Cal Newport — How to Embrace Slow Productivity, Build a Deep Life, Achieve Mastery, and Defend Your Time (#722)


Illustration via 99designs

“You can’t be busy and frenetic and bouncing off the walls with 100 projects if you’re obsessed about doing something really well.”

— Cal Newport

Cal Newport is a professor of computer science at Georgetown University, where he is also a founding member of the Center for Digital Ethics. In addition to his academic work, Newport is a New York Times bestselling author who writes for a general audience about the intersection of technology, productivity, and culture. His books have sold millions of copies and been translated into over forty languages. He is also a contributor to The New Yorker and hosts the popular Deep Questions podcast.

His new book is Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyOvercastPodcast AddictPocket CastsCastboxGoogle PodcastsAmazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. Watch the interview on YouTube here.

Brought to you by AG1 all-in-one nutritional supplement, Eight Sleep’s Pod Cover sleeping solution for dynamic cooling and heating, and Momentous high-quality supplements.

#722: Cal Newport — How to Embrace Slow Productivity, Build a Deep Life, Achieve Mastery, and Defend Your Time

This episode is brought to you by AG1! I get asked all the time, “If you could use only one supplement, what would it be?” My answer is usually AG1, my all-in-one nutritional insurance. I recommended it in The 4-Hour Body in 2010 and did not get paid to do so. I do my best with nutrient-dense meals, of course, but AG1 further covers my bases with vitamins, minerals, and whole-food-sourced micronutrients that support gut health and the immune system. 

Right now, you’ll get a 1-year supply of Vitamin D free with your first subscription purchase—a vital nutrient for a strong immune system and strong bones. Visit to claim this special offer today and receive your 1-year supply of Vitamin D (and 5 free AG1 travel packs) with your first subscription purchase! That’s up to a one-year supply of Vitamin D as added value when you try their delicious and comprehensive daily, foundational nutrition supplement that supports whole-body health.

This episode is also brought to you by Momentous high-quality supplements! Momentous offers high-quality supplements and products across a broad spectrum of categories, and I’ve been testing their products for months now. I’ve been using their magnesium threonateapigenin, and L-theanine daily, all of which have helped me improve the onset, quality, and duration of my sleep. I’ve also been using Momentous creatine, and while it certainly helps physical performance, including poundage or wattage in sports, I use it primarily for mental performance (short-term memory, etc.).

Their products are third-party tested (Informed-Sport and/or NSF certified), so you can trust that what is on the label is in the bottle and nothing else. If you want to try Momentous for yourself, you can use code Tim for 20% off your one-time purchase at not to worry, my non-US friends, Momentous ships internationally and has you covered. 

This episode is brought to you by Eight Sleep! Eight Sleep’s Pod Cover is the easiest and fastest way to sleep at the perfect temperature. It pairs dynamic cooling and heating with biometric tracking to offer the most advanced (and user-friendly) solution on the market. Simply add the Pod Cover to your current mattress and start sleeping as cool as 55°F or as hot as 110°F. It also splits your bed in half, so your partner can choose a totally different temperature.

Conquer this winter season with the best in sleep tech and sleep at your perfect temperature. Many of my listeners in colder areas enjoy warming up their bed after a freezing day. Go to and save $200 on the Pod Cover by Eight Sleep this winter. Eight Sleep currently ships within the USA, Canada, the UK, select countries in the EU, and Australia

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Want to hear the last time Cal Newport was on this show? Listen here to our conversation in which we discussed lessons from Steve Martin, living the deep life, how Cal secured his first book deal as an unproven 20-year-old, honing the funny bone for humor writing, mastering slow productivity despite 21st-century distractions, crafting the lives we desire, considering the spiritual as an exercise of meticulous craft and creation, Cal’s 30-day digital minimalism declutter, and much more.

#568: Cal Newport — The Eternal Pursuit of Craftsmanship, the Deep Life, Slow Productivity, and a 30-Day Digital Minimalism Challenge


  • Connect with Cal Newport:

Website | Blog | YouTube


  • [06:14] Unforced Errors: The Internet Story.
  • [09:41] Techno-selectionism.
  • [18:06] Why YouTube and podcasts aren’t ideal bedfellows.
  • [23:03] Amish technology and Steve Martin.
  • [28:07] What prompted Cal to write Slow Productivity?
  • [31:35] Becoming a better writer through blogging.
  • [36:54] The benefits of obsessing over quality.
  • [40:54] How did Cal decide to identify himself as a writer?
  • [52:02] People who exemplify slow productivity.
  • [58:45] Trade-offs on the path to 21st-century slow productivity.
  • [1:03:16] Push systems vs. pull systems.
  • [1:04:34] Quota systems.
  • [1:06:08] Why slow productivity isn’t a zero-sum game.
  • [1:09:33] Language that clarifies.
  • [1:13:17] Sender filters.
  • [1:16:20] What people might miss about Slow Productivity‘s message.
  • [1:21:24] How Cal defines productivity.
  • [1:25:36] Derek Sivers and money as a neutral indicator of value.
  • [1:28:34] Contemporary slow productivity champions.
  • [1:33:18] Asynchronous vs. real-time conversations.
  • [1:35:51] Making group scheduling less hellish.
  • [1:40:13] Cal’s problem with Frederick Winslow Taylor.
  • [1:42:01] How The New Yorker maintains its old-timey charm where other publications fail.
  • [1:49:05] Cal’s dream publications.
  • [1:51:07] Mental models for cultivating a slow productivity mindset.
  • [1:56:27] The consequences of playing the algorithm game.
  • [2:03:14] The renewed viability of newsletters.
  • [2:08:03] Parting thoughts.


“You can’t be busy and frenetic and bouncing off the walls with 100 projects if you’re obsessed about doing something really well.”
— Cal Newport

“As you get better at something, the more say you get over the way your life unfolds.”
— Cal Newport

“You’ve got to just not want to get started until you can’t help but get started. And I think that’s frustrating for a lot of the internet generation because it takes a really long time.”
— Cal Newport

“There was no hustle culture. That’s the interesting thing. When you go back and study people producing things of real value, using their brain, they were smart and they were dedicated and they worked really hard, but they didn’t hustle and they didn’t work 10-hour days day after day. They didn’t work all-out, year-round. They didn’t push, push, push until this thing was done. It was a more natural variation. They had less on their plate at the same time, and they glued it all together by obsessing over quality.”
— Cal Newport

“There’s nothing more quixotic than the overburdened worker who is trying to not say no, but get the person who’s giving them the work to voluntarily agree to not give them the work. It never works. If someone’s trying to get you to do something, and you’re like, ‘Well, I guess I could, but I am pretty busy,’ they’re never going to say, ‘You sound busy. Don’t do this.’ They’re like, ‘Yeah? Good. Well, I’m glad you can do it. Here you go. Get this off my plate.’”
— Cal Newport

“Slow productivity produces good stuff. It doesn’t just make the workers happier. It doesn’t just make you happier. You produce better stuff. I mean, your company has more profit. Your clients are happier. You can charge more for the services you offer, so it’s not zero sum. It’s more win-win than anything else.”
— Cal Newport

“Busyness doesn’t produce high value.”
— Cal Newport

“Don’t try to convince people of new things. Explain to them what they already know in a way that lets them take better action.”
— Cal Newport


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *