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Returning to a Life of Focus

Last fall, Scott Young and his team flew down to Washington D.C., to join me in a Capitol Hill film studio to begin production on the long-awaited sequel to our popular Top Performer online course. Whereas that previous course helped people take action on the career advice from my book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, this new course was motivated by the ideas explored in the trio of bestsellers on concentration and distraction that Scott and I have published in the years since: Deep WorkDigital Minimalism, and Ultralearning.

We decided to call it: Life of Focus.

When production began, we had no way of predicting the upheaval the world was going face just a few months later due to the coronavirus pandemic. As we put the finishing touches on the course over the spring and into the summer, it became clear that the need to reclaim a life of focus had suddenly become perhaps more important than any time in recent memory.

The world is mired in disruption and distraction. The past six months have been defined by a constant, unrelenting, emotionally-draining stream of news, and clips, and tweets, and texts competing with the frantic emails and endless Zoom meetings generated by a knowledge economy haphazardly stumbling into a virtual format.

We’ve lost solitude. We’ve lost a sense of control over our time and attention. We’ve lost the ability to read a hard book, or think through a complicated thought, or enjoy a quiet moment. We’re lost in a world of screens.

It’s time to push back.

When thinking about when to launch Life of Focus, Scott and I decided that August 31st would be the perfect date. On the calendar, it marks the end of summer, and the return to more serious work. Symbolically, it also marks the point where the urgency and novelty of the pandemic has ebbed, and the time has come to figure out how to adjust to a less than optimal new normal.

Not everyone, of course, is interested or able to take an online course. To reach a larger audience with this concept of reclaiming your your life this fall, I plan to publish a series of three posts this week that outline a DIY curriculum for shifting from a life of distraction back to a life of focus — in work and at home.

I call it “Focus Week.” And I couldn’t think of a more important time to tackle this topic.

18 thoughts on “Returning to a Life of Focus”

  1. I am very much looking forward to this course. I am about to submit my PhD thesis and have set aside the upcoming academic year to getting a leg up on my peers by publishing the most important work I can, turning my thesis into a book, and building the foundation of a deep academic life committed to focus. I feel like this course is absolutely timely and am so, so grateful you are offering it right at this critical juncture in my career. I have to thank you in advance!

  2. I’m very much looking forward to this week’s posts. I’m a high school English teacher, and my district has yet to finalize its reopening plans, despite there being only two weeks until the semester begins! (All we know is that it will be a hybrid of in-person and remote teaching.) Needless to say, I’m feeling incredibly unfocused on so many fronts. Thank you for this timely series.

  3. Great timing – I’m working hard to get my PhD thesis completed while doing a full time research job. I am currently going through the Digital Minimalism process and finding benefits already.
    This is so timely, thank you!

  4. The ideas in Deep Work and Digital Minimalism have immensely impacted my life and thinking, I have been able to implement most of the relevant ideas over the years but still have difficulty implementing some of them. Your podcast has helped with this problem, thanks for that.

    I’m currently reading Ultralearning after Cal alluded to Scott in the podcast, this time I’m trying to write down what would I change in my projects after going through each principle in the book.

    I have some questions regarding the course which I believe will help others as well:

    1. Is the course a step-by-step guide for implementing the general ideas and advice already present in the books?
    2. Does the course cover significant advice that you wish you had included in the books?
    3. Who should and should not take the course? (Apart from professionals and students who aren’t related to knowledge work)
    4. Is it really worthwhile for current readers of Scott and Cal?

    I apologise if my questions seem to portray your product as less useful, the strenuous conditions introduced by the pandemic really makes one think about any purchase twice.

  5. First off, I appreciate you giving a DIY. You’re right that everyone can’t take the course. I always think of taking part in stuff like that, but either financial situations or, more importantly, time restraints hinder me. I’m looking forward to Focus Week.

    2nd you spoke about August 31st saying
    “Symbolically, it also marks the point where the urgency and novelty of the pandemic has ebbed, and the time has come to figure out how to adjust to a less than optimal new normal.“

    I’m curious about why you say the novelty of the pandemic has ebbed? I mean, the 31st hasn’t come yet. So, why do you say it has ebbed?

  6. Cal, I started reading your blog in 2012-ish when I was a college student. I read and re-read How to Win at College at least 10x, and graduated as class marshal. I found your blog immensely helpful during that time as it provided concrete tips on how to be a better student, how to take notes, and to read and study, and you were not just regurgitating generic advice you would find anywhere else on the internet, or even other college and studying books that were published before yours, and will continue to be published after. (“How to study? Take good notes!”)

    After a few years away from your blog, I am looking forward to engaging in this community again…


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