Learn Any Hard Skill In 2024 - How To Eliminate Distraction & Master Productivity | Cal Newport
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Challenging Personal Development
Learning hard things (00:00)
So it's the new year, which means today I want to talk about one of the most critical skills for improving your life in 2024, and that is learning hard things. So in work, this could be mastering that difficult but valuable new system or methodology that's going to help you really gain control and write your own ticket in your personal life. It might be developing some sort of connoisseurship that gives you a lasting, deeper satisfaction that you're getting right now, just being distracted by the screens in your life. I want to teach you how to do this. I want to talk about how do you master not easy things, but really complicated things. And the way I'm going to do this is I'm going to start with what we get wrong. I think we have a commonly held but mistaken mental model for how people learn complex things. So we're going to start by deconstructing that mental model, and then I'm going to replace it with one that works. And from here, we're going to get some concrete advice about how you actually become better at hard things. So we'll get into all of this. So let's start with what we get wrong. I'm going to load up a picture here. So for those who are watching, instead of just listening, you'll see on the screen, I'm going to draw the mental model that most people have. You'll see on the screen here that I have a sort of hierarchy of things you might learn over on the right side. I kind of just threw this together, but from something that's perceived to be more complex towards things to be conceived to be less complex. So I put at the very top of this hierarchy, we have what is math, you know, math symbols. Like, okay, so learning complicated math equations. And then I have below it a Proust book. So I don't know, like mastering literature, some sort of complex literature. Right in the middle, maybe we have like a deep appreciation for a particular type of music. You know, I'm a, whatever, a big Tom Waits fan. I can really get into that. I don't know, below that, maybe like I, following a sport like baseball, like you have a pretty good understanding of what's happening with different teams. I put, you know, not to be self-incriminating here jesse but put at the bottom like youtube like yeah there's like i really know a lot about youtube and what's going on on youtube and so we have a hierarchy of complexity here now the way most people think about uh learning these type of master getting mastered these type of uh different topics is that everyone has a fundamental limit determined by their brain so the common mental model says for this one individual here maybe when they are thinking about you know hey i want to really master some element of music they can do that put some earphones on them in my picture here. Like, this is great. I'm capable of doing it. But maybe this same person, when they say, okay, what I really want to master is mathematics. So I can do like mathematics proofs. And our common mental model, we might say, oh, that's just beyond this person's brain. So they can't do that. Right? So we have this notion of the complexity of what you have mastered is just a direct reflection of how smart you are oh this academic has a really phd in literature has a really subtle understanding of these books that i don't even know how to approach they're smarter than me i understand music and that makes me smarter than this 22 year old who's like main interest is YouTubers, right? That's the way we think about it. This model is wrong. So this idea that your brain is determining the level of complexity of stuff that you're able to comfortably master completely misunderstands how learning happens. So what I want to do here is present to you the reality, and I'm going to present to you the reality here in two parts that we can think of as the good news and the bad news. So the good news and the bad news about how people actually learn complicated things. Now, the good news is most people are cognitively capable of learning things that are pretty high up on that imagined hierarchy of complexity. That you can learn complicated literature. You can learn mathematical things. You can learn an appreciation of a complicated sport or music. Most people can learn most things. music. Most people can learn most things. Now, is there a brain power difference that comes into play here? Well, there's stuff that shows up. I mean, I think certainly by adulthood, you get a sense people have different RPMs going on with their brains. I tend to believe that a lot of this is less genetic than it is just what you did as a child. If you're a heavy reader as a child, for example, your brain has just been trained to be stronger much in the same way. If you're Arnold Schwarzenegger and your dad made you do pushups and squats before you would be given a meal, you're going to be stronger by the age of 19 than someone else. Right. So I tend to think the RPMs you have going is as much nurture as it is nature. But yeah, there are some differences, but that difference is where is this going to affect learning complicated things? The upper end, which is not going to be relevant to most people, it's like almost anyone can learn calculus. Yeah, maybe not everyone, however, is going to be a Fields Award winner. But most people don't care. They're not trying to become Fields Award winners. You might also see it in some speed differences and how fast you make progress towards learning things. There's some, some, some Epsilons there, depending on how used to that your brain is. But again, for most people, no one knows exactly at what rate you mastered something. So it doesn't really matter. So I think for the most part, I'm going to argue most people can learn most things. So you can learn almost anything. Part two of the reality, and this is the bad news, you can learn almost anything, but you can't learn everything. So I think what is obscured when you encounter people who have a mastery of something really complicated, what is obscured is that it took them a really long time to get to that place. is that it took them a really long time to get to that place. We jump ahead and just imagine them a month ago, just picked up the math textbook and was like, ooh, this just makes sense to me. And then everyone kind of applause and they're really good at math and they're obviously smarter than you. No, there's a long process that we're going to unfold here in a second of how they build up to that expert knowledge. The reason why this means you can't learn everything is that it takes time. Time is finite. So there's only gonna be so many complicated things you can learn because you only have so much time to put into it and it takes a lot of time to actually get there. So this is the big mental model shift I wanna start us making right now is thinking about learning the complexity of what you learned, shifting this away from brain power and towards time investment. More time means more complexity can be learned. Less time means less complexity can be learned. Brain power is sort of orthogonal to all of this. So let's fill in this mental model. I'm going to draw another picture here that I think captures well what the process really looks like when you're trying to learn something hard. So for those who are listening instead of watching, what you'll see I'm drawing here is a bunch of stair steps. And we can put some goal at the top. So, you know, I'll put a music note at the top. You're trying to master, have a good understanding of jazz music or something like this. The way you actually progress towards hard understanding is up stairs, level by level. Now, here's what's important. When you're at a given level of understanding, so like, let's say you're right here. Your brain is only capable when you're at a given level of understanding so like let's say you're right here your brain is only capable when you're moving up your level of understanding of making a relatively small step at a time that's why these steps are small multiple steps to get from down here where you know in this example nothing about jazz music many steps until you get up here to being able to talk really intelligently about it. So it's from your current level, you move up to the next level. Now, how these steps are actually made. So how does this actually happen here and here and here? Deliberate practice. Carefully designed exercises that push your understanding to the next level in a way that takes you out of what you're already comfortable with. There has to be some strain into that. So in order for this step to be successfully had at each of these levels, you have to stretch past where you're comfortable, right? It's the kind of practice aspect of deliberate practice. It's not fun. I'm not comfortable. I don't really understand this thing and I'm stretching myself to try to understand it. And the activity you're doing is carefully designed. This is the right next level to actually move up to. That's the deliberate piece of deliberate practice. So when you see someone like, wow, this person has a lot of expert knowledge of complicated things, in their past, they have done these stair steps. Now there's various cultural professional structures that help drive you through these stair steps, right? So if you're an academic, I mean, I'm an academic. One of the things I do is theoretical computer science. I write mathematical proofs related to algorithms and computability and complexity. If you encounter a paper I wrote, you might say, I don't understand any of this. I can't imagine just like sitting down and learning all of this. But what you have to realize for me is that that process started when I was about 16 years old. And the education process, as you move up the ranks, high school to advanced high school, to undergrad, to grad school, into young professoredom, is it's designed to push you step by step by step with literal tests. You know, okay, you're now taking AP computer science, right? I took that when I was young. You're taking literal tests. In order to master that test, you had to gain new knowledge. It pushes you to the next level. And then after AP computer science, because I was good at this stuff, I started taking some college courses in computer science. That had, okay, that's pushing me a little bit farther. Now I go to college and I can take the more advanced courses. It's pushing you farther. I get to MIT and now these courses are much harder, but I've gone up 17 steps before I got to taking Theory of Computation with Mike Sipser, step by step by step. Hey, quick interruption. If you want my free guide with my seven best ideas on how to cultivate the deep life, go to calnewport.com ideas or click the link right below in the description this is a great way to take action on the type of things we talk about here on this show all right let's get back to it by the time you encounter me at the age of like 35 like oh you you know all this stuff like yeah it was a really long climb up the steps really long climb up the the staircase same thing when someone has, how does this guy know so much about music? Well, probably he was exposed to