Guest Episode
March 11, 2024

Dr. Cal Newport: How to Enhance Focus and Improve Productivity

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In this episode, my guest is Dr. Cal Newport, Ph.D., a professor of computer science at Georgetown University and bestselling author of numerous books on focus and productivity and how to access the deepest possible layers of your cognitive abilities in order to do quality work and lead a more balanced life. We discuss how to avoid digital distraction, specific systems to best arrange and update your schedule, and how to curate your work and home environment. We discuss how to engage with smartphones and technology, the significant productivity cost of task-switching, and how to avoid and overcome burnout. This episode provides specific protocols for enhancing focus and productivity, time management, task prioritization, and improving work-life balance that ought to be useful for anyone, young or old, regardless of profession.

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About this Guest

Dr. Cal Newport

Cal Newport, Ph.D., is a professor of computer science at Georgetown University and bestselling author of numerous books on focus and productivity and how to access the deepest possible layers of your cognitive abilities in order to do quality work and lead a more balanced life.

  • 00:00:00 Dr. Cal Newport
  • 00:02:52 Sponsors: Helix Sleep, Maui Nui & Joovv
  • 00:07:00 Smartphones, Office & Walking
  • 00:13:08 Productive Meditation, Whiteboards
  • 00:20:04 Tool: Capturing Ideas, Notebooks
  • 00:24:57 Tool: Active Recall & Remembering Information
  • 00:30:02 Sponsor: AG1
  • 00:31:29 Studying, Deliberate Practice
  • 00:38:13 Flow States vs. Deep Work
  • 00:41:39 Social Media, Emergencies
  • 00:45:27 Phone & Addiction; Task Switching
  • 00:53:20 Sponsor: LMNT
  • 00:54:23 “Neuro-Semantic Coherence” vs. Flow; Concentration
  • 01:02:40 Internet Use & Kids; Video Games; Audiobooks
  • 01:08:15 Pseudo-Productivity, Burnout
  • 01:12:34 Social Media Distraction; The Deep Life
  • 01:18:03 Attention, ADHD, Smartphones & Addiction; Kids
  • 01:26:12 TikTok, Algorithm
  • 01:30:39 Tool: Boredom Tolerance, Gap Effects & “Thoreau Walks”
  • 01:37:43 Solitude Deprivation, Anxiety
  • 01:41:22 Tools: Fixed Work Schedule & Productivity, Exercise, Sleep
  • 01:47:52 Deep Work, Insomnia; Productivity & Core Work; Music
  • 01:55:08 Cognitive Focus & Environment; Isolation
  • 02:02:30 Burnout Epidemic, Digital Collaboration
  • 02:11:11 Cognitive Revolution, Balance
  • 02:16:45 Remote, Hybrid vs. In-Person Work; Zoom
  • 02:22:05 Tool: Pull-Based System, Designing Workload
  • 02:28:49 Tools: Multi-Scale Planning, Time Blocking; Deep Work Groups
  • 02:38:56 Tool: Shutdown Ritual
  • 02:42:37 Accessibility, Reputation & Flexibility
  • 02:47:29 Work-Life Balance, Vacation; Productivity
  • 02:54:47 Zero-Cost Support, Spotify & Apple Reviews, YouTube Feedback, Sponsors, Momentous, Social Media, Neural Network Newsletter

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This transcript version is not in its final form and will be updated.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Welcome to the Huberman Lab podcast where we discuss science and science based tools for everyday life.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I'm Andrew Huberman and I'm a professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: My guest today is Doctor Cal Newport. Doctor Cal Newport is a professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. He did his training at MIT and he is currently both a professor and the author of many best selling books focused on productivity focus and how to access the specific states of mind to bring out your best in terms of cognitive performance and indeed, in terms of performance in all endeavors.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: One of his more notable books is entitled "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World."

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Deep Work is a book that has had tremendous positive influence on my work life and indeed my life in general because it spells out how exactly to go about doing one's best possible work for me that's in the context of science and podcasting, but it includes tools that I and many others have extended to other aspects of their life as well. And it's a book that I highly recommend everybody read.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Cal also has a new book out. Now, it's one that I'm currently reading entitled "Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout." And as the title suggests, it gets into specific protocols to avoid burnout and to bring about one's highest quality work over the greatest amount of time.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Today's discussion starts off with extremely practical steps that any and all of us can use in order to enhance our level of focus, productivity and creativity. Cal shares much of his specific practices and also offers some alternative practices for those of you that perhaps do not want to disengage with Social Media or with smartphones or with email.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: To the extent that he does. I found the conversation to be extremely useful in the sense that I indeed am on Social Media. I use email, I use my phone and texting quite often.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So I'm not somebody who's willing to completely disengage from those tools, but I share in the sentiment that those tools can often be an impediment to doing one's best work. So today's discussion gets into not hard and fast rules for enhancing focus and productivity, but a variety of different tools that you can select from in sort of a buffet to suit your particular needs.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: We also of course discuss the specific research studies around focus and distraction, Task Switching and context switching, all of which support the specific protocols that Cal offers. So whether you're somebody who has issues with attention and focus or whether you're somebody that's just feeling overly distracted by the number of things in your email inbox or the number of texts or what's happening out in the world.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: By the end of today's episode, I'm confident that you will be armed with the best science supported tools that is protocols in order to access the states of mind that will enable you to do your best possible work.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Before we begin, I'd like to emphasize that this podcast is separate from my teaching and research roles at Stanford. It is however part of my desire and effort to bring zero cost to consumer information about science and science related tools to the general public.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: In keeping with that theme. I'd like to thank the sponsors of today's podcast. Our first sponsor is Helix Sleep. Helix Sleep makes mattresses and pillows that are of the absolute highest quality I've spoken many times before on this podcast about the fact that quality sleep is the foundation of mental health, physical health and performance and to get the best possible night sleep.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It's absolutely key that your sleeping surface that is your mattress suit your specific needs. Helix understands this and they develop a brief two minute quiz in which you can match your body type and sleep preferences. That is whether or not you sleep on your back, your side or your stomach, whether or not you tend to run hot or cold in the middle of the night.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Perhaps you don't know the answers to those questions. That's ok. You answer the questions in that brief two minute quiz and they match you to the specific mattress ideal for your sleep needs. In my, that was the dusk D US K mattress. I started sleeping on a dusk mattress well, over three years ago and it has significantly improved my sleep.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And as a consequence, I feel more focused and alert, I'm better able to do all the things that I need to cognitively physically throughout the day. So, if you're interested in upgrading your mattress, simply go to Helix Sleep. Com/Huberman, take that brief two minute quiz and they'll match you to a customized mattress ideal for you. You'll get up to $350 off any mattress order and two free pillows.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Again, go to Helix Sleep.Com/Huberman for up to $350 off and two free pillows. Today's episode is also brought to us by Maui Nui Venison. Maui Nui Venison is the most nutrient dense and delicious red meat available. I've spoken before on this podcast and there's general consensus that most people should strive to consume approximately 1 g of protein per pound of body weight.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Now, when one strives to do that, it's important to maximize the quality of that protein intake to the calorie ratio because you don't want to consume an excess of calories when trying to get that 1 g of protein per pound of body weight. Maui Nui Venison has an extremely high quality protein to calorie ratio.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So it makes getting that 1 g of protein per pound of body weight extremely easy. It's also delicious. Personally, I like the ground venison. I also like the venison steaks and then for convenience. When I'm on the road, I like the jerky. The jerky is a very high protein to calorie ratio.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So it has as much as 10 g of protein per jerky stick and it has something like only like 55 calories. So again, making it very easy to get enough protein without consuming excess calories. If you would like to try Maui Nui Venison, you can go to Maui Nui to get 20% off your first order.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Again, that's to get 20% off. Today's episode is also brought to us by JOOVV. JOOVV makes medical grade red light therapy devices. Now, if there's one theme that I've consistently put forward on this podcast, it's the powerful role that light has on our mental health, physical health and performance.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: JOOVV makes medical grade devices that emit both red and near infrared light, red and near infrared light is so called long wavelength light. And it's able to penetrate deeper into tissues than shorter wavelength light like blue and green lights.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Those red and near infrared long wavelength lights have been shown to be beneficial for everything from skin health to wound healing to eye health. And even for mitochondrial health. What sets JOOVV apart from other red light and near infrared light devices is that they are clinical proven to emit the specific wavelengths at the specific intensities required to achieve specific biological effects.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Personally, I use the JV handheld light both at home and when I travel, it's only about the size of a sandwich. It's very convenient to use. I also have a JV whole body panel and I use that about three or four times a week. If you would like to try JOOVV, you can go to

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: JOOVV is offering an exclusive discount to all Huberman Lab listeners with up to $400 off select JOOVV products. Again, that's to get $400 off select JOOVV products. And now for my discussion with Doctor Cal Newport, Doctor Cal Newport, welcome.

CAL NEWPORT: Doctor Huberman. It’s good to see you.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I'm a huge fan. I've been a huge fan ever since I read deep work. I can't say that I've adopted all the principles, but that's on me. Not you. You provide incredible incentive for why one ought to pursue deep work and slow productivity in service to high quality true productivity, et cetera.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Some of the protocols as we'll call them are incredibly easy to implement others, take some discipline. So I'd like to talk about both sets today. But the first question I have is do you own a smartphone?

CAL NEWPORT: I do have a smartphone. Yeah. Well, here's the thing, I don't use Social Media.

CAL NEWPORT: So it turns out smartphones aren't that interesting if you don't have any Social Media apps on it. Yeah. What's that like? So there's, there's nothing if you have nothing that is engineered to try to grab your attention.

CAL NEWPORT: The smartphone actually goes back to 2007 Steve Jobs, keynote address smartphone, which is, this is a really nice phone and your music, you can listen to things on it and the phone interface is really good. And look, there's a Maps app and you can like look at Maps on it like it's actually a useful piece of technology that you're happy to have. But you don't use it that much.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: What about text messaging? Do you text message? And if so do you get into conversations by text or is it more of a, a plan and meet type tool?

CAL NEWPORT: I try, right. So, so I try, I do use text messaging. I mean, this is how like my wife gets in touch with me. But I'm notorious somewhat among my friends of my, the ability to capture my attention with text message is really hit or miss because I'll go hours without looking at my phone.

CAL NEWPORT: So it's not this default appendage. I think for a lot of people, if you know someone, you can basically assume like look, if I text them, they're gonna get right back to me.

CAL NEWPORT: My problem is I'll go 234 hours, you know, without looking at my phone and then there'll be text messages on there from conversations that people were trying to start and I typically just have to declare text bankruptcy a few times a day. Like, like if they really needed me, I guess they would have called. So I do text but, I'm not considered to be very good at it.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: A few other questions about your phone practices. This makes me nervous. Is your phone in a drawer on, on the desktop?

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: While you're working, is it face down, face up? Is the ringer on, is it off?

CAL NEWPORT: You know, if I'm writing or it's nowhere near me? Yeah, I mean, it could be anywhere, it's just not gonna be anywhere near me. So I have in my house. Two different offices basically. Right. So there's a home office, the printers there, the filing cabinets are there like the nice big monitors there, you know, pay taxes, that type of thing then have a library.

CAL NEWPORT: And there's no permanent technology in the library. No computer in there, no monitor, no printers, nothing like this. I have this sort of custom built desk I had made by a company from Maine that makes desks for college libraries. Like that's what they do. So I had this like custom fit desk to fit into, it's not that big of a space. That's where I go to write. I'm surrounded by books that I've really carefully curated.

CAL NEWPORT: What's where each shelf, like what type of book it has on it. So I can look different ways for different inspirations. I got a fireplace so I can just turn on a fire. If I need it, I'll bring my laptop in there to write. If I'm gonna write on a computer and my phone doesn't come in there. Yeah. You don't, you don't look at, you don't look at a phone in that room and it just helps you.

CAL NEWPORT: It's a ritual, right? If I'm in there, I'm thinking I'm creating with the sort of same patterns of cogitation that we would have been using for hundreds of years when people have been thinking professionally if I want to be near a printer and I want to go on to a web browser and pay my taxes or whatever, I have a different place for that.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I'm curious about the fireplace. I have this theory based on my understanding of visual neuroscience and the fact that when we're looking at visual scenes that have some degree of predictability to them, we get into a mode of anticipation. Our thinking is at least somewhat linear and so forth.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: When we are looking at say ocean waves or oh in a skyscraper, we're staring down at the street of say New York City and the cars are moving in obviously not random fashion, but at least to our visual perception, pseudo random, you're not tracking any one thing that the, the mind goes into this sort of state where our thoughts become nonlinear.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: They're not anchored to any kind of if, then kind of what I call DPO duration, path outcome kind of trajectory. There's not a lot of neuroscience on this, but there's a little bit same thing happens when you're looking at an aquarium, by the way.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So I wonder whether not staring at the fire, which is something that humans have been doing for many, many, many thousands of years.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Because it has that random aspect to it. Does it tend to spark creativity, linear thinking. At what point in your writing do you turn to the fire and stare at it?

CAL NEWPORT: That's interesting actually that there's a neurological explanation when I use the fire. It actually when I read, right? So I have chairs by the fire. But I think for exactly this reason, right? Because when I'm reading, I'm looking to spark ideas, right? Like, OK, what am I, what's my takeaway from this?

CAL NEWPORT: What's the connection you're making between this thing you're reading here and this idea over there? That type of connection making is a lot of my brainstorming. I read by the fire when the weather allows it. I also walk a lot. So I wonder if there's something similar going on?

CAL NEWPORT: Like when I'm trying to work through an idea for an article or a math proof or something like this. Almost always, I'm going to do that on foot and there might be something similar going on there where you're encountering. It's not entirely exotic stimuli, right? So it's not, oh my God, you know, my attention is being drawn but it's you, you don't, you don't quite know what you're going to see.

CAL NEWPORT: And you also have that, that circuit quieting effect of the walking, your motor neurons are going. You can tell me if I'm getting this right or not, you are the motor neurons are going and you get some inhibition going on in some of these, these key networks which allows you to actually maintain the, the, the internal focus on a concept a little bit better.

CAL NEWPORT: So I do a lot of my original focused dating on foot, but a lot of my serendipitous dating will be with the fire going, right? It's the winner I read by the fire. And so when I read that I get a lot of my original ideas.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I have this theory that the two opposite states of mind that both facilitate creativity and productivity look something like this. And you can tell me whether or not this maps anything that that, you know, one is just as you described, our body is in motion, could be running, walking might even be in the shower or something of that sort.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But we aren't trying to direct our mind toward a specific linear trajectory or outcome. It's not, it's not like working out an equation or a theorem. The same way we would if we were at a piece of paper or writing out a sentence, a structured paragraph. So it's body in motion, mind not channel toward one specific target.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: The opposite extreme to me is body still mind very active which resembles rapid eye movement sleep when we learn a lot and neural rewiring occurs and dreaming. But for which there's also a lot of examples of very accomplished creatives using that sort of thing of meditative like approaches, you know, forcing oneself to be still and thinking. So it sounds like you incorporate both.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I'm curious as a computer scientist who writes code does theorems, does a lot of math where you can't just kind of wing it.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: There's a right and wrong answer involved.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: What is your mode for sitting down and working through something that's linear and hard?

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, it's interesting the way you talk about it, right? Because when I'm walking, and this is actually something you can train, you know, and I talked about this one of my books once that you can actually train yourself to maintain your internal eye of focus more stably while you're walking, right? So I call this productive meditation in deep work actually.

CAL NEWPORT: And I, I practice this in grad school. Right. Ok. So I'm going to work on a particular problem while I walk and then you actually practice bringing your attention back to the central problem and it, I don't know exactly what's happening, but you get a little bit more, facility working with your working memory, a little bit more efficiency with bringing stuff in and out of the working memory.

CAL NEWPORT: And so I trained myself that I could actually write a couple of paragraphs in my head, maybe not word for, but basically word for word, like figure out how I'm going to do it or figure out enough steps of a math proof to capture like a key insight like OK, now I'm gonna get around this, then you have to sit down and actually formally capture that.

CAL NEWPORT: And yeah, for me, that's still working with notebooks though when I was coming up in grad school and I was just excavating these thoughts recently, we, we were talking before the, we recorded that, you know, I just wrote this essay about what I learned as a grad student that impacted all my writing as a grad student in the theory group at MIT, which was just purified concentration.

CAL NEWPORT: This is where all the deep work ideas come from, right? I mean, it was just world class concentrators there. The method was very still more than one person white board.

CAL NEWPORT: So if you have two or three people staring at the same white board, you're actually going up the level of concentration you achieve because if you let your attention wander, you disengage that attention, there's a social capital cost because now I've fallen out of the, the white board effect discussion. That's going to be a problem.

CAL NEWPORT: So you actually maintain your focus at a higher level and then when someone else is making their move, ok. You know what about this? And they're working math, it's all math on the board. You're giving that the highest attention you're capable of because you want to keep up, right? You don't want to fall behind.

CAL NEWPORT: So it was like this hack that was figured out in the theory group that if you put two or three people at the same white board to try to alchemy these insights into actual mathematically precise proofs, you get a 20 30% boost in your concentration level and, and that could make all the difference, right? If you're working on a very hard proof, 20 30% boost, could be the difference between solving it or not.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: In one of these situations where you're at the white board or chalkboard. And there are two other individuals facing it? Are they interrupting you or is the etiquette in that scenario to just let the person go until their natural inclination to raise a hand and, and scream.

CAL NEWPORT: Help whoever has the marker on the board, they're the ones talking. So you go OK. What about this, you say, and now you're working, you're writing down equations or drawing your diagram and everyone is just watching and then when they're done, everyone steps back and looks at it, then you can step forward. Ok? But what if we did this?

CAL NEWPORT: And then, and you still work on it. So, so when I got built some offices or worked out some offices near my house, like one of the first things we put in there was a white board so they could have Computer Science collaborators come because we can't work on theory otherwise.

CAL NEWPORT: Like it is the thing we need is a white board, right? When I started grad school, they had just built this new $300 million Frank Gehry designed building for the Computer Science, artificial intelligence laboratory and the linguistics. But half of it was Computer Science.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I know those buildings because the peak hour and the mcgovern Neuroscience and those buildings are very interesting. People should check them out if they're ever in. Yeah.

CAL NEWPORT: The Kendall Square stop. The status center. Yeah. Right down the street from the Kendall Square stop. Yeah. So the sixth floor was where the theatrics were. This is where I was. So I, you know, they opened that building the year I started the doctoral program. And what did they want to show me when they, when they brought me to this $300 million building? Look at our white boards.

CAL NEWPORT: That's what they were proud of. They had filled the common space on the sixth floor. The theory floor with these freestanding double sided whiteboards, it was like a maze of whiteboards and this is what everyone was so excited about was. Yeah, look at our whiteboard coverage, you know, surrounded by a $300 million meal.

CAL NEWPORT: I tried, I was trying to explain this to someone recently. Having good white boards to us is like an astronomer saying, look, we got this great radio telescope like this is going to allow us to get data to work on that. We wouldn't otherwise have access to, I think to a theoretician.

CAL NEWPORT: That's why you see a white board because you know, if you want to think at the very highest level, you need two or three people staring at the same thing taking turns with the marker, pushing each other past where they're comfortable.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I, I love this because I often think about visual maps that represent our internal memory stores and plans, et cetera for productivity. I've always relied heavily on the on the white board by getting one for home. I have one here in the podcast studio. All of my podcast notes for the my solo episodes are distilled down to 4, 8.5 by 11 notes which are photographs of the, the white board and I don't use a teleprompter.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: That's why I've been accused of using one before I don't even know how that would work.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But it's extremely useful to use the whiteboard. And I think because ideas are so easily put up there and removed.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: There's something about writing on things that are vertical as opposed to on a flat surface. I really because that's actually the way our visual perception casts things, we don't cast visual perception on the ground where we use, we experience the visual world mostly in front of us. I think the cognitive map and the visual map are inextricably linked for at least for sighted folks.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So I think there's really something there. So in the absence of colleagues to sit there and boost our attention by 25 to 30%.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: What could one do? Do you have a, you said you have a white board at home? I certainly use the whiteboard. Do you work on it the same way you would in those early days just with, in the absence of, of, of colleagues looking on? Yeah.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah. So you work on it just like someone's there.

