Hidden Brain: Life, Interrupted

David Brooks, the columnist, and I might be paraphrasing here, but basically he pointed out this observation that great, creative thinkers approach their time like accountants; that this is this great disconnect is that they’re very structured and systematic about their time and produce the most unstructured, brilliant, creative insights. So it’s a key paradox to point out because I really want to emphasize it. Adding structure and control to your time really can be the key to getting the biggest insights and most interesting work produced.

VEDANTAM: I’m wondering if part of the tension comes about because we actually think of inspiration as being the thing that strikes us unexpectedly. And I think the case that you’re making is that inspiration actually can be scheduled to arrive on command.

.. NEWPORT: Well, as, you know, Chuck Close said – the artist – inspiration is for amateurs. I think we overfocus on the inspiration piece. If you’re systematically pushing yourself and your knowledge and your craft, you will have inspiration. It will happen in the shower. It’ll happen while you walk to work. What’s important is, you know, setting yourself up to have that inspiration and then giving yourself the time and structure you need to act on it, to actually produce something of value out of it.  So I downplay the importance of inspiration and I emphasize the importance of creating a life where inspiration as possible and you’re well suited to act on it.

.. I’m wondering if some people might say your advice is really advice for people who are, in some ways, are at the top of their food chains. So if you have an author who basically is able to say, I’m going to disconnect from the world for 18 months, I’m just going to focus on writing this book. You know, someone else is probably picking up after this person in all kinds of different ways. If Cal Newport says, you know, I’m going to close the door in my office, I’m not going to answer my phone, I’m not going to check my email, but someone needs to get in touch with you in an emergency, that person is probably going to reach an assistant of yours.

And that assistant doesn’t have the same luxury of deep work as you do because he or she needs to be available to hear what the emergency is or to hear what the request is. Does having a group of people who are engaged in deep work necessarily mean there must be essentially a second tier of workers who are engaged in shallow work to allow the deep thinkers to do their deep thinking?

NEWPORT: It doesn’t require that, but it usually requires some type of reconfiguration of communication channels and expectations.

 

..  I think a big part of it is lack of metrics. So if we look at two parallel case studies, two different industries – let’s look at the Industrial Revolution and the rise of mass industrial production. This was a world where the metrics for productivity were very clear. How many cars per hour is our factory producing? And what we saw in that world – where bottom-line value is very easy to measure – is that very quickly, the structure of work moved away from what was convenient for the workers and towards what produced more value.

It moved away from the old system in factories where you had people work in teams at one spot in the floor to assemble the car towards things like the assembly line, which are incredibly inconvenient. It’s very hard to manage an assembly line. It’s very hard to get it right. It causes lots of issues. It’s annoying. But it produces a lot more value.

You move to digital knowledge work – we don’t have those metrics. It’s much harder to measure, OK, what’s the cost to our bottom line if you’re more distracted or less distracted? And so my conjecture is that without those metrics, we are going to fall back on these interpersonal or cultural biases. We’re wired to be social. We don’t want to upset someone. These type of biases take over because it’s much harder to measure, in this new world, the impact of different behaviors.

 

.. I’m wondering if that might be a psychological driver in people being unwilling to actually cut themselves off because not only might they discover that they are more productive, but they might also discover the world does just fine – thank you very much – without you.

NEWPORT: Yeah. I think that’s one of three big psychological drivers that have led us to this world we’re in now of the sort of constant-connectivity business. So that’s certainly one, I think – this notion of, we get a sense of meaning and usefulness out of constantly being involved in interaction. I think the other two psychological drivers – one is just, we’re wired to be tribal. And it’s very difficult for us psychologically to know there’s an email waiting that we’re not answering. And even if we know for a fact that the person who sent that message does not need a fast response, it still feels like we’re at the tribal fire, and there’s a tribe member standing there tapping you on the shoulder, and you’re ignoring them. We just have a very hard time with that.

And I think the third driver is, knowledge work is much less structured. And so how do you prove to your organization or to your boss that you’re valuable? And busyness as a proxy for productivity is something that a lot of people have defaulted to.

