Make it easy, sustainable, and consistent: Tim Ferriss and Chase Jarvis — Active Recall Sketched

Last year, I listened to this Tim Ferriss and Chase Jarvis interview. I originally listened to it on Tim Ferriss’s podcast, not realizing it was really from Tim Ferriss’s appearance on Chase Jarvis’s CreativeLive show. The day after listening to the episode, I started writing a daily post and continued to 100 days.

This year, I’ve spent weeks and weeks jumping around from different types of projects. I’ve finally gotten focused and am trying to make one podcast episode (with my friend Wally) and one sketchnotes video each week. I thought it’d be good to listen to this episode again and make sketchnotes about it.

What would this look like if it were easy?

Tim talks about starting his podcast and talking to other podcasters. He looked at patterns between them and had a focusing question: what would this look like if it were easy? People often quit podcasting because post-production takes so long. To avoid that, he decided his show would be long-form interviews with minimal editing. He’s gotten to over 200 episodes so that seems to be working.

When trying to post daily, I also put a lot of effort into making things easy. I automated a lot of things so that publishing was easy. Then I over-automated things and it got hard again. Eventually I moved things to WordPress to prioritize that idea of making things easy.

I started a podcast with a friend and we’ve made some choices to make it easy, like going long. We’re learning as we go along and are trying to figure out the right amount of outlining and planning. There’s a balance, because too much planning turns it into a not-easy thing. Too little planning makes recording sloppy and then post-production turns into a not-easy thing.

Is this harder than it needs to be?

Tim presents that question to identify things in your system that could be made easier. Those are the things that are harder than they need to be. Another reason podcasters quit podcasting is that the equipment setup creates too much friction to want to record new episodes. Lots of beginner tutorials suggest different mixers, digital recorders, audio editing programs, hosts.

It gets complicated. It can be harder than it needs to be. What did Tim focus on? Intelligible and loud enough. That’s it, because most people will listen through headphones while doing something else. Sure, you can have audio quality that’s unlistenable. Unlistenable is a very low bar that you can hop over with a USB mic (or even stock iPhone headphones) and Audible for software.

Nobody’s favorite podcast is their favorite because of audio quality.

Now that I have a decent process for podcasts, I’m really focusing on figuring out how to make these sketchnote videos easier. Using Procreate, I can make really engaging visuals but it can take a very long time. With Keynote I can record video but editing requires some back and forth. Now I’m using Notability and Screenflow. Things still aren’t quite easy, but I’m getting closer.

Some things should be hard

Tim’s hard work is in batching things. His first best-seller, The 4-Hour Work Week, popularized email batching. He batches podcasts also, doing 2-3 interviews on Monday and 2-3 interviews on Friday. They’re released weekly so that already gives him a month and a half of content. It’s sustainable and consistent.

I want my hard work to be learning to present thoughts clearly and improving at storytelling. The other things are unimportant and I can try my best to make them easy. That way I have more time to focus on the important hard things.

Sum up

Ask these two questions:

  • What would this look like if it were easy?
  • Am I making this harder than it needs to be?

They both go toward the same end: making things sustainable to create content consistently.

I made it to episode 4 of my podcast with Wally. This is episode 3 of the videos. I’ll make sure to ask those questions so I can get to episode 4, 5, and then 10 and 20.

Pull-ups for your brain, studying effectively, and skill before passion: Cal Newport and Pat Flynn — Active Recall Sketched

Cal Newport is the author of Deep Work, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and How to Become a Straight A Student. In his interview with Pat Flynn, Cal goes over lessons from each book and goes a little bit deeper on Deep Work. Cal says that his books follow his life. As his career progressed he wrote about what he was going through.

Pat asks Cal when he started thinking about performance. Cal says he knows exactly when it was and it was sophomore year of college. When writing How to Become a Straight A Student, Cal interviewed top students and looked for patterns between them.

His main takeaway: active recall is the single best way to study. Re-reading a chapter? Waste of time. Active recall is the whole ball game.

(Yes, this is where I got the title of these videos and the podcast!)

Cal wrote So Good They Can’t Ignore You early in his career as a professor. It’s a book about starting your career and picking something to pursue with your work. It takes a stance against the popular idea of following your passion. Instead, Cal argues that you should first focus on skill. Becoming very good makes you passionate about it. In turn, you’ll really enjoy your work.