CAL NEWPORT: The other hack is using really good notebooks. That's always made a big difference for me. Paper, paper notebooks. Yeah. Yeah, though, though, recently I've been messing around with a remarkable, which is one of these digital notebooks where it's E ink technology. So it's like a Kindle but you can write on it.

CAL NEWPORT: But you have endless pages on it. So I've been messing around with that recently. But I remembered when I was a postdoc, for example, I found it recently. I went and bought a lab notebook because those are expensive. At least for a postdoc. Right. It's like $70 because a lab notebook has to have archival quality paper.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It's bound, it's bound. Yeah. People might not realize this lab notebooks need to be kept for many years. You, you, you're not supposed to tear pages out of them. And so they tend to be bound. So if you have terrible handwriting, like I do, you just have to deal with it.

CAL NEWPORT: You can't rip it out and it's thick, thick paper, acid archival paper, big sturdy covers. But I bought this because I thought, OK, look, I'm going to take it more seriously because I think that's also part of what goes on with the white board is your mind thinks about writing on the big vertical space as a, a public crystallization of thoughts.

CAL NEWPORT: I'm putting this up for people to see even if there's no one actually there to see it. And so you take it more seriously, right? If I'm writing on a white board in class, I'm not just going to put up nonsense like I'm going to be very careful about what I'm writing because you imagine there's an audience. This is something for other people to see.

CAL NEWPORT: And so you get a little bit of a similar effect. If you have a very nice notebook, you think, look, I don't want to waste pages and somehow that helps with the thinking. So then I found this notebook because I store my old notebooks in my closet. So I found it and when I was working on a recent book, I found it, I went through it.

CAL NEWPORT: Right. And then I started ticking off, this turned into a paper, this turned into a grant. This notebook, I used it for maybe two years. Only used maybe about half the pages. It's all very careful, neat script and diagrams. I think I found seven different peer reviewed papers or funded grants where the core ideas were in this notebook.

CAL NEWPORT: So it was like that $70 was a an incredible investment because when I, when I got to work in that notebook, it must have been pushing my thinking to a new level because it was an incredible concentration of actual publishable results were coming out of his pages.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah, it seems like we would all do well regardless of our field to have some very low bar method of capture where if we just have an idea that spontaneously comes to mind that we can capture that in a voice memo or dare I say and of a phone notes segment.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But then something as you're suggesting like a, a whiteboard, like a bound notebook where the moment we look at it. It brings about a level of seriousness to our, to our thinking and to our actions, sort of like this is different than just texting.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I mean, what we're really talking about are kind of layers of sophistication but not in a snobby way in terms of highest productivity and quality to kind of I don't know, bubble gum wrapper on, on the floor type of levels of quote unquote productivity.

CAL NEWPORT: Well, I mean, I've become a fan of this idea of, of having specialized capture for specific type of work. So for example, I'm, I'm a big believer in pretty quickly, you want to capture ideas in the tool you use to do that work.

CAL NEWPORT: So when I have ideas for an article or a book, I'm going to go write to Scribner, which is specialty, this is specialty software writers used to write, right? I'm gonna go right to a Scribner project and start putting these in the research section of that Scribner project.

CAL NEWPORT: When I'm working on a math or Computer Science thing, I might work out proof ideas on paper, but I pretty quickly want to get that into a latex document. So, so the markup language that you use for and sort of like applied math papers, right? The the tool we use to actually write papers.

CAL NEWPORT: I'm going to move an idea into there as soon as I can, I'm gonna move proofs out of a notebook and into formally marked up like you would for a paper, you know, as soon as I would. So this idea, this is something I've been leaning into more is capture the notes in the tool you're going to use, take out the middle man in some sense, right?

CAL NEWPORT: So it's, it's reducing friction but also puts you in the right mind space like OK, this idea, I'm going to put it where I'm going to need it later as opposed to a more elaborate third party system that you construct, that you then later pull everything out of as needed.

CAL NEWPORT: This is what I've been doing more recently. Let's just get straight to the tool I'm eventually going to use with maybe a high quality notebook intermediary if I'm actually literally working out thoughts. So math, you have to work out thoughts, but I'll get that into an actual paper format pretty quickly.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Tell me what you think of. This what I always call protocol. If I want to learn something from a manuscript I read or a book chapter, I used to highlight things and I had a very elaborate extracted from my university days system of stars and exclamation marks and underline.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: That mean a lot to me that can yes, bring me back to a given segment within the chapter. But a few years ago, I was teaching a course in the biology department at Stanford and for some reason, we had them read a study about information retention.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I learned from that study that one of the best things we can do is read information in whatever form a magazine, research article, et cetera book.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And then to take some time away from that material, maybe walk, maybe close one's eyes, maybe leave them open, doesn't matter. And just try and remember specific elements. How much does one remember then go back to the material and look at it.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I've just been positively astonished at how much more information I can learn when I'm not simply going through motor commands of just underlining things and highlighting them, but stepping away and thinking, OK. Yeah, they, I don't, I don't remember how many subjects there were.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I'll go back and check that, maybe make a note and OK, they did this, then they did that and then like, and then it's crystallized and, and when, as I say this, I realize of course, this should work. This is the way that the brain learns.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But somehow that's not the way we are taught to learn.

CAL NEWPORT: Well, I'm smiling because I, when I was 22 I wrote this book called How To Become a Straight A Student, right? And, and the whole premise of the book was I'm gonna talk to actual college students who have Straight A's and who don't seem completely ground out, right? Like not burnt out and I'm just going to interview them, right? And the protocol was how did you study for the last test?

CAL NEWPORT: Did you study for? How did you take notes for the last? So I was just asking them to walk through their methodology. The core idea of that book was active recall. That was the core idea that replicating ideas we used to say is replicating the information from scratch as if teaching a class without looking at your notes. That is the only way to learn.

CAL NEWPORT: And, and the thing about it was, it's a trade off. It doesn't take, it's efficient, doesn't take much time, but it's incredibly mentally taxing, right? This is why students often avoid it. It is difficult to sit there and try to replicate and pull forth. Ok. What did I read here? How did that work? It's, it's mentally very taxing, but it's very time efficient, right?

CAL NEWPORT: If you're willing to essentially put up with that, with that pain, you learn very quickly and not only do you learn very quickly, you don't forget. It's almost like you have a pseudo photographic memory. When you study this way, you sit down to do a test and you're, you're replicating like whole lines from like what you, what you studied.

CAL NEWPORT: I the ideas sort of come out fully formed because it's such a fantastic way to, to actually learn. It was my key like the whole premise that got me writing that book is I went through this, this period as a college student where, where I came in freshman year was like a fine student, not a great student, but a fine student. And I was rowing crew and I was sort of like excited to do that.

CAL NEWPORT: And then I developed a heart condition and had to stop congenital wiring in the heart atrial flutter thing. I mean, I couldn't recruit anymore prolapse of some sort. It was AAA circuitry, a circuitry issue that would lead to a extremely rapid heartbeat. It's like a really rapid like tardia, right? You get 2, 250 beats a minute just and it could be exercise induced, right? Which is not optimal.

CAL NEWPORT: You could take beta blockers which would moderate the electrical timing, but beta blockers reduce your max heart rate. And if you're an athlete where the entire thing that matters is your max heart rate. So you're doing something like a 2000 m rows, your performance on beta blockers just goes down and it makes no sense. It's like being a basketball player that wears weighted shoes. It's too frustrating.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It also makes you super mellow.

CAL NEWPORT: I was pretty mellow guy, but I was a worse rower. So, so I stopped that. I was like, ok, I want to get serious about my, my studies. II, I can get serious about my studies and writing, right. That's when I actually made the decisions they've been stuck with for the next 25 years after that.

CAL NEWPORT: But one of the things I did to get serious about my studies is I said I'm going to systematically experiment with how to study for tests and how to write papers. And I had, I would try this. How did it go deconstruct experiment? Try this, how to go deconstruct experiment and active recall was a thing to turn me all around.

CAL NEWPORT: And so I went from a pretty good student to 40, every single quarter, sophomore year, junior year, senior year, I got one a minus between my sophomore year through my senior year. It was like this miraculous transformation. It was active recall. I rebuilt all of my study.

CAL NEWPORT: So if it was for a humanities class, I had a whole way of taking notes that was all built around doing active recall for math classes. My main study tool was a stack of white paper. All right. Do this proof white piece of paper and just can I do it from scratch if I could I know that technique? If I don't?

CAL NEWPORT: All right, I'm gonna come back and try it again, later, completely transformed. You know, I did so well, academically, that's why I ended up writing that book to basically spread that message to other people. So I'm a huge advocate for active recall. It's really hard, but it is the way to learn new things.

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CAL NEWPORT: Mean, it was a problem, it was a social problem for me that I would have to pretend during finals period that I was going to the library to study because I would be done studying this act of recall. It's brutal, but it's incredibly efficient. You sit down there, I would have my cards.

CAL NEWPORT: I would Mark it. Ok. I struggled with this. I'd put it in this pile. I got it done. I'd put it in this pile. And so then you would just go back to the, I struggled with a pile, and work on that and then make a new, I struggled with a pile and these would exponentially decay.

CAL NEWPORT: And so in like a few hours you could really master, you know, with a few other tricks that work, you could really master the material pretty quickly. And then what am I supposed to do? I didn't do all nighters like you want to make any sense. Like active recall is how you prepare and it's gonna take four hours and it's gonna be tough. So do it in the morning when you have energy and then you're done.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I love it. I learned essentially all of neuron anatomy, looking down the microscope at tissue samples. And then I would try and take photographs with my eyes. I do not have a photographic memory, but then I would get home in the evening. Look through the neuroanatomy textbook, lie down and try and fly through the different circuits in my mind.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And then if I arrived at a structure in the brain that I couldn't identify, I would then go check my notes and go back. So, so basically I learned neuron, which I, you know, I'm poor at a great many things in life but neuron, I'm, I'm, I'm solid at and then some, if I may say so and it's because there's a mental map, you can move through it, you know, fly through it dynamically.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And that it's the same process. Not all things lend themselves to that approach. I'm guessing maybe we could think of a few that don't.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I guess if people were learning music, that might be tricky, maybe they need the sheet music in front of them. I don't know, I'm not a musician.

CAL NEWPORT: I mean, I studied a professional guitar player at one point. You were a professional guitar. I studied one. So for, for a book, everything's from some book, I've written a lot of books. So I wrote a book 10 years ago.

CAL NEWPORT: Where I was trying to figure out as part of it, how do people get better at things? And so I spent time with a professional guitar player. They said I just wanted to see how he practiced. Like, what, what does this actually look like?

CAL NEWPORT: And what I learned from them is like, what they do is, yeah, they have the music in front of them, but for them it's all speed. So they take a piece. He was working on licks for he was a new acoustic style player and they had these kind of blue grassy type licks.

CAL NEWPORT: And he probably had to memorize and he knew how fast he could comfortably play it for them. It's all about adding 20% to what they're comfortably doing. And then that, that, that push past where they're comfortable. And the thing I remember writing about him was he was concentrating so hard to try to hit the like 20% faster than he was used to. It is he'd forget to breathe.

CAL NEWPORT: So he'd be like going, going, going and then just gasp, you know, like because his body would, you know, force him, force him to breathe. So, yeah, there it seemed to be all about deliberate practice. So like how do you, they don't waste any time. Professional musicians waste no time doing things they're comfortable doing every time they spin practicing. And this is also incredibly difficult.

CAL NEWPORT: But every time it's been practicing is almost entirely in a state of, I'm not comfortable with this. But if I focus as hard as I can, maybe I'm going to pull this off. Like I'll pull off the sonata at this new speed. I'm trying to do, maybe I'll pull it off. It's like the maximal growth stimulating state.

CAL NEWPORT: And so I wrote in the, in this chapter, why was he so much better at guitar than I was at the same age? Because I played a lot of guitar when I was younger and was in rock bands, right? And this kid was young, right? But really, really good. And I said, OK, now I realize it, I can recognize me when I look back at my time playing guitar at his age, I played stuff I knew how to play.

CAL NEWPORT: Like that's what was fun. Like, yeah, I want to like jam along with the songs I knew or, you know, rip some pentatonic scales, you know, to like a Jimi Hendrix album. It was fun and he spent almost no time, the pro spent no time having fun practicing was your brain had to be, you know, uncomfortable.

CAL NEWPORT: So I learned a lot from that, you know, this actually led to a bit of a battle because of my, my readers, there was this this battle that emerged where people were trying to combine Anders Erickson in deliberate practice with Mihaly Chung sent me high and flow.

CAL NEWPORT: And really they were trying to make flow apply everywhere. Like it's all about flow. Deliberate practice is flow, everything is flow. The whole thing is to get into a state of flow. And I remember Anders talking about this at some point and say like no, no, no, like the state of practice that makes you better.

CAL NEWPORT: It's the opposite of flow, right? And flow, you lose track of time when you're practicing like that professional guitar player. You know, every second that passes by because it's like incredibly difficult, like what you're doing, your mind is rebelling.

CAL NEWPORT: It's not natural, you know, it's not fun, it's not the skier going down the hill and it's all instinct, it's you, it's all you thinking about exactly what you're trying to do. And so, you know, I began to push this point out here is like, it's not all about flow, like actually getting better at things is really painful.

CAL NEWPORT: Sometimes deliberate practice is not the same as flow. And there's a lot of fights about this for a while. I think there was a lot of flow advocates that just wanted life to be flow all the time. But I think Anders was right? Because I watched these professionals practice like that's what it is. It's not fun.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Well, everything we know about neuroplasticity, which of course is the nervous system's ability to change in response to experience says that there needs to be some neurochemical or electrical condition that changes in the nervous system in order to queue up plasticity.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And to my knowledge, one of the most robust of those is the release of the so called catecholamines, dopamine, epinephrine, nor epinephrine, dopamine because it's involved in so many things can be a little bit of a distractor. So let's just say epinephrine, norepinephrine, adrenaline nor adrenaline create in the body and mind to some extent, a state of alertness and often a state of agitation.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But if you think about it in the absence of some neuromodulators like those that change the conditions for wiring of neurons, you know, everyone loves fire together, wire together a beautiful statement by Carla Schatz, not Donald Hebb. Doctor Carla Schatz said that not Donald Hebb.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But why would neurons need to change their patterns of connectivity if you can complete the operation? The nervous system needs to it doesn't feel discomfort, it creates discomfort, but the nervous system needs a cue to that. Ok. This is different. I'm failing and it's the failures that actually trigger the plasticity is the discomfort that cues, that conditions are different.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Now, otherwise, there's simply no reason to devote energetic resources to rewiring neurons. And I feel like we don't learn this when we're kids. We and I think as kids, we can learn so much without that feeling of agitation, we get into these modes of looking for flow and I have respect for the, the research on flow and the people who are bald in, but I'd like to talk about flow a little bit.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: The only thing I really know about flow for sure is that backwards? It spells wolf. So what of flow? It's such an attractive idea, right? It's like Star Wars. It's like you have the force of and you're kind, you're doing things without thinking and awesome.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But I can't flow myself through a paper and extract the critical data. I can't create a podcast in flow. But when it's done, it feels great, especially if you nail the, the key metrics. So what do you think about flow? Let's, I'm not trying to beat up on it. I just want to understand how, how you place it in the framework of learning and, and deep work.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: If it belongs there at all.

CAL NEWPORT: It doesn't have a big place in it in the deep work framework. And, and this was what the controversy was for a while. And, and I, I knew Mahaley a little bit like we, we corresponded some and I knew Anders a little bit like we corresponded some. So I sort of felt like I was you know, and, and both of them actually tragically died in the last three or four years, I think.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, I think both recently flow doesn't play a big role in the deep, deep work framework, right? So, so when I was trying to justify deep work. So like why focusing without distraction was important? I was drawing a lot more for Andres work, right? Because why is focusing without distraction? Important?

CAL NEWPORT: Well, you have to quiet the neural circuitry. So you can isolate the circuit that's actually relevant to the thing that you're doing, right? You're not going to get better at something. If you have noisy circuitry. This is, and that requires a really intense concentration. So that was one of the big advantages of deep work was if you're used to that cognitive state, you're gonna learn things faster.

CAL NEWPORT: And I think it was all on to understand why. So if you're not distracted, I'm really focusing hard on what I'm doing, trying to learn this new thing, you're giving the right mental conditions. But it's not a flow state.

CAL NEWPORT: And I always used to say, OK, when your, when your deep work is not flow because of this, like a lot of deep work is you're trying to do something that is beyond your comfort zone and that's going to be difficult. That's a state of deliberate practice. And there's a famous paper about this where Anders actually explicitly says deliberate practice and flow are very different.

CAL NEWPORT: And, and I wrote an essay years ago called the Father of Deliberate Practice disowns flow. And again, people are really flow partisans out there. It's interesting, I think people just like the idea because it feels good. But I mean, flow is the feeling of performance is the way I think about it.

CAL NEWPORT: It gets really hard to train for certain sports. But then when you're actually performing, you're in the game, you can fall in the flow, right? Because then everything is undo and it's really hard to train guitar. But like when you're performing in front of a big crowd, you probably, maybe you fall in the flow, maybe you don't, but you could, right.

CAL NEWPORT: But it's a performance state, not the practicing, getting better state. So, you know, to me, flow has like very little role in how I think about what I do as a cognitive professional. It's just not something that comes up that often.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I agree that we learn through focused work and that flow does manifest itself during performance and sometimes so much so that people exhibit virtuosity is they're surprising themselves even what, what, what's in there. And that's kind of, I always think of it.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It's what is unskilled skilled, mastery, virtuosity, virtuosity seems to incorporate some sort of random elements of maybe even the performer has not done that before and they surprise themselves or something like that. Who knows? These are, these are words for something that isn't easily quantified in the first place.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But in terms of deep work and getting a little bit back to kind of practical steps towards deep work, I also have to ask you because I didn't earlier when you are on your laptop in your library with your fireplace and these books, it's a beautiful image actually that you've drawn for us in our minds.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Is the wi fi connection to your computer activated or are you offline?

CAL NEWPORT: It's connected because it doesn't really matter to me, you know, because what, what is it, what's drawing my attention?

CAL NEWPORT: I mean, the most important decision I think I made technically speaking to be a cognitive worker is I didn't lack of Social Media, like II, I think we underestimate the degree to which our problem with digital distraction is not the internet, it is not our phones, it is specific products and services that are engineered at great expense to pull you back to them when you take that away.

CAL NEWPORT: The internet's not that interesting. Like, I don't have a cycle of sites to go to, you know, I can check my email but I don't really know where else to go. I mean, I could go to The New York Times, I guess, but then you've seen the articles, right? They, they change it once a day. There's just not much I've set things up so there's not much that's that interesting to me.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: We've all heard of FOMO, fear of missing out. I feel like there's the other thing which is fear of missing something bad, right? Sort of like an anxiety, a more primitive anxiety within us that if we are not engaged on Social Media or looking at our phone often or texting often that it's not that we'll miss the party.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: We'll miss the emergency.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: You don't seem to suffer from those kind of everyday ills.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah. I mean, it doesn't happen that much. I mean, I have a phone, you know, a standard. No, I mean, I have my phone, I guess if I'm working away from it. Yeah, I guess it's true if there is an emergency.

