BiggerPockets Podcast 449: How Emails Are Constantly Destroying Your Productivity with Cal Newport

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We’ve known for a long time that humans aren’t great at multitasking. Once distracted, our brains find it hard to let go of the new information we’ve just learnt or seen. This is why the constant onslaught of emails, messages, texts, and phone calls could be killing our productivity and creativity. Cal Newport, author of A World Without Email, has seen this first hand.

Cal discusses something he likes to call “Hyperactive Hivemind Workflow”, which is essentially what happens to our brains when we’re constantly being nudged by electronic messages. When you’ve got your head down and are working hard on an important project, just a simple glance at an email can spin everything out of whack.

Here’s the thing, this is happening to all of us, all the time. We are constantly monitoring our emails and messages, and by the mid afternoon, we’re out of energy. We’ve exhausted all of our cognitive resources. But isn’t it productive to check emails and respond to them quickly throughout the day? This is what Cal refers to as the “fool’s gold of busyness”.

Luckily, there are some ways to get us into a more productive state, without having a barrage of emails in our inbox. Cal talks about efficient meetings, Kanban boards, restricting ad hoc communication, having office hours, and being intentional with your time and attention. While these small email responses may seem like just a minute here or a minute there, they actually eat up a huge part of our work life.

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Brandon:
This is the BiggerPockets Podcast, show 449.

Cal:
To maintain all of these ongoing asynchronous back and forth conversations that are digital, you have to constantly monitor these inboxes. You have to constantly monitor these chat channels. And this constant monitoring is killing us. Our brain can not network switch that much. Every time we glance at that inbox, is full of all these messages from people we care about, most of which we cannot resolve right there in the moment. It’s a cognitive catastrophe.

Intro:
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Brandon:
What’s going on aboard? It’s Brandon Turner, host of the BiggerPockets Podcast, here with my co-host, David. So, good, you can’t ignore him, Greene. What’s up, man, how’re you doing?

David:
Nice, and nice segue there.

Brandon:
Thank you.

David:
That’s one of my favorite books, and probably one of the best things someone could say about you.

Brandon:
That is one of my favorite books as well. So good to hear. I know you buy a guy named Cal Newport, who we have on the show today. And so, that actually leads us to today’s quick tip. Our guest today is named, Cal Newport. He is one of my favorite authors of all time. He’s written several books, including Deep Work, Digital Minimalism, and a book called, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, which was… I mean, all of those three of those books are some of my favorite books of all time. But the quick tip is simple, read those books, especially start with, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. It’s so good. You can’t ignore it. So, check it out.

Brandon:
And I know David, he made a big impact on you as well. We interviewed Cal, back in episode 330 of the BiggerPockets Podcast, where we talked more about that book. Today, we’re talking about a little bit different topis. So, we’re going to talk about just some of the overwhelm in the world with technology that we have today, specifically about email and communication, and how that’s causing us to slow down and be less successful. And so, he goes through a lot of what it actually takes to be focused and successful today. It’s almost like a deeper dive into deep work. And so, I think, again, I love Cal. I love everything he has to say. I think you’re going to love this interview. So, hang tight for all of that. Is there anything you want to say, David, before we get into the interview with Cal?

David:
I think Cal, is probably one of my favorite guests that we’ve ever had. He’s brilliant. And you got to listen closely to what he’s saying, because he just says it, so a matter of fact, it’s very easy to just be like, “Oh, that’s the case.” But it’s incredibly smart. It’s very well researched.

David:
Cal, is the person who’s, in my mind, one of the front runners of being successful and productive, just not wasting your time. So, one of my favorite points that he makes, is he’s basically saying what you and I say, like what you did with the lapse funnel, leads, analyze, pursue, success. You’ve isolated the things that matter most in becoming successful, it’s getting leads, it’s analyzing them and then pursuing them. It’s really just three things you’re doing to become a real estate investor. Then all the other questions people have of what should I do, they center around one of those three things. Cal, really hits point for us. He highlights how there’s certain actions in a pursuit of a goal that really, really matter. And then there’s a lot of fluff that you fill in. And training your brain to recognize what really matters is what successful people do.

David:
So, I just hope that all the listeners, as they’re listening to this, don’t just apply it to real estate investing. I hope they apply it to all the other goals that they have in their life, and get that clarity that Cal always tends to bring for me.

Brandon:
There we go. I love it. All right. With that said, let’s get to our interview with the associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, Cal Newport.

Brandon:
All right, Cal, welcome back to The BiggerPockets Podcast. Man, it is awesome to have you here.

Cal:
Well, thanks for having me back. And by the way, thanks for location shaming me. I’m in a windowless little studio in raining, Washington, DC, having to look at the Maui and Cabo. So, thanks for making me feel terrible.

Brandon:
Yeah. Anytime. Our goal in life is make people feel as bad as possible before they come on the show. So, it’s good. All right. Let’s dive into, the last time you were on the show, we talked a lot about Digital Minimalism, we talked about Deep Work, if I had to say, I’d say two of my top 10 favorite books of all time. And I’m not just saying that to butter you up, I really love both of them in immense amount. Because like my life, I just deal with constant digital overwhelm. And so, we talked a lot about how to get through that stuff.

Brandon:
But today, I know you wrote another book, and this one’s more targeted towards another huge pain point in my life, and that is email. So, I’d love to dive into that a little bit today. Can you just tell us real quick, what’s the book called? And then, even though it might sound obvious, what’s it about?

Cal:
Well, the book is titled, A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload. And essentially, what I do is two things. One, I look at the question of how did we get to this place that we are today, where knowledge work is so often just constant back and forth, on email, or Slack, or Messenger, but just constant back and forth messaging. I really get into why this is terrible for both our happiness and our ability to produce work.

Cal:
And then the second thing I do, the second part of the book, is I make the argument that we’re going to move away from that. It’s inevitable, we’re going to move away from that. There’s massive productivity and economic growth on the line here. And the only question is, whether you’re going to be out in front of that trend or not. And I get into some of the principles about what this world without email is going to look like.

Brandon:
Well, so maybe we can start there. Why don’t we start with, email and Slack messages, text messages, all that is designed to make our life better. It’s aligned to make communication easier. We can all point to examples where it does just that, right? Like I’m stuck somewhere and I need something done, I can text somebody or I can shoot an email to my assistant, and she can take care of something. But why does that make us, why do you say that makes us unhappy and unproductive?

Cal:
So, the real villain in this story is actually a workflow that I call the hyperactive hive mind. So, what happened is once email spread, and it spread very rapidly in the early 1990s, it brought with it as an accidental side effect, this new way of working, where the primary way we collaborate or work together on things it’s just back and forth messaging. Let’s just rock and roll online, just send messages, ad hoc, unstructured, in tools like email, in tools like Slack. Now, that’s just a protocol. Email is great. If you need to send information or a file, it’s better than a fax machine, is better than a voicemail.

Cal:
There’s nothing wrong with the tool in isolation, but this hyperactive hive-mind workflow, where we said, now because we can, we will do most of our coordination with just these back and forth ad hoc messages, that’s what’s causing the problem. And the two big culprits here is number one, to maintain all of these ongoing asynchronous back and forth conversations that are digital, you have to constantly monitor these inboxes. You have to constantly monitor these chat channels.

Cal:
And this constant monitoring is killing us. Our brain can not network switch that much. Every time we glance at that inbox, is full of all these messages from people we care about, most of which we cannot resolve right there in the moment. It’s a cognitive catastrophe. We begin to fire up all these networks and inhibit all these other networks. Then we try to bring our attention back to the main thing we’re doing. And we’re at a fraction of our capability, which is why by like noon or one o’clock, we’re just exhausted and just give up, and just start scrolling through our inbox to try to find the messages that are easy to answer. It’s not because we like, well, it’s because we literally exhausted our cognitive resources with all this context switching.

Cal:
And then also, psychologically this notion that there’s this ever filling inbox full of communication from people we know and need things from us, we can’t keep up with it. And it’s always there. That presses all of our psychological buttons, especially in our social instincts. And it makes us miserable. So, it makes us less productive and it makes us miserable overall. And so, we have a problem on our hands here.

Brandon:
That makes sense. When you say that it reminds me, what’s that? I’m going to butcher the name. It’s like the [Zominsky 00:07:52] effect or something like that. It was based on that psychologist, who saw the waiter, would remember everything, right? This is back 100 years ago, whatever, they would remember all the customer’s meals. But the second that customer left, paid their bill and left, they would forget everything. Right? Because our minds keep stuff until we’re finished with it. Right? If that’s the idea here, is because there’s so much that’s unfinished, whether it’s in our inbox or these always text messages, every one of those, it’s just, it’s staying in our head, and just wearing us down, like computers losing our ram. Is that the idea there?

Cal:
Well, that definitely happens. We have a couple of different effects here. So, that’s definitely an effect, right? So, when you see this inbox, you’re basically opening up many unresolved tasks and your mind sticks with them. And we all have this sensation, that’s really weird if you think about it in the abstract, but we’re all used to writing and responding to emails in our head, when we’re bored or in the shower, or something like this, because our mind has held on to, “Look, people need us, we have to answer them.” It has a hard time releasing it.

Cal:
And then there’s just a context which costs. You see an email from your producer about an issue with whatever, the recording software, you see it there. You’re like, “I can’t answer that right now. I need to get back to an interview I’m doing.” There’s a part of your mind that started switching over to all of the semantic networks that are related to the, your production software and your producer, and what’s going on. And then halfway through that, you wrench your attention back to the main thing you’re doing. And now, you have this jumbled mismatch of networks are fired up and inhibited. And you’re trying to switch. And we can look at this and the neuroscience literature that can actually show you exactly what’s happening. But the point is, is we can’t do that well. And so, we’re in this constant brain fog because of all this constant checking.

Brandon:
It makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. I mean, the solution can’t just be like, no email, can it? Like your books, A World Without Emails, I guess, is that literally what you mean, is we can get by without email at all, or is this tips and tricks, and hacks, and here’s how to get less email. Where do we go from there?

Cal:
Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s neither of those things actually. So, the real title of the book should be, A World Without The Hyperactive Hive-Mind Workflow. It’s a little bit less sexy, I guess.

Brandon:
Yeah.

Cal:
But what I’m arguing for is this workflow, where we just figure things out on the fly with digital messaging. It makes complete sense if there’s two of you, right? Because this is the way that we naturally correlate. It just doesn’t scale. It doesn’t scale when you have 16 members and seven clients, and nine vendors. It doesn’t scale, right?

Cal:
And so, what we need to do, is when we realize this is the problem, the problem is the hyperactive hive-mind. The problem is that unscheduled messaging is the main way we handle things. The solution is not going to be in your inbox itself. It’s not going to be tips about batching. It’s not going to be turning off notifications. It’s not going to be auto responders are better norms about response times or anything like this. You actually have to go and look at, here are the underlying processes that make up all the things I do in my work. You might not have ever named them before, right? But we should name them. There’s the deal of client issue process. There’s the get an episode ready for production process. There’s the whatever, right? Come up with new ad copy ideas process. And you can look at each of these things.

Cal:
And right now, for most of these, the way that we typically coordinate and execute these processes is just hive mind. Let’s just rock and roll, go back and forth. But what can we do instead? And you go process by process and say, is there a system we can put in place here that is going to reduce the amount of unscheduled back and forth messaging required to actually get this thing done?

Cal:
And so, you fix the underlying processes, so that you’re not talking over email. That emails, it’s for sending information, is for broadcasting stuff, it’s for sending files. But interaction is not happening with just these asynchronous messaging. And you just start doing this process by process. It takes the pressure out of your inbox. You don’t need better tips for dealing with your inbox, if you don’t have the motivation you need to be there in the first place. And so, we got to go under the inbox itself, and radically rethink how we actually structure all of this different collaboration in our organizations.

Brandon:
So, how do we do that? What are some of the things that you’ve found to work in your life, or with people you’ve worked with?

Cal:
Well, there’s a couple of different, you call them templates, maybe, for solutions that you see come up time and again, right? So, one thing that was common when I was studying teams that have gone through this is, gaining some transparency about who’s working on what. So, when you’re just doing the hive mind, okay, it’s just all spread over our inboxes, right? Like, “Yeah, I emailed you about this. You emailed me about this. I’ll check with you with a Slack message.” But a common solution for people getting away from that is we have a Trello board or a flow board, or we’re using Asana, or something like this, but a task board, where we can see all the things the team is working on. We can all see it. We can see the status of all the things we’re working on. All the information related to the things we’re working on is right there, maybe attached to these virtual cards. And we can see it all right here and in one place. It’s not spread over inboxes. It’s not informal. We’re all on the same page.

Cal:
And these are often, these tools are often coupled with some notion of like a regular short, highly structured status meeting. All right. Let’s look at the board. What’d you do yesterday? What are you working on today? What do you need? What do you need from everyone else in order to get that done? Great. Do it. Everything you need is on this board. Update the board when you’re done. Right? So, that’s common.

Cal:
Another thing that’s common, I call them communication protocols, where people begin thinking through, all right, here’s regularly occurring things that requires us to do some back and forth. What are some protocols for doing this that doesn’t just involve, “I’ll shoot you a message when you get back.” And so, that’s where you see things like office hours emerge. Twice a week, during this time, always available. My door is open. Zoom is on. My phone, my [inaudible 00:13:28] is on. Grab me if you need me. And all throughout the week, anytime something pops up or someone needs you, where it could generate and spawn a back and forth email exchange, like you’re describing, I mean, office hours I’ll be there, right? So, these types of protocols are also also coming.

Cal:
So, there’s a bunch of different templates we see. And the right answer depends on the type of business you’re in. But this is the kind of the flavor of things you see that all, they might be a little bit more work, a little bit less flexible, but really reduce the interaction that happens in email, reduce the interaction that happens on Slack. And that’s where all the wins are found.

Brandon:
I love the way you phrase that. And I love that you brought up Asana. This is what my company, my real estate company, we are called Open Door Capital. And we originally, were all based on email. Everything was, “Send an email to this person. Send an email to that person.” Everything was back and forth. And it’s so easy for things to get lost and jumbled, which is where we moved over to Asana. And now, I don’t anything in my inbox. I didn’t even realize this. Other than the Asana messages that come in my inbox, which I honestly just delete. I don’t even open them. Everything we have is run through Asana, which is our project management. We just manage our workflow. All the leads that come in on our properties, they go Asana. Everything gets filtered through that way.

Brandon:
And so, it’s much different than just relying on somebody waiting for an email to come through. Now, we still do the occasional email. Well, usually it’s like, hey, somebody sent me an email, I forwarded it to my team. And then, first thing they usually do is throw it in Asana, just to get it out of email, because email is where things tend to die in my business.

Brandon:
I’m curious, David, in your life, have you found the same thing? I know as a real estate agent, email, you have CRMs, you have tools for that, right? To manage your business. How does that work for you guys?

David:
I have so much flying through my head, listening to Cal talk right now, that I’m trying to make sense of as we’re going through this. I know the one thing I’m thinking about is that we typically say, “I don’t have time. I don’t have time.” And I’ve realized, I almost always have time, that I can figure out a way to make it more efficient. But what I don’t have is energy. I do 100% run out of the mental stamina of wanting to do this thing. And for me, it’s when my phone feels like it weighs 500 pounds. Just one more freaking phone call or email, and I’m like, “I’m going to scream.” It’s like what Cal was talking about, I’m trying to figure out how this works.

David:
What I do to in our world is exactly what Cal is saying, is I don’t look at what’s in front of me. I say, what do I have to do to accomplish the task? So, to put a person in contract, we have to get a client to feel comfortable writing an offer that’s going to win. Now, there’s a bunch of things that have to happen. And if you focus on those things, you find that you become much more efficient.

David:
So, we’ve used systems like email and CRMs as a choke point where you have all this stuff flying around in the world that wants to get done, and you want to get it in one centralized location, but I’ve put a person in charge of monitoring that choke point, who actually has to make judgment calls on what should be done, who should do it. And then we focus on being effective. That’s the only way I’ve been able to manage the mortgage company, the real estate company, the books we’re writing, the podcast, pretty much everything that goes on. I’m curious, what Cal’s advice would be for how we’re doing this and if we’re on the right path.

Cal:
Yeah. Well, first of all, what both of you are doing is fantastic. What you are working on is basically the vision of a world without email that I’m trying to actually solidify with underlying principles and science in this book. Is you’re thinking about the actual collaboration has to happen, the actual interactions that have to happen, the actual executions and asking what’s the best way to do this, given the reality of the human brain. Everything you guys have just mentioned, you could just do. As you said, just rock and rolling. Like, “Let’s just go for it.” It could happen in email. But you just don’t have the cognitive capacity.

