character. So it's about, you know, the scientist that goes up in the space. It's mostly was based off of Neil. Oh yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, yeah. I just finished Snow Crash too like a couple weeks ago man i that's the life i mean i know it's hard we talked about brandon sanderson uh last week but creating fiction and not literary fiction because i think that is when you're doing literary fiction i think it's so brutal because it's so fickle and it's so like you're trying to create art and like if it doesn't go right it's just brutal and the whole thing can disappear and but if you're stevenson you know what you're about it's not like i have to get the national book award for this and the or like the the booker prize or people are gonna think i'm dumb my career falls apart and it's like no i'm gonna i i know the type of thing i write and i can experiment it's interesting and my fans love it you know and then just he lives in seattle and has this cool house by the water and and they just sit and write these interesting cool books with a fan base that likes him and and that's the main thing you do that's the dream i think he comes up with so much stuff i like that guy i mean he i was reading the wikipedia thing on snow crash and he had a code for like two years to like get it all right in his head for me. You could write the book. That's the man. That'd be the dream. Live somewhere cool. Stevenson needs a cooler place to live though. He has like a traditional house in like a suburb of Seattle. He needs like a compound somewhere. But live somewhere cool and think really deeply about one idea and then compose these books and they come out on your schedule and he's such a curmudgeon like he he booked tours reluctantly and not that long and then goes back to write i mean i know he did some stuff with blue origin and magic leap like he's done some consulting stuff but um sanderson martin all these all these guys andy weir um it's kind of cool too like reading the fiction then you're walking around in real reality and you just think certain things because you have this fiction in your mind like the other day when you're like oh something bad's gonna happen I was like oh the hard rain in the back of my mind yeah Jesse's prepping for the hard rain I don't know if it's worth prepping for it seems like there's not you didn't have a lot of options there like you could have gone in the space where spoiler alert things don't go well or um there's the people who buried themselves underground yeah yeah yeah all right well anyways those are those are the books those are my books for february and a couple from jesse as well so keep reading and we'll check in next month with the five books I read in March. By the way, I'm about two down right now. So I have three books to go in March. I mean, almost two. I'm almost done with the second. So we got three books to go. I'm also reading a really big long book that I don't know how to count this because I'm not going to finish it in a month. It's 800 pages long and hard. But what I'm thinking I'm going to do is in addition to the five books I report, I'm going to start reporting progress on this big book. That's a good idea. Because it's broken up. Because you've talked about it several times. Yeah. And it's broken up into eight smaller books inside of it. So I might just, I won't count it as one of my books, but I'll say I read, you know, books two through three of this big book this month. Because I have to get going in it. I just, I got to get that momentum going. The other thing about books in general that you mentioned to me offline was how one of your editors said that you don't read enough. I found that amazing. I think your audience might want to hear that story. Well, enough literature, enough literature. Now, granted, this is someone with a graduate degree in literature from a very good school. He correctly points out, I don't, let's put it this way. I do not think that he has recently read Jesse Itzler's Living with a Seal. So I think he thinks I need to read more literature and he's right. I need, if I'm going to be, I'm doing thinking and commentary and cultural discussion to have that common cultural heritage of really smart people and our literary heritage. I need that to be better. So this big long book I'm reading is a classic. I need to read, I've read a fair amount of the classics, but I want to make that more a part of my regular routine. So I'll report back on that success, but I want to read more classics. So more on that, more on that soon. Nice.

Cal talks about Policy Genius and Workable (27:38)

