Episode #316: Cal Newport – How To Choose A Focused Life In A Noisy World

Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University who studies the theory of distributed systems. In addition to his academic work, he writes about the intersection of technology and culture.

Cal is the author of six books, including, most recently, the New York Times bestseller, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. His work has been published in over 20 languages and has been featured in many major publications, including the New York Times,  Wall Street Journal,  New Yorker,  Washington Post, and  Economist.

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“Be unambiguously good at something important. Head’s down with an apprenticeship mindset.”

Show Notes:

  • Leaders who sustain excellence =
    • They know what matters and get after it
    • They are not easily distracted… They have the ability to be intensely focused on the task at hand at a tactical level
  • Train to be so good they can’t ignore you
    • Concentrate intently — Introverts are happier doing this.  But it’s also a trainable skill.
  • Cal’s background: theoretical computer science computation group – Focus and master on a small number of things
  • How to be “so good they can’t ignore you?”
    • They want a secret formula.  That’s not how it works.  It’s not about a life hack.  “The reality is simpler… ‘Be relentlessly good at something valuable.’
  • Deep Work = Focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.  This skill is more valuable.  It’s how you learn complicated things and produce at a high level.
    • Culture-wise – We are getting worse at deep work
    • We need to be able to be locked in to produce something valuable for work… Deep work can also be personal development.  There is overlap.
  • Digital Minimalism
    • Unexpected consequences of technology = Our attention is captured by glowing screens
    • Phones = Completely banish solitude.  We are never alone with our own thoughts anymore.
    • Do one or two things a day without your phone.  Force solitude.
    • Why do we have a compulsive need to look at our phone?  Social media has been engineered to do this… Junk food is built the same way.  Cal has never had a social media account.
  • A 30 day digital declutter:
    • Be away from optional technology for 30 days.
    • Detox — Give yourself time and space to see what you value outside of work.  Then ask, “What technology do I want in my life?”
  • What’s the best way to use technology?
    • For someone who loves Twitter (like me) for the gathering of interesting people?
      • Create a curated reading list from Twitter.  Click all the useful links to articles, then block out time to just read those.
  • The power of going on walks:
    • “I walk a lot.  That’s how I think.”
    • Walking with no phone — It creates reflection, insight, thinking.  Do walking meetings.
    • Get sun – get outside.  It’s a form of ‘productive meditation.’
    • Focus on a single problem for that walk
  • Thoughts on Kliff Kingsbury building in time every 30 minutes for his players to check their phones?
    • “This is not good.  Concentration matters.  Especially in football.”
  • Use the “Get To Know You Document
  • Why joining The Learning Leader Circle is a good idea

“I walk a lot.  That’s how I think.”

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