in: Career, Career & Wealth, Podcast

• Last updated: March 12, 2024

Podcast #972: Down With Pseudo-Productivity: Why We Need to Transform the Way We Work

The last several years have seen the rise of a sort of anti-productivity movement. Knowledge workers who feel burned out and that work is pointless, meaningless, and grinding, have been talking more about opting out, “quiet quitting,” and doing nothing.

My guest would argue that, in fact, productivity itself isn’t the problem and that most people actually want to do good work. Instead, he says, it’s our whole approach to productivity that’s broken and needs to be transformed.

Cal Newport is a professor of computer science and the author of books like Deep Work and Digital Minimalism. His latest book is Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout. Today on the show, Cal explains what’s led to the rise of what he calls “pseudo-productivity” and the fallout when we apply the structures of the industrial revolution to modern work. He then unpacks the tenets and tactics of the “slow productivity” approach to work, and how to implement them whether you work for yourself or for a boss. We discuss why you need to do fewer things in the short-term to do more things in the long term, the artificiality of working at the same intensity every day and how to inject more seasonality in your work, the role quiet quitting can play in achieving greater balance, and many other ideas on how to make modern work more sustainable, humane, and fruitful.

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Brett Mckay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. The last several years have seen the rise of a sort of anti-productivity movement. Knowledge workers who feel burned out and that work is pointless, meaningless, and grinding have been talking more about opting out, quiet quitting, and doing nothing. My guests would argue that, in fact, productivity itself isn’t the problem and that most people actually want to do good work. Instead, he says, it’s our whole approach to productivity that’s broken and needs to be transformed. Cal Newport is a professor of computer science and the author of books like Deep Work and Digital Minimalism.

His latest book is Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout. Today in the show, Cal explains what’s led to the rise of what he calls pseudo-productivity and the fallout when we applied the structures of the Industrial Revolution to modern work. He then unpacks the tenets and tactics of the slow productivity approach to work and how to implement them whether you work for yourself or for a boss. We discuss why you need to do fewer things in the short term to do more things in the long term, the artificiality of working at the same intensity every day, and how to inject more seasonality in your work, the role quiet quitting can play in achieving greater balance, and many other ideas on how to make modern work more sustainable, humane, and fruitful. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at All right, Cal Newport, welcome back to the show.

Cal Newport: Brett, it’s a pleasure to be back. I mean, as we were just mentioning before we started recording, you and I just passed our one decade mark of podcasting together. So it’s been quite the journey, you and I. So it’s a pleasure to be back, for sure.

Brett Mckay: It has been a journey. And this is the fifth time you’ve been on the show, and I think that’s a record. You hold the record now for most AOM podcast appearances. And the reason I keep bringing you back on the show is, I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time. I remember reading your high school success guides. Even though I wasn’t in high school, I read these things I wanted, how could I improve in college? And then watching your thought and writing on productivity has just been really useful in my own life. And you got a new book out called Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout. And you start out the book talking about during the pandemic. You have a blog. You also have a podcast where you talk about your ideas and one thing you started noticing during the pandemic was this pushback against personal productivity. And then you also started seeing it in the wider culture, in articles and books being put out. What was going on? What were you seeing going on during that time?

Cal Newport: Well, knowledge workers in particular, who are the people that really consume productivity related content. They’re really the people who think about things like, how productive am I? Or what should I do to become more productive? They hit their limit. And as far as I could tell, there was a slow creep of incipient exhaustion that began for this sector in the early 2000s. It was getting worse and getting worse. And when we got to 2020, they were done. So there was this sense of, I’m exhausted, I’m burnt out, and also I’m nihilistic.

I’m looking at all this frenzied stuff I’m doing in April of 2020. I’m at home, my kids are here trying to do school on zoom. My employer is trying to pretend like, it’s fine, we’ll just switch to virtual. And I’m jumping onto all these meetings and seeing all these emails, and I don’t even really know, what am I doing here? I’m hearing my spouse next to me at the kitchen table, so I can see what they’re doing and they can see what I’m doing, and we’re like, what do we do here? So there’s a sense of almost nihilistic exhaustion that came to a head with the final push that the pandemic gave it. And it was in that moment that I think people started saying, I’m fed up with what’s going on. And I sort of blame productivity as an amorphous target. This is the problem somehow. And this really clear anti-productivity movement gained a lot of steam in those first months and first years of the pandemic as a result of this pent up exhaustion finally going too far.

Brett Mckay: Yeah. You’re seeing books coming out about how not to do things, how to just take back your life. You saw quiet quitting going on. It manifests itself in a whole bunch of different ways.

Cal Newport: Right. And the issue was, and this is what really caught my attention, is that, half of this seemed right. For sure, people were exhausted, because I hear from them. They send me notes, they call into my show, and these books are coming out. There’s a lot of people publishing these anti-productivity books. So certainly it is right that knowledge workers were exhausted and had been pushed too far. It was the other half of this that wasn’t resonating with me, though. The idea that therefore the right thing to do is essentially adopt an antagonistic relationship towards your work.

To come at work from more of a zero sum labor politics perspective of this is a tussle between me and capitalism, capital C capitalism. We’re going to fight back and forth and I’m going to try to free myself from its script. This didn’t ring true, because I know in my own life and a lot of people’s lives, they do care about what they produce. They do care about doing work they’re proud of. They’re not really interested in doing nothing.

They want to do things. They just don’t want to be so exhausted. And so I thought there was this opportunity here to start from the premise that gave birth to the anti-productivity movement, that we’re exhausted and we don’t know why, but then go in a different direction with that towards, okay, so how do we fix work so that we’re not exhausted, but also so that we don’t hate our work. So that we still can have pride and motivation for what we’re doing? That seemed to me to be self evidently what we needed to figure out. And that’s the question out of which Slow Productivity eventually emerged as an answer.

Brett Mckay: And so you argue that a big driver behind this backlash was people had an incorrect view of what productivity is. Because I think oftentimes when you ask people what does it mean to be productive, you’re going to get 20 different answers. People really don’t know what it is, particularly in knowledge work. If you ask a factory worker or a farmer what productivity is, they can tell you, it’s like, well, if I do X amount of work, I’m going to get X amount of results. It’s a little harder when you’re doing spreadsheets or doing writing or things like that, and you argue that what ends up happening is that knowledge workers engage in a lot of what you call pseudo-productivity. So what is pseudo-productivity?