When thinking of things I’ve changed my mind about in the past few years, this book comes to mind. I was pretty deep in the camp of following your passion and doing what you love.

There’s something to the idea of working on things that interested you when you were younger. However, it’s difficult to have a thriving career doing things you love and enjoy the entire time. Getting there requires a little more than faith and passion. Surfing in your free time is a lot different than teaching surf lessons to Wall Street guys on vacation.

(I also like what Derek Sivers has to say about balance. You can pursue both money and art but keeping them separate might be a very good idea.)

Cal’s most recent book is Deep Work. Last year, I read a book a week but Deep Work actually affected my life the most. I learned to evaluate work I spend time on and identify which are most important.

I also started thinking about focus as a skill rather than a trait that we’re born with or not. I became more aware of how addicting technology can be. I started finding blocks of time for undistracted work. I’m still working on improving this. It’s the one thing I can do to increase my effectiveness.

Cal describes deep work as a skill not a habit. You start with shorter blocks of deep work. Then you can increase the amount of time until you’re able to focus for long blocks of time.

One trick to help with this is scheduling your distractions. Pat points out that it’s like a cheat meal when dieting. You can push on a little further without giving into a distraction. There’s a set time when you’ll be able to check your phone, check your email, or check social media.

Sum up

Here are some tips for every step in your career:

  • Use active recall if you’re learning something new (and hey, use Active Recall as well!) 
  • Understand the connection between getting good at something and being passionate about it. 
  • Find undistracted blocks of time to do deep work in. it is a skill not a habit or a trait you are born with.

As a form of active recall, I’m making videos and podcasts. I’ll try deepening my knowledge while sharing it with other people. 

Have fun, help others, and meditate: Lessons from Drama and Lewis Howes — Active Recall Sketched

I recently started listening to Short Story Long, a podcast by Chris ‘Drama’ Pfaff. Drama is the founder of Young and Reckless and also appeared on MTV’s Fantasy Factory and Rob & Big.

I only know him as Rob’s assistant and cousin on Rob & Big, and I’m not the only one. He talks about that on this episode. “People think I’m an idiot.” It only takes a few minutes listening to his podcast to see that he’s smart, driven, and insightful.

Lewis Howes hosts a podcast called The School of Greatness where he interviews top performers. He also has a laundry list of business and athletic accomplishments.

Lewis Howes has hosted his podcast for a few years now and right away flips it and sort of interviews Drama. He asks how it’s been in the months since Big Black passed away.

“Life’s tough, but you’ve gotta have fun.”

A few months ago, he had Big Black on as a guest on Short Story Long. That’s a great episode also. Particularly if you watched Rob & Big. Or even just know what the show was.

On his appearance, Big says that he promised himself he’d do the show until it wasn’t fun. It stopped being fun so he finished the season and was out of there. He had a kid and moved his family out of Hollywood.

Helping others and maturing in motivation

Drama and Lewis talk about how their motivation changed as they got older. Doubters are the best motivators. So many people are driven by trying to prove people wrong. It can be satisfying. The first few times.

Then it’s draining. You can’t just go from one chip on your shoulder to the next. Well, Michael Jordan could. What I’m saying is it’s probably not a good idea to be fueled by negativity.

When they got older, Drama and Lewis focused on helping other people. That eventually led to opportunities later where other people helped them. But don’t keep score. It’s not transactional. You build an audience by helping others. You make connections by helping others.

Meditate, visualize, and express gratitude

Lewis flips it on Drama again and has him talk through his goals for the next year. Then he asks what the biggest obstacle in the way is. Drama’s answer? “My brain.”

Meditation is one way to handle that obstacle. Lewis has meditated for many years and Drama has picked it up more recently. He says it’s helped him alleviate some anxiety.

Lewis also visualizes his day. He thinks about what challenges the day might bring and pictures the conversations he might have. It’s good preparation for going through the day.

To end his day, he expresses gratitude. I really liked this idea: you can be frustrated and grateful, but not at the same time. It’s good to be aware of that, so if you catch yourself feeling frustrated, you can express gratitude. Lewis says he and his girlfriend tell each other what they’re grateful for right before sleeping.

Sounds like a practice worth trying out.


Let’s make this long post short:

  • Have fun because it’s one of the best ways to get through tough times.
  • Look at where you might have negative motivation and think about how you might be able switch to positive, extrinsic motivation.
  • Be aware that your thoughts can be obstacles. They are also just thoughts and there are tools to deal with the destructive ones.