All right. So before we get to today's questions, let's talk briefly about a couple of the sponsors that makes this podcast possible. Let's start with Policy Genius. Policy Genius is a website that can help you find home and auto coverage similar to what you have now, but at a lower price. So this is all about saving money. It is a one-stop shop to find and buy the insurance you need. So here's how it works. You go to their website, policygenius.com, and you answer a few questions, and then they will go out and come back and give you estimates for policies to give you the coverage you need that could be cheaper than the insurance you have now. Most people get insurance relatively randomly. You sign up for some car insurance when you buy your car. You sign up for some home insurance when you buy your first home. You don't think much about it, but there could be a lot of money you could be saving. Now, Jesse, I quizzed you on this about a month ago, so let's see if you remember. What is the average amount that PolicyGenius has saved customers per year over what they were paying before they went to PolicyGenius? So how much on average do they save their customers per year? $1,000. Oh, you're getting closer. $1,250 of savings. So they switched to different coverage after going to that website. On average, save that much money. That is money you could be saving to travel to South Africa for the episode 200 extravaganza that we are doing on Boyd Vardy's Safari Ranch, where I'm going to be killed by a black mob. You need that money. It's going to be an expensive trip. Policy Genius will help you get it. Remember, they work for you, not the insurance company. So you can trust them to offer unbiased help and advocate for you at every step. They know what they're doing. Since 2014, they have helped over 30 million people shop for insurance. So head to policygenius.com to get your free home and auto insurance quotes and see how much you could save. All right. We also have a new sponsor, Jesse. Workable. So Workable helps you hire. It is a much more sane way to hire than maybe we did when I hired you, which people don't realize what I did is I went to a Barnes and Noble and I went near the section where there was business and tech advice books and I put out a net. And then I just waited. I waited until someone was browsing there for a little while longer and I snapped up the net. And long story short, Jesse has been chained up in the Deep Work HQ ever since. So he can't escape. That's not how you want to hire. Deep Work HQ ever since. So you can't escape. That's not how you want to hire. They're not a good way to hire. So Workable will give you a much better way of doing it. So here's how it works. Workable helps you through every step of the process of trying to hire. And we got to say, has there ever been a harder time to hire than now? Not in recent memory. So you need all the help you can get. So it will start by helping you. They literally have the words here, cast a wide net. So I should emphasize, they do not mean literally using a net like I used to catch Jesse. They'll help you post your job to all the top job boards, more than 200 job boards, you can get your job listing posted to just with one click. But then they also give you the tools you need to move the job search forward. So you get the video interview tools and scheduling, the e-signatures you need to sign things. It will help you automate repetitive tasks like scheduling interviews. So you can spend more time on figuring out who is best for your organization. So this is the genius of Workable. It not only helps get your job posting out there, it makes it easy for you to do the hiring process after that job listing is out there to get away from the context shifting shallow work to minimize that so you can focus on finding the best person. So whether you're hiring for your coffee shop or your engineering team, workable is exactly what you need to hire the right people fast. Now, Jesse, we're probably gonna have to expand our team here sooner rather than later anyway. So I'm glad we actually have Workable as a sponsor here because I don't wanna be doing these repetitive tasks in some sort of ad hoc way. So I like the sound of this. All right, so start hiring today with a risk-free 15-day trial. If you hire during the trial, it won't cost you a thing. So this is important. So if during your 15 free day trial, you come across a great candidate and you hire them, no money paid. You've just got a hiring for free. They do that because they're so sure you'll love the platform that you'll keep using it. So go to workable.com slash podcast to start hiring. workable.com slash podcast to start hiring. Workable is hiring made easy.

Can you implement your productivity tips without time-blocking? (32:31)