Cal Newport: This was the interesting history I eventually uncovered, is exactly like you just mentioned. Until recently, productivity was a very cleanly defined economic concept. So you can trace back that notion all the way back to Adam Smith. It was originally used in the context of agriculture most frequently, and it was very easy to define productivity in agriculture. Bushels of crop produced per acre of land under cultivation. Oh, here’s a number. I changed the way that I plant my crops. That number went up. This new way of planting crops is better. Then we got the Industrial Revolution. You get mills, you get factories. We could directly adopt quantitative productivity to that context. How many model T’s are we producing per paid labor hour that goes into our factory? Oh, when I switched to an assembly line, that number went way up. Oh, great. Assembly line is a better way to build model T’s.

So this quantitative productivity was the backbone on which all of economic growth basically for 2000 years, was built. Then we get to the knowledge work. This emerges as a major sector roughly in the mid 20th century. The term knowledge work is coined in 1959. For the first time, that definition of productivity doesn’t work anymore, because there is no one thing we’re producing. Instead, knowledge workers do a variety of different things. What they’re doing shifts over time and differs from person to person. Like what I’m doing right now as a professor, the literal list of projects and commitments that I’m working on is different than the professor sitting right next to me at Georgetown. We do different things. We take things onto our plate in a more haphazard and ad hoc ways. There’s no one thing to measure, and the systems by which we organize and approach our work are hidden.

There is no centralized equivalent of an assembly line that you have in an office that everyone is following. So even if you could measure some sort of output, you don’t have a clear centralized system to improve. You don’t have, Okay, hey, this isn’t working. Let’s try this instead. So quantitative productivity did not translate to the birth of the knowledge sector. So we fell back onto a very crude heuristic, which was what you mentioned, pseudo-productivity. Well, at the very least, we’ll use activity as a visible proxy for useful effort. So what this led to was the obvious idea of, well, why don’t we gather all these knowledge workers in an office building for roughly the same length of a shift in a factory. And then we can just make sure they’re there. Hey, if you’re there, we know at least you’re doing something. And then we can watch and make sure that you’re not spending too much time at the water cooler. And we’ll just use activity as a proxy for productivity. If we need our productivity to go up, we’ll tell you to work longer hours.

It was a hack. It was a hack because we didn’t know how else to manage in the absence of quantitative metrics like we were used to from other sectors. And so that’s what’s really been dominating our implicit understanding of productivity. We don’t write this down anywhere. No one really realizes this. It’s not like put up on a mission statement, but it’s what we’ve been doing. Activity will be a proxy for useful effort. When you combine that with the advent of computers and networks and portable computing, all this falls apart. And this way of measuring productivity, pseudo-productivity spins out of control. That then becomes the source of the discontent that reaches a head in 2020.

Brett Mckay: Okay, so because there’s no specific way to measure productivity in knowledge work, we end up just showing how we’re productive by answering lots of emails, going to lots of meetings, doing Zoom. I mean, what other kind of things do you see people do in knowledge work to show that they’re doing something?

Cal Newport: Well, specifically, what went wrong is before we got those technologies, demonstrating busyness was a physical thing. I have to come to an office. I have to be at an office, and if you walk by my door, I need to start typing or look like I’m looking through papers. Once you add communication, that’s digital, and once you add portable computing, so I can bring work home with me on a laptop, and I can communicate with people about work from wherever I am, through, let’s say, a smartphone, Slack, email, et cetera. The problem was, the opportunities to do work became endless. I could always do work. The opportunities to demonstrate busyness also became ubiquitous because I could do this digitally.

If you see a footprint of me replying to a message or jumping on a Slack channel, or being on a “optional Zoom” meeting, these all became ways of demonstrating productivity. And the amount of work I could do also became limitless. Because with low friction in communication, it’s very easy to push more and more work at people. There’s always more work you could take. So now this drive to be visibly productive morphed from, let me show up to the office on time and look reasonably busy while I’m there, and then I’ll go home to this constant tug of war at all points of your life of, hey, this is a moment where I could be demonstrating more productivity. Every time I choose to do something else, every time I choose to be with my family or to exercise or to go to church, whatever I’m doing is always now a constant psychological tug of war between I could be demonstrating more productivity. It became this psychologically fraught internal battle of I always could be working, there’s always more to be done. And that’s when we got into trouble. That’s what pushed us towards this sense of exhaustion.

Brett Mckay: And not only that, it led to that nihilism, because people would look at all the stuff they did during the day, the emails and the Zoom meetings and they’re thinking, boy, what did this actually do? What did I actually accomplished? There’s no point to this, so I might as well just give up on this idea of productivity.

Cal Newport: Yeah, well, one thing that happened in particular, which I think is tragic and overlooked, is that once activity becomes how I demonstrate that I’m useful, I start saying yes to more things. Because what clearer way to indicate that you’re active than saying yes when someone asks you to do something? And what way would be more dangerous, more of a signal that you’re not productive than to say no when someone asks you to do something? So we began taking on way more commitments than we would have in time passed. So just the concurrent number of things we work on as an average knowledge worker, that’s really gone up. But the problem is each one of these things that we commit to doing, it’s not just the time required to execute the task, to write the report or the do the committee meeting, it’s the administrative overhead that comes with it that begins to really take a toll on us. Everything we say yes to brings with it a persistent administrative overhead that I call overhead tax.

And the more things you say yes to, the more of this tax you have to pay, which means the more of your day now has to be spent tending to all of the things that you’ve put onto your plate. And the more time you now have to spend tending to these things, meaning emails and meetings and just the cognitive real estate that these things take up, the more time you have to tend to the administrative overhead of all these commitments, the less time you have to actually get work done. And then we get to a point where there’s very little time left to actually make progress on our work. And this is what I think happened in the early pandemic, is that the shift to remote work added about 20% more tasks to everyone’s plate basically overnight, because there’s work to be done to adjust to the pandemic. We were already so close to the edge, so much of our day was already in administrative overhead, that for a lot of people that extra 20% spiraled the whole thing out of control.

And we began to hear from people that would have eight hours in a row of Zoom meetings. I mean, I have emails I could show you of people saying, here’s my problem, Cal, when do I go to the bathroom during the day? It’s eight hours back to back to back to back of Zoom. So the whole thing just fell apart because we were flying so close to the edge of absurdity. That’s why people feel so nihilistic. It’s like, I’m spending basically all of my time talking about projects. We’re not actually doing any of the work. This is like a Camus play or maybe something out of the Marx Brothers. This can’t actually be non satirical. This can’t actually be a real job. That’s where so many people found themselves and they were just done with it.