it early on and his dad or mom really got him into it. And step by step, they got knowledge. So if you want to cultivate expert knowledge now in your life, you have to replicate all of these steps. Your goal is on what is the next step of understanding I can take, is on what is the next step of understanding I can take, not how far am I from the top. It's a consistent stair step upwards. This requires patience because the ladder up is long and it requires expert help because choosing the right activities that move you to a new level and are tractable but not trivial. this is the key dichotomy for deliberate practice to be effective tractable but not trivial you can accomplish this next step but it can't be super easy because you're not actually stretching that could require expert help and that could be found by actually working with real experts that can be found in courses that can be learned found in books that can be found in books. It can be found in choosing careful goals for what you want to do next and then seeking out help anywhere you can, online, in-person courses to get to that next step and accomplish that goal. So just the careful choices of goals can get you there. But it's patience and this careful expert-guided design of how you move, that's how people get smarter and smarter or seemingly smarter and smarter. It just takes time and it takes care. So is this worth it? Well, I think the answer is yes. The brain is what distinguishes humans. Our brains distinguish us from other animals. We have this ability that Aristotle talks about in the Nicomachean Ethics. We have this ability that no one else has to contemplate deeply, to aim our brain at abstract ends. Dogs don't do this. Cats don't do this. Parakeets don't do this. Humans can't. Aristotle would say this is perhaps the ultimate teleology of the human experience the thing that we are wired to do ultimately is to use our brain in these exalted ways because that's what defines us as human so we want to push our humanness it is a key element of life you're missing if there are not things in your life that you know that are hard, that are complicated, and you can do very well. To have that in your life in some sense, in an Aristotelian sense, is to be more human. So what I recommend, especially for younger people, is here's what you want almost to be aiming towards right away. Something in your professional life that's complicated that you do well, better than anyone else you know at your company or organization. Right out the bat, what is a complicated skill here? Really good at programming these type of data systems. We're an SAP company, like being able to build advanced models using statistical analysis, a type of art, you're a graphic designer for a video game company and pushing whatever the latest is and doing some sort of 3D modeling, something that is really complicated and valuable that you know well. Just set that standard right away. In your personal life, you should have the same. Everyone should have one thing that they're working towards just being really good with. I really understand movies. I really understand wine. Not like a casual, I kind of read about this, but I got a sommelier certificate. Not just like I go to the theaters, but I could write and I do sometimes contribute reviews to online publications about movies. There is something deeply satisfying in feeling the mastery of complicated things. It's uniquely human. I think a lot of people avoid it. A lot of people do not have this in their life, and it leads to this distinction. There's people who do that stuff, and I don't know how to do that stuff, and either that leads you to feel down on yourself unjustifiably, or it makes you real reactionary and angry. These elites think they're so smart. Neither is great. Neither is healthy from a mental health perspective. We all should be trying to master at least some complicated things. Now, this could take years. You're going to see progress along the way, but you want to get really good at something hard. It could take years. Start right now. You will get benefits along the way. You'll get better and better. But don't pull yourself up short. I know a little bit more about this than just the average person. That's great. Keep pushing. You want to push some knowledges to this connoisseur level. It really is, I think, a key part of the deep life because it unlocks in you an understanding of what your brain is capable of. The final question is, where are you going to get the time? Where are you going to find the time? Where are you going to find the time to have one or two of these projects you're working on? And honestly, and look, this is a show about technology and how it impacts our lives. This might be a non-surprising, but this is where you're going to find the time. Stop spending time on the phone. If you have nothing in your life that you feel like you're a real expert on, I'm going to guess without knowing for sure that your screen time statistics aren't great. That you're getting that dopamine push towards the screen where there's going to be something funny or outrageous or distracting or whatever on there. And this is eating up time after time after time. Put that phone into the foyer, phone foyer method. New Year is a great time to do this. The phone is plugged in in my kitchen or the foyer. If I need it, I can go there to look something up, but it's not with me as a default. It's not with me at the couch. It's not with me at the dinner table. It's not with me, God forbid, in the bathroom. Now your brain gets some freedom. It wants something to do. Let's give it something to do. We're moving up the next stair level on this work skill. We're moving up the next stair level on this personal life skill. This really will, that's why I wish it for everyone in the new year, is really going to change the way you feel about yourself, your efficacy, your ability to actually do important, useful things with your brain. So you can't, you can learn learn anything you just can't learn everything so choose a few things that are worth learning and trick a lot of people into thinking that you're smarter than you actually are because the more complicated the stuff goes the more they're going to just think that you're a big brain and i think it's worth it so there you go jesse i think too many people think they're stupider than they are because of this image of, you know, for some people, this quote unquote comes easy. There is no coming easy. It's the exact same as muscles. Yeah. Yeah. Some people grow faster than others, but it takes a really long time. A lot of cycles of cutting and building. They look like a superhero. It just takes time. What's something you work on in your personal life? Movies. I've been, I'm working on a movie knowledge i want to get to and i'm working on this systematically um i want to get to the level where i can contribute reviews oh i feel like you'll be able to do that don't you think like good reviews you know like really understand uh really understand the the art and form of cinema like what's going on. I also, another way of looking at it is I don't want to be surprised by the good reviews. Like in other words, I want to be able to predict, oh, I know kind of what Anthony Lane's probably going to say about this movie and not have to, and I'm getting closer at that. Like I know David Dimby's going to write about this. Like getting closer to that, as opposed to like, I don't know, is this a good movie? Let's read the reviews. Oh, they really love this movie. So it's like I want to be able to be non-surprised by the really good reviews, and I want to be capable of, hey, I could provide a review for an online site, and this is an insightful review. We should probably put a movie and show site on the deeplife.com. I think we should. Because there's a lot of times I have my own list. Well, we should keep track of all the books, and we should keep track of movie recommendations. Because it would be a good place for people to go if they wanted something good to watch. Two movies I just watched was, I had never remembered seeing Kurosawa seven samurai also just watched jeff uh got tim gun not tim gun what what's the not the guy from the uh movie maker gun but i just forgot if it's james gun i think it's james gun the the director who did Guardians of the Galaxy was temporarily cancelled and now DC has brought him back to play the Kevin Feige role for the DC Extended Cinematic Universe. I believe his name is James Gunn whereas Tim Gunn was the fashion designer from Project Runway. I often mix up those two names. I think it's James Gunn. The Suicide Squad, 2021. Fantastic. Like Tarantino. He's the CEO of DC Studios. Yeah. Watch The Suicide Squad, 2021. Tarantino-esque comic book movie. Completely playing with the B-movie format, over-the-top violence, but also visually completely novel, hyperactive camera, throwing in actual deep themes and interesting characterization against this backdrop of craziness it is if as you had said the tarantino make a comic book movie completely off the wall fantastic movie i really like that do you watch all your movies in the same like tv etc with like surround sound or yeah i have a good tv yeah yeah surround sound yeah we set that up during the the subwoofers and everything too we set that up during the pandemic um and i see a lot of movies i mean we're recording not the not the pull back the curtain but we're recording this before christmas uh this week i'm seeing tonight i'm going to see maestro with a friend of mine and then later in the week another friend of mine we're gonna go see big screen die hard in honor of christmas so how many movies do you watch a week it just depends too it depends on what's going on with yeah like the evenings and child care and stuff like that and my schedule i like if i have a light schedule i like to take a day and do a lunchtime movie watching at home but so if i have freedom in my schedule I'll take a day and watch a movie over lunch. That helps. All right. Anyways, I talk about this, by the way, in the new book, Slow Productivity, coming out in March. I talk about my growing interest in movies and how for anyone who does creative work, studying and building up a good appreciation for an unrelated creative field actually can really help what you're doing. And I write about a slow productivity about studying films as helping my writing. If you study, if I study good writers, it's too close to home. And it's kind of a more of a stressful workman. Like it's not inspiring. It's more, uh, I should do more of that. Or it's more anxiety producing, but you study art in another format. You can come at that. It's like, I don't do that art. So you can just appreciate it with open eyes and it gives you an injection of creative energy for what you're doing. So I'm a big, I talk about this a lot. It's not a lot, but I do talk about it in slow productivity, studying an art. That's not what you do will make you more inspired for what you do actually do. All right. Speaking of which, we got questions from you, the listeners, on this topic. Before we get there, I want to mention one of the sponsors that makes this show possible. Oh, there we go. Add sound effect. I forgot, Jesse. Let's do that again. Let's do it clean. Yeah. Now