A little time for self-improvement…

4secondsFour Seconds:  All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want.

Peter Bregman

2015.  HarperOne.  258 pgs with acknowledgements, notes and index.  More resources to accompany the book can be found at:  http://www.peterbregman.com/four-seconds.

Other books I’ve read by Bregman:  18 Minutes:  Find Your Focus, Master Distraction and Get the Right Things Done.  Bregman is also the author of a popular blog on the Harvard Business Review website.

I’ve been a fan of Bregman’s thoughtful, emotionally honest writing about improvement in business for some time.  When his new book, Four Seconds came out, I knew I had to get it and read it.  Who knows, maybe his advice will help me carve out more time for reading Guardian 1,000 titles!

One of Bregman’s constant themes is trying to answer the question of how can we be effective as leaders when we are crushed by mounting deadlines, avalanches of information and constant distraction?  The answer in his latest book is to pause for as few as four seconds and replace negative reactions with positive and productive actions.  This simple premise is the heart of the whole book — and while it sounds too basic to be helpful — Bregman fleshes it out with a multitude of rich, specific advice and examples.  The book is organized into three broad areas of focus:

  • changing your mental defaults,
  • strengthening relationships, and
  • optimizing work habits.

Each of the three sections is chunked into further small sections which explore a specific sub-theme.  Further, each sub-section is summarized in a box at the end of the sub-section, delivering that idea in a summary of about three-four sentences.  Talk about efficiency in writing!  I know I’m going to be browsing through these summaries on a regular basis.  Some of the advice is as specific as:  check your email only three times a day, or stop venting to co-workers, while other is broad-based:

Setting goals isn’t always a beneficial habit.  Identify and spend your time on areas of focus instead and you’ll get where you want to go more effectively.

By the way, if you are interested in more books about productivity, check out Productivity Porn! a list I curate over on GoodReads.

Livritome’s Short List: Brain Food and More


Photo credit:  Dan Tentler.  Creative Commons license.

Photo credit: Dan Tentler. Creative Commons license.

To balance out these great long challenge reads, we need some sources for tasty short treats.  So for this week’s Short List, I’ve gathered a list of great sources for quick, thought provoking reads that you can gobble up during a commute or on your lunch break.  Bon appetit!

  • Farnam Street blog.  Canadian blogger Shane Parrish produces this treasure-chest of links, organized around the concept of getting smarter.  His Sunday newsletter, Brain Food summarizes his latest finds.  My only problem with this site is that it is so rich I could get lost for hours!  Check out this issue to get an idea:  there’s generally a theme, a list of associated links and also more links to what Shane is reading, which is cool.  Brain Food led me to a great article from the New Yorker on how walking helps you think.
  •  Another source I’ve been noticing is LinkedIn’s Pulse.  I’m just getting into it, but apparently LinkedIn is morphing into a publishing platform  — in addition to providing the business networking it is already famous for.  If you already have a LinkedIn profile, then Pulse will offer a customized news stream, or you can peruse and search on your own. Using Pulse, I found a short, interesting read on how to be more effective in meetings.   I’ll definitely be keeping my fingers on Pulse.

And here’s one more to digest:

Enjoy, busy readers!  See you next week with an update on one of my longer reads.  I’m three-quarters of the way through with Five Days at Memorial and taking a quick look into Trainspotting, which is one of the Guardian 1000 Challenge reads.  As usual, way too much to bite off…

Love, L.


Focus by Daniel Goleman

Focus by Daniel Goleman coverFocus:  the hidden driver of excellence

Daniel Goleman

Harper Collins.  2013.  311 pgs with acknowledgements, resource list, index.

Other books I’ve read by Goleman:  none, but he is famous for 1995 best-seller, Emotional Intelligence.  Goleman was once a science writer for the New York Times.

Since I’m always wondering why I can’t get enough done, why I can’t concentrate on everything that I need to accomplish — including why I can’t read more of my Guardian list books, I thought I would find out what Goleman had to say about focus, “the hidden driver of excellence.”

Goleman has ton of insights:  some based on brain science, a lot based in management science and then quite a large section of his own semi-philosophical musings.  Plenty to dig into.  Turns out our brains aren’t really set up for big-picture problem solving and long-term focus.  They are set up for alerting us to rustling in the bushes that might turn out to be a predator.  This is why, according to Goleman, we all get a rush of adrenaline when we get a sudden scary shock, but we can blissfully auto-cruise in the face of global warming.

