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Attention Thieves with David Kadavy

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We can sabotage ourselves by the way we prioritize our day by not differentiating between the urgency of emails and getting distracted or manipulated by the media. Today’s guest is David Kadavy. David is the author of the books Mind Management, Not Time ManagementThe Heart to StartDesign for Hackersand multiple short reads. David is a self-published coach and the host of the podcast Love Your Work. David has spoken in multiple countries and has been featured in The Overserver, The Huffington Post, Upworthy, and Life Hacker.“Media is a business. Their business is selling your attention. They want your eyeballs. They want you to get sucked in. And they want to sell your eyeballs to advertisers. It influences the quality of the media we consume on a…CLICK TO TWEET

Show Notes:

  • [1:02] – Welcome to the show, David! David explains what he does in the writing field.
  • [2:50] – Chris admits he is a master procrastinator and tends to spend his time doing tasks that are not as important as others.
  • [3:45] – David explains how he divides things up by mental state.
  • [5:57] – A way to avoid emails that don’t need attention right away, David uses a program called Boomerang.
  • [7:38] – David demonstrates how open loops apply to click-bait.
  • [8:56] – The looming possibility of urgent emails can waste energy.
  • [10:10] – David keeps his phone on do not disturb and uses the favorites feature.
  • [12:22] – The news and media can be a huge distraction. 
  • [13:10] – If the media captures your attention, it is not a mistake. We are attracted to negativity.
  • [15:47] – You don’t need to know everything that is going on every single moment of every single day. But it is hard not to get sucked in.
  • [18:10] – The immediate availability to communication creates urgency that hijacks your attention.
  • [19:30] – The first person that should get your attention is yourself.
  • [21:00] – As you start prioritizing different things, people may stop demanding your attention immediately.
  • [22:23] – David lives in Columbia and the cultural values are much different there than in the United States.
  • [25:19] – People in different countries may look at time differently as well.
  • [28:33] – People also tend to change how they think about time.
  • [30:03] – If there is a specific set of steps to complete a task, AI can do it. But human creativity is missing.
  • [32:27] – David describes a typical writing day for him and how he manages his mind.
  • [35:01] – David explains the science behind why morning grogginess is actually a prime state to be in for creativity.
  • [38:29] – While resting, free association gets a chance to manifest.
  • [41:15] – Arguing viewpoints on social media has become a priority for a lot of people.
  • [44:50] – There’s so much fighting for our attention.
  • [45:55] – David shares the titles and brief description of his books linked below.
  • [48:01] – kdv.co is shared as an opportunity to download a free writing toolkit.

“When something captures your attention in the news, it’s not a mistake.” – David KadavyCLICK TO TWEET

Thanks for joining us on Easy Prey. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and leave a nice review. 

Transcript:

Can you give me and my audience a little background on who you are and what you do? 

Yeah. David Kadavy. I’m a writer and I write a lot about creating things, or I write about writing and using your mind to focus and to create things and put them in the world. At the same time, trying to keep other people out of your mind and keeping them from living rent-free there. 

I’ve got a few different books that I’ve written: The Heart to StartMind Management, Not Time Management; and several other books. I have a podcast myself called Love Your Work where I explore how to manage your mind to actually create things and put them out in the world. 

That’s totally awesome. We’ll make sure to link to the podcast and the books in the show notes so people can easily find them.

Right, thanks. 

I wanted to talk about—I know for me when it comes to productivity and focus, that there are things that totally derail me from actually getting the things that I need to be done, done. There’s this one that I always get myself caught up in is that I have this to-do list of totally useless things to do. I will, at the end of the week, feel like, “Oh, man. I got a whole lot done and I realized it was a whole bunch of moving a widget from here to there, nothing that moves my business forward, but a whole bunch of stuff like, “I feel good, but I didn’t actually do anything.”

Oh, OK. You’re asking yourself whether you need to be doing those things at all in the first place? 

They are things that probably should be done at some point, but I think I get caught in this trap of, “Well, this was truly productive because I’m checking off checkboxes as opposed to stuff that actually makes a difference.” 

Right, and so then do you find yourself maybe procrastinating on something more important with these smaller things? 

I am totally an excellent procrastinator. I have mastered the ability to procrastinate.