I like the sound of that. Cheaper than a net too. All right, let's do some questions. As always, we start with questions about deep work. Our first question comes from Tanner. Tanner says, can you implement your productivity tips without time blocking? He elaborates, I'm a public defender and I have implemented a capture configure control setup that has greatly helped me reign in my caseload. I'm skipping here a little bit, but he says he generally finds it hard to time block, however, because there's aspects of his day that are so out of control. He says, often things bubble up throughout the day and have more small tasks than can be easily scheduled. Is it possible to implement the patented Cal Newport productivity system while mostly eschewing time blocking? So yes, Tanner, you can. So what is the patented Cal Newport productivity system? Well, here is where I can point everyone to a video in which I explain this step-by-step, a core ideas video. If you go to the YouTube page for the show, youtube.com slash Cal Newport media, you go to the core idea playlist, and I have a core idea video on time management where I say, here is my philosophy for time management. What are the high-level principles? And then I explain my specific system for implementing those high-level principles. So the high-level principles, as you mentioned, Tanner, are capture, configure, control. Time blocking is part of how I specifically implement that last piece, control. So you can certainly take those high-level principles and implement them in a way that makes the most sense for your job. And for your job, that might mean for that control piece, not having time blocking. That's actually quite common. I would say the most commonly occurring example I get or hear from in terms of individuals who use that system but don't use time blocking and implementing control is people who do support work. So IT professionals, for example, will often run their days off a ticketing system. So control, time blocking is not that relevant for control. What they typically do is have, what they worry about is there's a small amount of non-urgent, personally initiated work that has to happen in addition to just servicing tickets. There's always some stuff you have to do. And they typically put aside a certain amount of time, set time every day where they do that work. And otherwise they're just running through their ticketing system. And so they are definitely controlling their time, but they don't have to time block every minute. It doesn't make sense because most of their day is actually executing one ticket after another. So it could be similar for you, Tanner, that you have a different method of controlling. The key is just making sure that these three principles are implemented. So capture is about not having things in your head, be it small obligations or big projects. You're not keeping track of things in your head. They're entrusted systems. Configure is wrangling with and making sense of all the stuff on your plate, simplifying, getting rid of things, clarifying, taking things off, moving things around. So you really understand what's on your plate. You have plans at multiple scales. You're not just winging it. And control is making sure that you are not reactively just going through your day, saying what's next in a way that is unintentional. So however you want to implement that is fine by me. I will say though, Tanner, looking at your elaboration, I'm not sure that time blocking is not going to work for you. It looks like to me, and again, I'm basing this off of just two paragraphs of description I have here, but it looks like to me that if you put a little bit more emphasis into configure, you might be able to use time blocking and control because you talk about here that, you know, you have all these small, more small tasks that can easily be scheduled. Well, you don't need all the small tasks on your plate to be scheduled. You need them to be captured and configured in a way that you can make intelligent decisions about what's going to happen this week and what's going to happen this day. So if you potentially had a better handle over the small tasks, they're grouped, they're categorized, you automate some, they're in separate particular lists, you have certain times where you work on certain things, you can make decisions about which of these things do I need to get done this week and when am I going to do them, that time blocking might actually work. So what might be happening here is that you're getting to your time outside of cases where you're presenting in court and then just feeling so overwhelmed that you just fall back to reactive mode. So I'm going to say, and I don't know if this will work for you because again I only have two paragraphs here, but I'm going to say lean in more into the configure step because you're telling me you just have one large Word document where you try to keep track of everything. Lean more into the configure step. Go watch that video and hear about how I implement configure. And you might be able to get a better handle on all of this stuff so that you can get to a time blocking level of intentionality. It's not necessary and maybe not best for your job, but it might be. I want to dismiss it so quickly.

Does technique beat talent? (37:26)