.. Well, at the very least, if you see I’m sending lots of messages, you know I’m working. And so I think those three different factors are all intertwining to get us to this place where we find ourselves just constantly sending messages as opposed to thinking hard thoughts or producing new things.

Wanna Know What Donald Trump Is Really Thinking? Read Maggie Haberman

The New York Times reporter may be the greatest political reporter working today.

 .. Trump wants what she can give him access to—a kind of status he’s always craved in a newspaper that, she says, “holds an enormously large place in his imagination.” Haberman, for her part, has become a front-page fixture and a Fourth Estate folk hero. “This is a symbiotic relationship,” says an administration official. “Part of the reason” Haberman is so read in the Times “is because she is writing about Donald Trump.”
.. Haberman’s father, Clyde, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter, and her mother, Nancy, is a publicity powerhouse at Rubenstein—a communications firm founded by Howard Rubenstein, whose famous spinning prowess Trump availed himself of during various of his divorce and business contretemps. (Nancy worked on projects for Trump’s business but says she never met him.)
.. Haberman had her first byline in 1980, when she was seven years old, writing for the Daily News kids’ page about a meeting she had with then-mayor Ed Koch.
.. In those days, the future president was a fixture in Page Six, the Post‘s gossip column. In the midst of his second divorce, from Marla Maples, Trump was a maestro of controlling his tabloid image, calling in tidbits about himself.
.. The quick-hit rhythm that Trump and Haberman were both fine-tuning teed them up perfectly for today’s Twitter-paced news environment. “Maggie’s whole career has been about grabbing people by the lapels,” Burns says. She believes in the power of breaking incremental news—not holding every-thing back for a long read. She’s “wickedly competitive,
.. At first Thrush didn’t like her, mistaking her voraciousness for shtick. “My enduring image of her is, she’s standing outside the [press] van, she has a cigarette already lit in one hand, she’s lighting a second one because she’s forgotten that she has the first one lit, right? And she’s got a BlackBerry and a flip phone going at the same time. And I’m like, This is total bullshit, this is not a real person, nobody is this way,” Thrush recalls. Over time, however, as Haberman did not get beat, did not get beat, he realized she was for real.
.. In hindsight, Haberman was building a reservoir of knowledge and contacts that would make her probably the best-sourced reporter of the 2016 campaign. Significantly, she was accumulating sources who were close to Trump, who knew when he was angry and what he watched on TV and how he could only sleep well in his own bed. Her expertise wasn’t just Trump—it was the Trump psyche.

.. Haberman jumped to Politico in 2010, where she covered him full-bore for the first time; he was then flirting with the idea of joining the 2012 Republican primary and beginning to spread the lie that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Three years later, she moved to the Times as it beefed up its political staff in advance of the 2016 campaign. By the time Trump formally announced his candidacy in June 2015 and Haberman was assigned to his campaign, she’d been reporting on him for a decade.

.. Whereas most of the country knows Trump foremost as a reality-TV star from his time on The Apprentice, Haberman remembers that he was a New York institution before he became a national figure. “The Triborough and Empire State view of Trump is very different from the national view of Trump,” she points out. “His whole thing has always been to be accepted among the New York elites, whom he sort of preemptively sneers at—that thing that people do when they are not really sure if they will be completely validated, where they push away people whose approval they are seeking.

.. “You’re going to bring this up every time, aren’t you?” she says she told him. He “kind of chuckled” and replied, “It’s like therapy.”

.. Haberman is growing weary of the DC establishment’s seeming inability to metabolize the president’s personality. “There has been a very protracted shocked stage in Washington, and I think people have to move past that. Because otherwise you’re just never going to be able to cover him,” she says. “Every moment cannot be, ‘Wow! Can you believe what he just did?’ Yes, I can! Because he is the same person he was during the campaign.”

Her measured stance infuriates Trump’s detractors, who harangue her on Twitter for “normalizing” the president. But it gives her added credibility when she argues, as she did when Trump fired Comey, that one of Trump’s aberrant moves is a big deal.

