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Cal's intro (00:00)
I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, episode 180. I'm here at my Deep Work HQ, joined with my producer, Jesse. Jesse, ominous sign, ominous sign happened just the other day. My oldest son, my oldest son asked us if we would set up a Zoom conference for him and some of his school buddies because they're setting up a business to sell Pokemon cards. And so they needed to do a Zoom meeting. And so I thought to do a, a Zoom meeting. And so I thought the, the, the tentacles, the heart numbing, deadening tentacles, that is doing meetings on Zoom, work meetings on Zoom would not extend past us to our kids, but they have now my own son is setting up on his own accord, the things that have tortured us for the last two years, which is Zoom-based business meetings. So I think that's an ominous sign. If he starts sending me calendar invites, we're moving to a farm. That's it. He doesn't have to be exposed. He's too pure to be exposed to the inanities of the world of digital remote work.
Discussions On Productivity Metrics And Lifestyle Topics
Cal talks about Wendell Berry (01:20)
Speaking of farm, so I read, last week you were telling me about this big New Yorker profile of Wendell Berry. So I went on your recommendation and I read it. I had to read in the physical magazine because Wendell Berry, you gotta read a Wendell Berry thing in physical form. And that's really interesting, really interesting. I mean, I knew about Barry, but it was interesting to hear more of a long-form description of what his life was like. The thing that caught my attention is that he is a purified instantiation of this deep life philosophy that we talked about on the show. I don't know if you had the same reaction, but think about it. This is someone who said, I'm gonna do exactly what's at the core of our notion of the deep life, which we talk about in our core idea video on the deep life if people aren't familiar. So YouTube page, core idea video on the deep life, we talk about this, but at the core of the deep life is making radical change to your life to put it into alignment with the things that you value. And that's what Barry did. I mean, he moved, he left New York to move to a farm in Kentucky near where he grew up to cultivate land with horses while teaching at a local college there, built his entire life around incredibly intentionally, here are the things I value, community, connection to land, these older ways of living, the idea of writers having a being cited in a particular place and context from which they write about, as opposed to, as he talks about, just being in this cosmopolitan abstraction where you live in a city and are of no place. And he did all those things and built a really unusual life around it. But it sounds cool. I and built a really unusual life around it. But it sounds cool. I don't know what your, was your thought, my thought was this sounds like kind of a cool life he built out there. Well, a couple of things. I mean, you read one of his books in the past month, I think it was January or December or something like that. So I hadn't heard of him until you were explaining in the book that you read about him. And then he came up here and he's a prolific writer. He's written a ton of stuff. I mean, he's probably like 80 something years old, and he's written nonstop for 50 years. Poems, novels, essays, and nonfiction books. And he's a professor, was a professor, and a farmer. But they have like no technology. Didn't have a computer, they weren't on the internet It wasn't on phone. So maybe it tells you something about You know, you're up at dawn The tend your horses even if you have a teaching job, you know a lot of time to write He lives in a town of 60 people something like that. Yeah, he's related to half of them. Yeah. Yeah I'll tell you the big revelation of the article for me was his writing shed. I Hadn't heard about that before, that he has this house, it's overlooking a river, not a house, it's like a little cabin up on pillars because I guess the river overflows. No electricity, no running water, and he goes out there and he writes. He's out there and he writes. And then he just, he's out there and he writes. But I love, in this piece but also in the book of essays I read, how he knows the land and he has a connection to it and he wanders the land and canoes on his river and is completely connected to his town in that particular place. And now his family, multiple generations now, a lot of them all live around there. And in the article, multiple generations now, a lot of them all live around there and in the, in the article, like his daughter and then his granddaughter would just wander into their house. I mean, it really looks like a great case study of the deep life in action, figure out what matters to you, reorient your life around that as opposed to arbitrary metrics that are nice in the moment or seem just culturally palatable, like just going up the ladder in a career or, you know, just seeking distraction, and then be willing to make radical changes. And what's more radical than leaving a teaching writing job in New York, move to Kentucky? Speaking of which, you do a good job of explaining the radical part, because it's important to do, you explain it like there being some sort of a test before you do that, because then you gave the example of the one fellow who in your book who went to become a monk and it didn't really work out. And then, so I think for new listeners, it's good to explain that briefly just so they don't think that you jump into the radical part. Yeah, radical is important, but it has to be aligned with your values. So you have to make, if you really want to live deeply, ultimately you want to make some sort of radical shift because that signals to yourself that you take this really seriously. It makes it an adventure. And it, what allows you to really immerse yourself in that value. So it's, you know, if Wendell had just said, I work in New York, I live in Northern New Jersey, and I, but like a little bit South. So I have a little bit of a plot of land, and I really have a nice garden that I take care of because I find land really important. And I take the commuter train into New York and work in New York. That's not the same thing as I'm using horses to plow land in Kentucky. And there's something about the radicalness of what's important, right? That's the immersion in the value. You can make the value that you're orienting towards a guiding direction for your life. But radical without prep becomes just change for the sake of enjoying the disruption and that can fade out. So you're right, it's so good they can't ignore you. I talk about the guy who says, I'm going to go become a monk. And he's in Mountain Monastery and he gets there and is like, oh, all right, this is not immediately making my life better and why exactly am I doing this other than the fact it's disruptive and he gave up on that. I talked about in the video where we explained the deep life from that Core Ideas playlist, the Mark Fredenfaller, where they moved to that island in the South Pacific. And it's because of disruption. You're like, hey, it's radical, change is radical, it's something to do. And they're like, oh, this is terrible. And we feel weird about it. And our kids have lice and they got ringworm. And it was like, this is not great. And they couldn't open the coconuts. This is another thing I didn't leave out. They imagined themselves just cracking open the coconuts. And it turned out it's really hard to open coconuts. And they're like, this is terrible. Why did we do this? And then he went back and did make a radical change, rebuilt his whole life around DIY and starting a new magazine and getting back in touch with building things with his hands. And that's actually the real story. So I think it's a really important point is that you can't just, you have to do something radical, really, if you're going to embrace the deep life, but it has to be very much oriented towards things that are valuable to you. You have to know why you're making that particular radical change. And there's a lot of self-insight involved there. And that would be fascinating, to really be a fly on the wall with Wendell Berry in his 20s, when he's trying to figure this out and trying to convince his wife, this is what we need to do. A couple of things that come to mind. One, I mean, the article was written by the daughter of his first editor, who has since passed, but that was kind of cool to see the interchange of that throughout the story. I mean, it was a long article. And then talking about, you know, what he was like when he was younger, there was a quote in there, like, where someone was like, did you tell him to lighten up? I think he was pretty intense. Yeah, this is books can be pretty polemical. His nonfiction work can be pretty polemical. And his new book, he's writing a book as like an 80-something year old on racism. So that's gonna be interesting, I think. Two other, yeah, I think it will be for sure. I don't think he cares. He's like, whatever. What did he say? He said like, I'm 80, I have friends, I have family. Like, I don't care if people are mad at me. And so I'll read it. I think it'll be interesting. He's an awful guy. He's written about that in the past and I think that he's, you know, he's thought a lot about it. Yeah, he did a lot of writing about the Civil Rights Movement and and trying to understand it as a movement and compare and contrast it to other movements. I don't remember the punchline but but I know he had some pretty provocative essays in the book I read that was comparing and contrasting the civil rights movement to the environmental movement. So he thinks a lot about movements and how they expand. I mean, one of his main critiques, if I remember, is the problem with movements is there's a certain place where his real worry, which I think seems really relevant today, but his real worry is when movements get separated from personal action. So he talks about the environmental movement and he's like, what matters is you're in a place actually stewarding the land in that place and building up from personal experience a respect for land and its interaction with humans. What he worries about is that you say, no, no, I just live in suburban America, and I give money to these groups that are trying to influence legislation. Or today it would be, and he's talked about this probably more recently, I tweet about things or change my Twitter profile or whatever. And he says these movements become professionalized and abstracted. And they're identity badges, I'm a part of this movement, I wear the right thing, I say the right things, no action actually happens. And my memory is when he was talking about the civil rights movement, the degree to which I guess this was cited in personal action. You know, you were out there sitting at the lunch counters or this or that. And so I think he was lamenting about the environmental movement. But I think it's a big thing today that social media gives you the ability to superficially be connected with movements, but it also accelerates the abstraction of these movements into just components of an identity presentation. And there feels that there feels like there's a lot of crackling energy, but that energy is not being conduited into actually any sort of motive force. And so actually yeah, I think this book will be interesting. Interesting, interesting guy. There was a cool part in the book where he was talking about the difficulty of writing. He's like, yeah, writing's hard. And then he gave the story about when he goes out to change the wires at night and it's cold and he started doing the work and it was getting better. And then he related that to writing and getting into the groove. Yeah, if you're a farmer, you're used to hard work. Yeah, writing's hard work. Yeah, that's always my thing is what writer's block is another way of describing what it feels like to write. Because it's a weird, unnatural thing you're asking your brain to do. So why are you rewarded for doing it? Well, it's because you're able to overcome that. Like, so, so the difficulty should be the first thing, uh, the first thing that you expect. But anyways, I, I think we'll see more of Barry-style lifestyles potentially in this current sort of post-pandemic period where people are reinventing their lives and becoming disillusioned with what life was like pre-pandemic and having the disruption give them the space to think about it. That's a direction I think a lot of people should consider, which is this hardcore deep life direction. Radical changes to align your life with your values. You have to know what you value, be very careful about that, but then make the changes radical. So don't do radical for the sake of radical. Should be very aligned clearly with your values, but, and why not? You know, I mean, Barry did it. He has an interesting life out there. So I think we need to move this podcast to a farm. I want, I want video. We should be on horses. I think we should be on horses as we do the podcast. This one, here's an AV challenge for, for our contractors. Like we want to record this podcast from horses. Like we're just sort of walking over our land and sort of chatting about life. We can do that the 201st episode because the 200th episode will- We're gonna South Africa. Yeah. And then after our treatment for black mamba venom, we'll go to a farm and we'll get, we do this from a farm and then we'll get the next headline. Minor podcaster hilariously bit by Mamba in South Africa, immediately trampled by horses on farm, ruining the land and the financial future of the land's owner, Wendell Berry, who has now been forced to move to New York to become a TikTok influencer in hopes of salvaging his waning fortune. It's a long headline. And he couldn't pack his typewriter. Yeah, couldn't pack his typewriter. So now is using virtual reality goggles and living mainly in the metaverse. And it's all gonna happen. It's a long headline. You know, the headlines are long these days. You have to, because you got to pack a lot of information into them. Oh, well, all right. Well, enough of that nonsense. We got calls today have to, because you got to pack a lot of information into them. Oh, well. All right. Well, enough of that nonsense. We got calls today, right? So we got to, we got some good calls. Listener call episode. We got to pay the bills a little bit because I think these medical expenses are going to pile up fast after our 200th and 200 first episode.