Right. Then you do the other thing that feels good. It feels good to check off the list, but at the same time, you didn’t have to do this other thing that maybe felt unpleasant or that seems like it might be a lot more work. You get this satisfaction from doing this simple task when, at the same time, you’ve avoided this important thing that needs to get done.You get this satisfaction from doing this simple task when you’ve avoided this important thing that needs to get done. -David KadavyCLICK TO TWEET

Yeah, I’m really good at that, unfortunately. 

Yeah. Just right off the bat, I’ve got something that I do that helps prevent me from doing that sort of thing, if I could share it. 

Absolutely.

I’ve gotten to the point where I divide things up by mental states. I’ve got a book called Mind Management, Not Time Management. A lot of people think about time. The thing about time is this commodity that I have. It’s blocks of frozen orange juice concentrate, it’s bushels of corn. One is just the same as the next.

We all know that’s not the same. If somebody sent you a meeting invite at 3:00 AM you’d be like, “What? You’re crazy. I’m not going to meet with you at 3:00 AM. It’s got to be between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM,” or 7:00 AM and 10:00 PM, these days, right? 

Yeah.

They were sort of treating everything the same way. Well, I like to treat it as if there’s a certain time that’s super valuable, and then there’s a certain time that’s not so valuable. For me, as a writer, someone who’s creating things, mornings are super important. I don’t want anybody impeding on my morning. 

I want to get up. That’s the best energy that I have for being creative, and I want to get up and I want to write. I don’t want anything to get in the way of that now. By contrast, something like a Friday afternoon—or I guess we’re speaking on a Wednesday afternoon—it’s not the best energy for me to be writing. Like right now, for example, on a Wednesday afternoon, or Friday afternoon, especially, not the best time for me to be writing. But there’s a lot of other stuff that I can do during that time. I have things set up.

An example of something that might have normally got my attention previously that I might have procrastinated on is I might get an email from my accountant. My accountant would say, “Here is the monthly financial statement. Please review this and make sure that everything is correct.” OK, not urgent, doesn’t need to be done right now, but it’s like, “Oh, here’s the thing I can do. I’ll get it done, I feel good, and I can understand it.” 

Now what I do is if I get that email on, say, a Tuesday and it’s going to be late morning before I even look at my email, I have a little tool I use called Boomerang that will send the email out of my inbox and then I’ll have it come back to me Thursday afternoon. That is my administrative task bucket. 

I’ve got seven mental states that it doesn’t work that well on audio—it’s in my book. But generate is writing, administrate are these administrative things like taking care of the financial statements. That’s going to be, like, Friday afternoon energy. 

Having that bucket, I find knowing this is going to get done, don’t use your best energy to do this superfluous task that’s hard to delegate that you still have to do and use some different energy to do that stuff. Just having that bucket quiets your nervous system down, makes you feel less nervous about it. 

I have a friend who said that if he’s worried about something—this is a similar sort of trick—he has next to his bed a pad and paper. He will write down, “OK, I’m going to worry about this on Tuesday at 3:30 PM.” Somehow, that closes the mental loop for him and he doesn’t worry about it anymore. Just knowing it’s going to get taken care of seems to work wonders.

That’s kind of the GTD methodology or the mindset is that if you document it, your mind isn’t busy thinking about it because you’ve given it a place.

Exactly. You’re closing the loop. We can’t help but think about any open loop. This is how clickbait works, for example. It’s this, “Is this person terrible? Now, I’ve got to know.” 

What am I going to do? 

I’m going to click on it because I want to answer the question. It turns out the answer is probably no, but whatever, you’ve still got to click. We have those open loops—any way you can close the loop, feel confident that thing is going to get taken care of. That certainly frees up a lot of mental energy.

What are some of the other things? So if open loops keep us unfocused, distracted, and are occupying chunks of our mind, what are some of the other things that take up space in our mind when we shouldn’t let them?

I just think, in general, having a lot of different things that you feel you need to be doing regularly, like checking email, for example. Having to feel like there’s going to be an email that you need to get to. That there’s a chance there’s an email that’s going to be urgent is death. 

Let’s say you have a boss who expects you to respond to emails within 15 minutes or something. Totally unreasonable; that’s not how you should use email. That’s a cultural problem in your company, but you have to deal with it somehow. Well, just because that boss wants to hear from you within 15 minutes. 