All right. We got a question here from Diego. He says, does working smarter beat talent? I'm a data scientist and researcher, so I know the value of good work. But you really think an average person who follows this path can achieve a PhD from MIT and make breakthroughs in science? and make breakthroughs in science? Yeah, you know, it's a complicated question, Diego. It's a complicated question, in part because talent is very vague exactly what that means. But I do think, yeah, it's realistic to say, no, not every professional objective, ambitious professional objective you have is necessarily achievable. Right. And this might be because of talent. My personal view is that talent is a complicated picture because it involves a lot of training and it involves the circumstances for training. It might involve maybe your personality is well-suited to stick with certain types of training. I'm not a big believer in this. Just you have this talent that makes it doing really complicated high-level work easy for you. High-level complicated work requires a lot of training, but some people end up, you know, now you're 20 years old and for whatever reason, you've been exposed to and have done a lot of that training and someone who hasn't, you're in two different places. So I find talent to be a vague, a vague issue. So I don't typically use that term, though. I do think it's true. So yeah, not every objective is open to everyone. So for example, let me, I'm going to be, I'm going to first be, what would you call it? Sort of braggadocious. And then I'm going to be humble. Then I'm going to humble myself, right? I'll use myself as an example. Because you mentioned PhD from MIT. All right. So when I was in college, for whatever reason, I found the computer science work, especially the mathematical or theoretical computer science work, pretty easy, right? And I always used to think, well, that must be because I had good study habits. I managed my time well or this or that. But I received an email like a year or two ago from the fellow student who I used to work with on my theory and algorithms problem sets. And this was the student I like to work with because he was very sharp and we would be very efficient together. And I guess he saw one of my articles or something and he sent me a message and said, oh, it was cool to see whatever some article he saw of mine. And he said, my memory, my memory from Dartmouth was working with you on some of these problem sets or whatever we'd working on was, oh, I can't do that. I know now, like, I'm not going to be a professor, this or that. I guess that's what it looks like when, you know, someone has like a really strong aptitude for something. So like that was his memory is that it caught his attention and tempered his ambition, seeing me working on these problems. So I guess, you know, there was some sort of thing there that made me good at that. But then I go to MIT and it became clear after a while of, oh, the top people here, the people who are going to be like at the top of the theoretical computer science field, I'm never going to be that. So, you know, there's things you can do, things you can't do. So for whatever reason, I was pretty good at this stuff, but also not the best in the world. And I'm not sure if I would have been able to get to the best of the world. So I don't know. I'm sort of wandering here, which is my way of saying of like, yeah, there are some limits to what you can do. It's more obvious with physical stuff. I'm not going to play professional sports. I'm still holding out hope I'm going to play professional baseball, but I think that window is closing pretty rapidly here. So it's more obvious there than with intellectual stuff. I think people have more give than they realize, but some of this stuff gets baked in over a decade of training. It's really hard to say, but all right, let's put that all aside then and say, so what do we do about it? I say, let's forget about that. Let's forget about talent. Let's forget about, can I do anything I want to do? And ask the better question. What is the real advantage you get from working smarter and deeper? So being really intentional about how you work and what you work on and how you organize your life. The goal there is not to enable the accomplishment of arbitrarily elite professional accomplishment. The goal is to give yourself the best shot of living a deep life. If you're intentional, if you're deep, if you're organized, you're making the most of your current circumstances, that is the leverage you need to shape your life into something you can control. That's the leverage you need that when you do lifestyle-centered career planning, you can push your life towards the lifestyle that resonates and away from the things that don't. That's what you need to feel engaged and meaningful and competent and efficacious. That is more important than I think hitting some arbitrary professional goal. You know, I'm not going to be a MacArthur Genius Grant winning top in the world theoretician, but it doesn't mean that I can't use the skills I do have that I am carefully developing to try to build a really cool life. And that friend of mine, who was very, very smart, he might be saying, okay, I guess I wasn't going to be a professional academic to do theoretical computer science. But I'm sure he's doing something really cool and interesting with his life because he was very sharp and focused and was working with what he wanted to do. And so that's what I would say, Diego. Who cares about this debate? About how much are you born with? How much is it life circumstances that trained you? How much of it can you just change now through deliberate practice? I don't know. Possible to answer. So why don't we just focus on what we can control and try to build the deepest, most interesting life possible, each one that's going to look different. That's a good question. All right, let's move on here. Ricardo says, do you recommend having multiple email accounts for someone who works at different institutions, even if the work is similar between institutions?

Do you recommend multiple email accounts for someone who works at different places (43:13)

Yes, Ricardo, in general, I'm in favor of multiple email accounts. I want more friction, not less, but more importantly, I want context shifting to be minimized. The biggest under-emphasized tax we pay when doing professional work is the cognitive drag required by shifting our mental context from one target to another. It's draining. It reduces our ability to think and it burns us out. So when you are sharing multiple institutional communications all happening in one inbox, you're seeing multiple professional contexts existing together and your brain is trying to bounce back and forth between these things. It's terrible for the brain. Terrible for the brain. I have, I think, six email addresses right now. And then Jesse has another for our organization. But I personally have six email addresses right now. And then Jesse has another for our organization, but I personally have six email addresses because I want to keep these things separate. I use separate, uh, in Google Chrome, you can have these profiles, browser profiles. So that like, if you have your password, say for Gmail, for, uh, one address, you can switch to another platform, another profile where you have your address saved for Gmail for a completely different account. And so I have three, three of those and six different email addresses. And you know, I'll tell you what, some people get mad because like, Oh, it's longer before I hear back from you because I have to, you have to wait until I'm next at a day or time where I'm checking that address, but it keeps the context shifting minimized. That's critical. All right, let's fit in one last deep work question here. This one comes from Brandon.

