Overcoming Laziness: Daily Habits To Take Back Control Of Your Discipline & Focus | Cal Newport

Transcription for the video titled "Overcoming Laziness: Daily Habits To Take Back Control Of Your Discipline & Focus | Cal Newport".

1970-01-01T09:53:40.000Z

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Introduction

Intro (00:00)

So today I want to talk about laziness. This is one of the most common types of messages I receive from my listeners. People saying, I am down on myself because I think I'm too lazy. I want to do more with my time, but I am frustrated that I can't make this happen. I want to respond to those messages by tackling this problem in today's deep dive segment. Here's my game plan. First, I'm going to separate out two different definitions of so-called laziness that often get mixed up. And when they get mixed together, it makes it very hard for us to make progress on figuring out what's really going on. So we're going to separate out these two common different definitions of what people mean by laziness. And then for each, I have a big idea about how to overcome it. After we discuss those ideas, we'll move on to some questions from you, the listeners, get into some concrete issues about specific problems you're having in your work life that is related to the topic of laziness.


In-Depth Discussion On Laziness And Productivity

Two types of laziness (01:01)

All right, so let's get started. What are the two definitions of laziness that are hidden in the bigger term? The first is what I'm going to call elite laziness. This is typically a term that someone will use to describe themselves when they are already doing well, but are frustrated that they're not achieving more or doing better. They feel like if they could just muster a little bit more energy and be less lazy, they would be even more impressive, right? So examples of elite laziness is someone saying, I have a startup, it's doing fine, but it's not a unicorn. It's not a 10 figure net worth type company. It's someone who says, I have a nice house here. Um, but man, I really love to live in that type of house in that neighborhood. That's where I really want to be. It's, you know, I got the tenure track professorship, but it's not a top 20 school. That's where the real respect is. If I was at a top 20 school or someone who's like, look, I'm in okay shape, but I'm not shredded like my idols, Cal and Jesse from the Deep Questions podcast, that type of thing. So you're doing well, but you're like, man, I could be doing more. It's laziness that's keeping me back.


Elite laziness (02:16)

This is different from the other common definition of laziness, which is what I call foundational laziness. And this is where people are saying they more or less have a hard time putting in consistent effort towards anything they think are important. They feel stuck. They feel stuck in life. Why can't I make progress on any of these things I think might be important to me? For example, this might be a student who wants to do well in school, but finds they're consistently waiting till the last minute to muster the motivation to work on assignments, and they're getting worse grades than they know they're capable of. Someone who knows they're consistently waiting until the last minute to muster the motivation to work on assignments and they're getting worse grades than they know they're capable of. Someone who knows they're smart but at work keep dropping the ball. They can kind of tell that their bosses see them sort of as a liability and not as an up-and-comer, right? This is someone who says, look, I want to be healthier. I want to read more. I want to spend more time on this hobby or whatever it is but just find they never can get more than a few days before they fall off their interest once their energy wanes the peloton gets spider webs the woodworking equipment never leaves the shed this is people who would say look i want to date i don't like being alone but you know i don't even know where to start, who'd even be interested in me. So it's this idea of, I just can't get rolling. I'm stuck. Now, to be clear, before we get into how to address these two definitions, I don't like the term lazy. So when I say elite laziness and foundational laziness, I'm only using that term because this is how people are self-describing. As we'll see as we get a little bit deeper here, it is not a very accurate term. The idea that there's some sort of just moral failing here or failing a character does not really describe what's going on. So we're using the word laziness here always with implicit quotation marks. It's how people are, I think, inappropriately describing themselves. All right, so what I want to do is tackle each of these two separately.


Elite laziness (04:04)

And the reason why I want to tackle these two things separately is that typically we don't. In conversations on laziness, these two things get pushed together and this can cause issues in particular because the type of people who write about laziness tend to be the type of people who suffer from elite laziness. They're people like me. They're well-educated writers. They're in a position to be writing a book about advice in the first case. And so the type of laziness they're used to, quote unquote, is this sort of elite laziness. Whereas I would say most people who use this term, most people who write into the show with this issue are suffering from the foundational laziness. So the advice that an Ivy League educated writer doing an essay for the Atlantic about laziness might give about that topic is probably not going to seem very useful to someone who's not from that situation. So we've got to separate these two things. Let's deal with them both separately. All right, so we'll start with elite laziness, which is talked about more, but it's less common. This is where we get in conversations, all the well-meaning, but somewhat intellectual discourse on achievement culture or the culture shaping effects of late stage capitalism. Elite laziness is often marked up to a sort of American drive to win or get ahead. You're on this treadmill of accomplishment where there's always new things you could be accomplishing. It's that seeking of the feeling of I did this new thing of competitiveness that drives us into it. It's a hard dynamic to navigate. Right. And here's why you kind of have a tension going on here where, again, a lot of the discourse about elite laziness says, chill out. There's more to life than whatever Harvard or the job at Goldman or the house in Westchester or the New York Times bestseller list, you know, appellation for your for your book. It's a sort of just chill out. Culture is shaping this. Culture is making you want to keep having more and accomplish. Don't let culture push you into this. You just need to chill out. That's the standard response here. And there is a lot to that that makes sense, but the problem with it is trying to understand when to chill out. So I'm going to draw a picture because I'm a fantastic artist. So if you're listening to this, instead of watching, go to the deep life.com slash listen, this is episode two 76. The videos are at the bottom. I'm going to draw a picture here just to capture the dynamic we're in. Okay. And we'll see why this is difficult. So what I'm drawing on the screen here is an expert picture of a mountain. Why don't you say, Jesse, you see there's... Bob Ross. Bob Ross caliber picture. There's snow on the top. No, this is Bob. Yeah, I am like Bob Ross. Okay. All right, so here we have two mountains and I'm drawing on top of the smaller of the two peaks, an expert picture of a person looking up towards the higher peak. All right. So this is the classic, the classic setup for elite laziness is you're on a sizable mountain, but you're looking towards the higher peak and thinking like, well, why am I not on that peak? Why the standard response can be difficult of just like, hey, chill out, is the question is, when do you chill out? So I'm going to draw over to the side here, a much smaller mountain. And maybe when you're on this much smaller mountain, you shouldn't chill out yet. You should keep pushing, right? Because you're capable of a lot more and you're going to be dissatisfied if you stay on that smaller mountain. But at some point, you get to a peak where the sacrifice required to get to the next one is too high, or maybe it's unclimbable itself if we're really going to torture this metaphor.


Elite laziness (02:16)

This is different from the other common definition of laziness, which is what I call foundational laziness. And this is where people are saying they more or less have a hard time putting in consistent effort towards anything they think are important. They feel stuck. They feel stuck in life. Why can't I make progress on any of these things I think might be important to me? For example, this might be a student who wants to do well in school, but finds they're consistently waiting till the last minute to muster the motivation to work on assignments, and they're getting worse grades than they know they're capable of. Someone who knows they're consistently waiting until the last minute to muster the motivation to work on assignments and they're getting worse grades than they know they're capable of. Someone who knows they're smart but at work keep dropping the ball. They can kind of tell that their bosses see them sort of as a liability and not as an up-and-comer, right? This is someone who says, look, I want to be healthier. I want to read more. I want to spend more time on this hobby or whatever it is but just find they never can get more than a few days before they fall off their interest once their energy wanes the peloton gets spider webs the woodworking equipment never leaves the shed this is people who would say look i want to date i don't like being alone but you know i don't even know where to start, who'd even be interested in me. So it's this idea of, I just can't get rolling. I'm stuck. Now, to be clear, before we get into how to address these two definitions, I don't like the term lazy. So when I say elite laziness and foundational laziness, I'm only using that term because this is how people are self-describing. As we'll see as we get a little bit deeper here, it is not a very accurate term. The idea that there's some sort of just moral failing here or failing a character does not really describe what's going on. So we're using the word laziness here always with implicit quotation marks. It's how people are, I think, inappropriately describing themselves. All right, so what I want to do is tackle each of these two separately.


Elite laziness (04:04)

And the reason why I want to tackle these two things separately is that typically we don't. In conversations on laziness, these two things get pushed together and this can cause issues in particular because the type of people who write about laziness tend to be the type of people who suffer from elite laziness. They're people like me. They're well-educated writers. They're in a position to be writing a book about advice in the first case. And so the type of laziness they're used to, quote unquote, is this sort of elite laziness. Whereas I would say most people who use this term, most people who write into the show with this issue are suffering from the foundational laziness. So the advice that an Ivy League educated writer doing an essay for the Atlantic about laziness might give about that topic is probably not going to seem very useful to someone who's not from that situation. So we've got to separate these two things. Let's deal with them both separately. All right, so we'll start with elite laziness, which is talked about more, but it's less common. This is where we get in conversations, all the well-meaning, but somewhat intellectual discourse on achievement culture or the culture shaping effects of late stage capitalism. Elite laziness is often marked up to a sort of American drive to win or get ahead. You're on this treadmill of accomplishment where there's always new things you could be accomplishing. It's that seeking of the feeling of I did this new thing of competitiveness that drives us into it. It's a hard dynamic to navigate. Right. And here's why you kind of have a tension going on here where, again, a lot of the discourse about elite laziness says, chill out. There's more to life than whatever Harvard or the job at Goldman or the house in Westchester or the New York Times bestseller list, you know, appellation for your for your book. It's a sort of just chill out. Culture is shaping this. Culture is making you want to keep having more and accomplish. Don't let culture push you into this. You just need to chill out. That's the standard response here. And there is a lot to that that makes sense, but the problem with it is trying to understand when to chill out. So I'm going to draw a picture because I'm a fantastic artist. So if you're listening to this, instead of watching, go to the deep life.com slash listen, this is episode two 76. The videos are at the bottom. I'm going to draw a picture here just to capture the dynamic we're in. Okay. And we'll see why this is difficult. So what I'm drawing on the screen here is an expert picture of a mountain. Why don't you say, Jesse, you see there's... Bob Ross. Bob Ross caliber picture. There's snow on the top. No, this is Bob. Yeah, I am like Bob Ross. Okay. All right, so here we have two mountains and I'm drawing on top of the smaller of the two peaks, an expert picture of a person looking up towards the higher peak. All right. So this is the classic, the classic setup for elite laziness is you're on a sizable mountain, but you're looking towards the higher peak and thinking like, well, why am I not on that peak? Why the standard response can be difficult of just like, hey, chill out, is the question is, when do you chill out? So I'm going to draw over to the side here, a much smaller mountain. And maybe when you're on this much smaller mountain, you shouldn't chill out yet. You should keep pushing, right? Because you're capable of a lot more and you're going to be dissatisfied if you stay on that smaller mountain. But at some point, you get to a peak where the sacrifice required to get to the next one is too high, or maybe it's unclimbable itself if we're really going to torture this metaphor.


