Axel Heyst's Journal

Where are you and where are you going?
AxelHeyst
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

Most people are attracted to Cal Newport's work (So Good They Can't Ignore You, Deep Work, Digital Minimalism, etc) because it offers career success - increased compensation, performance, 'career capital', flexibility, and the promise of doing great work and the accolades that go along with it. These are the reasons I got in to Deep Work.

I've gone deep in to Cal's stuff for at least five years. I timeblocked, scheduled deep work sessions, blocked digital distractions, scheduled email checks twice a day, and even gave presentations on this stuff at work. But the motivation was always to Do More, Get More, and Be More. And it was a treadmill that sped up every time I did - the more I increased my ability to produce good work, more "opportunities" were dumped on my plate. I never mastered saying no. The whole structure got fragile, and anytime it collapsed I'd revert to distracting habits (the dopamine hits of email, instagram, news, etc).

When I went 80% unemployed in August, I basically dropped all Deep Work practices (they were already mostly in shambles anyways due to the clusterfuck of sorting out my firm's response to Covid, and dealing with a new employee). Because a) I wasn't working much anymore, and b) deep work had little application to non-work, right? My focus was on figuring out how I wanted to occupy my time, how to relax and recharge, etc. Cal is part of the full-time work grind machine! His opus is no longer relevant to me! I am a free(ish) man!! Unfortunately, my practices around protecting my attention got lax, and I soon found myself once again compulsively checking my email, this forum, Instagram (even though I haven't had the app installed in years, I access it through the browser), and the news.

I listened to the Mad FIentist interview with Cal (as well as James Clear). Nothing in particular jumped out at me, because I'm very familiar with his work (I've read his books at least 6 times each, and worked through his and Scott Young's Top Performer online course twice), but re-immersing myself in the material sort of turned the light switch back on. This time though, I've got the grounding in ERE to inform my understanding of his work, so I'm getting some fresh inspiration from it.

The hidden nugget that often gets overlooked in Cal's work is that a life of depth and focus is inherently more fulfilling and meaningful, according to Cal and a bunch of research. Sort of like how being FI/RE is the carrot of ERE, but the hidden agenda is to be less of a burden on the planet and be more resilient in the case of economic collapse, so too I feel like "career success" is the carrot of Deep Work but "having a more fulfilling and meaningful existence" is the hidden agenda. It's useful for me to think this, true or not.

In his podcast, he gave his Rx for newbies shpiel. I decided to follow it, seeing as how I'm coming back to the material as a prodigal son. It is this: 1) Schedule 2-3 90minute deep work sessions a week. 2) Improve your cognitive environment by removing sources of digital distraction (the topic dealt with in depth in his book Digital Minimalism).

I scheduled two Deep Work sessions over the past couple days, both for my job. In the first, I took the seed of an idea I've had sitting in my system for months and fleshed it out in to an exciting and well-defined vision for a project that could reinvigorate my whole shtick at work and obliquely solve a bunch of issues I've been dealing with one-on-one.

In the second session the next day, I began my portion of the work and had one of my most inspired and creative modeling sessions, essentially creating a 3d 'sandbox platform' for an environment in a procedural and extremely lightweight manner. (Nerdstuff: most of the models we get are mangled by an export process, and so an office building model might be 250MB, after being stripped of the totally useless tuff. The model I made yesterday is 500kilobytes. We could load and run the whole thing in Unreal using dynamic lighting on a meh computer in excess of 30fps no problem.)

For the improvements to my cognitive landscape (i.e. changing my environment to support success), I've put in place these systems:
1) Removed email apps from my phone - I only check email on my computer. It now only has a browser, maps, youtube (for music and tutorials and how-tos - but this is still a 'risk'), and my texting apps (signal, whatsapp) that I only use to keep in contact with a few friends and so am fine with them remaining.
2) Used freedom.to and another app to block Instagram, Artstation, reddit (just because), and this forum every day except Saturday on my computer and phone.
3) I'm experimenting with checking my personal email only once a week on Saturday.
4) I'm experimenting with checking work email Tue-Thur, once a day.
5) I've gone back to the time-blocking technique for organizing my days. I wake up, make coffee, and journal for an hour or so, finishing with time-blocking my day.
6) Setting aside Saturday mornings as my time to do my Weekly Review and check and interact with everything, including this forum. So I'll scroll Instagram and Artstation and grab anything inspirational, catch up on the news, catch up on the forum journals and other threads, etc. Then, back to shutdown on all this stuff.

ERE works because it's extreme. Cutting expenses by 20% is fine, and saving 30% of your income is, well, better than average, but ERE is magic because *you can be FI in five years* if your savings rate is >75%.