Brett Mckay: Yeah. This idea of overhead tax was really powerful to me, because I remember you talked about this on one of your podcasts, and whenever I heard is like that is, it made me think about my work in a different way. So overhead tax is this, let’s say, the actual work you’re trying to do is write a sales proposal for a big client. That’s the actual thing you want to do. But the overhead tax is all the stuff you have to do to make that proposal. So it’s the emails, the meetings, all that stuff. That’s what you’re talking about when you’re talking about overhead tax.

Cal Newport: Yeah. And that goes on even if you’re not working on the thing at the moment. That’s part of the problem. Even if, you know, I’m going to work on this proposal next week. Other people don’t know that. So they’re going to be emailing you and they’re going to be setting up the dreaded weekly check in status meetings. And so, regardless of how you want to tackle this work, once you’ve committed to it, once it’s been activated, other people are going to start demanding that you interact with them about it. So the overhead tax is persistent and ongoing until that commitment is discharged.

Brett Mckay: And then the problem is, you might think, well, I’m just taking on one task, and that task is, I’m going to write this proposal. But then you think, well, I just got this one thing I’m doing, so I can take on something else. But then that other thing you add to your list comes with its own additional overhead tax.

Cal Newport: And then you get the spiral. So now, if I keep adding things, eventually the amount of time I’m spending on overhead tax is so large that I fall behind on actually finishing the tasks. And then more and more projects begin to pile up because you’re not finishing the ones you said yes to, because more and more of your day is overhead tax, and things begin to spiral out of control. The only way to escape that spiral is to start finding hours free from the cost of overhead tax to actually do the work. And now we find people having to work early in the morning, to work on the weekends, to work in the evenings. And this is particularly crazy making, because they know that they have this long workday which is just being wasted on meetings and email and the fact that they now have to also sacrifice a weekend or the evening. I mean, that’s why this stuff becomes deranging.

I mean, this is why we got an anti-productivity literature. I’m not surprised. The way we were working was just crazy. But I think the big difference between, let’s say the way I think about this and an anti-productivity person is they would say, if we’re feeling really bad about work, if it’s really making us crazy, it must be really benefiting someone else. It’s all going to be these dialectics. So if we feel terrible about work, it must be because we have a mustache twirling manager that’s getting a lot of extra labor out of us. This must be an exploitative relationship. The reality is also, I think, is more crazy than that. No one was benefiting from this way of work.

It’s not good for a company that you’re spending eight hours in Zoom. They don’t make money for you being in Zoom. You answering emails does not produce the reports or the software that they’re selling. It’s not good for anybody. That’s what’s, I think it’s crazier than the anti-productivity people realize. They’re thinking like, yeah, this is just like an early 20th century Marxist analysis. It’s crazier than that. No one was benefiting from this way of work. The whole thing had just spiraled into absurdity.

Brett Mckay: So your response to this absurdity is what you call slow productivity. It’s a new philosophy of productivity. Actually, it’s not new. It isn’t new. You look to the past to guide and shape your philosophy. One of the things you look to when you’re developing your idea of slow productivity was the slow food movement. How did the slow food movement inspire some of the tenets of slow productivity?

Cal Newport: Well, I first looked at it just because the term slow. So I kind of had this intuitive appeal to the word slow because things felt really fast and distracting. As I read more about slow food, though, I said, oh, there’s actually a framework here around which we could build a solution to the issues we’re having in work. So if you look at slow food, there’s two things that’s really key about that movement and the additional slow movements that followed it. One, they look back to traditional sources of wisdom. So instead of trying to build from scratch a new utopian way of thinking about something, they like to look back and say where is the aggregated cultural wisdom on this topic?

So slow food didn’t try to build alternative food cultures to fast food from scratch. They look back at their great grandparents and say you know, how did they eat in this part of Italy 100 years ago? So they look back to traditional aggregated sources of cultural knowledge as opposed to trying to build new things from scratch. And two, they really believed in a positive alternative, present a positive alternative to what it is that is upsetting you. Don’t just attack what’s upsetting you. So instead of just attacking McDonald’s coming to Spanish Steps in Rome, they said let’s give you an alternative way to think about food that’s better. We think it’s a better alternative. And I realized that’s what we needed to deal with what was going on in knowledge work. We had to, A, avoid just attacking work.

It feels good for the writers doing it, but doesn’t help anyone, just to say work is just bad. We need a positive alternative to the way that we’re working that’s not working. And two, instead of trying to invent new approaches to work entirely from scratch, let’s look back at traditional ways we thought about work. And for me it made sense that what I’m going to do is look for knowledge workers from time past, people who use their brain to produce new value, who did not work in an office, but instead had a lot of freedom about how and when they did their work. Let’s see what they gravitated towards. What did they discover through trial and error was the right way to use your brain to produce useful knowledge in the world.

Let’s isolate those principles and then adjust them to the modern 21st century office setting. So we’ll look back, just like slow food look back to traditional cuisine. I look back to traditional knowledge workers. And just like slow food said, what’s our positive alternative to McDonald’s? I said, what is our positive alternative to being on Slack 10 hours a day?

Brett Mckay: So yeah, you look to Jane Austen, I think Charles Darwin, a lot of famous knowledge workers who the work they did groundbreaking, it sometimes changed the course of history. But if you look at their day to day work life, it doesn’t seem like they were doing much. But little by little they got a lot done. So let’s dig into these tenets of slow productivity. And the first one is just do fewer things. And so by doing fewer things, this can reduce a lot of that overhead tax we were talking about, right? So if you take on fewer projects, fewer commitments at work, you’ll have to deal with less of the back and forth emails, the Zoom meetings, et cetera.

But how do you convince your boss or the people you work with that, Hey, I can’t take on another project when there is this expectation you should. There’s a lot of social pressure that you need to take on more projects. So any advice there?

Cal Newport: Well, one of the key things to remember is that really what this principle is saying is not do fewer things this year. It’s not saying accomplish less useful results over the next few months. It is instead asking that you do fewer things at once. So cut down on the simultaneous number of commitments. When you cut down on how much you’re doing at once, as we talked about, the overhead tax goes down, you have more time per day to actually work on hard things and you finish these things faster.

There’s this irony to it that if you take on fewer commitments at any one time. The total number of things you accomplish over months and years is actually much higher. So there’s some sense of, if I can just get away with this long enough, the value of how I work is going to be self evident. Fewer things at once means more things over time. So how do you do mean? A lot of the book is trying to understand how do we engineer these timeless principles into this very specific time we have right now of bosses and email and Slack. So there’s a lot of ideas, a lot of real practical ideas about how to do this.

