Mastery Summary

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Mastery debunks the myth of talent and shows you there are proven steps you can take to achieve mastery in a discipline of your own choosing, by analyzing the paths of some history’s most famous masters, such as Einstein, Darwin and Da Vinci.

Robert Greene knocks out bestsellers. One after another. Seriously, that’s what he does. Between 1998 and 2009 he published 4 NYT bestsellers: The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of War and The 50th Law (with rapper 50 Cent).

To make it a full hand, he then published Mastery in 2012, which explains not only his own approach to master the craft of writing but also the path all masters seem to take. To do so, he uses historical and contemporary figures as examples, as he often does in his books.

Of course, the book became yet another NYT bestseller. Don’t think he got there easily though. Between finishing his undergraduate degree in classical studies and publishing his first book, 20 years passed – Greene was 39 years old when The 48 Laws of Power came out.

Nobody said the path to mastery would be easy. Here are the 3 first steps you can take:

  • Trust your gut to find your discipline to master.
  • Take an apprenticeship and get paid to learn.
  • Once you complete your apprenticeship, challenge everythingyou learned.

Lesson 1: Trust your gut feeling to pick a skill to master.

Every one of us has probably had a few rare moments in their lives where the felt an inner voice calling out to them.

“You should be a painter!”

“I think I could write a novel.”

It’s this feeling that something is just made for you. That you’d thrive in it. That you could be great. Greene says you finally have to start trusting that feeling.

We’re all the creations of our very own, unique double helix, but we spend so much time blending in and hiding behind the crowd that we’ve become scared to listen to our inner voice. Yes, finding your true calling isn’t easy. It might take a while. Some deep digging and a whole lot of testing.

But when you go back to your teenage years, when you were 12, 13, 14 years old – what did you want to do? Maybe you’ve already had it. Your lightbulb moment.

Da Vinci had his when he found himself stealing expensive paper from his father’s office to draw animals out in the woods. Tim Ferriss had his when learning about the death of a friend and terminal illness of a child on the same day. Chad Fowler called it his Harajuku moment because it happened in a district of the same name in Tokyo.

It might sound foreign to you, but once you start trusting your gut, you’ll notice these hints your inner voice gives you and you can finally start to listen.

Lesson 2: Learning comes before earning, so take an apprenticeship.

The more you learn, the more you earn. – Frank Clark

Once you decide on a field, discipline, or skill to master, the best way to make progress fast is to take an internship.

Don’t focus on the money, focus on how much you can learn.

A job that pays more now will probably offer you less support and education, which will pay for itself 10 times over down the road.

You’d be better off taking a low-paying job now that maybe comes with a great mentorship, which will lead you to excel in your field much faster than making all the dumb rookie mistakes and learning the hard way.

Yes, you should get paid to learn and create a win-win situation, but always know that learning has a much bigger ROI than being paid a bit more.

Benjamin Franklin could’ve swooped in on his father’s successful candle-making business. Instead, he took a printing job, which he knew would help him master the art of words much faster.

Lesson 3: Once you complete your apprenticeship, challenge everything you learned.

Not that an apprenticeship isn’t hard enough to find, let alone complete, but no, the path to mastery becomes even harder. Once you leave your apprenticeship to venture out on your own, you have to immediately throw everything you learned out of the window.

Well, not quite. But Greene says you must keep an open mind – like a child. Challenge everything you know. The rules your mentor taught you. The common ways of doing things you learned.

Which of them are universal? Which can be broken, bent, or banished?

By the time you end your apprenticeship, you’ll have developed your own unique style of your craft, and only when you allow yourself to let it flourish can you truly innovate and build something that is worthy of a true master. So no, you’re never done learning.

But is it worth it? You decide. You can keep making excuses. Or you can start today.

My personal take-aways

I feel like many of the stories and examples that make the book come to life have been left by the wayside in this summary. The general ideas are solid and hold up, and it’s an inspiring read (especially the part about listening to your inner voice), but I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to Mastery than that.

Contrary to what we learned a little earlier from Cal Newport, this book is more along the lines of the adage to follow your passion – but it doesn’t water down the effort, dedication and deliberate practice it takes to become successful.

I love the message but want more of the stories that powerfully carry it, so I’m going for the book. I recommend you do the same.

Buy this book

Linchpin Summary

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Linchpin shows you why the time of simply following instructions at your job is over and how to make yourself indispensable, which is a must for success today.

As he says, he doesn’t want to teach you tactics. He wants to teach you how to see. In that case my eyes still feel like I’m opening them for the first time, but I’m getting there.

Linchpin is all about becoming indispensable at work. Following instructions isn’t what we need any longer, as we’re already outsourcing most of this, and robots will take over the rest before too long.

Here are 3 lessons about what makes you a linchpin and how to become one:

  • Linchpins pour their heart, soul and energy into their work.
  • You have to make a conscious choice to overcome your fearsto become a linchpin.
  • Give genuine gifts, without expecting anything in return.

Determined to become indispensable? Let’s linchpin the heck out of your work!

Lesson 1: Give your work all you’ve got.

Maybe you’ve heard of the scenario: A restaurant has to close after the chef leaves, or a car dealership struggles, because their top sales star goes to the competition. In these instances, the people leaving are so-called linchpins.

They’re indispensable for the business, because they are 100x more valuable than the average employee. They are the people who make a business great, by giving it their everything.

An extra-friendly barista at Starbucks, who smiles and brightens everyone’s day, brings in more customers than three others combined. If you give your work all you’ve got, are present in every moment, put emotion into each task and pour your heart and soul into it, you’ll build a reputation.

Linchpins don’t need instructions, and never just do what is asked of them. They approach their work creatively, solve problems when they see them and always over-deliver.

That’s why they’ll always find work, be treated fairly and businesses are really scared of losing them.

Lesson 2: Make a conscious choice to act in spite of your fears.

Why then, are there so few linchpins, when it would be easy to stand out by investing a little more than your co-workers. Well, most of us are afraid. From a young age on we’re conditioned to follow the rules, merge with the masses, and hide behind them to stay safe and comfortable.

Just think about school: Everyone is taught to use the same pencil, read the same book, learn the same stuff, sit quietly and listen. Even art has rules – try to paint outside the lines and you’ll probably get a D at best. Refuse to do what you’re told and be rewarded with detention.

We’re all conditioned by fear to play it safe. Linchpins are no different. They’re afraid too. But they choose to act in spite of it.

For example, whenever I took an exam in college, I was anxious about what grade I got, which led me to constantly check my grade report online. Eventually, I realized I cannot change anything after I hand in that piece of paper, so I just stopped checking and waited until someone said the grades were actually online.

Don’t let fear steal your determination to do something productive. Accept that it’s there and consciously decide that you’ll act anyway.

Lesson 3: Give, give, give, and don’t expect anything for it.