Now, you’re seeing everybody’s emails—the emails that you don’t need to respond to—and you see those things. I can do that thing. Then you’re getting stuck in that, and you’re not using your mind to do the wonderful creative things that it can do. 

I think having ways to extract yourself from that. Myself, as a writer, independent writer, I don’t get a lot of urgent emails. I just have rules, like don’t check email before lunch. Wake up in the morning, go straight to writing. You don’t check the news. You don’t check your email. You don’t check your text messages. You pay yourself before you pay anyone else.

Now, let’s say you do have that boss who needs to hear from you within 15 minutes. Well, that doesn’t mean you need to check your email all the time. That doesn’t mean that you need to get notifications for all of your emails. All it means is you need to get notifications. You need to know when your boss is emailing you, and there are ways to do that. There are different filters. 

My phone, for example, is on Do Not Disturb all day long. But then there are favorites. Favorites, if they call me, my phone will ring. I don’t live by my calendar, really. I have, maybe, a couple of meetings a week, if any. When I have something like this podcast interview scheduled, I already have a ritual, first of all. Like on Sunday, I review my calendar and that’s the last that I really look at my calendar. The week I write everything down or whatever. 

But then all these things like this podcast interview that I could totally forget about or I don’t want to get notifications for, there’s not really a good way. I have a lot of notifications off. I’ve got pretty much no notifications on my phone. My phone is on Do Not Disturb. 

I wish that somebody would make a feature that works for this and somebody told me maybe that Android does this, but on iOS, I physically—when I do that Sunday review—I go through my calendar and I actually set up alarms for every event that’s relevant during the week, which is really usually one, two, or something like that. 

Having these buckets or being selective about what is going to notify you and what is going to interrupt your attention instead of just allowing wholesale all these things to invade your consciousness all day is a huge win for anybody who wants to do something with their lives.

When you talk about the things occupying your mind and interrupting, I think of just the news since the pandemic started and whether we’re liberal or conservative. There are these depressing news stories that are just constantly trying to grab our attention and COVID this and COVID that, shortage this.

They can turn anything into a political issue or a divisive issue where you’re on this side or you’re on that side. It’s a business. It is a business and their business is selling your attention. They want to get your eyeballs, they want the click, they want you to get sucked in, they want you to argue with people. Also, they can sell your eyeballs to advertisers. That’s unfortunately the way the economics work out, and it really influences the quality of the media that we consume on a day-to-day basis.

I think that’s an important thing to understand, is that when something is calling your attention in the news, it’s not a mistake. It’s their job. It’s their job literally to capture your attention by whatever means necessary. We’re more attracted to negativity. We’re more attracted to fear. We’re more attracted to conflict than positivity. That’s been shown in behavioral science. 

Just being aware of that is actually a huge step for a lot of people and a huge revelation for a lot of people. When The Social Network came out, everybody was going crazy about that, and now it’s on Netflix. They’re like, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea that my attention was being manipulated by Facebook.” It’s like, “Where have you been in the last decade? How is this news to you?” It’s quite sad, really.

Just being aware of that and understanding that people are after a piece of your mind. Your mind is gold and you can get so much more out of it yourself than somebody else can get out of it. It’s worth so much more if you can take ownership of it and make something out of that than if somebody is just mining your attention as if it were iron ore they’re just going to scrape away the side of a mountain. Just being aware of that I think is a huge mindset shift for a lot of people. 

Yeah, I think that kind of awareness has helped me a ton personally because I used to have all my social media notifications on. If someone mentioned me in a tweet or Facebook decided, “Hey, you don’t know this person, but I think you need to read this post.” My phone was just constantly, “Oh, what’s this? Oh, what’s that? What’s this? What’s that?” I could never get anything done.

A good friend of mine says turn off all your social media notifications. Stop watching the darn news. None of that is healthy for you. They’re just trying to hijack your mind.

It’s a tough thing to do too because it seems like you’re doing the right thing at the moment because they’re also great at turning it into some sort of a moral imperative that you are supposed to be informed. Somehow that means that you’re supposed to know literally every single thing that’s going on in the entire world, every single moment of every single day. No, I do not think that that is your moral responsibility. 

