Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

DeepWorkDeep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive 21st-century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep –– spending their days instead in a frantic blur of email and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.

In Deep Work, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four “rules,” for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill. A mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice, such as the claim that most serious professionals should quit social media and that you should practice being bored, Deep Work is an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.

• Why deep work is valuable, rare and meaningful.
• Strategies to help you learn to embrace deep work.
• What it means to embrace boredom.
• To determine the true value of social media in your work and life.

Develop a Sharper Focus: Smart Practice in the Mental Gym

Apart from sports that favor physical traits, almost anyone can achieve the highest levels of performance with smart practice, Daniel Goleman suggests in Focus. Smart practice always includes a feedback loop that lets you recognize errors and correct them –– this is why dancers use mirrors. Ideally that feedback comes from someone with an expert eye. If you practice without feedback, you don’t get top ranks. The feedback and the concentration matter –– not just the hours.

Learning how to improve any skill requires top-down focus. Neuroplasticity, the strengthening of old brain circuits and building of new ones for a skill we are practicing, requires our paying attention.

Daydreaming defeats practice; those who browse TV while working out will never reach top ranks. Paying full attention seems to boost the mind’s processing speed, strengthen synaptic connections, and expand or create neural networks for what we are practicing. At least at first. But as you master how to execute the new routine, repeated practice transfers control of that skill from the top-down system for intentional focus to bottom-up circuits that eventually make its execution effortless. At that point you don’t need to think about it –– you can do the routine well enough on automatic.

Focused attention, like a strained muscle, gets fatigued. Anders Ericsson, a Florida State University psychologist, found world-class competitors –– whether weight lifters, pianists or a dog-sled team –– tend to limit arduous practice to about four hours a day. Rest and restoring physical and mental energy get built into their training regimen. They seek to push themselves and their bodies to the max, but not so much that their focus gets diminished in the practice session. Optimal practice maintains optimal concentration.


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Book Review: Focus

by Daniel Goleman
by Daniel Goleman

When a pioneer in any field returns with a new piece of thought leadership, whether written or spoken, the eyes and ears of the business world instinctively turn to see and hear. Daniel Goleman, former New York Times science reporter and multiple-bestselling author, changed the landscape of management with his book Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Goleman returns now with a book that has the potential to rival his previous peak. In Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Goleman coaches readers on the need to strengthen a trait that like a muscle can indicate just how well we can lift a figurative load. This book is now available as a Soundview Executive Book Summary.

Goleman begins Focus by helping readers understand the anatomy of attention. Of particular interest is his discussion of the bottom-up and top-down minds. The bottom-up mind works faster and is involuntary and automatic, while the top-down mind is, as Goleman writes, “the seat of self-control, which can (sometimes) overpower automatic routines and mute emotionally driven impulses.” The interplay between these two sections of the brain is critical to understanding mental toughness and, perhaps more importantly, mental tiredness.

The overarching theme that focus is a mental muscle serves as a powerful metaphor that will help the material stick with readers. Focus moves through subjects such as self-awareness, reading others, and smart practice in ways that offer new, thought-provoking views. As with Emotional Intelligence, Goleman has found a way to turn the complexity of human behavior into an engaging read with practical takeaways. Focus will help keep any executive razor sharp.