I'm contemplating the corollary for deep work, and one's ability to focus and go deep. Quitting facebook and turning push notifications off is putting you ahead of the crowd, sure, but you're not going to be regularly dropping in to that lovely place of calm concentration and producing work you're proud of if you can't stop yourself from checking email every twenty minutes/when bored. There are famous computer scientists who quit email altogether in the 90s, among many other examples of world-class producers whose relationship with technology is shockingly abnormal. I'm putting some time in to designing an 'extreme' system of practices related to my ability to focus and concentrate.

And to be totally clear, I'm not just thinking about how to optimize my 8 hours of work per week. I'm trying to sort out how to cultivate a life of focus and depth across all categories of my life: intellectual pursuits, "high quality analog leisure activities", my builds, my relationships, my ability to be present with the people I love, and my relationship with myself and my goals. I pretty much unreservedly accept the premise that focus leads to greater life satisfaction, and so am making a push to conform my behavior to that belief and see where it takes me.
Last edited by AxelHeyst on Sat Sep 26, 2020 12:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

RoamingFrancis
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by RoamingFrancis »

It sounds like your semi-ERE life is really starting to take shape and kick ass!

Wishing you the best!

classical_Liberal
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by classical_Liberal »

This reads to me like Cal Newport is making money telling people to "do life" the way it was 25 years ago.

I can do that!

Jin+Guice
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by Jin+Guice »

I'm reading Digital Minimalism right now, only because it's been recommended so many times on this forum. It's a book that's mostly focused on the "tips and tricks" for people who are convinced that social media and digital distractions are an absolute necessity of life. In between the suggestions that not checking facebook* for 50 minutes every day might improve your life, is a commentary about our relationship with new technology. Implicit in the assumptions of Newport's philosophy is that doing quality concentrated work is necessary for an enjoyable and morally righteous life. I do think that doing work that engages us in a state of flow is one of the pleasures of life and that pursuing a life of hollow leisure, enjoying only activities that are stimulating in a shallow and unthinking way, is not desirable.

I don't think that doing "deep work" is the be-all and end-all of a life well-lived. It is likely to be an important component, but "being productive" is not a naturally defined state of moral goodness, it is the current obsession of our wealth-obsessed culture and dollar-denominated religion.


*I'm poking fun, but I'm certainly not entirely free from the digital overlords myself

AxelHeyst
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

classical_Liberal wrote:
Sat Sep 26, 2020 1:40 pm
This reads to me like Cal Newport is making money telling people to "do life" the way it was 25 years ago.

I can do that!
Ha! People who entered the work force two years after the iPhone dropped don't know how life worked 25 years go. They were seven. They have to either just go along with the flow of being plugged in to the moderate behavior addiction that is smartphone+social media engagement, or read a book about how to do something else with their lives.

I think the older you are, the less impactful Cal's work will be. Your reaction will be "well, duh!"

AxelHeyst
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

At the risk of being fanboyish here, I'm going to break down your comment a little.
Jin+Guice wrote:
Thu Oct 01, 2020 1:51 pm
It's a book that's mostly focused on the "tips and tricks" for people who are convinced that social media and digital distractions are an absolute necessity of life.
Digital minimalism isn't as deeply strategic as ERE, sure. But (perhaps because of my time spent in ERE land) I appreciated Cal's point that an incremental approach to digital minimalism is bound to fail, and what is needed is a thorough philosophy of one's engagement with digital tools, encompassing one's sense of identity. So I think his work is at least a level or two above tips n tricks - that shallow approach he actually criticizes a few times in his book, e.g. the popular "trick" of taking a digital sabbath.

And I don't think it's aimed at people who think social media/etc are an absolute necessity... it's aimed at people who are ready to think about their relationship with digital technology. I've been off fb for five years and compared to average millenials, my use of digital technology is very low. I thought I was pretty solid. But his book (and the 12 days or so I've spent cutting way back on digital tech) has shown me just how fractured my attention had gotten. I was worse off than I thought I was, and my efforts to fix my relationship weren't enough to get my life where I wanted it.

I'd say Cal's philosophy is *explicit* that doing quality concentrated work leads to a fulfilling and meaningful life, and is probably necessary for it.