CAL NEWPORT: But this was the case for a very long time. Right. We didn't have smartphones till really relatively recently. This is, you know, 15 years ago.

CAL NEWPORT: So we were just used to this until yesterday, essentially that there's just periods of time where you're, you're out of touch, like you're at a restaurant with someone, you're out of touch until you get back to your office. Like we were ok. You know, we weren't plagued by emergencies that, that, led to disastrous results because we couldn't hear about it. Right. Then you go to the movies like you're out of touch.

CAL NEWPORT: Right. And be a couple of hours. So you're in touch again. And so I don't, you know, it's not something that's affected me as much. So, maybe I'm working without my phone nearby. A lot of people have this response. They begin sort of catastrophizing like what if this happens or this or that. And I'm thinking, you know, I survived before that my parents survived without that, my grandparents survived without that.

CAL NEWPORT: I don't worry about it as much, you know, and, and some of this maybe is just, this doesn't upset people as, as much as it used to. The fact I don't use a lot of these apps on my phone.

CAL NEWPORT: But it really does upset people. Right. There's, well, what about this? What about that? What about this? And I don't know how much of this is just maybe I'm oblivious and how much of this is people back sliding explanation for why they do need their phone, why they do need to look at it all the time, but I, I get a lot of it.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: You know, maybe they're upset and you don't know because you're not looking at your phone.

CAL NEWPORT: I'll tell you what, that's a blessing not knowing how upset people are at you. It's a blessing as a semi public figure. I'll tell you that.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah, I can comment on that but I won't.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I am on Social Media and I do enjoy it. I, I've got started posting on Instagram and then expanded to other platforms including the, the podcast, but there's a threshold beyond which it becomes counterproductive for sure.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I think there's information there like questions that people ask are often informative. It's sort of like ending a class and asking are there any questions? Sometimes the comments that people bring back are truly informative towards both where they might have some misunderstanding, but also sometimes some really terrific ideas. So there's that, but I, I completely agree that there's a very precarious space.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I'll just relay a quick anecdote years ago, I gave a quick lecture down at Santa Clara University south of Stanford. And I was talking about this issue. I recommended your book and a student came up afterwards and he said, you don't get it at that time. I was in my early forties. He said, you don't get it. You know, you grew up without Social Media and the phone.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And so you've adopted it into your life, but we grew up with it and when my phone, he's speaking for himself in the first person, when my phone loses power, I feel a physical drain within my body. And when it comes back on, I feel a lift within my body. So I, I'd love your thoughts on but they're not, you think the phone and perhaps Social Media as well are in some ways an extension of our brain.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It's almost like another cortical area that contains all this information. It's, it's a version of us, this gets into notions of A I that we can talk about as well. I know you're involved in, in A I and writing about A I. But, you know, to me the P when the phone is used in that way.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It really is a, almost like a piece of neural machinery of sorts.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, I mean, there's two ways of looking at it. Yeah. So, so there is the, the sort of cyborg image, I suppose, right? Like you, you are, you're extending your, you're plug it into this neos sphere, like you have this sort of digital network extension of information what's going on. There's also the much more pessimistic view, which is no, no, that feeling is the feeling of a moderate behavioral addiction, right?

CAL NEWPORT: So you, you'll, you'll hear the same thing from a, a gambler. I really, when I'm away from being able to the play right to make my bets or do whatever. Like I feel really if I feel not myself and then when I'm, when I'm around it and I can play and make some bets, play some poker or whatever it is, I feel, I feel myself that chips, right? Like they would say so there it could be, both of these things could be true.

CAL NEWPORT: I think the moderate behavioral addiction side is, is more true than, than a lot of us want to admit actually, like it, it does feel bad because moderate behavioral addictions build these, these feedback response loops and then you get the dopamine system going when the anticipation because what's on there is things that have been engineered that you're going to get this sort of highly engaging stimuli and then you see the deliverance of that stimuli, right?

CAL NEWPORT: This really nice piece of glass on a piece of metal, I'm going to press this sort of carefully this icon whose colors have been chosen because we know it's going to hit various parts of our neural alert systems to be as engaging as possible.

CAL NEWPORT: And I'm going to see something in there that's going to generate some sort of emotional response. So, of course, when you see that thing sitting there, you want to use it and when you can't, it's AAA stymie dopamine response, you're like this, this is not good. I'm uncomfortable and I, I think that's a big part of it as well.

CAL NEWPORT: Because I've had this, you know, I've had this argument with, with some people and I, by the way, I see both sides of this, like there, there are great advantages to what people are doing with these tools. It's just that it's all mixed up with all these disadvantages and it becomes very difficult.

CAL NEWPORT: It's like the alcohol in the neighborhood bars too potent, you know, and, and people are going there to socialize and they're coming home at three in the morning, you know, passing out, you know, it's like the balance is off, not that there's not something good there, but the balance is off.

CAL NEWPORT: So it becomes pretty difficult to navigate. So I think some of that's what's going on, especially with the younger generation that was raised on it, which is why, by the way, I think the cultural norms are gonna change around this.

CAL NEWPORT: I think we're gonna think about unrestricted internet usage, not as something that we just sort of bequeath on youth as they become 10 years old, but something that we're actually much more careful about, probably something that's going to be postpubescent is gonna make a lot more sense.

CAL NEWPORT: Once you've had more brain development, once you've had more, social entrenchment, you sort of understand your identity, etcetera. Because we recognize, you know, the, the flip side of plugging this thing into your brain is, yeah, you have access to more information, but it also pumps that into your brain.

CAL NEWPORT: So, I don't know, I, I lean a little bit heavier towards the pessimistic read because I know too many people because of my books, who've really reduced the impact of these things in their lives and they don't, on the far side of that transformation, they don't typically report a great impoverishment and experience, experience.

CAL NEWPORT: They don't report, I'm less mentally agile. The information at my fingertips is less. I, I'm, I'm missing out on life. There's typically this coming out of the fog on the other side of it where they're like, oh, this is fine.

CAL NEWPORT: So, you know, I'm a little bit suspicious about exactly what this mechanism is.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I think you're right about the, moderate behavioral addiction piece. Years ago when I was starting my lab, I had grants to write and I found the phone to be pretty intrusive for that process. So I used to give the phone to somebody in my lab and announced to everyone in my lab that if I asked for it back prior to 5 p. m. that day, I would give everyone in the lab.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I think it was $100 bill. My lab was pretty big at the time. I was a junior professor. They did not do not, sorry, academic institutions not to be named. Pay us very much despite what people might think.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And, and it was difficult several times throughout the day or more. I was like, oh, I really want to look at that thing but the end of the day, I'll tell you that no one got paid. I got my phone back, but it's wonderful. The amount of work that you can get done when that thing is out of the room. I mean, it's.

CAL NEWPORT: My, it's my superpower, right. I don't work that hard in the sense that I don't do long hours. Like I'm not constitutionally suited for long hours. This was never my thing. My brain tires. Right. I mean, I'm good for 4, 4.5, good hours a day of actually producing good stuff with my brain.

CAL NEWPORT: Probably max. But, you know, I don't use my phone that much. I don't use the internet that much and I prioritize it and a lot just gets done. It just sort of piles up over time. You know, and there's this sense of like, you must be burning the midnight oil and you have all these things going on.

CAL NEWPORT: But again, people, I think, underestimate and it's not the, they underestimate the impact of this. It's not just the, the accumulation of time you spend looking on your phone, it's also this network switching cost, right? Because like the phone is very good at inducing a network switch. And that's an expensive time consuming energy consuming neuronal operation.

CAL NEWPORT: I'm gonna switch my focus of attention from this to that. Like we can't do that in two seconds, right? That's a hard process. It takes a while. It's why when you sit down to work on something really hard, you have that feeling of for the 1st 15 minutes. This is terrible, you know, and then after like 15 or 20 minutes, you sort of get into the groove.

CAL NEWPORT: I always assumed the part of what's going on is it takes a while for your brain to really start marshaling. Ok. So what semantic networks do? We need to start activating here? Oh, we don't need this, inhibit this. We're not doing that anymore. It takes a while.

CAL NEWPORT: So what happens then when you have a lot of these quick checks to Social Media, you're jumping in on email back and forth is you have this disaster catastrophic pile up of aborted task switches happening, right? And so it's not just the total time you're looking at, let's say email or Social Media, it's the 15 minute window.

CAL NEWPORT: You have to add around each of those checks in which you have this cognitive disorder that really adds up. And then you realize, oh, there was no time during my day in which I was more than 15 minutes away from looking at something that induced a network switch. The the data I like to cite which was looking at email and slack checks and knowledge workers. This came from rescue time.

CAL NEWPORT: The software company, the median average interval between checks was five minutes. It's the median and the mode was one minute in this data set. So it was like we are, we are checking all the time. That means you were never in a state then in your day where you don't have a confused cognitive space where you don't have partially, you were switching to this task, but then you switch back to this task before that finish.

CAL NEWPORT: But before you could fully lock it on this task, you look back over here. And so you're spending your entire day in the state of cognitive disorder which is going to be reduced cognitive output, right? So you get rid of that. I mean, I always say like one of my advantages is not that I'm doing anything smarter.

CAL NEWPORT: I'm just avoiding sometimes the dumb thing just holding, slowing other people down. You get rid of that and you feel like you're on the world's best neurotropic or something like this, like, oh, I'm just doing this thing and I'm doing pretty well now I'm done. You know why this didn't even take that long. So, I mean, I, I think people underestimate what's going on here.

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ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I do think that the brain has something akin to a transmission system where, you know, for people that drive and have driven, you know, the, the amount of energy that needs to be used in order to accelerate a vehicle to get up to a, you know, a higher gear. It's very different than the, equal amount of increase in speed at a given gear.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Right? So it's sort of the, this is, you hear this if you're not familiar with trans emission. So it sounds like, it sounds as if there's, it's more facile at, at higher speeds. Well, how could it be that you're burning less fuel at a higher speed? It's not exactly that way.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But, but I think the brain has these sort of transmission systems and what you're describing with, people switching back and forth and checking email and phone, et cetera and back to the work. That should be at hand is sort of akin to going up and down the, the gear system constantly trying to arrive at a given destination and sure you might arrive, but you're going to burn far more fuel.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It's the least efficient way to go about it. You want to get into that deep groove. And I think when we hear about flow, I feel like at least for me that's the sort of notion of flow that I'm looking for dropping into that deep groove. Even if there's some friction within that groove of the, the challenge of the work that I'm doing, it's about not thinking about anything else.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It's really about focus, right? And the word flow is just a wonderfully attractive word that I think gives us the, the false impression that we can just drop into things like a square way function, sit down pen and paper go and there's no possible way that neural circuits could work that way.

CAL NEWPORT: No, let's invent a term. And I, you tell me the term makes sense. I'm in on the fly. But neuro semantic coherence, this is going to be my alternative term for flow when you're working on something hard.

CAL NEWPORT: It's not that you're in an actual flow state where you lose track of what you're doing, you're concentrating really hard. But I'm, I'm why I'm saying neuro semantic coherence is you get to this place where the sort of relevant semantic neural networks are all, those that are activated are all relevant to what you're doing.

CAL NEWPORT: And you've over time inhibited most of the unrelated networks that were fired up before. And so you get in this sense of it's hard, maybe I'm not losing track of time, but like I'm all focused on this, you know, I'm grappling with the, the, the bear here, the, the Math Equation, the, the book chapter, whatever it is.

CAL NEWPORT: And so it's something different than flow, but it's also different than Linda Stone had the term partial continuous attention, which is what you're that cognitive disaster of I'm constantly network, switching back and forth. So we'll call it neuro semantic coherence. I gotta coin that term.

CAL NEWPORT: Because it's you have this coherence of the semantic neural networks on what you're doing. And that's the feeling of I'm getting after this hard problem and it might be really hard to do. I mean, I know the feeling of trying to solve a math proof for me, for example, could be so difficult because I mean, what does it actually feel like in your head when you're solving a math proof?

CAL NEWPORT: It's a lot of you hold this here and then you try to get to the next step by doing this and it doesn't work, but you have to keep holding this here, which takes a lot of concentration. Ok? Let me try this. That didn't work either, but this looked promising. Ok? So now I need to go back and in my mind, I update the setup and now let me try this.

CAL NEWPORT: So it's a lot of holding things in your working memory and keeping them loaded while you try an extension and then evaluating how that worked without. And so it, it requires you just internal concentration which isn't pleasant, but in neuro semantic coherence, it's all this happening in your world, you know, is that in depth proof? So maybe that's what we should be pitching.

CAL NEWPORT: What people should be looking for is yeah, forget flow.

CAL NEWPORT: But also remember like there's a default where you're like the rescue time, data set, participants, checking email once every five minutes. That's cognitive nonsense. That's crazy.

CAL NEWPORT: That's like you're trying to, you know, play football and you're covering over one of your eyes and wearing like a £50 rucksack on. You're just like handicapping your abilities here for no reason, right? So what's in between is this idea? And that requires focus, you know, our cars deep.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Work, you know, or playing football and then every three downs or so running into the stands and having a conversation, trying to work out something challenging with your spouse or whatever and then going back and trying to it's a totally different play set. Right.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: At risk of throwing too, too many analogies and, and stories. I'll just briefly say I went and saw the, the play in New York with my sister this year. I think it was Harry Potter and The Cursed Child or something like that.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I didn't really enjoy the play that much but the set stuff was amazing and they had this magic library I think is very, very relevant here where essentially the book that you open has a certain topic. I don't know, maybe it spells or something. It's Harry Potter again. Fun show, but great set stuff. Didn't, didn't really resonate with me too much in any event.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And then the books around it change their topic that but are related to that central book. And then if you look at one particular thing, like maybe it's potions or something, I'm making this up and then all of a sudden the, the, the books, the books around it change, they become either more specific. There might be a, a distant but related idea that could lend itself to creativity.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So sort of a, that's the way the brain works in cognition is that we get into a frame of, of a certain discussion or a certain theme and, and the, and the, the books on the shelf change according to their relatedness based on memory of past what's going on now and plans for the future, I think anytime we look at we change context and we look at, you know, a raccoon video on Instagram where our, our calendar and oh, there's that thing, the books become very scattered.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So when we return to it, there's a lot more friction, a lot more work or neural, neural energy required to get back into that this narrow states of cognition.

CAL NEWPORT: Does that exactly explain sort of my experience and the way I think about it? Yeah. Yeah, because you're, it takes time to, to load up the, the sort of relevant secondary and tertiary semantic ideas and now they're there, it's like you can pull from them and then as you shift, you have to sort of shift this whole thing around that takes a lot of concentration.

CAL NEWPORT: I mean, I, I wrote this, this article once that got me a little bit of trouble, not trouble but mild trouble. But it was, it was called for the Chronicle Of Higher Education. And the title they gave it was as email. Making professors stupid, which wasn't my title.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: You basically called Every, every one of your colleagues stupid.


CAL NEWPORT: The dean at the time did call me in for lunch. But actually he was, here's the thing. He was like, hey, this is real. I agree with this.

CAL NEWPORT: But what I was arguing actually in that article essentially was what do we do at a university? Is partially what we're supposed to be doing is trying to teach what the life of the mind is and how that works.

CAL NEWPORT: And we've kind of forgotten that. So why we should maybe think about like at universities, we need to be explicitly not just teaching how to think, but also modeling the life of the mind at the, at the highest level.

CAL NEWPORT: And so this idea that we just allow the, the professor Sari to be drowned in emails and tasks and be as distracted. You know, it's the main war that every research professor has is how do I, how do I fight the admin overload until I become famous enough to get an assistant? Right?

CAL NEWPORT: Like this is the big problem and I was making this proposal of university should be the citadels of concentration. I said if you want to get the best academics in the world to university, just tell them here's at the top of our contract, you will not be assigned an email address.

CAL NEWPORT: Like you're gonna get Nobel Laureates coming from, you know, all over the country to come to this place. And so I was making this argument, we should think a lot more about thinking, we should talk more about it, we should model it exactly the type of things you're talking about.

CAL NEWPORT: But we don't, it's much more content focused, but really this should be something more that we, we get into specifically, like this is how you actually use the mind to produce innovative interesting high value new cognitive artifacts. This is a very hard thing we're asking you to do.

CAL NEWPORT: But you can apprentice here because this is what we do and we've mastered, we're gonna teach you how to do it. But we never have that sort of meta conversation. A sort of meta cognition conversation. I've always thought that'd be important.

CAL NEWPORT: I think you'd have much better outcomes if that's part of what you learned at the university was how to take the thing in your head and really put it to work, you know, really extract out of it as capabilities.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Or even high school or even elementary school level. I agree. Now, you have kids? Do they have smartphones? No?

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah. How do they feel about that?

CAL NEWPORT: Well, I mean, they're not, they're not old enough yet that it's a, it's a real problem.

CAL NEWPORT: But they're, they're not going to be happy with me, probably soon hate me.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Now, love me later, as my mother used.

CAL NEWPORT: To say, basically because I, you know, I'm, I'm convinced having spent some time thinking about this, writing about this, doing some journalism on this, talking to a lot of the experts that, like, I think where we're going to end up where all the, the arrows from the, the relevant social psych research, which I've been following this research since you know, 2017, this is 2017 is roughly when you see the first warning signs going up, that we need to worry about the potential mental health impacts of these tools, especially Social Media, smartphones on young people.

CAL NEWPORT: And I, you can track this right? And I have a talk, I actually gave up my kids school. They're not happy about this where I tracked how this research evolved and you know, like any literatures, it's contentious at first. And then you see, you, we begin to see conciliate between different lines of evidence. And I think we're where everything now in the last couple of years is starting to come together.

CAL NEWPORT: This idea of, we don't really know if this is bad or not. I think that's just an old take, the researchers move past that. And I think where we're, we're, we're landing on is unrestricted internet. Use pre puberty is risky and like the new standard is gonna be post puberty is probably the right time to be given a, a device that gives you unrestricted access. We're talking like 16 is probably the appropriate age.

CAL NEWPORT: So this does not make me popular at the middle school where my son, my oldest son's about to go.

CAL NEWPORT: I think in two or three years that's just gonna be common sense that this is the direction I see the research literature and the advocacy going. And I think there's a solid ground for this.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Because you're a computer scientist, I can ask this question. What about video games? I'm not a big consumer of video games. It's been years since I've played one, in fact.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But video games are so very different than smartphones and, and other technologies because they seem to put, at least the kids I've observed playing them and adults into a very narrow trench of attention.

CAL NEWPORT: I mean, there, there are definitely issues with it. I mean, look, I'm not a social psychologist, I just sort of play one in my articles but, but I've, I've looked into this literature a lot.

CAL NEWPORT: There's a bit of a gender breakdown that has a lot of overlaps where when they're looking at potential harms of these technologies, young adolescents, right? Pre adolescent, young adolescents, you tend to see Social Media to be more signal for cognitive distress for young women and girls in the video games to actually be the bigger culprit for young men and boys, right?

CAL NEWPORT: There is a bit of a difference here because with the Social Media impact the content of what's happening matters in this picture, right? So, so what I'm seeing the engagement I'm having, how this impacts my social life. This is part of the mental distress with video games. It seems to be more an impact of just disharmonious passion and obsession just the time it takes, right?

CAL NEWPORT: Because the games can be incredibly addictive. So the problem that young men are having are just, they're playing it all the time that I'm staying up late because I have an iPad in my room and I'm 14 and I'm gonna play Fortnite until three in the morning because my brain cannot handle like what you're, what you're giving me here.

CAL NEWPORT: Right. So it's less of a, a content concern than it is just a time concern, right? That seems more solvable to me. You know, like my solution with my own kids, I don't mind video games. I'm a computer scientist but I said nothing that's online, right? Nothing that was free because if it was free, that means their business model involves getting you to play it all the time so you can upcharge or whatever.