Inverse law of accomplishment (07:50)

So the hard part about navigating elite laziness is trying to figure out when to follow the common advice of just chilling out. Some people want to find a happy medium. We do want some crazy people to risk their life climbing to the top of the very highest peaks. I mean, you do need some of those super driven sleep in the office. You wouldn't want to be their friend, but they invented something that we need type people. We need those people out there as well. So this is a hard dynamic to navigate. So what should we do? I'm going to give an idea. I call this idea the inverse law of accomplishment. And my claim is going to be that if you follow this law, it will actually help you expertly navigate this tension. So what is the inverse law of accomplishment? It says simply, the more impressive the goal you are pursuing, the less other things you can also be doing in your life. So I'll draw an expert chart here on the screen to try to capture this. So we'll put over here on the x-axis impressiveness. Oops, out of room. And on the, that's the y-axis. I'm going to put on the x-axis I'm going to put on the x-axis workload. So workload increases that way. Impressiveness increases as you go up. And if we're going to plot this, it's going to look something like this. As your workload gets larger, so the number of different things you're working on, the total impressiveness of the most impressive thing you work on is going to go down. That's my contention. So what we get is up here at the top of the chart, generational figures. 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 slash 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. So often the people that do do something that really changes the world tend to be at this far extreme. They're working on one thing and they're obsessive about it. And then we get at this other end of the chart where individual impressiveness is low, but workload is really high. We get the, what I'm going to call the productivity straw man. What I mean by that is that when people disparage productivity, the type of people who talk about elite laziness, they often have the straw man of what it means to care about productivity. And typically what they're describing is someone who's over here on this part of the curve, someone who is working on a huge amount of things, but because of that, there's no one particular thing that can be super impressive. So we have this curve we have to navigate. This curve is what is captured by the inverse law of accomplishment. So if you want to do something really, really impressive, you have to really reduce your workload. And if your workload is really high, then you have to be way more modest in your aspirations for what the most impressive individual things that you pursue. Now, the reason why I think this law works really well is that it gives you a natural governor. So if you say, okay, I want to do something really big and you follow this law, you're like, wow, I'm going to have to get rid of most of the stuff I'm working on. And for a lot of people, that's a natural governor. You say, well, I don't want to get rid of all these things, or it's impractical for me to get rid of all these things. I mean, this job requires me to do these other things. And it reduces the goals that you're pursuing to something that's more realistic for your current situation. On the other hand, if you have a really ambitious goal, you say, okay, I really have to reduce what I need to work on. And let's say you say it's worth it, and you do. That reduction of everything else you're working on forces you then to space starkly this goal you're now all in on. It's much more urgent when you've turned off everything else in your life, and now you're much more likely to confront the reality of that ambitious goal. What is really required. Maybe do something like the reverse goal setting process we talked about in episode 275, and you're much more likely to succeed with it. What you avoid in this situation is what a lot of people do, which is they're down here in the productivity straw man type territory. They have a lot of workload. They take on a very impressive goal. I'm going to run this marathon. I'm going to publish this world-changing book. I'm going to become a master of the Hellenistic classical period philosophy. And they don't succeed with it because they're ignoring the law. They have too much going on to do something that impressive. And then they just say, oh, I must be lazy. So the law of, the inverse law of accomplishment gives you a very useful governor or reality check on how big accomplishments happen. And if you suffer from calling yourself lazy in the elite laziness category, I think this is going to be a much better way to navigate these tensions. Hard stuff's good, but it's hard. There's only so much you can do, and some people do more than others. Let's face it realistically.


Timing (13:31)

All right, so now let's move on to the other definition of laziness that people often have in mind when they use this term, and that is foundational laziness. Now, the issue here, again, is not a moral defect. It typically is lack of structure in your life. And by lack of structure, what I mean is you have any number of things that are pulling at your attention or demanding your attention or demanding action at any one time. So, for example, I will draw an anatomically accurate picture of the human brain. No, this is not an MRI scan. I'm drawing this myself for those who are watching. That's the brainstem, Jesse. And then as you can see here, these lines are accurate brain folds. What happens with foundational laziness is you have all of these different things constantly pulling at your brain. What about this? You got to get gifts for this party. What about this project you're supposed to be working on? Aren't you supposed to be exercising? Our gutters look dirty. There's, you know, as happened in our house recently, a vacuum cleaner fell down the stairs and knocked a hole in the wall at the bottom of the stairs. Really? Yeah. It's an annoying thing to deal with. We finally fixed it, but you know, these types of things, right? So when you have all of these different things pulling at your brain, your brain only has so much capacity and energy. So you're making progress on very few things. You're dealing in the moment with reaction. You're constantly stressed and anxious about things. So when you're in this state that I have so expertly illustrated, you are going to feel like, why can't I make progress on anything? I always feel stuck. It's because your brain is in a setup where it is very difficult to, in this chaos, somehow make consistent steps towards multiple things that matter. So what's the right solution to the so-called foundational laziness? It's going to be a strategy that I call total loop closure. With total loop closure, your goal is to get to a state in which there is essentially nothing that you are keeping track of only in your mind. If you can get that control, so there's nothing that's floating around like, well, I got to remember to work on this project, or I need to call the landscaping people, or the dryer door's not working, or did I get back to Bob about that meeting? I told him I'd send him some notes. If there's nothing like that that exists only in your mind, where you sort of have to be worried about it, like, I got to remember this, at some point I have to make progress on this. If your mind can be, as David Allen would say, like water, just clear, you are now going to escape the trap of foundational laziness. Because what this requires is full control over the obligations and information in your life. And once you have that control, you now have the cognitive breathing space to actually make consistent progress on things that are important. Until you have that control, it's very difficult to do unless you just get into a fit of inspiration and just drop everything and focus on something. But outside of that, you are not going to make consistent progress in a state of chaos. If you accomplish total loop closure, you can. Total loop closure becomes this key first step, a platform on which you can build intentional action and not just reactive chaotic action. intentional action and not just reactive chaotic action. So how do you achieve basic loop closure? Five things. Five things you need to add into your organizational life to get there. I'll write each of them on the screen here expertly. Number one, calendar. I'm going to spell calendar wrong. No, I didn't. There we go. It's boring, but it's critical. Every appointment that has a specific time or date associated with it. So this is three o'clock on Thursday or maybe due today at some point. So anything that has a specific time or date associated with it needs to live on a calendar, a single calendar that you use. Use a digital calendar, sync it with your phone so you can both see and update it from wherever you are. Any relevant information for a particular deadline or appointment should just be added straight to that appointment on your digital calendar. So that's where it is. Here's the Zoom link. Here's the directions to the office. It is all there. You can live by this calendar and never miss a thing that you have committed to that has a specific time. Again, it sounds obvious, but a lot of people don't do this. That's number one. Number two is going to be task storage or what I sometimes call obligation storage. This is classic David Allen. You have to have a place where every obligation or commitment that you've made is stored along with the relevant information, a place that he calls a trusted system because you know you're going to review it on a regular basis. This could be simple at first. This could be a document, a text file where you're just making big lists of things. Here's the list of house-related things I've committed to. Here's the list of house related things I've committed to. Here's the list of ongoing work related projects. As I like to talk about on the show, I use Trello. I have a different Trello board for every role in my professional and non-professional life. So I have like tasks or obligations stored with like tasks and obligations. So I can look at one role without having to context switch and think about unrelated roles. I use columns for the different types of obligations or tasks in each of those different roles. Let's not even get lost in the details here. The key is you have to have a place that's good, everything's there, and that you trust it. David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, is great about that methodology. Third, MSP, multi-scale planning. You have to have a multi-scale planning discipline. I have a seasonal plan. Here's my fall plan, my winter plan, my spring plan, my summer plan, or you could call it a quarterly plan, you call strategic plan. I don't care what words you use, but the big picture plan that covers multiple months. Here's the big projects I'm working on.