Now, if you want to go buy a newspaper every Sunday, have coffee, and sort of catch up on what was fit to print once a week, once a month, or whatever, then you can “be informed.” The rest of the time, read books. That’s an honest exchange. They’re not just needing to get your eyeballs. They want to actually sell a book, which has its own economic issues sometimes, but you don’t need to know everything that’s going on every single moment of every single day. 

It can be difficult to not get sucked in by these things because then you have to confront your life. It’s like Alanis Morissette said, “Why are we so petrified of silence here? Can you handle this?” And all the things you’re going to think about during that little pause in this song. It was an Alanis Morissette song back a long time ago. I’m dating myself. 

That’s part of what’s difficult: If somebody is not taking up your attention, you’ve got to decide what to do with it, and that can be scary for some people.

Sometimes it’s easier to have somebody else drive our attention for us. The “I want to go to work, be told what to do, go on social media, be told what to think so I don’t have to make any decisions.” But we’ve just abdicated those decisions to somebody else.

Yeah, it’s easy. I feel like the world used to work that way more easily than it used to. You could go to work and have somebody tell you what to do, they give you a paycheck, or you go to school, go to college, get the degree, go do this job. Somebody’s already figured out how to do it. There’s no AI doing it, so the jobs still exist. 

All these things aren’t really necessarily the way that they used to be. We actually have to dig in and become our unique human selves and see what it is that we have to offer the world that a computer can’t do.

Yeah. We’re going to both date ourselves here, probably me more than you. Growing up, if I wanted to get a hold of somebody, I called their home phone and left a message on their answering machine, if they even had one. Then you had to wait hours or a day or two to get a response. There wasn’t this social contract of, “If I text you, there’s this implied, ‘You need to drop everything that you’re doing and respond to me right now.’” I wonder how much of that urgency that we’ve allowed in our lives just hijacks our productivity, hijacks our focus?

People have that. I feel like I’ve overcome that for myself. I realized that it’s a good skill to be able to ignore an email from the stranger who’s asking something of you that you don’t have time to think about, that you don’t want to do, or even getting a message from a friend and knowing even that they saw that you read it and not responding right now. Marking it as unread and there’s a different time that you do it. 

Just being OK with saying to yourself that the first person who gets your attention is you and then maybe some very close people or whatever that take priority over the rest of the people. Then the rest of the people get what’s left over. Maybe people every once in a while are like, “Gosh, why didn’t David respond?” I can’t say that I’m not a people pleaser at all, that it doesn’t hurt me to let anybody down, or that I don’t worry about what people think about me. But somehow, that part of it I’m like, “I don’t care if you’re upset that I didn’t respond to your text message right away. That’s your problem, not mine.”

I think part of that is just practice and probably the people that you deal with, you have reset the contract with them. I was doing consulting work for some people and in the beginning, it was if they called me, I picked up the phone and, “Oh sure, I could take care of that right away.” Then I realized, well, I’m not getting stuff done that I need. Yeah, I’m getting paid to do this, but there’s other stuff that I get paid more to do. I really should be doing that first. 

I started to be like, “OK, I’m just going to let the call go to voicemail and I’ll check the voicemail in 15 minutes and then do it.” Then it was an hour, then two hours, then three hours, and I started getting less and less calls. Then they would switch to an email like, “Hey, as long as you can get to it this week.” “Hey, could you take care of this or that?” I’m like, “Oh, this is so refreshing that I kind of trained them to—I’m not on your payroll. You don’t own my day. Trust me, I’ll take care of you and get your stuff done, but I’m going to set the pace for it, not you.”

Yeah, resetting that expectation. I think that if you’re working with clients, the majority of them are going to be OK with it. Maybe once in a while, you have a problem client who is like, “Hey, why don’t you respond to this stuff right away?” Well, how much is that client paying you? 

Dropping everything and doing something right now, as opposed to being able to have a little bit of buffer time where you have control over where things are done. Those two things cost something different. You have to ask yourself whether or not it’s worth it. If you have control over—maybe there are some clients that you’re not working with that you can train up and work in a different way. 