I was unable to detect an implicit moral/ethical message, maybe I'm just in fanboy stage. It seems to me that he is presenting his work from a "healthy selfishness" perspective: if you want career capital/meaningful experiences, you should avoid shallow activities and having your brain sucked out by the attention-engineering corporations". I haven't gotten the sense that he thinks we ought to do these things, from a moral/ethical perspective. The only ethical message he seems to take, and he takes it implicitly, is that what the attention engineering corporations are doing is clearly questionable.
Jin+Guice wrote:
Thu Oct 01, 2020 1:51 pm
I don't think that doing "deep work" is the be-all and end-all of a life well-lived. It is likely to be an important component, but "being productive" is not a naturally defined state of moral goodness, it is the current obsession of our wealth-obsessed culture and dollar-denominated religion.
I agree with you, but I think so does Newport*. The fact that his book Deep Work (and SGTCIY) are totally focused on career success makes one think that that's all he cares about. Not so, I think. His first books were narrowly focused on being a good college student. Then he moved on to career success. With digital minimalism he's shifting a bit more to "the good life", broadening up his scope. All his books have been pretty narrow in scope (school, work), but the message is broadly applicable to life when taken as a whole.

The basic tl;dr of Newport is this: "Stop doing shallow things that aren't meaningful to you and don't bring you joy. Do things that are meaningful to you and do bring you joy." He's just dug in to some specifics:
-Social media, "connection", multi-tasking, whining about pursuing your "passion", and having a fractured attention are elements of a stressed-out, shallow life that isn't that enjoyable.
-Focusing intently on things, getting good at things, working your mind, etc lead to meaningful and fulfilling experiences.

I think criticizing Cal for being "work focused" is missing the point in the same way that criticizing FIRE for being retirement-focused is missing the point. ("So, what, you just want to sit on a beach the rest of your life?") FIRE is about autonomy! And - actually, so is digital minimalism and the concepts of deep work!

*To unpack that: it seems clear that Cal is very pro-work, pro-productivity, bordering on workaholism. But there's a tricky distinction here. Cal's been dialing his deep work/productivity systems since he was a sophomore in college. He got a 4.0 at Dartmouth and never pulled an all-nighter. He famously doesn't work past 5pm and spends evenings with his family. The man puts out an incredible volume of work, but seems to do it in less time than muggles would suspect is possible. He has leisure activities and spends time with his three young children. It seems to me that he simply has managed to build a healthy relationship with "work" in a way almost no one else has.

So I think he doesn't understand things like burnout and "job bullshit", because he's never experienced it. He also has never experienced the attention fracturing from social media himself, he's just consumed studies about it. I think he doesn't "get" how his messaging can seem tone-wise like just another "HUSTLE HARDER BRO" instagram account, and so he doesn't do enough to put a clear separation between his message and the toxicity of overwork/hustle culture. He's actually anti-"grind it out". But - it really requires the reader to read in between the lines and 'take what's useful' approach to his work. If one just absorbs his work without being pretty discerning about how to apply it, you could accidentally just use his stuff to make yourself more miserable.
Last edited by AxelHeyst on Sat Oct 03, 2020 8:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

AxelHeyst
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

This is my longer reflection on The Deep Life that I wrote a couple days ago:

Was it work I was burnt out on?

In Cal's first podcast episode, the very first question is about burnout. Cal says time pressure leads to stress, and chronic stress leads to burnout. The answer to burnout is to avoid time pressure. Writing a book is hard work, but not inherently stressful. Being on the hook for 30,000 words on Monday, and it's Thursday, that's time pressure --> stress. Make a habit of that, and burnout is inevitable.

The answer to burnout, then, is to structure your work in such a way that you don't procrastinate, you show up consistently and work hard, and ship when you're done. You avoid time pressure, because you have a strong practice of deep work and put out good shit consistently.

I'm not arguing against (or for, really) ERE or FIRE in this post. I'm not trying to talk myself back in to FT work. I'm trying to figure out what happened to me so I can avoid burnout for the rest of my life, and so I can pursue fulfillment and happiness.

My mind used to work deeper. In college and early in my career, I remember going deep often. I remember getting lost in difficult books, and difficult thermodynamics problems, and long articles. In the past decade, 2010 through 2020, it feels like my mind got weaker, shallower, more distracted. I feel objectively dumber in many ways than I was a decade ago. I think there are two main culprits. No, three.

1. The rise of smartphones and attention engineering.
2. The lifestyle of fighting 'fires' at work for a decade, and using anything shallow to distract my brain from the constant hammering of cognitively demanding work with not enough rest. This was a slow spiral. A couple more-intense-than-usual periods were a real kick in the nuts - one around 2012, another around 2015, each between 6 and 12 months of sleep deprivation and very high stress.
3. Becoming more secure in my job - early on, I had to prove myself. I had to make my name. I've done that to a comfortable (not a stunning) degree. I'm well regarded as a hard worker with unique insights and ideas. The fear-based drive to excel professionally has mellowed.

These changes to my mind were gradual and I didn't really notice them - or at least, I don't think I accurately diagnosed them. Even a month ago I would have simply chalked it up to burnout, "too much work".