I’ll be listening to a lot more episodes of Short Story Long and School of Greatness and I recommend that you do too. Thanks for checking this out and make sure to check the video!

Activities — Do you enjoy it? Does it go toward your goals?

Stealing ideas from Stealing Fire. In Stealing Fire, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal write about flow and other states of ecstasis. They lay out steps for “hedonic calendaring”, where you end up with a schedule of your best activities that happen daily, weekly, monthly, or annually. Part of it is ranking activities you enjoy:

“Step Two: Use the Ecstasis Equation (Time X Reward/ Risk) to rank this list for value. Think daily sun salutations versus an annual ultramarathon, or a ten-minute meditation versus a trip to see a Peruvian shaman.”

Some other inspiration: In Designing Your Life, Dave Evans and Bill Burnett also suggest listing out your activities to create a gauge in four life areas: health, work, play, and love.

Making a list at all is a good exercise. Seeing everything on one page can be eye-opening. Some things look more wasteful when you see them side by side with a productive, fun activity that you’ve told yourself you don’t have time for. With limited time, it’s important to be deliberate about picking activities. (And scheduling them to take it a step further.)

With free time in the morning, I’ve been thinking about how to spend it and the factors involved. I’ve been using a different equation that’s narrowed down to a couple questions:

  • Do I enjoy it?
  • Does it go toward my goals?

It’s a simple grid for ranking activities. Let’s take a look at the four quadrants of the grid.

Things you like doing that go toward your goals: Do these more. This is where you want to spend most of the day. Think harder about this too, because some leisure activities might be very much going toward a goal of building a great relationship.

A solid example for me is playing basketball. I enjoy it (even if I’m not very good) and it’s good for my health. Though this does make me think of the risk factor from Stealing Fire. In that I can’t do this all day or even every day because then I’d have no knees.

Things you don’t like doing that don’t go toward your goals: Don’t do these. Easier said than done, but knowing what’s here in the first place is the first step toward not doing them.

One example for me was reading Hacker News. It’s an incredible resource and a great community. Those things also make it very addicting.

For me it was having a highlight reel effect similar to feeling like all your friends are always traveling or partying when through other social networks. You can only read about so many mega-successful startups before you start feeling like you’re not working hard enough or you don’t want it enough.

I was spending hours on HN and content found through HN. So I stopped.

You might be spending time in this quadrant and not realize it.

Things that go toward your goal that you don’t enjoy: This is an important area. Time spent here probably goes most toward your goal. I’d also describe this as the “I don’t enjoy doing it but I enjoy having done it” area.

Doing some deliberate practice? You’re probably in here.

You grow here but it’s also important not to spend too much time here.

It’s like those RPGs where you lose HP walking through poison gas but you know there’s a treasure chest somewhere there. As long as you don’t spend too much time there, you’ll be rewarded.

You can also find a way to make these activities more enjoyable.

Things you enjoy that don’t go toward your goal: These are your activities that are purely leisure. You have to stretch pretty hard to explain how they might go toward a goal. In a way, they go toward all goals because they help you recover.

It’s important to watch out for spending too much time in this area and the previous area. Too much time working on purely productive will lean to burnout. Too much time here might mean you’re not moving toward any goals.

A lot of productivity advice suggests cutting TV and video games out entirely. I’ll defend video games pretty hard (it’s a reliable place for finding flow and keeping in touch with long distance friends), but even TV has its place. Again, the key is making sure not to watch too much of it.

That’s the grid. I don’t have a name for it. Make your own:

  • Write a list of 20 activities you did this week
  • Map them against each other based on how much you enjoy them and how much they go toward your goals

(If you don’t have goals in mind, well, that’s another post.)

I’ve got a few more thoughts on this that I might write about, like changing activities to go more toward the top left. One example: if weightlifting alone isn’t super enjoyable then CrossFit might make it more fun with he same goal. Another example: if the shows you watch don’t go toward any goals maybe you should watch something more productive.

Or don’t, because giving up Game of Thrones to watch more TED talks just seems wrong.

Coming soon, but for now I’ll spend some time playing Xbox. You know, deliberate practice. Or was it for my goal to keep in touch with out-of-state friends, or was this just a leisure thing…?

Catch you next week!