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How to Ditch Distractions and Get WAY More Done With Cal Newport

The BiggerPockets Podcast
99 min read
How to Ditch Distractions and Get WAY More Done With Cal Newport

Incredible show alert! You don’t want to miss this one: Brandon and David sit down with bestselling author Cal Newport (who wrote So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, and so on) to discuss just what makes high performers different than the rest.

Cal shares incredible insight based on his research as a professor at Georgetown University, including how boredom can serve a very useful purpose, how to improve your focus to master your craft, and how building “career capital” can open doors to the life you’ve always wanted.

Cal also shares life-changing advice on how starting the day in “monk mode” can supercharge your productivity, how to set better expectations with team members, and how to rebuild your digital life in 30 days.

This episode is so good you’ll feel guilty you didn’t have to pay. Download it today!

Click here to listen on iTunes.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Brandon: This is the BiggerPockets podcast show 330.

Cal: If you are always consuming information but you are never actually given yourselves the hours of just there alone with your thoughts, you really are going to be impoverished in terms of how much value you can extract from it. Time alone with our own thoughts is crucial. Boredom should be something we do not try and get rid of cheaply, but something we should let drive us to real action. Both of those things are crucial.’

You are listening to a BiggerPockets Radio. Simplifying real estate for investors large and small. If you are here looking to learn about real estate investing without all the hype, you are in the right place. Stay tuned and be sure to join the millions of others who have benefited from BiggerPockets.com, your home for real estate investing online.

Brandon: What is going on everyone? My name is Brandon Turner, host of the BiggerPockets podcast. Here with my co-host, David Greene. What is up David?

David: Not much, man. It is actually going really good over on this end. We got springtime here. The sun is nice, there is a bunch of people looking to sell their houses. The market is kind of picking up in the bay area and I am a happy camper.

Brandon: Nice. Hey, I had a reporter reach out to me the other day and he was asking me questions about, he said, ‘He feels like his research is showing him that the market is slowing, especially on the West Coast. Have you found that to be true?’

David: Well, it did. 

Brandon: Or that is just seasonal? 

David: Part of that was seasonal and coupled with a spike in interest rates. They went up like three times over a six week period or something and it is like a body blow to buyers when they are like,  right? Like my payment just went up $200. But it came back down and it is like dude, immediately we saw a bunch of people come right back into the market. Now, you have all these people that think the market slowed down and houses are selling in six days again. Do not believe. A lot of the time when you read articles like that, they are just like 60 days old or something and the market can change in two months.

Brandon: Yes, very insightful. Well, another insightful tip today is going to be our Quick Tip. Alright, today’s quick tip… That was a horrible…

David: Spring that on me, bro. Just slam that Quick Tip in my face, I was ready for it.

Brandon: I know, that is what I am working on. Alright, today’s show is all about, well, it is about a lot of stuff. One of my favorite authors of all time, his name is Cal Newport. He is on our show today. We are going to talk a lot about building skills that will allow you to achieve financial independence earlier in life. We are talking a lot about focusing on when you actually worked, it is really getting into the deep work, that is what he calls it, deep work. Then we talk about being a digital minimalist. You might be wondering at this point why does this matter for real estate investors? Let me just tell you, this matters much.

Here is the Quick Tip actually, it is listen to this whole show and then after the show is done, David and I are going to actually break down a lot of what we talked about today because it was not a real estate related show. We are going to put it into real estate terms. We are going to talk about how we use these things in our own life. The Quick Tip today is simply to make sure no matter what you listened to the last 10 minutes or of this show or including the whole show, but including the last 10 minutes where David and I kind of break it into a real estate advice episode. That is your Quick Tip. Do you liked that, David?

David: Again, you just throw it at me before I was ready there. 

Brandon: I know.

David: It is like when I try to play catch with your daughter and I throw the ball in her hands do not come up until after it bounced off her belly or so. 

Brandon: Yes. It hits her face and yes. I got to tell you, last night we went to the beach with some friends and she had a little ball with her and she has got an arm. For like an almost three year old, like she can throw a ball a good like 20 feet now. 

David: Oh, man. I cannot wait. She just kind of figure that out the last time I was there and that was like this huge smile should get on her face when she made a good throw is awesome.

Brandon: Yes, she is getting good at that. She is my little softball player. Alright, well, without further ado, let us hear from today’s show sponsor.

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Brandon: Now, it is time to get onto the show. Again, today’s show is with author Cal Newport. Cal is actually a professor of Computer Science over at Georgetown University and he is one of the smartest people I have ever met. Incredibly insightful and we are going to walk through three of his books that I just obsessed about. We have talked to them before. In fact, here on the podcast, a few weeks ago when we interviewed David for the BRRRR episode that came out, I asked you David Greene, I asked David Greene what your favorite current business book is and he said it was So Good They Can’t Ignore You, which is the first book we talked about today with Cal Newport.

We are lucky to have Cal today.

Again, I want you all to understand this is not a real estate focused show, but this, the concepts we talk about today could benefit your real estate business more than almost anything else we could teach you. Like when people ask me all the time why? Like how I seem to get much done. Like I get a lot done in life and I have a pretty busy life, but I do not work all that many hours like these. These three books are what I point people to over and over and over. It is like I do the stuff from his first book, the stuff from the second book and the stuff from the third book. If you follow these things, you can obtain financial freedom. As Cal says, you could probably do it in a year if you were really good at this stuff through anything, real estate or any entrepreneurial things. With that, it is time to get to today’s show. Let us get to our conversation with Cal Newport. Alright, Mr. Cal Newport, welcome to the BiggerPockets podcast man. Good to have you here. 

Cal: Oh, it is my pleasure. 

Brandon: Yes, okay. As I mentioned to you before we started recording, our audience probably knows your name quite a bit because we talked about you and your books, kind of an obsessive amount and not in a creepy way. It is not like I am outside your bedroom window or anything but we talked about you a lot because like there is certain books out there that I have read. I mean I could probably list on two hands, books that actually like changed the direction of my life a little bit, right? They are like tweak something about who I am and how I do things. Like books like Rich Dad Poor Dad or even like The 4-Hour Work week to a degree.

There is a book called Lifeonaire and then like all three of the books that I want to talk to you about today. Like So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Deep Work and Digital Minimalism. All three of those had a huge impact in my life and then I pushed David Greene here to get involved and start reading and he loves it as well. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago on our show, we asked David what his current favorite business book is and he named So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I thought we just kind of run through those three books in order of which I read them and I think that is the order they are published and kind of just dig in and hopefully our audience can see like why I love them much, why they kind of changed a lot of how I think. Other than that, I guess that is all we got. Let us get going. Number one, can you just tell us who you are? What do you do? Where did you come from? What is your story? Give us a background.

Cal: Well, I am a Computer Science professor. I mean that is my day job and that is what I have spent essentially most of my adult life training for or doing but I have also always been a writer. I mean I signed my first book deal right after my 21st birthday and I have had this sort of parallel track going ever since I was 21 where I have been a computer scientist where I work primarily on theory which means I stare at equations on blackboards and try to prove theorems and then at the same time I write books. These two things have been happening in parallel for years and that is basically who I am. I am the professor who writes.

Brandon: Okay. The first question I have is in the theory of, totally kidding, we are not going to go into Computer Science today. We are going to go into… Let us start with So Good, like first of all why did you write this book to begin with? I mean what was the impetus? Is that the word? What was the reason behind the book?

Cal: When I started working on So Good They Can’t Ignore You, I was going through a career transition, right? There was sort of a selfish impetus which is I was finishing Grad school and was going to soon go on the academic job market. The idea is if you do that right, it is the first and last job interview you ever do. I decided if there was any time in my life where I was going to get a lot of leverage out of understanding how do people end up really loving what they do for a living, I was going to get that leverage right then.

Since I had already written these other books before then, I had this advantage of not just thinking about it myself but I could actually just sell a book. Or the premise was, I will go out there, I will read all the research, I will talk to people, I will try to understand what is the reality of how people end up loving what they do for a living. For me, it was I want to scratch the itch I had right then and I was able to sort of deploy book writing as my tool for doing so.

Brandon: Okay, that makes sense. That makes sense. Now, in the book you tackle, I do not know, you kind of… I do not know if it is like take jabs at the idea or rag on this idea of like the get rich quick, right? Or I am going to go and achieve this wealth or financial freedom, early retirement, whatever through some quick means. I am going to go sell something, I do not know if you use the example, but I got to go quickly build up this Amazon business or I am going to quickly go do something that is going to get me out of my job forever. Can you explain kind of the argument there of why maybe that is not the best way to I guess, financial independence?

Cal: Right. Well, this was 2000… 2012 is when the book came out. Like the financial independence movement was still, at least the online version was still nascent, but certainly like Tim Ferriss Lifestyle Design was pretty ascendant at the time. There was sort of a vision of this which, which is actually not Tim’s original vision, but there are certainly a vision that was really heavy on the internet back then that really focused on the key thing was actually just like having the courage to take some action, right? Like having the courage to move to Buenos Aires and quit your job or having the courage to hire the virtual assistant or whatever it was. When I was out there studying how do people end up loving what they do?

Autonomy played a big role and like this is something Tim Ferriss had pointed out in his sort of currencies of satisfaction notion that being really autonomous over what you do and how you do it was really important but what I was finding is that the people who succeeded with that got that currency because they first got really good at something rare and valuable. Then almost any other trait I found that led people to really love their work usually involve them first, getting really good at something that is unambiguously rare and valuable. What I saw happening out there is a lot of people who wanted the reward, like I want a lot of autonomy in my life. I do not want a boss, I want to have geoarbitrage or whatever, I want to set my own standards. But they skip the step where they actually developed the skill that was rare and valuable. This is what I ended up calling career capital in the book.

The sort of rare and valuable skills really is the fundamental currency on which jobs that you really like, careers are really like, huge source of satisfaction are actually purchased with it. It is what you invest to get back these big returns. I was very skeptical about the culture that was out there that said the only thing holding you back from all these great things is that you do not have the courage to take action tomorrow. I was like, it is not simple. It is not just the courage to take action, it is also the discipline to get the skills that are going to allow that action to be successful.

David: Yes. That was, I think, the point you made in the So Good They Can’t ignore you book that really just grabbed my attention. It was like, yes, that is what I have been feeling in my head all this time and it just felt wrong but I could not put it to words. Then when I read what you are writing, it made a ton of sense. Is this idea of like following your passion, which we are just being bombarded with all the time. Like if you are doing life wrong, it is because you are not following your passion. If you would follow your passion, everything will just magically fall into place for you and the universe’s job is to give you what you want just is not necessarily the case for most people. Can you talk to us a little bit about the argument you make in that book between following your passion and building career capital and maybe the mindset differences between the craftsman mindset? 

Cal: Right. Well, this was definitely at the time the major advice, and I think it still is probably the major advice young people hear which is follow your passion. That is how you are going to end up happy. If you do not follow your passion, you will be miserable. I try to thoroughly debunked that in So Good They Can’t Ignore You. What is wrong with this sort of passion philosophy? Well, there is a couple things. One, it assumes that people have these pre-existing passions. They have these clearly identifiable inclinations that point to them what exactly they should be doing and whatever our current job market happens to be and most people do not actually have this, right? The second thing it gets wrong is it assumes that the key to work satisfaction is matching what you do to a pre-existing inclination. That if you like this subject and then your work involves that subject, it transfers and it will really like your work, but we do not have a lot of evidence that that is true either. What seems to be the case?

Well, the case seems to be that passion for one’s career is something that tends to be cultivated. It has very little to do with just trying to solve this mythical matching problem where you are wired to do one true thing and if you get it right, you will love it, and if you get it wrong, you will hate. It has very little to do with that. It is something that has developed over time. It usually comes from more general traits like autonomy and mastery and impact and sense of connection to people and all of these traits typically require that you first get really good at something just rare and valuable that you follow Steve Martin’s advice and be so good they cannot ignore you, which is the quote that the book title came from and so I shifted it. If you want end up passionate about your work, step one is probably become really good at things that are valuable. Step two, take that currency and invest it to take control of your career and move it towards things that resonate but you cannot skip the first step if you want the second step to succeed. 