Can intense collaborative work be considered deep? (44:46)

Brandon says, can intense collaborative work be considered deep? Yes. Deep work has two elements, cognitively demanding. So you're actually pushing your mental ability. So it's requiring real thought and it's done in a state without distraction. So you're not context shifting from the context of the work to other things. This could be with people. This could be on your own. I talk about this in my book, Deep Work, but it's often overlooked by people who will say, I don't do deep work because I'm in a collaborative field. But nothing about that definition has anything to do with being alone. collaborative field. But nothing about that definition has anything to do with being alone. I think we get caught up on that idea because we have a notion of deep work as Neil Stevenson, you know, in his basement alone in his house writing the Quicksilver trilogy with a quill. And yes, that is deep work, but also deep work is a collection of physicists at Bell Labs at a whiteboard that they're sharing, trying to figure out how to make the transistor work. That's awful deep work. Deep work is also the mission control in Houston during Apollo 13, trying to figure out how to make the air filters from the command module work in the lunar module. You're focusing really intensely on something cognitively demanding. You're not switching context. I even go so far as talking about in deep work what I call the whiteboard effect, which says if you're working on something deep with someone else, you often can obtain higher levels of intensity than if you were just working on your own, because having another person there staring at the same problem on a shared board raises the social cost of your attention wandering. Because then you're going to have to say, hold on, hold on, back up. What were you just talking about there? You're pushing each other to go deeper. So actually some of the deepest work comes in group settings. Brandon also asked about what if you're doing a therapy session? So he's a psychotherapist or teaching. That's all deep too. Kindly demanding, you're not switching context. The number of people in a room doesn't really matter. All right. So that's what we have for deep work.

Cal talks about ExpressVPN and Athletic Greens (46:53)

I have a couple of deep life questions before we get there. Let me just talk about two other sponsors that make this show possible. We'll start with ExpressVPN. You've heard me talk before about how VPNs work and how they protect your privacy and security online. You've heard me say before that I personally use ExpressVPN as my preferred personal VPN that I use, but there is an added benefit to these services, which is you can use ExpressVPN to unlock movies and shows that are only available in other countries. This has been relevant this week. I don't know if you've been following this news, Jesse, but I have been using ExpressVPN so I can use the BBC player because I think the BBC coverage of the war in Ukraine, for example, is really top-notch. I find it better than trying to watch the American cable news coverage of this war because it's the whole screen is full of all of these things moving and there's animations of, you know, number of people who could theoretically die and like eagles flying by and I get a mini seizure every time I watch it. BBC, I like, but the BBC players for the UK express VPN, all I do is change my location to the UK in the express VPN app. Now, as far as the BBC player is concerned, they're talking to someone from the UK and I get access to that. You can do that for many different services and many different countries. ExpressVPN is actually in a hundred different countries. They have servers in a hundred different countries. So just think about all of the international content you can access. And of course, what I like about ExpressVPN, easy to use, very fast connections to their servers. You won't even realize that it's on. very fast connections to their servers. You won't even realize that it's on. So if you visit my special link right now at expressvpn.com slash deep, you will get an extra three months of ExpressVPN for free. Son.com slash deep. Also want to talk about Athletic Greens. I say every time I talk about Athletic Greens that this is a product that I use each morning. Jesse can attest to this. I've told him this before. Actually, Jesse, you were telling me before that someone you know is going to start using this because they heard I was using this. Is this true? My mom. There we go. Yep. You convinced my mom to get triathletic greens and she's going to start using it. There we go. This just in. This is just coming in off the fax machine here in the Deep Work HQ. It says here, news alert, Jesse's mom wins a really elite sports competition. So I mean, I'm not- Pickleball, pickleball. Pickleball. She's the pickleball champion. Something the fans say that her energy and health just seems substantially, suddenly substantially better. So like correlation, maybe not causation, I'm just saying. All right. So for those who don't remember, so Athletic Greens product AG1 is a powder that you take with water. You take it once a day. It includes 75 high quality vitamins, minerals, whole foods, sourced superfoods, probiotics, and adaptogens. Jess and I looked up that last one. It helps reduce anxiety. That sounds relevant today. The point is they obsess over making this product as good as possible. It is their only product and they improve it. They call it versions. Each year they upgrade and upgrade the quality of the ingredients. They want to get this right. So if you want to make sure that you're getting all the stuff you need, all the stuff you need in your diet, you just take the athletic greens every morning and you don't have to worry about that anymore. So that is what I do each morning. So right now it's time to reclaim your health and arm your immune system with convenient daily nutrition. I will note this seems especially relevant because of the flu and cold season we're in right now. Put those vitamin D drops in your athletic greens to help make sure that you are in tip top immune shape. It's just one scoop and a cup of water every day. That's it. No need for a million different pills and supplements. Look out for your health. So to make it easy, athletic greens is going to give you a free one-year supply of those vitamin d drops that you can add to the athletic greens each morning which i do and five free travel packs these were useful to me in my recent trip to florida they come in pouches so you can just pour it in the water wherever you are they will give you those two things free with your first purchase all you have to do is visit athleticgreens.com slash deep. Again, that is athleticgreens.com slash deep to take ownership of your health and pick up the ultimate daily nutritional insurance. All right, let's see here, 52. Let's do a couple of questions on a deep life before we call it a day here. My first one here comes from Brian.