This diagnosis led me to an unfairly negative view of work - and here I mean work="I'm working on something", not work="my job". I thought I needed more relaxation (because it's the opposite of work). I needed a little bit of that, but that's not totally right. I need healthy work, I need a healthy approach to doing challenging things.

It's quite clear that I have a moderate behavioral addiction to a small list of things: checking email, instagram, artstation, and forums. At times youtube was top of the list, but I've trained my feed to only have chillstep mixes, so it hasn't been a problem recently. A moderate behavioral addiction means that I'll engage in the behavior compulsively even though I'm conscious that it's not healthy for me. I'll check email on my phone even though I just checked it five minutes ago. Willpower alone isn't an appropriate tactic - I need to change my environment and detrain my brain.

So: email is off my phone, and I've installed apps to block several domains Sun-Fri on all my devices. With this in place, it's quite easy to not check email: my phone is super boring now.

About ten days in, I've noticed my compulsion to check my phone is less. My ability to tolerate boredom is higher. I'm calmer. I'm sleeping better and less (waking up early, good to go). My ability to do one thing for ninety minutes is higher - and that time spent focusing on one thing feels amazing. Fulfilling.

Once I'd turned my attention to FIRE and ERE, I'd basically dropped my focus on Deep Work. Because fuck work! I'm all about No Work, amiright? High five.

But this was missing the point. Deep Work is part of a Deep Life, which is inherently meaningful and fulfilling. The thing to do is not discard Deep Work, but to discard the notion that work=job, and implement the philosophy of a life of focus and concentration to the breadth of my activities.

The deep life is how I avoid shallow distractions, which makes more time for stuff I actually want to do, and makes me more effective and present to those activities. It's how I read and absorb information, which is essentially the section in the book on the Intellectual dimension of being a Renaissance Human. It's how I effectively structure my days, weeks, and months, consistently making progress on my goals in life, be they related to renumeration or not.

An ability to go deep is how I approach thinking through my web of goals, my plans, strategies, and principles, and how to optimally structure my relationship to the world at large.

--

The tl;dr is that, with respect to answering the question "I'm semiERE. Now what?" I'm getting a lot of mileage out of these two related concepts:

1. Time spent in focus and concentration on difficult but rewarding work (!=job necessarily) is inherently fulfilling and meaningful, and a life of depth is inherently worth pursuing, and
2. Many digital technologies, particularly social media, are engineered to consume our attention and this causes our minds to operate at a shallow level / makes going deep extremely difficult.

In other words, I'm finding Cal Newport's work to be really influential in constructing a daily lifestyle that I find enjoyable and meaningful, although there's a lot of "career-focused advice" that I'm reading in between the lines of.

As I said above in reply to @c_L, I suspect that the older you are, the less sense this is going to make, or it's going to seem trivially obvious. These concepts seem obvious to me too, but because of my experience over the last ten years, they seem also profound.

AxelHeyst
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

I just dumped a lot of words in here. To summarize:

It seems to me that

a) there is a lot of value for the FIRE/ERE community, and anyone investigating how to live the good life, in the concepts of digital minimalism and deep work as presented in Cal's books, regardless of what his views on "productivity" and "production" actually are, and

b) as a community we're probably more prone than other communities to dismiss this value because we're allergic to "work", and rightly so. But the "work" we're allergic to, and the "work" he means when he talks about Deep Work, are two very different things that only incidentally overlap in some cases. Decoupling "Deep Work" from the "FT Career Advice" angle is a pursuit worth the effort.

(At least for me.)

PS He has a section in digital minimalism about the FIRE community, where he mentions the fact that MMM and the Frugalwoods escaped their jobs in order to.... build things, work hard, do projects, and otherwise engage their focus and concentration on challenging but rewarding projects.

classical_Liberal
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by classical_Liberal »

It seems to me all your thoughts (of the authors thoughts) here are coming back to; do work that's meaningful to you, on a time schedule of your own making. Side note of constant interruptions are bad, but that's part of you making the timetable/schedule IMO.

Maybe I'm missing something? But this is exactly why I wanted ERE. This is why most jobs are so unhealthy (constant interruptions, unrealistic time constraints, someone else's schedule, someone else's work preferences).

I just keep going back to the simple concept of doing whatever you want, when you want. That's what all of this means to me. I mean, clearly too much leisure only can create an unhappy life. I guess my idea above implicitly means if all you do is waste time, eventually you'll bore of it and do something productive, that's interesting to you. I guess it's a bad idea if there are addictions or really unhealthy habits in play. Like addictions to social media, or gaming, or drugs, or whatever. It's important to tidy up the house before venturing off into the world.