we can that again. Let's do it clean. Yeah. Now we can talk sponsors. All right. I want to talk about ZocDoc. Little known story about ZocDoc, Jesse. The company was actually started first with just the name. People just like saying ZocDoc.com. And then they had to say, what's a really useful business we could do now that we have this awesome, easy to pronounce name ZocDoc.com. And that's where they figured out, wait a second, it is a huge pain to find schedule appointments with good doctors or other types of medical care providers. Why don't we use our awesome name, ZocDoc.com to help with that problem. And this is exactly what they did. So now if you're trying to find whatever type of medical care you need, you can go onto the ZocDoc app, find providers near you, find providers that take your insurance, find providers that are taking new clients, find providers that have good reviews from actual patients. You can hone in on exactly the right provider to work with and sign up right there. Once you're actually seeing a doctor you found through ZocDoc, a lot of these medical providers and doctors will use the ZocDoc package to handle things like paperwork ahead of time, appointment reminders. I have two different doctors in my life that use the ZocDoc systems, and it just is much easier. A lot of stuff just happens through text messages. So it really is just one of these ideas that makes sense. How do I find a doctor that checks all the boxes I need? Why can't my phone help me with this? It can. ZocDoc.com is the app that is going to do this for you it is a free app and website let's emphasize that a free app and website that allows you to search and compare highly rated in-network doctors near you and instantly book those appointments with them online as mentioned you can book them immediately no way down hold with a receptionist we have doctors with reviews from actual verified patients. Thousands of top-rated patient-reviewed doctors are in the system. It's just the right way to find a medical provider. So if you've been putting off something, you have that weird growth on your foot that you've been putting off taking care of, now it's the new year. It's the time to do it. ZocDoc is how you're going to get started. So go to ZocDoc.com slash deep and download the ZocDoc app for free. You can use it to find a book, Top Rated Doctors Today. That's Z-O-C-D-O-C.com slash deep. ZocDoc.com slash deep. Just before we started recording, Jesse, I got a text from my dentist who uses ZocDoc, a reminder about something. So it a text from my dentist who uses ZocDoc. A reminder about something. So it works. Makes my life easier right away. This show is also sponsored by Better Help. For some people, the holiday season that just passed was a time of joy and togetherness, but most of those people exist only in the world of Hallmark movies. For a lot of people, it's stressful. And for those who are struggling some with their own minds, ruminations, negative thinking, the holidays can make things a lot worse. Well, that means right now in the new year is the time to actually take care of yourself, to take care of your relationship with the most important part of you, which is your mind. Therapy is what's going to help you do this. We hear from dozens of listeners who talk about going through therapy as a way to repair their relationship with their brain and how this then unlocked all these other things they wanted to do, these aspirations to cultivate a deeper life. They had to get past these obstacles in their own brain first, and therapy made that all possible. Now, the issue with therapy is, again, logistically, it is difficult to find a practitioner. Is there someone who happens to be nearby? Are they taking new patients? What if I don't like them? This is awkward. They're the only therapist in my town. I have to somehow stop working with them and I'm going to see them all the time. This is where something like BetterHelp enters the scene and makes all of this much easier. It's entirely online. It's designed to be convenient, flexible, and suited to your schedule. You just fill out a brief questionnaire to get matched with a licensed therapist. You can switch your therapist anytime for no additional charge. So by leveraging the distance obliterating capabilities of the internet, BetterHelp makes it easier for you right away to get connected and starting therapy. So celebrate the progress you've already made and visit betterhelp.com slash deep questions today to get 10% off your first month. That's betterhelp.com slash deep questions. All right, speaking of questions, Jesse, let's do our questions.
Techniques For Effective Learning
When it comes to taking notes, what really matters? (27:23)
Hi, first questions from Mark. What is note-taking for? I found note-taking most useful in the short term, grounding me in my current task or noting a few to-dos throughout the day. Almost all of them are immediately disposable. It seems like note-taking can become fairly navel-gazing and doing it excessively takes away from execution. It's a good question because we see this a lot in our discussions of organization. Notes and note-taking is an excessively broad term. It covers lots of different things. And for a lot of people like Mark, these things get all mixed up and they're thinking, well, I don't know. I'm sitting here journaling all day. Is this note-taking? What should I be doing? What should I not be doing? So what I want to do here is step back. Let's give a general definition for note-taking. And then I want to highlight what I think the three critical types of note-taking systems you need in your life if you work any sort of knowledge job. And then we can, from there, move on to talk about more advanced options. And then we can, from there, move on to talk about more advanced options. So let's define note-taking more generally to mean recording information on a durable written medium. So anywhere you're collecting information in a written medium that's durable, that you have it outside of your head so you can reference it later. Here are the three types of this note-taking that I think are critical, especially for most knowledge workers. One, some sort of working memory extender. This is where I use my text file on my desktop of my computers, workingmemory.txt. This is for strictly expanding the amount of information you can temporarily hold on to as you engage with the inflow of information throughout your workday. So as things come in, you're in a meeting and people are suggesting next steps, you can just write this information down in whatever medium you use for your working memory extender, because it's probably more information you can keep in your head. So there it is. I write it down right there. Or I'm going through my email inbox and I need to remember different notes I need to act on, schedule this, get back to them. I can write it into my working memory dot extender. These are notes that exist outside of your own brain, allows you to hold on and organize more information than you could do just strictly within the confines of your own neurons. Now, this is something that resets all the time. It's a durable form, but you reset it all the time. So as I'm going through a meeting, I'm taking quick notes on here's the five things I need to do. After that meeting, those notes will then get processed out of my working memory file into calendar reminders, into my obligation system. So it's a temporary storage, but it allows me in the moment to keep track of more things that my brain can do on its own. That's note-taking, but of a very temporary type. Next comes what I just cited, which is your obligation tracker. Some system to maintain all of the relevant information for every obligation on your plate. This is also note-taking, written, durable information that you don't have to keep track of in your head. So somewhere here are all the things I have to do, probably categorized. Here is all of the information related to each of these things all in this one place. You want that information accessible and captured somewhere. That's note-taking. Then finally, we get to what most people think of when they think about note taking. And this is more where you're capturing key ideas about your work and your life. Could be interesting ideas, interesting articles, brainstorms, concerns that you have. This is the broad category that captures what people normally think about in note taking. I might be journaling my thoughts about things. I might be writing down my plans for how I want to improve my life. I might be capturing articles that are relevant to the newsletter that I run and things I want to remember. And this is where you're going to use whatever type of system you like to capture things in. You have a lot of different choices here. All three of these things are note-taking. You need some sort of system for each. All three of these things are note-taking. You need some sort of system for each. So in my own life, I use a plain text file for working memory. I use Trello for obligation tracking notes, one board per role, one column per type of obligation, one card per obligation, all of the relevant information for that obligation on the card. And I use my Remarkable 2 digital notebook for everything else. Inside my Remarkable 2, I have dozens of different individual virtual notebooks for keeping track of ideas, reflections, concerns, et cetera. So those are the three categories, Mark. Do those three categories, different tools for each, different rates of refresh and reset for each working memory. You're resetting this every 10 minutes or so. Your obligation list you're working with every day. Your bigger idea capture is something you maybe go over in detail much less often. Hey, I'm going to have a summit now to rethink this part of my business. Let me go back and look through my notes. Maybe that's just once every few months or so. So that's really it. There are more complicated systems and methodologies. We have a lot of fans here of Zettelkasten type systems. We also have a lot of fans here of interesting note-taking software that really gets into the details of how you store notes, how you connect notes, that really gets into the details of how you store notes, how you connect notes, the format in which the notes are stored. That is optional. It's more about your interest. If you like information management as a hobby, you can build more complicated systems around it, but you don't need complicated systems to successfully take notes. Those are the three areas you have to take notes. Just make sure those are all three covered with some sort of reasonable techno system. And then you're doing a fine job. I think that separation is key. Don't mix all this stuff together. Don't have a moleskin somewhere in which you're trying to keep your tasks next to your vision for living on a cabin in 20 years next to a grocery list you want to remember when you go to the store. We need some separation for note-taking to keep up with the complexity of modern life. All right, what do we got next, Jesse? Next question is from Rishabh. As a 26-year-old software developer who has recently landed a well-paying job, I'm looking to pursue my interest in learning to play the guitar, drawing, and some days gardening.
