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Notes from “Extreme Focus: 11 Keys to Laser Focus, Intensive Concentration, and Titanic Productivity” by Dominic Mann

1. Focus your energy on one thing and do it well. Don’t spread your resources (time, money, energy) too thin.
2. Multi-tasking decreases productivity by at least 40%. If you work 8 hours a day, that’s around 3 hours and 12 minutes worth of productivity that is wasted.
The Three F’s: Focusing, Filtering, and Forgetting (doing one thing at a time, delegating to avoid taking on too many tasks and overloading yourself with information, exercising taking breaks and clearing your head)
Focus on the handful of things that actually matter. The 20 percent of activities that result in 80 percent of the results. Eliminate or delegate the rest. To keep sharp, make sure you take time to exercise and clear your head.
Immunize Against Distractions
Be Proactive, Not reactive
In the long run, reactive people never achieve anything. Extreme focus requires proactivity. This means working toward a definitive objective.
Getting up early (4-6AM, common 5AM) allows you to be proactive in your day, have some peace, exercise (increses daily productivity by 23%).
Manage your energy, not your time. Get the difficult, important tasks out of the way in the morning.
Finish with the easiest, least cognitively demanding tasks.
Start off morning with writing or learning and exercising. End with social.
1. The World Health Organization says that a healthy diet improves prodcutivity by 20%.
2. Several studies have found that daily exercise boosts productivity by 23%.
3. It is well known fact that multitasking almost halves productivity, reducing it by 40%.
4. Majority of people waste at least one hour a day to distractions.
5. Almost all white collar workers spend significant time on social media and sites completely unrelated to work.
6. Workers are constantly interrupted, constantly check email, and constantly distract themselves.
By exericising each morning, eating healthy, sticking to work related activities, and completing tasks sequentially, you can boost your producitivity by 98%. You can double your productivity.
You need to be obsessed to be a champion.
Be obsessed about the things you want.
Concentrate all your thoughts on the great desire in your life. The concentration must be continuous, unceasing – every minute, every hour, every day, every week.
The ultra successful are obsessed. The ultra successful live in a state of extreme focus.
If you are not obsessed with what you are doing, you will find it difficult to sustain extreme focus.
Physical: Exercise, diet, sleep.
Eating a lot of carbs results in spikes in energy and drop in blood sugar after resulting in post-lunch slump or constant need for coffee. Results in “brain fog.”
Eat high-fat, moderate protein, low carb.
For carbs, eat low GI (low glcemic index) foods.
Result = you can effortlessly focus intensely for prolonged periods of time. The body has a constant source of energy (because fat takes some time to break down), and you have your next meal pre-installed (body fat). Which means consistent, constant energy throughout the day.
Sugar messes with your hunger sensations, which makes it hard to focus.
Fat is good for the brain. 60% of our brain is fat, and when we don’t eat enough fat, the brain starts harvesting itself for the materials needed to create neurotransmitters and essential brain chemicals. Good fats: coconut oil, nuts, avocados, olive oil, eggs, wild salmon, grass-fed meats.
Bad fats (trans fats): canola oil, sunlowers oil, etc. Cause inflammation in brain due to high Omega-6 fatty acid content.
Exercise literally grows the brain. Physical fitness boosts intellect. Increase birth of new nerve cells. Double the number of new nerve cells in the hippocampus, part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
Run on treadmill for an hour a day, five days a week (regimen recommended for average middle-aged adult).
Experiment: monkeys that did this learned twice as fast as other monkeys who did not. Increased blood flow to brain. It’s important to keep exercising to retain the benefits of exercise.
Exercise also increases sleep quality.
11. Flow: The human brain can only deal with a certain amount of information at any given time. (According to 2004 TED talk by Csikszentmihalyi, 110 bits of information per sec)
Listening to someone talk takes about 60 bites of information per second.
Flow is being in “the zone”
“The Zone” by Csik…. “Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act.”
aka When your brain is fully immersed in the activity. There is no more attention to be allocated. One loses awareness of all else: time, people, distractions, basic bodily needs.
Another component to flow is having a clear goal and receiving immediate feedback. Enable one to adjust their performance.
Components of flow:
1. Knowing what to do
2. Knowing how to do it
3. Knowing how well you are doing it (i.e. instant feedback)
4. Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
5. High perceived challenged
6. High perceived skills
7. Freedom from distractions
Drive focus by recording productivity. Deep work (Cal Newport) is the “ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding tasks.”
Shallow work is work that is constantly interrupted or spent on tasks that are not as cognitively demanding, such as emails or meetings. Keeping track of how many hours of ultra-productive work we are doing motivates us to increase that number.
When you have a specific target in mind, you instinctively buckle down and become extremely focused.
12. Minimalism: Minimalism is a lifestyle free from the excesses of consumerism, from material possessions and clutter. Clear away distractions. Uncluttered and organized living.
Minimalist environments increase your available brainpower. A cluttered environment restricts your ability to concentrate and focus. If limits the information processing ability of your brain. To concentrate, process information, and focus as effectively as possible, a clean, minimalist environment is a MUST. (You’ll also be less irritable.)
13. Develop Habits, Develop Yourself.
You must become the kind of person who performs at the apex of their abilities. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
Habits have three components: Cue (trigger), routine, reward.
To change a habit, switch up one of the three.
14. Outsourcing work. Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to save you valuable time and energy and give you efficiency and speed.
Upwork: hire a virtual assistant and see how much of the 70-80% of tasks you can outsource. You can hire someone for $3-5 an hour. http://upwork.com/
15. Solitude
Extreme focus can only be achieved when we set aside blocks of time for complete solitude.
Carl Jung built a stone tower in the woods where nobody could disturb him, with no electricity, no running water, so nobody could disturb him. He would go for a few days at a time, and then even a months at a time. With nothing to interrupt or disturb him, extreme focus was inevitable.
16. Smart Drugs
Amphetamines
Caffeine
Nootropics for cognitive enhancement.
Modafinil (aka Provigil)
17. Lifehacks
– Standing Desks led to up to 10% more productivity
– Get to sit once you’ve completed a certain task
Napping:
– 20 minute nap is an effective energy booster
– 60-90 minute nap can have same effect as 8 hours of sleep in terms of improving memory test results
– Parkinson’s law: If the assignment is due tonight, you’ll finish it by tonight. Give yourself that same law for tasks.
– Create a distraction to-do list (postpone a certain urge to do after you get your important tasks done)
Once we get distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back to our original task.
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Photoshoot pictures

