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Charles Duhigg: Thinking Is The Killer App – Transcript

Read the transcript to the first episode of Season 3 of Simplify where Caitlin talks to Pulitzer winning productivity researcher, Charles Duhigg.
by Natallia Darozhkina | Apr 5 2018

Ben Schuman-Stoler: Welcome back to Simplify! Hi, I’m Ben Schuman-Stoler.

Caitlin Schiller: And I’m Caitlin Schiller. Simplify is for anybody who’s taken a look at their habits, their happiness, their relationships or their health and thought, “There’s got to be a better way to do this.”

Ben: We are super excited to be back in the studio.

Caitlin: Definitely. Ben slept enough last night, the world looks great from over here, and we’ve got some really cool guests this time around.

Ben: Yeah, we’re kicking off with Charles Duhigg, a.k.a. THE habits guy. His first book The Power of Habit was written in 2012, and even though that seems like a long time ago for some reason, today it’s STILL –– almost always basically every month in the top 10 books bought on Amazon.

Caitlin: It’s not totally surprising, because he’s just a clear, smart, good writer who can deliver research in a way that makes you excited to read it. Which also explains why he won a Pulitzer prize while working at The New York Times.

Ben: For anyone who doesn’t know Charles Duhigg, he’s an investigative journalist and a really good storyteller. His books always talk about how he spent, like, months trying to figure out how to get one story into a book. His research is incredible, and he always seems to pick the perfect examples.

Caitlin: We talk in this interview mostly about his new book which is Smarter Faster Better, and it deals with productivity—but not productivity as traditionally defined. Charles has this more expansive way of looking at it, which he gets into in our talk, and it makes productivity actually way MORE clear, not less.

Ben: Right. And I think this word “productivity” can be a little scary, and people think of it as time management or something. But this is a good episode, there’s a really good space to start off with, if you want to get it to productivity or curious about what’s out there.

Caitlin: Great! So one thing before we dive into it: the audio is not perfect. Duhigg is located in NYC, or at least he was for this call, and you can REALLY tell it in the interview. There’s street noise and angry drivers on their horns. We cleaned it up, but you still get a uh..sense of place, as it were.

Ben: Yeah, let’s just jump into the interview. Here’s Charles Duhigg… Pay attention, all you parents out there, to what Duhigg says about teaching his kids about productivity, which I found super interesting. And we’ll also hear about how he totally Duhigged Caitlin using one of his most known productivity techniques on Caitlin directly. We’ll talk about that after the interview in The Bookend, and also make a book list for other books that you could read if you like this topic.

Caitlin: Yep.

Ben: Alright, welcome back! Interview time!

Caitlin: Yeah!

Ben: Catch you guys in The Bookend!

Caitlin Interviews Charles Duhigg

Caitlin: Hi Charles! Thanks for joining us. Could you please introduce yourself?

Charles: Sure, my name is Charles Duhigg. I’m the author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better.

Caitlin: Awesome! Smarter Faster Better and The Power of Habit are both books that are interested in productivity in a way, but not in the traditional way that one might categorize it. It’s not a Pomodoro Technique quick-fix kind of thing. What you have in your books is a more expansive take on it. What is your definition of productivity?

Charles: Well, that’s a good point that it’s a more expansive take, but it turns out that that is actually productivity. So, when researchers look at specific techniques like the Pomodoro Technique or other things, what they find is that that might actually increase your productivity by 2 or 3%, right? It’s a useful mechanism for being able to organize your thoughts or to push yourself to start a project.

However, little techniques like that – life hacks, productivity hacks – they do not tend to almost in any case create a significant increase in productivity. Because the truth of the matter is that if you’re someone who has trouble starting a project and you use the Pomodoro Technique or use Getting Things Done or other methods, that will help you organize how you think and get in and start on work, but it’s not going to somehow magically make you work on much more productive projects or be able to prioritize much better, right. They’re techniques for helping you organize yourself and your life.

When people see a anywhere from 15 to 30% increase in productivity, that does not come from some little technique or hack. That comes from understanding how to think more deeply about the questions that are in front of you, right. So people who end up becoming much more productive, it’s not necessarily because they end up working harder, or because they change how they work. It’s because they start working on the right thing. Rather than wasting time on small projects, they understand how to identify and begin to break down the big important projects into meaningful steps. Or they become better at innovation, particularly, innovation on demand.