Cal:
So, what David was talking about, that’s the third template that’s common, when you look at people, again, from the high bind, which is this automatic process template. Whereas, okay, here’s something that’s repeatable, it’s this step followed by this step, followed by this step. So, if we have to get a competitive offer together, there’s like whatever. I don’t know how it works. There’s three things that happens. We have to get the right comps. There’s a conversation we have to have with the client. Then there’s a lot of logistical steps that we have to gather this information to put into the contract, right?

Cal:
If you know there’s something that happens again and again, this comes up a lot too. It’s like, okay, we’re going to figure out how to get from one to two, to three, to four, to five in a way that minimizes as much unscheduled messaging as possible. And so, there you go. There’s like the assistant pulses information and schedules, the comp meeting, there’s a template for the meeting that prepares the client, that information goes into the system that then gets filled into this, and then your Adobe, whatever, what the e-signature thing gets put together. I don’t know the details, but you can imagine there’s this process, this follows, this follows this.

Cal:
The thing that unifies everything you both are doing, and I think it’s the key idea for someone else who wants to just get started with this, is that the poison here is this unscheduled back and forth messaging. The degree to which you’re going to send something, then someone will send something back, and then you’ll send it back to them. They’ll send it back. Again, you can do about two or three of those conversations in an inbox fine. You get the 30 and your host. And I think that’s a really key point. Because often people are thinking like, “Well, wait, I want to minimize friction in the moment.” Or, “I want to minimize complexity or I want to minimize the time I have to spend. So, if something takes more time upfront, I don’t want to do it.”

Cal:
None of those are the right metrics. It’s the back and forth, how much back and forth do I have to do? Each additional unscheduled message I’m going to have to wait for and respond to, you want to think about it like they’re turning up the current on the electrode that is an opportune part on your body. Each extra messages make you think all the more like, “Oh my God, this is worse.” You should have that same fear of that. That is the thing we’re minimizing.

Cal:
And look, I have hundreds of pages of science that says this stuff is terrible. It’s the back and forth, “Let me just wait until they email me. I’ll email them back.” That is what is killing us more than anything else. So, I’m very impressed. Both of you are great case studies essentially.

Brandon:
Well, thank you. That’s a goal in life, be a good case study for one of your books. That’s seriously.

David:
You know where I see this Cal, I’ll have agents on my team that are responding to emails from the other agent on a deal we’re never going to get. And they’re going back and forth. And they’re working until 10:30. And they’ll say they’re working. And then I’m like, “Well, what were you doing?” “I was talking to this agent.” “You mean that house that’s getting 20 offers, and we’re not even close. And we’ve already told our client, we’re not going to get it. You’re still answering.” There’s this belief that, you have to engage in it. That you’re wrong, if you don’t. Or if the other person’s feelings get hurt, that you’re at fault. And I think that’s what leads to that. And you see, I see people spun out, burned out. They constantly say, “I’m so busy, I’m overwhelmed.” And I’m like, “You sold four houses last year. How on earth did that happen?” And I think what you’re talking about is exactly what leads to that.

Cal:
Yeah. I think that’s exactly right. I think there’s this equivalency of busy-ness to productivity that’s a killer. I think one of the reasons why you often see these innovations in small businesses, where there’s a clear entrepreneurial leader, is because if you’re a clear entrepreneurial leader of a real estate company or something like this, you’re really focused probably on results, what works, what doesn’t, this isn’t working, let’s move. It’s why most of my case studies in this book are relatively small companies with entrepreneurial leaders who are willing to move with it.

Cal:
It’s very common, especially when you move to big organizations, A, that type of think gets harder. And B, there’s a certain fool’s goal comfort. If you’re an employee in embracing this full busy-ness, because it’s very predictable. I get it. If I’m just doing a lot of email, I feel like I’m busy. I’m demonstrating that I’m busy. I understand it. I know it’s very easy to do too. I mean, I’m just on here doing stuff. I never really have to think that hard. And there’s some comfort in that. I know what it means to do well. But if you run a company, I don’t care how I feel. Busy-ness means nothing. No one pays me to be busy. How sales matter. That’s all that matters. So, if this is not moving houses, I’m not going to be able to make payroll or something like this.

Cal:
And I say, it’s a fool’s goal, because what happens, is when you fall into this trap of like, “Oh, I’m busy. And at least I know what’s going on.” You’re not producing. And you don’t produce long enough. No matter how quickly you’re responding to emails, eventually that trap door is going to open, because where’s the actual numbers. Were you actually producing?

Brandon:
That’s a really good point. I think in real estate investing as well, there’s all these things. People when they’re trying to buy rental properties, trying to buy their first duplex, trying to… Whatever that thing is, there are so many ways to be, I don’t know what the word is, busy. There’s so many ways to be busy with things you’re trying to do stuff, but none of it actually matters. Have you found any, I guess in your research or your study, how does somebody really hone in on that? Like to know, what are the vital tasks that actually have to get done that I’m not just busy, but I’m doing the most important things. You have any suggestions for people trying to figure that out?

Cal:
Well, like a hack that works pretty well here, is actually use your email inbox to help you figure out what are my processes. And then we can do this triage. So, what you do is you’re like, for one day, every email I answer, I’m going to ask, “Okay, actually what underlying process is this email pushing forward?” And name it, write it down, write every email that you answer. And those are going to list out like, “Okay, these are all of the processes that I’m actually involved with. This has to do with bidding, these has to do with whatever.” Right? And that’s a good way to actually see, “Here’s the things where I’m actually doing lots of interaction on.”

Cal:
Then triage, right? So, before you jump to the step of, “Now, let me try to optimize all these processes.” To the degree that you’re able. And if you’re an entrepreneur or something like this, a solopreneur, especially if you work by yourself and you have a lot of autonomy, be radical. What are the things here, Pareto principle-wise that are really moving the needle. Right? Great. Everything else let’s get rid of or drastically minimize it. Even if there’s little bits of value here and there, there’s a little bit of opportunities you’ll move. I don’t care about little bits of opportunities. If this is going to double my house sales, let’s do that. Right?

Cal:
So, you triage. And then once you triage, you just have to have this conversation, work it out. How do I execute this process? How do I get their information? Coordinate with the people you need to coordinate with and produce the desired outcome for this process. If you haven’t named it or thought about it before, the answer is almost certainly the hyperactive hive mind. So, that’s going to be the answer. See it and know it, and own it. And then go through each of these. And you can do one at a time, but say, “What can I do now to get rid of the hive mind?”

Cal:
And again, be willing to be radical, be willing to spend money, right? I mean, be willing to say, “I’m hiring someone. I can consolidate these three things with one full-time person. I’m going to buy this software, whatever. And we’re going to put in this workflow process.” Be willing to be radical there. And write down definitively, “This is how we do this. This is how we do that.” All the time, trying to minimize how many unscheduled back and forth messages have to happen for this process to execute.

David:
Cal, where we saw this was when COVID changed, what was considered the norm. The SOP has all changed. So, in the real estate world of being an agent, it was always expected, you have to go to a house, you give a presentation, you look at the house, you get the agreement signed. That was just what everybody did. And then COVID comes and you can’t go to the house anymore. And I didn’t have a hard time adapting to this at all. It’s like, “Listen, guys, all we need is a piece of paper that says we have the right to sell this house.” How we get there is completely up to, yes. It is, yes, very easy to go to their house and meet them. It builds comfort. It builds rapport. But we can do that on Zoom. We can do that on a phone call. We can do other things to set up that trust that we need to get to this point.

David:
And I feel like the people that did exactly what you’re saying, that adapted and adjusted, and they didn’t just say, well, status quo is you have to do this, are the ones that came out on top. And that went for the world of real estate investing and everything else. I mean, I don’t know if this book could have come out at a better time, because we’re all now trying to rapidly transition and say like, “What I used to do doesn’t work anymore. And how do I get on board with the way that is going to work?”

Cal:
We’re definitely seeing that because two things happened with the forced remote transition that happened during the pandemic. One, anyone using the hyperactive hive mind found it got more hyperactive, right? When you push everyone remote suddenly, the amount of messaging that goes back and forth, if that’s how you normally coordinate things, just exploded. So, it made the pain point higher. But two, it exposed people to this idea of, “Oh, we can radically change things and it’s okay.” So like you said, with the real estate show, it’s just happening all over the industry. It’s like, “Oh, I guess we don’t have to have an in-person meeting for this. I guess we don’t have to have an editor do this. Right? I guess, we can work from all over the country and it does actually function.” So, it puts you in the mindset of, we can do different things, at the same time that the pain point of what we’re doing right now gets larger and larger.