Can I fit all of my hobbies into my week? (33:38)
However, I'm concerned about whether it's feasible to schedule all these activities into a single week while maintaining a focus on deep life core fundamentals. In your expert opinion, would it be possible to balance all these pursuits effectively within a given week without compromising on essential life habits? Well, I think this is a objective question for which you can get an objective answer by becoming quantitative. So let's just work with your calendar. I'm assuming you're professionally speaking, you're organized, you time block your days, you have a clear shutdown. There's some clarity about your time outside of work. Play with that time. So start autopilot scheduling some of these hobbies. Maybe you garden on weekday mornings. Maybe you alternate a guitar practice session and what was the other thing? Drawing practice session on different days. You do it an hour before dinner, autopilot this out, see if it fits. And if the stuff does fit, execute this autopilot schedule for a while and say, does this feel sustainable? Or do I feel like I'm, I'm constantly running from one thing to another, or it's overfilling my time. I used to run this exercise with undergraduates who are trying to figure out their academic programs, their extracurricular programs. And I would say, we got to sit down and just build a plan for your proposal here. You want to do these five extracurriculars and double major? Show me the time. Then they would go through and block off the time for studying and how long is this going to take and put on their meetings and the time to work on their activities. And it either fit or it didn't. And sometimes if it just barely fit, they would come back a week later and say, this is crazy. Every minute of my life is scheduled. So if it doesn't fit or it fits and your life feels too crowded, then you just pull back. You're getting an objective feedback here. You pull back and it doesn't matter if you're pulling back. These are hobbies. The thing is you want to be spending quality time outside of work on things that matter. The quantity isn't important. So if it doesn't fit or it barely fits, maybe you do seasonal pursuits. In the spring, I'm working a lot on my garden. And in the winter, I'm spending a lot more time on guitar because that's sort of inside. And I do drawing in the fall. You could have seasonal pursuits. You could stack these one over another. Or maybe what you need to do is just slow down your ambition for these pursuits. And instead of saying, look, I'm going to do four hours of guitar a day and I want to be shredding in like six months, you say, I'm going to spend less time. Good, hard practice, like we talked about the deep dive, trying to move up the stair steps towards expert knowledge but i'm just willing for this to take longer a few years from now i'll be a pretty good guitar player but i'm playing you know just an hour every other day that doesn't take up as much time i'm doing so i have a drawing class i take once a week and on fridays i get out of work early and go to a park to work on the drawing this is maybe i'm going to learn these skills slower but that makes their footprint on my schedule smaller and I have more give and more flexibility and don't feel like I'm overscheduled. So treat this like a quantitative question. Get clear feedback. If it's too much, reduce or slow down. It doesn't really matter for your goal here, which is just to make sure that you're engaged in deeper pursuits. That's what matters, not the speed at which you're getting better at things, not the quantity of things that you're actually going after. All right, who do we got next? Next question is from Craig. I'm a college student trying to be more smart about how I study and organize my learning. I'm relatively new to this stuff. Strangely, most productivity tips on YouTube are about the top 10 to-do lists and note-taking apps.
Can YouTube teach me to be a better student? (37:27)
Will I be less effective if I don't use one of those apps? It seems like a lot of work and setup to learn all those apps to be efficient, and I dread thinking about the heavy lifting prep those apps require. What should I do? Well, I think my answer here at first is going to be ironic because you may be listening to this answer on YouTube, but I'm going to tell you in a second why what I'm about to say here is not oxymoronic. Don't use YouTube to get advice on studying. So when you're getting information, especially information on improving your life, you have to understand the incentive structures in place. improving your life, you have to understand the incentive structures in place. And for people who are purely doing YouTube, so I'm, if you're a pure study habits, YouTuber, the incentive structure is for views. That's what you look about. That's what we care about. I want more views on my videos. They get more views on your videos on YouTube. You have to work with the idiosyncratic properties of the recommendation algorithm. And you get into this feedback loop where your content morphs more and more towards what's giving you this better feedback from the algorithm. And after a while, it's the algorithm specifying your content. So you may be started out as a YouTuber saying, I want to help students study better because this is an audience out there that cares about this. And after six months of interacting with the algorithm, it's the top 10 to-do list apps or whatever because this is what's getting them the best view numbers. The advice might have very little to do, however, with the nuts and bolts of becoming a better student. So the incentive view numbers. The advice might have very little to do, however, with the nuts and bolts of becoming a better student. So the incentive structure matters. So if you want to become a better student, and this is going to sound very self-serving, but I'm going to say, read my book, How to Become a Straight A Student. Now, why is that better? Because what is the incentive structure of books? When you write a book like How to Become a Straight A Student, let me tell you this from experience. This is not a a we're going to go hard out of the gate there's going to be a number one new york times bestseller i'm going to be on the today show talking about this book and every major podcaster wants to have me on that is not the play when you write a book on student advice the play is this better work so some people will buy this because they heard about it from me or saw it on a table. I'm embarrassed to admit this, Jesse, but when that book came out, it was my first year at grad school at MIT. I would sometimes go to the Harvard co-op, as they call it, the coop, and it was on tables. I'd kind of hang around. People would pick up the book and look at it, but that's like how people discovered it at first. I didn't have a social, there was no social media back then. It wasn't on a big podcast. People would find it on tables and then it's all word of mouth. And what is going to make someone recommend a book to someone else? This worked. This made me get better grades. You should read it. My kids' grades got better after they read this. So what you want to look for, if you want to align incentive structures with advice here is where you want to find a book on student study habit advice that just had a quiet entry into the marketplace and over time sell, sell, sell, sells. And I just looked it up before the show. I think the sales on how to become a straight A student is approaching 250,000 copies. A book that has never had any major promotion has never been talked about on a single major podcast show or had any footprint on social media. That's all word of mouth. So there you verify the incentive there for me to make that book sell that many copies. I was obsessed about this better work. What really works? So books have a better incentive structure surrounding their information than YouTube does. So you buy my book or any other book that has sold a lot of copies that focus on this topic, you're much more likely to get advice that works. And you're not going to hear anything about note-taking apps or to-do list in that book. My book gets right down to the brass tacks of what are the different academic tasks you have to do? What is the right way to do these? How do you take information from a textbook and learn it efficiently to the point that you can do well on a test? How do you write a paper? How do you break that down into multiple steps so that it's a good paper that you're going to get good grades on? How do you learn mathematics to the level that you can sit down for a mathematics exam and get a really good score on it? Well, here's exactly how you want to organize your notes. Here's how you should study. These would make excessively boring YouTube videos from the perspective of the algorithm, but they also lead to notably high GPAs. All right, so now let's come back to the oxymoronic fallacy early on. Aren't you hearing advice now on YouTube? Well, here's how I exempt what we're doing here, is that if you're watching this on YouTube, what you are seeing is the video of a podcast. Right? The podcast is the game here. We put the video of the podcast on YouTube. Podcasting has a good incentive structure. It's similar to books. There is not an algorithm to please. In other words, there's not a hard, inscrutable, complex feedback mechanism that drives your content in podcasting. It is just like books. If someone likes your show, they will tell someone else about it and your audience grows a little bit. And that's how podcasts grow is people find what you're talking about to be effective enough that they will then go on to tell someone else about it. So that's what I think saves us here. If you're watching this on YouTube is that what we're trying to do is get more podcast listeners. And I see that the exact same way as trying to get more book readers, the stuff's got to work. We play some tricks with the thumbnails and the titles to try to get some algorithmic juice. Our YouTube guy does that, but the content comes out of the podcast. So I think incentive structures matter. So I think incentive structures matter. So keep that in mind. So peer YouTubers are not necessarily a great source of advice on a lot of topics. You want to find sources of advice where the incentive structure is for the advice to work. That's what's going to make it actually do better. All right, let's keep rolling. Jesse, what do we got next? Next question's from Emil.