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innex

 

Last week I had a fun little photoshoot with an incredibly artistic and talented photographer, Helen Han! We were testing and thinking of a new theme to use for the final photoshoot for my product, Axent Wear “Axent,” shown above. Axent Wear is a company that I cofounded with my roommate Wenqing Yan. We make wearable hardware that the world hasn’t seen the likes of before. More on that to follow! 

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Books I’ve Read Recently

The Book of Jonas

Beautiful writing. I really enjoyed the description of Jonas’s experiences in the beginning. A lot of the characters oddly seem to lack a certain depth, and the ending was a little confusing and unsatisfying to me, but overall, it was an enjoyable read. I’d suggest this book if you want something quick and beautiful to pick up and want to read a book on an alternative perspective or on the conflict in the middle east.

Wizard’s First Rule

Quite an epic journey. I really enjoyed the rules and lessons that the book discusses, as they’re really good life lessons. Although it was long, I couldn’t put this book down. One of my only complaints is that the only main female character seems to almost get raped more times than I can count, which is unnecessary. The narrative is also obviously male-centric, as it goes into what I feel is an excessive number of soliloquies on Kahlan’s beauty. We get it. She’s beautiful. Overall, I would highly suggest this to readers who enjoy fantasy or to anybody in general. It’s a fantastically written book and has a lot of deeper themes, and is as addicting as crack.