Cal:
So, I think it’s a huge opportunity right now to make these moves as long as everything else is being changed, before we just go back and we also fine tune into the ways before. Well, everyone is open to doing things differently. Now, is the time to say, forget busy-ness, that’s nothing. Forget the hive mind, I don’t care about flexibility. How do we actually, what do we do? How do we do it? What do we do? How do we do it? Let’s optimize, optimize, optimize.

Cal:
And it’s a mindset by the way, that created massive wealth in the industrial sector. The entire, essentially wealth on which the developed world was built, was this 50X increase in productivity that happened in the 20th century in the industrial manufacturing, because they began to obsess about, “How do we actually build things? What’s the right way to do it? Is there a better way? Let’s really think through, what’s the best way to build a car? I mean, there’s a better way to build a car. Maybe we should have…” A lot of innovation. We haven’t even started that thinking for the most part at a larger scale of knowledge work.

Brandon:
Yeah, it’s cool.

Cal:
So, the potential here is massive. And I think now’s the perfect time to do it.

Brandon:
How does this apply to meetings, if you try to get more away from the email and more into these more process-driven or however you want to phrase that, does that just mean we have more, more and more meetings or could that lead to less meetings? How do you view meetings and all this?

Cal:
Yeah. So, there’s a double-edged sword with meetings, right? So, the positive edge of that sword is that real time communication is incredibly more efficient than asynchronous communication. And I go deeply into this in the book. But essentially, especially if there’s voice involved, because there’s a whole other information channel here than if it’s just linguistic, just text. So, me and you talking with five minutes can do the equivalent of 25 emails, 25 emails that are going to be sent back and forth over a week, each email, which is going to require 10 times, we check, waiting for it to come in. That’s 250 disruptive email checks avoided, right? So, that’s the positive side of that. If we can just talk and work things out, we can do things very quickly.

Cal:
The negative side of meetings is that there’s a plague in organizations right now of what I call a productivity by proxy. You basically say, “I know this as important.” There’s a project or a milestone. I don’t really trust myself to get this on a list and make a plan for it, and execute. The thing I do trust myself to do those, if there’s a meeting on my calendar, I’ll go.

Brandon:
Yes.

Cal:
So, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll set up a meeting or we’ll set up a recurring meeting. Now, I don’t have to worry about it. It’s off my mind because, hey, when I get to that day, I’ll see there’s a meeting. And I always attend meetings because I look at my calendar. Is the one productivity thing I do. And therefore I feel good that progress will be made. And you multiply that by six or seven projects, and now all you’re ever doing is being in meetings.

Cal:
Once you take this process-centric approach, however, here’s what happens, once we’re thinking in general, how do we execute this thing that happens all the time? If you think that through, you’re not going to need three hours of meetings a week where, “Hey, let’s just what’s going on with this. How’s it going?” Because once you start having real systems in place, you’re not going to use meetings as a proxy for productivity. Now, you are going to have probably real-time interaction, but it’s going to be structured. It’s going to be fast. It’s going to not have a very big footprint because you’re really thinking things through.

Cal:
So, we can solve the problems of meetings, once we adopt this mindset of just being really explicit about how do we actually want to do this? So, we probably will have more real-time conversation with that real-time conversation. And we see this in the case studies in the book, it’s usually like two very focused 20 minute meetings a day on top of which many processes are quickly synchronized, plus maybe like a couple of general office hours that people hold, that takes care of everything else that pops up. Right?

Cal:
So, real-time communication fantastic. But a relatively limited amount of that can do a lot of work, if you’re very careful about it.

Brandon:
That makes sense. That makes a lot of sense.

David:
So, Brandon, you’ve got a family, you’re running several different businesses.

Brandon:
I do.

David:
You’re in several different parts. You’re writing books. You’re doing a lot. And you have a ton of communication that has to happen. But at the same time, you’re someone that I really respect because you’ve committed, “I’m only going to put this much time in a day towards work.” You have to be efficient. Do you mind sharing with our listeners, some of the ways that you’re applying what Cal is talking about? And then maybe we can see if Cal will give you some coaching right here on how you can do that better.

Brandon:
Sure. Yeah. And I love that. The reason I asked about the meeting thing, because I feel this dichotomy, this problem of like… A phrase that I say a lot is, we will move at the speed at which we meet. If I meet with my team once a month, we’ll move very, very slowly. If I met with them every single day, twice a day to say, “What’s the next thing that we’re going to do?” We would move very, very, very quickly. At the same time, so it’s exactly what you said, Cal, that meetings do help. But we move very quickly, when we identify the problems. Meetings also become very routine and very boring, and very much like you just put it on your schedule because people don’t want to make a decision.

Brandon:
A lot of meetings are simply because people are afraid to step up and take ownership of a problem, and just to answer something. I found that in my life. And so, the way that we have solved this is, and again, it’s exactly what you just said, we implemented a system called EOS. I’ve talked about it a number of times here on the show. And it’s based on a book called Traction by Gino Wickman, came out a few years ago. And it’s basically an operating system for your entrepreneurial business, right? So, the whole idea is like, this is how you do the process of hiring. This is who you bring on. This is your core values. When you meet, this is how you meet. This is what your meeting is. This is how it gets done.

Brandon:
And so, what I found is that by meeting more intentionally with my team, and literally, it’s one time a week. Now, we meet, I’ve got onto a meeting one time a week. Now, my team meets on their own several times with different departments, but we have one company meeting once a week. And in that one hour call because we are very deliberate on how the meeting is run, it eliminated probably 10 hours of meetings that I was in beside that. Right? Because now, we have the right kind of meeting, the right kind of structure. And so, that’s how I’ve been able to run a lot of my life, is off like one meeting a week.

Brandon:
I probably meet once a week for BiggerPockets self. I probably meet once a week for Open Door Capital stuff. And because we run them correctly, we’re able to get through. So now, as much as the whole idea of we will move at the speed at which we meet, which is still true to a degree, today, I like to say there’s a lot of freedom in a limited structure. Meaning it’s structure, but it’s limited to a set amount of time and location in place. And so, we meet every Thursday, 9:00 AM. We knock on our call and we move on. So, that’s how I’ve done that. How does that jive with your thoughts, Cal?

Cal:
Well, it’s perfect. I mean, I get into that in the book. Structured meetings that are part of a structured process that is the secret sauce. Right? And there’s various structures that have been successful. Like for example, these agile methodology inspired processes, they have this whole structure of the standing status meeting. And standing is you’re supposed to stand up, because they’re very quick, but it’s incredibly structured, “What happened yesterday? What are you working on today? What do you need?” Right? That’s the structure there. Boom, boom, boom.

Cal:
I cite this interesting paper in the book about a professor, professor at University of Maryland, a computer scientist, who brought this over to his research group. And he gathered a lot of data because he’s a nerd like me, right? So he’s like, “What works? What didn’t work?” And tuning that just right, made all the difference. If that meeting got 15 minutes more slack, it fell apart. And they really die. It was like, getting it just right, it’s the right frequency, the right structure. They really take it seriously, just like you’re doing.

Cal:
The other example is what we see, the background research meeting protocols you would see, like Jeff Bezos famously did. In the book I talk about George Marshall, who was in charge of all the US Armed Forces during the World War II, who finished work by 5:00 every day, by the way. He did this as well, which is like, “Okay, if you’re going to meet with me, here’s how it’s going to happen. You’re going to have completely thought through what’s going on. You’re going to prepare an understanding of, okay, here’s the issue and how we’re going to solve the issue. You’re going to have a very clear like, “Okay, this is the question I have or where I need your input.” And if you weren’t completely prepared, Marshall was going to kick you out of there.

Cal:
Bezos actually made you put this in writing. You had to submit it to them in writing in advance of this meeting, everything explained, “Here’s the background. Here’s the point of the meeting. Here’s the decision point we can’t make without input. Here’s the thing, here’s the actual input we need to make this decision.” If that’s not in the pass muster, he wasn’t walking into the room. Right? And so, that’s another way of structuring meetings.

Cal:
But structure is everything with meetings. And you don’t have structure until you’re thinking in terms of processes, which is why I love more generally the EOS idea, which again, I get into. Traction is a great book. I get into Sam Carpenter. Michael Gerber talks about this and the emails. Of all of these. This idea comes up again and again in entrepreneurial circles. And I’m trying to push it in the broader circles, including your own life, your own life as an employee. It’s incredibly systems focused.