How do I figure out what to learn next? (43:43)
I've reached a point in my career where I'm at the top level for my discipline. I'm trying to figure out what to do next. I want to learn something new, but I also don't want it to be random. Any thoughts? Start a YouTube channel. That'd be ironic. You got to start a YouTube channel and crush that algorithm. The key is, and Emil, I can't emphasize this enough, is to be really emphatic about asking people to crush that subscribe button, hit the bell notification button so that you can get your 5% bump in YouTube subscribers. Now, Emil, it's a good question. It's a very hard question. And that's what I want to emphasize. Figuring out what to get good at next, especially in a professional field, is a question that you should treat with a lot of respect because the answers aren't obvious. This is actually good news. Most people do not spend enough time trying to understand what is worth getting better at. So they choose things randomly and some people randomly choose a skill that ends up to be really valuable and it really helps their career. And most people don't. You can game the system by actually thinking about this question. So you're absolutely right to say, I don't want to just learn something random. Don't. Deconstruct your field. Look at people who are farther ahead of you in your field, whose current position is set up you admire and try to understand how they got there. What were the key things they did that allowed them to move ahead? Was it particular numbers, knowledge of a new system? Did they take over a different niche? Get hard evidence about what matters in your field and use that to make a really good educated bet on what's going to pay off well, and then put your energy on there. bet on what's going to pay off well, and then put your energy on there. Most people wander in their jobs through the landscape of possible skills, some of which have higher value in a sort of metaphorical fitness landscape here than others. And people just randomly walk around here and some people wander up the high hills. If you're being systematic, you can just go straight uphill, get a bigger return, bigger return for your efforts. So I'm glad you asked that question in the mail because I'm going to say that's the right question to ask. Don't be thrown by the fact that it's hard to answer. That's what makes it important. All right. Let's see what we got next here. Ooh, Jesse, I am going to label this next question as this week's slow productivity corner question. Let's get some slow productivity theme music please for those who don't know in honor of my book slow productivity which comes out in march we like to have one question every episode that is relevant to my philosophy of slow productivity. If you want to find out more about that book and get a excerpt, so you can dive into these ideas right away, go to calnewport.com slash slow. All right, Jesse, what is our slow productivity corner question of the day? All right, this question is from Gabrielle.
How do I learn something fast when I already have a busy schedule? (46:42)
I'm 15 years old in school and learning app development for two months so I can launch a business I've been planning. Exams are coming up and I have a paper to write. My deadline is to be able to code a high quality app by the start of the year. Currently I wake up, do my routine, then code every day for two hours in the morning and on days where I don't have school I work for sessions of two hours and I take breaks in between on an ideal non-school day I get in eight hours, but occasionally I'll only get six hours of coding done. For people in situations similar to mine, what's the best way to focus on rapidly learning the skills necessary to do well in the industry slash job you're trying to get into, even if you have large obligations that might take up most of the days of the year. Okay. So I'm already burnt out just listening to the question. I mean, even like the freneticism of this question, I do this, but also this, and sometimes these hours and how to get more hours. What I'm going to suggest here is slowing down. All right. Now here's the model I want you to think about is the model we talked about during the deep dive earlier in this episode. I gave this model for how do people learn complicated things. It's this slow process of step, step, step. And each step requires time invested into a deliberate activity that pushes you to a new level of skill. If you want to get really good at app development to the level where you could actually sustain a serious business, you've got a lot of steps in your future. This is not the way that you're thinking about it, which I think aligns with the false model of skill acquisition we talked about in that deep dive. This is not a situation where if you just get after it for a few months, you're going to be programming the next Roblox. You have a lot of these little steps you have to do, and each one takes some time. There's a refractory period of recharging. It's just not something you're going to be able to force. So I'm going to suggest you slow down the rate at which you learn how to do this. You're a student. You're in school. You have exams coming up. You should be doing very little of this during exam time. And then you have a little bit more come in during the after exams. And then it slows back down again when it's back to another busy period during school. Now, here's the thing. In the short term, you will feel like you're making less progress. And that's true. If you take a slower approach, natural pace, so less at once, taking longer with ups and downs your intensity in the period of, let's say, the next three months, the slower approach will get you a lot less far than just getting after it like you're talking about here. I want to get eight hours in each week and where can I find more time to code? So after three months, you will feel like you're going unnaturally slow and you'll be worse off. Fast forward out to a year or two years, you will be in a much higher level of skill with a slower approach than the fast approach. Why? Because the fast approach, you'll burn out after a few months, trying to fit every hour doing coding. You're realizing you can't jump from here to be an expert app developer anyways. It's going to be frustrating. You only have so much time. You're 15. And so you'll build up some basic skills and burnout and go back to like, can I just play video games or do one of these things where I can just like make easy progress and I don't want to bother with it. Whereas the slow approach is sustainable. Step, step, step. A year goes by. Step, step, step. Slow periods, faster periods, but always making over time progress up this ladder. A year goes by. You're higher up these staircases, much higher than you were when you began. Another year goes by. Now you're at the top of a flight of metaphorical stairs where you're really able to program very professionally. And as you're approaching college, you have a lot of options. It's helping you get into technical schools. It's opening up side hustle capabilities that are really cool. Maybe it allows you to work part time and pay all your college bills. Like all these things are open up, but it took two years of step, step, step. There's a key slow productivity principle. Take longer, vary your pace. And it comes up again and again. In my book, I talk about example after example. There's a whole part of the book, work at a natural pace, where I get into this. People who do cool things work this way. They don't just decide, I'm going to write Hamilton. I'm going to become a great novelist. I'm going to become a great artist. Let's get after it for three months and then I'm going to write Hamilton. I'm going to become a great novelist. I'm going to become a great artist. Let's get after it for three months and then I'm there. Some of that idea that this is how people get really good at things. And I think this is made. I think this is true. People might think it's an exaggeration. I think for young people, it comes from video games. Video games are expertly calibrated to require like a month or two of you, you get better each day you play it. And after a month or two, you've mastered it. Like the, the cycle of a big video game is a one to three months to finish the game playing fairly regularly, but not all the time. So we're used to the cycle of, you know, I first started playing whatever the game is called the duty black ops. And I was really bad at it. And then after three months, I do pretty well when I'm playing online. And then we sort of build this mental model about how long it takes to get good at things. But most things that are valuable take a lot longer. If you could get good at them in three months, a lot of people would do that to extract a value, and then the value of it would plummet. So things take time, take longer, vary your pace. So things take time, take longer, vary your pace. This is a patience game, but sustainability over time is going to aggregate more skill than having these temporary bursts that then fizzle out. All right, so that's why I'm going to call this my slow productivity question of the day, because slowing down, though frustrating right now, is going to get you to a much cooler place one to two years from now. All right, there we go, Jesse, the slow productivity corner. frustrating right now is going to get you to a much cooler place one to two years from now. All right, there we go, Jesse. The slow productivity corner. All right, let's do a call. Do we have a call? Yes, we do. All right, let's hear what we have here. Hey, Cal, this is Karan, and I am back in the cabin doing my annual tradition where I find a place, submerge myself in solitude, and read books and just think deeply about how I want to live my life.
