Cal Newport — The Eternal Pursuit of Craftsmanship, the Deep Life, Slow Productivity, and a 30-Day Digital Minimalism Challenge (#568)

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“If you’re going to live a deep life, the ultimate original commitment is, ‘I’m going to commit to discipline in the sense of things I am going to do on a regular basis, because they matter, even if I don’t feel like it.’ And that is the biggest binary zero-to-one flip that happens in crafting a life.”

— Cal Newport

Cal Newport (calnewport.com) is an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University who previously earned his PhD from MIT. His scholarship focuses on the theory of distributed systems, while his general-audience writing explores intersections of culture and technology.

Cal is the author of seven books, including, most recently, Deep Work, Digital Minimalism, and A World Without Email. He is also a contributing writer for The New Yorker and the host of the Deep Questions podcast.

Please enjoy!

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#568: Cal Newport — The Eternal Pursuit of Craftsmanship, the Deep Life, Slow Productivity, and a 30-Day Digital Minimalism Challenge

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Do you want to hear an episode that explores mythology and moral frameworks? Listen to my conversation with Jordan Peterson, in which we discussed the Nietzschean idea of morality as cowardice, ways to cultivate courage, gaining insight during adversarial conversations, finding meaning to make life’s suffering irrelevant, what someone committed to secularism might gain by studying the Bible, and much more.

#502: Jordan Peterson on Rules for Life, Psychedelics, The Bible, and Much More
  • Connect with Cal Newport:

Website | Blog | YouTube

SHOW NOTES

  • The one lesson from comedian, actor, author, and mean banjoist Steve Martin that hit Cal “like a lightning bolt.” [05:40]
  • What does it mean to be living “the deep life?” [08:17]
  • The story of Cal’s Study Hacks blog, why he needed to write his first three books, the unique way he went about securing his first book deal as an unproven 20-year-old, and how he signed with the agent who’s been with him for the past 20 years. [11:20]
  • What was Cal’s focus in high school and college? [24:03]
  • How did Cal consciously set out to sharpen his writing skills in college, and what part have humor and mathematics played in their evolution? [26:14]
  • What advice does Cal have for someone who wants to hone their funny bone for humor writing? [31:14]
  • Fresh thoughts on slow productivity. [40:47]
  • There’s no way to know if someone like Isaac Newton would have achieved greatness had he lived in the present day — when slow productivity isn’t the social default. But are there any contemporary examples of people who have mastered slow productivity in spite of 21st-century distractions? [46:36]
  • These days, Cal is well-known for eschewing the temptations of social media. But why did he initially refuse to sign up for Facebook when it was the shiny new thing everyone was talking about? [53:11]
  • Documents and disciplines Cal and I find instrumental in crafting the lives we desire. [58:41]
  • How Cal integrates seasonality into his routine for ample periods of downtime, where he roams to recharge and reset, and his pen of choice for taking notes both literary and mathematical. [1:06:11]
  • Why Cal and I are big fans of Scrivener software for writing. [1:13:37]
  • How Cal uses Trello to organize tasks under the different hats he wears throughout the day. [1:17:17]
  • Books in the “anti-productivity” category Cal thinks might be worth your while. [1:21:34]
  • Who was John Newport? [1:28:18]
  • Who Paul Tillich was, an explanation of the confusing term “Christian apologist,” and understanding why Cal describes himself as a concentration apologist. [1:30:53]
  • How does Cal focus on contemplation and matters of the soul? Why does he believe someone who’s quick to dismiss a philosophy or religion without trying to understand its most basic foundation does themselves a disservice? What are his thoughts on the takes Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson have on moral frameworks, and what need is satisfied by such contemplations? [1:33:06]
  • Considering the spiritual as an exercise of meticulous craft and creation, and understanding that some materials serve the purpose better than others. [1:41:09]
  • With so many options from which to choose, how might someone who has had either bad experiences with religion, no experience with religion, or no interest in religion explore spirituality? Are we programmed to seek out religion? [1:45:44]
  • Can you make it through Cal’s 30-day digital minimalism declutter? Here’s how to set the rules that are right for you and give it a whirl. [1:54:13]
  • What shutdown ritual does Cal use at the end of his workday? [2:03:06]
  • Parting thoughts. [2:05:07]