Lean In

Sheryl Sandberg tries to reintroduce feminism with a very reasonable, warm, and understanding tone. This book receives a lot of criticism, and I understand the reasons why. However, I think this book is still a valuable read for women who are reasonably privileged and have resources at their disposal. That’s a fair market. Sheryl Sandberg is clearly doing her best to make an impact on gender disparity, which I really respect, and she has a lot of great advice. I would say that her advice is mostly applicable for upper middle to upper-class, educated women, but this shouldn’t discount its value. I enjoyed it nonetheless. Great read if you are one of said women. It’s also a good read if you’re one of those people who believe that gender disparity does not exist in developed nations.

Dogrun

Dogrun’s plot revolves around a struggling young writer closer to her thirties than her twenties, but mentally closer to twelve. The setting is in gritty New York City, and captures the city wonderfully. This book was very frustrating, as are most of Arthur Nersesian’s novels, because the characters are so frustratingly irresponsible and incapable of making good decisions. That being said, I enjoy his writing, because even though the characters make me angry, his story telling is well done. Only read if you enjoy artsy novels and have a tolerance for frustration. Still enjoyable for the right people, especially if you’re an artist. If you like this author, I highly suggest “Chinese Takeout,” as that’s my favorite book from him.

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Hard Choices Let Us Make Who We Are

http://www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices#t-80826

In a 14 minute long TED talk by philosopher Ruth Chang, she explores why we should embrace difficult choices instead of agonizing over them. I paraphrase her words below:

In an easy choice, one alternative is clearly better than the other. In a hard choice, one of the alternatives is better in one way, another is better another in another way, but neither is better than the other overall.

Realizing small choices may also be hard, makes big choices seem less intractable. We also shouldn’t think hard choices are hard because we are stupid.

Fear of the unknown rests on a misconception of them. We don’t have full information, but even if we did, hard decisions would still be hard because there’s no best option.

A higher salary for being an investment banker makes that job option better than it was before, but not necessarily better than being an artist. Neither is better than the other, nor are they equally good.

That’s because we try to assign quantities to values. Justice, beauty, and kindness are values, but we assume they have quantities. They may be in the same league of value, but have different kinds of value.

We create reasons for the hard choices we make and thus we make ourselves into the distinctive people we are.

People who don’t exercise their normative powers are drifters. They let the world write the stories of their lives.

So instead of agonizing and fearing hard choices, we should see them as precious opportunities for us to celebrate the human condition.

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Challenges

View story at Medium.com

I read the article linked above that describes a 4 year long struggle in the life of a startup founder by the founder of 99dresses. She’s gotten so much further than me, and yet I empathize more than I can describe. 

Life is hard. I know that working in a corporate environment isn’t easy or necessarily enjoyable either (I’ve tried it and encountered obstacles that were as fun to deal with as getting kicked in the face, and they weren’t even as bad as they could have been), but at the same time, it didn’t consume me like my brainchild did. Working as an employee didn’t take over me and my life and my heart and hopes, but now I see the many benefits of learning in a corporate environment before getting cast into a struggle in which multiple bad decisions could lead to undesirable situations and eventually failure. Corporate is a good place to learn. Although the press likes to gloss over failure and glorify struggle, as Durkin mentions, there are some forms of struggle that are best to be avoided. There’s no point in swimming through a lake of poisonous snakes if you could have just hiked around, had you known. And while you learn the most by doing, I find that perhaps doing smaller iterative cycles of learning and building and success might be better than jumping headfirst into a four year long project. 

I am so grateful to have the support of so many wonderful people, especially my parents. They have been indispensable as a support system, being real with me when they have to in the way only asian parents can (very bluntly), and listening to me and helping when anyone else would have been fed up 10 million years ago.