Cal talks about Policy Genius and Workable (13:55)
Um, so let me just tell you briefly about PolicyGenius. So PolicyGenius helps you easily find home and auto coverage, similar to what you have now, but at a lower price. So you go to policy genius.com, you answer a few questions, and it will show you price estimates for policies that fit what you need, but can be cheaper than what you're already paying. Now, Policy Genius has been doing this for a while. They've helped over 30 million people shop for insurance. On last week's episode, I asked Jesse to guess the average amount of money that they have saved their customers each year, on average. And my memory is Jesse said $10. It was really dismissive. He said, Oh, policy genius probably didn't save people any money, probably $10. And I said, Jesse, you idiot. The real amount is $1,250. And if you remember on Monday's episode, he then said, I have been bested policy genius, my apologies. And he did a dramatic hand-waving bow. That's my memory of Monday's episode. But $1,250 is pretty good. That's what they say people on average because they find you insurance that gives you what you need but is cheaper than what you are paying. They work for you, not the insurance companies. They have your best interest in mind. 30 million people have used them. Thousands of five-star reviews. So go to policy genius calm and get your free home and auto insurance quotes today and see how much you can save.
What's your response to Allen Jacob's challenge to your productivity metrics? (15:31)
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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. You can start hiring today with a risk free 15 day trial. Here's the cool thing if you hire someone during the trial won't cost you a thing remains free. So go to workable.com slash podcast to start hiring. Workable is hiring made easy. All right. Well, speaking about easy, let's see how easy our questions are this week. Jesse, what is our first call we have on the docket? All right, the first call is from Simon and he references an article that you were a focus of and it basically challenges some of your metrics of productivity. Hi, Cal. Simon here. I'm calling from New Zealand. Recently, Alan Jacobs, a philosopher, Alan Jacobs published a small bit of writing in the Hedgehog Review. The writing is called The Problem with Productivity and the Good Work of Love. And in it, he takes you to task a little bit in one of your New Yorker articles and just has some questions about the way you describe productivity and the metrics of productivity. And his questions are kind of about the way in which those people involved in things that are less able to be quantified, how they fit in your, let's say picture of the world. Would love to hear your response. Cheers. Well, Simon, I went back and I read that article. I like the Hedgehog Review. This was an interesting piece, as you mentioned, by Alan Jacobs. He was talking about a piece I wrote for The New Yorker on productivity culture, people's frustration with the notion of productivity and what we should do about it. So there's a couple points in his piece, if I'm remembering properly. Yeah, so part of this was just saying productivity is hard in a lot of contexts to even measure, like, what do we even mean by productivity? And he felt that the typical anti-neoliberal critique of, this seems to, your language seems to quantify too systemic, too economically blinkered, I would say. Now this is a, I think this is a common fault line right now in the discussion of productivity and anti-productivity, so I would say the the popular lane right now in elite discourses when talking about productivity, roughly speaking, falls into the club of the post-capitalist, post-liberal types, where the big things to talk about is how just work itself, we need to rethink work itself, and this drive to produce and to define your life too much by work is a problem and it's a sort of a necessary outcome of our capitalist systems. And can't we, we need to rethink what work means and the role it plays in a life and productivity discourses, typically it's influenced by like base superstructure theory. Productivity discourses are really just an opiate of a zoom equipped bourgeois that is trying to coerce you into giving up more of your labor towards extracting value for the capitalist, et cetera, et cetera. So there's a sort of post-capitalist thread that's really popular right now in, I would say, left-leaning elite discourses. They don't like me. So they think I'm a neoliberal shill, because I think while those are interesting philosophical ideas, I'm much more boots-on-the-ground pragmatic. These people at this company right now in this job are stressed out and why and how can we change this company so they're not so stressed out? Like, I like to get into the nuts and bolts about how knowledge work actually unfolds and work in a much more narrow way of what can we do in here, pragmatically what's going on. So again, I'm often disparaged by that crowd as some sort of neoliberal shill, because I'm not appropriately having these navel-gazing, more philosophical, grandiose theories about work and life and capitalism, et etc. I'm much more narrow. So what I'm arguing about, what I argued about in that article, is actually something very specific. What I'm saying here is let's get boots on the ground, ethnographically in the cubicles, seeing what is frustrating people. And this is, again, one of the things I think distinguishes my work. I have such a deeply embedded surveillance network into the world of my work. I have such a deeply embedded surveillance network into the world of work, because I have this decade plus career writing about this stuff, where I hear from people constantly. So I really have my finger on the pulse, like what's happening in these type of knowledge work jobs. And what I was pointing out is here is a specific pragmatic issue. We said productivity should be personal. It's up to the individual to figure out how to manage their work and their workload. A necessary consequence of this is that in this informal, you have to figure it on your own type context, people became way overloaded. They have more work than they know how to handle, and it is a almost dehumanizing, cruel act to say, we're going to give you more work than you can handle and figure it out, forcing you into a position. So there's no professional personal Fifth Amendment here, forcing you into a position of having to make these judgment calls between your personal life and your work life. Because the more of your personal life you give up, the more work you can get done. And they're just like, hey, be productive, and it's up to you to figure out how to do it. And I'm like, this is an untenable situation. We're overloaded. We were in this untenable situation where we have to figure out