Hint Make Sunday [M]ornings More Routine (19:24)

Here's the systems I'm trying out. I exercise every morning at this time, a place where that's all written down. You're seeing the big picture. You don't have to just remember on a random Tuesday, oh, I'm supposed to be making progress on this book chapter. You have that in your big picture seasonal plan. Every week you look at your seasonal plan to create a weekly plan. You confront your calendar, you make changes if you need to, let me cancel this appointment and move this appointment because that's going to open up all Thursday morning. That's going to be key for getting this other thing done. And you work through what am I working on this week? How am I making progress on what's already on my calendar? What's in my task storage and what's in my seasonal plan. You can just write your weekly plan out freehand. My time block planner, for example, I just have a lined piece of paper page where you can just write it out freehand or type it in a text document. Don't worry about being too structured here. Then every day you look at your weekly plan to make your daily plan. I suggest doing a daily time block plan where you actually give every minute of your workday a job. You can do it the way you want, but you have a plan for now looking at my weekly plan. What am I doing today? So this gives you intention with how you use your time and connects what you're doing in the moment all the way back through all these layers to the big picture visions you have for what you should be working on.


Error (20:39)

The fourth out of five is going to be shutdown ritual. You're not going to obtain total loop closure if you don't, at the end of your workday, grab the stuff you haven't had a chance to process yet. So this is where you go through and all of these things you've jotted down maybe under the task list in your time block planner or in your working memory.txt file on your desktop, all the stuff that came up in the Zoom calls you were on or ideas you had or someone dropped by your office and you haven't really had a chance to process. Some of these urgent emails that came in and you didn't really get a chance to see until the end of the day. It's where you look at all of these things and say, I need to get this all out of my head. And that could mean various things. It could mean I'm putting some stuff on my calendar. Now I know that's on there. I don't have to, I don't have to worry about it. It could mean I'm moving some stuff into my task storage. So it's in there now. So it's not going to be just in my head. Maybe you update your weekly plan because some new urgent tasks came up. So you update your weekly plan. Wait a second, Friday morning, we have to get on this thing that I was just asked to do. And you update your weekly plan. Wait a second, Friday morning, we have to get on this thing that I was just asked to do. And you update your weekly plan and make sure that it's in there.


Update Your Schedule (21:48)

It might be replying to some emails saying, I saw this, I'll get back to you later in the week. And I've moved this to my task list, whatever it takes. But it means that when you finish your routine and you have some way of indicating you finished your shutdown routine, which could be saying a evocative phrase like shutdown complete, or checking the shutdown complete checkbox in my time block planner.


Fixing the brain: Close and open loops (21:57)

You really do have closure on the open loops for the day. So without a shutdown ritual to make sure that everything gets moved into your systems, the systems alone aren't going to be autopilot systems. So autopilot systems is where you take work that you know is going to happen on a regular basis, and you figure out when, where, and how you do it, and you build a system around that so you don't have to just make a decision in the moment, this is on my task list. How do I do this? The more you can automate regular occurring work, the smaller footprint it's going to have on your cognitive life. So this is very useful, for example, with stuff at home. I just always do laundry at this point on these days. This could happen on a larger scale as well. Okay, I get my gutters cleaned in the fall. I get them cleaned in the spring. It's on my calendar recurring with the phone number of the place I like to use. So I just know that will come up when I get there. And when I get to that week, I'll see it and call it. So now I don't have to keep track of it in my head. I should probably clean the gutters at some point, right? This type of automation can happen on many different scales. It could even be, this is when I buy Christmas gifts. I always do it the weekend after Thanksgiving. It's on my calendar. Things that are regular mean you do not have to actually have the anxiety of, I have to remember to do this. So the more you can make automatic, the better. This is especially true for work as well. I have to write this memo every week. I have to prep class every week. Here's always when I do it, I don't have to think about it. The footprint on your mind becomes smaller. You have these five things, a good calendar discipline, good task storage system, multi-scale planning, a shutdown ritual, and a real commitment to autopiloting anything you can autopilot. That will get you to total loop closure. And then this notion of what you're calling laziness, this foundational laziness will go away. It never was laziness. It was a realistic response to an unstructured obligation information environment, which is I have a very hard time in this setting actually making consistent progress on multiple things. Of course you do. It's impossible. But when you get total loop closure, now you can start making progress. So the reason why, you know, if I'm going to pull this together, the reason why I don't like the word laziness is that we see in both of these situations, that's not what's going on in the sense of a pejorative character trait. We do not see a pejorative character trait at play in either of these definitions of laziness. For those who are suffering from elite laziness, it's not that they just don't have the will to work because typically they're highly achieved. It's also not that they're just fully manipulated by late stage capitalism-induced achievement culture. That makes for good sub-stack posts, but that's missing the mark as well. It's that it is very difficult to navigate an open-ended achievement environment, which is where you'll find yourself if you're sort of a standard, highly educated knowledge worker, is it's an entirely open-ended, somewhat entrepreneurial, self-driven culture of, I don't really know how to navigate this thing. It's hard and no one teaches you how to do it. So that's the issue. It's a complicated environment. So something like the inverse law of accomplishment helps give you a map to an otherwise complicated situation. The same thing's going on with what we called foundational laziness is there is not a pejorative character trait here. You're not lacking more will or discipline than someone else. It is that you're in a very complicated information obligation environment. And taming this is not easy. These ideas I put on the screen are ideas I've worked on for a decade. This stuff is hard. It's not obvious. And once you start to hear how these systems work, it can be like a miracle. Like, oh, this feels just in a psychological sense, much different. I don't feel stressed and anxious all the time. I have faith if I want to do this reasonable goal, I'll probably make progress towards it. So the issue here is typically just lack of guidance and strategy, not lack of some sort of fundamental information trait. So we can move past the self-recrimination, move past this, I am lazy, and let's get specific. And when we get specific, we see a way forward.


Laziness (26:35)

So hopefully you will find if one of these two definitions describes you, you'll find something useful here on how to make progress so that you won't think of yourself in that way anymore. It's a complicated topic, Jesse, lazinessiness because it can mean a lot of things uh it could be very mean or um really like self-recriminating like i'm really down on myself not a very useful term and i think it's more complicated than people give it credit do you look at trello every day every working day not usually yeah just because if i if I'm really going over it, when I do my weekly plan. Kind of know what's going on. I kind of know what's going on. Yeah. Yeah. Um, I'm, I'm one for like moving a lot of, uh, so like what I'll often do is move key tasks from Trello into my weekly plan and then have a separate type of thing that I call admin blocks, which is I put aside some time just to make progress on small things, go to Trello and choose some things. And so I separate that out. Like here's key things from, I took out of my task storage system, get these done. And in fact, I might even in my weekly plan say when I'm going to do them. And then you just have the general, just go do some tasks. That latter is more what David Allen talks about. But the problem with that is it's difficult to only have the generic go do tasks now and just see what makes sense to be next. It's actually, I think, better to plan more specifically. I need to make this call and write this report. I need to do this on Tuesday. So I'm a big believer in scheduling big tasks when you do your weekly plan. And so some weeks I won't have any of those generic admin blocks at all. And other weeks, you know, let's say I have a lot of administrative duties to generate a lot of annoying small things. Then I will. I'm like, I'm just going to assume there's a lot of little small things. Let's just make progress on it. I could see there being a MSP hat.


Shopify hat (28:19)

Yeah. I like it for our store. Yeah. For our Shopify enabled shop. We should have an MSP. Doesn't that stand for something else, like manufacturer suggested price? I just got some hat, though, with three letters, and when you were talking about it, I was like, I could see MSP on that hat. There's got to be some catchy phrase there. Like, multi-scale planners do it on time multi-scale planners do it in blocks i don't know there's probably some sort of clever phrase that'll just i mean that was our idea for our shopify stores to have slogans that seem like they make sense like yeah and then you think about a little bit more and like no i don't i don't really get it i'm sure we could do something with this. Maybe some fun, some plan there. And then one last quick note for the students out there, because I know there's a lot in the audience and they don't all know about the autopilot autopilot schedule, but you recommend that for a lot of reoccurring work for student life to students should be all autopilot schedules. Yeah. Yeah. Those are most real jobs. We can't autopilot schedule everything. There's too much unpredictable about our work. But if you're a student, every problem set, you know, a lab report, essay, all of the regular work that's there on your syllabus and you see it at the beginning of the term, like, okay, this is all the work I'm going to do. Just figure out when and where and how you do it. I go to this library at this time between these classes. This is when I work on the problem set. Do not just wait till it's after dinner and say, what should I work on now? It's such a stupid way to do schoolwork. So autopilot schedules for students will completely revolutionize your life. You have to do the work anyway. So why not find the best possible times to do it and get rid of all the decision making surrounding it? I mean, the other thing I suggest to students is to even turn the major papers and exam studies, make that automatic by at the beginning of the semester, actually figuring out where are my exams and then working backwards, when am I gonna start studying for these exams and blocking that time on your calendar.