Economy used to work like this: “You give me $20, and I’ll give you this DVD of your favorite movie.” Everyone expected something in return for, well, everything.

If you’ve ever tried giving someone a gift when it wasn’t Christmas or their birthday, you’ll know that being generous often even makes people suspicious. It took me several tries last year to give a homeless person a piece of fruit, because they thought I was up to something.

Nevertheless, genuine gifts, given with good intention and zero expectations, are becoming a winning tactic. I don’t mean shitty free ebooks, 3 day email “courses” or gifts which are really just disguised advertisements. What Seth means by genuine gifts is giving away your best work – for free.

Gary Vaynerchuk is a great example of this. He always gives his best advice away for free and talks about it publicly. Instead of “not getting paid” this makes many people see and appreciate his unique skills so much, that he gets plenty of paid work, and companies pay whatever he wants, just to keep him around.

So if you want to stand out, start giving like a true artist, as Seth calls them, and don’t expect anything in return. Give it some time, and the universe will pay you back ten times over.

My personal take-aways

Seth’s ideas stick. Not only because of the great stories he tells and good examples he gives, but also because he always comes up with a catchy name. A linchpin. It sounds so cool I know I want to be one, before I even know what a linchpin is. Don’t you? Seriously, Seth’s stuff is gold. All of it. It’s a good summary, but you should stock up your Seth Godin collection with this book on your shelf as well

Humans Are Underrated Summary

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Humans Are Underrated dissects how computers now beat humans when it comes to knowledge, but will never surpass us in social skills or creativity.

To begin, the book introduces Moore’s Law, which states that computational power will double every two years. This is owed to the fact that the advancements in production technology allow twice the amount of transistors per chip in roughly the same time frame.

Since physical space is limited, Moore’s Law must eventually come to an end, but we are still far from it. Until now it has led to computers exceeding in many tasks we believed to be uniquely human.

For example, psychologist Paul Ekman decoded over 3,000 micro-expressions, which we can create using the 40 muscles of our face. He fed all the data of his Facial Action Coding System to a computer and pitted it against a human in recognizing emotions based on facial expressions.

The result: while the computer guessed emotions correctly 85% of the time, humans only scored right in 55% of all cases.

While these advancements are great for progress, computers also come with drawbacks. Spending hours on end in front of screens significantly decreases our social skills, like understanding body language or reading other’s emotions. Luckily this can be reversed, as a study with sixth-graders at a screen free camp showed.

Similarly, social media might help us maintain more relationships, but studies have found that the quality of relationships often suffers, because we tend to trust less overall and don’t bond as effectively as in person or over the phone.

Ironically, we need to improve exactly these kinds of skills, in order to be successful today. With knowledge being available 24/7 at arm’s reach, social skills are what sets us apart from computers.

For example, while a computer can instantly analyze millions of legal cases, provide all the required literature and predict the outcome of the case better than we do, it can never connect with the defendant and persuade her to act in her own best interest.

Thanks to modern technology we can now connect cheaply with anyone, anywhere. This also makes it much easier to offend people from other cultures, just because we might not know about their culture.

His social skills and knowledge of culture saved Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hughes and his team during the Iraq War. When ambushed by Iraqi soldiers, instead of escalating the situation, they knelt down and pointed their guns to the ground– a gesture of respect.

They were able to withdraw unharmed.

Empathy is another crucial skill, which works only when shown genuinely from a human being. It is the ability to understand how others feel.

For example a great doctor will not just listen to where it hurts and treat the symptoms by giving you the right medicine, she will also make an effort to put herself in your shoes and tell you what you can do to feel better about the situation.

Even if a computer could understand your feelings and react in the right way, you’d probably never feel as good about going to a computer doctor as you would when seeing another human being.

Next to social skills it will also be impossible for computers to beat humans in one other thing: creativity.

I just saw the new Star Wars movie and if you’ve ever watched an inspiring movie with a great story, you know that it’s more convincing than the best rational argument.

Storytelling is how Steve Denning was able to convince the World Bank to make important information available to health workers in Zambia, and it’s what Gary Vaynerchuk preaches to anyone who’s trying to make it online.

We want to get to know the person behind the story, learn about their successes and failures, and that’s something a computer just can’t deliver.

That’s why great companies like Apple or Google foster creativity by maximizing the chance of random employee interactions. With great common areas like big staff meeting rooms or an awesome cafeteria, they make sure genius can strike as often as possible, which is likely to be when we talk to others over a simple cup of coffee.

Ideally, we can create a win-win situation by using computers to teach us knowledge-related skills (like repairing a car or statistics) and improve our social skills.

For example, the software SendLove unites all the positive aspects by encouraging employees to thank one another publicly. The messages can be seen by the entire team, inspiring others to help even more.

Final thoughts

After reading The End of Jobs yesterday, I found this a great addition to the topic of creativity. I was a little surprised by the strong focus on social skills, but maybe, being an introvert, that’s just not what I wanted to hear.

I would have liked to see these blinks expand even more on creativity, but the statistics and studies quoted were very interesting. I really liked the idea of combining computers, social skills and creativity to get the best of both worlds.

Who would I recommend the Humans Are Underrated summary to?

The 50 year old who’s worried about losing his or her job to a computer, the 15 year old computer geek who never goes outside and anyone extroverted.

How To Become A Straight A Student Summary

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How To Become A Straight A Student gives you the techniques A+ students have used to pass college with flying colors and summa cum laude degrees, without compromising their entire lives and spending every minute in the library, ranging from time management and note-taking tactics all the way to how you can write a great thesis.

Cal Newport’s message to the world has increased in gravity as he’s traversed his own career path. This is the second book he wrote and it focuses on how students can ace college.

His fourth and fifth book, for example now deal with how to find and do great work, much later stages of your career. If you’re still in the early stages, then this summary is for you.

Cal’s blog is called Study Hacks, its original purpose being to help students – and it still is, but has expanded a lot to other topics as well. Of course, these lessons will help you more if you’re in college, but I find they provide a good system for learning in general.

Here are 3 lessons to help you become a straight A student:

Study in focused, but short blocks rather than pseudo-working through the night.

Find your most common excuses with a work progress journal.

Quickly navigate your way through exams with the three P approach.

Do you have what it takes to be a straight A student? Let’s get your equipment ready with these hacks!

Lesson 1: Increase focus while studying, decrease frequency.

I’m 99% sure you already know this and you’ve heard it tons of times, but I’m also 99% sure that you’re still not doing it, so here it goes again: Study for less time, but be really focused when you study.

Last minute cramming, pulling all nighters and 14-hour workday may feel productive, but really just amount to a lot of what Cal calls pseudo-working, because your concentration takes massive hits from all the interruptions and constant energy drain.

