In my ears

Tim Ferriss interview with Cal Newport

19 March 2024

After listening to the Rethinking podcast episode where Newport talks with Adam Grant about his new book, Slow Productivity, I searched for other recent Newport podcast interviews. I stumbled upon The Tim Ferriss Show episode from February of 2024, where Newport went into more depth on how to approach the productivity of knowledge workers. I consumed this long episode over several days while walking the dogs and doing barn chores. I found Ferris’s interview style to be more engaging and free-form, possibly because it was longer. Grant’s approach was more academic with a broader focus, except for Grant’s ongoing exchange with Newport about email and social media.

Ferriss asked Newport how he applied the slow productivity principles to his own work. I especially enjoyed the discussion about one of the core principles of slow productivity: obsessing over quality. Newport explained how to approach improving the quality of your writing. One way to do this is to write constantly. “You can’t write well without practice,” said Newport. Another suggestion by Newport is to deconstruct articles that resonate with you, and then examine the specific elements that worked, such as the use of abstraction or the cadence of the piece.  Practicing those skills over and over (writing constantly!) builds your writing toolkit.

I like the idea of a writing toolkit. As someone who consumes a lot of nonfiction writing in the course of my work, maybe I should slow down when a piece of writing resonates with me to ask, “What works in these paragraphs (or chapters)? What skills is the writer successfully employing here? How can I hone these techniques during my daily writing session?”