Automate your schedule (30:07)

Do the same thing for papers. When are the papers due? I'm gonna start scheduling three weeks in advance the time I'm gonna work on it. It really, if you do that and you autopilot schedule all of your regular assignments, you basically have no decisions to make. You just come to your day and like what's on the calendar today. And then you execute like that's the right way to be a student. The bonus of that is if this doesn't fit, you try this and this doesn't fit, you're filling up your whole day and you still don't have enough time. Now you have a clear signal. Your schedule is stupid. Make your schedule easier. No one cares. And I don't want to beat this horse too much. No one after you graduate cares about the relative difficulty of your schedule. They want to know where you went to school, what you majored in, and your GPA. They do not know that in the spring of your junior year, you were taking five courses instead of four, and three of those courses were pretty hard. No one gives you brownie points for that. So why have what I used to call heart attack semesters if you can avoid it? So the nice thing about autopiloting is it gives you a clear signal of, well, how much work have I committed to? As a student, that might mean I need easier classes. But if you're building an autopilot schedule as a professional and you're still having a hard time with it, it tells you your workload's stupid. Make your workload less. It doesn't fit. You have no margin in this. You're doing too much. So that's my secret benefit of autopilot scheduling your work is you have to confront if you have too much work. And so you get that extra benefit out of it. All right. So I want to get onto some questions, but before we do, let's hear a word from our sponsors.


Productivity Tips And Sponsors

Ad Break (31:50)

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Dave (35:41)

All right, Jesse, let's do some questions. Oh, there we go. Forgot the sound effect. Let's hear that one more time. Now we know we're ready. All right, who do we have next? That's great. I can't wait to get the slow productivity sound effect. I know we don't have our music yet. I'm just going to make you press the button a bunch of times when we get to our slow productivity corner. The Shopify sales line? Yeah. Basically. All right. All right, first question from Dave. I'm a decade plus long gtd practitioner and a recent convert to your time blocking and strategic planning methodology by the way i love my time block planner as you know gtd says that anything with two or more tasks is technically a project and that all projects should be on a project list i'm a high school administrator who has many one-off mini projects. For example, meeting with a student parent, seeking an answer to a parent's question or request, then getting back to the parent and perhaps a follow-up task or delegated task like making an adjustment to their student's schedule. My question for you is how do you track small projects without them bogging down your system? Well, I diverge from David Allen here.


David Allen (36:44)

I don't have this really strict definition that once there's more than one task, it's a project and you have to have this long list of projects. So in David Allen's system, you're supposed to review these projects regularly, which he calls stakes in the ground and figure out what next action is relevant for each and then move those over to your next action list. And then for the rest of your next action list. And then for the rest of your day, you're blindly executing. So his whole thing is that you're constantly just blindly executing tasks that you're taking off of your list based on whatever context you're in, regularly servicing these lists of the projects, add things over to it. I don't think this works very well in complex situations like the one Dave is talking about, where you're an administrator with lots of back and forth things, where there's balls at other people's court that are coming back to yours and things that are delegated.


8 productivity hacks (37:25)

What I do is I will leave my seasonal plan is where I will store big projects. I'm working on this book. I'm working on this research paper. I'm working on this New Yorker article. Those do live in my seasonal plan so that when I make my weekly plan each week, I can say, where am I on these? Which of these do I want to make progress on? Do I want to move some big schedule rocks to clear out clear space? Small projects like the type you talked about here, Dave, I think a good task or obligation storage system is all you need. So let's take your example you gave of dealing with the fallout of a meeting with a student and a parent. So in my systems, in my methodology, that meeting begins as a calendar appointment. So you get to that meeting, and as you say in that example, let's say this now needs you to get an answer to the parent's question, you're going to have to get this from someone else. What I would do now is just add a task to one of my waiting for columns, right? So I would send that email, okay, I need information, so-and-so, and I would just put a task in a waiting for column says, I'm waiting to hear back from this person about this parent's question. Here's what I should do once I hear back. And then once that information came back, I would then move that task over to a to-do soon type column where it's like, get back to the parent with a summary of this information I received. I would just paste that information into the back of the card and my Trello board. And when building my plans, I would schedule that task. When I get to that task, I would have the information there. I'd get back to the parent. Multiple steps just happened here. So technically a project built around talking to a parent, getting an answer to a question and sending it back to the parent. This project just occurred, but I didn't need to have that project in a separate list. The key is the key information obligations lived in my task obligation system in a way that I could track their status and see them as I did my planning. In general, for these four or five step projects that have some steps you're waiting to hear back, that's the best way to do it. You're just daisy chaining tasks. This task generates a new task. I put that on my list. When this task is done, that generates a new task. I put that on my list. It wouldn't help me to have written down somewhere parent project because the tasks themselves as they finish generate new tasks immediately that I add to my list. So I wouldn't bother with project list Dave for small things. It just use your, your obligation tracking systems. And if you have a high level administrator job, like you do, you really got to be on your game. You probably need different, uh, Trello boards, whatever you use for the different sub roles, student issue, parent issues, governance issues, buildings and maintenance issues, and then multiple really good columns in there. I would also suggest if we're going to get hardcore into the geek weeds here, the high level administrator, you also probably want for anyone that you meet with regularly. So I meet with the principal regularly. I meet with the school operations. I meet with the school operations manager. We have a weekly meeting. Anyone you meet with regularly and collaborate with regularly as part of your job, have a column for that on one of your task boards, one of your task lists where you can build up things to discuss, call it a to discuss, T-U discuss column to discuss at your next meeting. I'm just going to throw some hacks out there. So now as things come up that, okay, this is relevant just to talk, I need to talk to the principal about this. You just add them to that to discuss list. And then when you get to your next meeting with the principal, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, you go through those things. You don't just send out emails or wait for them to come back. All these type of, we can call them hacks or optimizations, make a difference when you're in one of these highly reactive, complicated leadership coordinator roles.


Small versus large tasks (41:03)

And so all these types of things make a difference. But no, don't don't have a project list for the small things. You have way too many of those Dave, just trust your systems. All right, what do we have next? Hi, next questions from Arnie. I want to return to running and bodybuilding, but I can't make time for them because I work very long hours. I can only see two solutions, except that realistically, I won't be able to progress in my health and fitness goals as I would like to, or two, except that I'm doing too much. And maybe this is unrealistic to achieve these goals alongside my work. All right. So Jesse, I'm going to consider this because this answer is going to be relevant to slow productivity, the topic of my new book coming out in March. Let's consider my answer to this question, our slow productivity corner segment of the week. We don't yet have music, so why don't you give me four or five transition sound effects in a row? There we go. Yes, you can feel the segment beginning. Now we know. Slow productivity corner has begun.


Discussion On Pivoting Into A Tech Career

Arnie (42:08)

Once a week, I want to have one question that... We really need good music for that. Well, my suggestion was circus music. So I like that better. But for now, we'll do five transition sound effects in a row. All right, Arnie. I'm going to give you an answer that comes right out of my slow productivity philosophy. First, I'm going to assume based on your elaborated question that this running and bodybuilding you talked about, it's actually very important to you. So this is not just a, this is not a one-off or aspirational goal. This is not, you know, I watched an inspirational Instagram influencer and I want to be a bodybuilder. I know from the elaboration that this was an important part of Arnie's life. It's a, these were kind of core to his, it's a core interest. His fitness being very good shape in this way. So with that in mind, my suggestion is let's put aside serious time to do this. Make your work schedule adjust. I am going to guess if you don't have time, and this is serious, we're talking 60 to 90 minutes a day probably you need to do this at the level you want to do it. If you don't regularly have that time and the type of job you're explaining to me, it's possible that the exact workload that this job requires from you takes up exactly like 10 hours a day and makes that impossible. Or what is more likely is that you are just implementing what I call the 20% rule, which means you have more work and obligations coming at you than you could ever hope to accomplish. So the heuristic you are implicitly deploying to figure out how much work to take on your plate is to wait until you have 20% too much on your plate. And at that point, the stress and anxiety of having so much to do gives you psychological cover to say no to more things. When you deploy the 20% rule, which is an idea I get into deeply in my new book on slow productivity, when you deploy the 20% rule, you guarantee that you'll always have just a little bit too much to do. Now, here's the thing. It's arbitrary. If let's say you had very low sleep demands, you're like a Jocko Willink type, you could add 20% more work onto your day. And let's say you went the other way and took 20% of the work you were doing off your plate, you would still be fine. It's pretty arbitrary where we draw this line of where we say yes and no in a highly autonomous obligation environment like knowledge work. So I think what you've done is just let your life get to a point where it feels clearly overfilled. And then you can say, I have psychological cover now to say, at least I'm not slacking. At least no one can say I'm being lazy because I'm just, I'm working probably a little bit too much. I'm saying just work less. Now I know that sounds scary, but what I'm going to predict, I'm going to predict is that if you took 20% off of your workload, you said, look, this is my 90 minutes where I'm doing my non-work related workout during the day. And I don't know, first thing in the day, however you want to do it. I'm just working around this. It's like, I have a medical issue and I have to go get tested every day. You know, I'd make it work. You just make it work. I think you're going to find that your overall productivity, and now I mean this in the concrete sense of useful work accomplished, is not only not going to go down, but it might go up. There's a couple of things that are going to happen here. First of all, again, you'll discover that your current workload is arbitrary. It could be more, it could be less. No one really knows. No one really keeps track of it. So this idea that people are going to say, my God, Arnie, where were you? Like, we're really mad. They don't know. They don't care. It's all chaotic. So they're not going to notice that. Two, your psychology is going to get better here. You're going to have this mindset of, hey, look, I'm disciplined. Here's a thing that's really important to me, and I'm doing this at a high level. It carries over to work. You're finding yourself getting back in the running and bodybuilding shape is going to carry over. A confidence is going to carry over to your work, and you're going to come at things with more energy and with more self-confidence in work. And finally, actually reducing your workload, and this is paradoxical to people, but I do this math in my, actually reducing your workload. And this is paradoxical to people, but I do this math in my book. Reducing your workload can actually increase the amount of work accomplished. Here's how this actually happens. Everything you agree to bring onto your plate. So I'm going to do this thing, produce this report, get this conference running, brings with it overhead. I have to talk to people about it. I have to gather information. There's meetings that's going to happen. There's emails or Slack chats that are going to happen. Everything you commit to comes with overhead that supports the actual work. So what happens as you load up your schedule past a certain point is that the amount of time required to service this overhead, I now have 10 different things that are generating email conversations. So now I have to keep track of my email a lot more and spend a lot more time emailing and context shifting. Eventually, the overhead takes up so much of your time that there's not really enough left to make progress on the actual work that you're coordinating with that overhead. And then that work slows down and then more stuff piles up and the pressure gets even bigger. And now you have to just find time late at night or early in the morning where the overhead can't be implemented to actually try to make progress on things. So oftentimes people find if I have less stuff on my plate at a time, the overhead cost goes down. I now have more time uninterrupted to accomplish the actual work. I accomplished that work much faster. And now the throughput with which things are being accomplished goes up. And if I look over a six month timeframe, the number of notable things, concrete things I accomplished is larger because you have less things in your plate at time means you have less of an overhead footprint. So you might even find that you're going to accomplish more. But mainly this is just a core slow productivity principle. Do less stuff, but do the stuff you do better. And this is a great way to put the slow productivity rubber and let it hit the road is make time for what's important here. Figure out how to make your work work.