The studies Cal looked at agreed on roughly 50 minutes being the ideal study session length. As long as you spend those 50 minutes on nothing but one task (e.g. studying flash cards or writing a paper), three of these level 10 focus sessions per day will get you just as far as ten hours spent with an average focus level of 3 (just making these up to compare).

The first part of the equation to make this happen is to ruthlessly prioritize and manage your time with a calendar that’s always available for you to update and that you strictly follow.

Part two comes down to eliminating distractions. No phones, Facebook feeds, web surfing or snacking!

Note: One of my longest blog posts ever shows you exactly how to eliminate 32 of the worst distractions you face every day.

Lesson 2: Keep a work progress journal to uncover your excuses.

This is really cool, I think Cal came up with it himself. It’s called a work progress journal and it’ll help you find and destroy the excuses you make in order to avoid your work.

Here’s how it works: Each morning, you write down your most important tasks, including classes you have to go to, exams you have to study for, homework you have to hand in and even chores like fixing the TV or doing laundry.

At night, you check off everything you’ve accomplished. Pretty standard, right? But now, you have to give an explanation for everything that didn’t get done.

You can bet that having to write down “I watched TV until 2 AM so I woke up groggy and couldn’t focus” for the third time really, really sucks and you’ll eventually show yourself that it’s always the same excuses that keep you from doing what’s important.

Since it’s hard to believe yourself when you say that “you really can’t change your late-night TV watching habits”, you’ll likely get tired of the excuse yourself after a while and procrastinating will become a lot less fun.

Cool, huh?

Lesson 3: Use the three P’s to move through exams smoothly.

When it comes to taking exams, even the most well-prepared mind can take a spontaneous vacation, leaving you in a panic because all of your hard-learned notes seem to have gone out the window. That’s why Cal suggests having a step-by-step plan in place for every single one, so you don’t allow anxiety to take over.

Cal’s recipe is called the three P approach and it includes:




In the planning section, you’ll simply flip through the entire exam, take stock of what questions you have to answer, and map out a quick order of how you’ll tackle the questions, as well as allot some time to each of them. Keep a ten minute buffer at the end though.

Then you proceed to answer the questions, starting with the easier ones. Tackling a hard one first puts too much pressure on you (there’s already enough of it thanks to the time limit), so get some quick wins to boost your confidence. After that you can move on to harder problems.

Lastly, use your last ten minutes (and any additional, remaining time) to proofread and correct any mistakes you find or add important information you previously left out.

It’s tempting to skip this last part and just finish early, but don’t. This kind of deliberate practice is what separates the average from the A student.

My personal take-aways

Everyone is different, which means every system you find has to be customized to your own needs. That said, I think what Cal describes here is pretty solid and I find many of the techniques he outlines have worked for me in the past.

If you struggle with deadlines, procrastination, writing papers and showing up to class on time, this one’s for you!

Hackers And Painters Summary

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 Hackers And Painters is a collection of essays by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham about what makes a good computer programmer and how you can code the future if you are one, making a fortune in the process.

Paul Graham was one of the early adopters of the internet, having launched a company called Viaweb in 1995, which was the first business to offer an online application as a service – they allowed their users to set up their own, very simple online stores. Three years later, the company sold to Yahoo! for about $50 million.

Today Paul is mostly known for founding Y Combinator, one of the most successful venture capital companies in the world, with investments in over 400 startups to date, some of them household names like Dropbox, AirBnB and Stripe. Paul has also started writing essays about programming, startups, entrepreneurship and other topics, some of which were bundled up in this book and released in 2004.

His story is the prototype of how tech entrepreneurs can become a success and he’s making great use of it by spreading what he’s learned and inspiring others to do the same.

Here are 3 lessons from Hackers & Painters:

  • Both morals and fashion trends are temporary, which is why nerds don’t care about either of them.
  • Hackers are more like painters than mathematicians.
  • User feedback is the ultimate test of your programming skills, so get it as fast as possible.

Ready to take your hacker mentality to the next level? Here we code!

Lesson 1: Nerds are neither interested in fashion, nor morals, because both are seasonal.

I never thought to connect these two, so this is interesting.

If you look at pictures of yourself from the 90s (if those exist) you’ll likely go “Oh my god, what the hell was I thinking when wearing this?!” That’s because fashion trends change fast and every decade has its own unique, characteristic style. Plus, there are huge differences in cultural fashion, for example Japanese fashion differs vastly from trends in the US or European clothing.

What else is highly location-dependent, seasonal and fluctuates a lot? Morals. A faithful husband or wife might be tempted to cheat during a trip to Vegas, church services always see a surge in faithful attendants around Christmas and the short skirt that was irresponsible and amoral to wear 15 years ago has become a household item at Forever 21.

Because both morals and fashion swing from one extreme to the next as much as the weather, nerds don’t care about either of them.

This is because nerds, according to Graham, are smart people, who don’t bother with conforming to social conventions. They know fashion comes and goes, so they don’t even waste their energy trying. As for morals, they do sure have their own set of them, but they don’t change them every quarter to do what the prom king and queen think is right. Instead, they hold on to their values.

Nerds therefore have an advantage in the real world, because after school and college, neither fashion nor morals will get you very far.

Lesson 2: Hackers are much more similar to painters, rather than mathematicians.

Most people imagine hackers as very calculated people, meticulous planners, who are very analytical. At least for good hackers, the opposite is true.

The very definition of a hacker gets this wrong quite often. For example, here’s what Google says:

A person who uses computers to gain unauthorized access to data.

Now look at the definition in the Urban Dictionary, a dictionary for colloquial usage of words, which is a collaboration of millions of users:

A person skilled with the use of computers that uses his talents to gain knowledge.

You see, hacking isn’t about doing illegal things at all. It can be. But it doesn’t have to. In order to gain knowledge through programming and get even smarter, coders have to try and create their own concepts, not just implement what others tell them to – just like any great painter comes up with his own artwork and doesn’t just try to re-create famous paintings, like the Mona Lisa.

For example, in college Paul Graham was taught to write his code on paper, perfect it, and only then transfer it to a computer. But Paul found taking a painter’s approach worked a lot better: if he started coding on the machine and then fixed problems as they happened, the result was much better.

Similarly, a hacker’s work can only be valued subjectively, because different people will have different needs, and how well they like a program depends on how good it is at taking care of those needs.

Hackers are artists, just like painters.

Lesson 3: The ultimate test of your coding skills is user feedback, so try to get it fast!

Worse is better. Jane Austen knew that already. The author of Pride and Prejudice would get “user feedback” from family members by reading her novels aloud to them before finalizing them, and asking them what they thought of the characters in her books.

Since the value of your work as a programmer is determined by what people think of your projects, the fastest way to get better is to get your work in front of others.

So don’t waste a lot of time fleshing out nice-to-have features and cool gimmicks. Just build a raw, stripped-down prototype with the core functionality and ship it. Every piece of feedback will help you make the next version better.

