Awkward: The Devil Is in the Details

I found Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome by Ty Tashiro a fascinating book. The book helped me to understand anxiety with social environments. Below is an excerpt:

The Devil Is in the DetailsAwkward.jpg

John Gottman of the University of Washington and his colleagues have conducted observational studies of positive and negative behaviors with married couples and grade-school children for decades. The focus of many relationship scientists has been on negative behaviors such as resentment or withdrawing from conflict, but the trick to understanding interpersonal behavior is about the ratio of negative to positive behaviors. It turns out that positive behaviors can be as small as telling someone he looks handsome, attentively listening to a friend’s small triumph of the day, or surprising a coworker with her favorite cupcakes.

Gottman has found that people keep an informal count of behaviors. He calls this ratio of positive to negative behaviors an emotional bank account. To stay in good standing with others, people need to keep a balance of about four or five positive behaviors to every one negative behavior. Imagine that you do four good things during an interaction with a friend: give an enthusiastic greeting, compliment his outfit, share some french fries, and respond empathically to a concern. Then you inadvertently insult this friend by forgetting that today is his birthday. You would probably come out of this interaction with $0.00 in your emotional bank account with him, which is not bad considering that you could have left the interaction in the red had you not been so nice at the start of the interaction. It’s good to think about leaving interactions without a negative balance because people’s emotional bank accounts charge interest.

Gottman finds that negative balances are not wiped from other people’s minds at the end of the day, but instead carry over to your next interaction. This is bad news if you end the day in the red with someone, but good news if you end the day with money in the bank. When people leave interactions with a negative balance, it has a way of building corrosive resentment in others’ minds, which essentially adds interest to their emotional debt. The good news is that leaving interactions with a positive balance tends to build trust, which is like gaining interest on your deposit.

One strategy is to avoid mistakes, but a focus on trying not to make a mistake has a way of creating persistent anxiety, which is both unpleasant and unhelpful. The best way to leverage the concept of the emotional bank account is to commit to making small deposits of positive behaviors on a consistent basis. Instead of viewing the dozens of social situations and hundreds of cues that one encounters every day as an opportunity for failure, the mindset shifts to capitalizing on routine situations by contributing a little more than expected. Sometimes others view heroic efforts as a disproportionately large contribution, but typically positive efforts both big and small have about the same effect.

When you become the kind of person who first thinks about how to help people rather than how to get something from people, it builds a positive balance in your emotional bank account with others. Over time, that positive balance begins to build trust and eventually faith that you are a good-natured person. The key is to be subtle about your contributions. Most people feel tremendous gratitude when their grandparents slip a ten-dollar bill into their birthday card, but if their grandparents slipped a check for $10,000 into their birthday card, it would actually feel awkward for most people. Subtle deposits could be as small as being more specific when you say thank you or letting others go first when a line forms at a buffet. As a supplement to face-to-face deposits, it’s easier than ever to make “mobile deposits” through a kind text the day of someone’s big test or follow-up message after dinner to say “That was fun, thanks for getting together.”Ackward Table 5-1.png

The reality is that awkward people are more likely. to make small withdrawals from their emotional bank accounts with others because they are prone to mishandling minor social expectations. Awkward people may not notice that their large backpack swung into their friend’s head as they turned to sit down on the bus or they may accidentally disclose the surprise birthday party to the birthday boy. These awkward moments are done without premeditation or malice, but they are still negative and even if people do not say anything, their automated mental accounting system deducts a little bit from the emotional bank account.

These unexpected or accidental withdrawals make it imperative that awkward individuals make a concerted effort to maintain a positive balance through consistently making small deposits that move their balance farther to the positive side in others’ minds, It’s like contributing a little bit every month for social insurance.

Awkward individuals should not let their clumsiness with minor social expectations define them. As both awkward and non-awkward people get older, most of them will care less about surface qualities and instead evaluate people on their Willingness to be fair, be kind, and be loyal. So long as good people feel as if you are trying your best to consistently contribute, then they are willing to overlook a little awkwardness. Whether It’s a commitment to a familial relationship, friendship, or romantic relationship, when awkward people make sure that they find a way to contribute to the broader good, it is the best strategy for creating sustainable social capital.Ackward Table5-2.png

 

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Eighth Anniversity

The Year in Review

Below are the top ten views for the year:

HBR: Are Sales Incentives Becoming Obsolete?

Everwise: Seven Tactics to Boost Learning in the Workplace

HBR: Good Leaders Are Good Learners

GT: 5 Things a Great Leader Would Never Do

HBR: 6 Reasons Salespeople Win or Lose a Sale

HBR: How to Improve Your Sales Skills, Even If You’re Not a Salesperson

Ben Franklin’s Third Virtue – Order

HBR: What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value

HBR: What Creativity in Marketing Looks Like Today

HBR: 3 Ways to Make Time for the Little Tasks You Never Make Time For

Thank you for your support over the past year.