Liz King (48:05)

And I think you'll find that you do. You find a way to make the work work and you're saying to yourself, there's more to my life than just have I pushed the most possible hours that are reasonable with me towards my job. So I think this is a great sort of symbolic step for you, Arnie. Spend 90 minutes a day, like really get back into it. It's going to make your life better. It's going to make your work better. It's going to be a key better. It's going to make your work better. It's going to be a key sort of canonical slow productivity type move. That's always been my approach too, actually. Yeah? Yeah. To bodybuild 90 minutes a day? Or just make exercising a priority and just fit the rest else in. And the rest fits, right? Yeah. Yeah. You make adjustments along the way. Sometimes it's adjustments to your workload. Sometimes it rest fits, right? Yeah. Yeah. You make adjustments along the way. Sometimes it's adjustments to your workload. Sometimes it's just, it's the push to have better systems. Let me autopilot this or I got to be more careful about this. A lot of times people are pretty chaotic in their work when they just have endless time. And then when they add this time obligation, they start thinking like, I got to probably do some like MSP stuff and start stuff earlier. And you know, it's, and they just get better at their work.


Prepler tip (49:04)

Yeah. Get a hat. They get a hat. MSPers. MSPers do it in 30 minute time blocks. MSPers practice full, full, full capture. And then just a picture of Jesse skeleton. It's just, I want to confuse people is what I want to do. That's my goal in life with my, is to confuse people with meaningful, sounded slogans that are nonsense. All right. So that was our slow productivity corner segment for the day.


Question from Ace (49:37)

Let's keep rolling. Who do we have next year, Jesse? Next question is from Ace. Your student books really changed my outlook on studying and I was able to ace my last few exams with little stress. However, after graduating, it's been difficult to remain disciplined. And as a result, I have fallen off my system. Any advice? Well, Ace, this comes down to your motivational centers in your brain. The motivational centers right now are not fully on board with whatever it is you're trying to do. So let's be a little bit clearer about this. We talked about this a couple episodes ago when I introduced the notion of episodic future thinking. So part of the way you can get motivation to do something that is hard right now that's going to give you a benefit in the future is that you have to deploy a cognitive technique called episodic future thinking, where your mind projects yourself into the future and it imagines what you accomplished, like where you ended up, where the type of work you have to do right now is going to end you up. It evaluates that future picture. And if it really likes it, and if it really believes the thing you need to do now is part of a coherent plan that trust that'll actually get you to this nice vision of the future. It gives you motivation. If you don't do that, so you don't have that image or you have that image, but your mind doesn't trust the plan that you're going to get there, it doesn't give you motivation, right? I mean, from an evolutionary perspective, energy is important. You don't want to burn energy unnecessarily. We don't want to all just be running around throwing rocks at caves and spears at bees nest or whatever, you know, our Paleolithic ancestors would do. We want to actually, hey, we're going to build this hand sphere because or this hand scraper because it's going to help us get meat off of the wildebeest we're going to kill and we need meat to eat and we like eating. We need to be really good at conserving energy and only engaging it when we have a good plan. So here's what I think happened. When you were in school, this system was working well because you had this very clear image of like, I want to do well in school. Future me graduating, having done well in school is going to have access to jobs. Future me who doesn't do well in school is going to have a hard time getting a job and I'm not going to have money and that's bad. Because your brain's like, okay, we're on it. We like this future vision of you graduating with, with good grades and having options. So great. Let's work on this math homework. And it was very on board, especially because this work you were doing to get towards that vision of doing well in school came from things like my books. And what's important sometimes about getting that type of information out of a book like I wrote is not that the information is magic, but your brain trusts it. Like, well, Cal got really good grades. A lot of people bought these books. All right, so I really trust these are probably going to work. So you had both the things you needed for episodic future thinking to work. The image was obviously compelling to your brain of having done well in school, and it trusted what you were doing in the short term, the steps you were taking to get you there. So motivation was abundant. Now you've graduated. If I had to guess, you're missing both these elements. This is where I'm trying to get in my life. So your brain doesn't have some future image to be really happy about. And when it comes to work, you're like, well, I want to be disciplined in some sort of generic way like I was when I was in school. Your mind might be saying, but what are these systems you're trying to do and why? Does this work? Where are you trying to get here? So your motivational system has no reason to wake up. And so this is why you're sort of floundering. Like, I don't know, I'm in my job and just doing stuff and I'm trying to be organized for the sake of being organized and my brain's not on board. So now that we know how that system works, we know how to fix this. You need to do some lifestyle centric career planning, get the clear image of where you want to be in five and 10 years. Not specifically like I want this job, but where you're living, what is your day like? Is you busy in a city? Are you in the country? Are you in the country? Are you in the thick of it in some sort of like high energy job? Or are you just sipping coffee by the pond in your farm? And like, you really start to, you get this clear image, like who are you around? Are friends there? Are you having leisurely like dinners? Or instead, are you at like a high energy art show opening? And there's all these interesting artists. Like you really build this image of what you want all the aspects of your life to be like. Something that your episodic future thinking system really likes, really resonates. And then you work backwards from that. Okay, how do I get there from where I am now? What is a reasonable path to move closer to this lifestyle? And now let that inform how you're approaching your work. Well, this job, if I get here, is going to be a great jumping off point to move over here, which will get me closer to this lifestyle. And now let that inform how you're approaching your work. Well, this job, if I get here, is going to be a great jumping off point to move over here, which will get me closer to this lifestyle vision. So to get to this point in my job, I need to impress this person, which means I need to learn this skill. So tomorrow I need to start reading. And your mind's like, let's go. We have the future thing we care about. We see a clear path how we're getting there. You get motivation back. So you just have to recreate motivation you had in school for yourself in life outside of school. Lifestyle-centric career planning is the right way to do that, at least when it comes to your work. So you got to be friends with your brain, Ace. You got to coax it to be on your side. And I think that's the way to do it. So start to get specific about what you want. You got to love that vision and convince yourself you have a good plan to get there. And your motivational center of your brains will play ball after that point. I always say, Jesse, I think that's like half the value of my student books is just people trust it because it came from a book. They could come up with a lot of those ideas on their own. So why do they need to hear it in a book is because you trust it because it's coming from me and not just something you made up and you need both elements i want to get good grades and i trust that this stuff i'm doing will help me get there you get the two elements it's like the the flip the switch flips and you can get after it yeah you're missing one of those elements your brain's like i don't know about this i think for most students it would be hard for them to come up with that. Like the students I come across. Yeah, you might be right. There are some specificities. There would be like very few of them are going to figure that out. Okay, fair enough. Fair enough. There is some complicated information in how to become a straight A student, how to win a college. All right. Who do we have next? All right, next question from Andy.