And we know this through, you know, from literally thousands of studies that throughout history the killer app, the killer productivity app, has always been thinking more deeply. Productivity changes from person to person and even changes from moment to moment or day to day. But what’s important is that productivity is the ability to work on the things that are most meaningful and most impactful, and work on them in a way that allows you to get closer to your goal faster and with less stress, strife and time.

Caitlin: OK. So you said innovation on demand a second ago. What does that even mean?

Charles: Well, it means that if, you know, there’s this sort of myth that innovation is the type of thing where like an artist sits in a room waiting for a brainstorm, right? And that’s actually not how innovation works. What we know is that some people can generate innovation and creativity much better than others, not because they’re more creative or more artistic, but because they understand how innovation works much better. And in doing so they’re able to basically create a process and an environment that allows them to essentially be innovative on demand, right. Your boss walks in and he says, or she says, “I need two great ideas by tomorrow,” and they know how to generate two great ideas.

Caitlin: I think, in Smarter Faster Better you refer to these people as “intellectual middlemen.”

Charles: Right, or “innovation brokers,” yeah. And the basic idea here is that if you look at what people consider to be innovative or creative, it tends not to be something that’s brand new. What it tends to be actually, is it tends to be old ideas, almost clichés, combined in a new way. And, in fact, that’s a really important insight because what it means is that means that anyone can be creative and innovative, if they understand how to make that process happen.

And there’s basically two steps to this process. And one of my favorite examples comes from the making of Frozen – the hit Disney musical. The thing that’s interesting about Frozen is that Frozen was actually on the brink of disaster, until just basically two months before it appeared in movie theaters. They didn’t understand how to make that movie work. And everything that they were trying just seemed like kind of old, and clichéd, and tired. You know, it just didn’t seem very creative and innovative.

Until they have this big meeting, literally just a couple of months before the movie appeared in movie theaters and on screens, when they were still working on the script and still writing it. And they made everyone sit down, and they said, “Look, we want you to tell us a couple of ideas that are important to you, and we’re going to see if we can generate something new out of that.” So they go around the table and everyone says, princess stories, right. Like, nobody knows princess stories better than Disney does. And so they say, “Look, we want to tell a princess story.”

And then the second thing that happens is they go around again, and there was an unusually large number of women who worked on Frozen. In fact, the first female director in Disney’s history was the co-director of Frozen, a woman named Amy Lee [Correction: The director of Frozen is Jennifer Lee]. And they go around, and a number people in the room saying, “Look. You know what’s really interesting to me – the concept of sisterhood.” And sisterhood is itself a cliché in literature, right? There’s, like, Little Women and there’s the Brontë sisters, there’s all these, like, sisters throughout literature. So it’s kind of a cliché to say, like, “I’m interested in sisterhood.”

But they go around and a number of people say, like, you know, what’s interesting thing to me about sisters is that, like, they’re complicated, right. Those relationships are really complicated, and it’s usually not like, you have one good sister, and one evil sister. It’s like, both are good and kind of evil, and they get along, and then they fight with each other, and then they get along again. And they said, “Look. Let’s just take these two ideas. What if we took the idea of princesses, which is a cliché, and we took the idea of sisterhood, which is kind of a cliché, and we jam them together.”

And in doing so they were like, oh my gosh, all of a sudden like, if we do that, it opens up all these possibilities. Now we could have a prince, but the prince won’t save the princesses. The princesses who are sisters, they’ll save each other. And that means that the prince can actually be the bad guy. But we don’t have to reveal that till the very end of the movie. And as soon as they said, we’re going to take these two clichés and combine them, it allowed them to basically see some creative opportunities, or creative potentials, that nobody had perceived before. And that’s what I mean about creativity on demand.

There are methods, there are formulas for things like setting goals, or innovation, or decision-making, that the most productive people know. And what those formulas are, it isn’t something like set a timer, right. It’s something like sit down and figure out how to think a little bit differently. And in doing so you will see opportunities that other people might not.