Goleman asserts that successful leaders have “triple focus”:

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 27JAN11 - Daniel Goleman, C...

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 27JAN11 – Daniel Goleman, Co-Director, Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, Rutgers University, USA, speaks during the session ‘The New Reality of Consumer Power’ at the Annual Meeting 2011 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 27, 2011. Copyright by World Economic Forum swiss-image.ch/Photo by Michael Wuertenberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Listening within, to articulate an authentic vision of overall vision … that energizes others…

Coaching, based on listening to what people want from their life, career and current job.

Listening to advice and expertise; being collaborative and making decisions by consensus ….

Goleman talks about systems thinking and mindfulness, but I didn’t really get a clear idea about how that was all tied together with the concept of focusing on larger problems.  I understand that systems thinking is the ability to see how interconnected parts work together and impact each other, but Goleman lost me in how focus ties into this.

On the other hand, I enjoyed Goleman’s discussions on brain science.  Our older, bottom up brain is intuitive, impulsive, involuntary and “the manager for our mental models of the world” while our top-down brain is voluntary, effortful, and able to create new models and plans.  According to Goleman, it is the bottom up brain that might deliver a sudden flash of insight after the top down brain has been grappling with a thorny problem.  The problem is, we need unstructured down time to allow those insights to bubble up — a commodity that most of us don’t have enough of.

My only other comment is that I found the book poorly organized and ironically, sometimes unfocused.  I wish Goleman had used fewer-briefly mentioned examples and more deeper explorations of examples of good and poor focus.  Still, glad I took time for Focus.

Indispensable You: Seth Godin’s Linchpin

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Linchpin:  Are You Indispensable?

Seth Godin

Penguin.  2010.  244 pgs.

I follow and enjoy Seth Godin’s blog, so I thought it was time to check out one of his books.   In Linchpin, Godin  throws down some really interesting ideas.  I’ve tried to capture a few:

  • Workers used to be classified as two types:  management and labor, but Godin talks about a new type:  the linchpin.  These are the people who make a difference, stand out from the pack, and take responsibility for their own (and their organization’s) success.
  • The death of the industrial age means that the entire system we are all familiar with — bosses and workers, teachers and students, the factory and cogs/widgets,  — are gone forever.  This is scary but it also creates huge opportunities.
  • Charting a path is a choice, and what everything is about.
  • The linchpin is the person who can invent, create, connect, and see farther than today.  This is the person who is totally present and also has their fingertip on the future.  This could be you!
  • Becoming a linchpin is about recognizing your gift, and seeing yourself as an artist.
  • Art is anything that changes someone for the better.  It could be an interaction with someone.  It is focused on gift giving.
  • Linchpins must be brave and must stand up and stand for something.   They must give their gift.  They are the individuals who can point the organization toward the future.  Linchpins do not wait for instructions.
  • It’s hard to be a linchpin because it’s scary.  We all have a “lizard brain” that tell us to keep our head down, go with the flow, wait for instructions, and stay the course.  Part of this tendency hearkens back to patterns found in the educational system where it is a whole lot easier dealing with 30 kids filling out worksheet than it is with 30 kids with lots of ideas and questions.  As products of that system, many of us are afraid to discern our true gifts and become linchpins.
  • Linchpins have the following super powers:  leading customers, inspiring staff, providing deep domain knowledge, possessing a unique talent, delivering unique creativity, managing situations of great complexity, and providing unique interface between members of the organization.

This was a fun, thought-inspiring read.  At first I was a bit annoyed by Godin’s tendency to repeat himself — I chafed a bit thinking, this could all just be a shorter blog piece, not a full-length book.  But when I analyzed it, Godin doesn’t repeat himself as much as he weaves back and forth, connecting and re-connecting his ideas.  Godin provides lots of great examples of linchpins and this helps a great deal to enliven his concepts.

My main takeaway was, how can I be a linchpin?  How can I be the one who sees the future, connects others generously, and gives my gift without fear?  I work in a fairly traditional, hierarchical organization; Godin’s advice will be a challenge — but not an impossible one.