But if you work in an office and for a boss, a lot of these heuristics or tips that I talk about, they center on making workload transparent. The key thing that drives overload right now is the fact that it’s a secret how much I’m working on. You have no idea. There’s no systematic, transparent way of seeing who’s working on what. There’s no systematic rules for when and how we assign new work to people. So all I know is I have something that needs to get done. You seem like someone who could do it. I send a quick email, it’s off my plate. I move on with my life. I have no idea if you’re overloaded or not. Transparency about workload can make a really big difference. So in its very simplest form, you could literally have a shared document. Here’s what I’m working on right now, like actively dividing line. Here are other things that people want me to work on and I have them roughly ordered.

And so you could say to someone when they ask you to do something like, well, yeah, go to my work queue and go ahead and add it on there. And suddenly they have to confront, Oh, my God, you have like 15 things waiting to be done. Once you’re done working on the three things you’re doing now, which will either, A, lead them to say, you know what, never mind, or B, have completely reset expectations about how long it’s going to take and whether they’re going to bother you about something else until it’s done.

Another way you can do this is do prescheduling of time. Oh, you want me to do this project? Great, hold on a second. I’m going to go find the time to do this work on my calendar. Let me get back to you once I do. I’m going to find it and block it. So this is not just a time management strategy. Like, oh, I want to protect that time for when it comes. It gives you a completely accurate assessment of how much time you really have available. And this is where you might come back and say, look, this is going to take 15 hours.

The closest place I could find 15 hours to do this is in three months. It’s transparency about the reality of your workload. Then there’s simpler to implement tactics. And I’ll just mention one, quotas. A different type of work you establish per quarter, per month, whatever makes sense. Here’s how many of these things I do during this time period.

And when you hit that limit, you say, hey, love to help. I do a lot of this. I maintain a quota of whatever per month and I’ve already hit that quota for this month, so I can’t do it this time. I do this as a professor with paper reviews. I have to review papers, but I get way more requests than I can ever do. So I set the terms.

I do five per semester or whatever it is. This is also effective because again, you’re confronting people with the reality of your workload. And it’s a very hard thing for people to get upset about or argue about. Because their only real argument is your quota is wrong. You should do more work. You’re lying about your calendar. You secretly do have a lot of time. You’ve made up this list of projects. They’re not going to say that. The key is not that they’re trying to exploit you, it’s just that they haven’t thought much about you or what you’re doing or how much work you have on your plate. They’re just trying to get rid of something. So transparency about the reality of workloads goes a long way to moderating the actual flow of the flow of assignments and works in these environments.

Brett Mckay: Yeah, it sounds like what you’re doing is you’re making your abstract work concrete. Whenever I go to a contractor to fix something or like a couple of years ago, I had my shower redone. I said, hey, I want my shower redone. They said, okay, great. They came out and they gave me the estimate and they say, well, look, it’s going to be three months before we can get to it because we have this backlog. And I understood that. ‘Cause like, Yeah, it takes a while to build showers or redo showers. I feel like with knowledge work, people don’t have that idea, that understanding, because they think, well, it’s an email, it’s this project. You can fit it in when you can. But what you’re doing here is you’re saying, no, this is an actual concrete thing. It takes time. So you might have to wait before I can get to it.

Cal Newport: Yeah. It’s almost like you wish we could have a jar of marbles on your desk, and they each represent a half hour of your time for the next two weeks or something like that. And then when someone wanted to ask you to do something, they have to come into your office and grab out the appropriate number of marbles from your jar and know what they’re taking from you. And if there’s no marbles left, there’s no marbles left. We somehow want to capture that metaphor digitally. Somehow, we want to capture that metaphor in the way we work today.

Brett Mckay: We’re going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show.

So just reducing the number of projects you take on at a time can go a long way to allowing you to keep your sanity and reduce a lot of that overhead tax. But are there things we can do to reduce the overhead tax on the projects we do take on? Because I feel like maybe a lot of people have experienced this. You’re working on a project and you think, I’m doing a lot of movement on this thing, but I’m actually not moving anywhere. You’re kind of spinning your wheels, doing dumb stuff. Anything we can do to reduce the little piddly things that take up our time during the day?

Cal Newport: Yeah, it’s a really important element to add to this. And I essentially consolidated in the book years of writing and thinking about these small, time consuming overhead activities and sort of consolidated all my best thinking on it. And the verb I used was, how do you constrain the small? So we want to limit the big. So we want to limit how many things we commit to. But then how do we, after we’ve committed to things, constrain the impact of the small administrative work that comes along and we can’t avoid, how do we constrain its impact? So we can’t eliminate those things? We have to have meetings about this. We’re trying to get this project done. My HR department needs me to fill out this form. I can not do it.

So then taking that small stuff that remains, how do we constrain it so that its impact on our schedule is minimal? And here’s, there’s a bunch of things. You can do autopilot scheduling. If it’s regularly occurring, small tasks or obligations, same time, same days, it’s on your calendar and protected. You don’t even think about it. Every other Tuesday, there’s this hour around lunch, and I do a lot of paperwork that I know is going to be generated regularly. I do my hours, I do my timesheets.

So, stuff that’s regular, decide in advance where it’s going to happen. So it can’t just sit there and be in your mind and pockmark your schedule. That’s really going to help. Use synchronous communication as much as possible. This is a big one. Think about email as a tool for delivering files and broadcasting information. It’s very good for that. I want to send you a contract. Email is great. I can attach it. It goes right to you. Fantastic. I want to send a message to the whole department. Email is great. We used to have to print it out and put it in people’s mailboxes. This is really great. Or maybe I have a question that can be answered with a single message, that’s a really good use of email too.

Like, hey, I don’t want to bother you. When you get a chance, remind me again what date you’re going on vacation. Email is great for that. It sits there till you’re ready and then you answer it. Anything that requires back and forth. Now we’re going to have to actually talk about this, get it out of email. And now what you don’t want to do here is instead make every conversation be its own meeting. Because that’s its own type of hell. There’s a reason why people said, could this meeting have been an email? That’s like a meme that is quite popular.

That’s its own special type of hell. It’s like every single thing needs a 30 plus minute block on your calendar to discuss. I hate that as well. What you want is something like office hours. Every day at the same time. I am in my office, my door is open, Zoom is turned on, my phone is on. I publicize this. So whenever someone wants to begin a back and forth interaction, I get that fateful email that’s like, hey, what are we doing about the client visiting tomorrow? And I can just imagine the seven or eight back and forth emails are going to follow. Now I can say, great question. Next time you’re able jump over into my office hours, we’ll figure it out.