CAL NEWPORT: They have Nintendo switches like I like Nintendo, OK. Nintendo switch. Here's a $60 Zelda game that someone spent five years making or whatever. You can only play those games so long at a time before, you know, you're tired, you come back to it. They don't have an addictive response to it.

CAL NEWPORT: If they get an iPad with a game on it, they'll just like play that till their eyes bleed because those are meant to be to be addictive. So I'm wary about video games but there it's all just a usage game. So you stick away from the more addictive games. It's a much easier problem to solve, I think, than the Social Media, the Social Media issue.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Earlier you talked about books?

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I still read, hardcover and paperback books.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: What are your thoughts on audio books and learning by way of, audio book, versus paper in front of you? Flipping a physical device or Kindles? I don't know if there's any real research on this. I've seen a little bit but I'm curious what, what you've encountered and what your thoughts are as well. You could speculate.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah. I mean, I, I, I'll tell you personally, I can only do fiction and audio books.

CAL NEWPORT: Right. Because when I'm in a nonfiction experience, I'm just very used to constantly looking for connections and ideas, you know, and so I have to be able to slow down and then speed up and then go back to something I just read.

CAL NEWPORT: So I really have a distressing experience trying to listen to nonfiction, audiobooks. Fiction's fine.

CAL NEWPORT: That's great. We'll put a thriller on a, you know, audible, great. I'll, you know, I'll listen to it and I think some of this might be particular to my, my engagement with books, which is, you know, I'm a writer and a thinker so I'm constantly looking for ideas and so I might have a different engagement with a nonfiction book and someone, you know, just listening to one of my books. But I can only do fiction on audio.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: That makes sense. Thinking about what works for me. What doesn't it? I agree. I, I love stories and fiction by, by audio book, ideally consumed on a long drive or a hike. But nonfiction requires that I take notes and see things in there kind of respective spatial layout. And yeah.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: In your most recent book, you describe this concept of pseudo productivity is pseudo productivity a general term to refer to some of the things we've already talked about this Task Switching, context switching or pseudo productivity is something that includes other categories of, of limiting ourselves as well.

CAL NEWPORT: I mean, I think it's more specific than that, right? So it, it to me pseudo productivity was the answer that we came up with a knowledge work to a real dilemma which is, that's a sector, you know, using your brain primarily to create value, that's a sector that emerged as a major part of the economy in roughly the mid 20th century.

CAL NEWPORT: When that emerged, all the definitions of productivity that we had were inspired from agriculture and industry, right? So, so in agriculture, we can have ratios bushels of corn per whatever acres of land under cultivation and industrial manufacturing, we have ratios model T per input labor hour.

CAL NEWPORT: So you could just measure these things. We also had clearly defined systems of production. So you could then say if I change this about the system of production. What happens to this number and you could do gradient descent, right? Ok. I do this. That number goes down. Let's not do that.

CAL NEWPORT: If I make this change, it goes up. That's a better way of building it. Like this was the dominant way of thinking about productivity. Since basically Adam Smith, the knowledge work arises that doesn't work, right? Because I'm working on whatever five different things it's different than what you were working on.

CAL NEWPORT: How I'm managing my work is entirely obfuscated, right? In knowledge work, organizational ideas is entirely left up to the individual, how you manage your work and your workload and collaboration, that's like up to you, that's all obfuscated.

CAL NEWPORT: So there's no number to measure, there's no system to improve. So I think it was a real quandary. My argument is what essentially the management class came up with the pseudo productivity, which is OK. In the absence of being able to be quantitative about this, we will use visible activity as a proxy for useful effort.

CAL NEWPORT: So that's it like we see you doing things that's better than not, the more we see you doing, the better I call that pseudo productivity. And I think that's implicitly how we've been organizing the management of knowledge work labor since the 19 fifties.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And when you say visibility at people doing things that this is the conflating of busyness with actual productivity. Yes.

CAL NEWPORT: And so the problem came when we had this general way of measuring approximating productive effort, which wasn't very good but whatever, right? I mean, I want to see you're at the office and you're doing things. The problem was the front office. It revolution, right? Because I'm, I'm essentially a techno critic.

CAL NEWPORT: I see everything through the Lens of technology. In my writing, we got computers, we got networks, we got email, pseudo productivity can't be sustainable in that context. Because now with something like email and then later tools like slack, I can demonstrate effort at a very fine grain, right?

CAL NEWPORT: Because I can send an email, respond to this jump onto a slack conversation. I can now do that at a very fine grain level. And essentially everywhere and anywhere all throughout my day, I can be demonstrating labor at home. I can be demonstrating labor because we have mobile computing, we get the smartphone revolution.

CAL NEWPORT: So there's, there's now an ability to constantly be demonstrating effort at all points of our day. And that's where I think the wheels came off the bus, right? And, and led to this, this this point that got worse and worse during the early two thousands and hit ahead in the pandemic of a knowledge worker, burnout, knowledge, worker, exhaustion and nihilism of like what's going on with my job like all I do is zoom all day.

CAL NEWPORT: What's happening? I think that pseudo productivity plus front office, it revolution. They did not play nice together. And you can see this, by the way, if you look, even at productivity books, you see this huge shift that happens early nineties versus early two thousands. It's like a completely shift in tone, right?

CAL NEWPORT: Early nineties, it's Stephen Covey is very optimistic. It's like how are we going to self actualize and like carefully choose the most meaningful activities to fulfill all of our dreams for all of our roles. Early two thousands. Now we have email, you have David Allen. It's like, oh my God, we're so overwhelmed with task. All we can hope for is like these little moments of Zen in the day.

CAL NEWPORT: If we can just automate how we're just churning through these widgets, at least we can find some cognitive piece. What happened in those 10 years was the front office. It revolution. And now we just felt like we had to constantly be demonstrating that visible effort. So, you know, I think that's where we got to the problem pseudo productivity plus technology.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Recently, my podcast team was in Australia and my producer and close friend here. Rob Moore instructed all of us to get rid of Social Media on our phones except one guy who would post our weekly episodes announcements.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And it was pretty brutal at first and then coming back to Social Media has actually turned out to be more challenging.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: You really experience the friction coming back the other way and then one experiences the, the lack of friction and that's where it gets scary. It's, it's so interesting the way that the brain can adapt, the friction, leaving something behind, the friction coming back to it.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I think for people listening to this, I, I raise this because I think of course many people listening are, you know, have work that they really need to focus on. They may be having issues with productivity and burnout, et cetera. I think a lot of people use the phone and Social Media because it fills their life.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: You know, it provides some enrichment and they aren't necessarily committed to specific projects. But I guess through the Lens of the, the, let's just call it the Cal Newport and Lens. One might argue that those people almost certainly have untapped creativity, untapped resources within them that they don't yet know about because they're essentially using that energy elsewhere.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, I mean, I think for a lot of people it's papering over the void.

CAL NEWPORT: You have this void in your life because there's unmet potential, unmet interest living in misalignment with the things you care about. Right? I mean, a lot of people, this is the classic sort of catastrophe of life, right? Social Media.

CAL NEWPORT: And there's before this, it was other things, right? There's other intoxicants or other sorts of distractions. It's a way for some people of essentially putting a screen over that like, gaping void and it like, just makes it bearable enough that you can kind of go on with life.

CAL NEWPORT: And so it is true. If you just rip it out, you see the void and that's really difficult. Right? I mean, because I, I did this experiment for one of my books, I ran an experiment with 1600 people and they all turned off all their Social Media for 30 days, 30 days.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: 30 days, right? These are young people, old people.

CAL NEWPORT: A whole mix, a whole mix, right? Not just university students. I recruited them from my, my newsletter readership. So they weren't university students and it wasn't formal research. It was, you know, I put out the call, right? So this is not randomly sampled, right? But I put out the call and I said here, I'm gonna walk, you walk you through this and then I got a lot of information back.

CAL NEWPORT: So people reported back how it went and this was like the number one thing I heard was, it's really hard at first, right? And so who are the people that succeeded for 30 days versus those who didn't? The ones who didn't succeed? It tended to just try to white knuckle. It just be like, I don't like how much I'm using Social Media, I'm just gonna stop because it's bad and I don't want to do a bad thing.

CAL NEWPORT: I'm just gonna like you know, hold on the table with white knuckles. They wouldn't make it 30 days. The people who did succeed, followed my advice to incredibly aggressively pursue alternatives in those 30 days. So it's like go learn new hobbies, join things right away. Get like really structured about your day.

CAL NEWPORT: Get into exercise again, learn how to knit again. A lot of people said, oh, I learned about, I forgot how fun libraries were. Like, you can go into this building and like all the books are free and there's there, you could just grab whatever and it's ok if you don't like the book because you didn't have to pay for it.

CAL NEWPORT: I'm going out with friends again. I'm, I'm ok every week, I'm gonna have, you know, we're gonna have drinks with this person and every Thursday morning, I'm gonna go running with this person.

CAL NEWPORT: The people who aggressively tried to put in place a more positive alternative through self reflush experimentation. They lasted the 30 days and beyond.

CAL NEWPORT: Right? And so then I came to realize like, oh, I see what's happening here is you have these unmet needs, these tools can give you sort of a, a simulacrum of meeting them. I need, I'm a social being. I need to be connected to people. Well, I'm texting and like doing comments on Social Media. It's sort of touches that a little bit just enough that you don't feel hopelessly lonely, but it's not really fulfilling that.

CAL NEWPORT: I have a need to like, see my intentions made manifest concretely in the world. Humans want to do this. Well, I'm, you know, posting these things and people are responding, it's sort of this simulacrum of real creation. So it's like kind of satisfying that just enough that it's not just intolerable, right?

CAL NEWPORT: And so what happens? And if you remove that, you have to actually fill those things the right way. So now I'm not socializing on Social Media, but I'm going out of my way to sacrifice time and attention on behalf of other people. I'm feeling the social void in the right way.

CAL NEWPORT: Now, I don't really feel like I need to go back. I'm actually build, making my intentions manifest. I'm learning skills and building things. Now, this sort of pseudo construction and collective attention economy of Social Media, I'll post this and you'll like it. I'll like this.

CAL NEWPORT: I don't need that anymore to, to fill that void. So it's like you have to fill the void first. So, so, you know, five years ago, I wrote a book that was about reforming this part of your life. And a lot of the book was had nothing to do with technology but about how to actually just rebuild parts of your life.

CAL NEWPORT: And on my podcast, honestly, like one of the big topics we talk about, which is crazy that I'm a technologist and I write about trying to find focus in a distracted world is this thing we call the deep life, which is just straight up building a meaningful life 101. And it's like crazy that my podcast is talking about it.

CAL NEWPORT: But on the other hand, it's not because my is the podcast people go to when they're fed up with the digital world. And it turns out if you don't get the analog world working right for you, you need something to avoid starting to that void and, and the digital world will do that well enough. It's like just good enough to keep life tolerable.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: There's a lot of discussion nowadays about a DH D attention deficit hyperactivity disorder sometimes, minus the H minus the hyperactivity.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: A lot of kids have true clinically diagnosed ad A DH D. So we want to be, sensitive to that. It's a real issue for a lot of people. A lot of adults have true A DH D.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But nowadays people talk about a DH D the same way terms like, depression trauma, gas lighting and, et cetera are discussed in, in non clinical territory.

CAL NEWPORT: O CD O CDC as well. Right. Right.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And, and I'm not disparaging that it's just that we, we have sort of a dilution of deeper understanding of what these things really are and aren't, what are your thoughts?

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I realize you're not a psychiatrist, but what are your thoughts on the idea that many people that think they perhaps have true attention issues have either built those attention issues through neuroplasticity into their system, meaning their system probably work nervous system probably worked pretty well to focus.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But they gauged in enough Task Switching that the circuits of the brain involved in cognition became optimized for this very distributed cognition as opposed to narrow focused attention. And what are your thoughts about the amount of stimulant use on college campuses and in in adult populations to, to try and overcome this?

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I feel like there's a lot of attempts to use pharmacology to match the level of distraction to try and make that distraction not seem like distraction. But, you know, this is a, this is an area I hear a lot about given the nature of the things I cover on the podcast.

CAL NEWPORT: I think a lot of these issues are phone induced, right?

CAL NEWPORT: And I, and I think the problem is not solvable as much. You don't need pills, you need a different phone relationship. My optimistic hypothesis is again this non clinical difficulty with maintaining attention like in your work or if you're a college student or whatever.

CAL NEWPORT: It's not necessarily representing sort of knock on wood like a wholesale neural rewiring like that. I basically rewired my circuits on my brain to be a sort of distributed switching processor. I think most of this is, is persisting in that much more malleable area that gets affected by moderate behavioral addictions, right?

CAL NEWPORT: So the we we have parts of the brain that are part of these like feedback, reward loops that's meant to be malleable, right? I mean, this is supposed to be so we can have really rapid learning about what's happening in our environment and how we're supposed to respond to it. And then this is what gets hijacked when you, you build up these behavioral addictions.

CAL NEWPORT: And so it's, it's very quick to change. But that malleability means you can change it back, right? So, so II I think this, this drive to, I have to keep checking my email and my phone is again, you build up a moderate behavioral addiction because of like standard reward cues.

CAL NEWPORT: And, and that's a part of the brain that you can't, it's difficult, but it's not, your whole brain is now a Social Media brain and that's just the brain you have because you're exposed to this. It's a matter of, you know, getting this stimuli out of your life, doing the same type of training.

CAL NEWPORT: You would do boredom exposure, like get used to the idea of feeling that drive and not actually doing it. You can work with blocking apps like there's stuff you can do. This is sort of like standard, it's painful, it takes two months and then like you're doing better on it.

CAL NEWPORT: So I do think we have AAA large stratum of subclinical attention issues that are not representing wholesale neural rewiring, but are like absolutely sort of expected outcomes of working with malleable reward cue circuits in the brain. We can fix those just like we can if you know, you're, you're gambling too much or compulsively eating the junk food or something. We don't say your whole brain got rewired for junk food.

CAL NEWPORT: It's like, no, you have this, this particular cue cycle that we have to work on. So maybe I'm being optimistic there and you know, the brain better, but like it would be extraordinary if in like a 10 year period, right? Your entire brain somehow got rewired in a way that it couldn't sustain focus anymore.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I totally agree with that statement unless you're a young person and you grew up in a distracted world and your brain optimized as the young brain does for the conditions it's in.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And then I think you have a real issue, which is not to say it can't be rescued through the use of discipline tools, protocols, pharmacology, nutrition, great sleep and if necessary prescription drugs, right? Because there is a case for prescription drugs in certain instances for a DH D and, and as I understand it, you know, anytime people say, wait, aren't those drugs just meth, isn't it just speed?

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yep. They are amphetamines in most cases. And the idea is to increase the deployment of certain neuromodulators. The ones I mentioned before as a means to induce neuroplasticity so that the focus state becomes more of a default state.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So I think that young people are in trouble. I think that we do worry about young people. I think we've, it's akin to putting them in a kind of a, well, we know this in the visual system. If you take an animal or human and you put them into an altered visual environment, the visual system changes and your perception of the visual world is becomes inaccurate.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And the way I think of this cognitively with respect to attention, the analogy would be, I think we've been for the last 10 years or so, 1015 years, we've been raising kids in a sort of house of fun house mirror things, which is anything but fun where you look at yourself and your legs are shorter than, and your torso is long.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And so everywhere you turn, you're getting a distorted perception and trying to navigate the world through that distorted perception is very, very difficult, you can do it, but it's a lot of extra work. That's what I feel we've done to young people.

CAL NEWPORT: I'm, I'm very concerned about that as well. Yeah. Yeah.

CAL NEWPORT: And, and I think, I don't know what your take on this, but like, do you think at the undergraduate level that we have just been not explicitly but just sort of implicitly professors in general, we have been just sort of slowly adapting the difficulty of what we're teaching et cetera because we maybe there's a reduced cognitive focus capacity, which is like the key skill for this sort of very artificial thing of learning, you know, complicated college level work.

CAL NEWPORT: I think this would be an interesting experiment to find out is have we been implicitly having to sort of simplify things to keep roughly speaking grade distributions where normative we feel comfortable. I mean, do we see the signal yet? That's my interest. Do we see the signal yet? If we look back a generation 20 years ago versus now.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I don't know for courses of the sort that I teach or taught until very recently, I still teach, but I was directing the neuroanatomy course and there's a laboratory module. So the students dissect brains, they're holding actual human brains.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: That's a real physical contact that cannot be recapitulated digitally, you just can't do it, you can try use VR but it's, it ain't the same. I mean, how would you like it if your neurosurgeon learned on a virtual brain and then it does surgery on a real brain. No, not, no such thing should happen.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I think that my experience with this is perhaps most relevant with respect to Social Media where I teach neuroscience and I use a variety of duration of clips, you know, the 92nd real, the, you know, seven minute thing, the 2.5 hour podcast that, you know, we have podcast, solo podcast. We have 4.5 hours.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I don't know how much many people listen, start to finish, but I think having a variety of different durations really helps.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I'm told by my team, I have a Tik Tok account, although I've never logged on there.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: You know, I think TikTok represents the extreme of kind of bubble gum level information slash entertainment. And they really nailed some, some circuit that can handle information of about 30 to 60 seconds in a format that tickles the brain just right to keep swiping, liking, commenting and sharing.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I don't think that's anything like a real understanding or education.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I mean, it's, it's nothing like a real understanding or education.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, I mean TikTok in particular, like I think something, what people get wrong about TikTok is they think that there was a real algorithmic innovation, which is actually not the case. Like as far as I understand the machine learning algorithm underneath TikTok is probably like a relatively standard sort of multi arm bandit, you know, intermittent feedback reinforcements algorithm.

CAL NEWPORT: All they did is they cleared out all the other noise. So, you know, if you're Facebook or something like this, you're trying to use algorithms to curate things, but you have all these other legacy structures, you also have to try to satisfy there's friends and, you know, you want to show stuff that your friends like more than other people and there's groups you're joining TikTok just got rid of all the noise.

CAL NEWPORT: And so we're just gonna, all we're doing is optimizing watch time. We, we think we don't know, but we think watch time is the main thing that they're, they're optimizing, which we want to optimize it, watch time and everything. All these videos all just exist as multidimensional points in this sort of Symantec cloud.

CAL NEWPORT: And all we're doing is just showing you things and then you swipe another thing, swipe another thing. So when you get rid of all the noise from a machine learning algorithm, it doesn't also have to satisfy that I follow this person on Instagram or this is my friend. All I have to do is optimize this one number. How long did they walk before they swipe? It just turns out like, oh, it's really easy.

CAL NEWPORT: Like you do that for a couple hours, you're gonna hone in on these subregions in this massive multidimensional space of stuff that just tickles this particular person's brain, you know, and it's very cybernetic because now I'm the user of TikTok, I'm the content creator. I'm getting immediate feedback.

CAL NEWPORT: What's working, what's not, I really quickly find these particularly rich regions in this sort of cybernetic space. And so it's like TikTok just purified something that was simple, basic machine learning, but just like, purify what we're doing here. And that turned out to be enough to create what's like probably the most addictive force we've seen in the digital world in a long time.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So TikTok is optimized for dwell time.

CAL NEWPORT: That's the thought, right? Because it's not public. So like, we don't exactly know how the algorithm works, but people have been studying it like a skinner box, you know, 100 phones. And we, we look at all these accounts, look at the variables. It seems like that's largely what it's optimizing for is how long did you watch before you swiped? Right.

CAL NEWPORT: And that's it. So there, there, I mean, it's not, this was both what was smart about TikTok and also why I've been arguing, it's, it's destabilized. The whole traditional Social Media narrative is because the traditional massive Social Media players of the last decade had this first mover advantage on these giant actual social networks, right?