AxelHeyst
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

I don't think you're missing anything c_L, except perhaps that it's not so simple, obvious, or easy for some people, and that's the value of the books. Ah - perhaps it's true that you're at least two Wheaton Levels ahead of me in terms of "Knowing how to enjoy life", so it's literally baffling to you how anyone needs to be told how to enjoy oneself, and avoid behaviors one doesn't enjoy.

I think that what the Deep books have done for me is present an existing, specific cognitive framework that I can grasp on to to direct my efforts. I had a notion that I wanted to do stuff and work on projects, and avoid things I didn't like doing, but concepts like "Deep Work", "long uninterrupted periods of concentration", "digital minimalism", and the like, have served to focus (ahem) my efforts and make it clear to me the distinguishing characteristics of what I find enjoyable and meaningful.

In other words, yeah, apparently I needed a book to point out *the degree to which* checking my phone every five minutes was shattering my attention and causing me to enjoy my life less. And I also needed a book to present a Plan for how one could *effectively* escape the addictive characteristics of this tech, in a way that made sense to me (because I've tried a few times in the past, with only marginal success).

And I needed a book to present ideas as concrete as "spend 90 minutes at a time on *one* thing, with zero other distractions, and see how you like it", that I could just copy (CCCCCC) and experiment with, and build from there.

I guess it's similar to how I needed to read a book that said "It's possible to live well off <$10k/yr, achieve a savings rate of 85+%, and FI in five years". I knew before reading ERE that I wanted autonomy, but I didn't on my own put together the pieces for how to achieve it in this way.

classical_Liberal
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by classical_Liberal »

@AH
Yeah, I wasn't trying to be condescending. Sorry if it came across that way. I don't think I'm two Wheaton levels above anyone in this forum in anything. :lol: . I'm more like the "slow" step child that's trying to understand what you really smart people are saying. I find everything you write extremely interesting. My way of learning just lends me to trying to boil complex concepts down to the basics. Once it's down to the basics, it's easier for me to determine if it'd have value for me to explore more deeply.

I also think you're dead right about the differences only tenish years in age makes. It's pretty easy for me to harken back to young adulthood. When the internet actually was much different than today, less of a force for profit. I even remember when facebook was actually a tool I used to communicate with my nursing school cohort, and a few friends. That's it! The only apps on my iphone are tools. I really never developed the dependence or usage that exists today. Different generations, different bad habits I guess. I smoked a pack a day until I was early 30's. :D . Most millennials I know never started, maybe smoke or vape when they drink and that's it.

disk_poet
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by disk_poet »

Those are some really interesting thoughts. Some less interesting ones of my own:

I just read "Deep work" for the first time a 2 weeks ago and I think I still have the line "why do I want to increase productivity?" written on my whiteboard. That is what kind of stuck with me the most. I did a lot of research on becoming more productive in my 20s (GTD systems and all the like) but I never asked myself "why". I just assumed that getting more stuff done is better. :D So my take-away from the book was not so much the techniques (I had cobbled them together over the years myself) but questioning my motivation. I think I need to explore the connection to meaning more. You might have hit the nail on the head there. I also just want to state that I don't think work is by any means the only way to create meaning.

I actually found your "fanboyism" refreshing. I think I've been so burnt out on work on productivity that I've been become a bit cynical which causes me to not take things serious because I want to be smug and stroke my ego. Reading your thoughts on the book got me to take it more for what it is and put away my preconceived notions. Thanks for that :)

Your quote:
The answer to burnout, then, is to structure your work in such a way that you don't procrastinate, you show up consistently and work hard, and ship when you're done. You avoid time pressure, because you have a strong practice of deep work and put out good shit consistently.
stuck out to me because right now at work I see a lot of people burning out and your "answer" seems very centered on the virtues of the individual. While I think there is definitely truth in there I'd say a big factor of burnout is also company culture and values as well as societal norms. I suspect you're aware of that but I am just raising it because for me it is a red flag that could be easily be used for self-blame. I see that a lot in teams.. people blaming themselves when they've actually fallen victim to a toxic environment. Of course it's a complex problem and there are many sides to that. I hope I'm not being condescending here. If I am please let me know.

AxelHeyst
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

classical_Liberal wrote:
Sat Oct 03, 2020 2:28 pm
...
No you didn't come off condescending at all... or maybe if you did I didn't notice, I appreciate your relentless drive to boil things down. It counterbalances my relentless drive to make things way more complicated than they need to be! It's like I need to pull everything completely apart and examine each individual piece, before putting it back together. So I say "well actually it's fourteen screws, sixteen gears (and here's the list of tooth count and pitch), and an LED backface with a plastic clamshell in the shape of a...." and you say "dude, Axel, it's a friggin alarm clock." And I say... oh, hm, yeah. I see it now.