Take two minutes real time. We’re talking to each other on the phone or in person. We get the whole thing done. So you want to constrain long, drawn out back and forth. And then another thing you might think about is be more careful how you select what you commit to. Two projects might look the same. In fact, one project might even look harder, like, oh, that’s going to be hard work, but what you really should be measuring these projects on is how many tasks are they going to generate, how much unscheduled obligations I’m going to have to respond to in the moment.

Is it going to be a task engine or not? And bias towards the commitments that have less of the ongoing small tasks that happen unexpectedly. So, like I give the example of organizing a conference versus writing a really big report. The report is hard, but you control your time. The conference is not intellectually demanding, but there’s going to be a ton of unscheduled, back and forth urgent emails with vendors and other people. And so you should bias towards the report, because what you’re trying to minimize is not effort. What you’re trying to minimize is not hardness. You’re trying to minimize small tasks that can sit there and take up time in your schedule. So yeah, there’s a lot you can do to constrain to small.

Brett Mckay: Yeah, one other one that I liked was make other people work more, is one of the problems with particularly email and Slack. It’s so easy to make requests. It’s just type some things, hit send and bam. At the speed of light, you can contact somebody. You talk about this in the world without email. That facility of email, digital communication just results in more and more and more communication.

So if you make people have to work a bit more to talk to you, so that might mean going to the office hours at a specific time and have that face to face conversation, they’re going to think a bit more before they actually make a request. And I do this in my own business. I don’t have a contact form on our website. I used to years ago, but what I found is I was spending all my time answering people’s emails who had these one off questions, and I’d have to spend 30 minutes answering their single question, and I wouldn’t have any time to actually work on writing articles, working on the podcast. So now we have a PO box, and if you want to reach us, you got to write a letter. And I think if people have to write or have to spend ten minutes to write a letter, as opposed to just dashing off an email, as soon as they have a thought, they reevaluate whether something that felt urgent is actually important. And we get fewer messages and only messages from people who have actually thought about it. And that allows us to spend more time on the stuff that actually provides value for our readers, which is podcasts and articles.

Cal Newport: Yeah, well, I mean, here’s a simple example of that. Imagine, and this is both a thought experiment and a concrete suggestion. But imagine when someone wants you to take on some sort of project or task, you say, effectively, that’s great. Go to this Google Drive folder, create a document for what you’re asking me to do, and then you need to put in there all the information I need to execute it. Like, okay, so here’s what I want you to do. Here’s what success looks like. Here’s pointers to all the examples. And you say, just let me know when everything is in there. You can change the title to be, like, ready, and then I’ll put it on my list to tackle it. And take as much time as you need. But wait till everything… Once everything’s in there, I will tackle it.

That gets rid of like 75% of projects because they don’t really want to do that work if it’s not vital, and they like, I should just do this myself, or, we’re not really ready to do this, because a lot of what happens with these commitments is just obligation hot potato. It pops up on their plate. They’re now responsible for it. That’s a source of stress. If they can get it off their plate, it’s not going to be a source of stress anymore. So it’s like, Brett, can you look into this? Send, boom, it’s off my plate. And then what will normally happen is at some point you’ll have to send back an email and say, okay, but what do I do? Do you have some examples? Like, oh, my God, it’s back on my plate again. Look at this address. Send.

Like, sending those messages as quickly as possible. And for weeks this hot potato is going back and forth. You say, no, gather everything you need for me to do, and once it’s all there, I’ll execute it. And most of this stuff actually goes away. Because, like, well, that’s going to take time. Okay, I guess I really have to deal with this. Is this really that important? So, yeah, friction makes a really big difference.

Another example is reverse meetings. No, no. You can’t gather ten people. Have to now get together where you are for an hour. If you do that, you’ve just taken an hour out of 10 people’s lives. No, no, no. You need to go to each of those 10 people one by one and talk to them about the issue. Like, the meeting should be much harder for the person organizing it than the people who have to go because you going to each of those 10 people has a much smaller impact on the overall organizational footprint than making 10 people come to you. So friction, reducing asymmetries and effort. We obsess a lot about simulating other people’s minds. And are people going to get mad? And to me, that’s social nuance. You can figure that out. But let’s get to the underlying principle. Yeah, make people work more.

Brett Mckay: Okay, so yeah, principle one, do fewer things, do fewer big things, and then do less of the piddly things, or find ways to reduce that or constrain it. The second principle of slow productivity is work at a natural pace. What do you mean by that?

Cal Newport: We don’t realize how artificial it is those of us who do cognitive work, that we use a model of eight hours. Like I’m supposed to, between roughly 9:00 to 5:00, just be super intense, available, working that whole time. ‘Cause the dictator pseudo-productivity is like during work hours, you should be available and working and filling those hours as much as you can. This is actually in the broader scope, a really artificial way of approaching work. If we go back, like I do to the paleolithic, like 300,000 years of homo sapiens, our workday “hunting and gathering”, was incredibly variable in terms of intensity on all sorts of scales, like three hours. We know this from studies of extant communities that still forage hours of just doing nothing while we wait for the midday sun to go down, followed by two very intense hours when we’re on a stock. The winter is very different than the season in which the herds we hunt are active. There’s all sorts of variability. Neolithic revolution comes along. Now work is literally seasonal. We’re busting our butts in the fall to get the harvest done, but then in January we basically have nothing to do.

It’s like time for the Yule ceremonies of the pagan Germans, right? We’re building bonfires and talking to the… Because we have nothing to do. It’s very variable. The idea of just, I’m going to work intensely all day long for said hours without variation throughout the year was invented for mills and factories. Because in mills and factories the equipment is most productive when it runs all the time, and we need people to run the equipment. But this was incredibly unnatural. And it really was a massive source of human misery. It’s why we had to invent labor unions, it’s why we had to invent entire regulatory infrastructures to constrain this work. The Fair Labor Standards act of 1938 in the US said you can’t make people work more than eight hours, and if you do, you have to pay them a lot of money because this is really unnatural.

Then in the ’50s, knowledge work comes along like, oh, so how are we going to do this? Do it like the factories? So we adopted this very recent, very unnatural, misery inducing approach of work that we have no real history with through most of our history. And we’re like, yeah, we’ll just do that for knowledge work as well, because pseudo-productivity, if I can see you, I know you’re working. And we created what I call the invisible factory. Yeah, you come to the office, you check in, and now in an age of remote work and email, we just do this digitally. You better be answering those messages and available for Zoom meetings. It’s the same thing.