CAL NEWPORT: So like Twitter and Facebook and Instagram had these massive networks of people's preferences of following this person and this person I'm following. And they could leverage these actual social graphs as a huge source of producing interesting content, right? And this was a huge first mover advantage because you can't, it's hard to get 100 million people to use something now, right.

CAL NEWPORT: TikTok got rid of all that, we don't want a social graph. You as a user don't have to declare anything. You don't have to follow people or say who your friends are. We'll just start showing you things and that was more compelling than what you could generate with a social graph. But now there's no first mover advantage.

CAL NEWPORT: So as the big Social Media players follow the TikTok model, which is much more algorithmic. Let's just try to curate based on algorithms, not who you follow or who your friends are. They're now much more vulnerable because Tik Tok could come along and do this without having to spend five years getting people to declare their friends. And now if someone else could come along and do this.

CAL NEWPORT: So I think the major players are giving away their competitive advantage, which is this the social graph IP that no one will ever replicate again, they're giving away that advantage. And now it's a free for all playing field of all sources of attention engagement. So I don't know, I think TikTok accidentally destabilized the Social Media decade that had been defining until I think just recently.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: What I find so interesting about Social Media platforms like TikTok is that sure it makes sense that kids and teens would use it, they were raised with it, Snapchat, et cetera.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But when I see my peers who, you know, we call ourselves adults, people in their mid to late forties, fifties essentially like playing kids games or engaging through these platforms that are, and they're not childlike necessarily, but they, they just prove that the or rather that their adherent slash addiction to them just proves that this is tapping into some core neural circuit that exists in everyone.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So while it might be shaping the young brain a lot, this is adults basically eating junk food all day.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Which raises a question, you know, I think, while there are many different ways to eat and it's not a topic we want to get into now, Lord knows that's a great way to, to create, a lot of Social Media content debating which diet Omnivore, carnivore, vegan, et cetera.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: The notion of intermittent fasting, limiting ones a portion of the day where they eat to whatever, six hours, four hours, 12 hours is an interesting one that maybe has some applicability here. What are your thoughts about simply not turning on the phone, maybe even not turning Wi Fi on if people are, are not as disciplined as you are with the laptop or tablet.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: For the first two hours of the day or four hours of the day or for a portion of the day, sort of like you're taking a, a Social Media fast that is in 30 days. It's, you know, which I think for a lot of people is going to evoke high Cortisol release. Just the idea of it.


CAL NEWPORT: Now this is an idea I've written about before, you know, in deep work, I had this chapter called Embrace Boredom. That was the entire idea. Right. So, the idea was, boredom by itself is not, I think laudable. Right there, there's a reason why it feels distressing when things feel distressing.

CAL NEWPORT: That's usually an evolutionary signal that there's something going on here. But what I was arguing in that chapter was exactly what you're talking about. You should have some moments every day where you're free from distraction, even though you could be accessing distraction and you want to and like a little bit each day, 20 minutes each day and then maybe a longer session once a week, like a couple of hours.

CAL NEWPORT: My argument for that was, it's about breaking a Pavlovian connection in this sense, right? So if it's every time I feel bored, I'm lack of novel stimuli, I get this release of the phone, your mind is really gonna make that association of like, this is what we always do.

CAL NEWPORT: If sometimes you don't, it's a different cognitive landscape, right? Your mind is sometimes we get the distraction. Sometimes we don't, that's a much better place to be because now when it comes time to actually focus on something, you know, your mind's like I've been here before, like we don't always get the distraction.

CAL NEWPORT: So, you know, it isn't going back, you know, early 20th century psychology, there's probably a more neuroscientific way to think about this. But it's like breaking Pavlovian loops of, like, sometimes at the end of the day I'm exhausted.

CAL NEWPORT: It's Instagram time and it, like, scratches an itch. But other times I'm bored, I'm in line at the pharmacy and I don't look at the phone.

CAL NEWPORT: My brain learns, like, yeah, we don't always do it. And, and so the idea is that, you know, if you make boredom more tolerable, then you're much more likely to succeed with doing things that are boring but hard. And I think deep work, for example, is boring. It just in the clinical sense of there's lack of novel stimuli, you're just doing the same thing for a long time.

CAL NEWPORT: So I've always advocated for that is like you shouldn't be un super uncomfortable with boredom. Like don't go seeking it. I'm not a big believer of and boredom is where all creative insight comes from. I think it's a strong evolutionary cue like leave this state, but you do have to have some tolerance for it.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I wonder if we need a different word than boredom.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Are you familiar with this notion of gap effects in learning? These gap effects are similar to the effects of neural processing during sleep.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Focused attention with some agitation, triggers neuroplasticity and learning, but it's during sleep. In particular, deep sleep, rapid eye movement, sleep states of deep breath, maybe in some forms of meditation that the actual rewiring takes place.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And then there's this literature about gap effects which have been demonstrated for music, for math, for many things in which if people say are practicing new skills on the piano, for instance, but it could be any skill and then they intermittently are are cued by a buzzer to just stop and do nothing.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: The the hippocampus which involved in learning and memory replays the action sometimes in reverse just as it occurs during sleep.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: At a rate of maybe 20 or 30 times faster at the neural level.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: We're not talking about boredom. What we're talking about are pauses during which perhaps we are obtaining accelerated neuroplasticity. The gap effects certainly accelerate learning. I've talked about these in other podcasts, but I wonder whether or not this thing that you're calling boredom.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So being in line to get some groceries and not taking one's phone out while the checker is, you know, scanning the groceries through and just not really doing much of anything.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It's entirely possible that the thing that we were working on earlier that day or the previous day is being processed in the hippocampus at an unconscious level at a much more rapid rate. Were we to look at our phone, we would inhibit those gap effects which are truly beneficial.

CAL NEWPORT: Well, I mean, professors feel this all the time, right? At least a lot of ones I've talked to with peer review. So I don't know if you've had this experience, but you're like reviewing a paper. I often have this experience where when I'm first engaging with the paper, I feel incredibly frustrated.

CAL NEWPORT: Like, I, I don't quite understand what they're doing here. Like, this mathematics isn't quite making sense to me and it'll often be the fact I come back later. Like, well, let me just like, write up what I have so far and your understanding is like much, much better, right? So there's this, this sense of maybe something's been processing.

CAL NEWPORT: I took that so seriously when I was especially a post stock. Like when I was at the height of just all I do in my life is produce value with my brain every day. I would do what I call thorough walks because I, I discovered Thoreau while a grad student, I read it down by the Charles, like the full sort of, you know, just minus the beret, like pretentious grad student thing.

CAL NEWPORT: But I was really in the, the, the Walden real influential book for me. So every day when I would walk back, I was living on Beacon Hill, walking from MIT. So people who know Boston, it's, it's going across the Longfellow bridge. I would say nothing but nature observation.

CAL NEWPORT: Like that's what I'm doing. I'm just oh, the ice is thinner on the Charles today. Like look at this tree or the leaves coming back partially. I think what was going on is like, this was right after I'd been white boarding it. Right.

CAL NEWPORT: I think it was letting stuff process. Right. So I had this explicitly in my routine, a lot of time where I was ok, I can't think about work at all. I can't do anything else. But, you know, I'm thinking about the tree, I'm thinking about the water, like, really sort of minimal cognitive lifts. And I wonder if that's what was going on there? Like to me that, I mean, that was a very productive period of my life.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah, I feel like in the, in the last 5, 10 years. Thanks largely in part to Matt Walker's book, Why We Sleep and the Advocacy around Sleep from others.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: We've come to understand that sleep is essential for mental health, physical health and learning, cognitive performance, physical performance so much so that now people devote immense amounts of attention and, and resources to trying to get the best possible night's sleep. Whereas it was the I'll sleep when I'm dead mentality prior to that.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I, I would love to see a world where people embrace, not the notion of boredom per se, but the notion of gaps, lack of external stimuli coming into our, our eyes and our cognitive system as a means to get smarter, to get more creative, to get better. We just need a language for this.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I think it's the, you know, so often language is a separator when it comes to health and performance tools. Something I really strive for is to try and create language that's not linked to any one person that illustrates what something is for. So maybe no small task Cal but maybe we'll just have you rename boredom as a neural rewiring a box or something like that. I'll go with the term.

CAL NEWPORT: My whole writing career, by the way is based on taking things people already intuitively know in their gut and giving it a two word name and just having the language around it really matters like it's a deep work. Oh OK. That's like this activity. I kind of knew that was important.

CAL NEWPORT: I didn't have a name or digital minimalism like, oh yeah, that I kind of know what that means. Like it's a different, different philosophy towards it. But there's also so I do have a name related to the the gaps we're talking about. But, but for one of the other negative effects, right?

CAL NEWPORT: So we have the positive effects you talked about which is consolidation of learning and acceleration of learning. We had the one negative effect which was the Pavlovian connection to distraction. The other one I've written about before is solitude, deprivation, right? So, so I'm using a different definition of solitude than the colloquial one.

CAL NEWPORT: Most people think of it as a physical thing, I'm, I'm just isolated, but there's a, there's a cognitive psychological definition of solitude, which means absence of stimuli created by other human minds, right? So I'm not taking in information that's coming directly from another human mind.

CAL NEWPORT: Having no period with this solitude. So, having no period in your day where you're free from stimuli created from other minds is solitude, deprivation. And it's a real issue and partially, it's a real issue because when we're processing input from another human brain, it's all hands on deck, right? I mean, we're very social beings, a huge portion of our brain is dedicated to this, right?

CAL NEWPORT: So it's a very cognitively expensive activity when I'm trying to understand another human's what they're saying, I'm simulating their mental state. I'm trying to understand like, where do they fall in this sort of social hierarchy? And one of my arguments was when you spend your entire day in that state, it's exhausting and anxiety producing.

CAL NEWPORT: And like until we had smartphones and ubiquitous wireless internet, the idea that you could banish all solitude from your day is laughable. It's just impossible, right? So, of course, we had a lot of portions of our day where our brain was not like ramped up in gear four, like the sort of social processing mode, but smartphones makes it possible that you can be in that mode all day long.

CAL NEWPORT: And so like, one of the things I hypothesize is some of the anxiety rises that goes with the age of smartphones is brain exhaustion, right? So that's, that's another negative effect of the constant. We have two negative effects now for the constant stimuli and one positive effect for the absence of the constant stimuli. So I think we're making a case here for not always being on your device.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah, I agree. One of my favorite literatures from Neuroscience is I think most people have heard of the so called critical period stages of development. When the brain is essentially hyperplastic to any input for better or worse, this is a stage of life called childhood.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And then of course, people throughout the number 25 after age 25 plasticity possible requires more effort, tension, et cetera and then sleep so forth. But we know based on really beautiful studies that if you deprive someone of sensory input for even a few hours.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And we're not talking about sitting in a completely blackened room with no input, but you, you essentially limit the amount of sensory input in the period that follows. You get a an opportunity for a hyperplastic response to any stimuli. And this just makes sense if you understand basics about signal, the noise and the visual system.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And and the and the brain, it just means when there's a lot of background chatter of stuff, it's harder to see the stuff that matters. And the stuff that the brain's rewired to very Computer Science Neurog engineering type perspective.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But yes, I would love for you to come up with a, a two word description of, of this. It's not boredom induced plasticity. It's this quiet induced hyper plasticity or something. I don't know, maybe we can riff on this together sometime, not trying to move into your space. But I have a very practical question.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I'd love to get a little more insight into the structure of your days.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But are you a list maker? Like, do you wake up in the morning and make lists and cross things off and then decide what are the key items on that list? No, I'm a time blocker.

CAL NEWPORT: Time blocker. Ok. Yeah. So I'm not a big believer in to do list. I, I like to grapple with the actual available time.

CAL NEWPORT: Like, ok, I have a meeting here. I have to like, pick my kids up from school here. Here's the actual hours of the day that are free and where they fall. All right. What do I want to do at that time? Well, ok, now that I see that there's a lot of gaps in the middle of the day here.

CAL NEWPORT: They're short. Maybe there. I'm gonna do a lot of small, non commonly demanding thing. Oh, this 1st 90 minutes in the morning is like the main time I have uninterrupted. Ok. So this, I'm gonna work on writing. So I've, I've been a big believer of this since I was an undergrad.

CAL NEWPORT: Like you give your time a job as opposed to having a list, which is somewhat orthogonal to what's actually happening in your day. And then just as you go through your day saying, what do I want to try to do next? Which I think is a lot less efficient.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I'm gonna try your method.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I try to structure my days as much as I can, but it just never quite works.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Do you work late into the night or you?

CAL NEWPORT: No, no, I'm, I'm a 530 man.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Ok, so 5:30 p. m. That's it.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, more or less. That's my cut off. Now, the, the one exception is if I'm writing on deadline, I'll sometimes like, if I need to get more writing done, I can do an evening writing session which, which I got used to through long experience of, I used to write my blog post at night after like my kids went to bed now they're older and they don't go to bed as early.

CAL NEWPORT: So it's like the one thing I have left that I'll do after 530 is like every once in a while I'll do like a 90 minute evening writing block. But I call this, by the way, this whole philosophy I call fixed schedule productivity. I've been doing it since I was a grad student. Fix the work hour schedule.

CAL NEWPORT: That's my commitment. I work in these hours, and then work downstream from that for everything else. So, like this controls, like even what you decide to bring into your life because, you know, I can't go past a schedule. And it drives you to be more innovative in how you deal with your time and schedule.

CAL NEWPORT: You have to be efficient because you only have these, these hours here. That's been, you know, a, a signal for my, my life since I was in my early twenties, fix the schedule and don't work outside of that schedule. Now, it's your move to figure out anything you want to do.

CAL NEWPORT: You have to make that work. When you become a professor, figure out how to make that work, you want to write books while you're being a professor. Figure out how to make that work. You don't have the option of just throwing hours at it and you innovate a lot. I think when you have the constraints.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Where do you sleep and exercise fit into your schedule, what's your typical to bed time? Wake up time? What's your typical exercise routine? And the reason I ask about this is because I think nowadays we hopefully people understand that ex exercise and cognitive function are, are inextricably linked and we're all going to live longer lives and be sharper mentally by doing exercise.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah. So, I mean, my main like actual working with weights. I do this pre dinner, right. And this was the innovation of the last couple of years. It's, it's a fantastic psychologically for me, this is a transition from work to like family time after work. So, so I'll do like 45 50 minutes, garage gym.

CAL NEWPORT: You know that we built during COVID after I'm done working before dinner. And once you get used to that, like, it also forces you, like, I gotta finish work because I got to get this in before dinner. But then I'll do also quite a bit of walking if it's not a teaching day. So I'm not on campus. I do a lot of thinking on foot.

CAL NEWPORT: You know, walking my kids to the bus stop, which isn't particularly close and back. So I'll do a lot of walking. But that's when I, my serious exercise now is always, always predinner. Then, I want to be up, you know, in our room by 10 and then at that point I don't track.

CAL NEWPORT: So I have, insomnia issues which, which actually has been a key driver of a lot of the things I think about, especially with slow productivity is I'm very wary because I can, without any control on my own, just find myself unable to sleep, sometimes fall asleep or stay asleep, fall asleep. Yeah, I mean, I, I used to get it really bad.

CAL NEWPORT: Not so bad now, but, you know, it comes and goes that really affected the way I thought about productivity because it seemed like to me the, the definition of just I get after it with a bunch of stuff wasn't really on the table because if my notion of productivity depended on me, like every day being able to just like hammer on a bunch of stuff, I'm very busy. I have lots of commitments. What would happen if I couldn't sleep?

CAL NEWPORT: I want to be able to do that. So I drifted naturally towards a definition of productivity, which was, it doesn't really matter if you work tomorrow. But it is important that like this month you work like writing a book, it doesn't matter if you work on your book chapter tomorrow in particular. But like this month, you have to spend a lot of time working on it.

CAL NEWPORT: So it was like an insomnia compatible definition of productivity was sort of morphed into this idea of slow productivity, taking your, your time with it. So it's interesting. So like sleep issues really shaped the way I thought about work and put me on these much longer time scales of productivity.

CAL NEWPORT: Try not to be dependent on any particular day being critical to what you do. I don't want the high stress situation. I don't want to like, I'm just gonna 10 hours a day for the next 10 days. We're gonna make this deal happen. Like I can't operate in that space because I worry about it any time my brain could betray me and I could, like, lose sleep for a couple of days.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I think it's really important that you're sharing this because while people's challenges differ, I think often times people hear the content of my podcast or other podcasts and think, oh, gosh, I have to have everything dialed in just right when, in fact, most all of the tools and protocols that have been discussed on the Huberman Lab podcast are in response to a particular challenge that I've had.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Or that others close to me have had.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I, I love this. I, I'm sorry that you suffer from insomnia. We have a series on Sleep with Matt Walker in which he lays out some, some great tools that we haven't yet discussed on the podcast. I'll just send you a text you, I'll call you with a, with a short list of those and hopefully they'll help.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But as we do cover insomnia in some depth, but I think it's important that people realize that they can be very productive with the hours that they have and the, the moments or hours of, of high focus clarity that they have.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Even if they're not sleeping great, even if they're raising small children, because that's the real world and certainly that's the real world of deadlines in academia. But, family and colds and flus and travel and jet lag and arguments and all the happy stuff too. Vacations. So, sounds like you're very good at adapting your day to what's going on around it, but that you have certain sort of committed time.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Am I correct in assuming that you have at least one period of, say 60 to 90 minutes of real, what you would call deep work? Let's say at least five days a week. I know that might be an underestimate, but it seems like that's what I, that's what I'm extracting from this.

CAL NEWPORT: That's the goal, right. So, so to me, depending on the season is how extreme that can get. So the, the busiest season would be like a teaching semester, right? But even then I'm gonna make sure that five days a week, I'm starting with deep and the non teaching days are more than the teaching days.

CAL NEWPORT: Compare that to the summer. For example, where like all I do for the most part is deep work. No meetings on Mondays and Fridays.

CAL NEWPORT: All admin stuff is midday to early afternoon, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Everything else is deep work, you know, just locked in, you know, hours at a time. But I want, if I'm not getting five days, five days of starting the day with deep work, I'm, I'm unhappy, right?

CAL NEWPORT: Because I mean, I keep coming back to this is ok because I'm not going to be able to, I mean, fortunately the insomnia doesn't bother, it hasn't bothered me in years but the, the, the thread of it, like, completely shaped the way I think about things and because I know I'm never going to be, have a sort of like an Elon Musk style energy of, like, I can just take on seven companies and make it happen.

CAL NEWPORT: Right. I just don't have that ability.

CAL NEWPORT: I've always focused on the long game and to me, the long game plays out with, get your deep work time in, you know, just keep working on the stuff you do best to get better at it, you know, tomorrow doesn't matter. But if you, if you're doing this most days for the next four months, like that's gonna matter, you know. And so I often think about productivity in my own life at the scale of decades.

CAL NEWPORT: What do I want to do in my twenties, you know? Ok. What do I want to do in my thirties? You know, what do I want to do in my forties? You know. And that helps, like in my thirties, I had a lot of young kids. Like it's, yeah, I mean, the amount of time I could spend total working is like much less. Right. But I could still think about what do I want to do in my thirties.

CAL NEWPORT: How do I make that happen? Let me make sure I'm pushing like, on those things then everything else I can adapt to I can give here and there, you know, it allows you to be very adaptable when you're thinking about what do I want to do, you know, for the next 10 years. It also means you're not on a random Tuesday chiding yourself because like, why didn't I get three more hours of work?