To your point about age, Cal spoke with the director of mental health services at some university. She said that up until a certain point, around 2013 or so, students came to her center for the "normal spread" of mental health issues - depression, homesickness, OCD, whatever. After a certain year, almost all the students coming to her had anxiety. It was like a switch was flipped. To her mind, the cause was obvious: that generation of kids coming in were the first who grew up with smartphones.

I am just at the age where I remember my brain working a different way before smartphones -- but only just in to my early 20's. Then, I can see my ability to "go deep" got less and less -- and my satisfaction / life enjoyment tracked downwards as well -- the more I got sucked in to having the phone in my pocket. I've known the smartphone moderate behavioral addiction wasn't good for me, but the books and research that Cal pulled together just really drove home how much using them badly is wrecking people's minds.

AxelHeyst
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

disk_poet wrote:
Sat Oct 03, 2020 3:48 pm
Those are some really interesting thoughts. Some less interesting ones of my own:

I just read "Deep work" for the first time a 2 weeks ago and I think I still have the line "why do I want to increase productivity?" written on my whiteboard. That is what kind of stuck with me the most. I did a lot of research on becoming more productive in my 20s (GTD systems and all the like) but I never asked myself "why". I just assumed that getting more stuff done is better. :D So my take-away from the book was not so much the techniques (I had cobbled them together over the years myself) but questioning my motivation. I think I need to explore the connection to meaning more. You might have hit the nail on the head there. I also just want to state that I don't think work is by any means the only way to create meaning.
The way I'm starting to think about it, is forget "productivity". That work makes me kind of nauseous too, and it's not my focus. My focus is, well, focus, concentration, depth - the state of being of complete absorption in what I'm doing. Because that feeling is *awesome*, either when it's full Flow, or when it's just single-minded effort on one thing and at the end I'm accomplished something. If what I'm pursuing is this state of absorption, I win every time I drop in to it, because it just feels good. The fact that I get stuff done is a side effect, a byproduct. And when I finish something, I take a minute to stand back and admire it and that feels good, but that "I finished something" feeling only comes once in a while so it's not wise to make that the goal.

Last week I did some actual w*rk stuff in Deep Work sessions, and it was actually enjoyable. But I also worked on my camper shell for like five hours just now, and I didn't notice when it got dark I was so absorbed. I changed out my gf's speedo cable on her van in the rain, and enjoyed every minute. I did a "focus sprint" to take notes on a book, and it was actually fun. I'm getting stuff done, but... I'm enjoying the hell out of life.
disk_poet wrote:
Sat Oct 03, 2020 3:48 pm
... right now at work I see a lot of people burning out and your "answer" seems very centered on the virtues of the individual. While I think there is definitely truth in there I'd say a big factor of burnout is also company culture and values as well as societal norms. I suspect you're aware of that but I am just raising it because for me it is a red flag that could be easily be used for self-blame. I see that a lot in teams.. people blaming themselves when they've actually fallen victim to a toxic environment. Of course it's a complex problem and there are many sides to that. I hope I'm not being condescending here. If I am please let me know.
ha! My journal is a condescension free zone - meaning, you could be trying to piss me off with condescension, and I probably wouldn't notice. I appreciate your comments.

You are dead right about broken work cultures and self-blame, and that's part of my story. I got deep in to GTD and Deep Work and all that, but my work environment was always a firefight and I was firefighter in chief, so GTD/Deep Work practices just meant I was able to run faster and put out more fires. Burnout city.

It's a flowrate problem. If the hose of incoming work is simply too much, it needs to be dialed back. You have to say "no", you have to renegotiate expectations, you have to quit and find a job that isn't so messed up, whatever - but that's not the fault of having a good productivity system. If your load is too much, your load is too much. If you're given impossible deadlines, no amount of open-loop-management or Focus Sprints will save your sanity.

I know I just listed what you gotta do like it's easy, and oh I get that it's not. Honestly I'm only able to get back in to Deep Work because I'm at 8 hours, and I feel like I'm finally for the first time in a decade not being dumped on and have time to develop these skills and practices in a way that is sustainable.

Probably the ultimate "hack" for the flowrate issue goes back to his concept of career capital, basically being so good at what you do that you can start to call the shots. That's sort of what I did in negotiating my current 8hrs deal (also, luck).

