What does it take to succeed at a big project? How do you write that book, start that podcast, or put on that huge event that is sure to take your career to the next level? Moreover, how can we ensure that we remain focused in our increasingly distracting and technologically-focused world, where our attention and time are perhaps the most important assets to have?
Cal Newport is the perfect person to answer these questions. As a professor at Georgetown and an author, Cal has deeply researched what makes someone successful through his books such as “Deep Work” or “Digital Minimalism.” He’s one of the world’s experts at helping people who are ambitious and want to do challenging things.
In my conversation with Cal, we really hone in on how to make our greatest aspirations our reality through relentless and focused work. Whether it be a book, a podcast, or a large project at work, we know that we need to sit down and get our projects done — but how do we actually do it?
We all have dreams — but if we want to accomplish them, we have to sit down and do the work. It’s so easy to get sucked into the world of social media, browsing the news, and constantly checking email, but to be truly successful, we need to avoid our urges.
It’s a superpower if doing cognitive work is important to you. It doesn’t only boost your ability but it avoids all things to drag you down when you’re using your brain at its highest capacity.
The strategy in writing is different depending on what your situation is. People who are good at getting cognitive work done have some sort of strategy. The easiest one is setting the same time, same days, and every week schedule. Others do it in different ways by taking a day each week. The point is to have a strategy. Waiting until you feel like doing it or when you have some free time will not work.
The deadline approach is very common, but it almost always produces the worse out. You have to experiment. You sketch a line typically where you’re going to schedule your writing. There are a lot of different philosophies, you see what makes sense, expose yourself to a lot of different ways that people do it, then try it out. The key thing is, if it's not working, it's okay to try something else, as there is no magic right or wrong way. But once you have something to work on, you should stick with it.
The common piece of advice is to follow your passion. But what it really means is you should follow your goal. You should subscribe to the goal of ending up passionate about your work, because it's great to be passionate about your work, it's much better to be passionate about your work and to be doing something that you're not evidently true. Following your passion assumes that you're wired for some sort of intrinsic creepy inclination towards a particular career path.
The key to your success is just matching your job to this passion that already exists. And so being willing to adopt a more complex understanding of workplace satisfaction is a great first step for someone who's just starting out to start from the right understanding of the landscape before going more into it.
Things that make people really love their job are often rare and valuable, and so the right way to think about it is you have to be able to do something very valuable, in order to have enough leverage to get those things in your right. As you build rare and valuable skills, you can invest that capital into traits like autonomy and impact and creativity, and connection that make people really love their work.
In order to exchange for those great attributes, don't let them just give them to you. A good way to start acquiring that career capital is to do hard, interesting things to get better as you do. And using your interest, your pre-existing skills, and your background as a starting point for identifying those projects, which I think makes all the sense in the world.
Cal is an expert on ensuring that social media and technology are only used for good; that is, he discusses how instead of letting multibillion-dollar companies control you, you can take control of your technological presence. He goes on to discuss his advice to focus on the big wins in your life and your career, but with rules around it.
Cal is an expert on giving projects unbroken attention for long periods of time — thus producing great work — and he goes over exactly how to do that in your life. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we discuss how to find our passions in life — and that being passionate about eventually loving your job is much better than any formulas that get thrown around.
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