.. “What is amazing is capacity of people who watched the campaign to be surprised by what they are seeing. Trump is 70. Ppl don’t change.”

.. Just as he didn’t back down after being accused of sexual assault, she says he is unlikely to walk away from this fight or resign. “I do not think he is enjoying the job particularly, and that is based on reporting,” she says. “But I also know he can’t allow himself to ever quit.”

.. they see Trump’s presidency more as a “national mayoralty…it’s got that scale, it has that informality,” Thrush says. “And it’s not just any mayoralty; it’s a late-’80s, early ’90s New York mayoralty.” Adds Haberman, “Some Ed Koch. A lot of Rudy Giuliani.”

.. One communications staffer after another told me that they appreciate the fact that she never blindsides them. “Maggie doesn’t camouflage. She’s perfectly willing to walk like a redcoat into the middle of the field and let everyone know she’s there because she’s going to get [her story],”

.. She never hedges her angle to try to protect her access, only to give politicians an unwelcome surprise when they read the story in the morning—a practice some journalists follow that Haberman calls “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. They’re going to lose [their access] anyway,” she says. “What do they think—that it’s going in a secret newspaper?”

.. she doesn’t keep an actual calendar, not on paper, not on her phone; it’s all in her head.

.. Friends and colleagues say this is her standard operating procedure. “She is literally always doing four things,” says her friend and former New York Post colleague Annie Karni. Haberman once said in an interview that she talked to 50 people a day. Not true, says Risa Heller, a spokesperson for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner: “She speaks to 100 people a day.” One colleague says she didn’t realize there was a limit to how many Gchats you could have going at one time until she saw Haberman hit the maximum.

.. ‘Oh, did Maggie just tell you that?’ Because she was literally talking to 16 people within our campaign at the same time.”

.. She almost never turns her phone off. “She’s got it with her at all times,” says her husband, Dareh Gregorian. She’ll wake up in the middle of the night and, instead of rolling over and going back to sleep, pick up her phone and start working.

.. “Maggie’s magic is that she’s the dominant reporter on the [White House] beat, and she doesn’t even live in Washington. She was the dominant Trump reporter on the campaign, and she didn’t travel with him. She’s so well-sourced and so well-connected that she doesn’t need to,”

.. Greenfield introduced Haberman by saying that he couldn’t remember a reporter having established a relationship with a president quite like hers with Trump

.. Lyndon Johnson gave preference to Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Walter Lippmann, and Lippmann had once gone so far as to secretly write part of a speech for Johnson—and then write a story praising the speech.

.. Kellyanne Conway defended Haberman last April in an interview, calling her “a very hard-working, honest journalist who happens to be a very good person.” Hicks echoed Conway, e-mailing me a few days later that Haberman was “a true professional.”

.. Haberman has reached the point in her career where sources are now chasing her, instead of the other way around—lying to her risks banishment and access to her news-promulgating prowess. “If you’re going to come at her,” says a Democratic operative, “you’ve got to come correct.”

.. “This is a president who is always selling. When I speak to him, it’s because he’s trying to sell me,” Haberman tells the audience at the 92nd Street Y.

.. “When we as a culture can’t agree on a simple, basic fact set—that is very scary. That [Trump] is unconcerned by that, I think, is the big issue,”

.. But effective salesmanship must be based in credibility—an area in which his administration has suffered significant set-backs in recent days.

Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?)

So, in layman’s terms, by doing more you’re getting less done.

.. “Our gadgets and all the things we look at on them are designed to not let us single-task. We weren’t talking about this before because we simply weren’t as distracted.”