Brandon: Can you give an example of what you mean by rare and valuable? 

Cal: It has got to be something that the market unambiguously finds valuable. It is not just something you think is valuable and rare means it is something that not very many people can do. It is easy to get just one of those things right and not the other. Like I could teach myself maybe some very esoteric type of woodworking which is very rare but the market, for the most part, maybe does not value it. Or there could be something that is valuable. Like let us say, social media brand managers or something. Okay, maybe this is useful and companies need it but it is not at all rare because every 23 year old knows how to manage whatever, an Instagram campaign. What you want is something that is both. Let us say you are a 10x coder, right? You can write really really good C sharp code, that is rare and valuable. You now have a lot of leverage in your career.

Let us say you can successfully make profit off of real estate investments. That is both rare and that is valuable. You can write really well, I mean that is actually really hard to do. Anything where there is not a lot of people who can do it and the marketplace has this as valuable. Once you have that, which I call career capital in the book, I use this investment metaphor. You can then start investing that career capital to get back the type of returns that makes great work great. But you have to have that capital to invest. Just because you want a ton of autonomy and impact and mastery and a sense of connection, just because you want it does not really matter. If you do not have the career capital that it costs, you should not expect to get too much of it into your life.

Brandon: I teach a live webinar every week on BiggerPockets and on this every single class, I say the exact same thing that the number… One of the most important, if not the most important, skill an investor can have is learning how to really analyze a deal. Because once you know how to analyze the numbers of the deal and you will project your future profit and all that, once you are really really good at that, everything else becomes easier. Really, what I am saying in that, to use your language, is you have a skill that is incredibly rare and incredibly valuable when you just really know how to run the numbers on an investment property, right? 

Cal: But if you think about that all the time, essentially in your career, it is like what can I do that is hard that other people cannot do? 

Brandon: Yes. 

Cal: If you do not have a good answer for that, then you do not really have a lot of options. I mean, you are basically going to be knocked around by kind of the fickle finger of fate. You really have no autonomy and so what you should be doing, especially if you are young in my opinion, is relentlessly honing skills. 

Brandon: Yes.

Cal: Finding holes in the marketplace. Here is something that other people do not bother to do, here is something that is hard people that bail out before they get there. Here is something that is really in demand that almost no one does it. Then say, I am going to Robert Greene style, be the apprentice and really go after this thing, master this skill. That is the foundation almost everything good in careers. 

Brandon: Yes, I love that.

David: I think that having a passion for whatever it is that you are going to work that hard at is pretty crucial because it will be what motivates you to continue through that process. I mean, if you want to master anything, it is a difficult process. It is going to be painful, you are going to mess up a lot. It is going to take a toll on your pride and you really have to love it. A lot of our listeners, they love real estate. They want to be around it, they are drawn to real estate, but they do not understand that it is not enough just to kind of hang around that world, you actually have to learn how to solve people’s problems.

How to find distressed deals, how to analyze a deal very quickly, those skills that you build up becomes something that like bring deals to you and make you successful and that is one of the reasons, Cal, that we wanted to talk to you is you have kind of cracked that code of this is what successful people do. They are all successful and this is what they all have in common and this is how they got there. What advice can you give us to those who are listening to this, who hate their job and are maybe looking to real estate as a way to get out of it?

Cal: Well, okay, there is two different things going on there. One, the hatred for the job. The way I look at it is there is two sources of hatred for the job. One is that it is completely incompatible with you, right? Let us say you do not like to people, the work itself does not open up options you find interesting, it goes against your values. In that case, you have to get out of it. If it is work or that is not true, it is just I do not like what I am working on, you should also keep in mind building career capital might open up other options, right? You always want to be doing this inventory of what can I do this rare and valuable? If your answer is very little, then what you want to do is build up those stores.

If you are thinking about, let us say, real estate investing as a way to gain more autonomy or maybe even get out of a job, you have to be ruthlessly honest about well how much career capital do I have right now in that area? If the answer to that question is, I have been to one of Brandon’s webinar, yes, I have read one book or something, right? Like if you do not have the capital there yet. You do not want to… If you make a jump into a new area without the career capital, the rare and valuable skills that to actually give you an advantage, then you should not expect the market, which is very efficient, to reward you.

I mean if anyone could just wander into a market and make a lot of money off real estate investing, that is what everyone would be in that market making a lot of money off a very easy real estate investing. I think having the career capital mindset is crucial here. Where you say I see this as a potential source of autonomy. That is step one. Step two, how do I build up my skills here as fast as possible into a sufficient enough level that I feel like I actually have enough capital to get returns from this move? That requires a little bit of ruthlessly honest self-reflection, which is something that a lot of us try to avoid because there is the fantasy which is why I have my checklist and I am going to go off. The reality is you should actually get energized by the skill building because every hour you spend doing the hard work of skill building is an hour that someone else is probably not spending. You can sort of feel that competitive advantage growing.

Brandon: Yes, that is fantastic. I think that, I know you guys, I am too David, but like a lot of people come to us at BiggerPockets, they do not like their job. They are not totally thrilled with it, right. My own family members, my friends, people who do not like their job. What people tend to do, and I see this pattern over and over and over, is they say I do not like my job so I am going to put as the least effort as possible into that job, I am going to do the bare minimum to survive in this job until I can do something else where… Especially after reading this book, like I definitely shifted how I think of that as like, instead how do you become the best at that job? How do you gain the skills that you can demand more things and how do you get that rare, like that social capital, sorry, the career capital to be able to negotiate better things. I mean, here is a perfect example of this.

I did this before I read the book, but when I read it, it was like, yes, put words to this. To use a non-real estate example. I started working with Josh Dorkin here at BiggerPockets, he is the founder of the site, seven years ago. I mean I hardly had a computer before that time. Like, I mean when I was a kid I had a computer, but then for years I knew nothing about internet marketing and technology, nothing like that. But when I started working with Josh and working at BiggerPockets, I got really really really good at one thing and that was writing guest blog posts for other sites. Over the course of like a year, there were like a hundred of them. Then from there, I got really really good at, or at least good, at podcasting and that is a very rare like things I said at podcasting.

Then from there,  webinars. Like each step of those things. Now, as I got better at that, like when I told Josh I am moving to Hawaii, like I had big negotiation power that he is not, like I am good at what I do in the company that he cannot really do anything about it. Not that he wants to, but like that is kind of the negotiation as I achieved. If I wanted the four hour work week, I could have a four work week. But it did not come from a side business I had built in an afternoon. It came from six years of getting better and better and better and everything that I did. 

Cal: Well, I mean I think this was the key piece missing from the lifestyle design formula is to talk about these sort of currencies that matter for your life to be one that you would like but what you also have to have in that equation is the currency that is necessary to actually get those back in return and that is the skill. It is like one of the examples I give in the book was a developer named Lulu. She has started at a company basically doing quality assurance type testing for software, right? She is coming out on the small liberal arts school, she did not have a huge computer science background, it is not this low level and she basically got after it. She figured out the languages and she figured out more complicated languages and she built an automated suite of testing tools and then that pushed up to another level. Then she mastered databases and then she became their top database person.

Three years later, her set up was I worked six months, six months off. I worked six months, six months off. The six months off were all about various adventures. One of these segments, she used to learn scuba diving, another to get her pilot’s license. Another to go back to her native Thailand to see family. You look at that and you say, well, that would be an ideal foundation if you wanted to, let us say, then put real estate investing into your portfolio, right? 

Brandon: Yes. 

Cal: It was like capital gains you access to things. The other way to look at it is this sort of the currencies have a great life are valuable. No one is going to give them to you for free. You have to have something to offer in return and that is what you should always be thinking about. It is you have to be great to get great things in your career. I was like, where are my career capital scores? Which involves among other things trying to figure out like in your field, what is your batting average? This is something I often talk to people about where if you are a baseball player, it is really clear to measure how good you are, you have a batting average. Mine is 240, it is not so great. This guy is 280, that is better. The trick is essentially figuring out what is the equivalent of your batting average in what you do. What is the thing you can track? The thing is going to be honest, that is going to be ruthlessly honest that you can see get better but you can also see where you are. Like what is the metric you can be trying to push? Once you have that and you can relentlessly push after it, that is when you get to really fast accumulation of this freedom buying capital. 

Brandon: Yes, that is really good.

David: Really good. 

Brandon: Alright, you want to build more skills, let us say. Let us move on to the next kind of segment here. You want to build more skills, you need that practice, you need that deliberate practice to get better at these skills. That, I am assuming is kind of the, it is that word again, impetus, right? For the next book, I want to talk to you about is deep work which also had just a profound impact on my life. Would you say like that is why you wrote Deep Work? Is that kind of where that came from? 

Cal: Right. It was readers of So Good that said, ‘Okay, if I buy this premise then I have to become really good at hard things, right? How do I do that?’ Right. That was in part where Deep Work came from. It also did track with my own life. If we fast forward to 2016 when that book came out, I started writing in 2014, I am a professor now, and what is on my mindset is getting tenure. I am really caring about, okay, how do people do elite level work in knowledge work situations? At the same time I had all these So Good They Cannot Ignore You readers saying, okay, how do I do elite level work in my various type… These various types of careers? It was there that led to the basic premise of Deep Work. 

Brandon: Perfect. Alright. Let us talk about, maybe just the definition, what is Deep Work and how does that compare to let us call it shallow work?

Cal: Yes. Deep Work is my term for the activity in which you are focusing without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It means you are all in doing something that is hard and there is zero checks of inboxes, zero checks of phones, it is a 100% locked in without context wishing. Shallow work, I just define as everything that is not deep work.

Brandon: Okay. 

David: Okay, now, I think a lot of people feel like multitasking is actually more productive and it is better to be a multitasker. Like I mostly hear people brag about the fact that, ‘Oh, well, I am a multitasker so I can blah blah, blah.’ Can you tell us, with your research, what you found is the difference between multitasking and what you are talking about when you say deep work? Which, to me, kind of sounds like getting in the zone. 

Cal: Well, yes, and it is sometimes getting into the zone and sometimes it is not…

I mean, the interesting thing about Deep Work, it is a little bit of a broader umbrella. If, let us say, you are applying a hard one cognitive skill that you know really well, you can get into a flow state. Like, Haley checks at me how I talk about. 

David: Yes. 

Cal: But there is other types of deep activities such as learning something new. This sort of deliberately practicing something new which actually definitively does not put you into a flow state. In fact, you do not lose track of time, you know every damn minutes the task is getting really, really hard, right? When you are trying to learn a new like on a guitar or something, it is really hard. Sometimes you are in the zone, sometimes you are not. But what deep work always shares is that you are focusing intensely and you are engaging your mind fully.

We have multitasking then we have deep work. We also have in between what we could think of as pseudo single tasking or pseudo deep work. Multitasking is where you literally are doing multiple things at the same time. This was really popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A lot of research came out that basically submitted what is obvious, which is if you are trying to write while you are doing emails, while you are talking on the phone, you used to do all of them poorly. 

David: Yes. 

Cal: That message is kind of getting out there. We kind of understand that intuitively, okay, I am really just switching rapidly between these and I am not doing any of them very well. However, a lot of people who think that they have moved on from multitasking or doing something that turns out to be almost as bad, which is you are doing one thing at a time, only one window open, no notifications, but every 10 or 15 minutes, you do that quick check. Let me just see my email inbox then back to what I am doing. Let me check the phone real quick and then back to what I am doing. It feels like you are doing deep work, right? You are like I do not have multiple things open, I am not multitasking. But we know from the latest psychological research that the context switch, turning my attention from the thing I am trying to write to my email inbox and then back again, even if I only look at my inbox for one minute, that context which creates a large cognitive cost and that can take a while to clear out.