For myself, I think I’m also blessed that a lot of people who I interact with have similar values and work in a similar way. Though, I want to say this is definitely one of the interesting things about living—I live in Colombia, I live in South America. I don’t know what rabbit hole this is going to get us down or be a total dead end, but they have a completely different conception of how to use these things than me, as somebody who has worked in Silicon Valley, who has worked in programming, values asynchronous communication. 

To an extent, when appropriate, asynchronous communication is great. I message you, I tell you what I want, and I don’t expect you to drop everything. You on your own time do that thing and deliver it to me or whatever. That works out great. I see that as more efficient. 

Here in Colombia, I will very often look at my WhatsApp—that’s what people mostly use to communicate—and I’ll see, “Hola, buenos dias, como estas?” “Hello, good morning. How are you?” The message was four hours ago. I’m like, “What does the person want?” You’re supposed to respond in kind. You’re supposed to be like, “Buenos dias. I’m good. How are you?” Then there’s going to be a conversation that takes place kind of in real time. 

To some people that’s like, “Oh, that’s obviously not as efficient. It’s obviously not as good.” I wouldn’t go that far. It does make me think about it sometimes, like, “Oh, maybe it is kind of better to not be totally asynchronous on everything all the time.” They’ll do the, “Hello. How are you?” I message my friends on Facebook Messenger or something and be like, “Oh, hey, what was that movie that you were talking about the other day?” That’s the message. And I’m hoping to get it back at some time and not interfacing. 

That’s considered rude here to just ask the thing that you were going to ask. Whereas in the United States, it’s considered rude to feign interest in how somebody is doing, if that’s what it is. So there are different ways to think about it.

It’s a different social contract. If you’re born and raised in Silicon Valley, that’s the contract you’re used to, and when you meet people from different cultures, you expect them to have that social contract. And then all of a sudden, you’re in a different country. It’s like, “No, that’s not the way things work here. You’re rude.”

Yeah. And that’s the amazing thing too. People will instantly jump to the conclusion: this is wrong. One of the things that I noticed when I moved here, or when I first started traveling here, is that something’s happening once a week. So you’ve got an appointment, it’s Tuesday, our next appointment is next Tuesday. When is that appointment? Well, they’ll say, “Es en ocho días.” It’s in eight days.

Oh, no. 

Right? You’re like, “Whoa, that’s wrong. What are you talking about? It’s seven days.” But when you really break it down you’ll realize that—so I’ll step this back a little bit. There’s this social psychologist named Robert Levine. He went around, traveled around, and looked at different attitudes towards time. And he identified two different approaches to time. One is event time, and one is clock time. 

Now, clock time is what we’re very much on in the United States. “This thing’s happening at this time.” “This meeting’s happening at that time.” “We’re going to have dinner at this time.” “This should take this long,” et cetera. Now, event time is more like, “We’ll meet and we’re going to try to get this thing done. Maybe if there’s time after that, we’ll go to lunch,” and whatever. One thing is going to happen after another. It’s a series of events. 

Event time tends to be more oriented towards like, “We’re going to try just to meet this certain goal.” Whereas clock time is, “We have this certain amount of this resource of time that we’re trying to fill with some certain output and we’re just trying to get it all to fit in there.” When you realize that, then, “Es en ocho días” starts to make sense. Why does it start to make sense? Because each day is an event.

Today is actually Wednesday. Today’s Wednesday. If we’re going to meet again next Wednesday, then we have today, which is an event. And then we have seven other days, which are all events, so it’s eight days. Now, in terms of time, it’s exactly seven days. It’s seven revolutions or rotations of the earth, between now and our next meeting, approximately. 

So when you realize that there’s event time and there’s clock time, then it starts to be like, “Oh, I see why you’re seeing it differently.” I mean, who am I to be like, “Yeah, this conception of time that all of you have in this entire country is wrong.” No. I will extend that to say that it does extend to when something happens in two weeks, then it’s in quince dias, it’s in 15 days. So today counts and then 14 more days—quince dias. Now, the little wrinkle, though, is that when something happens in three weeks, it’s veinte dias. It’s 20 days. I can’t make any sense of that.

Colloquialism versus specificity.

Yeah. Right. It’s been really interesting to learn about clock time and event time. There are these two researchers, both who have researched different attitudes about time and the way it changes how we think. 