Cal:
And I think people get nervous about this sometimes, right? Because they think knowledge work is creative. We got to have autonomy. We can’t take this writing computer code and make it into assembly line. And this is really true.

Cal:
And my big point is we have to separate execution from all the workflows that surround the work that’s executed. When you give knowledge workers, lots of autonomy on how you write the computer code, how you come up with the whatever, ad copy, great. That’s creative work. You’re skilled. This is what makes knowledge work satisfying. But everything that surrounds it, like how we figure out what ads we’re working on, how we get re-approval, how we move the assets around, we better believe that we’re going to systematize and process that six ways to Sunday, because that is where you get the huge returns. That’s where you’re able to take these human brains and get the most out of them, because they’re not stuck in this morass of informal ad hoc on the fly type organizing. So, this is great.

Cal:
Brandon, you don’t need to read the book. I think both of you guys, basically, you should just be a chapter in the book itself.

Brandon:
Well, thank you. I still, I’m probably, I’m showing my highlight reel here. I still spend way too much time on email and on completely shallow work. I spend a majority of my time on. So, but thank you, very kind of you to say.

Brandon:
So, let’s relate this a little bit to people who maybe aren’t in, I don’t want to say, non-knowledge work, because I think most people are going to be in some type of knowledge work. Especially with real estate investing, it’s largely, I mean, it’s almost entirely knowledge work, unless you’re out there actually fixing toilets and stuff. But how does this apply to the person who’s maybe like, “Well, I don’t have a big team of people. I’m working with a real estate agent. I got a contractor. We’re just trying to buy houses occasionally and fix them up.” Does this stuff apply to them as well on a smaller scale, maybe?

Cal:
Yep. I think everyone could be doing this. And you can be doing this just in your own life. And one of the places this comes up is when you talk about employees at big companies, for example, where their boss is not on board, right? They’re not Cal Newport fans. It’s like, “No, answer my email.” Right? Even in those situations, if you identify still, “I’m going through my inbox.” And every email, what process this associated with, write them all down. “Here’s my processes. Okay. Let me try to optimize each of these to minimize the back and forth.” If you asymmetrically optimize these, just given what I can control, I can’t control anyone else, just given what I can control. How can I reduce or minimize the amount of back and forth messaging required for each of these processes, even in that context, it’s a huge win.

Cal:
So, if you’re an independent, you’re just getting started in real estate investing, maybe you’re doing it on the side, do this from the ground up, “Here’s my processes.” Write them down. “Here’s my EOS.” The used Wickman terminology. And just keep in mind, the metric is, I want to minimize back and forth. In fact, this becomes even more important for people who are side hustling this at the moment, because they have to minimize that cognitive footprint to some degree, right? I mean, they’re at the insurance agency all day and doing Zoom meetings with the HR department or whatever, they only have so much time available. So, if you actually want to let supercharge a side hustle for something like this, start with that process thinking.

Cal:
I tell the story in the book about, I ran a company when I was a teenager in the 1990s. I ran a tech company. And I was in high school. And this was before smartphones. And this was before laptops. I was literally unreachable. I was in school. And there was no way you could reach me. But we were running a company, we had a team in India that was doing the development work. We had clients that were paying reasonable, five figure style contracts, which were big for a high school student at the time. And we had to figure that out.

Cal:
And so, we got aggressively process-focused, “We have to figure out every process here, so that these clients will be completely comfortable, even though they can’t reach us.” And even though that’s what they’re used to with other people, I can just call you up on the phone or I can just shoot you an email. And so, we just process the hell out of that, right? It’s like, okay, here’s our extra net. You’re going to log in. And there’s a work blog, so you can see what the team was working on. So, you won’t be worried about that. There’s clear milestones. Every document is posted in there. Once you sign it, we had this creative brief process to make sure that everyone was on the same page of what we’re doing. We processed the hell out of it. And we were able to run a business with basically no back and forth communication.

Cal:
I think about that today, when I think about side hustles, because it’s the same idea. If you’re careful about these processes to minimize the back and forth you need with messaging, you can really keep the footprint very reasonable and not have it be something that is competing with your attention and draining your energy throughout your whole day when you’re trying to do everything else.

Brandon:
Yeah. That’s so good. That’s so good. It reminds even like somebody who’s, let’s say trying to flip a house. They’re trying to flip their first house or a second house, they’re a house flipper. They’ve got a big rehab going on. A lot of what takes place, going back and forth with a contractor, the back and forth with a… It’s all systematized every single bit of it.

Brandon:
I mean, I have friends I’ve never done this and I should, but who would have a, they have a workbook that has UPCs of every single item at Home Depot that they would buy, and it alternates if they’re out of the first thing. And so, it’s like, “Oh yeah, this is the paint we use. This is the brand we use. This is the final look. Here’s a picture of it.” And they do their entire rehab.

Brandon:
And so, guys like Tarl Yarber, is a friend of mine. He lives out here in Maui, where we’re staying in Maui, right now. And he flips lots of houses. And yet, he told me the other day, he’s like, “Yeah, I never even stepped foot in them anymore.” He’s in Maui for six months, at least now. He doesn’t walk through the flips that he’s doing. Why? Because it’s all systematized and processed. And again, it could be a person on their own, their very first thing. But just thinking that way, which is why this interview is so important, is that once we set our minds are going that way, of what are these processes that we can build, everything just becomes easier.

Brandon:
Because at the end of the day, I love to say that almost everything that we think we’re making a judgment call on in our heads like, “Whatever it doesn’t matter. Should I date that person? Should I paint that building blue or red?” Everything is actually like a computer program that we’re running in our head. It’s an algorithm that we’re running. So, if we can take that out of our head and put it on a piece of paper or into a workflow, or into Asana, now, all of a sudden, everything is easier.

Brandon:
One example would be a repairs with rental properties. When you own rental properties, you’ve got to account for some kind of repairs that happen on a regular basis. So, how much do you account for? Is it 5% of the rent? Is it 10% of the rent? Is it 20%? So, every investor is like, we’re making this up every time on our own when we’re analyzing a property. We’re just trying to wing it.

Brandon:
But when we really sit down and go, “Well, what am I actually doing? What is the process I’m doing right now?” I realize, and I put this section in a future book, that doesn’t come out for another six months or so. I’m writing a book on multifamily. But I took that whole thing and I was like, let’s just make that an algorithm that we can say, what are all the factors, the age of the property, the condition of the property, this, this, this, this. Now, we can put on a piece of paper, and now I can have a 15 year old assistant high school, they could run my deal analysis because I just took what was in my head and put it on paper. So, I mean, that’s just a long drawn out way of explaining I like what you’re doing. That’s good stuff.

Cal:
Well, yeah. And so, part of what happens here and why people don’t do this enough is, well, they think what they’re trying to optimize is time. Right? And so, it takes time upfront to build out and figure out one of these systems. Whereas in the moment, it doesn’t take much time to send that one email you’re sending in the moment as part of a dozen that’s going to be sent. It’s quick for me to be like, “No, I don’t like that paint color, make it bluer.” Right? That’s just real quick. I sent an email. Whereas, I have to sit down and copy all the UPCs. That’s going to take time. But that’s the wrong metric. But you’re not trying to minimize… It seems like what people are really trying to minimize is like, okay, take the longest amount of time contiguously I ever spend on this, I want to minimize that. Yeah. That’ll lead you to do emails all the time.

Cal:
But what you’re really trying to minimize is the, what’s the cognitive footprint? How much back and forth, how much am I going to have to monitor and be responsive to this thing that’s happening here on my email or on Slack before this gets done? That’s the real cost. And I think the real estate analogy here is like some sort of repair-based carrying costs, because we’re used to that in real estate. Right? Okay. Yeah. It costs a little bit more money up front, what I’m doing. But if that reduces my monthly outlay, very quickly, I’m going to be in the black on this decision. Well, this is just like a cognitive carrying cost. Right? You do the work upfront to figure out how to make these systems work. Yeah. It’s more upfront, but you’re reducing this carry every month. And by carry, again, in this context, I mean, how much do I have to be responsive and talk to people, and do unscheduled back and forth. And you’re going to end up way, way in the black.

Cal:
So, don’t think about, my message to the audience is, you’re not optimizing time. You’re optimizing back and forth interactions. And that if you can get that low, I mean, I’ll put a lot of time in upfront, if you can guarantee me that I don’t have to answer an email for the next month after that.