How to make a successful pivot to a tech career. (55:44)

I do not have a college degree and I'm working a labor-intensive shift work at an Amazon warehouse. I want to make a move and there are some reputable web development bootcamps that have shown promising outcomes in landing their respective cohorts while paying entry to mid-level software engineering roles. I hear your stance on the importance of cultivating discipline and deep work. How should I go about this change? Well, I like the way you're thinking, Andy. You're moving very strategically towards, I'm assuming you have a vision of your lifestyle, ideal lifestyle that does not include the hard shift labor at the Amazon warehouse. And so switching to knowledge work gives you a better vision of your lifestyle. You've been very strategic about this seems I don't have a college degree. So this seems like a, a very tractable, maybe good way to go from where I am now. So you're finding an efficient path to where you want to get all that's great. What I'm going to recommend is you get hard evidence about what is going to happen post bootcamp. So I think it's good that the bootcamp says we have these numbers, we place our cohort well, but if I was you, I'd want to talk to an actual employer and say, okay, this is my background. If I just came out of this bootcamp, would you hire me? And if not, what would I have to do to be hireable? Get concrete evidence, concrete evidence from actual employers. This is specifically what I would need to go from where I am right now to getting hired at one of these places. And this is what I could expect. Don't wander randomly forward through these opportunities. Work backwards from where you want to get. That's not only going to give you more motivation, but it's going to allow you to put your energy into the right places. It's what might make the difference between success and not success, because there might be two or three small elements that you're missing. you don't realize you're missing that might have made all the difference. My best example of this for my own life is when I got into professional book writing. 20 years old, I wanted to write a book. I had a general concept for what became How to Win at College. I had some ideas about it. What did I do? I called a literary agent and said, okay, I, I'm not going to pitch you. I don't want you to be my agent. Teach me what would make you actually take me on as a client. What do you think would actually allow me as a 20 year old to produce a proposal that a major publisher would actually buy? And she walked me through and some of the stuff I knew and some of the stuff I didn't know. And once I got that plan, I executed that and it worked. And it is different than what most people do in that situation, which is the idea of writing a book is romantic. And then they write their own story about what that should mean. I'm going to write every morning and then I'll self-publish it and I'll be discovered. And they want to write their own story about what's true. I went and got the evidence about what really mattered and I could put all of my energy into, okay, I need to fill in this weak spot and answer this objection. I need to do this. And it was not what you might've expected. You know, for example, I did all the research for the book in advance, so I could have a very specific annotated table of contents. I sold several articles to student publications that were on this theme to try to establish myself as being able to do that type of writing. There was a lot I did to prepare before, and I was very careful about how I selected the agent. I didn't know about that. I learned about it. You have to be incredibly strategic about who you talk to. I gave that a lot of thought. I learned all the information. I knew where to put my energy. So take that approach, Andy. Get evidence about this is what I need to get hired on the other end of this. And then you can put your energy to making sure that you get all that, that you succeed with the jump. That reminds me back to the early days of some shows when you would have the slogan like execute, execute, execute. I wrote that down on one of my some shows when you have the slogan like execute, execute, execute. Right. I wrote that down on like one of my like guiding documents. MSPs execute. That makes sense.


Executing Pre-Made Decisions (59:34)

That makes too much sense. Does it make too much sense? Yeah. Yeah. You got to execute. Execute on what matters. All right. What do we got next? All right. Next question is from Michelle. I'm a physician who takes care of patients with a failing vital organs who are in need of transplants. All day I'm making decisions about patients, most of which are very complicated. After doing this all day, I find it hard to make any more decisions, even minor ones, and even executing pre-made decisions such as following my block schedule and actually doing what I wrote on it can be very challenging. Ultimately, it leads to procrastination on other personal goals and frustration from lack of progress. I'm not depressed. I love my job, but it takes a lot out of me. Any advice? Well, Michelle, I think this brings us back to when we were talking about elite laziness earlier in this episode, which is it's very difficult to try to navigate what's actually reasonable or not reasonable. Should there be more I should be able to do and I just don't have the energy or not? Is it a character flaw or is it some sort of reality check? This brings us right back to that point because what's going on here is you do have to take seriously cognitive toll. Hard mental jobs, like fatiguing jobs like you have, are actually fatiguing. And we should take that into account in the same way that if you had a very physically demanding job that was really tiring and was like moving heavy weights around or a professional athlete, if you came back from that or like, OK, now I have like this gym routine I want to do and other types of things. that was really tiring and was like moving heavy weights around or a professional athlete. If you came back from that or like, okay, now I have like this gym routine I want to do and other types of things. You're like, oh, my body's exhausted. It can't actually do that much physical labor. The buying's the same way. There's only so much really difficult context dependent cognition that it can do. It does get exhausted. So we have to just accept that as reality and then work backwards from it. So once we accept that as reality and then work backwards from it. So once we accept that as a reality, we're realizing probably your schedules are more wishlist than they are pragmatic plans. You're thinking when you make them, you know, it would be great when I finished my shift at six, if I could do this, this, this, and this, those things would get done and it would be really great to have them done. But it's not taking into account the reality of I'm toast by the time I'm done with my shift. I can't go run these errands or figure out complicated logistics for our upcoming travel. I'm toast, cognitively speaking. So we have to accept that reality. So if we accept that reality that you have limited cognitive energy and your job is particularly demanding, we get some possible things to do. energy and your job is particularly demanding, we get some possible things to do. For example, simplifying your life as much as possible outside of work. You have a job that uses a lot of your brain. As a result of that, you might have to simplify the types of things you take on out of work because you only have so many cognitive cycles that you can actually give to it. This might mean reducing the total amount of this work that you actually do. This is common for physicians that work in shifts and have some autonomy over how many shifts they do. It's very common to say, well, my friend who's an accountant works eight hours a day or whatever, and so I should do roughly that many shifts, but their work is harder. And a good reality check is maybe you need to work less given how demanding it is. An athlete learns pretty quickly, like, I can't train this many days in a row. I sort of need off days. So you have to reality check your actual work schedule. Maybe you need an extra full day off a week or reduce the lengths of the shifts. Finally, other types of work you do have to do, batch it together and put it in times when you have the mental energy. Now, this might mean some small types of heuristics, like before my shift, I sometimes knock off four or five small things when I still have a lot of energy, and I don't try to do them after my shift when I'm completely toasted. Or it might mean, look, I don't work on Fridays and Tuesdays. I don't have shifts on the days. I just wait till those days to take care of small stuff. And I know on Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays, when I come home, I'm taking a bath and I'm reading. So it's just accepting the reality of the demands of your job and being okay with that. And I think we all fall into this quite a bit. This wishlist versus real schedule type of dichotomy occurs a lot. Man, wouldn't it be great if I could get all these things done in this time?


Behavioural Advice And Case Studies

Ask Cal: Tips for moving from books to real-life behavior (01:03:47)

We do this all the time. But just because a schedule would be awesome if you were able to execute it doesn't mean that schedule's realistic. And so you have to keep in mind the realities of your actual work. Do less, work less, do less outside of work and be more careful about how you organize it. I give you full permission to do that. All right, let's do a call, Jesse. We have a call lined up. We got a call. All right, here we go. Hi Cal, my name is Jeff and I am an IT consultant. I've been a big fan of yours ever since So Good They Can't Ignore You. And I've read similar books such as Ultra Learning, Peak Performance, Grit, and Atomic Habits. These books are full of practical advice on how to improve learning and skills and contribute to the deep life. However, I find myself never implementing them. What kind of strategy would you suggest using to incorporate concepts found in books of this genre? How long should one try something new before deciding it doesn't work for them? And I think it would be great if you can give an example of a habit or advice you once read about and then incorporated into your daily life. Thank you. Well, it's a good question. And I think the right way to think about this is what is the right relationship to have with pragmatic nonfiction books? So I think what a lot of people do when they think about the types of books I write, or I mean, I know all those authors you talk about. I know Scott, I know Brad, I've met Angela before, I know James. It's a small world. We think about those books, we often think about it's the transaction is I read this book. When I'm done with this book, I then change something about my life. So I put a new habit into place. I put a new mindset into place. I think that's actually not the right relationship to have with pragmatic nonfiction books. Instead, think about it like you are adding tools to your toolbox as you read these books. Cognitive tools. I'm learning about the psychology of how this works. I'm learning about how do people learn. I'm learning about what works and doesn't work with habits. I'm learning about grid and persistence. I'm learning about career capital theory. You're building up your toolbox. When you take out those tools, however, is when you have a specific construction project to work on. And so this might mean, for example, you're going through my deep life stack. Or it might mean, for example, you're doing lifestyle-centric career planning to figure out where you're trying to go with your career. We have a specific thing you're trying to do. Then you can reach into that toolbox and pull out what you need. So maybe you're going through the deep life stack and you're trying to, you're at the discipline layer, the very first layer, just trying to change your relationship with yourself and your ability to control how you invest your energy in things that matter. So you're trying to get a few keystone habits going in the core areas and body and mind and soul. And there you might pull from the James Clear tools from the toolbox. Oh, okay. Now I'm going to get these specific habits going. This is going to help me do that right. Now, maybe at another part of this, you're much farther up the deep life stack and you're trying to, you're making a big reconfiguration of your working life, the good, the more sort of remarkable setup. And there suddenly you're pulling the ultra learning tools out of the toolbox. It's like, okay, if I can master, if I master this new system, it's going to allow me to do this type of work and I can stop doing this type of work and this i could do remote so you pull out the tool when you might need it so i think that's the way to think about these books is you do not have to transform each book into a a new blueprint that you're living by it's again you're you're building a deep life you want as many tools as possible and you're going to get those tools out of your book. And so from these books, I've learned all sorts of tools that I deploy at different times. I've used a lot of Scott's stuff about ultra learning to get better at when I have to learn things quickly. I'm sure I've used ideas from James before when I'm trying to make sure that some keystone habits really do stick. But I pull these things out as I need them. So it's a good question, and I think that's the way you should think about it.