Well... the ultimate hack is that companies need to stop sucking so much. It's like everyone thought "the internet" means they can just throw out proper Project Management skill. Companies just chuck employees at projects like a meat grinder. This is one reason why ERE is awesome - so people can dip out of the meat grinder ASAP. Cal's material can help you a) kick more ass so you b) get promoted faster, hence get Fi faster, and c) build career capital, which if done right and you're lucky, you can convert in to greater autonomy and some protection from the meat grinder-ness of corporate world while you're still in it, and then d) once you're out, you can use your practices around depth to enjoy life, pursue intellectual pursuits for fun, learn skills rapidly and enjoy employing them in the world...

disk_poet
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by disk_poet »

The way I'm starting to think about it, is forget "productivity". That work makes me kind of nauseous too, and it's not my focus. My focus is, well, focus, concentration, depth - the state of being of complete absorption in what I'm doing.
That really resonates with me. I think that was also why I was stumped on the question of productivity. I'll check out his other books. Did you come up with a routine for your deep work/focus sessions? I am wondering how structured you are now that you are semi-ERE (or ERE? - I don't know what you consider yourself). I am worried that I would fall into the trap of getting obsessed about focus and then over optimizing but maybe that habit of mine would soften out once I create more space in my life for reflection and am not feeling the constant pressure of the clock.
I know I just listed what you gotta do like it's easy, and oh I get that it's not. Honestly I'm only able to get back in to Deep Work because I'm at 8 hours, and I feel like I'm finally for the first time in a decade not being dumped on and have time to develop these skills and practices in a way that is sustainable.
I found that such a game changer when reducing my working hours. There is finally time for reflection again and moving things forward. It feels like I am still only having a glimpse at how it could be but it's the event that made me realize that I want to pursue ERE/semi-ERE. I just no way to do that without somehow getting a break from constantly being under pressure from work. I've talked to my therapist and a few months back she said that a lot of her clients are thinking in the same direction now that they got a forced break thanks to COVID. I'm not saying it's good that people lost there job (it's awful and brings out a lot of other anxieties and issues) but it's an interesting data point.

Vaikeasti
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by Vaikeasti »

Thought provoking discussion going on here!
I'm also struggling with the ability to deeply focus on stuff. (Badly since smartphones, I'd say.)

Have you read the Do you really understand ERE? -thread?

This discussion reminded me of jacob's answer on it:
jacob wrote:
Sat May 17, 2014 11:57 am
When I want or need to use goods and those aren't automatically provided to me, I define that as "work" (for the purpose of this discussion). If I have goods that go unused, I define that as "pollution".

At its most fundamental level, ERE is about designing one's world so as to eliminate work (the kind that is required to satisfy needs and wants, not the fun kind that done voluntarily) and pollution (wasted effort, wasted goods, ...). When things are optimally designed goods will flow through me with little effort and waste.
(Even though it might be only tangentially related, since you seem to be discussing more on what is important/what is good life/what do you need for contentment.)

AxelHeyst
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

disk_poet wrote:
Sun Oct 04, 2020 3:01 am
That really resonates with me. I think that was also why I was stumped on the question of productivity. I'll check out his other books. Did you come up with a routine for your deep work/focus sessions? I am wondering how structured you are now that you are semi-ERE (or ERE? - I don't know what you consider yourself). I am worried that I would fall into the trap of getting obsessed about focus and then over optimizing but maybe that habit of mine would soften out once I create more space in my life for reflection and am not feeling the constant pressure of the clock.
I'm not the biggest fan of the term semiERE, because to me it sounds like "sortakindaERE", "halfassedERE", etc. I like dirtbagERE, or maybe fuERE (as in, an emphasis on FU $ vs. FI $). But, semiERE is the recognized term so I go with it. :)

What little structure my life had is about to be blown out of the water as in a couple days I'm going to drive across the country, and then hop on my moto for a month. But, a structure I started playing around with over the past two weeks was this:

W*rk (nominally 8 hrs a week).
.>I schedule three 90-min deep work (DW) sessions, Tue/Wed/Thur. 0900-1030 works well for me, but I only select the exact timing the morning of, in case I need to be flexible, wake up earlier or later, etc. That gives me 4.5hrs of really focused work.
.>The balance of my 8 hours goes mostly to communication/management of my employee, mostly review and feedback of his work when he needs it. And then any emailing, dealing with clients, etc. I just do this whenever. I have enough PTO to not work for 9 months, so I just use it whenever I think I don't hit 8 hrs in a week.

Not Work
.I schedule 1-2 "Focus Sprints" a week. So far I've done this with 20minute sprint cg sketches, and reviews of books I've already read. I'll set an alarm for 20 minutes, take a five minute break, and then do another 20 minutes. The structure is I'll a) write a top-of-head summary of the book from memory, then b) take structured notes of the entire book, then c) write a new summary of the book.
.I schedule at least one "Focus Walk", where the idea is just to go on a solo walk in the woods and think hard about one specific thing. "schedule" is a bit overstating it.

I do a few other things picked up from druid magic work, which is mostly just stylized concentration exercises. Once I'm in bed and ready to go to sleep, for example, I attempt to recall my day in reverse order (what did I just do? and before that? and before that?). I do a few rituals that require the memorization of words, images, visualizations, meanings, associations, etc.