Brandon:
A hundred percent. Another area of my life that this really applies to is a property management, like owning rental property than having to manage tenants. I would say 99.99% of everything involved with managing tenants is systematized and can be put into a workbook. I mean, I wrote a book on managing rentals for that very reason. Everything can be written down on how you deal with this stuff. So, I don’t deal with emails. I don’t even do it with calls. I don’t deal with any of that stuff with tenants. And most everything now is digital. It’s on a website. They handle it. I even just things that you think would be a completely absurd, like, “Hey, there was a fire in my unit.” There’s a system, there’s a process that you can handle that stuff.

Brandon:
And so, it’s just amazing how much can actually be systematized. And then how easy that thing becomes when the system runs it, rather than you running it. David, were you going to say something there? I think I cut you off.

David:
Yeah. I wanted to ask Cal about what advice he has for those that are hearing this message, but maybe they’re not… How would I describe this? I know I didn’t value this until I got super busy and I realized what a drain this was on me. And then my performance was affected because I just had no energy. When I wasn’t a lot, I didn’t value energy or time. Those emails, they’re almost a welcome distraction when you don’t have anything going on or you don’t want to get on the phone and make phone calls, or there’s something that you’re uncomfortable with, what gets to be like addicting to just say, “I’m answering emails.” And that becomes your escape out. Do you mind sharing some advice of what you found for those that don’t get, maybe understand how valuable this is and why they should?

Cal:
Well, it’s a good point. And it’s something for the last, whatever 10 months the pandemic has been going on, for example, I’ve been talking about this a lot on my podcast. I have this podcast where people ask questions. And we’d go back and forth, right? And so, these types of issues come up a lot. And we ended up actually coining this term, the deep life, where you have different buckets of your life and you’re really trying to go in, and optimize each, focus on what matters and get rid of what doesn’t matter. So, in some sense, if you have these other areas of your life that is important, like community, contemplation, constitution was my term for your health or this or that. Other areas that are very important that you’re taking very seriously, and you’re focusing on things that matter and trying to get rid of things that don’t matter, it gives you a nice pressure on your work and puts you more into a mindset of, “I want to get done what matters and not waste time on what doesn’t.”

Cal:
And I’ve been preaching this for the last 10 months, because I think it’s what a lot of people need right now, is to get more systematic. Outside of the context of work, I have these buckets, I’ve craft, is what we call, we’re needlessly alliterative, but craft is the work stuff, right? But then you’ve got community and you have contemplation, which could be ethics and philosophy, and spirituality. You have, we sometimes call it the celebration, but this the stuff you enjoy doing and get real pleasure out of. And gratitude is the things that, the non-work stuff you have real expertise.

Cal:
And you go bucket by bucket and say, “I want to go in there in 80/20 of this. What’s the stuff that really matters, I want that to be in my life. What’s the stuff that gets in the way, I want to reduce it.” And when that’s your mindset for your whole life, work falls into place. Now, if you’re not doing this on any of these other buckets, then you can end up, you’re right, filling your time with email or something like that, because of busy-ness. You’ll do that. And you’ll numb yourself on your phone otherwise, right? YouTube, social media, and email.

Cal:
But that is not a sustainable strategy. I think a lot of people burnt out with this over the pandemic. The resilience comes from actually thinking through, “Here’s what matters in my life. I want to do this stuff that matters. We’ll make time for it.” Right?

Cal:
So, if you do that whole overhaul on your whole life, it puts the right pressure on work. It also, by the way, probably will prevent your work from getting to that point where you’re just completely overwhelmed and you’re doing this stuff out of a survival instinct. And even then, you don’t have time for the other things. And I didn’t use to talk about these issues, but there has been a huge interest I would say in pressure and trying to figure out these bigger issues of a more resilient, meaningful life. And so, again, on that podcast for the last 10 months, we get into that. We really get into it. And there’s been a great response. Because you’re absolutely right, the rest of your life really matters how you approach what’s happening in work.

Brandon:
Yeah. That makes sense. Cal, I’ve got a couple of questions here. I’m not going to get to all of them today. I got a whole bunch for you. But I’m curious, like in research in this book, as you were putting together the research and the book, and reading all the articles and all that stuff, anything surprised you, anything in there, just be like, “Wow, I didn’t expect that. Or that’s a super interesting thing.” I just think that’s an interesting question to ask authors. So, anything surprised you in there?

Cal:
Well, one of the things I didn’t expect was the accidental nature of this way of working, right? I assumed this is convenient for bosses or something like this. There’s some reason why we switched to, let’s do lots and lots of communication all the time, let’s just rock and roll on the inboxes. And I went down this whole rabbit hole in the research on a corner of the philosophy of technology known as technological determinism.

Cal:
And technological determinism is this idea of understanding society and technology, that argues that in a lot of cases, the mere presence of a new technology can really impact how people behave in a way that no one planned, unintentional, right? It’s not serving a particular purpose. It’s not part of an agenda. It’s not because it gets this group from A to B. Just the mere presence of that technology just changes the way that we behave. And it’s pretty arbitrary. And sometimes it could be in our benefit. A lot of times, it’s not.

Cal:
I’m pretty convinced that email is an act, not email itself, but this way is hyperactive hive mind working way that we did after email got here, this is an accident. That the mere presence of this low friction, digital communication tool stumbled us into this way of working. And then once we’re in there, we’re stuck because we have this focus on autonomy of knowledge work. And that was the second surprise. I wrote a whole New Yorker article on this recently.

Cal:
One guy, Peter Drucker, one guy basically coined the term knowledge work in the 1950s and spent the next 50 years convincing everyone, autonomy, autonomy, autonomy, objectives matter, but don’t tell anyone else how to work. And so, that was also really interesting. So, we accidentally fell into this way of working. And because of one guy’s influence, we were convinced it’s not my business to tell my employees how they should work. It’s not my business to think about what’s the best way to organize, that’s up to the individual. They should buy a productivity book if they want to be more organized. And so, we got stuck.

Cal:
I had no idea either of those things were true until I got started. No idea that this was an accident. No idea that we’re stuck because of one person convinced us that we shouldn’t really monkey around with how work actually happens in organizations. And so, those were two very surprising, very fascinating threads that I ended up pulling pretty hard.

Brandon:
That makes sense. A couple more questions. Number one, key challenges, what did you face when writing this? Anything just, either as an author or from the information?

Cal:
Well, it took me a long time to write this book. I started writing this book immediately after Deep Work came out, because I really wanted to understand why is it so hard to do Deep Work? Right? Okay. It wasn’t nearly as casual as I made out in that book, Deep Work, which is like, well, whatever, we have too much email, we’ll fix it once we realize focus is important. It’s like, nope. It is a huge, deep problem. It’s the way we organize all of our work.

Cal:
So, I had to work on the book for a long time. I put it on pause, wrote Digital Minimalism, came back to keep working on it, right? Because to me it was such an epic topic. And people were so far from it, right? It wasn’t like everyone was about to have this idea that I didn’t feel any particular urgency.

Cal:
So, to pull together all of these threads, there’s a real challenge, right? I mean, I get into the whole history of how email spread. I’m deep into New York Times archives trying to trace every use of the word email through the year the 1980s, to try to figure out how it spread. I had to figure out all about the philosophy of technology and technological determinism. I had to talk to all these researchers about what happens in our brain when you’re constantly context shifting and why that happens.

Cal:
I got really deep into the psychology of why we get really anxious about email. And that led me to studying hunter gatherer groups in Africa, that they put sensors on to try to understand the role of interaction, one-on-one interaction and its evolutionary fitness, and why therefore an overflowing inbox, why that stresses us out. I had to go deep on understanding the industrial revolution and how that happened. And then pulling all these… I mean, it was a challenge I haven’t had before in a book. The amount of completely diverse fields that had to come together to really understand this is how we got here, this is why it’s bad, this is what we need to do.

Cal:
What I should’ve done, of course, is just say, ask Brandon and David, because just ask them how they do it. Right? We just get Brandon’s EOS and rock and roll.

Brandon:
I was going to say this why I love authors, who dive into topics like this and why I love all your books. Because you did hundreds of hours of research that I don’t have to do now. I can be like, “I just read Cal. And I got everything I needed.” So, much easier, much, much easier.

David:
I tell people all the time that Cal is like my spirit animal. When I read So Good They Can’t Ignore You, I just wanted to, I was on an airplane, I want to get up and scream like, “Yes, this is what the world needs.” There’s this pain that so many people are in that they can’t get what they want. And they believe it’s hopeless. And they believe everything is set against them. And they come up with all these elaborate explanations for why they’re not happy. And it’s so simple, you’re just not that good.