Case Study: Spiros Has a Personal Eucatastrophe (01:07:51)

All right, so I want to do a case study before we move on to the final segment. This is where listeners send in a more detailed account of how they've been using the advice we talked about in their real lives so we can see what it looks like in action. This case study comes from spiros who we talked to last in episode 220 if you want to go back at the deeplife.com slash listen you can find that episode and get the last check-in from spiros here's what he says he says consider this an update and a summary of lessons learned from the past nine months of journeying towards a life of depth. First of all, I defined the following custom deep life buckets, spirituality, health, writing, career, wealth, relationships, and travel. I developed a couple of keystone habits per bucket. For example, my daily spirituality habits included journaling, meditation, and reading a page from the Daily Stoic. The health bucket has seen the most dramatic evolution. On the nutrition side of health, I started intermittent fasting and I quit alcohol and refined sugar. And on the fitness side, I started by swimming laps at a nearby gym's pool and eventually picked up yoga and a circuit class. Most of these habits have a standard associated with them, which is a concept similar to Cal's disciplines. For example, another one of my daily health habits is something along the lines of, I take a cold shower every morning. I can miss a day, but not two days in a row. The point is that I'm proactively giving myself some slack to avoid disappointment and discouragement. This comes in handy every now and then, especially when I'm traveling. Sometimes I even break the streak or chain on purpose to prevent myself from obsessing over it. Fast forward a couple of months, it was time for an overhaul. In terms of health, I switched to a ketogenic diet, which I've been on for seven months straight. Fast forward a few more months, I'm now lifting weights, weighing myself daily and counting calories and macros. I'm working towards a specific body composition goal in terms of body weight and body fat percentage, which will take me a while to achieve. I'm also currently in the midst of a radical change that touches on many areas of my life. After living in San Francisco for six plus years, I did not renew my apartment lease and I moved out. Starting in September, I will spend about a year hopping from state to state. I will spend two to three months in Texasxas florida arizona utah and colorado i will also use this as an opportunity to take a road trip through some of the u.s national parks that i haven't seen yet such as yellowstone in the grand canyon all this is not random activity i've adopted and adapted multi-scale planning i've clarified my top three to five core values and i've written a one pager that describes a day in my ideal life that's the lifestyle vision that i'm working towards from there i set annual goals for some of the deep life buckets i then come up with quarterly milestones and set monthly goals based on those finally i do weekly planning and daily time blocking which i finally adopted after signing up for cal's top performer course in fact i've adopted all of the seven baby steps as well as fixed schedule productivity ironically i got promoted, even though I rarely work more than 40 hours a week. All right, so I have a few observations. First of all, Spiros, thank you for sending the update. Two, I think what's important about Spiros' story is not the details of his approach, which to a neophyte might seem very complicated. And that's his personality type. I think some people like more complexity in their system. Some people like them simpler. Both can work. The key here is specificity though. Spiros had a specific way of breaking down the different areas of his life, and he's working on those individually, allowing him to fix up different aspects of his life in parallel. Now he was using the older deep life system with buckets. We talk more about now, but using deep life stack, the key here is forget the details. He's being clear and specific and breaking down what's important to him and saying, how do I make progress on the different areas that are important to me? The third thing, which I think is important is the continual upgrading. So he starts, you'll see in this case study, he starts with relatively simple things in some of these areas of his life. And then as those do well, he upgrades. And it gets more remarkable and a little bit more interesting. This is very common. It's the way we talk about running through the deep life stack is you go through the stack and then you cycle back through and you're upgrading things. So it's not in the first iteration that you're running around, traveling to the Grand Canyon, working remotely on a ketogenic diet. That's like iteration three or four. Once you know what's important and you start doing some work in each of those areas, your mind thinks of yourself as someone who can make effort on stuff that matters, even if it's not necessary in the moment. And once you get addicted to that, then you keep upgrading and keep upgrading. It's really after multiple iterations that people get to the lives that seem so remarkable, but they started from much smaller steps. So I really appreciated that about Spiros' story. I also appreciated the final note. He's downgraded just how much time he spends on work because he has this bigger vision of his life. Meanwhile, as far as his employers are concerned, wow, Spiros is doing great. Let's give him a raise. Let's give him a promotion. Because once you start living a deeper, more disciplined life, it just comes through. The work you do is better. The nonsense stuff goes away. You seem more confident. You seem more like someone who has your act together and you do have your act together more. You get more and more flexibility as you get more disciplined about your life being deeper. There's this reinforcing loop that we see, a sort of flywheel effect we see going into Spiros' life. So you could have a much simpler plan than what he did. It could just be going through the deep life stack with a couple things for each. But if you have a way to break down the different areas that are important, let them build on each other and then iterate and improve and keep pushing and upgrading those things, your life will become deeper and deeper and deeper. And I think when we first met Spiros, didn't he do a call at some point? Yeah. Live call. Yeah. Live call. He was just starting to grapple with these things. My memory of Spiros is he just had like a tech sector job and was kind of stuck and bored with it and not sure what was going to happen. And it was a pretty big change. It's been like a year at most from just midlife kind of stuck to has this very dynamic sort of remarkable life going on. So that's the magic of of the systematic quest for depth. It builds up.


Moshlife (01:14:06)

It's not like tomorrow everything's different, but it builds up. All right. We've got a final segment, but before we get to the final segment, I want to talk about a couple of other sponsors that make this show possible. Let's start with our friends at MOSH. This was a company founded by Patrick Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. They offer these MOSH protein bars that have six delicious flavors, each of which are containing 12 grams of protein and made with ingredients that support brain health, like ashwagandha, lion's mane, collagen, and omega-3s. They're 160 calories each, but here's the amazing thing, Honda Lion's Mane Collagen and Omega-3s. They're 160 calories each, but here's the amazing thing. Only one gram of sugar. Mosh protein bars are meant to be a guilt-free snack your brain and body will crave. I really love the way these things taste because they have that mix of it's soft, but there's crunchiness inside of it. They taste really good. They give you protein, but it's only one gram of sugar in there. So it doesn't give you that sort of insulin crash. So it's perfect for, I'm going through my day. I don't need a meal right now, but I need just to keep my systems running as I'm doing my deep work or running through my time block schedule. Grab a mosh bar, good protein, low sugar, taste great. Part of the idea behind the MOSH bars is the recognition that your brain is your number one tool. That's why they were mindfully formulated by some of the top neuroscientists and functional nutritionists. There's also a mission here. Patrick and Maria formed MOSH as a mission-driven brain health and wellness company that donates a portion of all their proceeds to support women's brain research, the women's Alzheimer movement at Cleveland Clinic. MOSH also has a brand new product, a line of plant powered protein bars and three delicious flavors for those who want all the protein and brain support that you find in the original bar, but want it with only plant based ingredients. So don't settle for a mediocre snack when you can nourish your body and mind with the fuel it needs to succeed. Whether you're at the gym, on the go, or just living your best life, MOSH protein bars will keep your brain and body fit, fueled, and feeling good. Head to moshlife.com slash deep to save 20% off, plus get free shipping on your first six-count trial pack. That's 20% off plus get free shipping and your first six count trial pack. That's 20% off plus free shipping on your first six count trial pack, which includes all six mouthwatering flavors M O S H L I F E.com slash deep. I also want to talk about our longtime friends at Grammarly, you know, Grammarly, because they have been a sponsor of the show, I believe, from the very beginning of us even having sponsors.


Grammarly (01:16:46)

They might have even been our very first sponsor. I have to go back and check that. So when it comes to writing, Grammarly is there to support you from start to finish. Now, we know that they've always been powered by AI technology, but they have harnessed, more more recently new breakthroughs in this technology to push Grammarly's ability to help you write to new and really interesting places. Let me be very specific about this. Imagine, for example, you need to come up with some thumbnails for a video. You can now ask Grammarly, give me 10 possible taglines. So it can help you ideate. Let's say you need to polish your writing some. So you can, you're writing in an email, for example, you can select that text and say, can you shorten this? Can you write this more clearly? Can you make this sound more professionally? It can help you update the tone of your writing. Let's say you just from a productivity standpoint, you have a really long email from someone that has a lot of different, okay, we need to do this and that and this. You can ask Grammarly, can you summarize this? Bring out the bullet points. It can actually help you productivity wise. This is all in addition to the classic ability that Grammarly has always had to help make sure that your grammar itself is at its sharpest, to show you when you have grammar mistakes, but to also help you reword things or to be more clear to see what tone you're writing with. Grammarly has really become like having a professional writer slash editor that sits there looking over your shoulder, helping you not only produce your best writing, but helping you save time in the process of writing as well. This has been my take on these new AI breakthroughs that we've seen recently, is that the applications that we're going to see that's going to be most interesting are going to be focused. It's not going to be HAL from 2001. It's going to be a very specific tool like Grammarly that sits on the devices you use and the apps you use to write on those devices and helps you be a better, more efficient writer. So start being more productive at work and go to grammarly.com slash podcast to download Grammarly for free today. That's G-R-A-M-M-A-R-L-Y dot com slash podcast. All right. m m a r l y dot com slash podcast all right so jesse this brings us to our final segment where i react to the news i found an article that i wanted to talk about i'm going to load it up here on the screen for uh those who are watching if you're listening and you want to see this again uh the deeplife.com slash listen episode 27 276.


The Essay (01:19:15)

The videos are at the bottom. All right. So here's the article several people sent me. This is from John Height's sub stack. So John Height, who I know and respect, is a social psychologist. He's at NYU. He has a sub stack called After Babel. All right. so the particular essay I want to talk about today, this is from November 10th, is not written by John, but he has a guest writer, Freya India, was writing this essay. Freya is a member of Generation Z, and this essay was her reporting back on some of the challenges her generation has had with algorithmic content delivered through social media. This is a perspective from someone in Generation Z. So these would be people who were born, I believe, starting in 1999, which I think is kind of amazing. And this essay is talking about some of the issues they've had to go through from her point of view. So I want to just point out a few things from this, because those of us who are a little bit older don't necessarily have our finger on the pulse of what's actually happening with a 14-year-old, a 15-year-old, what their experience really is of the internet. And I think Freya ends up on some really thought provoking conclusions about how we should react to this reality. So I'm just going to point out a few things from her account here. If you're looking at on the screen, you can see there's a couple of pictures here in the middle of someone who has had their face dramatically reconstructed with fillers and Botox. This is the so-called Instagram face effect, which I knew, I didn't really know much about actually until Gia Tolentino wrote about this for the New Yorker.