First of all, some of us change the way that we’re oriented with time. If we’re going to pick out an anniversary gift, there’s a certain time we need to come up with it. We’re not going to block off, “OK, we’ve got 15 minutes. I’m going to spend 15 minutes choosing an anniversary gift.” You want to get it right. You don’t want to mess it up. 

Whereas there are other things. If you’re making a connection and you’re traveling, you hope that your plane, your airline is on clock time, right? They’re not just like, “Well, we got there. It only took us a couple of days. Oh, what, there was another flight you wanted to get to?” We do change our attitudes differently. We do change our attitudes according to the situation. 

I have found that some people are oriented more to clock time than to event time and vice versa. These people who are more event time-oriented found that they’re more able to take advantage of serendipitous opportunities that come up. If somebody is suddenly like, “Hey, we’re giving you a free vacation, but you have to leave next week.” An event time person is more likely to be like, “OK, I’ll take advantage of that.” While the clock time person is like, “No, I’ve got a full schedule. All this stuff’s on there.” That sort of extends to the way that we think creatively. 

As I was talking about—we’re living in this world now. If there’s a series of steps that you can follow to get a certain thing done, then there’s not much point in a human doing it hardly anymore. Everything’s being automated. You’ve got machine learning and AI, or whatever. Think about it like this: how long does it take to type a 30,000-word novella like that? You can do that in a day. How long does it take to write a 30,000-word novella? There’s NaNoWriMo—it takes like a month. 

Contrast that, a computer can generate those 30,000 words in a split second. It takes no time at all. Faster than you can blink. Now, can the computer write a decent novella? Even the worst novella that a person could possibly write is better than an AI can write at this point. What’s unique about us is our creativity. What’s useful about us as humans is our creativity. That’s a shift. 

This is why I wrote the book, Mind Management, Not Time Management because we’ve been in that modality—the assembly line modality—that kind that comes from scientific management that Frederick Taylor basically stood with a stopwatch and said, “Hey, you grab this brick in that way, then you turn it this way, and we optimize and break down the time into these different actions.” You do that action over and over again, and when you add that together, you get more productivity.

Well, it doesn’t work so well that way when you’re thinking creatively because, with creativity, you need to be open to different possibilities. You don’t necessarily know the steps that you need to follow. That’s where having more of an event time orientation and being open to what possibilities lie in front of you can lead to some really amazing discoveries that way. It’s interesting how just thinking about time differently can affect how you get things done.

So going down a rabbit hole, you talked about, “Well, I do my writing in the morning.” And if you’ve scheduled a block, how does that gel with this being serendipitous, being creative, but within this specific block of time?

Sure. I think it depends upon your skill level. I’ve gotten to the point where I can be a little less strict with my writing because I’ve built the skill of writing more where I can do it during times when I might not normally. But I still do have that thing where I’m trying to do it first thing in the morning. It’s not necessarily so much of a schedule. I don’t use an alarm clock. When I wake up—I try to get eight hours of sleep—and then I just try to get to writing before anything else invades my attention. 

In a lot of ways, it’s really just about trying to make the best use of that resource. I’m not necessarily so strict on the time part of it, really. When I start to feel mentally like I’ve run out of juice, or hopefully, before that even because as Hemingway would say, “It’s this well that is refilling itself. If you let it run dry, you’re not going to have any juice left over the next day.” It’s more of a feeling in that way. There’s a certain order I want things to go in because that’s just the best way to get what I’m looking for out of my mind. 

Additionally, because there’s really compelling research to indicate that the time when we’re most creative is actually our off-peak time. For a lot of us, that’s the morning. We’re a little groggy. We’re reaching for the coffee. I don’t even drink coffee because I want to take advantage of that grogginess because creativity is a little bit like a racquetball court. It’s just got blue bouncy balls flying all over it. Those little balls represent different ideas, different pieces of knowledge. When a couple of them collide, you’ve got some sort of combination like boom, peanut butter and chocolate. We got Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Who would have expected that? 

You want those collisions to happen. There’s a little bit of randomness to that process. The prefrontal cortex is the executive of the brain. It’s the one calling all the shots. It’s the one helping the different parts of the brain communicate with one another. It’s the one suppressing urges and making plans and saying, “Hey, that’s not a good idea,” et cetera.