Caitlin: “Sit down and learn to think a little bit differently,” that sounds like a tall order if you don’t know where to start. Where would you tell people to start?

Charles: Well, I tell them to read the book, right? Like, the whole point of the book is to explain that to you. I mean, there’s a lot of interesting studies out there that talk about how to think differently, right, but most of them are written for academic audiences.

Caitlin: But then, what’s something that you’ve used that’s been helpful to you for thinking differently?

Charles: So, we know that one of the things that the most productive people do is that they tend to visualize their days with just half a degree more specificity, than everyone else. And in psychology this is known as building mental models. But basically, if you can build mental models that anticipate how your day is going to unfold, you tend to do a better job of sharpening your focus and being able to remain focused on what’s important and to ignore distractions.

So one of the things that I do, for instance, is that in the morning, as I’m riding the subway to work ––and then do this with my kids also when I’m taking them to school–– is I basically say like, “OK. Look. If I was writing a script for today, like, what’s going to happen in this script? Like, what do I think I’m going to get done before 10 o’clock? What am I going to get done between 10 and 12? Like, what’s the most important thing to get done between 10 and 12?” Because I know that it’s going to be much easier to, sort of, make choices as things come up if I have this mental model in the back of my head.

And then when I write a to-do list, very similarly what I do is I don’t fill a to-do list with a bunch of tasks, right. A lot of people use to-do list as essentially a memory aid. And it’s good to, like, dump the contents of your brain onto a piece of paper, so you don’t have to keep it in your brain. But that should not be your to-do list, that should be just a list of things that you want to remember for the future.

Your to-do list should only have three things on it, right, which is: number one – what is the most important thing you want to get done today; and number two – what is the thing you’re going to get done, if you get the most important thing done; and number three – if for some reason you get both those two things done, like, what do you want to start on next, or, in other words, what the most important thing for tomorrow?

And the reason why I say that is because a to-do list, instead of a memory aid, a to-do list ought to be a prioritization device. And so forcing yourself to figure out what your priorities are, that actually brings you much much closer to getting the most important goals done, which is productivity.


Simplify Listener: Hi! I’m Lexi from New York City, and I’d like to tell you one thing that’s actually a lot simpler than you thought it was: MOVING. Whether it’s moving apartments, moving cities, or even moving countries – to look at moving like a huge opportunity to declutter your life, you won’t actually have that much to move. And you won’t have to lift a finger doing so in today’s shared economy.

Interview Contd.

Caitlin: Y’know, I wanted to switch tracks just a little bit to habits, which is what your first book is about. But your second book Smarter Faster Better also deals with them. It seems like the most magical ephemeral piece of successfully forming a new habit is belief. And I found that kind of both scary and beautiful. How did you feel when you learned that?

Charles: Well, it’s an important kind of belief, right. What it is is that, studies indicate that it’s very very challenging for people to create new habits if they don’t believe that they have the capacity for change. Now, that doesn’t mean that the belief in our own capacity changes like something magical that you either have or you don’t. Oftentimes the way that people develop the ability to believe is by proving to themselves that belief is justified.

So in the book The Power of Habit, we talk a little bit about Alcoholics Anonymous. What’s interesting is that if you look at some of the steps in AA, a number of them say, you have to give over to a higher power. It doesn’t say it has to be God, it doesn’t say what it is. But it says, you have to believe essentially in a higher power than yourself.

And what researchers have found, when they looked at AA, is that this is actually like a very important part of AA, this is one of the reasons why AA has been so effective for millions of people. And the reason why is because if you just, sort of, pretend or at least try to believe in a higher power, even if it’s like, you know, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or something like that, or nature, or whatever it is, that you actually get to practice belief in a very low stakes way. And that practising of belief, that helps you believe that you have the capacity for change. Belief is kind of like a muscle, like when we exercise they get stronger.

But then there’s other thing happens in AA which is that you tend to sit among these other people, and they’ll, you know, tell their stories and say that they’ve been sober for, you know, a year or two, or whatever it is. And something happens, which is that people watching other people, and they think to themselves, “Look. You know, Jim says he’s been sober for a year. If Jim can do it, I can definitely do it.” And again the reason why this community, one of the reasons why this community is so important, is because it helps you learn belief. You see other people who basically say like, I’ve been able to achieve something, and it makes you believe you can achieve something.