How does “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” relate to “Slow Productivity”? (52:50)
And I am reading currently one of the books that I'm reading in my rotation is So Good They Can't Ignore You. It's one of the last two books in your canon that I have not read fully. So as I'm reading the book, it hit me, and you've said this in a previous episode, where all the books that you have written address an exigence that you are currently conflicted with. So I'm using that term kind of loosely from Fitcher's rhetorical situation, where there is a problem that the mass culture is dealing with, and you're the speaker that has the quote-unquote solution for that. And then you're dealing with certain constraints. And so, so good they can't ignore you. You're fighting against the passing hypothesis. Deep work, how do I get now the skills I need to build up that career capital? And I can go so on and so on with digital minimalism and a world without email. But to not belabor the point and to get to my question, I'm wondering how does slow productivity address the exigence you're currently dealing with? And so I see it in so good they can't ignore you. You've always in the back of your mind been thinking about this slow productivity. Like how do I see myself in five years, in 10 years, building this thing I need now instead of thinking of the immediate moment? So you've always been kind of building up to this. But I'm curious, how does slow productivity address the exigent you are trying to work with now? Thanks, Cal. Well, Karan, that's a great question. I can tell you exactly where that came from, where slow productivity comes from as a book. so good they can't ignore you, was me confronting the passion hypothesis as part of, in my own life, answering the question as a postdoc at MIT, how do you cultivate a career that's going to be a source of passion? That was a really important question to me at the time because I was about to make a career decision, which might be the last career decision I ever made, setting myself on the tenure track. And so I really wanted to understand, how do you cultivate a working life that you really love? And So Good They Can't Ignore You came out of that quest. One of the big answers from So Good They Can't Ignore You was get really good at things that are rare and valuable, and then you get autonomy over your working life. That led to deep work. How do I get really good at things that are rare and valuable? Oh, in the type of stuff I do in the sort of elite knowledge economy, unbroken concentration is the only thing that's producing the real value. Everything else just gets in the way. So I have to really cultivate concentration as a tier one skill if I'm going to get really good at things so I can leverage the effects I talked about in So Good They Can't Ignore You and gain autonomy over my career and steer it towards something that's really satisfying. Well, it's frustrating to try to cultivate concentration. There's a lot you can do on your own that I talk about in deep work, but it seems like I was in the working world now, I'm a professor. The whole knowledge work apparatus is built around distracting you with all these emails and meetings and chats. And so a world without email was like, let's get deep on where did that come from? Is it really damaging? Yes. Is this way of working fundamental? No. Is it possible to do something different? Yes. So it was a primal scream of frustration with email and meetings. That's where that book came from. So we have that trilogy. That takes me from, that's basically that book came from. All right. So we have that trilogy that takes me from, uh, that's basically my thirties. So, uh, so good. They can't ignore. You came out right around the time I turned 30 and a world without email came out right before I turned 40. So that kind of covered my thirties. Like how do I enter into world of work, get after it, succeed, gain control, build something that could be a real source of passion. And I succeeded in this. I got tenure early. I've got this great professorship at Georgetown. My books are doing well. I'm a pretty successful writer. Now, where am I in life? Well, now I'm in my young forties and I have kids that are no longer babies or toddlers where we're just sort of in survival mode of like, how do we just make sure they're fed and like take them so they're distracted? Now I have elementary age school kids. I have all boys. I'm beginning to notice that like the thing they need at this age more than anything else is time with their dad. Like it's really, really important. Like this is, you know, especially for dads, like where parenting really takes off. And the next question that comes up is, okay, takes off. And the next question that comes up is, okay, so now what's next? How do I continue to do work that I'm really proud of? How do I take advantage of whatever skills I have cultivated or been bestowed to continue to produce stuff that improves the world, that makes my time here worthwhile, but in a way where I also am able to invest a lot of time into my kids and community, this is middle age is the time where this is so critical. Slow productivity emerged out of that question. I needed to switch my mindset away from the mindset that got me 10 year early. Away from the mindset that has produced whatever I have, 70 or 80 peer-reviewed papers, 5,000 citations, three best paper awards in my field. My eighth book is about to come out, right? How do I find a sustainable pace now going forward? Right, continue to produce stuff I'm proud of, but I'm not having to produce at, you know, what I'm doing here is doing it at a really high rate. What I'm doing here is just impressing you with the sort of sheer volume, what I'm doing here is doing it at a really high rate. What I'm doing here is just impressing you with the sort of sheer volume of what I'm doing. Slow productivity, you can think of Quran as the answer to that question. A reconfiguration of productivity that is based around producing stuff that really makes you proud as part of a life that is really deep and interesting and varied. So that was my personal motivation for the book. There is also, just like with all my other books, it's not just what I'm going through. It is also what the culture writ large is going through. And this also, of course, informs slow productivity. And I get into this in the book. In fact, I get into this in the introduction to the book, which is what we've just made available as the excerpt I was talking about earlier. So if you go to, what was the URL? calnewport.com slash slow. The excerpts you'll download is of the introduction where I make this case clear, like the cultural case for slow productivity. But essentially what happened is in the pandemic, people realized we have no good definition for productivity in knowledge work. We're not measuring metrics and seeing like, does this way of working make us more effective? We have this nonsense heuristic we call pseudo productivity, which just says more work is better than less. This is making us miserable. This is not sustainable. We need a new definition of productivity as the knowledge sector writ large that's much more sustainable than just do as much as you can more is better than less so there's a cultural question i'm answering with this book what is a sustainable definition of productivity for knowledge work in general but there's also a personal question i'm answering which is what do i do now in my 40s how do i keep producing good work without having to work all the time, without having to be so hard, without having, like I talk about in the final chapters of deep work, I talk about the exhaustion of writing deep work at the same time I was trying to get tenure at the same time that my second kid was born. So slow productivity answered that personal question as well. So if you're thinking about, I run a business and how do I rethink productivity so I'm not stressed, the book would be for you. But also if you're thinking about, how do I think about my life in the longterm where I'm using my gifts, but also enjoying the gifts of life that go beyond just what you're doing in work, the book is deeply personal in that way as well. So we kind of got like an extra slow productivity corner, Jesse. I think we get the music one more time because of that. That's what I'm saying. Any excuse to play. All right, let's do a case study. This is where you, my listeners send in examples of you putting the type of things we talk about on this show into practice.