.. Ms. Zomorodi prefers the term “single-tasking”: “ ‘Monotasking’ seemed boring to me. It sounds like ‘monotonous.’ ”

.. “When I was looking for jobs and interviewing, they’d always want me to say, ‘I’m a great multitasker,’ ” he said. “And I wouldn’t. My inability to multitask was seen as a negative. Now I can just say, ‘I am a monotasker. I am someone who works best when I focus on one thing at a time.’ ”

.. A good sign you’ve task-switched yourself into a stupor: mindlessly scrolling Facebook at the end of the night

Offtime: Moving beyond information “Junk Food”

Over the last 50 years the western world has made food cheap, abundant, and available anywhere, anytime. A consequence of this development has been junk food. Only relatively recently have we become aware of junk food’s detrimental effect on health, and only now have healthy eating initiatives become more widespread. Something similar is happening with technology. We have moved from a time of information scarcity, to bask in an age of information affluence. It’s not that this information didn’t exist before; it’s that our modes of access have proliferated. We’ve created a culture of junk information, and this onslaught of content-tailored-to-you is constantly available at your fingertips. Now, we need a change in attitude.

.. ‘Unplugging’ isn’t isolation, it’s an opportunity to reconnect. We want to bring people closer to the things that really matter to them, whatever those may be. Unplug and focus on your work, be with the people you care about, or simply enjoy some peace of mind. ( OFFTIME ) isn’t just downtime. It’s is a gift to yourself and the people you care about. It might just be the most valuable gift there is: your time and attention.

Offtime: Solution to Hyperconnectivity with your phone

We provide you with intuitive analytics of your phone usage, enabling you to identify your habits. Learn what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and how long for.

.. For a chosen period, block calls, texts and notifications that might disturb you. Select the people who can still get through, and we’ll make sure you don’t miss a thing. (Android only)

.. Welcome to the age of hyperconnectivity

Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?)

Indeed, multitasking, that bulwark of anemic résumés everywhere, has come under fire in recent years. A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that interruptions as brief as two to three seconds — which is to say, less than the amount of time it would take you to toggle from this article to your email and back again — were enough to double the number of errors participants made in an assigned task.

.. Not the same as mindfulness, which focuses on emotional awareness, monotasking is a 21st-century term for what your high school English teacher probably just called “paying attention.”

.. “It’s a digital literacy skill,” ..

.. “When I was looking for jobs and interviewing, they’d always want me to say, ‘I’m a great multitasker,’ ” he said. “And I wouldn’t. My inability to multitask was seen as a negative. Now I can just say, ‘I am a monotasker. I am someone who works best when I focus on one thing at a time.’ ”

.. A good sign you’ve task-switched yourself into a stupor: mindlessly scrolling Facebook at the end of the night or, as in Ms. Zomorodi’s case, looking at couches on Pinterest. “I just stuff my brain full of them because I can’t manage to do anything else,” she said. “The sad thing is that I don’t get any closer to deciding which one I like.”

..  “If I keep looking at my phone or my inbox or various websites, working feels a lot more tortuous. When I’m focused and making progress, work is actually pleasurable.”

.. Monotasking can also be as simple as having a conversation.

“Practice how you listen to people,” Ms. McGonigal said. “Put down anything that’s in your hands and turn all of your attentional channels to the person who is talking. You should be looking at them, listening to them, and your body should be turned to them. If you want to see a benefit from monotasking, if you want to have any kind of social rapport or influence on someone, that’s the place to start. That’s where you’ll see the biggest payoff.”

Constant Phone Notifications Are Ruining Your Productivity

Multitasking is so last year. New research has begun to suggest that becoming a GTD all star doesn’t necessarily mean doing it all, all at once. The new way to work is by dialing into one activity, also called monotasking.

.. Some studies have suggested that the average person checks their phone up to 150 times a day. The reason for that stems partially from a desire to feel connected, but also, interestingly, as a stress reliever.

According to a study by Baylor University, compulsive phone checking was seen as an attempt to reduce anxiety. Participants reported that the behavior of looking at their phone alerts was a way to boost their mood.

Another study conducted by Aalto University in Finland found that the process of checking your phone and receiving a notification produces a reward loop in your brain which compels you to repeat the action over and over again in search of more “rewards,” in the form of notifications. These findings substantiate the above Baylor study that phone checking is correlated with a dopamine response, by providing momentary satisfaction.