how to balance our professional lives and our personal lives. And the whole thing is a recipe for frustration and exhaustion and people are getting fed up with it. And so my argument is we got to get this off of the individuals. The, the structure and systems by which we actually figure out things like how much work should you have on your plate? Uh, how many projects should someone be working on? How do we communicate and talk about this work? These types of things need to be surfaced and made explicit. So A, it can prevent us from being in these terrible situations where we're overloaded and are being implicitly pushed to just sacrifice more and more of other things that are important to us. And it makes it something that we can argue and fight back against. When you say, this is how we assign work, and this is how we communicate about work. And if that system is onerous, we can all point to that and say, this is an onerous system. We don't like this, do something better. It gives you something to push back on. You don't have any targets to push back on, which is up to everyone and work is informal. And we're all sitting back and forth, calendar invites and emailing. Surface and make explicit the systems by which work is assigned, how you collaborate on that work, how much should be on your plate. And now we have something to push back on. Now we have something to optimize. And now we can actually move past, I think, the excesses in terms of workload, the excesses in terms of sacrifice that our current knowledge work context creates. Now, this is like an intensely pragmatic thing. I'm talking about processes for communication and task boards and push versus pull work allocation systems and what we can learn from just-in-time manufacturing and kanban, none of this is sexy. It's much better to have a sub stack in a Twitter account and talk about the excesses of capitalism and how we have to, in sort of the post-capitalist order, we'll all just have, I guess, universal basic incomes and write poetry or whatever. And I'm not being fair to Jacobs, I'm obviously, you know, exaggerating here. And that's all fine. And I think it's good to have avant-garde philosophical critique because the avant-garde pulls forward the mainstream, and that's all good. But I'm not on the avant-garde. I like to think of myself as more in the cubicle trenches. And so I think this is what I was talking about in that article. This is a core issue right now. It's very pragmatic. Implicit informal systems for work assignment, organization, collaboration cause issues and it frustrates and burns people out. So let's make them explicit. I think that's what Jacobs was taking me to task. He was like, uh, well, but that's, let's not talk about systems. That seems weird. Incorporating capitalists. Let's not talk about systems. Let's not talk about trying to figure out what's more productive. Uh, let's not use, let's be very careful about the language we use. And I'm like, that's fine. I think when I write for the Hedgehog Review, I'll be more careful about the appropriate language. But I think this is a concrete issue that I think real people have. And this is a concrete approach to actually solving those issues. I mean, let's get in the trenches and figure out why do you have 200 emails and are working on the weekend? And yes, we could stand back and say because of capitalism, but that's not gonna fix this person's problem next week. And so again, I think both of these levels of analysis are important. I talk at my level, I think a lot of the elite discourses talk at another level. Both are important, the avant-garde pulls forward, the mainstream. And I also think debate is good, I think this is a useful article and it's a well-written article. And I think Jacobs is very thoughtful, but there's a lot of other commentators out there where I think the anti-productivity discourse so easily just falls more into, I want applause. I want applause for how radically critical I am and aren't I smart. And I hate capitalism subscribe to my sub stack because I want more money. Yeah. It's like this whole it's fine. Uh, and I'm boring and I think we get too many emails and I want to fix it. So I don't know if that's convincing Simon, but I guess that's, that's, that's, that's my, that's my off the cuff. It's my off the cuff review. I mean, Jesse, if you look at me, you see no one's ever going to associate with me. You just look at me and say, you're not, you can't be a radical. You can't be avant-garde. You have a part in your hair. You know what I mean? Like, so like, why even try? Why even try? So I was like, let's talk about how, you know, we need more systematic work assignment policies. No one ever associates me with the word, like, intellectually cool. You know? I mean, if I did like a beret and had a cigarette in a cigarette holder, then we might be playing with fire. And if I was like, here's the thing, here's the thing. I need an accent too. Here's the thing. You got to have another column on your Trello board for waiting to hear back. Waiting to hear back should be its own column. And then I just throw in some of the post-liberal stuff too. And do better. The Zoom is the shackles of the bourgeois. Because French intellectuals are very cool. And we need to get to retieve the capitalism, you do better. But also, you should use Calendly when setting up your meetings, because it's less email. See, what I'm going to do, I could mix them together, like the really avant-garde philosophical stuff, you know, like as Edward Said taught us, as Edward Said taught us well, you should only use email for short questions and also do not other. So like I'll mix in like post-colonial theory plus, um, my, my advice for, um, scheduling deep work sessions. But see, no one would buy it from me. I'm not French. I don't have the right accent. I don't, I'm not like suitably angry. I have read all this stuff, by the way. I mean, I get it. I'm on a university campus. It's good stuff. I like the avant-garde. The accent was solid. It's solid. All right, do the rest of the episode that way Do the ad do the ad reads that way yeah They're not mad at us enough. Yeah, why does this company even exist? It's just a stooge of the capital east the only the only company that I think should exist is I don't know what company is, the Hedgehog Review, the only sponsor we have for the show and we paid them money! If they're paying us, this is a capitalist exchange, it is dirty! No! So we paid them money to be on the show as Foucault taught us, as Foucault taught us, the power hierarchy that defines the modern podcast ad agency is itself a vestige of capitalist supremacy. And so we could do it. We could do it. I don't think, again, I've got a part in my haircut. I can't pull it off. I need a Shay t-shirt and shave my head maybe. I don't know. Or I'll just continue to be kind of a dork.