I'm still very much in grasshopper mode with all of this. Some things I'm keen to try:
.Digging back in to, and working with, thermodynamics and calculus, with a goal of being able to work through derivatives and thermo problems in my head. (I *really* enjoyed thermo in school, and was always disappointed I never really got to use it professionally at any real depth).
.Learning to memorize a deck of cards, and other memorization techniques that might actually be useful (such as name/face recall).
.Take my reading practice to a higher level. I've always read a lot, but haven't put much effort in to making my time spent reading efficacious.
.^Related to that, work on a better "current events intake" practice, with an emphasis on long-form articles.

AxelHeyst
Posts: 384
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Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

Vaikeasti wrote:
Sun Oct 04, 2020 5:59 am
Have you read the Do you really understand ERE? -thread?

(Even though it might be only tangentially related, since you seem to be discussing more on what is important/what is good life/what do you need for contentment.)
I hadn't read that thread - thank you! More forum gold from the past. And - this whole deep work thing is a tangent to the main ERE focus, but one well worth it to me to explore. So - this is just a third-order tangent perhaps.

Based on that definition of "work"[1], on a good week, between 40-60% of the time I spent "on the clock" is not work. It's fun, I'd do it voluntarily, just in a slightly different context. It scratches an itch I'd have even if I was FI.


[1]"When I want or need to use goods and those aren't automatically provided to me, I define that as "work" (for the purpose of this discussion)"

AxelHeyst
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Joined: Thu Jan 09, 2020 4:55 pm
Location: The Mountains, USA

Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

Thanks, semiERE! A story of skills, the new-found ability to focus, and disposable time
I'm about to head west for the winter. I needed new tires on my truck. I got some, and then went over to the alignment shop. They told me they couldn't do an alignment because there was play in my steering system and my upper ball joint and tie rods were bad. Gave me a quote for $1,600.

I took the truck home and hopped on youtube. A very long story short, the tie rod ends were fine, the trouble was with a bad roller guide in the steering rack, that without close inspection certainly looks like a loose inner tie rod. The only work that had to be done was replace the upper ball joint, and replace the roller guide with the new design that won't fail. (The process of figuring this all out took days, multiple parts orders, much troubleshooting of tools, and hours of youtubing and scrolling yotatech. I'm actually quite proud of how I found the writeup on the bad roller guide design, for a few days there I thought the whole steering rack was bad and needed to be replaced, which would have been kind of a big deal).

I don't have any previous auto mechanics experience, but I now feel competent to:
.replace tie rod ends and inner tie rods
.examine ball joints for wear and decide if they need replacing or not
.safely put a vehicle up on jacks to work under
.replace upper ball joints (the LBJ's look no more difficult...)
.the correct use of pickle forks, pitman arm pullers, and BFH's
.fiddle with the steering rack
.use a torch, liquid wrench, and breaker bars to loosen nuts stuck on with 20 years of road corrosion
.diagnose a vehicle for play in the steering system by feel
.feel slightly less stupid when talking to actual mechanics/friends who know wtf they're talking about
.spend $250 to fix something that a shop quoted me $1,600 for (and they wouldn't have fixed the actual problem with that quote, and very likely would have said the whole rack needed to be swapped, so throw on another $1,200 easy for that).

AxelHeyst
Posts: 384
Joined: Thu Jan 09, 2020 4:55 pm
Location: The Mountains, USA

Re: Axel Heyst's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

While all that was going on, I was continuing the construction of my camper shell. It's functionally complete, I just need to rig up a door and a bed in the back. Also, a wing on the front to mitigate the "flying brick" aerodynamic performance, although the chances of me doing that before I leave are looking slim at this point.

Image

The sides are pine shiplap with a shou sugi ban treatment (fancy term for "I blowtorched the damn things") with boiled linseed oil. The roof is corrugated metal. Structure is just pine 1x3's.

Image

The design brief: I need to be able to fit my motorcycle, a bunch of stuff, and ideally a sleeping platform for one person in there, and not have it get all wet. Extra challenge for fun: the truck bed isn't flat, it's twisted, so forget things being square.

I haven't tallied it all up yet, but I think I got away with building it for ~$200. I could have gotten a lot of reused/salvaged materials, but that approach doesn't lend itself to tight deadlines. :( Room for improvement in my life system.

I really enjoyed the build (especially after I went through my digital minimalism declutter and was able to just drop in to construction for hours at a time without checking my phone like a tweaker), and would honestly build more and sell them just because it's fun. Might do that this winter once my other builds are mellowed. People are buying anything related to the outdoors these days faster than people can produce them.

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