A lot of people who think they are single tasking and doing these quick checks every 10 or 15 minutes and they are without realizing it, putting themselves in a persistent state of reduced cognitive performance by context switching enough that their brain never actually recover. That is why crucial to deep work is this notion of no distractions. Even a glance at something else means you are not really doing deep work, you are doing pseudo deep work and the effectiveness is remarkably reduced. 

David: How long do you find that most people can stay in a state of deep work and hold their concentration on one task before they feel like mental fatigue?

Cal: With some training, the standard knowledge worker can do 60 to 90 minute sessions with what I call deep breaks in between. If you do want to call a deep break, which is a break in which you do not expose yourself to similar work, you also do not expose yourself to open loops like emails you cannot answer, but like just go for a walk or look at the sports scores, you can then string a few of these together. If you look at elite deep workers like professional musicians, they can do maybe three or four up to a maximum of five hours straight but these are people who essentially spend their entire life doing deep work. Chess players can do the same thing. Professional Golfers, you can ask Tiger Woods about this. They can sustain it for much longer. But for like the average mortals, like 90 minutes deep break, 90 minutes and then a much more substantial break is probably about where you should be aiming.

Brandon: Here is what is fascinating about that. It is that you are basically saying you can be… It is a skill, deep work is a skill that you can get better at. A lot of people are just like, well, I am just not good at focusing or I am who I am. But you are saying you can actually improve at this.

Cal: That is the key thing. I mean it is a skill that you have to train and the fact that people do not realize that actually causes a lot of issues because what happens is most people, especially in today’s technological context, have been trained to be terrible focusers and so they try it. They are like, okay, I put aside some time I had no distractions and it is terrible. It feels terrible, very little gets done and then they just conclude I am not a deep worker. But actually, this is a nonsense conclusion. Once you actually think about deep work as a skill to be cultivated. If you have never hit a golf ball and you walk onto a golf course and you take a swing and the thing goes into the trees, you want to conclude like, oh man, I am just not a golfer. You would say, I have never practiced this before. I do not know. I do not know how good I could be at golfing. It is the same thing with concentration.

It is an incredibly practiced skill. But the good news about that is almost no one practices it  outside of really rarefied feels like professional athletics, professional music, and professional chess players for example. If you are one of the few in your field to actually cultivate the skill, you do not have to genetically be incredibly gifted at focusing because no one is practicing. Everyone is far from their potential. If you just do a little bit of practicing, you are already going to start to feel an edge as compared to everyone else and so there is a lot of blue water here. Those who practice their deep work pretty quickly start to get these competitive advantages over their peers that really pay dividends.

Brandon: Then it becomes fun because now you are seeing results right away, right? You are seeing. Like as you are talking, Cal, I am thinking about like if you are out of shape and you went for a run and you gave it a try for five minutes, you are like, ‘Oh, I am winded. This is not for me. I am not a runner.’ We would never ever accept, yes, you are just not a runner, you are just out of shape, right? If you continue to keep running, eventually you would get better and then your example earlier about how if you take a break every 15 minutes to check your phone, you never really get in a rhythm. That is like when you stop to tie your shoe in the middle of a run and it is horrible when you try to get going again cause you took yourself out of the flow so you are stopping every 15 minutes to try to tie your shoe, right? But when you get to the point where you can run long distances and you start getting that like dopamine or serotonin releasing from your brain to keep you going and you start seeing everybody else got tired and I kept going and then you would start getting opportunities that other people did not get because you were running, it becomes addicting and fun to be practicing this and that is the sad part of the people that do not actually commit to that process.

Cal: Well, it also feels better. I mean there is a whole chapter in the book about how a deep life is a good life, right? Because there is something about when you spend more of your time focusing on a smaller number of higher value things, when you are really like a craftsmen trying to do a small number of things really well and giving undivided attention to something for a long period of time, that is something we are wired for. Our brain appreciates that. You feel calmer, you feel more engaged, you feel more resilient. What most people do instead which is this constant phonetic communication and information intake is incredibly artificial.

It is something that our species has not evolved for, our brain does not know what to do with it and so the vast majority of people are walking around not only much less productive than they could be, but in the state of persistent background anxiety that they have just got used to because they are abusing their brain in a way that it was never meant to be used.

Yes, not only do this become fun and you produce more, and I have got to say the metric I keep seeing when I study serious deep workers is two X. You take what is valuable in their field, they tend to produce about two x more than other people. It is not just about a little increase in your productivity, it is actually almost like a superpower. Like you really get huge gains and how much you can produce in the quality. Not only do you get much more productive and it gets kind of fun, it makes your life feel better. It is almost like an elixir of sorts for upgrading your professional life.

David: That is why this is so valuable because what you are saying is here is the secret sauce to being more productive. When you become more productive, you build career capital much faster if you are outperforming everyone else two x, right? When you build career capital, you can go have the life that you want and it is like a very clear roadmap for how to get of where you are to where you want to go. 

Cal: It works. I mean look at me, right? I have never had a social media account. I do not web surf, I do not read news online. What do I do? When I am working, I write. I do computer science and that is what I do. I do it with deep focus, I do it every day, I have been doing it for years. It has built up a lot of career capital for me. Now, I have a sort of huge amount of autonomy and what I do for a living and how I do it. I have a lot of options in life and I find my working day quite satisfying. It is not unusual for me to spend hours out walking in the woods trying to solve theorems or whatever. I am a living example of these two books being put into practice, which is, you focus on a small number of things that are valuable.

You do them with intense concentration, you avoid the distractions on both the day to day and the career level scale. You just work, you get better, you build capital, you start investing that career capital once you have it. 

The formula works. I mean, it is not as fun as if I just hire a virtual assistant tomorrow. I could be in Buenos Aires the next day it is all going to work out. But I mean it is pretty consistent in its success. 

Brandon: What about those who say, ‘Cal, that sounds great. I should focus more, but you know what, I got kids at home. I got a busy an open office space. I got employees everywhere that are running around, I got people. I cannot deep work. Like what do you say to those type of people who just say that it is impossible to get into those moments?

Cal: Well, I mean there is a couple of different things going on. One, there is certainly jobs for which deep work is not beneficial. I talked about that in the book. There are certain types of jobs where you get almost no advantage out of concentration but I also have discovered that people vastly, or vastly more likely to categorize their job in that,  categorize their job is one of those jobs that it is really true. There is a small number of jobs for which that is true but there is a ton of jobs which people think that is true and it is not. I will make that first point. Two, what I talked about in the book, and this is a piece of advice that I have heard from readers after the book came out, has been quite successful, is if your job situation makes it very hard for you to do deep work just because let us say expectations of connectivity, expectations of accessibility.

A strategy that works well for a lot of people is to actually talk with, let us say whoever is in charge of you, or if you are an entrepreneur, have this conversation with yourself and say, ‘Here is what deep work is. Here is what shallow work is.’ Hey, they are both useful. Like we need both of this for me to be successful and the company to be successful. What is the ratio I should be going for? What ratio of deep to shallow work hours in a typical week is going to maximize the value I produce for my company or for this organization? You figure it out and the answer is going to be different depending on what you do but you will have an answer. Then you go out and you measure and you come back and say, ‘Hey, if we are falling really short, like, hey, we decided that this ratio like 50:50 or something was going to maximize the value I produced for us. I am at 10%, what can we do to get to this target that we thought was going to produce the most value, right?’ You are coming out this positive, right? 

Brandon: Yes.

Cal: Here is something we agreed when we try to produce more value and I keep getting these reports from readers who are saying, ‘I was convinced that my organization was never ever going to budge from me needing to be on slack all the time or we need to answer every email. I had this conversation with my CEO, three weeks later, massive changes, right?’ 

Brandon: Yes.

Cal: Entrepreneurs have said the same thing to me, right? They had the conversation with themselves and realized if I did this ratio of deep to shallow, it is going to maximize the money I make. You would be surprised about how many entrepreneurs have come back and have said things like I now do a monk mode morning or just the default and my employees know this is until 11, 100% inaccessible. You cannot contact me, do not schedule me. After that, I am. Now, they are doing four hours of deep work every morning, profit goes up, right? You would be surprised by how much actual malleability there might be in their situation. If you come at it from this positive direction, deep work is good, shallow work is good, let us find a ratio that is going to maximize the returns and then you work backwards from that to say, how do we make it?

Brandon: Well, it is funny because I had to do the same thing with my own wife, my own spouse, right? My wife Heather. I work at home all the time, I am always here, right? It is hard to get into deep work when you are at home, right? Because there is always something I can help with or the toddler is running around, Rose is running around, needed something. A couple of things that worked really well for me is one, just explaining that to my wife in that exact same way. I would say, ‘You know, honey. I know it is really like, I…’ I mean this worked I thought fantastic. It is like I am not present and I know that. I am always on my phone, I am checking slack on my phone because I got to make sure there is no emergencies happening.

I am talking to different real estate people all the time. I say like I do not like that about our relationship, that I am never really present. Here is a solution. Like I just want to have more time of just deep work. I need this time where it is just dedicated deep work and that is going to free me up 50 to 60 to a hundred hours a week of being president if I just get this a little bit of time and that makes perfect sense to most everybody. Like a little bit of like focused time can mean a massive difference throughout the week. We kind of have that routine kind of set down. I get certain times that go and she does as well. Actually she takes that as well to do her job stuff. 

Cal: Yes. Clearly, this is something I have found time and again. It is just clarity trumps accessibility. A lot of people think what is demanded of me by my boss, my spouse, or my employees is accessibility, right? But really what they want is clarity. One of the reasons why people get upset if they cannot reach you as if they do not know…

Brandon: Yes. 

Cal: Like when am I ever going to be able to reach you? Then all they need is like I guess you just have to get back to me. I just hate the uncertainty of I do not know what I am going to hear from you, I need something from you. But when you have clarity, like to give you a concrete example, right? One of the people I talked to after the book came out was a essentially like a… He wrote white papers for a tech startup. It is basically high end marketing material, right? Like technical white papers about their product. This is something that requires a lot of concentration to do well.

He goes to the startup, it is a slack culture, right? If you are not on slack, if you do not answer, the assumption is you are slacking off, right? There was the irony of it.  He is like this is terrible. It is like you are paying me a good six figure salary to these white papers, it was really hard and I am doing a terribly. He sat down and had the deep to shallow work ratio conversation with the CEO. He said it was immediately clear that it would be nonsense for the CEO to say, ‘Well I want you to do 0% deep work, right?’ Let us say they actually put it there. They decided 50-50 made the most sense. The CEO is like here is what we are going to do, two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon.

She went and talked to the engineering team he was embedded in. Said, okay, these two hours in the morning, these two hours in the afternoon, you cannot talk to him. But after that, you can. He said it took him like two days to adjust and then it was fine because they did not necessarily need him to always be accessible but they really needed to know when will you be accessible? When can I expect to hear? If I know you are going to be gone these two hours, I know I have to get this to you before those two hours happen or gets you right after those two hours have occurred. Now he is spending half of his time in deep concentration and the change was sort of trivial to make. This comes up again and again, accessibility is not as important as we think. Clarity is crucial. If you are really clear about here is where I am, here is when you can get me, here is what I am doing, here is when you cannot, you absolutely understand it and they can trust it, people let you get away with a lot.

Brandon: That is fantastic. I know it was either in Digital Minimalism or in Deep Work where you talk about the professor or maybe it was like… Anyway, I was thinking about like office hours. Like every day at like 5:30, you can reach this person so everyone just knows that this is the time that that person’s available. I guess like a lot of professors do that as well, right? They just have their office hours. 

Cal: I mean it a good strategy or I did something similar with my email as an author. Like essentially I got rid of my general purpose email address. I said, okay, here is very particular addresses that you can send information for particular purposes. Here is the expectations about responses which is typically essentially I am not going to respond. You would think this would upset people. I am now less accessible but people did not mind because it was clear. Clarity is the problem. If you just throw up an email address and then just randomly do not answer people, they will get much more upset than actually having a note that says, ‘I do not have an email address or you can send this information here but I am not going to respond.’ Yes, emphasizing clarity over accessibility opens up a lot of options.