Well, the prefrontal cortex is out to lunch in the morning. It’s still sleeping. I’m mixing metaphors there. It’s more to like, it’s still sleeping, then it’s out to lunch, lunch happens in the middle of the day, so […] deal. The prefrontal cortex is still sleeping so much to the point that some of the best people at solving so-called insight problems that psychologists use as one building block for measuring creativity. Problems have to be solved through association that you can’t really solve through procedural thinking. 

There are these sorts of problems where the answer just tends to appear in your mind, and you’re not really sure how it got there. It’s an ah-ha moment, which they’ve been seen as a neurologically distinct event in the brain. It’s different from doing a math problem. You’re not going to have an insight of, “Ah-ha, two plus two is four. Wow, that just popped into my brain.” That’s just intuition, you know it. 

Some of the people who are the best at solving these insight problems are people with prefrontal cortex damage—brain damage. You don’t want any kind of brain damage, if you can help it. You certainly don’t want prefrontal cortex brain damage. It makes it very difficult to execute on any particular idea, but it does tend to kind of make people creative-associated machines. 

The closest you get to that is that morning when you’re groggy, you’re not quite running on all cylinders. That’s the time to write. Maybe the writing isn’t great at first. Maybe it doesn’t make a ton of sense. But you’d really get some exploration there. You get some ideas that later on, maybe the afternoon might be your peak time that you can go back over and polish those things.

That’s funny that you talk about having those ah-ha moments when you’re not fully conscious when there’s a little bit of fuzz going on in the air. As a programmer, I’ve had more ah-ha moments in my sleep than I’ve had when I’m working. I woke up in the middle of the morning and went, “I dreamed of the solution to a technical challenge that I was having.”

Yes, that happens to me quite often. Morning is that twilight. Actually, that’s why this is admittedly very strange, but I have a little word processor called an Alphasmart. These word processors, they don’t make them anymore. It’s just a keyboard with a crappy LCD screen that you might see on a TI-85 graphing calculator, or whatever. They used to use them to teach typing in schools, stopped making them in 2013. You can still buy them used on Amazon. 

I have one of those and I keep it in my nightstand. So first thing in the morning—I sleep with a mask on—and while I still have that mask on, I reach over, grab it out of my nightstand, and I write on it while my eyes are still closed, I’m still in bed. I’m half asleep. I don’t necessarily use writing, it’s just exercising the thoughts in my brain. 

A lot of different creators have created while reclining. Frida Kahlo started painting while she was bedridden from her infamous bus accident. Truman Capote wrote while reclining. Rene Descartes liked to work in bed. A lot of different writers and thinkers have liked to work in bed. That free association happens when you’re groggy, when you’re sleepy, and sometimes, while you’re actually sleeping.

I think it just reinforces the whole social media news. All of these things are stealing from you this mental and time energy.

That is stealing your potential.

It’s worse that they’re stealing it and using it for their own advantages. They’re almost there stealing it and flushing it down the drain. There’s no benefit to society, not to say that there’s no benefit for social interactions on social media and stuff like that. 

It’s been cool. It’s been good. If you ever read the white paper of the internet research agency in Russia, and their interference with the American public during the 2016 election. That’s been something going on for decades. Russia, doing what they call the ideological subversion program. 

Basically, they have troll farms of not bots. People think it’s bots. No, it’s actual people setting up Facebook pages for all these different political issues, getting people riled up, and getting actual real citizens involved. Working for their causes, running protests, staging protests for opposing sides of an issue. Intentionally, at the same time, across the street from one another. This is being used to actually manipulate the public by other states, aside from the business of the media that is making money off of sowing discord.

To me, that’s just another one of those rabbit holes of attention. I’ve got to go argue this viewpoint on social media. I don’t know why we ever think we’re going to change anyone’s mind when we argue on Facebook about something. There seems to be this innate need in us to argue stuff once we disagree with something.

Yeah. It’s hard sometimes to just not do it. If you look at it from an anthropological or psychological perspective, why does that person have that viewpoint? Why did this argument happen? You can maybe separate yourself from it. It’s a challenge for sure.