It makes no sense that we would do this if we don’t have to. We had to do long intent shifts to build Model T’s because we didn’t have the technology to do this otherwise. But it was a very artificial thing, and we all agreed this was artificial, just like we pay extra money to soldiers when they’re in hazardous duty. We were like, okay, we have to sort of accommodate, that this type of labor is very hard to do. So it was an unforced error in some sense, that we stick to that. Today, knowledge work is not well served by maintaining constant intensity every day, day after day, week after week, month after month. It’s much better served with huge variations in intensity on different timescales. Sometimes of the day you’re working harder than others. Some days you’re not working that much, other days you’re working a lot. Some seasons are more intense than other seasons. We need this variability for us to recharge and then go after it to find inspiration and then apply it. This type of variation of intensity is what we’re wired to do. And if we go to the factory model, we become miserable. There’s no reason to do that.

Brett Mckay: When you looked at knowledge workers from the past, so composers, writers, you can just, even… Scientists, if you look at their schedule, there was a seasonality to their schedule. There’d be periods where they weren’t doing really much of anything. They’d just be at the beach and taking walks. But then they’d have these bouts of frenzied work that would last weeks, months, and then they’d take a break again. And see what you’re saying is that knowledge workers today who work for companies, they could emulate some of that.

Cal Newport: It is a better way that produced knowledge from our brains. If it was productive in some sort of literal sense to just work eight hours a day and as hard as you could, we would see in these examples of world famous traditional knowledge workers say, that’s what they would do. But they don’t do that because they quickly discovered, oh, I produce less. I produce less good ideas if I’m constantly trying to do that. In fact, I don’t think it would’ve even occurred to them, especially if we go back far in history, it would not have occurred to them. They say, why would I work like someone in a mill like why… That doesn’t make sense. I’m trying to invent calculus. Like it wouldn’t make sense. Probably, their only… If you went to like Isaac Newton, they would have very little reference. What is my reference for solid work? Because even mercantile work, well, there’s market days and non-market days and days where you’re completely off. Like they really wouldn’t have much of a reference for working at the same level. They’re just like that’s not how the brain works. What are you talking about? And yet we think today, like what else would we do? Anything else makes no sense. So we don’t know how ahistorical and abnormal, what we’re doing now in knowledge work really is.

Brett Mckay: So how can knowledge workers inject a bit of seasonality into their work? Any concrete tips there?

Cal Newport: Yeah, so again, we have a spectrum here, depending on how much control you have. So if you’re a freelancer or an entrepreneur, I give a lot of these examples. You have a lot of control. You should take it, you should have a lot of seasonality. I talk about one entrepreneur in the book where she realized what would happen if I adjusted my schedule, my contract, she does a coaching business where there’s two months a year in the summer, I don’t do work. She figured that out pretty easily. Yeah, there was some effort to do that. She’s losing some money but not that much. Right? So I think she was like yes, I’m gonna get about 20% less revenue, but get my summers off. Yeah. Fair trade. [chuckle] You know that’s a fair trade. And it’s like entirely more sustainable.

Freelancers will also do things like I talk about where they’ll do like six weeks on, they’ll do an engagement and then take six weeks off and do four months on and then maybe take a month off to do something else. So if you have control, do not simulate the factory. I know you think that it’s maximizing income or whatever, but in the long run, not only are you gonna be happier, you’re gonna be way better at what you do if you approach your work, otherwise. Now, if you’re in a big company, there’s things that the big companies could do and some do, like I talk about the company base camp that has a whole methodology of cycles. Our employees work in cycles and they’re like four to six weeks long and you’re working intensely on a small number of objectives. And then you take like two weeks cycle down. They call it the cool down period.

You’re not allowed… Don’t start something else big during the cool down period. You’re just reflecting on what you just did. You’re tweaking things, you’re catching your breath, you’re figuring out what to work on next. And base camp figured out cycles makes us much more effective than trying to stay at high intensity all the time. Now finally, if you have no control and your boss is just the king of pseudo-productivity, now you can start to do some more subtle things. So you can take the idea of quiet quitting, for example, which taught us oh, you do have a lot of control over your workload. Quiet quitters discovered if I do the bare minimum perpetually, hey, it eventually gets noticed. And that’s a problem because my employer will not like if I’m systematically doing the bare minimum. But if you quiet quit for a month, once a year, no one’s gonna notice.

But you know, yeah, July is pretty quiet and I’m not making a big deal about this, but I really pull back in July and just before people might really start to notice Hey, hasn’t it been a few weeks till Brett’s been able to come to a meeting. I’m back to kind of a normal pace again in August. And they move on with their lives. So when it comes to the situation where you have no control and your boss loves pseudo-productivity, even then have a whole list of surreptitious tactics you can do to get some more of that variation over time and your intensity.

Brett Mckay: Yeah. One was schedule rest projects. So you look at your queue of projects you have and say there’s one you have to work really hard on. It’s gonna be intense. You have to work overtime on this thing weekends. But then after you’re done with that, you take on a project that it’ll look like you’re doing something. Your boss will be, Hey, yeah, he’s getting stuff done. But it’s not that big of a deal. Like you can kind of take your foot off the gas.

Cal Newport: Yep. And it has a lot of leeway so you can obfuscate the fact you’re not doing much and it lets you deflect. So when someone says, Hey, can you do this thing right now? You’re Like oh, I’m happy to help with that. You know what, but I’m working on X but I should be done, once I’m done with this, let’s talk about that. So you’re not even having to say no, you’re using the relaxed project to deflect things into the future. So like really you’re not drawing much attention. And some people get nervous about this surreptitiousness, but I think it’s all hands on deck, all options on the table right now because of the absurdity that we documented earlier in this interview, because of the absurdity of what’s going on in knowledge work. It’s a sort of break glass in case of emergency situation. I think all options should be on the table.

Brett Mckay: And even Peter Drucker, the father of knowledge work management, productivity thinking, he said like the biggest challenge is personal management and it’s up to each knowledge worker to manage themselves. Like you can’t rely on a manager to manage your own workload, ’cause it’s up to you. You have to take it into your own hands.

Cal Newport: Well, and that’s the irony of the situation is that part of what allowed pseudo-productivity to flourish was Peter Drucker who really helped instill this idea that knowledge work is autonomous. Productivity is personal. People figure out on their own how to work. We don’t have a set system for how we organize our work at a given company. It should be everyone does it on their own. Now this allowed pseudo-productivity to thrive in part because there was no system to measure or improve or push back against, without a clear system for workload assignment for example. This allowed these informal workloads to spiral out of control. But the reason why I say it’s ironic is exactly what you just emphasized there, is at the same time we can lean into that to save ourselves from productivity, from pseudo-productivity rather. So yeah, if it’s up to me how I organize my work, then I’m gonna do that.

And so when I tell you now, hey, this is how I keep track of my hours. I have these quotas. I don’t do meetings in the morning, I pre-schedule projects. I have queues of projects. You gotta let me do that because there’s no… It’s up to me. Right? You said productivity is up to me, great. This is what I chose. And actually people worry about being specific about these things. Being specific about these things gives you more cover because if you’re clear and confident in explaining what you’re doing, people say, okay, this guy has his act together. He’s thinking about how do I organize? He has systems. So now I’m actually going to trust him much more and let him much more get away with saying what he will and won’t do than someone who’s much more frenzied and haphazard and is forgetting things. And if I don’t think that you’re organized, I’m gonna ride you.

Right? No, no, no. Get back to me right away. I don’t trust you to do this. Are you doing this? If you are a sort of like Cal Newport nerd, I’m like okay, I’m gonna trust that you’re thinking this through. I mean, think about it. I’m known for productivity because some of these books I’ve written, I get a lot more leeway when I tell someone no or here’s how I’m gonna do it. Because they sort of assume Cal knows what he’s talking about. Like if he can’t do this, that’s probably ’cause he really can’t. Whereas if I’m just haphazard and all over the place and lost, they’re like, I don’t like how disorganized you are, you probably could do this. You just are out… It’s not my fault that you’re out of control. So being specific about these things and hey, if productivity is personal, then great, I’m leaning into that. Here’s my system. Your move. Most people aren’t gonna attack your system. They’re gonna say, okay, you called our bluff. We kind of have to now live with how you answered this call to figure out your own systems.

Brett Mckay: You also talk about how your workspace, where you work, can actually help you work at a natural pace. What’s going on there?

Cal Newport: Well, location matters. It’s another thing we saw when I studied these traditional knowledge workers, is they really cared where they worked. Like it really made a difference where work happened. We see this most clearly with writers and I think writers are a good case study, especially in an age of remote work because they’re the original remote workers. Like writers did not have… If you’re a novelist or a nonfiction writer, you didn’t have an office to go to, right? So they were the original remote workers. And so if you study famous writers, book writers from times past and said, where did they work? It’s interesting that you discover it’s almost never their homes. They would find these eccentric locations often really near their home. But these eccentric locations that they would go to do their writing, one of the cool examples of this was Peter Benchley who wrote the hit novel Jaws that the movie was based off of the house he lived in. When he wrote Jaws was right down the street from the house I grew up in.

So I’d walk by it everyday. It’s a beautiful house. It’s a converted carriage house it has lots of land and these like nice conifer trees on it. When he wrote Jaws, he lived in that house. He did not write in the beautiful carriage house where he could overlook the stream beyond. He instead rented space in a furnace repair company on the other side of town. And we talked to the fact checkers. I wrote about this in New Yorker. The fact checkers called up Wendy Benchley. Peter was dead, but they called up Wendy Benchley and she was like oh yeah, it was crazy. You would go there and it was just like bang, bang, bang. And he was sitting there writing his books. So why would he choose to write in a furnace repair shop as opposed to his beautiful house? Location matters.

And so his house, he associated with house stuff and chores and other sorts of stressors. The furnace repair factory, his only association with that is writing. So when he hears those hammers banging, he’s like yeah, I’m here to write. There’s nothing else here that’s familiar to other parts of my life. It’s a great indication that location really matters. We see these traditional knowledge workers do this all the time. They build special places to do their best work. They care about location, they care what’s in their space. They care where their space is. They care about the rituals surrounding their work. They know this is all really important to do Something as artificial and abstract is trying to produce new knowledge ex nihilo from scratch using their brains. So it’s not just the pace that matters, but the location as well. We learned this from the greats, but we can adopt it to our lives as well.

Brett Mckay: Alright. So, first principle, do fewer things. Second principle work at a natural pace. The third principle is obsess over quality. And you use the musician Jewel to talk about this principle. Tell us about her story.

Cal Newport: So Jewel got discovered in San Diego playing at a coffee shop, the interchange coffee shop. And she was homeless. She was living out of her car at the time. She immediately began to attract attention. She was a good musician. She had spent her entire childhood performing all around Alaska. So she knew music. She had yodeled early on. So she had an interesting voice, she had interesting vocal control. And she was doing these epic concerts that were attracting bigger and bigger crowds. These executives began to show up to this coffee shop in San Diego. They all began fighting over her. Who’s gonna sign her? Eventually someone puts on the table a million dollar signing bonus. So she’s living out of her car. Here we go, million dollar signing bonus sign with us. And she turns it down. Like alright, this is fascinating. What’s going on here?

Why would you in that situation turn down a million dollar signing bonus? Because she had done the math, she had realized this is a advance on the money I make them. It’s a loan basically. It’s guaranteed, right? So when you get an advance, you don’t have to pay it back, because you don’t make the money. You still gotta keep it. So that million dollars was guaranteed, but she realized if she didn’t make back that advance quickly, they would drop her. They’re gonna drop her from the record label. And she had enough self-awareness to know, I have something special here, but I’m not great yet. Like I have a lot of work to do to become a famous musician. I only have performance experience at this one coffee shop. I have a lot of work to do here.

And so she turned it down so that she would have more time to get better. And she said, just give me a small amount of a signing bonus up front, a small enough amount that you won’t care if I don’t become a hit right away. And she wasn’t a hit right away, she was nervous in the first version of the album she recorded. She recorded it at Neil Young’s ranch with his backing band and it scared the hell out of her. And so she’s nervous on some of these songs. You can tell like she’s nervous being there. And she just performed and performed and performed, stayed as cheap as she could for the record label, finally figured it out. And then she took off. If she had tooken the million dollars, they would’ve dropped her, right? So like in her story, we saw getting good at things takes time.

So getting good at things demands that you go slowly. But then there’s this other part to her story. Once she became huge, they began pushing her to do the Taylor Swift route, right? You need to be an international superstar where you tour around the country. She took a role in an Ang Lee movie. They’re like yeah, you have to be a multimedia threat. Move to LA, you need to do movies in between international tours with like some time to write your albums in between. And she’s like wait a second, I’m rich now. [laughter] I’d like music. I don’t like this. No. And she never toured again, and she never did another movie appearance. She did a lot of albums and has lived a very respected musical career, but never did it again. So this is the other side of getting really good at things.