David:
And the good news is, you haven’t even tried yet to be good. Okay? If you just gave the smallest effort at being better at what you did, you would find out it’s really not that far away from where you’re trying to go.

David:
And just a highlight, what Cal was talking about how this applies to us as real estate investors. When I wrote Long-Distance Real Estate Investing, many people said, “This is crazy. You can’t buy a house without seeing it.” I heard this constantly. Is the number one objection is, “This is reckless. David, is telling people to buy a house they’ve never seen.” And I would have to come back and say, “What do you know about what you’re looking at?” Okay. When I pop open the hood of my car, when it breaks down, and you get outside and you open it up, none of us know what we’re actually trying to see there. Nobody does, right? We’re not mechanics. Unless something’s like visibly smoking, and I probably don’t know what that thing is. A mechanic is the one that has to look at it.

David:
When you’re buying a house, the home inspector needs to review it and tell you, and you need to let them interpret what they’re doing. You don’t have to be there.

David:
And then with BRRR, this whole idea that you got to pay your down payment when you buy the house, that you can’t buy it, fix it up, and then finance, it was revolutionary thinking to so many people that had said, “This is the way we do it.” But to those of us that were in it, it was common sense. We looked at it like, “Well, why are we doing that? That’s dumb.” You’re going to put all the money down. Then you’re going to fix it up. And then you’re going to rent it out. You’re going to leave 80,000 bucks in this house.

David:
But Cal, is like the front runner of challenging this in an effective way of thinking, “Let’s just follow the leader, just get in front of the lemming in front of me and just go where they’re going. Email comes in, I have to answer it. A person has a question, I have to reply. Meeting is there, I have to show up.”

David:
On our team, we make sure before you come to a meeting, I know what the thing is that you have to get answers for, that only I can answer. You cannot come and ask you a question that you could have asked somebody else before you even came to the meeting. And to me, that was common sense. Let’s make this as efficient as we can. But everyone else shows up and they wait for someone to tell them what to do.

David:
So, for those that will embrace this, even if you think this doesn’t apply to where you’re at right now, just start conditioning your mind to look at everything like, “Why do I have to do it that way?” It will open up doors that can literally change your life in such amazing ways. It’s why Brandon is in Hawaii. And it’s why I’m in Cabo. And well, Cal, you have a white background behind you. We can’t really see where you are. But I’m sure you get to go cool places when you want to go there.

Cal:
I used to be able to. But you’re absolutely right though. Yeah. But David, you’re absolutely right. Right? I mean, go back to first principles. That’s my whole thing, is I go back to first principles. If there’s a pain point, I go back to first principles. Why couldn’t we do Deep Work? Everyone had an answer, but everyone’s answer is just, “Oh, here’s the thing that’s annoying me.” Or, “It fits some agenda I have.” Or, “It’s just internally consistent. It was also superficial. It was all such a posturing at a high level.” And I said, okay, maybe let’s go back to first principles. When did email first get invented? What were the first companies to use it? What did it look like in 1990 versus today? Why did it change? And doing that in almost every aspect of your life, I think it’s a good way of summarizing my work. I think it’s really important.

Cal:
Here’s a twist on that. This is a very Cal Newport twist. If you want to do more of this type of original thinking, figure out from first principles how do I do this better or that better? I honestly think excessive social media use, and of course, I was going to bring it back here, has some negative influence there. Because when you check in on social media interaction, it’s a whole different ball game, that that’s more about, what team am I on? And what’s going to get approved of by what I say? And it’s just a completely different way of thinking that I think is a counter to first principle thinking, which in business for example, is going to be very important.

Cal:
So, I think the fact that I don’t use social media helps me think about things as diverse as career trajectory, or email, or how to run a company, because it gets you out of this mindset of what’s important is like demonstrating the right allegiance or getting the right applause for what you pointed out. And I don’t care about any of that, because I’m not on any of those things. I just sit silently for five years with stacks of books and annoy researchers.

Cal:
So, of course, I’m going to bring it back to maybe use less social media and your business somehow will be more success. I don’t know how that quite works, but I always bring it back there somehow.

David:
Especially Clubhouse.

Brandon:
Yeah. Everyone’s on that.

David:
Clubhouse is the perfect example of a waste of time, “Because why am I doing it? Because everyone’s doing it. Well, how does that help me?” And then you just hear crickets.

Brandon:
Yeah. All right. So, I was actually going to ask you Cal, about if your lack of social media has changed. I remember that surprised me and a lot of people last time you were on the show, is you didn’t have social media, and you’re not a social media addict like the rest of us. And now, you have a podcast though. And so, I feel like part of me says, “Well, now he’s got a podcast, he obviously needs social media to promote a podcast.” Right? A part of your life, I feel like would dictate you have social media, but you still don’t. And so, has that changed? Have you been tempted to do that because that might help your podcast, or is that just a limiting belief that you need to have a big social media to try to grow a podcast?

Cal:
Look, if I use social media, probably in the short term, I could get more podcasts listeners. I mean, I don’t quite know how that works.

Brandon:
I actually don’t either. I don’t know if that actually helps.

Cal:
I don’t know how it works. I mean, I don’t know what a Clubhouse is. I don’t know what a TikTok is. I’m sure if I was Clubhouse, and a TikTok, I mean, maybe it would get me more podcasts listeners, but in the long run I would stop doing the types of things, would make people want to listen to my podcast in the first place. So, I don’t know. I’m sure I’m leaving book sales on the table. I’m sure I’m leaving podcast subscribers because I’m not doing those things, but I don’t know that I care. I mean, I don’t know. I want to do interesting things. I want big ideas. Right? Interesting ideas.

Cal:
I started the podcast during the pandemic because I wasn’t doing speaking, and I missed interacting with people about my work. And so, the podcast was a way, it’s all interactive. It’s like a Dave Ramsey Show, where there’s like callers that call in. Right? “And here’s my problem. And I’m overwhelmed by email. Or my life is, I feel like I have no meaning.” And I do my Dave Ramsey impression and give advice. I just wanted to talk to people.

Brandon:
Better than I deserve.

Cal:
Better than I deserve. Right? Better than I deserve. Yeah. Doing fine. Better than I deserve. I yell at people about credit cards. But anyways, I don’t know. Right? I prefer, I call it the deep life. What are the big things that matter, let me double down on those. Try to get rid of the distractions.

Cal:
Have you seen anyone during this pandemic, by the way, who has said, come out of however many months and be like, “I’ll tell you the one thing I did love during this pandemic was being on social media.” Definitely being on Twitter, and finding out the ways in which the virus was sneaking in on my food and and is going to infect me, all bad news.

Brandon:
All bad news.

Cal:
All bad news. Right? No one’s happy about being on Twitter. No one’s happy about spending a lot of time on YouTube during the pandemic. So, I don’t know. It probably helped in that way.

Brandon:
I can draw complete correlation to my happiness level in a given week, and the number of hours I spend on my phone or social media. I mean, it is a direct correlation, and I know that, and I still struggle with it. And there’s always new social media apps being brought all the time. The big one, like you mentioned, the Clubhouse. Clubhouse is basically a, you just get on there and you talk with people like you’re on a stage. Well, think about a panel at a conference. If you’re at a conference, there’s a panelist, there’s five panelists on stage, and there’s a hundred people listening. That’s Clubhouse, is so digital. Right? You just talk.

Brandon:
And everyone, that’s the big thing right now is Clubhouse. And yeah, David and I, both have talked about. I have a profile there. I don’t think David does. I’m not sure it benefits me, which goes back to Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, is this idea of like, instead of just saying, “Hey, that’s a new technology, let’s adopt it.” It’s asking the question, “Does this actually get me closer to the things that I want?” Like you said, you want to think these big thoughts. You want to write books and influence people. Does Clubhouse get you there? Probably not. Is Clubhouse going to get David to get more clients as a real estate agent? Probably not. So, we’ve avoided that. David, anything you want to add on that because I know you’re the anti-Clubhouse guy lately?

David:
Just to think of it that way, that not one person who’s told me I should be on Clubhouse, could actually give me an objective reason how it helped me with any of my goals. But yet every one of them felt compelled to say, “You have to do this.” And when I said, “Why?” It was well, “Well, because everybody’s doing it.” That was the only reason. And that is the exact kind of thinking that leads to you answering every single email in your inbox. “Why are you answering that?” “Well, because it’s there.” Is just remove yourself a little bit from that perspective and you’ll start to see the things that really matter in accomplishing your goals.