Brandon: That is great. I want to move into the next book. Before I do, I want to make a point of why this is important for real estate investors and why I absolutely love this book and how it changed a lot of how I do work is because at the end of the day, and I say this a lot, it does not take 40 hours a week to invest in real estate or to do a lot of entrepreneurial type activities. It does not take 50 hours a week, a 100 a week. 

Oftentimes, like you can build a pretty good sizable real estate investment business in like a few hours a week if you are focused at it. Like if you were doing deep work, it does not take that much time to run the numbers on a real estate deal and then go make an offer. It does not take that much time to apply for a loan, maybe a half hour of just concentrated work. Like, well, people think it is going to take me the next several years to get good, to get into real estate or I got to spend all this time and I am really… No, set aside two hours a week of work, just real deep work and you would be amazed at how much further along than everybody else you are. Yes, I find it so true. 

David: Cal, let me ask you something. The very first book you wrote, how long did it take you to write that book?

Cal: That is a good question. Well, it is a student advice guide and I purposely made the format easy, but I do not know, I probably spent six months on it. 

David: Then your most recent book, how long did that one take you to write? 

Cal: Well, that is an interesting question because my books now are much more…

David: Yes, I probably should have clarified. Like your first really like good book. It sold a lot of copies and was like really like acclaimed. 

Cal: I think that the right answer to your question is probably the total hours required, not the time. Because what I do now is I stretch it out. I use a long amount of time and then I just within that time though. I do not believe in my book is due in six weeks and I am going to disappear and write everyday. That produces bad books, right? I give myself a year now but I just work on it deeply and not every day. But when I work on, I work on it very deeply. If you look at a book like Deep Work for example, it actually have numbers on that. When I was writing that book, my output as an academic, peer reviewed papers published doubled which gives some sense of how efficient I was getting at.

I mean people ask me about this at university, well how do you write books at the same time you do these other things? I say it is not really an issue. I mean when I write, I am incredibly intense. Do a few hours here, few hours there, spread that out over a year. It takes up less time than like a hobby, but you produce a really good book. You produce a really good book on the other end, right? That is depth, right? You can produce more quality output per hour spent, the more intentionally your focused.

David: That is the point I was getting at. It is like to Brandon’s point, it is not time that you need. It takes time in the beginning because you do not know what you are doing, you are very inefficient. But as you do it more and more like… Now, I mean I buy houses with maybe a total of like 17 minutes of my time just put into it because I have systems in place and my mind already automatically knows how to analyze it very quickly. It is not strenuous or stressful, but oh my God, the first time you could hem and haw for three weeks over the first step of the deal. I liken it to someone who is like you are going to fight, you do not know how to punch very hard. You got a punch a lot and it takes a lot of energy.

It is a horrible experience versus the guy like the black belt martial art master who can, in one punch, knock somebody out and barely even burned a calorie because he is efficient with what he does. That is what you are aspiring to be is the person who is good at the thing you are doing that it does not take a lot of time and it does not take a lot of effort and it is not strenuous and it is not a pain like what Brandon was saying. That is very encouraging because that is how we work. The more you do something, the better you get at it, the more fun it becomes and the less work it is.

Cal: Yes, I would agree with that. I mean I think a good case point is my blog post which I write a blog post every week. I can do that in about 60 minutes now. I mean I can do eight or nine hundred words like relatively sophisticated idea with citations but that is just turns on its focus. I know what I am doing, right? For a novice blogger, that could be a half days’ worth of work. 

Brandon: Yes, I found the same thing, yes. 

Cal: Maybe some practice, yes. 

Brandon: How much do you implement time blocking, like scheduling? How much of your life do you schedule? How much do you just leave up to like you used the example of your writing your books, right? Do you know I am going to write every Thursday and every Friday for two hours or is it more like I am feeling it right now, I think I will do it right now?

Cal: Well, I do neither of those. I mean if you wait to feel it, you will get basically know deep work done because we do not actually evolved to do intense concentration and you rarely just feel in the mood to I just want to sit here and concentrate really hard. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who use a sort of regular schedule strategy for the deep work, which is not a bad idea. I do something a little bit differently as I planned my time at the weekly scale. I look at the challenge of the week ahead because for me my weeks can be pretty different from week to week. If I say Thursday mornings when I write, well that is fine except for the Thursday that I need to go into the city for an interview or the Thursday where I have a meeting with the whatever. But the one thing that is common to people who are pretty consistent deep workers is that they have some sort of scheduling philosophy, right? There is some sort of system they use that make sure that they are doing this sort of deep concentration on a regular basis.

For some people as a heuristic, they can apply every day. I am up at five or I muck mode born until 11 or is Thursday and Friday afternoons or whatever it is and some people do more of the mode I do which is let me spend some significant time to taking the challenge of this week and understand how I am going to move the chess pieces around on this week and get the most deep work out of it. But the common denominator is having a scheduling philosophy that you use to make sure the stuff gets in your schedule.

David: That is fantastic. 

Brandon: Yes. I do a Sunday evening, I call it weekly battle plan. It is like every Sunday evening, not every Sunday, sometimes Monday. It depends on the week but like generally, once a week I sit down, I go what does my week look like ahead and I schedule. Like I even schedule it. I am going to analyze two deals at this time on this day because I know that I have the whole morning free and I know I can deep work. Then I tell my wife, ‘Hey, I am going to disappeared for these two hours. I am going to be a monk mode, right?’ Working on this thing and deep work there. Because of that, that is how I get stuff done and a fairly small number of hours, I work on my real estate every week.

Cal: Well, I mean this is just something common with high performers. They give their hours a job. Just like in investing, right? In budgeting, you should give your dollars a job as opposed to just sort of spending in as you have something you want to spend it on. Incredibly common with elite performers as they take their time very seriously. They see it as this finite resource and they like look at the chess board and say how do I move these pieces around into an optimal strategy?

If you do just that in the same week, you are going to end up getting two or three times more done than the person who just says, okay, it is Tuesday. Like let me go to my inbox, let me go online for a while. Let me get out my to do list and be like what do I want to work on today? Incredibly inefficient way to deploy cognitive resources. High performers almost always give their hours jobs. This morning I am going to work on this, this afternoon I am going to work on this. I am going to move this thing over here and they moved the pieces on the chessboard and makes a big difference.

Brandon: Then of course if you can get two to three to four times more work done, you can choose if you want to back off the work load and that, I mean, you could get to relay it back to So Good They Cannot Ignore You. You can negotiate and get the four hour work week that you want. It is because you got the career capital and you are applying deep work to it. Kind of full a circle here.

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Brandon: Let us move to the next, your newest book which I absolutely love, Digital Minimalism. Can you explain what that is and again why you ended up writing that book after Deep Work? 

Cal: Right. Deep Work bridged me to Digital Minimalism. I mean one of the big ideas in Deep Work was not only is focus becoming more valuable, it also happens to be for other reasons becoming more rare. The reasons it was making focus more rare were technological reason. Innovations like email and slack and things in the workplace, low friction digital communications were making us more distracted. It was reducing our ability to focus. There is actually the premise of deep work, is supply and demand. Not only is focus becoming more valuable, but it is also becoming more rare. The price is going to be really inflated. One way to think about deep work is that it was about unintentional consequences of tech in the workplace. Like what you could do about that.

A lot of readers out there talking about Deep Work started saying, okay, maybe, again I would buy that premise but what about the unintentional consequences of tech in our personal life? There is different forces going on there but it is people who are noticing, in my life outside of work, I am looking at this thing all the time. I am looking at this growing rectangle all the time, like it is taking away the quality of my life. Like I am with my kids, I am looking at it.  I am on a walk, I am looking at it. I am in the bathroom, I am looking at it, right? There is this sense of something was going on, it was making people uneasy, and it was not really about utility, right?

The argument was not everything I do on my phone is useless. It is cigarettes, I just want it out of my life. It was not utility that the argument people are having, it was about autonomy. I am using this too much, I am using it more than I know is healthy, I am using this more than I know is useful and to the exclusion of things I know I value more. It is this growing sense of diminished autonomy in people’s life outside of work because of tech. This kept coming back again and again and again. I began to notice this reaction too. If I would write about this stuff three years ago, people think I am a crank. Two years ago, suddenly people are applauding. The shift was happening in the culture about there is these consequences of tech and our personal life are significant. We need to do something about it. That is what got me really going down deep on this topic and that is what led to the new book. 

Brandon: Just to clarify here, because I know this is not the case, you are not just saying all technology is bad but let us be luddites and start smashing everything that is technology, right? That is not what you are saying? 

Cal: Right. Because this was the big discovery. When I talked to people about this unease, it is just not utility. They do not think what they are doing when they are looking at the phone in that moment is particularly bad, it is autonomy. That is what is getting people upset. It is like I am losing control of my life. I want my time back, I want to be more in control. It has very little to do with this tech is evil and this tech is good. It has much more to do with well what is your relationship with technology? How do you integrate technology into trying to cultivate a good life or a life that you really like and these are questions that we have not been asking recently. Now, everyone is looking up and realizing that they do not have answers. It is starting to cause problems. 

David: Yes. 

Brandon: You know there is this app called moment, you have probably heard of it. Where it tracks your time on your phone. Now, Apple actually like tracks your time on your phone for you but I have been using Moment now for a year. When I first started using it a year ago, I was averaging five hours a day of screen time like on my phone. A lot of people listening to this right now are probably laughing, thinking that is ridiculous, but like a lot of people average five hours a day or more. Because every time you pick up that phone to text, every time you look at the screen to check something for a minute or whatever, it adds up over the course of a day. 

Over the last year, I have got that down to about an hour a day. Some statement about four hours a day that I am not staring at a computer screen added up over the course of a week or a month. I mean, it is incredible the amount of the time I am saving but it is not… Here is what made a big impact on my life with this book is you are not saying here are some tips and tricks. Like, hey, try this, right? I am not opposed to tips and tricks. There are some cool things like take your screen and turn it black and white. Like that actually helped me quite a bit because now it is like I just noticed my black and white screen, I am like, ‘Oh, yes. I am not as fun to look at my screen.’ But why are not tips and tricks enough? 

Cal: Well, I think the social and cultural approaches are just too strong. We have been trying these for a few years now, it is not working. The people, they go gray scale, they turn off notifications. They do these digital Shabbats or whatever. It really does not make any lasting change. It is like exactly what we saw with the rise of highly palatable processed foods in the 20th century, right? Everyone started getting obese because we figured out how to make these fast food and junk food and it was incredibly appealing and it messed around with our sort of natural pallets and we all over ate. We tried to make people healthier by saying eat your greens, move more. We put food pyramids up at the elementary schools. Like this did not worked, that did not solve the problem because the tips and tricks were not enough. The cultural forces pushing towards this food, that hyper palatability of the food, it was just too powerful.

What made people healthier when it came to food and fitness? Well, the healthiest people you know probably have some sort of philosophy, right? Like they are Vegan or they are Paleo. They have something that they believe in that they can build on their values that allow them to make consistent decisions. It became clear to me that is what we need with tech. The forces are too powerful to just read a wired article or a life hacker article and you are going to be fine. You have to build from the ground up a philosophy based on your values so you can get all in behind if you are going to have a chance to actually taking back control of this part of your life.

David: That is incredibly insightful. What do you say to the argument people make that they use social media or texting to keep in touch with family and friends and that is the most important thing in my life is my family?

Cal: Well, I mean this is the dialectic the social media companies like. They want the discussion to be social media is worthless versus there is some use of social media. As they say, hey, we can win that argument every day, right? I mean there is a reason why people signed up for social media. What they hate is when you say, okay, but why do not we answer the questions of how and when to use social media to get the benefits we get out of it? Because it turns out, for example, with something like Facebook. Most people could get 99% of the true benefits they get out of Facebook using it, let us say, twice a week, 20 minutes at a time on their desktop, right? That is a game over devastating move for Facebook as a company. If people went from 50 minutes a day to 20 minutes, twice a week, like they are gone, right? That company is gone. They want the debate just to be useless versus some utility. Digital minimalists think about it differently, right?