A great chair has to be primarily one thing: comfortable. You could build a chair that’s super ugly, but incredibly comfortable, and it’d sell instantly. Making it pretty afterwards is easy, as long as it does what a chair is supposed to. Software is exactly the same.

My personal take-aways I imagine reading this book when it came out 12 years ago must’ve felt like a revelation. Of course programmer has become a much more conventional career by now, but I think learning to adopt the mentality of what makes a good programmer is just as valuable today. It’s timeless. And if you’re a non-coder, this will help you understand programmers and hackers a lot better!

Buy this book

Excellent Sheep Summary

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Excellent Sheep describes how fundamentally broken elite education is, why it makes students feel depressed and lost, how educational institutions have been alienated from their true purpose, what students really must learn in college and how we can go back to making college a place for self-discovery and critical thinking.

If you’re a college student, read this book next. In terms of helping intelligent, young people in higher education, who secretly feel lost and like they don’t know what they really want out of life, this is the best wake-up call I’ve found all year.

Earlier this week I started my Master’s degree at Technical University of Munich, after two years of being self-employed. On the outside it’ll look to a lot of people like I couldn’t make freelancing work and some might even think I “came to my senses.” What I haven’t talked a lot about yet is that after finishing the degree, I still have no intent to work for anyone but myself.

My choice had a purely economical reason (plus I like Munich, I’ll admit that): Being a student for another two years is the cheapest way to keep working on my lifestyle business in terms of tax, health insurance, etc.

I hope to not only pull it off, but to also inspire my fellow students to do their own thing in the process, which is why I started documenting the journey on my Instagram [in German]. Let’s see what else I can do to try and fix the system from within, so people come out as lions and not just excellent sheep.

In the meantime, here are 3 lessons from the book:

  • Elite college students feel lost and depressed, many of whom end up in careers they don’t like.
  • Prestigious universities are run like businesses, not schools.
  • College should be a time of critical thinking and self-discovery, not mere skill acquisition.

Chances are your view of higher education is warped. I know mine was. Let’s remove the filter, okay?

Lesson 1: Most elite college graduates end up in financing or consulting, because they don’t know what they really want and feel lost.

First of all, the problems with our educational system aren’t limited to elite schools like Harvard, Yale (where the author is a professor) and Columbia. The system as a whole is fundamentally broken, and it shows. According to a 2010 study by the American Psychological Association, almost 50% of students report a feeling of hopelessness and over 30% admit being so depressed that they find it hard to function normally throughout the year.

Of course, the already tough strain that’s put on students these days is taken to an extreme at schools like Stanford, where students tend to suffer from something called duck syndrome: On the surface, they seem to be cruising along, but beneath the water they’re struggling.

Hard work isn’t that hard when it’s fun. But when you don’t know what kind of life you want, it’s impossible to find that kind of work.

Because most students and recent graduates don’t even have the time to do the kind of self-searching college is actually meant for, they end up in jobs they don’t really care for. For example, almost half of all Harvard graduates end up in finance or consulting, even though very few of them indicated any interest in these industries when they started out as freshmen.

Lesson 2: The most prestigious college institutions are run like businesses, not schools, so they miss the point of education.

The reason students feel lost lies, at least in part, with the way the colleges they attend are run. Especially prestigious schools suffer from monetization, because the more money a college has and makes, the more it’s run like a business, not a school. For example, TU Munich has a budget of almost 800 million €, in case of Harvard and co., we’re talking about billions.

With money comes pressure to keep and grow that money, so elite colleges try to be efficient by spending most of their budget on research, which in turn generates more funding and revenue.

That means economically profitable majors are preferred over liberal arts ones, the professors have to be great researchers, but not necessarily great teachers, and students are treated like customers. In spite of being artificially hard to get in (Harvard admits about 5% of all applicants), once students enroll and pay thousands of dollars, their average GPA soars (to 3.43 in 2007).

If on a 0.0-4.0 scale, the average is 3.43, the scale is either wrong, or the numbers inflated. This adds even more pressure to perform, and so most students don’t use their time in college to do what it’s actually meant for, which is…

Lesson 3: Originally, college was a time of self-discovery and learning to think critically, and we need to go back to that.

…learning how to think for themselves. When you graduate high school at 18 years old, you have a whole ton of ideas and beliefs about the world – most of which aren’t your own. Your parents, your teachers, your friends, they’ve all majorly shaped your views and values.

If done right, college is the best place to let go of these acquired beliefs, which the ancient Greeks called doxa, and thought it to be our duty to liberate ourselves from them.

College in its original form made this possible mainly due to two factors:

Being a break from the “real world,” away from family and career pressure, giving you time to think critically and discover what you really want.

Having qualified teachers challenge your opinions and beliefs and starting a dialogue about them.

Finding out what you really want takes time, but time is the last thing you have on an obstacle course, which is exactly what most colleges have turned into.

So wherever you go to school, remember: don’t rush. Take your time, ask questions and think about what you really want.

My personal take-aways

I’m not sure William Deresiewicz’s solution of encouraging more people to get liberal arts degrees is enough to address this problem, especially seeing how much I’ve learned during the last two years about making money in ways which don’t require a college education at all, but he’s sure right in shining a light on the problem. I’d recommend this to any current college student or recent graduate.

Do The Work by Steven Pressfield- Notes

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Do The Work is Steven Pressfield’s follow-up to The War Of Art, where he gives you actionable tactics and strategies to overcome resistance, the force behind procrastination.

The main theme throughout Steven Pressfields books is Resistance, the inner force that lets you procrastinate on work, even though it’s most important to you.

While the first book describes resistance in all its facets, Do The Work takes you through actually overcoming it.

Here are the 3 things I learned:

  • If your work truly matters to you, the fear around it will never subside.
  • Never take action and reflect on your work at the same time.
  • Let your work itself be the biggest reward for working.

Let’s take a deep dive!

Lesson 1: If your work is important to you, the fear of doing it will never go away.

We always think that if we practice enough, we’ll get so good we’ll never have any problems with our work, ever again.

But that’s not true.

Henry Fonda was so obsessed with acting that he had to throw up before coming on stage, every single time – even when he was 75 years old and a world famous actor already.

If you truly care about your work, you’ll always be worried about your performance, and that’s a good thing, because it means you’re still trying to get better.

So don’t stop when you’re afraid and instead, move on in spite of fear. After all, this is the definition of courage.

Lesson 2: Don’t take action and reflect at the same time.

Guess what the worst time is to edit a blog post? Right after you wrote it.

It’ll be impossible to objectively reflect on your work, because you just finished it, and are naturally proud of what you did – and you should be.

But that’s why it’s important to give yourself some temporal and physical distance, before judging your work.

I’ll even take it a step further and suggest this:

When in doubt, don’t reflect at all.

For example, I found it’s much easier to just write another blog post, instead of perfectly editing the last one. That’s why I usually just write, press publish and instantly write more.