It’s so funny because so much of this rolls back and ties in with what I see with scams and stuff. There’s an emotional component, there’s an urgency component, and there’s an authority component. You wrap all those up together, shove them at someone, and you can get them to do all sorts of things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

The emotional component, the authoritative component, was that it?

There’s emotion, there’s urgency, and there’s authority.

OK, so those are the key components of scamming somebody. 

Yeah. You get that phone call: “Hey, this is so-and-so from the electric company.” There’s authority. “I just want to let you know that there’s something wrong. Your bill hasn’t been paid, and the guy’s coming out to your house right now to turn off the electricity. I don’t want your food to go bad. I know how horrible it is. Your computers are going to break when the power comes back in motion with it.” 

Your kids are going to be hungry because all your food is spoiled. 

“You’re not going to be able to cook food for your family.” Well, emotions, urgency. “And he’s going to be there in 10 minutes. I just need you to go down to Target and pay your bill with a gift card.” “OK.” It bumps us out of that state where we can make logical and rational decisions.

Yeah, so then you tie that up into the news. OK, here’s this social issue. They’re definitely pushing the emotional buttons whenever they can. Then there’s the urgency, which I guess part of that might just be this what we were talking about earlier: this idea that there’s this duty that you have to be informed that you need to know what’s going on all the time, everywhere, right now. And that you can’t just check in every week or so and get an idea of what’s going on. Then there’s the authority. 

They’re the news. The news is authority—or the political figure or the expert. 

Right. Then there are different people who see that differently. Some people will trust this media outlet. Some people say that if it’s from that media outlet, that means it’s a lie, et cetera. All those psychological components are right there. It’s just like this sleight of hand the way that a magician is like, “Hey, look at this. By the way, I’m also stashing this thing so that I can later reveal it.” It’s our attention that they’re stashing away. 

Yeah. Attention thieves. Maybe that’s what I should name the episode, “Attention Thieves.” 

How to fight back against attention thieves.

There is just so much fighting for attention. I really liked that when you get up in the morning, it’s like, “I’m just going to write. I’m not going to check my email. I’m not going to pull out the newspaper. I’m not going to pull out my phone.”

I don’t know how to save the world. But I don’t think it’s sharing things on social media or reading the news. I think it’s simple things like writing, investing in yourself, taking care of yourself, eating healthy food, and getting exercise. Basic things that are bad for the economy. If it’s bad for the economy, it’s probably good for the world, in terms of taking ownership over yourself in your mind and trying to explore what you can do with it. Pay yourself first is my mantra in the morning.

I like that. I know you’ve got a number of books and you have a toolkit. What are the books that you’ve written?

Yeah, I’ve written a few books. One is a design book called Design for Hackers. That was years ago back when I was a web designer. I also have one called The Heart to Start: Stop Procrastinating and Start Creating. That’s something that can help you gain the courage if you’re somebody who feels like you have something to offer the world but you just can’t seem to get it out there, you can’t seem to get started. That is the book for you. 

And then Mind Management, Not Time Management is a lot of what we were talking about during this discussion, which is basically that we need to change the way that we think about how we get things done. Time is not this fungible commodity that you can mix and match that is not all created equal. Actually, you can be a lot more productive just by getting yourself in the right state of mind, and it doesn’t necessarily take time to have a great idea. We can let technology execute the ideas for us. 

Now, as far as tools go, I do have a toolkit of 14 tools that I depend upon to manage my mind, take ownership over what I can do with my mind, and focus that energy towards doing something with it. Actually, I can make it easy for those who are on mobile, kdv.co/tools.

OK, we will make sure to link that. And for people that are on their phones, kdv, that is like your initials, sort of.

Yeah, it’s like saying my name without the vowels.

I like that. Kdv.co because you’re in Colombia.

Well, that’s just incidental. It works out very nicely, and it’s also just shorter. It’s less to type.

Kdv.com/tools. That is one I’ll definitely get and go through myself to make sure that I can focus when I need to and not let my procrastination take control of me. If people want to find you on social media, where can they find you?

The place to find me is Twitter, @kadavy. I’m on the other ones. You can find me, but that’s the only one I really use.

Then that’s the place we’ll direct people to harass you. I mean, to interact with you. 

David, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today. 

Chris, thanks for having me. It’s an honor. 

Thank you. 

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