Busy record (01:21:07)

This is Freya's way into talking about this idea that these apps can push people to weird places. It has pushed people to make dramatic, almost weird looking reconstruction of their faces as they're chasing some sort of algorithmic goal. So she opens with that, but let me get to the first place that I want to actually start quoting her. So Freya says, algorithms act like conveyor belts. Show even the slightest interest, fear, or insecurity about anything. Hover over it for just half a second and you will be drawn in deeper. Little by little, the algorithm learns what keeps you watching. And since the most negative and extreme posts get the most engagement, very often your feed will become an endless stream of content that makes you feel worse about yourself. You'll find yourself on a continuous conveyor belt of apps, products, services, pills, and procedures to fix you. So there's an interesting dynamic here. We talk about often on the show, of course, about how algorithmic engagement, algorithmic attention engineering can pull you towards more extreme content. Freya is saying for our generation, it's extreme content that then leads you into actually doing a lot of interventions on yourself. It leaves the digital world into the physical. So to get more concrete about that, she says, let me focus on one domain where she has seen in the life of her and her peers, the algorithmic conveyor belt have a real impact. And that is the domain of mental health. She says, I remember first hearing conversations about mental health in the mid 2010s when I was 12 or 13. The first YouTube stars started opening up tentatively about their anxiety and depression. Celebrities confessed to struggling. Mental health communities formed on Tumblr. I learned about anorexia, self-harm, and disorders like ADHD. It all felt important to talk about. But then things quickly began to change. I'll scroll down here. Where do we end up? With genuine conversations about mental health cheapened, monetized, and often trivialized into TikTok trends and fashion accessories. We've ended up with pre-teens making mental illnesses the core of their identity, with some teenage girls picking up tics from Tourette's influencers, kids self-diagnosing with disassociative identity disorders, and young women calling antidepressants hot girl pills and putting them in cute candy dispensers. This is not to say that all of these trends can be explained by algorithms, but the conveyor belt phenomenon can help us better understand Gen Z and particularly why everything feels so extreme. It's our looks, our mental health, our sexuality, our politics. So I think this is a really important point because what Freya is indicating here is you can start with something that makes a lot of sense and is good. Hey, the social internet is a way for people to open up about mental health. Let's not have stigma around it. But the dynamics of the algorithms push it to this extreme where it can become very unhealthy, especially for young people, especially for 12, 13, 14-year-olds who are being fed more and more extreme content all the time. Now, the issue is for those of us who are older, who aren't on TikTok and Instagram all the time, it is easy for techno critics to remember the original thing. Well, this is good. They're talking about mental health more because we're not on TikTok all day as a 14-year-old girl, not realizing where the algorithmic conveyor belt is taking people. And so we might have a whole generation that is being pushed to these extreme mental health type areas and not realize it because we say, hey, if it's me as a 41-year-old, I think it was good that people talked about depression on YouTube five years ago. So we often miss what's really happening for the people who are using this much more. So let's keep going here. Freya says, I believe we have some personal agency, but I also believe that a 12-year-old's mind is no match for a giant corporation using the most advanced AI to manipulate her behavior. Gen Z were the guinea pigs in this uncontrolled global social experiment. We were the first to have our vulnerabilities and insecurities fed into a machine that magnified and refracted them back to us all the time before we had any sense of who we are. We didn't just grow up with algorithms. They raised us. They rearranged our faces, shaped our identities, convinced us we were sick. So there's a difference between a good idea and then using a good idea in a business model built around algorithmic attention engagement. It pushes things to an extreme here is someone from gen z saying this is not just psychological this is not just like you millennials who are like oh when i'm on twitter too much i feel upset about the world it's ruining people's lives it is it is leading people to have surgeries it is leading people to, as in spooner culture, find themselves unable to leave their house and crippled with imaginary pains. It is having actual physical consequences on people. All right. So then Freya says, what should we tell Generation Alpha? So if Gen Z was born after 1999, Gen Alpha is when we're talking about people who were born after 2010. So the next young generation coming up.


Addressing Generational Concerns

Millennial Snippet & Doubt (01:26:27)

Freya says, so what chance does the next generation stand? Well, here's what she says. Parents of gen alpha must take this seriously. I speak to parents, many parents about social media. They worry that their kids will talk to predators or be exposed to explicit self-harm and suicidal content, which are, of course, real risk. But there is also something more pernicious and more destabilizing happening. Something that we have to get ahead of. Because maybe it seems like your child is just watching some makeup tutorials, following some mental health influencers, or experimenting with their identity. But let me tell you, they are on a conveyor belt to someplace bad. Whatever insecurity or vulnerability they are struggling with, they will be pushed further and further into it. So what is Freya's recommendations? She says, first, to the parents of Jin's Alpha, don't let your children open accounts on social media platforms when they're still in early puberty. Del delay their entry until at least 16. I still get pushback. I've been preaching this idea. I preached it at my kid's school, among other places. I still get pushback right now from kids. That's crazy. We need to be able to have phones and do this stuff earlier. I'm telling you, we're like two or three years away from it seeming crazy to do anything else. She goes on and gives advice now for Gen Alpha themselves. Get off your screens. Delete the apps. What these continuous streams of contents do is prevent you from taking a second to pause, reflect on who you really are, and realize where you are headed because you aren't ugly. You probably are not sick. And if you are, let a doctor tell you that, not an influencer chosen by an algorithm. Just look at us and the generation ahead of you. There are a lot of us now in our 20s who feel utterly lost, detached from who we really are. We don't recognize or even like ourselves. We are a generation more anxious, depressed, and confused about our identity than any other on record. And some of us are waking up and asking ourselves, how did I get there? So I think there's a deeper dynamic that we need to increasingly support that is being justified by these type of first-person accounts like we read right here from Freya. And the dynamic, and I think this is important, I'm actually writing an article about this right now, is we need to, as a culture, be much more willing to be much more radical in how we change our technology habits. We need to move past the current cultural moment of Pandora's box thinking. Once something has been invented, all we can do is shrug our shoulders. Kids are kids. People like to do what they like to do. We can try to accommodate it. We can create some rules and say, well, don't use your phone in your room. And I'm going to try not to use whatever. But we have to accommodate and just move on with it. I think we need to, because of the power of tools today, the speed with which they can have civilization-wide impact, we need to get much more willing at taking on the role of a selection function ourselves.


When The Monkeys Stole The Start (01:29:25)

Keep pushing technology forward because it can lead to massive improvements in our condition, but be equally willing to say, hey, this thing that we tried, this sucks. We're not doing that anymore. To be able to say like an increasingly number of mental health experts are, you know what, the social media thing, this is bad for kids. Kids don't use it. To be able to say we saw this and we're stepping backwards. That is not a Luddite thinking. It's not anti-technology thinking. What it is, I believe, is us as a species taking more control over the impact of technology on our way forward to implement our own artificial selection function, to make sure that the stuff that matters can exist and push us forward, but also make sure the stuff that's pushing us to the side gets diminished.


Concept Of Principle

Ilusion Of Principle (01:30:08)

I think this is a great example of it. This idea that we invented social media and phones and said, if you're 12, you can have one. And now we can look back at it and say, let's change that decision. This is for 17-year-olds. This is for 16-year-olds. It's not for 12-year-olds. We need to be able to step backwards because we'll never be able to predict in advance the impact of these tools. This is something I say in the speeches I've been giving recently about these ideas. One of the things I say is when Steve Jobs stood up at the Moscone Center in 2007 and introduced the iPhone to the world, no one in that audience said, but Steve, what about the rise in suicides in adolescence? Because no one could see that this is where we were going to get six years after that because of some complex, unexpected, dynamical future steps that happen once that technology was introduced. We cannot predict very well the impact of a lot of technologies on culture. So either we have to stop introducing technologies, or we have to just accept whatever outcomes and technologies give us, or as I'm suggesting, we introduce technologies, we watch them carefully, we write and read about them. If we don't like what we see, we make some changes make some changes this i think is going to be one of the the big examples of this the first big case study of this type of philosophy is our culture's willingness which i think it is willing to do to say kids should not have unrestricted access to the internet they certainly should not be on social media when they're 13 years old that's that was that we tried it no more we have to be able to work backwards from what we see because if we can't predict it moving forward it's the only way to have a technological society without just being battered back and forth unexpectedly towards just as many bad outcomes as good so there we go Gen Z struggled I got that this summer from the class I taught at Dartmouth too. We talked, it was a technology class. We had a lot of talks about the role of technology in their lives. And it's, you know, Gen Z was a guinea pig. Yeah. It was like, oh, I mean, kids know more about technology than adults. So you shouldn't have this. And then it caused a lot of problems. So hopefully Gen Alpha is going to have it better. Anyways, on that positive note, I think we'll wrap up the show today. Thank you everyone who listened or watched. If you like the show, subscribe or leave a review. That matters. If you want to submit your own question or call, go to thedeeplife.com slash listen. The instructions are at the top. We'll be back next week. And until then, as always, stay deep. Hey, so if you like today's episode about overcoming laziness, I think you might also like episode 261 where I give concrete strategies for taking better control over your time. Check it out. Actually, I want to shift towards the more practical world of controlling your time.


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