Lesson 3: Your work should be the biggest reward for your work.

Resistance is a nasty thing. The perfect example happened to me today. It’s January 1st, which means I stayed up late for New Year’s Eve yesterday. However, I had already had a sleep deficit from getting up at 5 am for the past 2 weeks, to write these summaries every day.

Staying up until 2 am broke the camel’s back and I slept in, completely blowing my routine. Naturally, I had to overcome tons of resistance to write this today.

But I love writing these, and I have created a summary every day for the past 15 days – so I can’t just give up now. Looking back at how far I’ve come already made me want to continue.

So when you’re down and about to give up, look at what you’ve accomplished already, and let it drive you to doing even more. Then, ask yourself two questions:

How badly do I really want this?

Why do I want this?

You better be totally committed to it and feel like you have no other choice but to do it – because that’s the kind of work worth pursuing.

Note: I remind myself of these two things by listening to Eminem – Lose Yourself every single morning.

My personal take-aways

This book summary was very very short, only 4 blinks total, and while it was very inspirational, I felt the lessons lacked a bit of the actionable tips that the book supposedly holds.

Do The Work by Steven Pressfield

Print | Kindle | Audiobook

Do The Work Summary

The Book in Three Sentences

Resistance is what prevents us from doing our best work.

The more important a call or action is to, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

The worst thing we can do is to stop once we’ve started.

The Five Big Ideas

“The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

Our mightiest ally (our indispensable ally) is the belief in something we cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or feel.

“When we conquer our fears, we discover a boundless, bottomless, inexhaustible well of passion.”

“We can never eliminate Resistance. It will never go away. But we can outsmart it, and we can enlist allies that are as powerful as it is.”

“Research can be fun. It can be seductive. That’s its danger. We need it, we love it. But we must never forget that research can become Resistance.”

Do The Work Summary

The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:

The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.

The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.

Any diet or health regimen.

Any program of spiritual advancement.

Any activity whose aim is the acquisition of chiseled abdominals.

Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.

Education of every kind.

Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.

The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.

Any act that entails commitment of the heart—the decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.

The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.

“In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity.”

“Resistance is a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”

“Resistance will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.”

“Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”

“Though it feels malevolent, Resistance in fact operates with the indifference of rain and transits the heavens by the same laws as stars. When we marshal our forces to combat Resistance, we must remember this.”

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

“The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

“Resistance aims to kill.”

“We want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.”

“The last thing we want is to remain as we are.”

“Prepare yourself to make new friends. They will appear, trust me.”

“Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.”

“A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.”

“Don’t think. Act. We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.”

“Be stubborn. Once we commit to action, the worst thing we can do is to stop.”

“We’re in till the finish. We will sink our junkyard-dog teeth into Resistance’s ass and not let go, no matter how hard he kicks.”

“Our mightiest ally (our indispensable ally) is belief in something we cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or feel.”

“You may think that you’ve lost your passion, or that you can’t identify it, or that you have so much of it, it threatens to overwhelm you. None of these is true.”

“When we conquer our fears, we discover a boundless, bottomless, inexhaustible well of passion.”

“Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account.”

“The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.”

“Start before you’re ready.”

“You’re allowed to read three books on your subject. No more.”

“Let the unconscious do its work.”

“Research can become Resistance. We want to work, not prepare to work.”

“Discipline yourself to boil down your story/new business/philanthropic enterprise to a single page.”

“Do you love your idea? Does it feel right on instinct? Are you willing to bleed for it?”

“Get your idea down on paper. You can always tweak it later.”

“Figure out where you want to go; then work backward from there.”

“End first, then beginning and middle. That’s your startup, that’s your plan for competing in a triathlon, that’s your ballet.”

“We can never eliminate Resistance. It will never go away. But we can outsmart it, and we can enlist allies that are as powerful as it is.”

“Do research early or late. Don’t stop working. Never do research in prime working time.”

“Research can be fun. It can be seductive. That’s its danger. We need it, we love it. But we must never forget that research can become Resistance.”

“Any project or enterprise can be broken down into beginning, middle, and end. Fill in the gaps; then fill in the gaps between the gaps.”

“One rule for first full working drafts: get them done ASAP.”

“This draft is not being graded. There will be no pop quiz.”

“Only one thing matters in this initial draft: get SOMETHING done, however flawed or imperfect.”

“You are not allowed to judge yourself.”

“Stay stupid. Follow your unconventional, crazy heart.”

“Ideas come according to their own logic. That logic is not rational. It’s not linear. We may get the middle before we get the end. We may get the end before we get the beginning. Be ready for this. Don’t resist it.”

“Nothing is more fun than turning on the recorder and hearing your own voice telling you a fantastic idea that you had completely forgotten you had.”

“Forget rational thought. Play. Play like a child.”

“Our job is not to control our idea; our job is to figure out what our idea is (and wants to be)—and then bring it into being.”

“Keep working. Keep working. Keep working.”

“Ask yourself what’s missing. Then fill that void.”

Principles of Resistance

Principle Number One: There Is An Enemy

Principle Number Two: This Enemy Is Implacable

Principle Number Three: This Enemy Is Inside You

Principle Number Four: The Enemy Is Inside You, But It Is Not You

Principle Number Five: The “Real You” Must Duel the “Resistance You”

Principle Number Six: Resistance Arises Second

Principle Number Seven: The Opposite of Resistance Is Assistance

“There is an enemy. There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us.”

“Step one is to recognize [there is an enemy]. This recognition alone is enormously powerful. It saved my life, and it will save yours.”

“You are not to blame for the voices of Resistance you hear in your head.”

“If you’ve got a head, you’ve got a voice of Resistance inside it.”

Resistance’s Two Tests

According to Pressfield, Resistance puts two questions to each and all of us. Each question has only one correct answer:

Test Number One “How bad do you want it?

Test Number Two “Why do you want it?”

“If your answer is not [totally committed], put this book down and throw it away.”

“If you checked [For fun or beauty Because I have no choice], you get to stay on the island.”

“The Big Crash is so predictable, across all fields of enterprise, that we can practically set our watches by it.”

“Crashes are hell, but in the end, they’re good for us.”

“A crash means we have failed. We gave it everything we had and we came up short. A crash does not mean we are losers. A crash means we have to grow.”

“A crash means we’re at the threshold of learning something, which means we’re getting better, we’re acquiring the wisdom of our craft. A crash compels us to figure out what works and what doesn’t work—and to understand the difference.”

“Whatever the cause, the Big Crash compels us to go back now and solve the problem that we either created directly or set into motion unwittingly at the outset.”

“Our greatest fear is fear of success.”

“When we experience panic, it means that we’re about to cross a threshold. We’re poised on the doorstep of a higher plane.”