Digital minimalists say, okay here is what I really care about, here is what I really want to spend time doing. For each of those things, they look for tactic and really boost those things. They want to find ways to use tech to amplify the things they care about. If they can do those better than they could in let us say 10 to 20 years ago. But then they put fences around that and say, okay, well how and when is the best way to use this tech to get those benefits without too many costs? You have a lot of people who may be deploy social media, particular products and particular ways to stay in touch with people, but they are using it not on their phone. It is on their desktop and it is on a schedule and they have a newsfeed blocker so they are not being distracted or whatever it is that they are doing, they are going to incredibly intentional. They are deploying these tools like tools to get big wins and avoid the cost. That is really the minimalist mindset. What matters to me, what is the best way to use tech, the boost these things really care about, and then just be happy missing out on everything else. 

Brandon: Yes. That is what I am like. I loved about this is that it is not saying technology is bad, let us get rid of it. It is like what you are saying is like, it is a whole like underlying foundation to how we approach technology. It is not, hey, there might be some use here in this new social tool, let us do it, right? Do I really need that at all?  Is there a better way to obtain that outcome? 

Cal: Well, here is what happened, right? I think the reason why we feel this unease is because of this great re-engineering that occurred when we were not paying attention, right? This was led by the social media companies. But essentially what happened is we entered the smart phone era back around 2007 let us say because that is when the iPhone was released to the public. The first sort of nonbusiness focused smart smartphone that was sort of widely adopted. Social media was around at this point as well but the experience of social media and smart phones back then was very different than it is today.

It was not a constant companion model where you looked at it all the time. The original iPhone was a tool. You listen to music, you made calls you, you originally or you would occasionally look up directions. You would not look at it all the time, right? That came later. Where did that come from? Well, it is when the major social media companies had the transition from user acquisition mode, which is where you are spending venture money, and all you are trying to do is get users. You are just trying to make your service as interesting as possible into IPO mode which means okay, now we have to get revenue numbers up that we can succeed in IPO and get the 10x return to the original investors.

Facebook took the lead on this. They said, how are we going to get our revenue numbers massively higher? What they figured out is we are going to put all of our attention on the mobile and we are going to reengineer the social media experience. It is no longer about I post and you post and we would look at each other’s posts. It is instead about a constant stream of social approval indicators coming at you in your phone, right? This is when we got the ‘Like’ button. That was not there in original social media. There is a reason why it spread like wild. Users did not need a ‘Like’ button, Facebook needed the ‘Like’ button, right?

Brandon: True story. One of my friend that worked at Facebook invented the ‘Like’ button.

Cal: You knew… 

Brandon: Well, he was on the team, I should say. I do not want to call him out by name because people hate him. But yes, he was on that back on that group. 

Cal: Right. I went back and read the whole history, it is very interesting, right? Actually, in his credit when they originally were working on the like button, the original team actually had a really mundane idea in mind which was just there was a lot of redundancy in comments. People would say, ‘Great.’ It is like, ‘Oh, we can make that a little bit easier.’ But then they saw the potential. By them, I mean the company as a whole, saw that it really increased engagement and so it spread everywhere. An increased engagement because now when you clicked on the app, you could see if you have got likes for something you did. Sometimes you did and sometimes you did not, this was incredibly irresistible. That social approval indicators. This is why Instagram spent much money to crack facial recognition so that you could auto tag people in photos . Like why would they spend all that money for auto tagging in photos because that was a new stream of social approval indicators. Now I can check, hey, did someone tagged me in a photo, right? 

This transform the experience of social media in the something where you had the check it all the time. It was a 100% engineered. That is what retrained us to think about the phone as something we looked at all the time. Then once the phone became something we looked at all the time, all these other apps and services became things we begin to engage with all the time and the it snowballed on itself and this is what people have been waking up to. It is not that they think Facebook is bad, what makes people upset is they signed up for Facebook in 2005 because they wanted to know the relationship status of their roommates, old boyfriend or something like that. 

David: Yes.

Cal: 2015, they wake up and realized they are looking at it at 150 times a day. Like, well, I did not sign up for that. I have no interest in doing that. This whole experience of looking at your phone all the time is not at all fundamental to the technology. It is not at all fundamental to the value proposition of the social internet, social media or smartphones. It was something that was contrived and engineered because a small number of investors did the IPO succeed for these companies. A lot of digital minimalism is stepping back and realizing, well, what is the actual stuff I want to do on here that is going to produce a lot of value for me and why in the world am I looking at this thing 150 times a day? 

Brandon: Was that digital minimalism? Was it your book that talked about how like even the swipe down from the middle to refresh your feed is like training our brain the same way you just swipe on like a gambling machine, right? It is the same thing. 

Cal: Yes. Well the big companies, the attention engineering gets a little bit dark actually if you go down this rabbit hole. One of the things that has come out of from whistle blowers in Silicon Valley is that some of the companies, and again I have not 100% confirmed this, but there is a couple of whistle blowers who say this is true. They looked at the research that was developed in Las Vegas when the slot machines went digital. When the slot machines went digital, you could program in precisely the reinforcement schedule. At exactly what rate you get single cherries and double cherries and whatever. In Las Vegas, they commissioned a lot of research to figure out what is the reward schedule that is going to keep the little old lady at the slot machine all night long? Like we are going to figure that out maximally.

Social media companies looked at that research because they think about swiping the refresh or hitting on the app as pulling the slot machine panel. Instead of getting coins as rewards, it is social approval indicators. I got some more likes. Both Tristan Harris and Adam Alter accused Facebook and Instagram of artificially batching likes and favorites to get more intermittency which magnifies the compulsive effect of having to go back. This is the type of thing that is upsetting people, right? Facebook wants the argument to be is Facebook useless or is there some use? That is not why people are upset. They are upset because a reengineer their experiences. They were going to look at this when they are trying to have dinner with a friend. That they cannot help but look at it when they are with their friend. They are looking at this thing 150 times a day, that they are waking up in the middle of the night to check it. Like that is what people are upset about. It is the how and when I am using these services. People are willing to. They want some independence, they want their autonomy back.

Brandon: Yes.

David: Well, if you can be the person who can overcome that hurdle, because what you are describing is very very powerful psychological pull that these things have over us. Similar to what fast food can do and some other parallels that you made that were really good. But if you are that person that overcomes this, gets that time back, then uses that time in deep work to be more productive, you can like blow away your competition with minimal effort. I mean I do not know if I should be saying this right now but I was a police officer at a certain department and I moved to a different department. The second apartment I went to had, let us say like a much lower work ethic of the officers, right?

I remember being new and in like half of a shift, I had done the work that the average officer was doing literally in a month, right? These people were talking about me like I am an animal. They are like this guy is insane. Like where did he even come from? How can he possibly do this? I was feeling everyday like I am such a bum. Like I worked half of the time, right? Like to your point, Cal, I had all of this career capital with very little work and then it was, oh you can be an instructor for this and you can have the special assignment and we are going to use you for this cool thing. Stuff that you would have had to work your tail off for years at my old department. I was just like a bear at salmon season as they are just jumping into my mouth, right?

I realized what you are talking about is like in this place, if I can just stay focused when everybody else wants to not be focused, the tiniest little bit of work will give me such a huge, I do not know, like result in turn and you can build capital really quick and it is easy to fall into this like I am a victim. Social media is stopping me from being successful and like there is all these things against me. But if you are the person who can overcome it when nobody else is even trying because you actually read Cal’s book and listened to this podcast, the world is your oyster.

Cal: Well, I mean, let me make this more concrete. Like for your particular listeners. Like here is based on my experience, I think what I am about to say is probably true, right? Which is let us say as a listener to this podcast, BiggerPockets, you take all of your social media, you take it all off your phone. I am not asking you to quit anything, but let us just say you say okay when there is an important thing I need to do on social media, I got to go to like my desktop and do not save the password so you have a little bit of friction. You can still… Anything that is important, you can still do but it is not on your phone as a distraction. I think for a lot of people, especially people under a certain age, this will free up easily two hours a day, right? In part because if you are not doing all those checks while you are working during the day, you are going to get your normal work done faster.

You can just sort of implicitly essentially end your work day earlier, even without your boss knowing, it also frees up a lot of time out of work when you are not looking at these things all the time. Take that two hours a day, put it towards real estate investing, right? Going deep, learning how to make a deal, learning how to read the specs, learning how the financial… Whatever it is, right? All the information you can get from this service. Do that for one year. I mean… Like I do not know the numbers but you do that for one year, you probably are going to be financially independent. 

Brandon: Yes, it does a lot to you. 

Cal: That is the stakes we are talking about, right? I am not even asking you to leave social media. But this a question like this is kind of what is on the table. Like the difference between you being financially independent next year and not is how important is it to you that you can see a hot take while you are on the can at work. 

David: Yes. 

Cal: Like this is the type of trade-offs we are talking about. 

Brandon: Okay. Here is my question. A lot of people might be wondering. Yes, but there is a lot of times where I am just bored. I mean, Cal, am sitting on the john, right? I got 10 minutes free, right? I am sitting on the line at the grocery store, I am at Costco. I am trying to get gas at Costco and it is like a 20 minute wait. What is the big problem with me pulling out my phone and scrolling through Instagram? When I am not doing anything, I am not going to be analyzing a deal during that time anyway.

Cal: Well, we need boredom. We need boredom. Like some boredom is an incredibly powerful drive, right? Like, we do not like feeling bored. It is something that feels bad. Typically, any sensation that feels bad, there is a drive behind it, right? What does boredom meant to do? It is meant to drive us to do productive work, right? 

Brandon: Yes.

Cal: It is meant to drive us to do the thing that is hard that is going to require the expenditure of energy, which we otherwise try to conserve, but it is going to make some intention manifest in the world. It is boredom that got us to figure out how to make fire and to make the spear and then go out after the mastodon. Boredom is a driver, right? Of Human Ingenuity and production. What ubiquitous internet and algorithmically optimized entertainment on a phone does is it subverts the boredom drive. Now, you can sort of temporarily assuage this feeling of boredom by hitting this thing on the phone.

Just like when you feel hungry, you can eat a Big Mac and it is going to take away your hunger, right? But you are going to end up really unhealthy. If you subvert your boredom drive, you would get rid of all this boredom by looking at this phone all the time, you are left with this sort of anxious, empty feeling. Why is that? It is because you have subverted the boredom feeling but you are not getting that primal drive to actually make your intentions manifest in the world. There is this existential void in your life where you know you want to be getting after it and doing something and making fire and holding up the spear after you killed the mastodon. You want to be doing that, you know want to be doing that and you are not but you have you have papered over this boredom just enough, that it is like barely tolerable.

This is actually one of the hardest things people had when they went through.. In the book, I talked about people like taking these 30 days and stepping away from all the technology to figure out what they are all about. Figuring out what to do instead, this was like really uncomfortable for people. That is the hard part. It is like what do you do when you take away the escape and you have to confront I am bored, I am not doing things I am proud of, I do not have anything to do. Having to confront yourself and your thoughts and what is bad about your life is incredibly difficult. But that is also the foundation in which you say, well, I am going to get up now and I can start hitting flint to steel. I am going to make the fire, I am going to build a spear, right? I think boredom is one of the most important drives we have. You do not want to screw around with that.

With some algorithms some guy in Silicon Valley put together that is reduced you to a data vector that is going to show you like exactly the picture you need to see that is going to make you a little bit happy. Be bored, do not like feel it, be uncomfortable. Like let that be what drives you to say, okay, I am getting up out of the couch and I am going to go do X, Y and Z. Like the real stuff that matters.