Do you know of other authors that run counter to your career capital theory? (29:39)
It's worked okay so far. All right. Having hair is a good thing. Having hair is a good thing, that's right. All right, so Simon, there you go. Let's do another call here. I'm back to dork mode. Another call. All right. That was a great bit there. Our next call is about basically talking about those Conor arguments, but this case it's Arthur's that run counter to your career capital theory. Yeah, people are really out to get me today. Hey Cal, my name's Donald and I'm thinking about transitioning my career as we move cities, my fiance and I. And so my question today is actually about how to have two conflicting ideas about something. How do we hold those? I know you talk a lot about the, making sure we're reading different authors and different perspectives on a theory or whatever that might be to make sure that you're getting both sides and letting those sit with you and kind of battle it out, so to speak. And I read So Good They Can't Ignore You pretty early on in my career, and I am a big believer in it. And I'm 10 or 12 years into my career now and I've gained this capital, but I have this other passion that's kind of nagging at me. And from the career capital side, I know I shouldn't necessarily follow that passion right now, but I'm curious if you know of any authors, books or other people on this topic that might run counter to your career capital theory. I firmly believe in it, but I'm also trying to practice what we preach around here about making sure to have different opinions to allow to help me kind of make this decision. Would love any thoughts you have and again, just really appreciate what you do. Thanks, Cal. All right. Well, now I'm wishing he had told us what the passion was. Because that could be actually be pretty relevant for thinking about this. But I like your approach here, because what I preach, which is having differing smart opinions about things in your head at the same time gives you a more nuanced understanding of the world. And we were just joking in the last caller, but we were talking about Alan Jacobs' essay and he had a different take on productivity than mine, and we're kind of joking about it, but actually that collision, so my sort of dorkish New York article versus like Alan Jacobs' Hedgehog Review article, crash those together and what you come away with is not, oh, one exploded and this one is right. You have a more nuanced understanding of the topic, which I think is excellent. So if we're thinking about career capital theory, what are good things to push up against that? Well, again, let's clarify exactly what career capital theory is saying. What it's saying is that typically the things that make a good job good are rare and valuable. So you have to have something rare and valuable to offer in return. And in the professional context, it'll be rare and valuable skills. So get better at things that are valuable, then use those things as leverage to shape your career in ways that resonate. That's a pretty repeatable path towards feeling really good about your career. And there's other takes on this, obviously. The straw man take, which is popular in culture, but is rarely, I think, articulated in good books so simplicitly, the straw man alternative is just, no, no, follow your passion. You're inborn to do one thing. If you do that thing, you'll love it. If you don't, you won't. But that's a bit of a straw man, because I would say that the more important counterpoints to career capital theory would be a little bit more subtle. So one of the counterpoints you should try to encounter, and I think Wendell Berry, who we talked about at the beginning of the show, is a good example of this, is, and the Jacobs essay we just read, is the whole strain of thought that says shaping your career shouldn't be the most important thing anyways. What matters is building a good life based on values that is important. And you might need some money in there so you have a job, but stop thinking so much about your job anyways, except for to the degree to that which it steps on other things that are important to you. This is like Barry leaving his teaching job in New York to go live in Kentucky, but there's any numbers of examples of books where you see people building a life of meaning off of focusing on values that maybe have very little to do with their work. So, I mean, I can give you some specific suggestions here. Go back and read a classic, like Thomas Merton, with the Seven Story Mountain, I believe it's called, which is about him. It's a memoir. I'm actually reading it right now. It's one of my March books. But a memoir about how he also, like Barry, left life in New York as a writer, and eventually becoming a monk, and writing about the experience. And it was very inspirational to a lot of people, but he just downgraded the professional aspect of his life. Richard Rohr's book, R-O-H-R...I want to get this right, falling...can you look this up, Jesse? Richard Rohr, Falling Up...Falling...it's falling something, Jesse's gonna look this up. Falling Upward. Falling Upward. That's a book I read, Richard Rohr, R-O-H-R. He's also a Catholic in a Catholic order. I think he might be a Franciscan. That's about how in the the second half of life, building your life around service to others is the source of the deepest meaning. David Brooks read Richard Rohr and then wrote basically his own version of Falling Upwards called The Second Mountain, which is again, I would read The Second Mountain. I would throw that right against so good. They can't ignore you. They'll hit together and sparks will fly and something even better will emerge. So, so the second mountain is about how maybe the first half of your adult life is aimed towards what he calls resume values, building up your career, making it the way you like. But then the second half of your adult life is where you really focus on eulogy values. And it's again, service to others, connection to other people. You see David Brooks struggling with building meaning beyond just his otherwise very successful career. So you read those types of books and you get this counterpoint that says, yeah, whatever. Right, like your work is what it is, but it's not gonna be at the core of a life well lived. So I think that's what you might wanna read. Because my concern here, and again, I don't know what the passion is you're talking about, but if it's a professional passion, my concern here is that it's possible that you're heading towards this second mountain in life, this Richard Rohr falling upwards, and you're feeling that dissatisfaction, that hunger, a soul ache. So it's something quite deep. And you're saying you're looking just within the professional lane. So maybe I need to change my job. And if my job was something that was more passionate about, I would get that back. That's possible things need to change everything else in your life. So I think those books are gonna find useful. I think also just my, my deep life philosophy in general, it's not contrary to So Good They Can't Ignore You, but it generalizes it and contains it. Because of my deep life philosophy, which again, there's a, I recorded a core idea video on this. So go to youtube.com slash Cal Newport media, go to the core ideas playlist, go to the deep life, the deep life core idea video is it constrains that professional part to just one of four or five different areas that we call buckets that you focus on.