“No matter how great a writer, artist, or entrepreneur, he is a mortal, he is fallible. He is not proof against Resistance. He will drop the ball; he will crash.”

“It takes balls of steel to ship.”

“When we ship, we’re exposed.”

“When we ship, we open ourselves to judgment in the real world. Nothing is more empowering because it plants us solidly on Planet Earth and gets us out of our self-devouring, navel-centered fantasies and self-delusions.”

Other Books by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work

Recommended Reading

If you like Do The Work, you may also enjoy the following books:

Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) Seth Godin

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin

Buy this book

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Do Over Summary

Categories Jobs&SkillsPosted on

 Do Over shines a light on the four core skills you need to build an amazing career: relationships, skills, character and hustle, and shows you how to develop each one of them and use them in different stages of your career.

Today’s a big day. It’s the day Jon Acuff’s book trilogy is completed on Four Minute Books! After Quitter and Start, Do Over now completes this set in the four minute hall of fame.

Quitter was about quitting your job. Start was about starting your own. Do Over is what happens before, after, and sometimes in-between those two. It shows you how to intentionally build your career by focusing on developing four skills, each of which is particularly helpful in a certain stage of your career.

Here are 2 of them, plus another valuable lesson from Jon’s book:

  • Look at what’s in your Career Savings Account™.
  • Break through any career ceiling with new skills.
  • Take a career jump by investing in your own character.

Ready to call do over? Let’s do it over then!

Lesson 1: Take stock of your Career Savings Account™.

Jon says just like a filled bank account helps you through a financial slump, a filled Career Savings Account™ helps you through a career slump.

And it happens quite often. According to the 2014 Gallup poll around 70% of Americans are either not engaged (=enthusiastic) in their jobs or downright hate them. But changing your career and rebuilding it requires courage.

The way you build that courage is by making sure you have the abilities to handle whatever comes next. Jon suggests the following formula to calculate what’s in your CSA so far:

Relationships + Skills + Character x Hustle = Career Savings Account™

Knowing you have a good network, solid technical skills, and a strong character, plus being prepared to do what it takes are the foundation of a strong CSA. Jon even created a quiz to help you take stock.

Lesson 2: Learn new skills to break through career ceilings.

Sometimes everything seems to be going fine, even though it feels like it doesn’t. When you can’t really put your finger on what’s wrong, because technically, everything is well at your job, that’s often a sign you’ve hit a career ceiling.

You’re paid well, you routinely handle all your tasks and are in good standing with all your colleagues. However, even though you’re doing great, you just can’t get to the next level. No promotion, no head hunters contacting you, and no promising side projects on the horizon.

In that case, your Do Over requires an objective assessment of your skills. What are you good at? What are you missing? Which skills do you need to take your career to the next step?

Dig deep, Jon says a lot of our skills are often invisible, hiding beneath the surface. For example, if you’re the one organizing the annual company Christmas party every year, that’s probably a good sign you’re very organized in general. But once you see that, you’ll probably also notice that another skill you don’t have would go quite well with it.

For example, if you’re good at organizing, how about actively creating and marketing events too, so you have something to organize and an event to pull off? By going out and acquiring exactly those skills that complement the ones you already have you round out your skill set, which is just what you need to smash through that career ceiling and rise up!

Lesson 3: Invest in your own character to get ready to take a career jump.

But maybe you don’t want to break through a career ceiling. Maybe you want to leave that building altogether, take a career jump, and start your own thing.

In that case, the most crucial aspect you need to develop first is your character. Once you take the leap a lot of responsibility will rest on your shoulders and you’ll have to be a leader, first leading yourself and eventual co-workers later on. The strongest business is built on the strongest you.

The three most important character traits Jon’s observed in his 16-year stint through corporate America are generosity, empathy and presence.

Generosity is simple: give more than you receive. I remember the very first day at my internship my advisor won tickets to see Pompeii in the cinema, and he invited me and another intern to join him. I’ll never forget that. For him it was probably a small gesture, but for me it was huge to be treated like a friend when it was just my first day as an intern there.

Empathy can be trained by asking yourself one simple question, over and over again, when you talk to others: “How would I feel if I was in his/her shoes?”. That’s all you need. Just mentally stepping into someone else’s perspective will help you understand them so much better and judge them a lot less.

Presence is about being in the moment and paying attention. So the next time a friend tells you a story, put down your phone, look at her and really listen to her problems.

Invest in your character whenever you get a chance. All it takes is time, and you can never know when the next career jump opportunity presents itself, at which you’ll be glad you did.

My personal take-aways

Simple, funny, straightforward advice. Jon is really cool. He tries to bring out the best in others, without sounding preachy or like he knows it all. The phrases and formulas he coins make his work more memorable, and it’s easy to recall the concepts later on.

If you’re just not feeling it at whatever work you’re doing right now, this is a great book to pick up and learn from!

Deep Work Summary

Categories Jobs&SkillsPosted on

Deep Work proposes the idea that we have lost our ability to focus deeply and immerse ourselves in a complex task, but not without showing you that it’s a skill more than worth cultivating again and giving you four rules to help you focus more than ever before.

I’m still digesting all the valuable lessons from So Good They Can’t Ignore You, but I couldn’t help taking a peek at what Cal’s up to now. He’s been talking about the idea of deep work for quite some time on his blog (a way for him to test potential book topics), and now the accompanying book is out.

Given that we now suffer from an 8-second, less-than-goldfish attention span, Cal’s call to focus is more than appropriate. Digging deeper into deliberate practice, a concept he described in his last book, Deep Work suggests that being able to completely immerse yourself in a complex task is a rare, valuable and meaningful skill. The second part of the book then outlines four rules you can use to cultivate a deep work ethic.

Here are 3 lessons from Deep Work to help you go from busy to brilliant:

  • There are four strategies for deep work, all of which require intention.
  • Productive meditation can help you work deeper, even while you’re taking a break.
  • Stop working at the same time each day.

I hope you brought your scuba diving gear, ’cause we’re about to go deep!

Lesson 1: Use one of these four deep work strategies, but be intentional about it.

I’m glad that Cal isn’t one of those “one-size-fits-all-advice” kind of people. He knows that different things will work for different people, so when making his case for deep work he suggests four different strategies:

The monastic approach. Monastic comes from monastery – the place where monks live. It means shutting yourself off completely, for example by moving to a cabin in the woods to write a novel, and not come back until it’s finished.

The bimodal approach. This prioritizes deep work above everything else. You could set a 4-6 hour block each day for deep work, for example, where you lock yourself in your office, similar to the monastic approach. However, once that block is over, you’re free to do everything else that might be on your plate.

The rhythmic approach. This chunks down your work into time blocks, similar to the Pomodoro technique, and uses a calendar to track your progress. For example you’d plan your week ahead of time and put 10 blocks of 90 minutes on your calendar, and make working with timed blocks a habit.