Are podcasts good for you? (52:05)

Brian asks, are podcasts good for you? So he has a bunch of different points about this, but let me point out two in particular. The first is he asked, what would Marshall McLuhan or Neil Postman say about a medium that feels like a hundred times the old talk radio format? So Brian is concerned about the sort of, what does it do to your mind, this relationship where you have someone in your ears for multiple hours each day? And he looks to McLuhan and Postman, who of course have this, the medium is the message type analysis of media. McLuhan and his protege Postman would argue that the form in which you're consuming media actually changes the message and the impact of the message. And I think this definitely is at play for podcasting. However, and this is very self-serving because I'm telling you this on a podcast right now, I think generally the impact of this medium on the message is positive, right? So what do you get, for example, when the medium is tweets? Let's say we're looking at Twitter. Well, now it's very short. There's a trying to grab attention. And there is a really tight feedback loop of likes and dislikes and retweets and catching the algorithm's attention so that a tweet immediately gives you these clear indicators of it's taking off or not taking off. Now that's an example of a medium that really changes the message. So the type of communication you would get on a platform like Twitter, just to use that as an example of McLuhan and Postman's thinking, is one that is way more simplified and emotionally charged. It is a place where people are trying to dunk on each other. It's very tribal and very anxiety inducing. So that's an example where the medium changes the form of the message. Podcasting, I would say has an opposite effect. It's long form and you can hear the human voice. So you get all of the nuances and subtleties that is embedded in pacing and tonality in the human voice. And it's long form. So someone can take their time and explain how they're thinking about something, change their mind on how they're thinking about something, think out loud in real time. It's much more human, much more humanizing than some of the other big digital communication technologies that have taken off in the last 10 to 20 years. And so I actually think what it does is it gives you a more moderating style message. And so it is, I believe, if we're looking at digital, if we're looking at digital tools or modern media tools, I actually think the podcasting does a pretty good job. If we're going to rank these things, I think it does a pretty good job. I mean, Twitter creates a dumpster fire. Tiktok just turns people into essentially algorithmically enhanced cyborgs. And that algorithm just drives people into really weird places. Jacob war talks about this in the loop, that book I talked about earlier in the show, and he talks about how Tiktok there's some interesting, talented people on there, but the people who really takeK, there's some interesting, talented people on there, but the people who really take off, it's really weird. They're, they're sort of playing with these particular forms where you do like lip syncing, they're not very good at it. And it's just working with the algorithm and weird. So, so Tik TOK, that medium makes the message turns people into cyborgs. Twitter turns people into like dumpster. Twitter turns people into dumpster fire lighting zombie hordes. If you go back and look at Postman's analysis of the old school TV when there used to be three channels, his big thing is it simplified everything down to these sort of sound bites. Podcasting ranks pretty well. I think it ranks pretty well. You get this long form nuanced relationship with a real human being. And so, yes, as with anything, if that human being is intent on, you know, a particular point of view, then, yeah, it can really bring you into that world. And talk radio, right wing talk radio certainly did this at the time. It could really bring people into a own toto-libs type mindset over time and it could, what have you. But I still think it is a medium that creates a good type of message. It just seems very humanizing. It's really hard to listen to a long-form podcast with a lot of people and come off and be like, I hate that person or I hate other people. So who knows? Maybe I'm being optimistic. Obviously it has its flaws, but I'll take it over a lot of the other platforms any day. He also asked, Brian also asked if they're more shallow and distracting than say reading books. I mean, I think, yes, Brian, don't give up a book reading habit for podcasting. It is different. It is shallower than a book because a book will typically represent someone who has spent multiple years trying to hone and craft and structure their thoughts on a topic. So it's just a, from an intellectual consumption experience different than let's say me riffing on the mic. But I think podcasting is great for otherwise wasted downtime. You know, I'm doing a chore, I'm driving to work. Why not? I think that's a good time to do it. Now, if you do books on tape, you maybe want to alternate between these two. You should read real books as well. So yeah, it shouldn't be the only thing you listen to, but this is not going to surprise anyone by an impro podcast. All right, we've got a question here from Jules. Jules says, my favorite nugget of wisdom from your book was something to the effect of, if you begin craving distraction, the next 30 minutes of resistance can become a training session of concentration calisthenics.

