Focused seconds. The rest is bull#$%!.

You do not have to “out work” everyone around you. You do not have to show up earlier and leave later than your boss. You do not have to sleep less and work more.

Because successful learning and successful growth is never about the number of hours spent or amount of effort put in. It is about the number of focused seconds.

I got this completely wrong for much of my life. But after finally understanding this, I want everyone to get the same benefits I have from following this principle!

Focused seconds, not hours spent. That’s what counts.

Get small. Get really small.

180 focused seconds is exponentially more powerful than 10 distracted minutes.

The path to successfully transforming your brain and body (learning, growth) is a path made up of countless blocks of focused seconds.

The 10,000 hours rule? Malcom Gladwell popularized it, but it is pseudoscience and has been debunked in multiple replication studies. 10,000 hours is not what is required for mastery.

Cal Newport’s Deep Work

Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is an extraordinary book, and maybe the best starting point for understanding this principle. It clarified so much for me.

The “focused seconds” principle is what allowed me to be successful in so many different career pursuits. It’s definitely a tough principle to turn into a habit. I have failed more times at it than I have succeeded. Everything in technology and entertainment and in the expectations of those around you will hamper your progress here! There's a lot working against you.

But there's an answer to that too.

Design for low friction

The most successful people I know are not the people who just say “no” to temptations. That's because we are simply not biologically equipped to handle the amount of information, entertainment, and opportunity for distraction that is now ever-present.

The most successful people I know are the ones who purposefully design their environment so that they don’t even have to waste their time trying to say no.

It’s not about inner locus of control. It’s not about discipline.

As much as those things matter (and they do!), it's so easy for a focus on discipline to end up being a route for self-shaming. When, what's really going on is that we are not evolved to successfully navigate an infinite firehose of information and entertainment.

So the answer is to design an environment so that focused work is primed and low friction.

Using a content blocker on everything except the few digital tools you will be using of the next 90 minutes. Leaving your phone in another room. Telling your spouse that you will not be reachable for the next 90 minutes. Writing longhand instead of typing.

Sometimes for me, that’s getting up before the kids are awake, and having a dedicated desk whose only 2 functions are learning and production from that learning.

So there's a solution after all

Focused Seconds + Low Friction Environment = Successful Learning

I'll leave you with this quote

Neurons that are used frequently develop stronger connections. Those that are rarely or never used eventually die. By developing new connections and pruning away weak ones, the brain can adapt to the changing environment.

- VeryWellMind

September 28, 2023