CAL NEWPORT: And that becomes sort of a nonsensical question. And what you care about is like, what happens in the next decade, which is, that's a long game. It's not about, you know, hustling today. It's about, I came back to deep work day after day after day when other people got distracted by TikTok, you know, like I gotta, yeah, whatever. It's that coming back to what matters again and again.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Years ago, I was in a scientific competition slash battle and one of my tools, it wasn't really the kindest tool was I would just suggest to the competitor, great television series. So The Wire, which at that time was great and we won a few, they won a few.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But you know, there's something very addictive about those Netflix shows. I, you know, I mean, they're unbelievably addictive just even seeing the, the, the slider next episode slider come up, you can skip the intro. It's, it's just like they've just dialed it in.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So I suggest those to competitors all the time, not do it no longer. But then who knows what role they played but I just noticed in myself how distracting they could be, they could take me to when I started watching Ozark, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, perhaps to use the restroom or something.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And then starting another episode of Ozark was wild. And I, I wonder whether or not a way to reverse engineer one's way to productivity reverse hack our way to productivity would be to think about all the ways that you would benevolently deploy distraction for a competitor.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And then ask yourself what, which which of those you're still engaging in and think of yourself as sort of in a competition with the highly distracted version of oneself.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Because I think that one task I think for us today is to try and think about for the person listening to this who's not academic, who was hearing about all this distraction that enjoys some Social Media, you know, how, how can they bring about the best version of themselves in terms of productivity but also presence for family presence with self et cetera.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And and if one isn't in a competitive environment, then maybe it's about setting up different mental maps of the self and then trying to pit them against one another and be the best version literally.

CAL NEWPORT: I think that's interesting, right? Like think about what would be Yeah, what would I like this idea of thinking about my competitor, you know, what, what would really give me a leg up, you know, am I doing this? I mean, but I would also add in here. This is like a, a slower productivity type idea.

CAL NEWPORT: You figure out the thing you really care about, you figure out what you would need to do to really show up for that thing. And then if you're doing that, like give yourself a break on everything else too.

CAL NEWPORT: You know what I mean? It's like, I'm this way with, right. If I'm getting in my writing time, I have to write, I'm very uncomfortable when I'm not writing, I just write all the time, articles, books, you know, I'm always writing. If I'm getting in my writing time, then it's like, ok, the rest of the day, maybe like this week was a kind of a loss.

CAL NEWPORT: Like the kids were homesick or there was a crisis at the university or whatever. And like, I'm just trying to keep that under control and like, have good productivity habits and like, don't contact switch too much and don't be too distracted but still have your fixed to of productivity, like end at 530 every day, and time block and try to be reasonable with that time limit the damage.

CAL NEWPORT: But if I'm doing the thing that ultimately really matters, I'm gonna be pretty happy with it. So it's like moving the, the definition of, am I happy with what I'm producing away from a quantity metric and to this more, am I aggregating the quality reps? You know, and it, like, I think in weightlifting this would make a lot more sense.

CAL NEWPORT: Right. It's like, yeah, there's a, there's a certain number of, like, a certain amount of time under load, each muscle group needs to be on and, like, if I'm doing that, I'm happy if I'm, you know, weightlifting. Right. There's no notion of, like, why can't I, why don't I exercise five hours more this or that?

CAL NEWPORT: And so I sometimes try to think about my core intellectual work that way. Like, if I'm getting in the core deep reps and the thing I care most about, which for me is almost always writing, then, like, the rest I just wanna, it's, it's like damage control.

CAL NEWPORT: Like, I wanna, like, do the other stuff well, and, like, not get too stressed out about it. And, you know, there's the productivity habits then that are about doing the stuff that matters and protecting it. And then there's the habits that are all just about, let's not let the other stuff get out of control.

CAL NEWPORT: You know, I find it a little bit easier. You go easier on myself when I think about it that way.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Do you listen to music while you work? No.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Well, the data certainly support not listening to music or if you do listen to music, listening to music without lyrics. Yeah.

CAL NEWPORT: You have to train, even to get used to it. Right. I mean, even to get used to music without lyrics you got to get used to it. I guess your brain's building the filters.

CAL NEWPORT: Some people I have met, have trained themselves to work with lyrical music, which I think it took them a long time. But I, I met a self published novelist who does like a million words a year which is crazy. Then he blasts because he has four kids. He blasts Metallica in NASCAR earphones. And I was like, how do you possibly write like this?

CAL NEWPORT: I think he just trained. His mind has just like a pure auditory filter that it's that is he adapted, I guess or maybe his books aren't that good. I don't know, but I like silence or like background noise but even background noise is hard. I have a hard time writing at cafes, for example, like I really do like lack of stimuli.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Do you use visual blinders? You know, like some people actually do this. So, you know, it's like a hoodie and they'll be like, really try and tunnel their vision which makes perfect sense from the perspective of neuroscience. I mean, your visual world strongly constrains to the, the narrowness or the or the broadness of your cognitive maps.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, I mean, I just have my spaces engineered, right? So like where I write in my my library at home, all the interesting windows are behind me. And over here I'm staring across to windows that just was right next to the neighbors and like, just typically blinds down.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But as you say this, it just makes me want to, you know, shout that, you know, so many people who think they have attention deficit issues have probably just put themselves in compromised environments which include smartphone apps and things that so, I mean, like, like there's absolutely no way that they ought to be able to focus.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: In fact, perhaps the fact that they can focus at all is is miraculous given the constraints like trying to run with shackles on.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, I, I mean, look, we're used to this with physical stuff, right? If, if we analogize to physical fitness, we're so used to all this details, right? Like it matters like what you're eating, like how you're sleeping, the details of how you train and when you train and how much like we're very used to this idea that that really matters.

CAL NEWPORT: We have no intuitions for cognitive development or application. We, we like treat our brain, I guess because we associate it so much with a sense of self. It's just this sort of ineffable connection to us as a person. We don't think of it as much of an organ as like a muscle or something like this. But we don't have a sophisticated vocabulary at all for thinking about how do you do stuff with your brain?

CAL NEWPORT: Which is the, if you're in knowledge, work, that's the whole game. Like the whole game is, this brain takes an information, adds value to it. It alchemists value out of, out of mind stuff and people who, who alchemy value out of, you know, muscles. I'm a relief pitcher in baseball.

CAL NEWPORT: I know like my whole job is like to take a certain muscles on my kinetic chain and use them to move a ball very fast. And if I, if I really am very careful about this, I can have a multimillion dollar deal. Those of us who do this with our brain don't have any of these intuitions. It's just like, you know, you have to work hard, you know, and we're on our phone all day.

CAL NEWPORT: I mean, this has to be the physical equivalent if you had like an endurance athlete who was smoking all the time, like this is crazy. Like this is directly counter in intricating or indicating, what you need to do, what matters like what, what the actual activity is that matters for your value production. But with cognitive stuff, we have no intuition like this. Yeah.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: When I was a junior professor, this was down in San Diego, not Stanford, my girlfriend at the time, she said to me, she said you, you're like a professional athlete that was before I got tenure and she was like, and you, you're trying to go from like minor leagues to major, go from, you know, you know, like second string to, to starter.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So you have to treat what you're doing like a professional athlete with their, their, their game. Like prioritize sleep, prioritize food, prioritize time, prioritize, you know, it's, and we, as you point out, we don't do that with the mind. We, we tend for cognitive stuff, we tend to assume that we just flip a switch and like focus time.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I think that's in part because there are certain things such as Social Media, such as a great movie, such as certain social interactions that can immediately and completely harness our attention unlike a marathoner where sure, I could probably finish the 26 miles or wherever it is 26.23. I forget what it is.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: If I had to do it right now to save my life, but it's not like I can just hit a switch and, and, and I think that's the, that's the kind of caveat here is that the kid that loves video games can definitely focus, give him or her a video game they love and boom, they're focused. So it seems as if there's a problem when they can't.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But they know they can, right is, is stuff's obvious when one states it. But I think it's worth pointing out that this stuff needs attention, it needs, it needs work.

CAL NEWPORT: Which means and it starts with vocabulary, it starts with intention, it starts with examples, you know, I mean, there should be a book like how to think that we just give to everyone can learn and learn, right? Yeah, like how to use your brain, like the user manual, you know, like that would be a very useful user manual.

CAL NEWPORT: And I think in like elite cognitive professions, this gets handed down as law and people figure it out, right? I mean, like this was like my experience training at MIT and the theory group is that, you know, everything was focused on getting the most out of your mind. And so it's been passed down from, you know, person to person.

CAL NEWPORT: It was also in the culture, it was in the way that people acted. But most places that do cognitive work don't have these don't have these cultures. Yeah. But here's the advantage though, here, like here's the silver lining, right? If you're one of the few who cares about it, it's a huge advantage right now.

CAL NEWPORT: Like it's a, it's a big part of like my success. I, I don't think I have the highest horsepower brain but like it, I care a lot about trying to, you know, get the most out of it, like to push it to like the edges of like the reps.

CAL NEWPORT: I can, I can actually R PM si can actually get out of it, you know, so it's an advantage as you know, someone who is listening to this, you start caring about your brain, how it works, how you want to take care of it, what you want to get out of it, you start caring about this.

CAL NEWPORT: You're gonna get advantages compared to the person right next to you. Like suddenly in your office or, you know, in, in, in your grad program, it's gonna be like what's going on here superpower.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And sometimes there's a bit of a social cost upfront when I made the shift from being a, let's just call it a not serious student to a serious student in college.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I was coming from behind, I had to put so many more hours in and so partying was this something happened fairly seldom. I still did it. But, and it was isolating. You actually lived alone in a studio apartment. I mean, it's isolating there.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: You're, you're gonna miss out on certain things there, there's some deprivation there. But, you eventually end up in a position to do far more with your life. Of course, what, you said a moment ago also reminds me David Goggins, the David Goggins. No, no introduction needed.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Has been quoted as saying, you know, it's easy nowadays to be exceptional because so many people are just distracted and, and wasting their time. So you put in 20% more effort to be more focused or toward, toward your fitness program and you're gonna, you're gonna surpass many, many people. So, it's not that hard to accelerate. It's just, it, it takes some practices that are, socially challenging to implement.

CAL NEWPORT: It's, it's funny. I had that same experience as an undergrad that you had. Yeah, because I cared, I was impatient to be done with college and like to do things with my brain. I wanted to be a writer.

CAL NEWPORT: I want to be an academic but, you know, that takes a lot of work and I, I really cared a lot about it. So I was a, I was a fraternity brother for one day and I went to the first meeting where they're doing, you know, he was held up pledging or whatever and I remember I was just not for me.

CAL NEWPORT: And I walked away, I was like, I'm not gonna, because this is gonna be distracting like the hangovers and this and that and, and, you know, I want to focus on writing. I want to learn how to do this. It is pretty isolating.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah. And I know some people that were in the Greek system that also benefited tremendously from that. I, I wasn't one of them.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But, I, I definitely with it.

CAL NEWPORT: Not everyone. Yeah. I mean, I just, like, they don't all have to be as you and I were. But, but caring about your brain, it gives you a lot of options.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And if you're playing catch up it, there's almost always a social cost associated with it, but you eventually are joined by many other people. You find the other nerds that there's a lot of the other, the other nerds misfits and people who, who are, who are, you know, seeking something. They, they come around, you, you, you find them, I'm interested in this concept of burnout.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: We hear about burnout.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: We associate with it too much adrenaline, lack of sleep, tired and wired, feeling disengaged. The, the poet David White has a beautiful poem. I forget the title about Burnout where he says that, that I think the Cure to burn out is wholeheartedness.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I al I always like that. It's a bit more abstract than the kinds of things we're talking about today.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But I like that because there's something about wholeheartedness, really leaning into something with, with the, the true desire to be there and to explore it no matter how hard that is. The opposite extreme of burnout. Yeah.

CAL NEWPORT: Well, I mean, I think burnout in, if we're thinking knowledge work like people with office jobs. My diagnosis there, it's not exactly quantity of work that, that does play a role.

CAL NEWPORT: It's the kind of work because I, I think what's happening, what, what's been deranging actually for people in these jobs is workloads are getting larger right, in part because communication is low friction and we always want to be demonstrating activity because of pseudo productivity and people are always asking us to do things. We say yes, everything we say yes to brings with it administrative overhead, right?

CAL NEWPORT: Which is talking about the thing but not actually doing it. So it's like emails about the commitment, it's a meetings about the commitment. Because our workloads are larger. What happens then is more and more of our time has to service this administrative overhead because everything we say yes to brings with it its own overhead, it adds up, it aggregates, right?

CAL NEWPORT: So now more and more of our day is spent talking about work and not actually doing the work and then make it even worse. It's not like this overhead is all batched together, it's sort of spread out throughout your day.

CAL NEWPORT: So it's also putting you in that state of constant distraction, which makes it hard to do work. What I think is burning people out is they're now in this state where they're saying I'm spending most of my day talking about work, sending emails, attending meetings, very little time is left to actually make progress on the work.

CAL NEWPORT: And then the the workload gets larger and larger. This by itself is deranging, right? This it feels like you're in some sort of nihilistic experiment like what, what is this? Why do I have six hours in meetings? I'm not actually, this can't be the right way to work.

CAL NEWPORT: And then what happens, of course is you have to recover time in the morning, in the afternoon, maybe after your kids go to bed to try to actually make progress. So now you also have just a straight work quantity issue. So you're working more hours, there's an energy drain.

CAL NEWPORT: But I think that psychological piece of this can't possibly make sense that like I'm checking email once every two minutes and spent six hours in zoom like doing very little actual high value work like this can't be the right way to work. That's what I think the burnout epidemic right now is coming from is is that psychological component of.

CAL NEWPORT: We all know this is stupid but no one is saying the emperor has no clothes on. We all know that the amount of email and meetings I'm doing is such a waste of my salary. Like this is a highly trained brain like I could be writing these reports or this code or creating these business strategies.

CAL NEWPORT: But we're all just accepting this. So I think the absurdity of the current situation is creating as much of the burnout as it is just, we also have to add these extra hours. There's just like a straight aggregation of work quantity.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It's almost analogous to taking professional athletes or would be professional athletes and having them do a bunch of other physical labor so that they're showing up not fresh for the game and little micro injuries and distracted and, and.

CAL NEWPORT: No one's admitting that this doesn't make sense and everyone's just getting injured and no one's talking about it. So it's the absurdity of it would drive people crazy and it is driving people crazy.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It, it's so difficult though because certain things like smartphones are very useful on the hospital ward. I mean, doctors can communicate, nurses communicate so much faster now.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Parents and kids can communicate who's going to pick up the kids. Nope got stuck in traffic. You go this way, alternate route on Google maps and and on and on. So it's all woven in with stuff that's, that's also highly adaptive. It makes it tough, you know, it's almost like the work of being a selective filter is half the work of trying to de load the cognitive systems that would allow you to do deep.

CAL NEWPORT: Work well in in the workplace. It's even harder than that, right? Because because part of the issue is email and slack, let's just say digital communication.

CAL NEWPORT: I spent a lot of time studying that closely, right from like a techno critic standpoint, the introduction of digital communication to the workplace.

CAL NEWPORT: And the problem there is the reason why we're checking this all the time. It's not some like individual habit de optimization, it's not oh I should just check this less often. What happened is when we introduce low friction digital communication to the office, this emerging consensus came about that said, great.

CAL NEWPORT: Let's just use ad hoc messaging as our major way of collaborating. Like we can just figure things out on the fly. I can just be like Andrew, what's going on with the whatever and you can answer me and I can send it back. This was very convenient, the activation cost was low. And so this is how we began actually collaborating on work. Now what happens is as workloads get higher.

CAL NEWPORT: We now have many things. At the same time, they're all generating these asynchronous back and forth conversations. Most of these have some sort of time sensitivity, right? So if I email you and say like what's going on with like the guests coming later today, we have to kind of resolve this before, later today.

CAL NEWPORT: So now it's not just that these messages are going back and forth with all these different threads, but I have to keep checking my inbox to make sure the gap's not too big. This is not a failure of habits, it's not a moral failure. It's necessitated by the fact that all these back and forth conversations have to keep moving forward.

CAL NEWPORT: So it is difficult then if you're in this system to step out by yourself, because this is the way we're collaborating is these asynchronous back and forth messages. And I can't disengage myself from that without slowing things down like from a like a mathematical game theory point of view, it's a suboptimal mass equilibrium.

CAL NEWPORT: It's not the right place, not the right way to, to run this to con the the utility value of this configuration is low, but no one individual can deploy a different strategy that's gonna be higher value, we're stuck in it, right? And so now it becomes really hard for an individual just to say I want to check my email as often.

CAL NEWPORT: It it's built in systemically into this hyperactive hive mind workflow. And the only way to break free from the suboptimal configuration is to basically have the organization itself do like a really high cost change to the rules of the game. These are how we're collaborating.

CAL NEWPORT: Now we're not using email freely anymore. We're going to use this system instead here, you, you it's a very expensive top down procedure to free ourselves from the sub optimality. It's like in the world of work that's partially why this is such an intractable problem. And I, I tried to write a book about this recently.

CAL NEWPORT: And it was really hard to gain traction because it's not easy to solve this. Like no individual can move out of this and you have to put in a lot of energy as an organization to try to, to change this.

CAL NEWPORT: So it's in some sense, email is a a more insidious problem than Social Media on the phone because at least over here, this is my engagement with this and I might have these moderate behavioral addictions, but I could make differences here in my company. Oh, this is much worse.

CAL NEWPORT: This is like a systemic problem. It's an emergent deterministic work impact on a economic, social cultural system that was completely dynamical and went in a way we didn't really expect. So it's, it's a, it's a really tough situation sometimes, especially in the world of work.

CAL NEWPORT: How do we get out of this constant distraction? It's why, you know, I wrote deep work and I was like, well, why don't people just do this? That's why they don't just do this because it's not so easy to, to reclaim this time.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Well, it's like, when I was a graduate student in postdoc, I was focused on eating pretty well, meaning just clean ish food and, people talked less about that at that time. I was also really committed to exercise since I was 16.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: People were less committed to that in the academic sector at that time. Now, I think it's commonplace for people. Like I'm going to my yoga class, I'm doing my zone two cardio. I go to the gym, you know, men and women do this, you know, I remember having like this, like sneak off to the gym, like, oh yeah.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And, you know, you felt like a bit of a, of an oddball if you were the one bringing your lunch to the, the, you know, the pizza luncheon. Now there's anything wrong with pizza. I love pizza, but I was trying to eat, well, I have for a long time. I feel better when I do and I'm grateful that I did. But you get some weird looks like, oh, do you have an eating disorder or something like that? That's what people would say then.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Now people would probably look, you know, that looks better than the pizza people start to understand. So I think there needs to be a cultural shift.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I think there has been a cultural shift around food and exercise, certainly, food, meditation, sleep.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I think people are far more accepting and actually encouraging of their workers and coworkers taking really good care in order to function better for longer.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, I think this is gonna be the next revolution and it's gonna be a revolution. It's gonna unlock, we're talking on the scale of like a trillion dollar GB P. When we go through knowledge work and have this revolution, I call it like the cognitive revolution.

CAL NEWPORT: Let's take really seriously how the brains of our workers work.

CAL NEWPORT: Like these are our number one assets. Like not to be too mechanistic about it. But what is our main capital asset? If we're a knowledge work organization, we have some buildings, but it's really these brains that we have like employment contracts with these brains create value. Let's take seriously how the brains actually operate.

CAL NEWPORT: And as soon as we do, we'll say, oh my God, these brains are checking email once every two minutes. What a disaster. It's like if we had a car factory and we spent $20 million on one of these German robots that can, you know, put cars on the doors or whatever and we just weren't taking care of it and it was like rusty and it was dropping the doors and the production pipeline was going down.

CAL NEWPORT: It was like, this is crazy. We got to take care of this equipment, right? When we have the cognitive revolution, the sort of cognitive capital revolution and knowledge work, I think it's gonna unlock a trillion dollar GDP. I think that's how unproductive we've been.