Brandon: A couple of real life stories about this that perfectly showcase this. Two and a half years ago, maybe three years ago, probably two and a half. My little girl, Rosie, who is was now turning three when the show comes out, she was like six months old or whatever and she got sick. She was sick all night. My wife was up all night with her. At three in the morning, I picked up my daughter and I say, ‘Okay, Heather,’ my wife, ‘You go sleep now. I will take care from three on. She was just crying every few minutes and I put her in the car and we drove around. Now, because she is waking up at like the smallest like if I go over a bump too fast, right? All I could do is drive from 3AM until about 8AM.

We drove for five hours and I just remember I could not listen to music, I could not do anything. I was just bored for five hours. Like I had many ideas and things that came to me, like things that fundamentally changed my business forever. Like for both BiggerPockets and from my real estate. During that five hour stretch, I got done with that and I was like, oh my gosh, I should do this every week. Like I should just drive with my kid every week. The same thing is true now. When I moved to Maui now, I traveled back to the mainland all the time. It is six hours and there is no WiFi in that plane. Like I cannot, I got my daughter sitting next to me anyway, and I cannot like get totally distracted in a movie. I have six hours of just sitting there in silence pretty much with a notebook. Again, some of the best moments of just focus and like deep thought. Like even just ideas come during those times. Yes, totally true. 

Cal: Yes. Well, the other factor that play there is that solitary like boredom which are kind of interchanged. Basically, we are not processing input. 

David: Yes.

Brandon: Right. 

Cal: When you are not processing input, you are just observing and with your own thoughts. In addition to boredom driving you to do really big things, what you are pointing out is something I talked about in depth in the book which is your mind has two modes. There is the mode where it is processing input and then there is the mode where it is actually trying to do something with it and they are different. If you are always consuming information but you are never actually given yourselves to hours of just there alone with your thoughts, you really are going to be impoverished in terms of how much value you can extract from it. Which is why many great thinkers historically, for example, are big walkers. They would just go out there and they would walk and this is a time for their brain to just bounce around thoughts, figure things out, make use of all this information.

Yes, what you are talking about is absolutely common and backed up by the research. Time alone with our own thoughts is crucial. Boredom should be something we do not try to get rid of cheaply but something we should let drive us to real action. Both of those things are crucial. 

David: I have never ever, ever heard anyone make that argument, but you just sound smart saying that. I mean that is like the most incredible thing I have heard is that boredom has a use, right? Like CS Lewis is one of my favorite authors, he is a very very brilliant thinker and he used to take walks all the time. Cal, you have me thinking of all the people that are constantly attending seminars and conferences and listening to podcasts and going to meetups and they are always around real estate investors listening to what they are saying, but they never actually make any progress and I will bet you it is because they do not ever just sit down and let what they have been learning sink into their brain and actually say of the 400 things I just heard, what are the two that I might actually do something with and put a plan together to go do that? 

Cal: Yes. Well, like I love podcasts but I think the right rule for podcasts is the one to one rule. One hour of nothing in my ear for every hour of listening, right? I listened to this 90 minute interview. Like I should plan at some point to have another 90 minutes where there is nothing in my ear. You expose yourself to information. We are giving yourself about a one to one ratio of sort of thinking time to consumption time. That really works well. 

Brandon: That is cool. You know, one thing I tried recently. My wife got me a gift certificate from Massage Envy, like a massage place. I have like a membership. Every month, I get like an hour long massage. That hour long, like I do not, I actually do not, I mean massages are fine but I do not look forward to massage. I look forward to the one hour or have nothing in my ear and it is a silent and I am thinking. Like I am literally… Like I just told Ryan who is on my like real estate team and my BiggerPockets. Anyway, he lives down here in Hawaii with me. Like for a company perk, like I am getting a… I want to have a massage person come like once a week for everybody in the company and just like an hour where you are just like… During the work day, you get a massage. Because it is just time where you are forced to sit there in your thoughts and think and it feels good. 

Cal: Yes. Well, I grew up near Princeton, New Jersey where the Institute for Advanced Studies. This is where like Einstein came when he left Europe, right? It is big thinkers.

If you are there, you have no responsibilities but thinking. The reason I knew it is a kid is because it is built among a massive network of trails in the woods. As a kid, I used to go play in these woods, but there is no coincidence that this place is hidden in the middle of the woods because the whole idea is go out there and walk. Walk in the woods, be outside, have nothing pulling at you, just think. That is where the big thoughts are going to come from. 

Brandon: Yes. There is a lot of studies too that show like when you are doing some kind of physical exercise after working now. Like it retains in your head better and all this like up read a ton of stuff on that. 

David: You guys are helping me understand myself much better because what will happen Cal is I will fly to Maui and I will hang out with Brandon and we will have 30 minutes of insanely intense conversation of very high level things that feels like a mental workout and then I am like I just want to get away for two hours and go walk by the ocean. 

Brandon: Yes, he is like we will even walk. 

David: I just disappear and like Brandon is cool, he lets me do it. I just feel guilty like why am I a jerk? I do not know why I am doing this. Like, but now I get it, right? Like I just had all this stuff get like sand in the ocean. Like it all floats up in the water and now it has to kind of filter back down and I got to see what sticks.

Cal: Yes. Like I am in the early stages right now of writing a new book. Like I can tell you what is on my schedule after this interview. It is walk and think about the book. I am doing that all the time right now because that is what I do in the early stages of a book. It is like literally I know that the hour amount, like I probably need 50 hours. 50 hours of just thinking and walking before I can really figure out, okay, now I see a skeleton that makes sense, right? That is what is on my schedule next. It is the title of the book/walk. 

David: That is funny. That is awesome.

Brandon: Alright, what should somebody do who wants to be more of a digital minimalists? Who wants to take back control and have some control over that. What is a good tactic? 

Cal: Well, what I suggest is a 30 day process, right? Again, like that is not something… It is not normally my style to have advice. It is like 30 days to whatever, right? It sounds like a diet or something like that. But I can tell you the reason why it is there is because it is what works. Like it absolutely works. I have run about 1600 people through this process and it works. You needed 30 days. Here is the idea, what I suggest is you take 30 days. During those 30 days, you essentially take a break from any of these sort of optional technologies in your personal life like social media, online news, video games, YouTube, anything that you do not absolutely need, you would be okay without having it for a week. If there is things that you have some work responsibilities surrounding, try to put some fences around it. Like, okay, I still need to do X, Y, and Z on Facebook for my job but I am just going to do it at these times on these days and that is it, right? 

Brandon: Yes. 

Cal: What do you do during these 30 days? Well, at first you are going to get a detox effect. Like the first 10 to 14 days, depending on how much you use your phone, you might feel this sort of compulsion to check something and after about 10 to 14 days that will clear out which is in itself useful, but the real purpose of the 30 days is that is how much time you need to really get at the question of what do I actually want to be doing with my time, especially outside of work? Like what do I want to get after? What the value will be, what do I want to spend my time on? This just requires reflection. Like you are out there, you are walking, you are thinking. It requires experimentation. Like you try it, like, well, why do not I try bringing the surfboard out there and seeing if I hate this or if it is something that seems like I might like. Like you figure out this is what I really want to do with my time. Experiment reflect that takes a while. When the 30 days are over, the idea is you do not just go back to all the tools you were using before you started the experiment.

You actually figure you are rebuilding your digital life from scratch. Now, if something wants to come back into your life, it has to earn its way back into your life. The rule should be, hey, if this tech is going to really help one of these things identify during the 30 days that I really care about and I really want to do, then great, I will bring that back in. I will put some fences around it. I will actually answer the question of how and when I want to use it, but that is great. If the tech does not directly support one of these things I think is really valuable, I do not need to know about it. I do not want to play the maximalist game of like if there is some convenience or some value, I better have this in my life. It is like, no, this is what I want to do. These are the five things I want to do with my time. The tactic can help that, okay, I am going to bring that back in to amplify it. Everything else, happy to miss out on.

Brandon: You are basically starting from scratch and rebuilding your digital life much more intentionally.

David: Is this the same principle that people do when they do like one of those 30 day cleanses from food? Like you just get rid of it and you would get rid of the urge and then you choose what foods you bring back. 

Cal: Yes, it is pretty similar, right? You only add back in the things that do not make you feel bad. You sort of rebuild your diet. The same thing like Marie Kondo talks about with the closet, right? You take everything out and you only put back into things that… I mean, I do not really understand this notion about like shirts making me joyous or whatever but it is the same minimalists notion, right? You go down to empty and then you put back in the stuff you really want. As opposed to what most people do, which is let me come from the top down and try to nibble around the edges, right? You will Marie Kondo say like your goal should be like every week or so, maybe find something that you do not want on your closet and take it out, right? 

Brandon: Yes.

Cal: Or go to your garage occasionally to see if there is something in there you do not need and take it out. Like you are never going to clean the closet. The garage is always going to be a source of stress. Now, you clean the whole thing out, you empty the whole thing. Then just bring back in same thing. You are taking everything out of your digital life, getting back in touch with what you really care about and then you only bring back into things that are really important. 

Brandon: That is so good, so good. Yes, I refer in your book. I kind of did this. I ended up deleting like LinkedIn, I no longer have a LinkedIn. Because I was like it is not actually adding any value to my life. Like everyone feels that you should have a LinkedIn, I deleted mine. I do not have Facebook or Instagram on my phone, but I do install Instagram once a week for about now, half hour, and I will go and upload a poster to and then I will delete it again and I will go to my browser. 

Cal: Sucker. They hate that, that is the worst fear. It is the worst fear. They do not want people thinking about how and when they use the apps. They just wants you to go into the ecosystem and never look up. 

Brandon: Yes, that is true. Also, one other thing. You mentioned in the book, this thing called the light phone, which is like a phone. It fascinated me. This long trail of research under like how to get, could I get rid of my phone? Like part of me says I cannot fool you with my phone and there is many things that I still use it for and work in business or whatever, maybe. You mentioned this light phone, which is super cool. It is like this phone, basically all it does is text and call, right? They have got the light phone 2 coming out soon I think. What I actually found is I had another idea and this came on actually like, I think I got this during the massage. I thought, wait, is not there an apple watch that can do calls and texts? I looked it up and sure enough you can buy an apple watch that has cell technology.

I bought the Apple Watch that has the call and text because what this does is I can still, if I really need to, I can text with people on it. People can get in touch with me, they can call me and it is awkward. I can talk on my phone but what I could do with this one is I can leave my phone at home and I do a lot now. I plug my phone in the home, I leave it at home and I just go and do my entire day with my Apple Watch. I cannot check Instagram on it, I cannot check slack on it. All I can do is awkwardly respond to texts and calls if I absolutely need to and this has made the biggest change in my life. Ironically, more technology made me use technology less. 

Cal: No, but it is true. Killing the constant companion model of the smartphone opens up massive improvements and there is all sorts of ways that people do it. I mean there is the double phone people. I have my smartphone and my dumb phone then I bring the dumb phone with me. Kind of like what you are doing but I just have like a flip phone or something. The Doro, if you want to look it up, if you want to go down this rabbit hole, there is this basic texts and call phone called the Doro that has a cult following, including among hedge fund managers who can quantify the impact of distractions at the level of millions of dollars of lost revenue because of what they are doing with their trading and so they really care a lot about this. The original light phone was a tether, which is really interesting. The idea was you still have your smartphone, you can tether this simple phone to it. It is your same number. When you have your original light phone with you, if someone calls your normal number, text your normal number, it goes to the simple phone you have with you. If you call someone from it or texts on it, it comes from the same phone. 

Brandon: That is basically what the Apple Watch does. 

Cal: Yes. The lights one too I think is standalone, but whatever, there is that. Then there is just the notion of more people just get comfortable just being without their phone more often. 

David: Yes. 

Cal: That is another movement that is out there. It is like the 1980s babysitter movement, right? Because if he grew up in the 1980s like I did when your parents would go out to a movie, they would tell the babysitter, we will be back later. You cannot reach us. Like if there is an emergency, here is the neighbor’s phone numbers. It was fine. Like very few of us, died in fires, right? There is more of that, like realizing like it is okay or I can buy… If I get lost, I can ask someone for directions. But everyone has seen that same effect. Like as soon as people get away from the constant companion model of a smartphone, the other thing I talked about in the book is that the original motivation for the smartphone was for business users which is when you are on the move, like laptops back then were huge.