So the concept here, is that in order to change, you need to believe that change is possible. But when we tell people that, it’s very daunting because, like, how do you just force yourself to believe. And the answer is by basically taking baby steps. You find the little things to believe in, you practice belief and eventually you start to believe that you have the capacity to do anything – which is true.

Caitlin: Yeah. You know, you mentioned in your books that you have two small kids at home. How are you teaching your children what you’ve learned researching these two books, or are you?

Charles: Oh, yeah yeah. No, I teach them all the time. So at the core of The Power of Habit is this basic idea which is the habit loop, which says that every habit has three parts, right. There’s a cue, a routine and a reward. We tend to focus just on the routine, when we when we talk about habits, rather than the cue and the reward. But it’s the cue and the reward that are really powerful and important in creating change, in allowing us to diagnose and influence in habits.

And so one of the things I do with my kids is, whenever they’re doing something that, you know, like, is clearly frustrating them or frustrating us, I ask them to sit down and, like, we diagnose together like, what’s the cue that’s causing you to do that, and what’s the reward that it’s delivering to you, and can we find a new behavior that corresponds to that old cue and deliver something similar to that old reward, but is, you know, less, either healthier, or makes you feel like you’re more in control, or is less annoying to your parents.

And then the other things I mentioned, you know, we sort of go through all this stuff, like, tell me what you’re going to get done today? Like, what’s the thing you’re most looking forward to do today? What’s the thing you’re least looking forward to do today? You know, you’re in charge, if you want to change that thing that you’re not looking forward to, how do you take control of that situation? How do you turn that chore into a choice, which we know is at the heart of how people motivate and generate self-motivation. So I spend a lot of time talking to my kids about it.

Caitlin: Yeah. I think that’s really cool. I hope that they benefit tremendously from it.

Charles: Me too.

Caitlin: So we’re getting up upon the 20 minutes now. So I want to ask you the two questions that I always like to ask. And one is, if you could tell people one thing about their own nature, and how to become truly productive, or more productive, what would it be?

Charles: Well, I think the thing I would tell people is that – and we know this from research – is that every single person listening can change any habit they want to. There are people who have been smoking for 20 years, who will smoke their last cigarette today, and will never smoke again. They are people who are 60 years old, and they are 30 pounds overweight, and they’ve been overweight their entire life, and they will start losing weight today, and they will never put it back on.

We know this from research, that every habit can be changed, no matter how old you are, no matter how old that habit is. The key though is that you have to understand how the habit works, right. You have to be able to, sort of, pick it apart into its component parts of cue, routine and reward, and understand how to create a new habit out of that. And once you understand that, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy, right. It’s not just that, like, everyone can quit smoking just because they understand the cues and the rewards. But it does make it easier, it gives you a place to start. And that’s where productivity comes from. Productivity comes from understanding how to take control of our own life. And we’re living through this golden age of understanding the neurology of these nearly subconscious behaviors. We know how to help people change now. They just have to avail themselves of the tools that are out there.

Caitlin: Yeah, that is that is pretty marvelous. OK, so the last thing. I was just hoping that you could recommend some books, something that you’ve read lately that you really like or you would highly recommend to people. Just anything that that you’ve enjoyed lately.

Charles: You know, I tend to recommend magazine articles to people. There’s obviously a number of wonderful books out there. But there’s a lot of really great magazine articles. There’s a piece by Calvin Trillin, Covering The Cops. It’s about Miami’s top crime reporter. It’s like a wonderful wonderful magazine piece. I would absolutely recommend that to anyone.

In terms of change, like how change happens, there’s so many great books. I don’t know, I tend to read fiction for the most part, to be honest, because I find it to be most meaningful.

Caitlin: Why is that?

Charles: Well, I think it’s because I write nonfiction. It’s just nice to escape and fiction lets me do that. There is a book I read recently that like I kind of loved. It’s a weird book, it’s called Void Star (by Zachary Mason), and it’s this person who writes really beautiful literature, trying to come to grips with and understand what it would be like to be AI. Which I think will become more an issue within the next couple of decades is how does AI think. So Void Star is the name of it.