Slow Productivity Community
Slow Productivity affinity group (01:01:30)
And you give us a sort of report from the trenches, as it were, about what actually happened in your life. This case study comes from Andrew. Andrew said, I thought you might possibly be interested in hearing a bit about the slow productivity affinity Group that I formed at my university. In January of 2023, I put out a call for those interested in joining the group, which I described fairly briefly as a group designed to bring together Butler faculty and staff who wish to develop an approach to work that is sustainable so that we can produce output that is of high quality but also of humane quantity. Our goals include providing members with resources, opening up discussions, and exchanging ideas for sustainable, productive work. The impetus for the group was my appreciation of your books and your podcast. 30 people from across the university and in various roles expressed interest, which is very good for a university of our size. I added all these people to a page I created through our learning management system so they could access the resources I put there, which included, among other things, a description of the basic idea, links to articles, book recommendations, videos, and podcasts, a bit about writing accountability groups, a module for the exchange of ideas, suggestions for good places to work, often on campus, and an open discussion forum. As one might expect from any academic group, participation varied widely. Some people never really engaged, but some appeared to check in on the online resources periodically, even though that was it. And others regularly attended a monthly Zoom meeting where we commiserated, shared challenges and successes. I was even given a small budget, $500, with which several of us met for lunch on more than one occasion. And I purchased about $250 in books for a lending library. Three of us formed a writing accountability group, and all three of us found it helped increase writing productivity during the semester. Going forward, I'd love to get more interest and engagement. That said, it's clear that some people are loathe to commit to anything that suggests that you'll have to do activities. These people I would describe as being more interested in the slow aspect of the group, and in particular, they seemed more interested in discussing burnout, work-life balance, and related ideas. But a few were interested in learning more about the writing group, even if they didn't participate this time. I'd like to put together some workshops where folks could attend and perhaps do a few exercises here and there with the idea that they might gradually embrace more ideas of slow productivity. Well, first of all, I love that idea. And maybe this is something I should encourage more once the book comes out, creating your own groups in your place of work to discuss the ideas behind slow productivity. So Andrew, I'm hoping when the book actually comes out, it will really help this working group go forward because it's going to be a much clearer framework than trying to piece together ideas from things I've talked about on the podcast and in articles. But I think it's important that you're talking to each other. And I know you're noticing with maybe a little bit of frustration, this divide between the people who focus on the slow aspect of slow productivity and the people who focus on the productivity aspect. But both are really important. And actually what I've found working on this topic is that for a lot of people, just to get out the slow piece, right? Just to express their frustration about not being able to slow down or the difficulties of not being able to slow down is a really important first step. Work can really be somewhat deranging this arrangement we have, which is more is better than less, and it's up to you to figure out how much to do. Go. It just puts people in this impossible situation where they have to constantly be arguing against themselves. More work or more other things in my life. You have to wage war between the other parts of your life and work. This is one of the real negative outcomes of making productivity almost entirely personal. This is something I document in detail in the book, how this happened and why it's a problem. So there's a lot of real frustration there. And some people have more of this than others. If you have a family, it's worse than if you don't. It's often worse for women than it is for men. So some people are dealing with a lot more of this than other people. So being able to just express that frustration first, I think, is really important. And then moving on to, so what can we do systematically to make this better? That then becomes the next step. So anyways, this is cool. Hopefully my book will help. It would be funny if the end of this case study was, and all 30 of these people have since been fired. It would be less successful. But I'm sure this will be useful. You know, I used to run these groups way back when, when I wrote student advice books. I had this program called Study Hacks on Campus. Then we had like 30 college campuses. Students would start up student groups following my curriculum where they would just get together regularly to talk through studying and how to study and what they're having issues with and their frustrations with it. And it helped. And a lot of what they did was strategic, but a lot of what they did was just support and a lot of what they did is venting. So I like this idea. I might steal it. Maybe when slow productivity comes out, we'll put out some guides for how to run your own slow productivity group. I think step number one, there's going to be two key steps, definitely going to be two key steps in my advice for starting slow productivity groups. Step number one is important, regardless of the size of the group, that you spend at least $3,000 on copies of slow productivity. That's going to be step number one. I think that's important. Step number two, and Jesse agrees with this, you need to spend at least 15 to 20 minutes per group meeting listening to the slow productivity music. Come on, Jesse, hit me. Hit me. All right. Enough of that nonsense. Thanks for the case study, Andrew. I really appreciated it. We'll take a brief moment to talk about another sponsor that helps make this show possible. And that is Element. L-M-N-T. Now let me say, I am very happy to have Element back as a sponsor. They were a sponsor earlier in this show's history. And when they sent me those initial free samples of their product, I got hooked and I have been using this product daily ever since. So I'm really happy to have them back as a sponsor because I am actually one of their big customers. So I'm really happy to have them back as a sponsor because I am actually one of their big customers. So what is Element? It's a zero sugar electrolyte drink mix born from the growing body of research revealing that optimal health outcomes occur at sodium levels two to three times government recommendations. So each of their little stick packs is sort of like a sugar packet. You mix it into a water bottle and it gives you a meaningful dose of electrolytes, but it does so, and here's what's key, free of sugar, artificial color, or any other dodgy ingredients. Element is formulated for anyone on a mission to restore health through hydration. It's perfectly suited for athletes, folks who are fasting, or those following keto, low-carb, whole food, or paleo diets. It's used by U.S. Olympic athletes. It's used by the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, Navy SEALs teams, FBI sniper teams, and yes, also podcasters who like to program Christmas lights with microcontrollers. The way I use Element is after I work out, it's how I rehydrate. I don't want sugar, but I need more than just water. It does it for me. I also use Element if I've been out late the night before. Maybe I was at a party or an event and I was talking and not drinking enough water. Element in the morning is how I get that hydration back, how I get those electrolytes back. I love the way it tastes. And I love the fact that there is no sugar in it. There's no artificial flavorings. Just gets you basically salty water that you like to drink. There's a new feature I want to tell you about, which is the Element Chocolate Medley featuring chocolate mint, chocolate chai, and chocolate raspberry. These are element mixes that are meant to be enjoyed hot. Chocolate mint, chocolate chai, and chocolate raspberry. These are element mixes that are meant to be enjoyed hot. So now that we're in the winter season, if you want a hot drink to get your electrolytes, consider using element hot. Now here's the good news for you. If you go to drinkelement.com slash deep, that's drinkelement n t dot com slash deep you can get a free element sample pack with any order you make so whatever you order you can get this free sample pack to try everything that element has to offer you can try element totally risk-free if you don't like it they will give it back you can give it to a salty friend and they will give you your money back no questions asked they have a very learned low return rate and a very high reorder rate, but this is completely risk-free. They send new boxes and refund immediately. They consistently hear that Element customer service is the best, no BS customer service around. In fact, if you hear a complaint about Element from your community or you don't like anything about it, you can actually just email them directly and they'll get back to you, right? So this is a company that cares about their customers. So give it a try. Go to drinkelementlmnt.com slash deep. Make sure you get that free sample pack with whatever order you get and enjoy a saltier hydration experience. All right, let's get back to the show. All right, so this brings us to our third and final segment of the show today. Like I do every month, the beginning of a new month, I want to back to the show. All right, so this brings us to our third and final segment of the show. Today, like I do every month, the beginning of a new month, I want to talk about the books I read during the month preceding.
Monthly Reading List
The 5 books Cal read in December 2023 (01:10:51)
So because it's January, we'll be talking about December 2023 books that I read. All right, book number one, Home Economics by Wendell Berry. This is an essay collection from Wendell Berry. This is an essay collection from Wendell Berry. I found this in a little free library around Tacoma Park. It's one of his most famous, I think, essay collections because it includes some of his most famous essays. In particular, it has his really well-known Two Economies essay is in this particular collection. I'm a big Wendell Berry fan. I think Wendell Berry has influenced now two generations, the generation older than me and my generation, two generations of people who think somewhat radically about reconfiguring our relationship with the world, with work, with the environment. He's had influence on a lot of people. You see a lot of Wendell Berry, for example, in Bill lot of people. You see a lot of Wendell Berry, for example, in Bill McKibben. You see a lot of Wendell Berry, for example, in Michael Pollan. Very influential writer. Left his NYU, we've talked about the show before, but left his NYU professorship to move back to Kentucky to farm on this land near where he grew up, farming without gas power, using horses, and he really gets into old school agriculture. So he is the OG of thinking about intentional living and minimalism. So great collection of essays. I enjoyed it. I'm glad I have it as well. All right. Next, I went in the opposite direction. So if W windleberry is plowing fields with horses let's go the opposite direction and read a book about streaming media in particular i read peter biskin's book pandora's box and this is a history sort of a tiktok history you know like step by step they hired this person this happened of the prestige TV era. So starting with HBO's emergence as a producer of prestige, original content, following what happened with the basic cable channels like FX and AMC that also followed to start doing prestige TV leading up through the rise of the digital steamer. So Netflix, et cetera, um, taking on this mantle. I think it's a good, uh, a good tech talk history. If you want to know who are the people involved, what was the timeline involved with these coming up and down? What were the shows? When did they put out? How do we sequence this? When did mad men come out versus the Sopranos versus the Shield? When did this stuff all time out? And some of the characters are interesting as well. So it's not one of these books that really brings you to some new insider understanding with really cool access to sources, but it accomplishes the goal. It's a competent journalist who brings you into this world and explains how it unfolds. So it's a cool book. I'm glad I read it. I have a lot of thoughts. I won't bore you with them now, but I'm building this theory on the future of independent media. That is stuff like we're doing here. And I have this theory is going to end up a lot more like linear TV than we realize. And it's going to be a lot less connected to recommendation algorithms than we realize. But I'll hold the details of that for another time. All right. Then I read where the deer and the antelope play. This is the latest book by Nick Offerman, the actor you probably know, uh, from parks and recreations, probably what he's most known for Ron Swanson, but there's a bunch of other shows as well um uneven is what i would say i really like nick offerman's first book i think it was called paddle your own canoe or something like this this book was a little bit more uneven where nick is great and he has long sections of this book where he's great is where he's in this mark twain style of telling a story about something that happened to him. Like, let me, let me walk through this story. And when he really gets into it, he's a fantastic storyteller and it's, it's, it's warm and it's human and it's funny and it's, it's unexpected. And he can be, he's, I think he's as good at doing this type of storytelling as anyone doing it right now. The standout in this book is his long section on when him and his wife, Megan Malini, the actress from Will and Grace, buying an RV during the pandemic and going on this long road trip. It's fantastic storytelling. So some of it's really good. Some of the stories seemed like they just weren't that good of stories and weren't that interesting the thing that was kind of annoying about this book is he keeps switching over to this mode of uh politics but it's not interesting politics it's like the most cringy cliche of a Hollywood bubble person who's like read some things on left-wing Twitter and has given you like the simplest, most like, um, completely un-nuanced convinced, uh, makes everyone, makes everyone else cringe, simple, simplistic view of things. That part's not helping the book. And maybe this is just because I'm in Washington, D.C., so everyone's politics here is pretty nuanced because they work and live in this world. But it was so simplistic. I don't care where you are on the spectrum. You could be very progressive. You're just going to find the way he talks about these things. It's so simplistic and he's so sure. It's like he just discovered, like someone just, you know, um, gave him a copy of Ember and Kendi's book and, and showed him some, like, here's 20 tweets from progressive Twitter. And he's like, Oh, it just the simplest possible regurgitation of these things. And it comes across as, you know, um, it's a little cringy because it's just, I don't know. It's like, why is this here? You're such a great storyteller. You're not a great political thinker. It's like, why is this here? You're such a great storyteller. You're not a great political thinker. This is going to, A, whatever half of your readers are Republican are going to just hate the book. And then 80% of your left-wing readers are going to be kind of like, this is pretty, this is like my seventh grader coming home. So I don't know. I didn't like the, I didn't think the politics were not done well and seemed out out of place and it kept taking you out of the storytelling who knows we're so uh what's the word here in dc uh cynical on politics right you can't you can't have simplistic politics here because the person you're talking to is probably the legislative director for the senator that you know uh oppose that bill and so if it's just yeah uh read his first book though first if you haven't if you read i think it's called paddle your own canoe it tells his whole story it's fantastic i love nick offerman his story is great all right um the next two books are by the same writer the first book i really recommend it's called who wrote the bible by richard elliott friedman let me tell you why i recommend this this book is doing something that is incredibly hard to do well and when i see it done well i really appreciate it here we have a scholar who is an expert on a very complicated scholarly topic which is uh so it is textual biblical criticism. This is a secular study of the Bible that started in the 19th century, for the most part. It's called the Critical Method. It came out of Germany. It uses analysis of the words in the Bible to break it out into different authors, right? So you can study various attributes of the words that are used. You can also study various attributes about the Hebrew, how old is this version of Hebrew? And you can pretty clearly identify that when you're looking at the first five books of the Bible, so the Pentateuch or the Torah, that there is five different authors involved and you can just get here from text analysis this is a really complicated field with because you're you're debating over and it shifts around is this part of this author or not and we're looking it's a lot of uh ancient hebrew etymology really complicated he makes it not only accessible but it reads like a detective novel he has somehow abled a freedman here this was a very this book is old but i think it came out in the 80s huge bestseller because it's really well written he's able to just get to the core threat this is where we are now in the field and i'm not going to get caught up in the minutiae and then this happened and he and he he writes with uh rhetorical questions that he answers and the whole thing just moves. So anytime I see a scholar taking an incredibly complicated topic and without diluting the complexity of the topic, making it compelling to read for the lay reader, I tip my cap because I know how hard it is. So even if you're not interested in the topic, it's a pretty cool book. The topic itself is pretty cool. I didn't know much about this type of historical criticism. What they figured out basically is this is this new generation, new, I mean, he's old, but this generation of scholars from the 70s onwards figured out how to look at what historically what was being said, the historical context of what was being said to figure out where these authors were were from and it becomes kind of interesting because you say like look the way the words that the author of this part of the bible is using to talk about x y or z makes it clear that they must be from the period, for example, before the kingdom split in the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. They must be from the north because the way they're talking about this is a subtle dig at what was happening in the south. It turns out if you actually look at what's being said here, you can actually figure out, oh, you probably are from this period of time living in this part of the Near East. from this period of time living in this part of the Near East. And so they can actually pretty closely figure out where these different writers were in time and where they were in location. In some cases, you can even get to a particular individual, like the Deuteronomist, maybe Ezra's involved in redacting all of this. It's really cool. It's completely secular history. Maybe we're, you know, Ezra's involved in redacting all of this. Like, it's really cool. It's completely secular history, but complicated. It's such a complicated field. And the book reads like, you know, a mystery novel. So I was really impressed. So the next book I wrote was a follow-up written by Richard Elliott Friedman called The Exodus. And it's about all the most recent scholarship using this method to try to understand what do we actually know about the book of Exodus? What can we figure out about what really happened there by studying the text itself? And why are there Egyptian names are used here, but not here? The song of the know mentions uh this but doesn't mention that the the you know so it's this complicated analysis of like what is being said or not being said trying to put in the historical context and he has this whole theory which i think is widely but not universally subscribed that the book of exodus is probably describing a uh a particular band of probably the Levites, so not the entire Jewish people, all 12 tribes, but one group of people did leave Egypt, led by someone named Moses. They then brought the Exodus story to the broader Jewish people at the time, which then integrated into a national story. So it wasn't 2 million or whatever the number was, the whole kingdom of Israel and Judah leaving Egypt. It might've been a smaller group that brought that story that was then adopted as the national story. So it's like this really interesting, you get down to the details of who mentions who, where, and how this times up. It was really cool. I love historical scholarship presented as a mystery, figuring this out. This evidence accrued here and it's not this. And again, his style has lots of rhetorical questions. So why not this? Well, this is why we don't think this. But what about this? Yeah, this is a pretty good piece of evidence. What about that? Well, this is kind of a problem, but it's what we think is going on. So you get like this insight into this really complicated bit of scholarship where you have to spend your whole life mastering archaic Hebrew to even get your shoes on. And you can get a glimpse into this reading a 200 page book. So I, I love both those books. Who wrote the Bible and the Exodus? You got to be an expert to write those books. All right, everyone. That's what we got. Those are my December books. First episode of the new year in the bag. Thank you for listening. We'll be back next week with another episode of the show. And until then, as always, stay deep. So if you enjoyed our discussion today about learning hard things, I think you might also like episode 275, which gives a general system for achieving hard goals. So check that out. So the question I want to dive into today is how do you follow through on transformative goals?