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Modulating Energy with Kevin Smokler

Kevin Smokler is Co-Director of the documentary film, Vinyl Nation and author of three books about pop culture, including most recently Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to ’80s Teen Movies. His essays and cultural criticism have appeared in the LA Times, Salon, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, Vulture, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Decider and on National Public Radio. To offer your own advice, call Zak @ 844-935-BEST


ZAK: For way too long, like a couple years, my wife and I have been planning to sit down and make a household budget. I don't think it's gonna be that hard but I've psyched myself out of it and at this point I don't really know what we're waiting for. So, if you're like me or today's guest, you might get overwhelmed by tasks that aren't that hard so hopefully this advice is gonna help you out.

KEVIN: My advice is about energy. How to spend it and how not to waste it. I am, for the most part, terrible at spending energy wisely. I have a tendency to be easily overwhelmed by things that shouldn't easily overwhelm anybody.

ZAK: Like what?

KEVIN: Like, I find paying bills really overwhelming. Like, even bills that are not unreasonably high or onerous to pay. I find fixing things really onerous. Even if it's like something I've fixed a thousand times like a burnt out lightbulb. It doesn't make any sense. Not from the outside at least. And what I have learned in making a movie which is a kind of creative and professional pursuit I had never done before is that there are different kinds of energies for different kinds of tasks. Energy meets the task the same way like a key meets a lock. And as such, you can change the amount of energy you spend on something based on what it is and finding that match means that you're not wasting energy or unaware of how to spend it to get that thing done. I find most of the anxiety around that comes from that mismatch of believing something is going to require a lot of energy when it's not. I'm only at the point where I've realized this is the thing I have to do. I'm not at the point of doing it well yet.

ZAK: Yeah, well that's my favorite kind of advice on this show. It could be called, like, This Is Something I'm Working on rather than The Best Advice Show. There's more humility to it. And so how do you then in the moment or at the beginning of the day recalibrate and reorient the energy levels with which you're gonna have to distribute to various tasks?

KEVIN: On a really successful today and it's typically when I get up early enough to convince myself I have time, I'll write out everything I have to do that day and then when I get to it, I'll write out the pieces that have to be done and if I don't do that which, that happens pretty rarely...If I don't do that what I'll do is when I approach something that seems insurmountable, I'll say to myself, have I done this before? Have I done a version of successfully before? Well, ok, then there's probably a fossil record of doing it successfully before somewhere. Either it's an email I've written before or it's a task I've performed before and then you just take 30-seconds and say, ok, well, I did this once. It worked. How did I do it? And then repeat and adjust...maybe you have a to adjust a few things here or there so the amount of new energy you have to spend on that thing is not that big. It's really mostly a version of something you've done before. I'm Kevin Smoker. I'm the Co-director of a new documentary called, Vinyl Nation. Which is a documentary exploration of the come back of vinyl records available at In my day job I write books about pop culture.

ZAK: Ok, I want you hold me accountable. This week, we're gonna do the budget and it's not gonna be overwhelming. We can handle. Thank you Kevin Smokler for helping me realize that. You've been listening The Best Advice Show and I want your advice. Give me a call on the hotline at 844-935-BEST. Thank you so much, I'll talk to you soon.

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