Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

Seeking Examples of Focus

September 11th, 2013 · 7 comments

Finding the Focused Few

I’m looking for stories of people who use radical strategies to reduce the amount of distractions in their life and improve their ability to focus on hard things (be it at work, at home, or in parenting).

If this describes you, someone you know, or someone you read about: please consider sending a brief e-mail to tips@calnewport.com to tell me more.

7 thoughts on “Seeking Examples of Focus

  1. Harpagornes says:

    Hello Cal

    The questions that you ponder in your blog are of great interest to me. I too have been asking myself what makes the good life, the difference between productivity / value (and how to generate more of both) for many years. Like you, I have also become interested in focus – in my instance out of necessity, my life currently resembles a swarm, that if not judiciously managed, carries immense potential for failure.

    What I am currently experimenting with is getting up early (3:00 am is not uncommon) and NOT touching the computer until say 9:00 am. The other people in my household start to wake and then, to quoth Leonard Cohen ‘the blizzard of the world’ begins. I nap for an hour in the afternoon and often go to bed early (8;30 pm). I often feel tired however and sometimes I fantasize about taking Provigil.

    For various reasons I am on duty 24/7 but recently (inspired by your blog – and a savage bout of extreme depression) I have decided to commit one full day a week for deep work /deep planning. This has proved surprisingly difficult, even after employing people to cover for me on Monday (my allocated day off) I found I would use the day as an overflow for all the shallow work not accomplished during the previous week. This coming Monday I hope to have cracked it: I am driving to a remote rural cabin – electricity and water but no phone to spend a full 12 hours there. I am interested to see how this will go and whether I can sustain this pattern.

    Regarding academia. One of the most productive professors I know paid for his own full time personal secretary to deal with shallow work. They formed a great team (and a close bond) and worked together for many years – lets say 25. My friend, a lifelong bachelor, lives like a monk so could easily survive on what was left of his salary. The arrangement worked extremely well; now J is retired, he assists his former secretary on a part time basis with his business – a reversal of roles. And, yes J made tenure and retired with a full university pension.

    Just watched the movie Hannah Arendt. She taught during albeit during a more leisured period and, if the movie is true, also employed a personal secretary.

    This opened my eyes and I too have been experimenting with delegating/employing people with mixed results. What worked for J (my friend) was that after such a long time working together they built up a fantastically productive routine – an institutional memory as it were. If I ever go back to academia (unlikely at this stage) I will definitely employ someone – even if only part time. During my brief period as lecturer – I didn’t make tenure – I was amazed at how much busy work there was. Your blog would have been useful then : )

    I’ll close with a quote from Michel Houellebecq, a writer I admire. When asked by the interviewer about his writing schedule he replied:

    I wake up during the night around one a.m. I write half-awake in a semi-conscious state. Progressively, as I drink coffee, I become more conscious. And I write until I’m sick of it

    .

    I am not interested in emulating Houellebecq’s lifestyle – including drinking coffee – but I do like the idea of getting up early.

    As an addendum it is now 6:00am NZST: I broke my own rule – I’m very sleepy this morning hence reduced willpower – and turned on the computer, My intention was to catch a quick glimpse at your blog for inspiration. 20 minutes later, here I am still typing away, listening to Radio H on Spotify : (

    Anyway Cal, thank you once again for your blog – I look forward to further reports documenting your ‘experiments,’ and (hopefully) your prosperous and successful future.

    Switching the computer off now.

  2. As a monk and a meditator for 46 years, I’ve come to value the cumulative power of practice. Endless stories: 7 hours in county hospital emergency waiting room provided an opportunity to go deep with breathing practices that still the thoughts, open the heart, and bring deep focus. Protracted breathing during many, many movies, resulting in feelings of focus and joy. Long runs of 2 to 7 hours where repetitive chanting gradually brought the mind to an interiorized state and the bliss of AUM. Successful preparation for singing performance, talks, and writing with hours of warming up with breathing, meditating, chanting.

    It’s unfortunate that western religious traditions deliberately scuttled an emphasis on scientific techniques of concentration and meditation, starting in the third century CE when Bishop Irenaeous decided that such methods were blasphemous. In fact, the Inquisition was established for the purpose of discouraging their practice – which it accomplished by murdering thousands in its 700-year existence.

    The inner science has been kept alive only in the Eastern Church, most notably in the monasteries of Mt. Athos. In the Far East, of course, it was never lost. A good introduction is How to Meditate, by Jyotish Novak (http://www.crystalclarity.com/product.php?code=BHM).

  3. Kathryn Temple says:

    Cal, I actually go to a writing retreat house in rural Virginia called The Porches. There is nothing to do there except look at the beautiful scenery, most hours of the day are designated “quiet hours,” each room is set up for writing and the internet is very slow and thus not very appealing. I usually go for about four days at the point when I am ready to draft a chapter. And I come away with a draft.

  4. Nitin says:

    Cal, Do you plan to let your readers know what you and Scott got out of the Deliberate Practice pilot program that you both conducted few months back?

  5. Annie says:

    I’m not sure if this is what you are looking for, but I am a homeschooling mom. I take my kids for a twenty minute hike up a nearby mountain for school. Up there its easier to think about nothing but being with my kids and teaching them. I also believe that the exercise while getting up there and the natural surroundings help the kids focus. We only take three hours a day for school, and do one or two subjects a day. The rest of the time my kids help me with housework and cooking, do artsy stuff, climb trees, or play in the creek. I try to join them.

  6. George says:

    John D. Carmack II (born August 20, 1970) is an American game programmer and the co-founder of id Software. Carmack was the lead programmer of the id video games Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, Rage and their sequels.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_D._Carmack

    Some quotes of his:

    “Focused, hard work is the real key to success. Keep your eyes on the goal, and just keep taking the next step towards completing it. If you aren’t sure which way to do something, do it both ways and see which works better.”

    “Using your time effectively is very important, and there is often a non-linear relationship between the amount of time you can stay focused and the amount that you can learn or accomplish. It is often possible to get more done in a highly focused 12 hour stretch than in a normal 40 hour work week that is interspersed with email, chat, and other distractions. Someone that can be completely obsessive about something does have an advantage, but the same questions about focus apply for any amount of time you choose to devote to an undertaking. Most people work at only a fraction of their potential.”

    “Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.”

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