CAL NEWPORT: If we just think in the pure raw terms of brains producing stuff that's worth money, like if it's like super deterministic and kind of inhumane about it, So much is being lost because we're in the suboptimal mass equilibrium. So everyone just email everyone all the time, everyone's just on slack all the time that when we finally have the revolution to get over that it's gonna be a massive economic hit.

CAL NEWPORT: And you know, a I might play a role in this, right? Because maybe A I, once it gets planning capabilities is gonna be able to take the burden of some of this back and forth planning. I think it's easier to get there with cultural shifts. I don't think we have to wait to build an email capable chat GP T to do this. Like you could solve this tomorrow. This is cultural as much as this tool based.

CAL NEWPORT: But I think it's gonna be a huge revolution when we get there akin to like the assembly line in manufacturing, which was like a 10 X improvement in productivity metrics. We figured out the continuous motion assembly line with interchangeable parts was a massive, it created this productivity engine. I'm using the economic sense of productivity now.

CAL NEWPORT: You know, dollars per worker the economic miracle that came from this process based industrial innovations in the late 19th, early 20th century, that the money generated by that the wealth generated by that was the foundation of the modern West, like the whole world as we know it was built. So there's these huge latent potentials.

CAL NEWPORT: And right now, I don't think we're there with the brain and I think it's going to be a huge revolution. It's just, it's just difficult, right? It's not an easy revolution to start. But I think it's gonna change whole industries in ways that we're not, it's gonna be hard to even imagine.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah. And I think as long as there are individuals who either by virtue of lack of family or other constraints or by virtue of just having more energy and requiring less sleep because these individuals do exist out there.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: There will always be these individuals that can kind of apply themselves more than others in the sense that they can get in earlier and stay in later.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And, and that trying to be them is not a good idea that we all need to optimize for our, you know, best balance of productivity, deep work and work life balance for lack of a, of a better term. When I was a graduate student, I was really committed to my, my craft and I remember that hearing about a student, he's now a professor, a very accomplished endocrinologist.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I'll just give him a name because he, he did this thing. He doesn't know me. But I heard about this guy that had been in the department, Randy Nelson and everyone was like, he used to work 100 hours a week. So I was like, all right, great. I'm gonna start logging my work hours silently. I'm gonna do 100 and two hours and I ended up with a flu and an autoimmune condition. I literally had an autoimmune condition.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I've never had one since. And then I stopped working that much, started working quote unquote smarter along the lines of many of the things you're saying here, although I didn't implement or know about all these tools that time. And of course, the autoimmune thing went away. It was a fairly minor thing. You never had it again, but you can destroy yourself simply by working more.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Even if it's deep work so that the solution is not necessarily more, it's, just like with exercise, I guess that stands. It's obvious. But I, I thought I'd share that anecdote because, Randy Nelson taught me what I'm capable of and what I'm not capable of.

CAL NEWPORT: The thing that happens by the way too. It's not just who's capable of working more, get these advantages. There's these other unpredictable inequities.

CAL NEWPORT: I talked to a law firm once years ago about deep work and I was invited by a group. It was actually a, a group of women lawyers who had a reading group. And they said part of what was happening at this law firm is that people who were disagreeable, like just sort of gruff and jerks would get asked to do less of what they would call non promotable activities or can you organize this or whatever?

CAL NEWPORT: Which meant they had more time to do deep work, which meant they would do better and they would rise faster. And then what was happening then was you had accidentally built a system that said, let's make sure we have a fast track for like our most disagreeable employees to the partnership level where actually you need to be pretty agreeable because your client acquisition is really on the partners.

CAL NEWPORT: And so they accidentally had, you know, pushed towards this, this inequity and these type of inequities happen all the time when we leave it like haphazard and, ok. So who's doing less work? Like, like, well, I just sort of like, I'm gruff and people don't like me or I have something going on at my house.

CAL NEWPORT: That means I don't have the, the same time to do this. And you end up pushing people up these paths that might not be who you really want to select because you're selecting for, things that are sort of unrelated to their actual underlying talent or like how much they can actually produce. And so I'm, I'm, I'm with you on that.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah, it's a complex problem, but attractable one. Nonetheless, I'm interested in your thoughts on remote work versus in person work and the hybrid model.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I've heard about a hybrid model recently, a friend who owns a big, record company here in Los Angeles so that, they require one in person day per week unless on sick leave.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: They require one at home day per week and then the other day it's at your discretion. It's kind of an interesting model in a five day week model.

CAL NEWPORT: I mean, my, my proposals have, I thought about this a lot is ok if you're gonna do hybrid work. And I, I proposed this in Atlantic article recently, which created some positive, some negative ways. I was like, here's the way you should do it, synchronize the schedule.

CAL NEWPORT: Here's at home days, here's an office days, but for everybody, for everybody or have a few of these schedules. But like groups of people who work together have the same schedule, but then make the rule at home days. No meetings, no email.

CAL NEWPORT: Like that's the way to really get the full benefit out of hybrid work. When we're in the office, we have meetings and we can talk about work and we're at home, we're just doing work and we can do it without distraction and we can just stay deep and really churn through things. I think it would really make a big difference on the overload issue.

CAL NEWPORT: I think it would be much more sustainable remote work. So I did a lot of coverage of remote work as this was first emerging, the early pandemic there, I became convinced I was doing this twice a month column for the New Yorker back then. That was just looking at the pandemic, transforming work.

CAL NEWPORT: And I came away with the idea that remote work can be fantastic, but it's difficult and it can't just be do the job you were doing in person, but just do it at home and we have zoom and we'll figure it out. Like if you're going to be fully remote, we have to rethink what work means for that.

CAL NEWPORT: And there's a lot of differences, it needs to have, it needs to be way more structured, it probably needs to be. You're working on less things. It's very clear what you're working on. The collaboration is much more defined and much less frequent. You probably need to be freed from the sort of hyperactive hive my dance.

CAL NEWPORT: If we're just emailing each other all day and in zoom meetings all day, you have to sort of recon constitute what a remote work job is. I think before it works. And we know this in part because software developers pre pandemic were one of the only knowledge sectors to have a, a really successful track record with remote work. That is the only sector within knowledge work where we had large companies fully remote.

CAL NEWPORT: They did that because their jobs, they, they had really structured them around these, these agile workload management systems where OK, here's when we talk about work, here's how long it takes. Here's how we assign you new work. You work on one thing at a time, you sprint till it's done.

CAL NEWPORT: They had all this structure around work which then it didn't really matter if you're in the office or not. So the the less structured work is the more free for all the more you need, we have to be in the office. So like I'm a huge fan of full time remote work. But I think those jobs have to look very different than like a standard 2019 job.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah, I've always done a hybrid of remote work.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I used to take Wednesday mornings at home from the lab.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But nowadays it's wild because especially during the pandemic, but still now, I mean, you can do the whole day in pajamas and getting work done. And I love this idea of no no email and limiting text and Social Media while at home doing work to really extract the most out of it.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Are there any data maybe from the pandemic era or prior or beyond about zoom and things like it in terms of how they enhance or diminish or perhaps have no effect on productivity like Zoom specifically and, and meetings. I mean, we just found ourselves in zoom all the time for a while.

CAL NEWPORT: That was the bigger problem. I mean, so, so there is data that says for example, a hybrid meeting, some people are online, some people aren't, these are less effective meetings. They don't, they don't work as well. But the bigger problem with zoom I think was the quantity and, and part of it was just the the technology involved, right?

CAL NEWPORT: So, so if we're in the office together and I have a relatively quick thing to talk to you about, I can just grab you and we can talk about this and, and the footprint is gonna be five minutes. That's not just that it's five minutes, it's five well allocated minutes because I'm probably going to use the social cues of your doors open or you're going to get coffee anyways, right?

CAL NEWPORT: In the Zoom era. Instead, we would say, well, we should set up a meeting. Right. Because, you know, we have to talk about this. But if you think about a standard online calendar, it's difficult to have a meeting that's less than 30 minutes long. I mean, you just, you have to drag it, you know, I mean, 30 minutes is like the default, smallest length meeting.

CAL NEWPORT: So we're taking a lot of informal back and forth and inflating the time. I think that was part of it. So we just had too much zoom going on, right. If it was just, I do one meeting a week now. It's on zoom. It used to be in person. We, we were all on zoom. We used to all be in person. It's, that's not that big of a deal. It's maybe like a slightly less effective meeting, but it's fine. It's good enough.

CAL NEWPORT: But if it's I have four X more meetings than I used to because of the, the inherent inefficiencies of having to go to prescheduled Virtual for basically all collaboration. That could be a huge problem. The data I saw from Microsoft, the last data I saw was a 252% increase in these meetings from 2020 to now. And it's not a number, it's not like it peaked and then it started coming back down again.

CAL NEWPORT: Once we went to hybrid, it, we just, it's just high and it's still creeping up. Right. That's a lot of time that just vanished and we sort of pretend like it did it, but that's a lot of time that is not actively working on things and just talking about work or talking about other stuff while we get around to talking about work. I think it's a real issue.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Is there a top three list of things that if you had a magic wand you would see everyone do each day, you know, if you had, if you had three wishes, you mean would they be vis a vis vis enhancing work, creativity, focused work?

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I mean, I think you and I both clearly agree that there's not just great value in terms of productivity, but a great degree of, of life enrichment, like a deep level of enrichment in terms of happiness, feelings of well being kind of time for connectivity with others, lessons about deep work that can be exported to time with others where we we are really present et cetera, just so much that we gain from these, from engaging in deep work and things like it that you've written about and in your various books and talk about it on your podcast or you know, is there a top three?

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah. So if I do three, I would say, OK, First of all, with your workload, simulate something like a pull system instead of a push system. And what I mean by that is when you keep track of what you're working on, have a, the top part of that list, which is, I'm actively working on these things and keep that top part of your list, like two or three things.

CAL NEWPORT: Everything else is in the bottom part of the list. It's to work on next and it's in an ordered queue.

CAL NEWPORT: And so when you finish something that you're working on, you pull something new to take it slot from the list below, right?

CAL NEWPORT: So what I'm trying to do with that advice is reduce all this administrative overhead because now, even if like you can't get away, you have to say yes to these things because it's the way like your, your organization works, the stuff that's in the waiting to work on Q you said I don't have meetings about that. I don't do emails about that.

CAL NEWPORT: I wait till I'm actively working on it and I only actually work on three things at a time. Now, I'm gonna finish those things really quickly because I don't have 15 items worth of meetings. I'm going to every day. So things are gonna pull up there pretty quickly.

CAL NEWPORT: And so the rate at which I'm accomplishing things will probably be higher than it was before. But I only work on three things actively. You could even make this visible. It's in a shared document. If you want to, when someone asks you to do something new, tell them to put it on the end of your queue like, oh, ok.

CAL NEWPORT: So like Andrew is not working on this right now. He's working on these three things and there's seven things here and I'm adding something number eight. So I know not to expect something for a while.

CAL NEWPORT: In fact, I can keep checking this list until I see Andrew's working on it so I can see it's making progress and then once I know he's working on it, I can start email him about it and we can do just a normal type of overhead you would have with, with projects, right?

CAL NEWPORT: That alone is gonna have a huge difference. Like now the amount of distraction your day is going to plummet because that's generated from overhead of things you've agreed to do. That's gonna, that's gonna plummet that out. All right. So that'd be number one.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Could I just thank you. Could I just ask a few questions about that just to clarify? So for I use myself as an example selfishly, but then of course, I don't know what everyone else out there is pursuing, but so substitute the specifics I'm about to insert here for whatever it is that you care about in your life.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So, researching podcasts, solo podcast in particular for me is my major task in life these days with respect to work. So that would be top of the list.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And then there could be two other items on this, you know, top of queue, would daily activities, like, like exercise, social time with loved ones, et cetera. Would that be included there or we're talking specifically about work? Yeah, let's just keep, just work. So it would be, you know, podcast prep.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So you might podcast prep, podcast.

CAL NEWPORT: You might have the particular topic though.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Ok. So, right. I'm working on an episode right now about, about skin health.

CAL NEWPORT: You, you could have two different episodes.

CAL NEWPORT: You're prepping. Those could both be up there.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So skin health allergies episode, these are two that I'm spending a lot of time on.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, in fact, and then your third might be something that involves the, the media companies, something on the business side like, ok, we're trying to figure out, a plan for whatever content for, for a new content brand as or something.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Got it. Great. So that those three would be top of the list and every day until those are done, they could sit top of the list and then there are a number of items underneath those that fall under whatever.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah. And, and critically when these other items come up, right? Like, oh, this is like a topic, for example, I want to do a show on, you have a place to put it where it's not being forgotten or here's a, here's a business idea. Like we need to figure out like, whatever we want to add, do something with our camera configure. Ok?

CAL NEWPORT: Put on the list. So it's not being forgotten like it's on there and you can see where it is, not only is it on there, but like this could be shared among your team. So as people had extra information or things to add to one of these projects, they can add it to it on the list, right? So the information is aggregated.

CAL NEWPORT: So if you use a tool like Trello for this Trello spelled Trello is an app, it's a web based service that the metaphor is just index cards and piles, right? But they're virtual, but you can flip over the index card, digitally attach files, write notes and, and so I use Trello for my own organization, what I'm working on.

CAL NEWPORT: So now you have a place where you can gather like, oh, we just, I just heard about something that's relevant to this thing. I need to work on. You have a place to put it like it goes on to the Trello card or you could do this with shared documents. It doesn't matter. You're just like literally typing things into a Google doc or a white board or a white board.

CAL NEWPORT: You could be, we're keeping track of these things, right? I'm gonna do this, by the way. Yeah. Well, I mean, I'm a big believer in this and then everyone can see what you're working on.

CAL NEWPORT: And then but the key thing is if it's not in your active list, you don't have meetings about it and you don't have emails about it. Right? Like if people have ideas or things, they just add it to the card. So when that gets up to the active list, we can work on all the information there. We haven't forgotten anything.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And what two word language do you use to describe this first point? This method, I love this. I called it a poll based poll based what gets pulled up.

CAL NEWPORT: You pull into the so you're fixing in advance. Here's how much concentration I have to give on work and you pull stuff into that. The alternative is push, which is how most organizations run, which is when I want you to do something. I just push it on to you and now you have to deal with it. Got it.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I once heard email described as a public post to do list that made me scared of email in a way that nothing else had.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It's Newport's poll based system. I called it that by the way.

CAL NEWPORT: Because this is what in the a lot of the advice in the first, one of the chapters of the new book is basically how do you get away with implementing this?

CAL NEWPORT: And when you have a boss and there's like all sorts of different, so you're your own boss. So you can just say this is what we're doing, here's the board, but there's a lot of like subtle ways you can do this, right. So that's number one.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: That's number one.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Cal Newport's poll based system, I'm gonna do this and I'm actually going to report back on this at some point. You won't see the post on Social Media because you're not there but others will.

CAL NEWPORT: That's one, number two would be multi scale planning. Ok.

CAL NEWPORT: So now this is planning you're planning on three different scales daily, weekly, seasonally or quarterly. However, you want to think about it, right? So you have AAA plan for like the semester, the season or the quarter.

CAL NEWPORT: Like this is what I'm working on. These are the big objectives I want to hit. Here's the reminders to myself about like what matters like, remember like I'm, I'm overhauling my, my workout routine. We're trying to like do this with the podcast.

CAL NEWPORT: You look at that scale of planning every week when you build your weekly plan and the weekly plan because free form text, you don't need anything. You know, any special tools, your weekly plan, you're looking at the actual calendar. All right. What for my bigger scale plan, my seasonal quarterly plan, what am I trying to make sure I can make progress on this week?

CAL NEWPORT: And you, you confront the reality of your week? You see where it's the empty space where there's the busy space. You also change what's on your plate right here. You know, if I cancel this thing that frees up that whole morning, which means like I could really make progress on this, which I really want to make progress on.

CAL NEWPORT: So great. I'm gonna cancel that thing on Friday. So you're looking at the whole week as one unit then every day you look at your weekly plan like, ok, so, so I'm gonna use this when I make my plan for the day and when you do your daily plan, you do time blocking.

CAL NEWPORT: Now, I'm every, I'm giving a job every minute on my work day, not my day after work, but every minute of my work day, I'm time blocking. So I call it time blocking because you're literally drawing blocks around the free time. Ok? This, I'm working on this, this I'm working on this. So you, you're making a plan for your day that is informed by the weekly plan.

CAL NEWPORT: So in multi scale planning, you have like the, the big picture things you care about trickle their way all the way down to. Ok, I'm, what am I gonna do during this hour during the day? But you don't have to grapple every, that's what most people do every time I'm figuring out what to do next.

CAL NEWPORT: I'm not grappling with all these scales at the same time. What are my objectives? What's my big plan, what's going on this week? You're, you're dealing with each of these scales when the time is right.

CAL NEWPORT: And so when it finally gets down to, it's now three o'clock, you're just doing what that block is and you figured out that block earlier today, when you looked at your weekly plan, that weekly plan reflected what was in your semester plan, which you figured out you spent the whole afternoon working on at the beginning of the semester.

CAL NEWPORT: So, multi scale planning, it keeps you focused on what matters, it prevents you from wandering through your day and how you disperse your energy.

CAL NEWPORT: And it gives you control over your time on different scales from like canceling major ongoing obligations to just being more efficient about what you do during a given day. So I swear by multi scale planning to try to keep this whole lumbering ship that is sort of like Cal Newport aiming in the, towards the right shores, you know, like keep correcting and keeping it aimed back.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I love this. This is more or less what I do with my physical workouts every week. I know I'm going to get three resistance training sessions, two or three cardiovascular training sessions. I know I'm gonna train my legs once. It's either gonna be on depending on travel Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I'll train torso muscles in the middle of the week. I'll train sort of limb accessory muscles on a Saturday long run on Sunday or hike on Sunday or some other day there'll be some sort of hit workout in the middle of the week.

CAL NEWPORT: And ideally there's a jog in there too and you can adjust it a little bit based on the reality of the week.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah, I might double up for two days then take a day off. I have my ideal schedule but sometimes it gets compromised. And, and then I do that for 16 week cycles where I vary the kind of intensity load, et cetera.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I've done this for years and it's just kind of works for me.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Now with cognitive work, I don't tend to do this. It tends to be more deadline based, but I think that the, the pull based system is really gonna help.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: If I dovetail it with this multi scale planning, I love this and.

CAL NEWPORT: You can see the deadlines now, you see them coming, right? So that's part of what's nice about multi scale planning is, you know, the deadlines coming up. And so when you're doing your semester planning, you start thinking like, ok, for the big deadlines, like when I get to December, I need to be really started getting after this thing that's going to be due. I've got a book do.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah. So then, you know, and so this really helps me book writing because now what I'm planning, it's like, you know, a year in advance. I know this month I need to get like roughly the rough draft of chapter two done, you know, and then that trickles down to my week where I'm gonna make sure I have enough time clear to like, be on track for finishing it.

CAL NEWPORT: And then that trickles into my day. Now I know to like block those mornings to work on it. So it all, it all works together. An added bonus of the daily scale is I would say communication should get its own block, email, Social Media, whatever that's like you communicating with the outside world goes into your time block plan. So if your block doesn't include that, you don't do it.

CAL NEWPORT: So it's like this block is writing, it's not email, it's not Social Media. So the rule is really simple. I'm not gonna use email or Social Media.

CAL NEWPORT: But I still need to do email at some point. So I have to put a block in for it. And when I'm in my email blocks, I'm doing the email. If I need to go on Social Media to see what's going on with like the latest episode or something, I got to give that time and then you can mono focus because then it's a psychological hack.

CAL NEWPORT: But basically, when you, particularly when you schedule communication and distraction, now, the only thing you have to muster willpower to do is obey the single rule of unfollowing my blocks.

