Cal Newport's " Deep Life Stack": 4 Months to reinvent your life

Sep 19, 2023

mentalHealth productivity 100DaysToOffload deepLifeStack

Reading time: 4 minutes

I usually stay away from the “productivity” genre on YouTube as far as possible, because there are just too many influencers on there who boast about how great they are at being productive, how super sophisticated their productivity system or bullet journal is, or who produce these quite frankly ridiculous “study with me for 13 hours” videos.

A very pleasant exception to this is Cal Newport’s podcast.

Cal Newport has been blogging about productivity since around 2007, has by now published 7 books (including “Deep Work” and “Digital Minimalism”), has been running a weekly podcast for a few years now (early on he posted several times a week) and regularly publishes long form articles in magazines such as “The New Yorker”. And these are all just things he does on the side; his day job is being a professor of computer science at Georgetown University in Washington DC. So I don’t think it’s wrong to assume he knows a thing or two about productivity.

Oh, and he’s also my exact age, which may or may not trigger a bit of anxiety and feeling of inadequacy in me…

Anyway, his approach is not “I’m going to get a new bullet journal”, but more general and holistic, he’s all about how to set up your life in such a way that you get the things you want to do done and still have free time and energy left so you’re not constantly stressed out of your mind.

One thing I like a lot about his podcast is that he often presents ideas that are still in the making and then picks them up again in later episodes and develops them further. In one of his latest podcast episodes he presented a 4-month plan to put your life on a new, hopefully more stable ground. This is based on an earlier idea that he continues to develop and refine.

He suggests to divide the procedure into four successive layers which he calls the “deep life stack”. Here it is as a picture, with an explanation afterwards:

4 layers, discipline, values, control, vision

The four layers that build on each other are:

  • Discipline as the lowest layer
  • Values as the second
  • Control as the third
  • Vision as the highest and last

To give just a very rough summary, the individual layers are about the following:

  • Discipline: Develop an image of yourself as a disciplined person
  • Values: Reflect on and clearly define your own values
  • Control: Take control over recurring tasks, automate or eliminate where possible
  • Vision: Develop a plan for how yout life should develop in the next X months/years

I am going to discuss the individual levels, how Cal defines them and my thoughts on them in more detail in later posts.

This approach makes a lot of sense to me, and since I am currently thinking a lot about where I want my life to be headed, I think this a good way for me to deal with it in a more structured manner.

Cal suggests to set apart two weeks for the first layer (discipline), 4 weeks for the next two and 6 weeks for the last (vision). That makes the whole process last about four months. He recommends starting at the beginning of September, because then you end up exactly at the end of December after four months and start the new year with a structured plan.

I’m starting this week, in mid-September instead of early September, but that’s okay. I’m off work for three weeks now and so I have enough time to start thinking about this, and also my birthday is coming up, which is generally a good time to reflect on my life and plan where to go next.

Post 004/100 of the 100DaysToOffload Challenge

This is a translation of the original German post made by DeepL and then manually adapted to (hopefully) sound a bit more human