Caitlin: Very cool, and that’s fiction?

Charles: Yeah, it’s fiction.

Caitlin: That sounds like it could be really interesting. Yeah, all right. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk today. I really appreciate it. It was great to speak to you briefly.

Charles: My pleasure.

The Bookend

Ben: Welcome to The Bookend, where we end… with books. And for those of you who don’t know, I don’t know when that became a thing, when I say that, but it’s a thing because we talk about books now. But before we talk about books, we like to sort of quickly talk about the interview and think about one quick takeaway. And I guess first, Caitlin, why did you want to talk to Duhigg so badly?

Caitlin: Well, I remember using his first book, which is The Power of Habit, for this article I wrote a few years back and I had the impression that he was a really smart writer, writing about what might be sort of boring stuff in a really engaging way—and, I mean, it’s no surprise. As we said in the intro, he won the Pulitzer. And also, there’s a video of his on YouTube that, I think, is probably publicity for his newest book, for Smarter Faster Better, because it shares some of the research in it via him telling the story of losing weight after diagnosing his own bad cookie habit. And it just really won me over.

Ben: Cool. So yeah, it was a um a slightly shorter interview than planned.

Caitlin: Indeed, it was.

Ben: How did that happen?

Caitlin: Well, I got down to the studio, after having been in other interviews for the past hour, and realized that I had Skype messages missed from Charles Duhigg, an email from Nat, our production assistant, and also texts from Ody, who had all been contacted by Duhigg asking if we are ready to go an hour earlier than I’d anticipated. At first I thought it was Daylight Saving Time, and then I realized there was no way that that mistake could have been made, and he’d received the same email I had that said we were meeting at 4 p.m. CET. And when I got on the phone, I was so flustered and apologetic, and was like, “Charles, I don’t know what happened. I’m sorry. There’s must have been our mistake. Let’s make the best of this.” And he was so cheerful and chill. He’s like, “That’s all right. I’ve got 20 minutes to visit with you today.” And I was like, “OK, let’s do this in 20 minutes.” And it turns out, that’s a technique!

Ben: Yeah. Wait, I have the book.

Caitlin: And as it was happening, I was like, “This seems familiar. Why does this seem familiar?” You brought a passage?

Ben: I brought a passage. Well, you love these appendices in his book. And in the appendix to Smarter Faster Better he explains how to use this productivity techniques in his life, like, how it helped him write the book. And so he’s talking about ––in the section on motivation–– how he knew he wanted to write this book, but he was having a hard time just getting to it.

And so he remembers this conversation he had with a military general where they said that recruits don’t want to start something hard, unless they really can take a step that makes them feel in charge, like they have control. So he said, “OK, fine.” So he’s like sitting at home, kids are in bed, he sees like a million emails, he’s overwhelmed. And then he just comes up with like a line to help his motivation, based on this military technique. And the line is “I can attend, but I’ll need to leave after 20 minutes.”

And then he starts starting all of his emails like that, like just some way to give him control: “Sure, I can attend the meeting, but I’ll need to leave after 20 minutes. I hope that’s OK.” Stuff like that. And he says he went through two dozen replies writing a short sentence hardly thinking about it. And then he would go back and fill in the rest of the email. So, like, that was his way of feeling in control, and then he felt motivated, and it’s exactly what he did to you. He said, “Cut it down to 20 minutes”, and then he was so totally cheerful. He felt like, “OK, well, you know, now I’m excited to do this because I have like a modicum of influence.”

Caitlin: Yeah, control. He pulled the ball into his own court.

Ben: So yeah, real life Duhigging. Live on Simplify!

Caitlin: Yeah, it was live Duhigging. It was sort of like when Michael Bungay Stanier just used his techniques on me.

Ben: Right. But so, you did do the interview, which was cool, so what’s the one thing that people should remember about the interview?