MORE GUEST QUOTES FROM THE INTERVIEW

“The weirdest thing about me, as far as anyone is concerned, is that I’ve never had a social media account, and it turns out it’s allowed. Today, everyone understands it, but until a minute ago, people thought I was literally insane.”
— Cal Newport

“We tell ourselves that we’re stuck in this way of existence. We’re not really stuck. We have a lot of options.”
— Cal Newport

“If you’re going to live a deep life, the ultimate original commitment is, ‘I’m going to commit to discipline in the sense of things I am going to do on a regular basis, because they matter, even if I don’t feel like it.’ And that is the biggest binary zero-to-one flip that happens in crafting a life.”
— Cal Newport

“For me, a day off is a day where I have full autonomy over what I do. The blank calendar day, to me, is one of the more glorious sights.”
— Cal Newport

“We’re using these things all the time because it’s more palatable to be active and busy all the time than sometimes to face what’s hard about what’s going on in our lives or the world.”
— Cal Newport

“Don’t be afraid of ideas or worldviews or approaches or philosophies that seem different than what you believe in. You’re not going to get tricked out of your convictions or believe in something that’s false. You actually strengthen your understanding of the world and therefore strengthen your own convictions by encountering other ideas that are well-formed.”
— Cal Newport

“We’re good, as humans, to committing to things that are positive. That’s very motivating for us. We’re bad at trying to avoid things that are negative.”
— Cal Newport

“Schedule shut down, complete.”
— Cal Newport

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9 Replies to “Cal Newport — The Eternal Pursuit of Craftsmanship, the Deep Life, Slow Productivity, and a 30-Day Digital Minimalism Challenge (#568)”

  1. Thanks a lot for having him Tim, I’ve been following him for a while and his stuff resonates with me tremendously.

    Abrazo desde Argentina

  2. If you want money, ask for advice, and if you want advice, ask for money.

    That was hilarious. Thanks for the great laugh and terrific interview.

  3. I wonder what Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson would respond to the question of “what roles have your bodies and your non-cerebral senses played in forming your worldview?”
    I’m playing with breaking this binary choice conundrum with the senses of my own body (credit goes to Martha Beck) and that’s been expanding my ability to be sane, happy, and open in a somewhat miraculous way
    Currently imagining a 3-way round table with Tim, Sam, and Martha Beck. That would be GOLD

  4. Tim, I had to keep myself from yelling “WENDELL BERRY” at my computer screen after you asked about modern day folks living the Slow Productivity life. “Life On (and Off) Schedule” and “Why I Will Never Buy a Computer” are two good places to get an intro to his productivity.

  5. This podcast was great, lots of info packed in. Please be mindful though that Marie Kondo (female) is the only person who you commented on appearance, slim build, flawless skin. No appearance comments were made about any males. I know it seems harmless but it is part of a larger societal issue. Keep up the amazing podcasts!

  6. A couple of other very funny writers: 1) John Hodgman (concise and consistently funny Judge John Hodgman posts on New York Times; He would be a great guest. 2) Gene Weingarten (Below the Beltway column for Washington Post).

  7. What a great show, Cal is by far one of my biggest mentors and influencers. Enjoyed your dive into moralism, or moral structure, and the value of the structures and value systems hidden in almost all religions, or whether we could construct that by going back to first principles.
    Have you read Richard Rohr Tim? Everything belongs, The Naked Now, Falling Upward, and more recently The Sacred dance and The universal christ? I think Richard would be a fascinating guest to have one too.

    Thanks for the hard work by you and the team that goes into each of these podcasts.

  8. Hey Tim. Loved this, as usual. On the topic of philosophy as a form of “salvation”, I recommend this fascinating book by french thinker Luc Ferry: A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living (Learning to Live). Cheers!