What do you think of shorter work weeks? (36:44)
And when you see the four or five different buckets of your life, you're then caring about how they interact and connect with each other. You're not just prioritizing one over the other. So you might find those exercises useful too. And again, they don't repudiate so good. They can't ignore you, but they constrain it and put into a larger context. That's a good question. And that is what that's what I'd recommend. I think you're going to get some good, you can get some good feedback there. It's a good pushback. And I'm glad you're seeking that. All right. Do we have a caller now, Jesse, where they're like, I just wanted to tell you, you're brilliant. And your work is 100% right. And they like your part. And I like the part in your hair. And you don't look dorky. And I think you're cool. Like Che Guevara, we just get one caller that says that. Jesse is shaking his head. No. All right, what do we got instead? I'm just going to say no. All right, what do we got instead? All right. Next call is about your thoughts on the future of a 40-hour work week and the eight-hour work day. Hey, Cal. For knowledge work, what do you think of the standard eight-hour work day, 40-hour work week? And what's ideal? And do you think that this is likely to change at all in the next 10 years? It's a good question. So I've thought and written some about this. I had a New Yorker piece in January. It was about slow productivity and it actually opened talking about some of these ongoing discussions to shorten the official work week. And basically my take is focusing on the number of hours we work or the number of days we work in this broader context of burnout and dissatisfaction and a general reconfiguration of the working world, especially in knowledge work, I think it's a red herring. I don't think that is the problem that people have. I don't think the problem that people really have with knowledge work right now is that they have to work Friday in addition to Monday through Thursday. I don't think it's that the day ends at 5 versus 4 versus three. These are knobs you can tune on the margins. And though I am a believer in results-oriented style of work and I think having a lot of variety in how people configure their work days and work weeks is in general a nice thing to explore, it's not the solution on its own to the issues of dissatisfaction and burnout that so many are facing. And my argument in that piece, and also an argument I lay out in a video, and again, I'm really pitching these core idea videos today because this is why I recorded them for exactly this purpose, so I can reference my ideas easily. But if you watch my core idea video on slow productivity, I make this point, the real issue is overload. The thing that is burning people out, the thing that's causing a lot of dissatisfaction, or at least one of the many factors in knowledge work, is having more on your plate than you can easily imagine accomplishing and having an incoming stream of ever more piling on top of that. So you enter the state where you have this overwhelming amount of obligations, and three different things happen. One, there is a mental short-circuiting that happens. There's a part of the human brain that is charged with making long-term plans for our goals. That thing short-circuits when you give it 75 different obligations and 700 unread emails. It can't figure out a plan for all of those things. And then it feels like it's failing to make plans that are things for important. You feel anxious and you feel overwhelmed. We got a short circuiting effect that directly makes us feel bad. Then we have a pragmatic negative impact, which is overhead spirals. Everything on your plate that you agree to do, be it a small thing or a major project brings with it a fixed amount of collaborative overhead that is required. Okay, to get this done, I have to talk to some people and keep people posted and go find some information I need to accomplish it. Now, that's all fine. If you give me one thing to do, yeah, I got to find information and talk to some people and have some meetings where we can discuss how it's going to happen. The problem is when you have more on your plate than you can handle, when you're in a state of chronic overload, each of those things brings with it, it's fixed amount of overhead. And if you have a huge amount of things on your plate, that overhead alone takes up most of your schedule. Everyone experienced this who had a certain type of knowledge work job during the pandemic experienced this when they found their calendars get completely full with Zoom meetings back to back to back to back, and their inbox is completely overflowing. That is overhead spirals and overhead spiral. You have too much stuff on your plate. So the overhead takes all your time. And why it's a spiral is because now if all your time is spent servicing the overhead, you're making very little progress on the things that remain. So more things pile up, and then youicing the overhead, you're making very little progress on the things that remain. So more things pile up and then you get more overhead that you have to service more meetings, more emails, you get farther and farther behind this is maddening. It's misery making. It's, it's almost satirical sometimes the, how it feels, how much you're just in these meetings and doing email. So it completely crushes the soul. And it ends up requiring you to try to fit work into early in the morning or in the evening or on the weekends, because it has to get done sometime. So now you're losing the time that you would ordinary spend to do other things are important to you. And that is going to accelerate burnout as well. So that is happening as well. And then you just have the alienation from output because you have so little time to actually do the stuff that you're good at doing the stuff that actually makes an impact. You're doing it in small bursts, and you're doing it at night while all day you're on zoom. And there's a real alienation from your productive potential. So chronic overload, having more on your plate than you can easily handle, creates these three horsemen of the knowledge worker burnout apocalypse. This is why we are predominantly feeling so bad is this overload that we're all feeling. And if you tell me you don't have to work on Friday, it's like that doesn't help much because I still have all of these things. I'm short circuiting my brain. I've overhead spirals taking up all my time. I'm just going to put work in that Friday anyways, because when am I going gonna get things done? It's not by itself gonna solve the problem. How are we gonna solve the problem is stop having so much stuff on people's plates. The work should get stopped at a central system from which you can pull when you have free cycles. When I'm done with what I'm working on now, I'll pull something else. You can't just let that damn burst and just throw it on everyone's plate with no constriction, with no restraint. I think that is really the much more important than reducing the work week or reducing the work day. Now, again, I think flexibility is critical. Reconfiguring your hours is critical, but we don't have a crisis of having too many work hours. And this is a very different way of thinking about this because in a industrial context, work hours was the main knob you had to turn when trying to deal with the employee's subjective experience of work. If you worked on an assembly line, the main metric that seemed to matter was how much time do you have to spend working on that assembly line? So a union was going to fight for less hours, which they successfully did in the early 20th century. And that's where the 40 hour work week came from. to spend working on that assembly line. So a union was going to fight for less hours, which they successfully did in the early 20th century. And that's where the 40 hour work week came from. The context of knowledge work, the issue is different. It's not the number of hours so much as it is the number of things on our plate that's causing a lot of the troubles. So that's where I want to make sure we have a lot of focus, because if we don't solve that problem, it doesn't matter what you say about how many days you're supposed to work or how many hours you're supposed to work. We will be miserable until we solve that problem. Now this brings us back to the first caller who was talking about the disagreement between me and Alan Jacobs in the Hedgehog Review. It is exactly this problem where my solution, my style solution shows up and I think has some merit. Because when I'm looking at this very pragmatic problem, I said, we have to figure out how to re-engineer work systems so that you do not have too much stuff on your plate because it causes a lot of misery. This is a boring thing. This is like in the industrial age, if in the late 19th century, early 20th century, if you're there saying we have to actually change the way we've configured these assembly lines because the wheels are moving by too fast and people are getting repetitive strain injuries. That's kind of a boring but pragmatic solution. Now, in that early 20th century context, or the late 19th century, the sexy stuff would be, we have to rethink capitalism. What we need is to socialize the plants, or we have to have a Marxist-style revolution. That's the sexy stuff. That's big think theory. We've got to rethink how we even allocate and make profit off of capital and the alienation of labor. And that's the exciting stuff. The boring stuff was we need to give more breaks to the workers and slow down the steering wheels. I'm like that boring guy today with knowledge work. The sexy stuff is these post-capitalist visions of re-imagining the role of work and rethinking what work means in our life and how much we have to do to support ourselves and et cetera. That's the sexy, interesting stuff. And I'm in here saying, yeah, but also we have to make sure that you can't have 50 tasks on your plate at the same time. And this is a workflow system problem. It's a productivity system problem. It's a productivity system problem. It's not exciting. It's not sexy, but it's the stuff that can actually make a difference right now while we're waiting for the overthrow of capitalism. There's, I think, I think that's a good question. That's where I'm putting my, that's where I'm putting my focus though, is, uh, in the short term, overload is one of the biggest problems that I think we could solve. And the reason why I think we can solve it, by the way, is it's not a, the relationship here is one of more win-win than other type of labor issues.