Caitlin: For me, from the interview and from his books it’s that productivity is not about the actions that you take ––it’s not about the 25 minutes principle of the Pomodoro Technique though, that is great and something I use and, I think, you probably used before too–– it’s about thinking. Being productive and being effective starts on the level of deciding what the most important thing you have to do today is, and then basing everything else after that.
Productivity is about choices. It’s about how you make the choices that define what you’re going to do that day. And to-do list is great and hacks are great, but until you get clear on what it is that you need to be doing, then it’s going to be a little bit hard to have real productivity.

Ben: Now, you told me something the other day like, that you learned there’s a deeper kind of work that starts before you actually start working, before the fingers hit the keyboard.

Caitlin: Yeah, right. Exactly.

Ben: That’s a cool way to think about it.

Caitlin: Yeah, thanks.

Ben: What about books? You got some books? What books should people read if they’re into this, or if they want to know more?

Caitlin: I’ve got a few books and, I think, you’d have one too. The first one is Deep Work, it’s by Cal Newport. This one covers a lot on technology, and how it’s wrecked our ability to really focus. Happily though, it also offers ways to stop letting our machines control us. Cal Newport gives these science-backed strategies that can help you do more deep work, be more productive and, thus, have even better free time. And who doesn’t want that?

Ben, you talked to Newport on the old Blinkist podcast, right? Didn’t you guys talk about like showers, and how they’re really good places for epiphany?

Ben: Nah, that was different. But he talked about laundry. He was like, you want to allow your brain to rest without completely disengaging from an idea that you’re working on. I think the most important part of deep work is like, you need to be challenged to be really focused, like, to be in a deep work state. And once you get into that sort of challenge flow – stay in it. And if you can learn how to stay in it, you will have an advantage over everybody in the marketplace in this knowledge economy. Because all we do is work with our brains nowadays, I mean, for the most part. And if you can figure out how to use that brain working power more effectively, in other words, stay in the problem and stay in the challenge, then you’ll be a more effective worker and thinker. So, that’s what I remember from the interview and also super powerful takeaway from Newport.

Caitlin: Cool. You use his methods, don’t you?

Ben: When I can… I mean, he’s a mathematician, so the laundry example comes from, he was saying, “I need to work for 8 hours on one math problem sometimes.” And the way to do that is to get into the problem for hours at a time. And then you want to give your brain a break, and give yourself a break.

But you don’t want to then start watching YouTube –– you have to do something where your brain is still dealing with the problem, but resting. And so, he was giving examples like, doing laundry is an example the brain is slightly engaged on the laundry, but is still in the background working on the problem. And when you go back to the problem, you’ll feel refreshed, but don’t have to remind yourself where you were, it’s not like you’ve completely disengaged.

Caitlin: Yeah. So that’s like that whole phenomenon of going out and, like, taking a quick walk, just letting your mind wander a little bit if you’re working really hard. Awesome.

Ben: Do you have another book rec?

Caitlin: I do. I have one called Creativity, Inc, which is by Ed Catmull. A thing that Duhigg and I spoke about quite a bit is this idea of innovation, being an innovation broker. And he leans in his book and in our conversation quite heavily on the example of the making of the movie Frozen.

I was a little bit familiar with the environment of the story –if not the story itself– before he and I even started talking because of this book by Ed Catmull, who is Disney Pixar’s president. Creativity, Inc is a really great book. It’s a look behind the scenes at Pixar and Disney Studios, and how they generate creativity, how they lead, how they manage, how they set the stage for magic to keep coming out of that one company so consistently and so well. It’s pretty fascinating. I’d recommend it for anybody interested in studying up on leading or creativity.

Ben: Or Pixar fans. Because they never made a bad movie.

Caitlin: Yeah, I don’t think they have, no.

Ben: I mean, I didn’t see Cars 2

Caitlin: Uuuh…

Ben: I have a recommendation also. And I have another book. Hold on, let me grab. This is year-old Getting Things Done by David Allen, master of productivity, wizard man, Simplify guest on Season 1. And I constantly go back to this book because there’s always more in it than you think. But the thing that I’m really into now ––thanks to a recommendation from our content lead Ben Hughes–– is something that David Allen calls the “Natural Planning Model.” Bear with me for a second because it connects to a lot of the stuff that Duhigg says. But essentially, if you don’t know David Allen, he’s, like, the productivity guy. And the reason why he’s so big is that everything he says is really simple and intuitive to a certain extent. Like, he’s not saying, make lists to make lists, he’s saying, make a list, because it’s easier that way, and that’s how the brain prefers to work.

