Focus by Daniel Goleman Book Summary

One of the most common problems my email subscribers mention is trouble focusing and concentrating. Moreover, focus is one of the keys to success, as illustrated by the greats…

When Warren Buffett and Bill Gates met for the first time, it wasn’t happy-go-lucky.

Despite these two being the richest in the world, Bill did not want to meet. His parents wanted them to meet. Bill Gates thought Warren Buffett was a despicable stock trader that made his money through ticker symbols.

That was completely not the case. As you’ll soon find out.

Eventually, Bill bargained with his father a specific amount of time to meet with him (around an hour).

Their meeting changed everything.

Both people realized they had an incredible understanding of business economics that really allowed them to succeed.

Warren Buffett was not a stock trader. He had a vast understanding of business history, reading 1,000+ pages of material every day. He bought great companies he believed in and thoroughly understood like Coca-Cola. He looked way beyond the stock symbol.

Bill’s father passed out cards and asked them to write down: “What was your #1 key to success in one word?”

They both thought about it a bit, wrote it down, and surprisingly came up with the same answer:


Bill spent day and night focusing on one thing: programming. From childhood to adulthood, he perfected his craft.

“Where I was curious to study everything in sight, Bill would focus on one task at a time with total discipline. You could see it when he programmed. He would sit with a marker clenched in his mouth, tapping his feet and rocking; impervious to distraction.” -Paul Allen, from the book The Innovators

Warren Buffett did the same thing.

He spent long hours in his office…the concentration he brought to the process bordered on the mystical. His “scripture” might have consisted of things like price-to-earnings ratios and breakdowns of managementt perofrmance, but he could as easily have been a rabbi studing Kabbalah or a Buddhist monk puzzling over Zen koans. His focus was that fierce – that pure. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that when my father was working, he went into an altered state, a trance. He’d emerge from his office, wearing his usual outfit of khaki pants and a worn-out sweater, and there would be an almost saintly calm about him- the calm of a person whose ego has completely merged with the task at hand. -Peter Buffett about his father in his book Life is What You Make It

Apple’s marketing philosophy had three tenets. The second was:

In order to do a good job of those things we decide to do we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.

Will Smith, one of the most famous actors in the world, said in an interview that to be truly world class at a skill, which is what he chose to do, you need a sickening level of focus.

Focus means not only concentrating on the task at hand for long periods of total time, but also being able to say No to tempting distractions and opportunities that aren’t in the best interest of your goals. So, now you know how important it is to focus. But how do you stay focused?

Luckily, Daniel Goleman, the famed scientist behind the best-sellers Emotional Intelligence and Altered Traits, wrote a book on the subject called Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Here’s the top lessons I learned from the book:

How to Stay Focused

Rather than we have a stretchable attention to split instead we switch rapidly

Anxiety is directly correlated with lower test scores in students

We are more likely to get distracted than ever before because of social media and technology

To find your passion have flow and derive pleasure from your work, research shows that you must have full focus, have work that aligns with your values and ethics.

Research of athletes show that focusing on what could go wrong or the details of a technique when it is time to perform decreases performance because it triggers your conscious part of your brain to take over something the unconscious trained for.

Anxiety in individuals cause them to interpret even slight facial expressions of rejection as discouragement. Cognitive negative bias therapy is a fantastic way of foxing this by doing a test involving flashing white light with pictures, subconsciously causing you to emphasize the positive parts of body language instead

What aspect of attention predicts how well college athletes can perform? How well they can focus without distraction

Two main types of distraction are sensory and emotional We dont have a balloon of focus to allot with multitasking. Instead, we have a narrow pipe of focus and we switch rapidly between tasks.

Passion, alignment with your values, and/or full focus are ways to get into flow and deep work.

For repetitive undemanding jobs that cause disengagment, daydreaming, doing the bare minimum, and surfing the web, to get them more engaged you can improve enthusiasm, add a dollup of pressure, improve motivation, purpose

A Harvard business study of 238 creative team members found that small wins on minor innovations toward a larger concrete goals with freedom to reach them with protected time to think freely was most ideal for creativity.

Noticing the mind wandering (meta awareness) lessens the brains chance of wandering. (I suggest Mindfulness meditation to help improve your skill at noticing. Mindfulness, a form of meditation, improves focus by showing you how to be attentive to the smallest of senses.)

Research tested people’s ability to be attentive to numbers hidden in a string of letters. Those who scored better had more open awareness, which lets them take in more details in a visual moment, have more equanimity, mind-wander less, and take in more feeling and sensations in a moment.

Your brain gets fatigued from concentrating. Glucose stores get low. Taking a break with something effortless, relaxing, that puts you in the moment is the solution to replenish. This includes taking a walk in nature or playing with kids. This doesn’t include surfing the web, checking email, video games, or navigating a busy city street for a walk. (Restorative attention theory)

People are most focused when having sex, and then exercise. They are less focused win commuting or at work. Usually, mind wandering is an unhappy experience. Doing it makes you less happy. Mind wandering is usually focused on yourself.

Successful people have a million things they can do. If they wanted to, they could have 10x more tasks to do on a daily basis than the average person. But successful people know how to clear out their day by doing what’s critically essential and impactful only.

Warren Buffett probably has 100 times more things he’s bombarded with on a daily basis.

And yet I have heard numerous stories about how he is able to manage his time by cutting out the unnecessary:

He has little to no meetings.

This is easier said than done though. Most people do a bunch of things that they cannot convince themselves are not important even though they aren’t high impact.

The biggest obstacles are not the things that are wastes of time. The biggest obstacles for you is that you have to eliminate things that may appear somewhat useful but truly are not high impact.

A ton of things you do may seem neutral or no big deal, but that’s not the case because everything has a time cost. We are all on this planet for a limited period of time.

Recommended Reading: Essentialism – This book goes into great depth on this concept, with plenty of high-impact exercises and stories. I heard a lot about this book and thought it was decent. After reading it, I was blown away. Solid 4.65 out 5 stars.

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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