Cal talks about ExpressVPN and Athletic Greens (46:32)
So the chronic overload makes workers less productive in a lot of ways. Clearly if you're in an overhead spiral, it limits the amount of good work you can produce. Clearly, if you're burnt out and leaving your job, that's bad for the employer. So, pull-based systems, where you have a small number of things on your plate at a time, but you work on them really intensely and then pull in a new thing when you finish, will probably actually, from a company's perspective or an organization's perspective, more things will get done at higher quality. Their employers will be more happy and not burn out as much. I mean, it's a, it's a bit of a win-win situation. It's just complicated. So, so this is the nice thing about this versus other labor movements we've had in the past. This is not so much labor versus management. It's more like labor and management versus complexity. The way we work now is easy. The way I'm talking about is a pain and things that are a pain take a long time to get right. Who wants to be the one that first wants to completely rethink their work? And what if it doesn't work? And I've talked about this before. It took Henry Ford years to figure out how to make the assembly line profitable until then he looked stupid. So it's a whole complicated mess, but that's where I'm putting my focus. I like flexibility in work. I like to be able to control when my hours are to some degree great, but let's fix the overload problem. We're going to get a huge immediate benefit. All right. So speaking about overload, let me talk about a couple sponsors here. Let's see. Our first sponsor is, oh no, it's Alan Jacobs. Shoot. Sorry, man. We keep doing that. Keep doing that. No, I'm joking. I like Alan. Very, very smart. Smarter than me. So read his stuff. Now we got ExpressVPN is our sponsor here. We've talked about this before, how a VPN works, why you need a VPN. VPNs are going to get you privacy and security online. And if you're going to use a VPN, use the one I use, which is ExpressVPN because they have a lot of servers all around the world and very fast speeds. You won't even know it's turned on. It's a great VPN. But they sent me some notes about a particular usage of their VPN, which I've been messing around with and think is quite cool, which is if you connect to a VPN server in another country, you can access content that is only available in that country. I've been doing this recently to get access to the BBC player in the UK, connect to an ExpressVPN server in the UK. I can now stream that regionalized BBC coverage, which right now is my favorite coverage on the war in Ukraine, so it's been quite useful. So I think that's just a nice bonus feature you get out of using a service like ExpressVPN. They have servers in over 100 countries, industry leading fast speed, very little buffering and lag, great service. And that's a cool thing you can do with it. So if you visit my special link right now at ExpressVPN.com slash deep, you can get an extra three months of ExpressVPN for free. So support the show and watch what you want while also protecting yourself with ExpressVPN at ExpressVPN.com slash deep. Also wanna talk about Athletic Greens, vpn.com slash deep. Also want to talk about Athletic Greens, the preferred daily nutritional supplement of Jesse's mom. I believe that is now the official slogan. We're going to have to have her now come back and do a review after she's tried it for a while. 100%. Yeah, we're going to get real endorsements, real endorsements, real endorsements. But I can give you my endorsement because I do use Athletic Greens AG1 nutritional supplement powder every morning. 75 high quality vitamins, minerals, and whole food source superfoods, probiotics, and adaptogens, incredibly high quality ingredients. They obsessively improve their ingredients year after year. You put it in the water, you shake it up, you add the vitamin D drops, because those have to be in liquid form until the last minute, shake that, take it. And you can be assured that you have the things you need, the things your body craves. And you know, I do my best to eat well, I do my best to eat clean, but I know I'm not hitting all the things at all times of the year. So athletic greens is my insurance, my nutritional insurance that I am getting what I need. So right now it is time to reclaim your health and arm your immune system with convenient daily nutrition, especially now that we are in the midst of flu and cold season. It's just one scoop in a cup of water every day. That's it. No need for a million different pills and supplements to look out for your health. To make it easy, Athletic Greens is going to give you a free one year supply of immune supporting vitamin D. You add that right into the daily drink. They'll also give you five free travel packs with your first purchase.