Cal:
Yeah. I always say don’t worry so much about missing out on things you don’t know about, worry instead about not spending time on the things that you already know for sure are very valuable. That’s where the big win is. There’s a small number of things in each area of your life that you know for sure are big wins and are important. Doubling the time you spend on those, is mathematically going to give you a much bigger benefit in your life, than taking that same limited time and spreading it over all of these other little unknown things, each of which generates much less value.

Brandon:
That’s really, really good way of looking at that. I really liked that a lot. Yeah. Well, it’s a good way to begin wrapping things up here. Now, we are going to go to the last segment of the show here. It is called our-

Speaker 5:
Famous four.

Brandon:
All right. The famous four, this is the same four questions we ask every guest every week. And I know we threw them at you last time, Cal, but the first question has changed since last time you were on the show. So, the question is, what is a habit or trait that you’re currently trying to develop or improve in your life? Is there anything you’re focused on right now trying to improve?

Cal:
A habit or a trait, I mean, yeah, so I metric track all the time. I’m a big metric tracking guy, so I’m always, always, I have a collection metrics that I’m always evolving. And every single day, I write down these metrics. I could probably grab my planner right now. So, that’s always evolving.

Cal:
So, I’m going to think, what have I added? Well, so I added for sure, during the pandemic, a metric about news consumption that drastically, drastically reduced it. And I was going to check that off, yes or no every day, did I look at news only during the set time in the set way, or did I do doom scroll style checks throughout the day? Right? And it was either yes or no. And I didn’t want to put no. And it saved me, I had such a compulsion, especially when there was-

Brandon:
Me too.

Cal:
… bad news going on, but you’re like, “Maybe I’ll see something out there that’s saying it’s not as bad as you think. And it’ll make me feel better.” It was a huge way. So, a metric just for that. And it was either yes or no. And not wanting to put down no, actually really helped me reshape that during the pandemic.

Cal:
I also decided I need to be outside for close to 10,000 to 15,000 steps a day, outside every single day. And I tracked that down to the step, made a huge difference. Right? And just being out there, getting the sunlight, moving, that was new. I hadn’t prioritize that as much before. So, I think that was a big one. But more generally, I track all this stuff and I’m constantly changing what I track.

Brandon:
Yeah. That’s really good, man. I love that. I track everything as well in a very similar way. I’m checking all this stuff. So, it made a big impact on me. Cool.

David:
Side note for you, Cal, do you still write your books in your head while you’re outside doing those walks?

Cal:
Yes, I do a lot of work, a lot of article writing, book writing and math proof solving in my head on foot. I’m still seen as the crazy professor at Takoma Park, because I’m walking without a dog.

Cal:
And honestly, just a quick aside, by the way, I was a little bit worried. I’ve been worried recently because my route goes past a well-known Congressman’s house, and he has police protection right now. So, there’s always Capitol policeman parked outside of his house because he was helping to run the impeachment or something like this. I literally got worried, I’m always walking and walking by here. Okay. It’s a nice road. I’m like, “They’re going to arrest me at some point.” This is going to be it, is they’re going to be like, “All right, for sure, you’re up to something no good.” So, I’ve literally been worried about that.

David:
Especially if you’re muttering to yourself.

Cal:
Yeah.

David:
That’s good. Okay. You mentioned a couple of the EOS books. Do you have a favorite business book you can share?

Cal:
Okay. So, it’s a good question. I have a hard time just with, favorites are hard for me because there’s so many different categories. But when it comes to EOS type stuff, I really liked Work the System, this underground self-published book. Sam Carpenter is the writer. And I think it’s just right to it. Here’s how you systematize things and why you need to systematize things. And so, in that particular space, I liked it.

Cal:
And time management, it’s a tie between Covey and Allen, right? I mean Allen’s notion the psychological impact of tasks, game-changer. So, Getting Things Done, is a crucial book. Covey, however, had this crucial idea of productivity fits within the larger scheme of building a deeper life. And he had his quadrants. And so, like in the productivity space, those two books are really close to me. I don’t know, when I was a little kid, I read this old biography of Bill Gates. The author’s name was Manes, M-A-N-E-S. And that completely threw me down a trajectory. I started a business. I went into computer science. And so, I can give category favorites. So, those are a few.

Brandon:
That’s great.

David:
That’s very helpful, actually. I like the way you answered that question. Now, people have some stuff they can go pursue. What about some hobbies?

Cal:
I have too many kids, so I don’t have… I have three kids, I don’t have a ton of time that I’m not doing family stuff. Even though my work, I’ve mainly constrained to 9:00 to 5:00. I’ve just wrangling kids all the time. And I would say, most of the time I spend when I’m not wrangling kids or working, or just trying to keep reasonably in shape, is I read all the time. And so, reading is probably my main hobby, if I had to tag it. I look forward to, by the way, having more time for hobbies. I mean, let’s just get these kids a little bit older. I think there’ll be a new golden age. So, I’m looking forward to learning how to, I don’t know, build a canoe or something.

Brandon:
I know. I’m in the same phase right now. I’ve got the four year old and a one-year-old. And I look at people like David, I’m like, “You have so much time in your life. It’s amazing.” I remember what it was like back then, it was glorious. Someday, it’ll return to us Cal.

Cal:
Yeah, one day.

Brandon:
All right. Last question from me. What do you think separates successful, if you had to really boil it down? What separates successful entrepreneurs from those who give up, fail or never get started?

Cal:
I think first principles matter. Right? So, whether you like the answer or not, figuring out that this is what moves the needle here, this is what’s required here, knowing what moves the needle and being able to then get more of your energy on the things that actually matter, is that what seems to distinguish success from not success. Right? And also, it helps you move, navigate properly. You’re like, “Okay, okay. This is what would actually be required if I…” I don’t know real estate well. But I could imagine, let’s say you’re getting it on the first principles. You’re reading David and Brandon’s books. You’re getting down to, you’re figuring out how this stuff really works. And you’re like, “Okay, I want to make money in real estate.”

Cal:
And once you really understand how it works and what’s required, you might be like, “Oh, could do multi-family properties and I could manage this, meaning I can do it long distance. I didn’t realize that. So, let me put my energy there.” But this idea I had of, I want skyscrapers or something, right? You’re like, “Oh, I see, that’s going to require a hundred million dollars in capital.” And to get there, you have to go this route. “And okay, I’m not well suited for that, or that’s not really open to me.”

Cal:
So, it also helps you navigate away from the shoals you can’t pass and towards the things you can. So, I think that is key, is getting down to not you want to matter, not the things that feel like it’s hard, but not too hard, not the glamor stuff. Like, “Yeah, I want to do this because it’ll be fun. Or write my a hundred words a day, and then I’ll be an author type stuff.” I’d get down to, what would really be required? What works? What energy does it take? What’s that path look like? And just get the real story.

Brandon:
Yeah.

Cal:
And then once you have the real story, now you can do everything.

Brandon:
Phenomenal answer. I really, really, really like that. Well, that said, we got to get out of here. David Greene, you want to close up shop? Yeah, close up shop with the last question. That’s exactly what I meant.

David:
Where can people find out more about you?

Cal:
Well, I’ll be on Clubhouse for the next six hours. So, just you can get the address on my TikTok account. I’ll dance. All right. So, calnewport.com, that’s where my weekly newsletter is. I’ve been writing for, I don’t know, a long time since 2007. My podcast is Deep Questions. And that’s about it.

Brandon:
All right. That’s fantastic, man. Well, thank you so much for joining us. This has been phenomenal as always. I love learning from you. I love reading your stuff. And I just tell everyone about all your books all the time. So, keep it up, keep writing. And everyone go check it out, Cal’s newest book, it’s World Without Email. Am I saying that correct? A World Without Email.

Cal:
Yep.

Brandon:
All right. Well, thank you. David, you want to get us out of here?

David:
Thank you, Cal. You’re out here doing God’s work. We appreciate it.

Cal:
All right. Thank you. Thank you.

David:
This is David Greene, for Brandon all kids and no time Turner, signing off.

Outro:
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In This Episode We Cover:

  • Why we need to limit our intake of email, messages, and other communication throughout the day
  • Getting your team to be less ad hoc about communication and more intentional
  • Having a “process and procedure first” mindset when starting a business
  • Understanding what the “vital tasks” are in your business
  • Knowing your cognizant footprint and having intentional attention
  • And So Much More!

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Books Mentioned in this Show:

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