The journalistic approach. If you have a busy daily routine, this works well. What you do is to simply dedicate any, unexpected free time to deep work.

I’m currently alternating between 2 and 4, depending on the kind of day that’s ahead of me, but would love to move completely to 2 over time. Being intentional about your deep work approach requires monitoring how you spend your time, so one of your first steps in making this decision should be to track your habits. You’ll quickly be able to separate productive from unproductive time and spot patterns.

Speaking of which…

Lesson 2: Make the most of unproductive time with productive meditation.

This is an idea I really like and have recently been using more and more, without knowing I’d find it in this book. Cal calls it productive meditation, and it comes down to using your “unproductive” time to do deep thinking.

For example, if you’re taking the subway to work each morning, and know you have 30 minutes to and from work, in which you can’t do much else, use this time to try solving a complex problem in your mind. Commuting, showering, household chores, buying groceries and taking a walk (with or without your dog) are all great opportunities to think.

Ever since getting an activity tracker, I try to walk 10,000 steps per day, which is why I often end up taking a long 1-2 hour walk in the evening. I often spend this time thinking about how I can make Four Minute Books more remarkable, what I could create that is so new and unfamiliar that it takes things to a whole new level, and so on.

The next time you have some “down time”, in which you do menial tasks, latch on to a big problem, try to see sub-problems of it, break it down and solve it.

Lesson 3: Quit work at the same time each day, and stick to it.

Cal has a habit of ending his work day at 5:30 PM, every day. No emails, no internet, no to-do lists, no computer after that. He describes his practice in this 7-year old blog post, and while his systems evolve, planning both work and free time have remained a constant factor.

Your brain needs some space each night to wind down, and it won’t get that if you have an as-much-as-possible work ethic. Limit yourself by quitting work and not checking email, or, even better, shutting down your computer, at the same time each day. This way, you’ll have a fixed slot of free time every day to recuperate.

Your mind will keep working below the surface, but you won’t burn yourself out by working around the clock.

For example, I let Inbox Pause move my email to my inbox at 11 AM and 6 PM. After I check it for the second time at 6 PM, I wrap up work and shut down my laptop (most days, it’s a work in progress), so I can then exercise and have a proper dinner, and I feel much better for it.

My personal take-aways

I’ve only checked out some previews, read excerpts, interviews with Cal, articles on his blog, and the summary on Blinkist for this one so far, but I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I’ve been moving towards a deep work mindset already, and I’m feeling more productive than ever. I highly recommend you explore the concept of Deep Work.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

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Deep Work Summary

The Book in Three Sentences

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.

Shallow work is non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style work, often performed while distracted.

Deep work is like a superpower in our increasingly competitive twenty-first-century economy.

The Five Big Ideas

In order to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of, you need to commit to deep work.

The ability to quickly master hard things and the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed, are two core abilities for thriving in today’s economy.

“To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.”

“Your work is craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skilled wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life.”

“The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”

Free Download: Download a free PDF version of this book summary. (Includes exercises not included in the post.)

Deep Work Summary

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

Shallow Work: Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Newport argues if you spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness, you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.

“Deep work is not some nostalgic affectation of writers and early-twentieth-century philosophers. It’s instead a skill that has great value today.”

In order to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of, you need to commit to deep work.

Newport calls deep work, “the superpower of the 21st century.”

The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

In Newport’s own words,

I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule. Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.

The ability to quickly master hard things and the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed, are two core abilities for thriving in today’s economy.

“The differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

The core components of deliberate practice are usually identified as follows: (1) your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master; (2) you receive feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.

“This new science of performance argues that you get better at a skill as you develop more myelin around the relevant neurons, allowing the corresponding circuit to fire more effortlessly and effectively. To be great at something is to be well myelinated.”

“By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin around the neurons in the circuits—effectively cementing the skill.”

“To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.”

“When you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task. This residue gets especially thick if your work on Task A was unbounded and of low intensity before you switched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while.”

According to Sophie Leroy, “People experiencing attention residue after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that next task,” and the more intense the residue, the worse the performance.”

“To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.”

The Principle of Least Resistance: In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.

“Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.”

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

“Deep work is at a severe disadvantage in a technopoly because it builds on values like quality, craftsmanship, and mastery that are decidedly old-fashioned and non-technological.”

“Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.”

“To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.”

“Your work is craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skilled wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life.”

“You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.”

“The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”

“You need your own philosophy for integrating deep work into your professional life.”

“You must be careful to choose a philosophy that fits your specific circumstances, as a mismatch here can derail your deep work habit before it has a chance to solidify.”

“[Donald] Knuth deploys what I call the monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling. This philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations.”

“[Carl] Jung’s approach is what I call the bimodal philosophy of deep work. This philosophy asks that you divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else.”

“[The rhythmic philosophy] argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit.”

John Paul Newport on Walter Isaacson, “It was always amazing … he could retreat up to the bedroom for a while, when the rest of us were chilling on the patio or whatever, to work on his book … he’d go up for twenty minutes or an hour, we’d hear the typewriter pounding, then he’d come down as relaxed as the rest of us … the work never seemed to faze him, he just happily went up to work when he had the spare time.”

The journalist philosophy: you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule.

“To make the most out of your deep work sessions, build rituals of the same level of strictness and idiosyncrasy as the important thinkers mentioned previously.”

“Your ritual needs to specify a location for your deep work efforts.”

“Regardless of where you work, be sure to also give yourself a specific time frame to keep the session a discrete challenge and not an open-ended slog.”

“Your ritual needs rules and processes to keep your efforts structured.”

“By leveraging a radical change to your normal environment, coupled perhaps with a significant investment of effort or money, all dedicated toward supporting a deep work task, you increase the perceived importance of the task.”

“[Peter Shankman] booked a round-trip business-class ticket to Tokyo. He wrote during the whole flight to Japan, drank an espresso in the business class lounge once he arrived in Japan, then turned around and flew back, once again writing the whole way—arriving back in the States only thirty hours after he first left with a completed manuscript now in hand.”

The Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX)

These deep work rules include the ability to:

Focus on the Wildly Important

Act on the Lead Measures

Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

Create a Cadence of Accountability

“For an individual focused on deep work, the implication is that you should identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours.”

David Brooks: “If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”

“In 4DX, there are two types of metrics for this purpose: lag measures and lead measures.”

“Lag measures describe the thing you’re ultimately trying to improve.”

“Lead measures, on the other hand, ‘measure the new behaviors that will drive success on the lag measures.’”

“Lead measures turn your attention to improving the behaviors you directly control in the near future that will then have a positive impact on your long-term goals.”

“At the end of the workday, shut down your consideration of work issues until the next morning—no after-dinner e-mail check, no mental replays of conversations, and no scheming about how you’ll handle an upcoming challenge; shut down work thinking completely.”