Tips For Obsessive Readers
Do you have any tips for an obsessive reader? (51:28)
All you have to do is visit athleticgreens.com slash deep. Again, that is athleticgreens.com slash deep to take ownership over your health and pick up the ultimate daily nutritional insurance. All right. So where are we at here? I think we have time. Let's fit in one more call, Jesse, and then we'll call it a day so that we'll keep this episode svelte. Sounds good. All right. The next question is about your reading habits. And a lot of people are interested in that sort of thing. And this has a twist, so we'll hear what it says. Hi, Cal. This is Emily, and I'm a grad student in molecular biology. I have a problem with reading that I've never heard you discuss. I read obsessively, and I have since I was a child. I enjoy this, but if I'm not careful, it harms the rest of my life. I don't sleep enough, I neglect responsibilities, I even miss work. Even if I manage to put a book down halfway through, thoughts of it can distract me for hours. In order to focus on finishing my PhD, I've seriously restricted my reading for pleasure. This year, the majority of my reading has been either books I've read before or books that I find a bit dull, which allows me to stop reading when appropriate. On rare occasions, I'll take a Saturday to devour something new, but mostly I see this restriction as temporary but necessary. Your usual advice of carving out time for reading every day sounds dangerous for me, so I'm curious if you have any tips or alternate approaches to manage my experience. Thanks. Well, Emily, it's a good question. Just as a brief aside before I get to your question, when we were having like a little bit of a delay just there getting the call to work, it was reminding me, Jesse, of last week the avalanche of technical errors that the listener did not realize was occurring. That was funny. I made a list and I told several people about it like over the weekend, it was funny. Yeah, Jesse made a list because thing after thing, we record these live, thing after thing was going wrong and it was so many things going wrong that Jesse started writing them down. But like, let's see if I had this straight. I was like asking you, so at some point, I was asking you about Blinkist, one of our sponsors, and you were trying to log in the Blinkist and- That was so funny. So you're asking me what Blinks I read. Yeah. And you're like, log in to Blinkist and tell me what you see on the homepage. So I go to Blinkist.com, but it's like, enter your login information. So I'm like, cause I logged in on another computer. So I had to like go to my password document, look that up. But then as soon as that's happening, like this laptop isn't great. Sometimes like the browsers crash, it crashed. You're still asking me, I'm trying to like play it off. I like seeing. And by the way, the browser is needed for playing the calls. So like the browser crashing now has like a big implication because now he can't play more calls. So yeah. And I'm talking to him at this time. Yeah, so I'm trying to like play it off, tell you what blinks I was reading. Like I was trying to think about the one that I was reading but I'm entering this so I could get it in. Yeah, and then at some point you're stuck in a captcha, right? Yeah, oh yeah, I forgot about that. Yeah, then that's why I get in there like, yeah, identify 10 vertical rivers. I was telling my buddy who does like online stuff and he's like, I had the same thing that day. So all this is going on, he has to get the next question queued up. He's trying to talk to me on camera and he has to identify vertical rivers from a large picture of, a large array of images of vertical rivers. So anyways, that's why we pay you $250,000 a month because this is, that's why you get all that sweet, sweet athletic greens money because it's a hard job. And then when we came in, you were kind of in a rush, but I couldn't do anything because the mouse had died. The mouse died and the soundboard broke. Remember the soundboard was giving static, like just a loud, large, loud static. And yeah, man, that was not our day. So we're doing pretty well. All we had was like one delayed call so far. So we're doing pretty well. All right, Emily, let's get to your, let's get to your question though. It's completely fine. What you're describing is completely fine. You're finding the types of books you're reading lead to compulsive readings. You're doing less so that you can focus on other things. That's fine. Don't read every day if it's creating that compulsion. And I think you've already landed on three solutions. One, titrating your reading to the situation. So you're up to your ears and working on a dissertation. So maybe you're reading less stuff that's unrelated to the dissertation. That's fine. Two, have a reading day. So if you like to do compulsive reading where you dive into something, you're like, yeah, I look forward to Saturdays and I go somewhere cool like a coffee shop to start. And then I go hiking and read and I can devour a whole book. And it's part of a really enriching, meaningful ritual. I think that's great. And then three, be careful about your book selection. Right? Because reading is reading, reading is good. It's your mind having to engage with complex thought structure. So yeah, read the boringer books. If it's novels that really catch your attention, then like, okay, I'm going to read a long history of World War One or something like that, so that you can still maybe have some of this exercise. But to be very careful about what you choose, I think is fine. This is much more minor than what you're talking about, but I do not like, for example, apocalyptic fiction. My brain gets too into it and gets concerned, it presses anxiety buttons or this or that. I don't like that. So I just don't read those type of books. I, you know, I don't read, I'm not going to read World War Z. I don't want to read apocalyptic tales of, you know, the earth, uh, becoming uninhabitable and everyone died. Maybe it's just hitting a little bit too close to home these days. So I avoid those types of books. Julie was really pushing on me like, Oh, you should read station 11. It's like, I can't read station 11 right now. I can't read a book about, uh, a viral pandemic that kills most of the people on earth. Like, I don't want to read that right now. I can't read a book about a viral pandemic that kills most of the people on earth. Like I don't want to read that right now. Just like with the stuff going on in Europe right now. I'm not going to read, you know, on the beach, Neville shoots on the beach, for example. Though it's kind of a cool book. Have you heard of that book? I see. No, it's there's a nuclear war. it follows, there's a crew on a submarine. So like they're alive obviously because they were underwater in a submarine and they're like going around trying to find, they end up in Australia because like the whole world's been destroyed and they kind of end up in Australia because the, the nuclear winter cloud hasn't come there, but they know the nuclear winter cloud is on its way. And it's like, they're trying to just find civilization. I found the beginning of Seveneves to apocalyptic. I was like, Oh, I had to get through that pretty quickly. I don't like that whole, the hard rain is coming. And I'll tell you the flaw in that plot flaw is it was symbolic, but they had, um, this orchestra playing in like Canterbury Cathedral as the hard rain was about to come. Like, we're going to play this concert and we're just going to die as we play it. So like we go out like celebrating humanity's greatest art as the hard rain comes. I don't buy it. They're all going to be with their families, right? I don't think they're gonna be like, sorry, family. Like I'm going to spend my last time like rehearsing and playing in an orchestra with people. So I thought that was a flaw. But anyways, the point is Emily, I can't read apocalyptic fiction and it's small, but I don't read it. So read the stuff that's working for you right now. Titrate, absolutely. Have a reading day. All of that's good. You're working on dissertation. You don't have to worry about your brain not getting worked out right now, right? It's like when you're training for a marathon, it's okay to let your Peloton habit go lax for a while. You're getting enough of that. So do not think of my daily reading or this many books a month as gospel you have to follow. Build the thing that makes sense for you. All right, Jesse, well, we're hitting up on an hour. So I think this is a good place to call it. Thank you everyone who sent in their listener calls. As I always say, if you like what you heard, you will like what you read, you can subscribe to my weekly email newsletter at calnewport.com. If you like what you heard, you'll also like what you see videos are these full episodes and each individual question I answer can be found at youtube.com slash cal Newport media. We'll be back on Monday and until then, as always, stay deep