CAL NEWPORT: If you don't do that, if you're like, I just sometimes do email and Social Media. Sometimes I don't. Now, what you have to do is just constantly be having this debate is now the right time to do this. I know I'm gonna do it at some point today. Why not? Now? Well, what about now? What about now? Like, you're just constantly asking yourself?

CAL NEWPORT: Right. That's impossible. Right. That's gonna drain you. But if all you have to do instead is say my commitment today is to follow my blocks. And I get, I really feel good when I do it. And like I check off a box, if I do give yourself some feedback here, it's a much easier cognitive battle to win than just trying to be reasonable about.

CAL NEWPORT: Well, let me wait a little longer to check my email. Like you're gonna lose that battle, you know, eight times out of 10, which is like enough to, to really overcome it. So that's like a, a hidden bonus of time blocking is now you can really get your arms around separating different cognitively distinct activities.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: This is where the analogy of time restricted eating comes to mind.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Again, not that that's the best way to lose weight or maintain weight or it's, it's role in longevity is still debated, et cetera. But I think for many people, not all, but for many people, the decision that they do not eat during certain time blocks and they do eat in other time blocks is just far more tractable in the real world for them than trying to limit portion size, decide whether or not they're going to eat.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: They're gonna pass the cookie and have a little bit. No, they're, they're in a fasting window. It's just, it simplifies the issue and as a consequence, I think it improves behavior overall. Although the clinical trials point to some mixed results with that last statement. Again, I don't want the, nutritionist does.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: After me, the point is the time blocking and the, and the the the thick black line did this of the Yes, no, the binary, yes, no. As eat, don't eat or a single email communicate, don't communicate in a given time block. I think that's that really is what it's about it, it honors the, the the power of of those sorts of neural computations.

CAL NEWPORT: And there's another hidden bonus of time blocking too is visually distinct blocks. So what I do, for example is I put a double thick line around deep work blocks focusing on some not just deep work, but deep work on things I really care about.

CAL NEWPORT: Just this gives you a visual record. How much deep work am I doing? Right? Like it's this diagnosis. I use a paper based time block planner. So you flip through those pages and you're just looking for dark blocks, right? So you see if I see, I don't have a lot of dark blocks.

CAL NEWPORT: I said this is my whole job. Like my whole life, I've been trained in a lab to think really hard about things and write things. Why do I not have very many dark blocks? You get this feedback mechanism. So there's all these bonuses when you start doing this type of doing this type of planning.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Before you tell us about. Number three, I often have fantasized about a web-based program that seems to run countercurrent to much of what you're talking about. But goes back to this, the white board MIT observer stuff that you talked about at the beginning, which is I often longed for.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Ok, I need to write today. I need to write a book or I'm going to do some podcast prep. I'm gonna pop up a few windows of other people that are also doing deep work and we're not going to communicate.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: In fact, if we do or if music comes through on the microphone or somebody coughs that's going to be considered a distraction. But does anyone want to join me for some deep work where we don't communicate? And I often thought I would just pay someone to be there to just sit there. And but I haven't done that. There are multiple.

CAL NEWPORT: Companies that do this.

CAL NEWPORT: It's interesting when you, you're online with or in person with just other people doing deep work.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So a deep work club, the challenge is synchronizing schedules because I might want to do this with somebody on the east coast and they might not be doing deep work at the same time. And a recording isn't the same because then, you know, they're not really watching but, but there's something really to this. Right. I mean, especially for at home workers or people like me that work often in isolation.

CAL NEWPORT: Students do this. Right. Dissertation. Boot camps. I don't know if, if you had this experience but Georgetown does a lot of colleges do this.

CAL NEWPORT: Ok, everyone working on their dissertation, we're all gonna get together and we're gonna work on it together because they would often have me come speak at these things earlier in my career. It would just be a bunch of grad students.

CAL NEWPORT: They were just coming to the same space and they would work for like, ok, 90 minutes and then they would have like a speaker come in or launch and 90. So the, the group cohesion of everyone working deeply at the same time, writers retreats are the same way. We all go to the same house in the middle of nowhere.

CAL NEWPORT: So that we're all just going to encourage each other to write because that's all what everyone's doing here. Yeah. So social pressure, I'm with you. I was thinking if I ever needed to, you know, put a big extension on my house, that's, that's what I should do. Just like, OK, pay me money, then I will sit there on Zoom and do deep work with you. This is my secret plan.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I'd pay money to do deep work in parallel with you by, with a virtual window. There, there's call in his office doing that. I think there's something nice about having some knowledge of who people are, you know, like, hey, logging in today. Yeah. All right. Let's get down to it. Set the timer and go and then, you know, as I'm out.

CAL NEWPORT: You know, working at the library, academic libraries, why do people do that?

CAL NEWPORT: Everyone there is working right now. I'm a big believer in that.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: There's really something sticky to that. Ok. Number three. All right.

CAL NEWPORT: Have a shutdown ritual which clearly demarcates the end of work in the start of the night after work and the shutdown ritual. So it has to you have to close open loops, right?

CAL NEWPORT: So you gotta make sure this is like a, a review type period. Let me look back at my inbox and look at my plan. Let me look at my, you know, my time block and my calendar. Really make sure I there's nothing urgent that needs to be dealt with that.

CAL NEWPORT: I did it and there's nothing that's just in my head that I don't want to forget. It's not written down somewhere like take care of all of that, right? So you review all these things you get, what am I gonna do tomorrow? You don't have to build your whole plan for tomorrow, but you have a sense for it.

CAL NEWPORT: And then you need some sort of demonstrative thing you do to indicate that you finished the routine, right? So my, my longtime newsletter readers know, I used to actually have a phrase, I would say schedule shut down, complete like a crazy phrase, right? It's not how normal people talk, right?

CAL NEWPORT: Now, I have a planner that has like a check box that says shut down, complete next to it. The reason why that is a demonstrative anchor is that you use this then for cognitive behavioral therapy because at first people have a hard time shutting down work. I mean, I invented this because I had a very hard time shutting down working on my dissertation.

CAL NEWPORT: I just, what this proof doesn't work and blah, blah, blah. So what you do is when you're, you get a rumination, post shutdown, hey, what about what's going on with our work? Are we doing the right thing? Do we forget this or that instead of engaging in the rumination?

CAL NEWPORT: Well, it's like, no, I think we're ok, let me think about my schedule tomorrow. What's my plan? You instead can just say, I said that crazy phrase or check that box. I wouldn't have said that phrase unless I had gone through everything and made sure that I had a good plan and nothing's been missed and it was ok to shut down work because of that.

CAL NEWPORT: I'm not gonna engage with you rumination. I said the weird thing, let's get back to what we're doing. This is like cognitive behavioral therapy that after a month or so you are really able to actually effortlessly disengage from work and do everything, you know, all the other stuff that matters, right?

CAL NEWPORT: Without having the constant ruminations about work, which gives your mind an actual break to, you know, do other things. So, I mean, this is more mental health and productivity.

CAL NEWPORT: But for me, it was critical. I mean, I can really remember when I came up with this, you know, exactly where I was in my grad student career and there's just too much, too many ideas and concerns that were just roiling. And like once I did this, you know, it took a few weeks and then I could actually like shut down and go on and do other things.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah, the par associative nature of the brain can make it really problematic if you're thinking about work at the dinner table, you start to associate the dinner table with work. I mean, when Matt Walker came here to do this six part series that's soon to be released.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And we were discussing insomnia. He said, you know, one of the major issues with insomnia is people who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep will often stay in bed when they can't sleep.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And then the bed becomes associated with challenges with sleep that you know, hence the recommendation that virtually every sleep coach and sleep scientist recommends that people actually, if they can't sleep for 20 minutes or so of effort, then you get up and leave the bed and go someplace else until, until you feel sleepy enough to go back and try or fall asleep on the couch elsewhere.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I put that in as a, as a as a note to you.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But this seems incredibly important also for enrichment of, of relationships with spouses and children and people in your life. I mean, the, the problem is the first thing that we ask people when they walk in the door typically is how was work today? How was work? What did you do today? Tell me about your school day, tell me about your work. Maybe we need to come up with better questions. Like here's.

CAL NEWPORT: Something interesting we could do or here's like something I read about unrelated to work. Yeah. No, I think, I think it makes a huge difference.

CAL NEWPORT: And again, there's all these meta benefits for these things. So, so one of the meta benefits for all of these is also these are all very structured.

CAL NEWPORT: You'll begin to build a reputation as someone who is very careful about how they manage themselves in their time. Like if you're doing multi scale planning and certainly if you're doing, you know, pull based workload management, people are gonna start thinking this is someone who thinks a lot about like how they manage their work day and how things happen.

CAL NEWPORT: This gives you massive leeway, right? Yeah, because we, we think what like our colleagues want from us is accessibility.

CAL NEWPORT: But really why they want accessibility is because they have no clarity about, you know, are we going to do this thing? Are we gonna remember to do this thing?

CAL NEWPORT: Am I gonna have to keep bothering you? You know what if I don't really think you have your act together? I just wish you would just do this right away or respond to me right away because I'm gonna have to worry about this until I hear back from that. You did it. Like accessibility is born from lack of trust or lack of clarity, right?

CAL NEWPORT: So if you have the reputation of someone who really has to act together, you can for example, lean into a shutdown. I I don't do email at all and people they don't think that you're being lazy or that you're not keeping up with the work. They're like no, like Andrew has his act together with this stuff. I trust him when you show him something like this workload management system, like this is where the cue is.

CAL NEWPORT: Like I can't get to this yet. Like, OK, that's reasonable. Like you have your act together. So there's this meta benefit of starting to get a little bit more structured about your, your time in cognitive work is that people will give you more flexibility to work with, the better you get at actually working with, you know, the resources you have as your reputation grows, your autonomy grows.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah. And of course, as your reputation grows, more gets thrown at you and it probably takes a bit more discipline to, to enforce these things. But I always remind myself and other people that, you know, the reason people want to access you is because of presumably the consequences of the deep work. You did not. But people love meetings. Gosh, do they?

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I won't do brainstorm meetings anymore unless it's with my close team. It's like you can pitch me a contract and we can reverse engineer the idea, you know, but it just doesn't work to, to meet with people and kind of brainstorm stuff, but I don't know what this is like. I think maybe people are taking their own lack of structure and projecting it on to other people as a way to fill the.

CAL NEWPORT: Time, pseudo productivity as well. Like this is what I have like visible activity. And so let's we have meetings, let's talk, let's hop on calls like that all feels useful when it ultimately it's not like I'm with you on it. Like, remember the reason why everyone wants to talk to me is because not, I'm so great at brainstorming meetings, you know, feel like this is great. Like Andrew's great at brainstorming meetings.

CAL NEWPORT: So that's why you want to bother. No, it's because you were really good at the podcast and you were doing like the deep thing and then that brings in, you know, the better you get at what you do best, the more the world conspires to take away your time to actually work on it. Like professors know this. Well, like pre 10 year, they, most big universities are pretty good at preaching the professors.

CAL NEWPORT: All that's gonna matter is gonna be your research.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: But they throw a ton of other stuff at you.

CAL NEWPORT: It depends on the school. Like, I was like, Georgetown was very good about this. They're like, we don't, from our perspective, it's a waste of resources to hire you and, and have you not get tenure. So, like we want to try to protect you from, they keep service requirements low, for example. And like, just focus on, you know, just focus on your research because that's what's going to matter.

CAL NEWPORT: At least professors know this. Right. Like, there's a clear process, like the tenure process, most people don't understand tenure. They think it's like getting promoted at a job and there's like all these different ways you can sort of impress your boss. It's none of that. Right.

CAL NEWPORT: I mean, it's these confidential letters from leading scholars in your field that are doing nothing but brutally assessing your research, how good is k who are two people who are better than him on the market right now, who are like two people? He's slightly better than, would you tenure him at your university? What university could he get tenured at? I mean, it's all that matters is, yeah, research quality.

CAL NEWPORT: So you have to somehow rediscover what that is if you're not a professor, like ultimately, like this is the thing I do best for my company. So let me do that. Let me do that really? Well, there's also an aspect by the way of, if you do a deep thing really well, that does not attract as much work as if, what you do is you're just really good at like responding to people's things and putting out fires.

CAL NEWPORT: It's like you don't want to get too much trapped in that game unless that's the game you want to play. You know, if you get trapped in the game of how I distinguish myself as I reply right away, it doesn't matter when it is, I make your life easier, you're playing the game and making other people's lives easier and that's what they're gonna ask you to do.

CAL NEWPORT: But if instead you play the game of I'm competent with this, like I'll respond to the emails and not be, I won't be pathological about it.

CAL NEWPORT: But the real thing you care about is like this code, I'm producing these reports I'm producing are just really second to none, then you're not gonna get a much of the small stuff. They're like, ok, well, do that then, you know, like, that's what we want, that's what we want you to work on. So, like, what is your equivalent of research is probably a really key question for a lot of people.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: How do you treat, social engagements through work, like, you know, like the company barbecue, I don't know anyone does company barbecues anymore. But, you know, like happy hour or, I don't know if anyone does that either.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And social engagements with family. Like, you know, because obviously those things are important too.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Are those on your schedule?

CAL NEWPORT: Well, you know, I, I treat, work schedule different from non work schedule. Right. So my work schedule is this time block plan, part of a multi scale plan, really dialed in, like when I'm working, I'm working, right.

CAL NEWPORT: But then when I'm not working, I'm way more lax, you know, so I don't do time block planning of my weekends or my evenings.

CAL NEWPORT: The work shut down being clear, gives you more flexibility there. So, I was like, ok, what do we want to do? Like, let's go, like, see these people, let's do these things with the family. I like to be flexible and not overly planned outside of the work day. But then during the workday itself, you know, it's much more machine like.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: So you're, you're fairly, not lax but you're a bit more relaxed around social engagements and engaging with the kids. But at work or when you're working at home or, or in the office you're, you're obese.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, I'm like a black box in the workday. Like, when I'm, when I'm working, like, I disappear and then when I'm done, like, I'm, I'm around but, like, my family and friends and they've learned, like, if you text me during the work day, I'm, I'm not part of that game of like, I'll just respond back to it. People know, like it may have been four hours since I saw my phone.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It's like Lex Friedman.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Yeah. And people often ask to get in touch with Lex and I've, you know, made that connect for a few people. But I always point out, you know, Lex will go long periods of time where we don't connect and then we're close, close friends. We spent a lot of time in person on the phone, text. But I understand that if I text Lex, I might not hear from him for four or five days and it's all good.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: You know, it's just, and in fact that it tells me he's good. It's like that, that scene at the end of good will hunting where he's like, I just want to show up at your house, you know, that you're not there and he gets there and he smiles, his friend's gone. He knows he went the direction of, of his, of his heart.

CAL NEWPORT: So you're saying if you start to get a lot of like memes texted to you from Lex, that's not gonna happen. You're gonna be like, what's going on?

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: That's never gonna happen.

CAL NEWPORT: Struggle. What struggle are you having in your life right now?

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: I'm a big believer in the phone. I'm old school. I pick up the phone, make a call, we'll get on a call sometimes. Facetime. We do text one or two things back but it's often really quick, really quick and I have other friends in the podcast space for which it's the same. It's just, phone is a great tool and, you know, drop in and then get back to it. Not a lot of chitter chatter on. I like that.

CAL NEWPORT: I always like text is like a great tool, you know, like, wait, what, what restaurant are you at? Oh, you know, ok. I, I'll meet you there or are you free to talk? Like, I love text as a logistical tool, but you're right as a conversational tool.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, it's not for me either.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And do you take vacations where you are on pure vacation? So just with family or, or maybe even solo or with your spouse where it's like no digital anything.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah, digital is not a problem for me on vacation, but my wife won't let me not bring something to work on, on vacation because because I become a monster. Got it. Your brain needs that it needs it. When we have little kids. I tried this right. I was like, OK, like this is it.

CAL NEWPORT: I'm not going to think about anything like this is and I would just become a like an anxiety case. So what I've learned is bring one thing that's like very deep and non urgent like a book concept. I'm trying to make work or an academic paper that I was like trying to crack or like something new. And I need like that 90 minutes a day to like walk on the beach and think.

CAL NEWPORT: And I have to have a notebook. I have it with me in here. I have to have a notebook with me so that like I can capture notes and get them out of my head on vacation. And that now we have a happy medium. Like I work a little bit every day. No email. I don't get that email. Not deep work thinking.

CAL NEWPORT: I'm much happier.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: It's like an itch that you have to scratch.

CAL NEWPORT: Yeah. If I'm not writing or thinking it's, it's I I get cognitively antsy. I get anxious, you know, like I'm on, I've been now, I'm talking to you now, but I've been, you know, traveling, doing some podcasts and stuff like this and I'm way out of my cognitive comfort zone here because I'm not blogging like early in this trip.

CAL NEWPORT: I I was on a New Yorker in Atlantic deadline, like writing all the time, you know, and California time up at 5 a. m. like, you know, and I'm done with that now and I'm really cognitively assy, like I just feel out of sorts right now, you know, like I'm not working, I'm not thinking love it.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Cal I, for me, this has been such an honor. I mean, I should have said this at the beginning of the episode, but I've been such a fan for such a long time.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Long before we met or communicated at all. I started reading your books and I would say you and Tim Ferris are the people who early in my academic career had such a profound influence on how I approach work and, and it required that I do things kind of against the grain people around me.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And very quickly I saw that I was making progress much faster than I would have otherwise. And I never looked as a competitive endeavor with others, but, and you've just continued to churn out valuable information, actionable tools, you know, book and after book, after book and and obviously they require some structure and some, some restriction, but also some moving toward action items.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I, I love these these top three that you provided us on the, the pull forward, the multi scale planning and the, and the shutdown ritual and all, all the others that you put forth.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I guess the, the major takeaway for me today is, is that yes, you've developed all these tools but you also use them and it's not lost on me that you also have a flourishing career as a computer scientist. So you're not just somebody who talks about and here I'm not dissing anyone else in the, in the information sphere.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: Like just talks about habits or just talks about protocols, you do these things and you implement them in the context of your work life, your creative life, your family life and your relationship to self and you exercise. And and I think that that all combines to, to be an amazing example of what's possible if we introduce a bit of understanding about how we function as a, as a being.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And that we implement some of these tools in, in the user manual that, that you've come up with. And so I just want to say on behalf of myself and everyone who's listening and watching, you know, thank you so much.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: This is incredibly valuable information regardless of what one is doing in life. And I'm certainly going to implement this three step system and I do have the book. I always like to read books after guests are on, I'm going to read the book.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: And I'm gonna do some posts about what I experience as a consequence. So, thank you so much. I would pay a substantial amount of money to do deep work sessions with you in the, on the screen there, but I won't put that on you. I'm just gonna, I'm gonna just bite down and, and and do this stuff. So thank you so much for being a pioneer in the space and for such a clear communicator, we all owe you a debt of gratitude.

CAL NEWPORT: No, thanks, Andrew. Well, and for the rest of us, professors who are also podcasting, we owe you a debt of gratitude because you're showing us what's actually what's actually possible. So this has been great meeting you as well has been fantastic.

ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: All right. Well, thank you. We won't. We won't see each other on Social Media, but we'll, we'll share a meal at some point Before long. Thank you for joining me for today's discussion with Doctor Cal Newport to find links to Cal's website, books and to his excellent podcast. Please see the links in the show note caption. If you're learning from and or enjoying this podcast, please subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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ANDREW D. HUBERMAN: If you haven't already subscribed to our Neural Network newsletter, our Neural Network newsletter is a monthly newsletter that includes podcast, summaries as well as protocols in the form of brief 1 to 3 page PDF S where we spell out specific items for say neuroplasticity and learning or deliberate cold exposure or fitness or managing and optimizing dopamine all of which are available completely zero cost.

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