It gives you the ability to say no. It gives you the ability to slow down. And so for those two reasons I say obsessing over quality is like the glue that holds these other two principles together. It’s gonna force you to slow down. It’s gonna justify you slowing down. And as you get better, you get more and more ability to slow down because you gain more control over your life. So if you skip the last part where you get good, then all you’re really doing is just trying to reduce the footprint of work in your life. It’s all sort of reduction of effort. You might grow an antagonistic relationship towards your work. It’s all about doing fewer things. It’s all about taking longer. You gotta couple it with the positive side. And when you couple it with that, I’m gonna become awesome at what I do, then all the pieces click together.

Brett Mckay: And a part of becoming awesome at what you do is developing taste. At least that’s what you argue. How can improving your taste make you more quality conscious?

Cal Newport: Well, you can’t get better unless you know what better means. And so if the first question we ask after I introduce this idea, obsess over quality is like great, how do I do that? And I took advantage of this question to actually deal with something that’s caught my attention for a long time. And it’s that famous, I don’t know if you know this one Brett, but it’s all over the internet. It’s maybe 15 years old. Ira Glass, the host of This American life, he has this famous interview where he’s talking about how do you do creative work? And he says, look, it’s really frustrating in the beginning, because you know you’re not very good. Your taste is here, but what you’re producing is down here. And that gap is very frustrating. And he said, but the key to creative work is to keep at it until you close that gap where your abilities meet your taste, and then that’s when it becomes sustainable.

So it’s this famous interview that’s everywhere on the internet. Well, this has always bothered me because I’ve also found this other interview of Ira Glass. It’s more recent, it’s on Michael Lewis’s podcast. And they go back and they listen to his first major piece he did for NPR. And they listen to it, and when they’re done listening to it, Ira Glass is like oh, that’s terrible. I know that now that’s terrible editing. But then he tells Michael Lewis, I didn’t realize that at the time. I thought this was great. I didn’t know that that was bad editing. So what he’s telling Lewis directly contradicts the advice from that famous interview. He didn’t have a big gap between his taste and his ability. He thought he was great. And so what was really important was not closing the gap between his ability and his taste.

It was improving his taste. What mattered was him getting more and more sophisticated in his understanding of what good meant. And then that pulled his ability along. And so I think we neglect that too much. So I start by saying, if you wanna obsess over the quality of what you do, start obsessing over the field that you’re in. Like really get to appreciate and understand craft and what makes something good, good. And have appreciation for examples of good. That’s what’s gonna power your quest to get better. If you just jump straight into let’s just practice. I’m gonna write everyday. Well, don’t just write everyday. Learn to appreciate beautiful writing, and what makes it beautiful. Like that’s just as important as the actual work of closing the gap.

Brett Mckay: Okay. So if you’re a writer, read good books. If you’re a podcaster, listen to good podcasters. If you’re a salesperson, find the best salesman in your field and observe what they do.

Cal Newport: Yeah. And figure out the difference.

Brett Mckay: Yeah.

Cal Newport: What do they do that I don’t? You could take apart people in your career. Alright, here’s someone who’s where I want to get, let me look at how they did that step by step. How did they make each step? And more importantly, at each major step in their career, what did they do that other people who did not make that step didn’t? Like, what was differentiating them there? And how do you get this information? Just take ’em out to coffee. Act like a journalist. Hey, people are flattered. Trust me. I interview people for a living. They’re flattered. Hey, can I take you out the coffee? I wanna walk through your career. And that’s where you learn the real stuff. Like oh, there’s this skill here I didn’t even know about in my field. That’s what he focused on, or that’s what she mastered. And I didn’t even know that was important. And now you’ve improved your taste, you have a better understanding. So it doesn’t have to be just in the arts, almost any field, you can improve your taste.

Brett Mckay: How do you avoid teetering into perfectionism in your quest to obsess over quality?

Cal Newport: Well, that’s definitely one of the fears, right? I mean, you can’t pursue better and better stuff without worrying about being crippled by perfectionism. And I have a whole story in there about the Beatles working on Sergeant Pepper, which was like the very first time they had complete freedom when recording an album because it was right after they decided no more touring. And if you don’t have to replicate an album on stage, you can do almost anything on that album. And so they had no tour coming up, they were never gonna tour this music. And so they could have done endless time in the studio. So how did they avoid it? Well, part of it was, and this might have been Epstein who was doing this, or maybe George Martin, I don’t know which of the two, Brian Epstein or George Martin, one of the two of them began putting these forcing functions, spend your time to make this album great, but also as soon as you get a good single, we’re releasing that.

Now there’s kind of some pressure for the rest of this album to come out. Like it’s on people’s radar. So you have to walk that line of don’t go too fast, but commit to things, publicize things. Take step one and say, I’m gonna have this done in a month. You need to put enough stakes in the ground that are gonna allow you to like I can’t take forever. I actually have to commit and ship things. And so you have to follow the Beatles example there with Sergeant Pepper. They took a lot more time with that album than their past albums, but not an absurdly more amount of time. And by the way, that album was innovative and great and it was their biggest hit to date by far.

Brett Mckay: Well, Cal, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?

Cal Newport: Well, so I have a podcast called Deep Questions, where all we do is talk about these issues with questions from real people with real issues in their work. You can also find out more about this book at download an excerpt figure out. You can buy it anywhere. But if you wanna learn more about the book, just remember

Brett Mckay: Fantastic. Well, Cal Newport, it’s always a pleasure and I wanna say I read a lot of books for my job and I’m never disappointed with your books. They’re always good. And I can tell that you put into practice what you preach. So thanks so much for writing another great book.

Cal Newport: Well, thanks for having me. It’s always motivation to write more books to come see you. If you ever do bring video back, what I’m gonna have to do for my next book is Grow a Mustache. And we’re gonna have to just mustache it off right there. That’s gonna be my challenge. I’m just gonna show up with a McKay style mustache.

Brett Mckay: I think you can grow a good one. I think you got it in you.

Cal Newport: Yeah, We’ll have our own show Mustache talk. It’ll be great.

Brett Mckay: Mustache. That’d be great. Well, Cal, thanks so much.

Cal Newport: Thanks Brett.

Brett Mckay: My guest here was Cal Newport. He’s the author of the book Slow Productivity. It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about his work at his website, Also, check out our show notes at Where you can find links to resources we delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Make sure to check on our website at Where you’ll find our podcast archives. And While you’re there, sign up for a daily or weekly newsletter. It’s the best way to stay on top of what’s going on at AOM and it’s absolutely free. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcast or Spotify. It helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member, who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support and until next time. This is Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to the AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.

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