So the Natural Planning Model ––I’m going to read the his intro to it–– he says, “You’re already familiar with the most brilliant and creative planner in the world – it’s your brain. You yourself are actually a planning machine: you’re planning when you get dressed, eat lunch, go to the store, or simply talk. Although the process might seem somewhat random, a quite complex series of steps has to occur. Before your brain can make anything actually happen physically, your brain goes through steps to accomplish virtually any task. And those steps are: defining a purpose, outcome visioning, brainstorming, organizing and identifying next actions.

Not to be too into the weeds, but it’s, like, this thing you mentioned about the main takeaway from the interview and also when Duhigg says, “You have to know why you’re doing something, in order to know how to do it.” And the brain does this automatically. If you’re planning what you want to eat for dinner, or where you want to go eat for dinner, your brain’s already like, “I want to eat dinner at a restaurant.” And then automatically, like, what kind of restaurant do I want to go to? Do I need the reservation? Who should I invite? Is it cash only?

And if you can apply that natural brain style to bigger projects, then you’ll find it goes easier and more effectively. And it connects to what Duhigg said in the interview with you, and he said he defines productivity as the ability to work on things that are meaningful and impactful, but in a way, that’s less stressful. And this idea of productivity is about less stress is something that David Allen is always talking about. He’s like the chillest productivity expert in the world.

Caitlin: Yeah, so relaxed. Cool! That’s a great recommendation. The thing that I think I’ve learned through working at Blinkist, and through doing these interviews and talking to these productivity people, is that so many of the things that we think are more stressful, like planning and organizing, they’re actually the thing that make your life OK.

Ben: Right.

Caitlin: And they’re not stressful. They don’t have to be.

Ben: There are stressful ways to do that.

Caitlin: There are, but they don’t have to be like that.

Ben: Exactly.

Caitlin: Which is kind of great. Yeah. Awesome!

Ben: Thanks for listening to this episode of Simplify. It was produced by me, Ben Schuman-Stoler, Caitlin Schiller, Nat Darozhkina, and Ody Constantinou, who was an early investor in vertical farms. These are the farms that you can build inside a big box, and you pull out so that it’s vertical. And if you’ve ever been to his apartment, or one of his apartments, you’ll see these giant boxes everywhere, and each one has like a different kind of lettuce.

Caitlin: Wow! He does make great salads.

Ben: He makes great salads.

Caitlin: Cool, so if you heard something that stuck with you this episode, I hope that you will share it. Sharing it with one person gets Simplify into the ears of somebody else who might really appreciate it. Or appreciate you! So yeah, use it to start a conversation.

Ben: And thanks to everyone who’s already subscribed to us on Google Play, Overcast, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, wherever you listen to podcasts. Shout out to Android people also – they like podcasts too. And give us a shout out if you want – a star, a heart or review, a rating, a thumb – whatever they got – and that helps us get the word out.

Caitlin: And we are also on Twitter. I’m @CaitlinSchiller and you are –

Ben: @bsto

Caitlin: Say hi to us there! Simplify is made by the same people who make Blinkist, a learning app that takes the world’s bestselling nonfiction books and condenses them into focused little capsules of audio and text that you can listen to or read in just 15 minutes.

Ben: And you can try it out, if you want to know what all the fuss is about. You can get 14 days free by going to and typing in this episode’s special voucher code: cue. Not like a pool cue, cue.

Caitlin: And that is my cue to tell you that you can email me and Ben at [email protected]. And remember, if you want to send us a voice memo because you’re more of an audio person, we’d like that too!

Ben: Yeah, tell us your stories, answer the question – Caitlin’s favorite question – what’s something that you found was easier than you initially thought it was? And send it to us at [email protected].

We’ll be back next week with another episode of Simplify, so check it out! In the meantime, this is Ben, checking out.

Caitlin: Checking out.

Ben: See you guys!

Caitlin: Bye!

Read the show notes for this episode here!

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