Brandon: Yes. 

Cal: Like when you are on the go and you might need to check in on work, you could do it on a phone. Like this was going to be, this was a huge win. It meant that you were not completely disconnected when you are on a business meeting. But laptops are not huge anymore. I mean you can get a $400 Chromebook that is like really small and really thin and it is much easier to do work on than your phone. This notion that you need a fully feature phone no longer has its original motivation. 

Brandon: Yes.

Cal: The only motivation this left to keep everyone buying these very expensive Samsung and Apple phones is sort of it plugs you into this distraction economy and you can take good pictures, like the camera is now the main feature. Your Instagram photos of yourself will look really good. I mean, I think the smart phone companies are trying to figure this out. They sense this? Like we are not as vital as we used to be. We are not necessary for work, we are not necessarily for calls and texting and people are getting fed up with how many different angles can I take a picture of myself and post it online? 

David: Yes.

Brandon: Yes. The funniest thing about going, becoming… I am not a purist digital minimalist yet but I am working towards that, right? I have got a lot better. But the funniest thing I have noticed is just how much everyone, like how much I now I noticed everyone else uses their phone. You must always noticed that cause you have probably been a minimalist longer than I have. People are always on their phone everywhere you go. Like you are in an elevator and there is nine people around you and everyone’s on their phone and I am like, can you not sit still for 30 seconds as we go up one floor? No, nobody can.

Cal: Oh, yes.

Brandon: It blows my mind. 

Cal: Here is what is going to happen if you become a purist, then you will start to get very guilty about what you do. Even for like really important reasons. Like I need to look up the location of this restaurant, I am lost or something like that. You are going to get to this point where you are like, ah, I feel like really exposed and guilty looking at my phone. 

Brandon: Yes, that is crazy. 

Cal: You get both smugness and guilt when you become a minimalist. What else do you need? 

Brandon: That is all you need to live. Very cool. Well, last thing I want to talk about before we let you go is this idea of high quality leisure because this is something that I really really enjoyed about the book because it talks about like what do you fill your time with and your answer is high quality leisure. Can you explain what that is? 

Cal: Right. This is something we crave. It is activities you do that is non work related that you do just for the sheer quality and pleasure of the activity itself, right? Maybe if you are really into cooking or something like that, right? You cook a good meal, not for an instrumental purpose, but just because you really just appreciate good food or if you are into whiskey, like you get a good whiskey and you just really appreciate the quality. Like you are not doing it to get X, Y, and Z, you are doing it because you really like doing it. High quality Leisure makes us really happy. It also gives us a lot of resilience. This Aristotle even realized this, that there is a lot of ups and downs in your life, there is a lot of stuff you cannot control, but when you have activities you do just for the sake of their intrinsic quality and somehow buffers you against this and makes life seem kind of more interesting and meaningful and beautiful.

High quality leisure is crucial. It goes away when you just satisfy your boredom drive looking at the phone all the time. One of the key things that digital minimalists refill back in this newly found time with when they get much more intention about their technology. They refill it back with high quality leisure activities. The irony is that they often find that modern tech allows them to do these analog activities much more often and much better. It all entangles. Like you can use the Internet for example to find friends to go trail running with or something like this, right? Technology actually helps non-technological activities in a way this kind of an interesting connection. 

Brandon: Yes.

Cal: But high quality leisure is crucial and less time on your screens, more time with high quality analog leisure is a recipe that is going to leave you much more satisfied. 

Brandon: Yes, it is a really really good point. Yes, I am a huge fan of that. Like picking up skills, things like trying to learn the guitar. I am trying to learn the Ukulele right now, like better. Like is it cool? I mean it does not add any value to my life in terms of like I am not going to make more money from it but like I just enjoy those times. Surfing, I kind of picked up that. I have been running way more often, swimming, like those high quality leisure activities which now I have time for because I am saving four hours a day. I am not glued to my screen. 

Cal: Yes, I will to tell you, like this is the digital minimalist lifestyle. Like they often do not have their phones with them. When they are working, they are working really intensely. When they are not working, they are playing the Ukulele, right? Or they are out there trying to learn how to surf, or they are learning how to like woodwork or play, right?

This is what they are doing and it is a calmer life, it is much more satisfying life. I mean, these people are happier, they are getting much more satisfaction, everything seems more meaningful. I mean, this is much bigger than tech is good or tech is bad or tips about this or that. It is really a lifestyle that is about finding much more quality in your day to day experience. I got to tell you, the people who report back to me who are doing these things, it is significant. It is a significant boost to the quality of their life. 

Brandon: Yes, fantastic. Alright, well before we let you go, I got a series of four questions we ask every guest every week. This is time for our Famous Four. Cal, these are the same four questions we ask every guest every week. I am going to tweak them slightly because the first one is more of a real estate related one. Instead of normally we say what is your favorite real estate book? But in this case, I am going to go with what is your favorite like I will call it productivity/minimalism/likethatstyle book. We are going to go with that because that is kind of the focus of today’s show. What is your favorite book on that  that vein or current favorite like? 

Cal: Like in the productivity type minimalist space, actually a book that was very influential to me was not meant to be in that space, but it is actually The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

Brandon: Interesting.

Cal: I think it won the National Book Award for the Pulitzer back when it came up. I mean it is a brilliantly written biography but it focuses on Roosevelt’s young years is a profile in incredible minimalist deep work. It is incredibly inspiring. Like he had this way of just I am going to do this incredibly intensely. I can do this incredibly intensely. He was a minimalist who is obsessive about concentration and because of it, he crafted this incredibly impactful useful life. Like that is my favorite productivity book and on the surface it has nothing to do with productivity. 

David: Okay. Awesome. Cool. Okay. What is your favorite business book? 

Cal: Business Book? Let us see. I do not know, that is a good question. See, this is the thing that got me… This is the reason I never signed up for Facebook is that I was always bad at listing favorites and that is was what early Facebook was. I do not know, I will tell you this, when I was a kid, when I was a teenager, this during the first .com boom. I had my own .com business. I remember reading, it was very influential to me at the time, I remember reading his name is maybe Paul Manes’ biography of Bill Gates called Gates. Then there was also this big business biography of Apple that was out back then, this is before Steve Jobs returned. I remember reading those two in the late 1990s and it made me into sort of like a hardcore put me into a hardcore tech startup mode. I do not know if I would say those are the best business books I have ever read but they are incredibly influential, at least in my own life.

David: Let us say they did a good job. 

Brandon: Perfect. 

David: Alright, since you are not on your phone very often, what are some of your hobbies? 

Cal: That is a good question. Well, I do play guitar and I have been trying to get back into that. I used to play in bands. Beyond that, between CS writing and my three kids, I would say I wish I had more hobbies.

Brandon: Guitar is cool.

Cal: Guitar is cool though, yes. 

Brandon: Yes. What do you play? Acoustic, electric, both? 

Cal: Both. I have both, I have both. I have a sort of beautiful sunburst American standard Stratocaster that I have had since I was a teenager. It is a beautiful guitar, a big Clapton Hendrix fan. Have a nice Taylor Acoustic.

Brandon: Oh, cool. I have a Taylor acoustic as well. 

David: Maybe you can fly out to Maui with us and you and Brandon can jam on your Ukulele and guitars and I will sweat bullets trying not to look at my phone when I do not have anything to be playing while you guys…

Cal: Then we will all go for long walks afterwards. 

Brandon: This is not one of the Famous Four question but I will ask it anyway. Do people get awkward around you because they know you are the guy who is like writing the books about not using your phone. Like do people like, oh I am sorry, you put it out.

Cal: Some people do.

Brandon: People swear around me and they always apologize because they know I am like I used to be a youth pastor. 

Cal: Journalists do sometimes when I do in person interviews because journalist always look at their phone and then they only always catch themselves, yes.

David: It is really funny. 

Brandon: Alright, number four. What do you think separates successful people, in general like high achievers, from those who give up on their dreams? They fail once they get started or they just never get started whatsoever? 

Cal: I think diligence is really important. Where I used a definition that Steve Martin used in his memoir, Born Standing Up, which is where I got the… Actually, that is not where I got the Be So Good They Cannot Ignore you quote. That actually was from a TV interview, but in his memoir, Steve Martin talked about diligence being the key to his success. His definition of diligence was less about continuing to work on one thing, but more about being willing to say no to everything else again and again and again going on in time. I noticed that trade a lot about people that end up doing interesting, successful or impactful things is to it.

Once they get their teeth into something, it is not just that they are willing to keep working on it, they are willing to keep saying no. To all the other things that start coming up over the years, they try to take your time or distract your attention. They get that compound interest effect of effort, effort, effort, effort, effort, effort, and it starts to compound. Diligence in my experience is a huge separating factor between impact and business. 

Brandon: Perfect, perfect. Alright. 

David: Well, Cal, this has been a fascinating conversation. I am going to listen to this about four more times to pull everything out of it than I can. Can you tell us where people can find out more about you? 

Cal: Well, not on social media I suppose. But I do have a website, CalNewport.com. I am a big fan of blogging. I have been blogging there for over a decade. It is a good place to find out about me and the sort of weird thoughts to come out of my head. It is all well documented on that particular domain. 

Brandon: Alright, alright. Well, dude, we will send people there. We will put links to that in the show notes of course at BiggerPockets.coom/show330. Alright, Cal, thank you much for joining us. It has been fantastic. 

Cal: No, thank you. It is my pleasure.

Brandon: Alright, that was our interview with Cal Newport. Unbelievable, I mean I love those books but I love being able to pick his brain on those things and kind of the notes. I had while reading them and it is smart and it makes much sense, does not it?

David: I think sometimes when I read a book by a guy like that, in the back of my head I am like does he really know this stuff or did he just have a research assistant go put it all together? But when you listen to Cal talk, you are just like, oh my God. He lives it. That whole point, he made about how like boredom is a necessary function, it is actually productive. 

Brandon: Yes.

David: Blew my mind in the middle of the podcast. I had never ever thought about it. I had looked at boredom like it was the enemy and you have to fight it at all costs and what have I been robbing myself up while doing that?

Brandon: Yes, yes. We want to take a few minutes here before we get out of the show, and like I mentioned in the Quick Tip today and talk about how some of the stuff relates to real estate investors. Because, again, I was not going to go in and drill Cal on like well tell us how you can do this when you are analyzing a deal? Because at the end of the day, like he is a computer scientist and he is teaching us about the principles that we can apply. Let us apply them right now. David, I am wondering, first of all you are in love with this book just like I am, but So Good They Cannot Ignore You. Like how do you see that applying to the average real estate investor?

David: Oh, this is really good. Okay, the fact is there are deals out there because there is somebody buying deals all the time, right? Like we hear, you and I hear, oh there is no deals, I cannot find anything, right? But we then, you and I find deals or people we know are finding deals. It is not that there is not deals, it is that there are people that do not know how to get them, right? That means it is like a skill problem. Your network is not strong enough, your analyzing is not strong enough. Your understanding of how other human beings work is the problem. Deals come to me still in today’s market because of the reputation I have or the skill that I have or the work that I have done in the past to where wholesalers and agents think of me and they bring a deal right away, right? That was because I embraced the concepts in So Good They Cannot Ignore You.

When I have a conversation with someone, they can very quickly tell this guy’s the real deal. He is not going to jerk me around, He is going to buy the house if he wants to, right? If something goes wrong, he is not going to panic and make my life hell. He can handle a couple of bumps in the road. That makes people like me. It makes people want to bring me those deals, right? I became in that world so good that those deal finders cannot ignore me, right? You and I can be out on the beach hanging out or out in the ocean surfing and when I come back from that, I can have a message on my phone that says, ‘Hey, do you want this deal?’ That is a really good deal that other people could be spending months and months and months trying to find but it came to me because they are approaching it with a different mindset than I did, right? That is just one way right there where approaching or embracing the philosophies in that one book have led to me having a much better life.

Brandon: Yes, yes. So good. I kind of know that advice. I mentioned this in the show but I will emphasize again here. I say all the time, like learning how to analyze a deal or at least run the numbers, knowing what makes a good deal or not a good deal is so important. If you are new, if you are new to real estate right now, which a lot of our audience is, they have not done a deal yet, right? Guess what? It does not cost any money to sit down and go on realtor.com or talk with a real estate agent and get some leads and start figuring out what will make it a good deal, right? Like play with the numbers. I mean it might cost you the cost of a BiggerPockets Pro membership if you want to use our calculators, which you should because they are awesome, but it does not like take a lot of effort to build that skill.

It just takes time and repetition and doing it over and over, right? If you become good at knowing how to recognize a good deal, all of a sudden everything else becomes easier, right? I say this a lot about the deal delta. I put this in the How to Invest in Real Estate, that to put together any deal you really need three things. You need knowledge to know how to do things. You need hustle to actually get the work done and you need the money to put it together. But you personally do not need to have all three of them. All I am saying when I talk about the Deal Delta is you just need to have one or two of them. If you are really good at that one or two, you can find the other ones because those people need you.

In other words, if you are really really really good at raising money, let us just say, well then you do not necessarily have to know how to find a good deal because you are really good at raising money. Go find somebody who is really good at finding good deals and they will love you. I mean, I will love you, right? Like this is somebody who raises money for me or maybe somebody who just hustles better than anything. A few weeks ago on the show, we had to Philippe on here, he is a hustler, right? He can hustle like crazy and he is good that that is why I want to work with him while working together in a deal because he is good at that one skill of hustling and he also has the knowledge and he has got some money too, right? He has got a lot of it, which is again, the more skills you have the more career capital, which is how Cal put it, the more other people want to work with you, the better chance you have of putting together deal.

Maybe spending a little bit less time on Facebook or Instagram, less time watching TV and Netflix, watching Game of Thrones, maybe more time becoming amazing at a certain thing. As Cal says, you are not necessarily going to always love it, you are not going to always feel in the zone when you are sitting down watching another replay of a BiggerPockets webinar that David hosted, teaching how to talk to sellers or whatever, right? Like you are not always going to love those moments but it is those times of deliberate practice that are going to make the biggest difference on your life longterm.

David: As you were talking there, I started thinking about a lot of the people that fall prey to gurus and scams and sell really really expensive multi of thousands of dollars of,  programs. I am wondering how many people do that because specifically they are trying to avoid having to put in the work and that makes them vulnerable to being taken advantage of. Like I do not have to commit to learning this and do it myself. I will take his program and the information will automatically like through osmosis get in my brain and I will know everything. Like you are in the Matrix and they just downloaded this book of how to jumpstart a motorcycle without having to put the time into work, right? It just had me thinking like how many people are paying a price, literally threw money, because they do not want to commit to the process of becoming great. But when you do, the world just opens up to you. It absolutely, like everything becomes so much easier. 

Brandon: Yes, it so true. Well, and then of course moving on to Deep Work a little bit. I mean, I think it is obvious there how are a real estate investor can use deep work, right? I mean, if you are trying to analyze a deal, if you are trying to network at the same time you are doing other stuff, if you are trying to do ten things at once, you are just not going to be effective at it. Look, if you got a full time job right now, which most of our listeners do, and you want financial freedom, you are going to need to find a few hours every week of deep work. You are going to need that time, especially in the beginning. I mean, yes, sure. As you go, like David said, David can make an offer and buy a real estate deal in 17 minutes of time, right? But in the beginning, you are going to need more than 17 minutes.

Go to your calendar right now, like right now, pause this podcast. Go to your calendar and put in an hour or two this week or three or four hours space throughout the week where you are going to be head down deep into something that is going to benefit your investing and then do it next week and the week after. Like Cal said, ‘Build that system that every week it gets done because it is not going to happen naturally.’ Jim Rohn says, ‘Life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change,’ right? You are not going to naturally just end up with real estate, right? You are going to have to work at it, you have to time block it in there and schedule those times of deliberate practice through deep work. Anything you want to add on that?

David: Just that that is the same way that everything else in life works too. The people that have the best bodies do that. They practice that. People like Cal, he did not get to be as smart as he did by not doing that, right? He completely commits 100% to mastering whatever he has got in front of him. But we have this like, I do not know, it is like a cheat code with real estate because we love it much, that is why we are listening to podcast, it is why we are talking about it. That work does not suck. Like if you made me learn computer science and I had to sit there and learn computer coding, can you imagine, right? Like how much I would hate that? But learning how to be a really good cop did not suck. I loved it, right? Work does not have to necessarily equate to bad. Just because you do not like the work you are doing right now does not mean that it will feel the same way when you commit to mastering something that you actually do enjoy. 

Brandon: Yes. Hey, what do you think about, like, let us say somebody is starting to learn real estate and they are just kind of overwhelmed. They are reading a couple of books, maybe they have picked up the new BRRRR or The Buy Rehab Rent Refinance Repeat book, and they are like, ‘Ah, I am feeling kind of overwhelmed. I am not feeling it.’ How do they know whether or not like it is not fun? Let us say it is not fun for them yet, right? How do they know they should stick through it until it become like it is the passion, whatever. Like how do they know if they should stick through that book and finish and just really good at it or switched strategies or something else. What do you think?

David: I do not, well, the strategy will not feel fun no matter what you are doing because you will not be good at it and there is hardly anything that is fun that you are not good at. Like there is snowboarders that love snowboarding. I bet you their first couple of trips just were not fun. Surfers are in love with…

Brandon: I do not like… Yes, I do not like snowboarding because I am not good at it. 

David: Did you have a blast your first time you went surfing and you were crashing and paddling and tired and exhausted the whole time?

Brandon: No. It was…

David: There you go. But is there anything you like more than surfing right now?

Brandon: It was rewarding that first time. Like I like the challenge, but I like the difficulty of it. But I was not fun because I never rode a single way. The first three times I went surfing, I did not ride the wave.

David: There you go. You stuck through it because your Brandon ‘Freaking’ Turner and you got the reward, right? But what pulled you through was the site, the visualization of seeing others out there surfing and you wanted that bad that it pulled you through that bad part. People are listening to us because they want financial freedom through real estate. They already have the desire, right? You have to look at it like am I willing to do this for three trips in a row without even having one ounce of fun but make the reward like the challenge that I did not quit. If you can get a little bit of juice out like, ‘Hey, I am still working at this,’ it will pull you through that part.

That is difficult and then you caught your first wave and you are probably hooked, right? You were fine to wipe out 10 times in a row because you knew that one wave makes it worth it. That is what it was like for us when we first started buying real estate. Like, man, I screwed up on a million things, but that passive income check that comes in every month made it worth it that I am willing to do this, right? It is very similar to other things in life. For some reason, we have this idea that real estate is supposed to be easy and if I have to work hard at it, I must be doing something wrong and that is not necessarily the case.

Brandon: Yes, so true, so true. Lastly, Digital Minimalism, like how does this apply to real estate investors do you think, David? 

David: I think that it can trick your brain when you are constantly reading articles or listening to webinars or podcasts into thinking that you did something that you did not. You just collected information but you did not actually take any action, right? I think that like if you are forced to stop collecting information until you are acting on what you already know, it will expose do I really want this or not? Whereas when you could just stay in that information collecting phase, you can trick yourself into thinking, oh yes, I want to be a real estate investor. I am making progress when you have not written an offer in two years, you do not want to be a real estate investor.

Brandon: Yes, that is a good point. Yes, I think for me a lot of it is like it is… There is this word I use a lot called default. Like what is my default? What I mean by that is anytime I have a moment of breaking or like a break in the day, anytime I have a time where whenever I was working on is over, what is my default? What do I naturally start doing? When I catch myself defaulting to something like Facebook or Instagram or checking my email or slack or whatever, watching TV or eating nachos, right? Like those are all things that we default. They are not necessarily inherently bad but I try to manage my default very strictly. I am always looking at what am I defaulting to in my life right now? Is that benefiting my long-term goals in life?

My default, if it becomes Instagram, like it did for a while, I deleted Instagram from my phone and now I just install it when I want to update a thing and I delete it again. When I defaulted there was Facebook for a while. There was… I mean there is other things that I default to. Some people default to alcohol and drugs, right? What are we defaulting to? I want my default to be more often boredom. Like I want to be defaulted like that is just what I do. I want default to play with my kid, talk to my wife and have a deep conversation. Those are the things I want to, I guess, default to. I guess that is how it applies as well to real estate investors. It is like what is the fundamental like foundation of how you view technology and where is your default lie? Maybe your default should instead be I am going to go listen to episodes of the BiggerPockets podcast, right? I mean, that is not a bad default. Now, if you are not taking action, then it is a horrible default, right? Does it help? Yes, there you go.

David: I think that is incredible. Especially like ask yourself, what is your insecurity? We all know subconsciously what is holding us back. If we are like, okay, I am really just not good with numbers and I do not know if I should buy the house or not, that is a criteria issue. You just do not know what your criteria are, right? You solve that, you are going to feel confident you are not going to put it back. Your defaults are usually bad specifically because they are preventing you from fixing the problem that is actually keeping you from what you want in life. If you are checking Instagram every time you pull up your phone instead of learning whatever the thing is that you need, that is what is holding you back. It becomes an enabler that prevents you from or allows you to stop moving forward.

I think that is what is brave about kind of what you are doing, Brandon, is that you are removing all those little things that are, that are crutches in your life and you are forced to stare like who is Brandon in the face? That will make you better, right? Like you are making your life like harder on yourself but that will make you stronger and I think that is what great about what Cal is saying because this could work for anyone. We are all humans, we all are built the same way. We are all designed the same way. We are all going to have a very similar result if we take the same steps.

Brandon: There you go, so good. Alright, well we got to get out of here but I want to encourage you all to go get these books. I mean like, again, like I do not have any benefit of saying that. I do not get any kind of kickback. Like they really did change my life, all three of these books good. So Good They Cannot Ignore You, Deep Work, and then his newest book, Cal’s newest book, Digital Minimalism. You can get them anywhere books are sold. I got mine on Amazon, I think. But let me just end with this. I want to end with this quote from the book. I pull out my Digital Minimalism book that I got here and it says this, does this has to do with digital minimalism, ‘By working backwards from their deep values to their technology choices, Digital Minimalist transforms these innovations from a source of distractions into tools to support a life well lived.’

I love that.

Basically, again, it is how do we look at technology? Is it assisting us in our goal we can live a life well lived? That is really a BiggerPockets is all about. It is how do we live a better life and then how can our technology and the tools around us support that? Not us supporting them, not us playing victim to their lordship in our life. With that, go out there and turn off your phone for a while. Go spend some time with your family and then go crush it in some deep work with your real estate investing. Gaining skills you can be good they cannot ignore you. Like that? Like how I wrapped that all in there? 

David: You do that nicely I almost feel bad that I have to talk now. That has been a good mic drop. Thank you, Brandon. 

Brandon: You can take us out.

David: Thank you for putting this together, man. You did a lot of work here to get Cal on the show and talk about all three books. I think this was a fantastic episode. This is David Greene for Brandon ‘The Amish Wonder’ Turner, signing off.

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • Cal’s story
  • Improve your focus and remove distractions to increase productivity
  • How to combine “deep work” with “shallow work” to stay mentally energized
  • Building career capital you can then invest to build a better life
  • What successful people do that unsuccessful people don’t
  • How to set better expectations with team members
  • How to start your day in “monk mode” and be insanely productive
  • How to give your hours a job and make time work for you
  • How to use boredom to recharge and motivate you
  • His thoughts on social media and how it can rob you of time
  • Taking the information you’re learning and letting it sink in 
  • Detox and rebuild your digital life in 30 days
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in this Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “Accessibility is not as important as we think.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Time alone with our own thoughts is crucial.” (Tweet This!)

Connect with Cal

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.