Reason #1: Downtime Aids Insights

Reason #2: Downtime Helps Recharge the Energy Needed to Work Deeply

Reason #3: The Work That Evening Downtime Replaces Is Usually Not That Important

Deep work training must involve two goals: improving your ability to concentrate intensely and overcoming your desire for distraction.

“Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times.”

The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection: Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

“The first step [to the Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection] is to identify the main high-level goals in both your professional and your personal life.”

“The key is to keep the list limited to what’s most important and to keep the descriptions suitably high-level.”

“When you’re done you should have a small number of goals for both the personal and professional areas of your life.”

“Once you’ve identified these goals, list for each the two or three most important activities that help you satisfy the goal. These activities should be specific enough to allow you to clearly picture doing them. On the other hand, they should be general enough that they’re not tied to a onetime outcome.”

“The next step in this strategy is to consider the network tools you currently use. For each such tool, go through the key activities you identified and ask whether the use of the tool has a substantially positive impact, a substantially negative impact, or little impact on your regular and successful participation in the activity. Now comes the important decision: Keep using this tool only if you concluded that it has substantial positive impacts and that these outweigh the negative impacts.”

“After thirty days of this self-imposed network isolation, ask yourself the following two questions about each of the services you temporarily quit: Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service? Did people care that I wasn’t using this service?”

“If your answer is ‘no’ to both questions, quit the service permanently. If your answer was a clear ‘yes,’ then return to using the service.”

“The shallow work that increasingly dominates the time and attention of knowledge workers is less vital than it often seems in the moment.”

How long can deep work be sustained by an individual in a given day?

“[Anders Erickson] note[s] that for someone new to such practice (citing, in particular, a child in the early stages of developing an expert-level skill), an hour a day is a reasonable limit. For those familiar with the rigors of such activities, the limit expands to something like four hours, but rarely more.”

“We spend much of our day on autopilot—not giving much thought to what we’re doing with our time.”

Free Download: Download a free PDF version of this book summary. (Includes exercises not included in the post.)

Recommended Reading

If you like Deep Work, you may also like the following books:

Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Buy The Book: Deep Work

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Creative Schools Summary

Categories Creativity, Jobs&SkillsPosted on

Creative Schools reveals how fundamentally broken our formal education system really is and how we can change our perspective to teach children the competencies and things they actually need to navigate the modern world.

I remember where I first saw Sir Ken Robinson’s face. On the TED website. “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” is the most popular TED talk of all time with over 40 million views. The knighted professor emeritus from the University of Warwick has dedicated most of his life to transforming education, especially with respect to the arts.

If you thought school was boring and feel it didn’t prepare you too well for real life, then you and Ken Robinson will get along just fine. He’s been criticizing the standardized testing machine we call school for years. In Creative Schools, he outlines how we can fundamentally shift our perspective to help shape schools that actually teach kids what they need to know.

And don’t think it’s an effort in vain, even if you’ve long finished all sorts of schooling. We’re all teachers at some point in our lives, and it’s up to us to be the best ones we can be.

Here are 3 lessons to show you where schools are, where they need to go, and how we can make it happen:

School is not designed to make you well educated; it’s designed to make you a useful, obedient worker.

When you’re teaching someone, think of yourself as a gardener.

The most important things we can teach our children are curiosity, creativity and criticism.

Ready to make school a better place for future students? Here’s how a true teacher extraordinaire thinks we can do it!

Lesson 1: Schools aren’t meant to make you better, they’re designed to make you an obedient, productive employee.

Have you ever thought about why schools are the way they are? What they were created for?

When you dig deep into the books of the history of education, what you find isn’t all too pretty. Before our Western, formal school system was introduced, only few people were schooled. Usually the sons and daughters of rich people would have private teachers to teach them in a variety of subjects like history, art, math, language, biology and music.

Why the sudden change? Why have everyone learn these things? Because after the industrial revolution, people would need them to do their work.

It’s simple. To do highly standardized factory work, people would need highly standardized factory knowledge. So at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century Western governments introduced mass education built around conformity and obedience, using the same linear processes that made factories so efficient.

100 years later our kids still run through the same standardized, test-infested machine, to become cogs in the system when those cogs have long stopped being valuable.

There’s a reason Western schools do poorly in PISA studies (not least because PISA is standardized itself) and Finnish schools with only 2 hours worth of lessons a day are at the top of the scoreboard.

Schools are not designed to make you smarter. Right now, they’re designed to make you a productive employee, who doesn’t ask too many questions.

Lesson 2: Try to think of yourself as a gardener when you want to teach someone something.

Can you remember a time when everything was interesting? When you wanted to touch, feel, look at and explore the whole world?

You might not remember it, but there was such a time. It was when you were four years old. And then you started going to school. All of a sudden, you had to do stuff. Not because it was fun. But because it was required. And you started disliking books, disliking the subjects, and you stopped exploring.

If you didn’t and you liked school, there was only one person responsible for this: your teacher. Great teachers nurture the creativity and curiosity of kids. They expand it, instead of nipping it in the bud by making their lessons boring.

We all teach at times, whether to our friends, family, kids, or actual classrooms. When we do, Ken Robinson suggests we think of ourselves as gardeners: we can’t force our “plants” to grow, but we can feed their natural desire to do so.

He says a good teacher will do four things:

Engage with children on their level to spark their curiosity – for example relating math exercises to baseball, history to the local city and music to the genres the kids listen to.

Show his or her expectations to be a mentor to aspire to.

Use different means of teaching for different students – no two human beings are exactly alike.

Bestow children with the confidence to handle whatever difficult tasks the world will throw at them.

We’re all teachers. Make sure you make whatever you teach worthwhile.

Lesson 3: What our kids really need to develop are curiosity, creativity and criticism.

In today’s world, kids don’t need to remember facts or hard skills. They’ll learn most of those during their careers. Anything beyond basic math and language understanding is rarely needed in real life.

Instead of skills, Ken Robinson argues, we should teach our children competencies. What would you want your kid to learn? A few useless subjects, or the attitudes that help it navigate life?

The world is changing fast, and there’s no way to predict what subjects will be useful tomorrow. Some things, however, are timeless. Like these three:

Curiosity – the constant drive to pay attention to the world and ask questions about it.

Creativity – the ability to come up with new ideas to solve complex, interesting problems and implement them.

Criticism – the courage to question even the answers to their own questions, filter out facts from opinions and distinguish the signal from the noise.

If we do nothing to be good parents, but instill in our kids these traits, I’d say we’ll have done a decent job. I’m sure Ken Robinson would agree. How about you?

My personal take-aways

Yes, Ken Robinson has raised his finger with this book, and it’s pointed right at governments and policy makers. But it’s more than that. While admitting that we’re standing in front of a big pile of broken processes, he also shows us how we can start picking them up and piecing them back together. Let’s all rally together for more Creative Schools.

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