Concentration Calisthenics Elaboration

Can you elaborate on concentration calisthenics? (57:37)

I love this idea of strengthening your power to resist. What more can you tell us about this training? Do you have a few stories from people who view the moment of resistance as training and how it slowly developed? So Jules, the relevant piece of advice here comes from deep work, and it's where I recommend that you embrace boredom. And here is the whole argument. By embracing boredom, I mean expose yourself to boredom on a regular basis. So at least once or twice a day, have a period in which your mind is craving novel stimuli and you do not give it to it. It wants to look at your phone and you don't. I do not mean embrace boredom in the sense of think of boredom as an unalloyed good, something that's going to generate lots of good things. We should be bored. Bored is a good state. Boredom feels bad, and we should take that seriously. Our body makes things feel really bad if there's a real reason it wants to feel bad, so I don't think we should be bored all the time. The reason why I think you should be periodically, temporarily bored, however, is that it breaks the Pavlovian connection that so many of us have developed between boredom and distraction. If at the slightest hint of boredom, you always take out your phone and relieve it. Your brain learns boredom means shiny treat. Boredom means shiny treat. So then what happens when you want to do something that's cognitively demanding? You want to focus deeply to write a chapter of a book or come up with a new strategy for your business. Your brain will say, this is boring because there's no novel stimuli. We're just thinking about the same thing again and again. Where's our shiny treat? And it won't tolerate it. It won't tolerate it. Your brain will go on strike and say, give me a phone. Come on, we don't do this. And then you can't actually produce things of value with your brain. So if on the other hand, on a semi-regular basis, you expose yourself to boredom, your brain gets comfortable with that option. And when it comes time to think deeply about something and you're lacking novel stimuli, your brain is not going to go on strike. It's like, okay, this is one of those times where we don't get the stimuli. I get it. Okay, great. Let's go back to writing this chapter and thinking through this strategy. So yeah, it is like training. Your brain hates it. You want to get it to the point where your brain hates it less. That is going to give you a lot more flexibility to do things of real value with that brain. All right, well, speaking of value, I think we've put some good value into this episode, but we've hit the hour mark, so I think we should wrap it up. Thank you, everyone who sent in their questions. Remember, if you like what you heard, you will like what you read in my weekly newsletter. Sign up at calnewport.com. If you like what you heard, you'll also like what you see. Video of this full episode, as well as video clips of every question and segment from this episode can be found at our YouTube channel, youtube.com slash calnewportmedia. Be back on Thursday with a listener call episode. And until then, as always, stay deep.

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