 

 

KI: How to Maintain Strong Friendships as You Move Through Your Career

How is your relationship with co-workers and colleagues?  Below is a blog from the Kellogg Insight by Neal J. Roese:

How to Maintain Strong Friendships as You Move Through Your Career

What the science of regret says about work–life balance and prioritizing close relationships.

Based on the research and insights of Neal J. Roese

For many on ambitious career paths, long hours—and maybe a relocation or two—are a given. And while those may be good choices, says Neal Roese, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School, keep in mind that if your closest friendships are a casualty of your busy schedule, you will likely come to regret it.

Roese is a leading expert in the science of regret, how to avoid it, and how to use it to make choices that will bring you satisfaction in the long run.

“There’s a tendency to neglect one of the most important aspects of our well-being, which is our connection to others,” says Roese, author of the bookIf Only. “We’re finding that people frequently regret losing these personal connections.”

Nonromantic relationships are particularly susceptible to benign neglect. “We all understand that we need to invest in our relationship with our spouse or partner,” says Roese. “What might be not so obvious is that maintaining close friendships takes effort, too, and that the effort is worth it.”

So what can even the busiest among us do to keep our friends close and our life as regret-free as possible? Roese offers some research-backed strategies.

Know Thyself—and the Limits of Facebook

We all desire security, purpose, romance, partnership, and fulfilling work. Yet when these drives collide—the drive to search for fulfilling work versus, say, a desire to stay connected to the people already around us—we do not always choose what would ultimately have made us happiest.

“People aren’t necessary good at predicting their own emotional reactions to the outcomes of the choices they make,” Roese says. “In retrospect, however, they can see what mattered most.”

And what does matter most? While plenty of professionals have career- and education-related regrets, Roese’s own research finds that some of our most intense regrets have to do with losing touch with friends.

For Roese, this means people should work harder to maintain the relationships that mean the most to them—and not just by liking someone’s vacation photos on Facebook. “What we see is a longing for a close connection,” he says. “In the age of social media, we can call lots of people friends, but what people miss when they’ve lost it is a friend close enough to share intimate life details with. This is common with friendships that were important to people in their twenties and that fall away in their forties or fifties. People in their twenties might not realize how many life forces will push them away from their friends as they get older.”

Put In the Effort

One of the simplest ways to preserve a close friendship is to make a point of keeping it on your schedule.

“As people start getting caught up in work and family life, the first thing to go is the weekly or monthly beer you used to have with your friend,” Roese says.

This tends to be especially tricky for men. There is an interesting gender difference in the literature on how people keep friendships, Roese explains. Women are better at preserving one-on-one connections, known—to social psychologists, anyway—as dyads. “Dyadic connections are a specialty of women,” Roese says, “whereas men tend to be better at forming small groups, such as sports teams. Men need an extra nudge to preserve time for one-on-one friendships.”

“Regret hurts, and so our immediate reaction is often to ignore it. But you might also listen to the signal that’s inside that regret.”

Be Ambitious but Preserve What You Value

But preserving friendships does not necessarily mean limiting one’s ambition or refusing to chase opportunities that might disrupt one’s sense of community. In fact, the literature around regret suggests that risk-takers are rewarded with greater feelings of satisfaction.

“There’s plenty of research to show that when we have an opportunity and take it, we’re less likely to feel regretful, because we’re very good at reconciling ourselves to what unfolds. When we don’t take opportunities, however, we’re haunted by what might have been.”

In one study by Kellogg professor Victoria Medvec, for instance, 83% of respondants named something they had not done as their single most regrettable action over their entire lives.

So it certainly pays to take the opportunities that come along, even if they put you on a slightly itinerant path. The key is finding ways to make personal connections wherever you are, and preserving the ones you value most.

Roese recommends looking beyond workmates and colleagues. “If there’s a way to move to a new city and make friends outside your area of work, that can be more nourishing, in part because if something is going bad at work, you have someone who’s a more sympathetic ear for you. You can share intimate details without giving yourself away.”

“This is where social media really can help—it’s easier than ever to connect to people who share your interests and hobbies,” says Roese.

Reach Out for Needed Perspective

Roese also has advice for how we should rely on the close friendships we have managed to maintain. In addition to connection, he says, close friendships offer much needed perspective. As we reflect on our lives and our accomplishments, our friends can often see more clearly than we can the ways in which we have already succeeded.

“We don’t always do this well,” Roese says. “Too often, we immediately imagine the ideal—what’s the best possible outcome. But we stop there. We don’t take the time to pat ourselves on the back and feel a little bit better about all the great things we did.”

A classic example of this comes from another study by Victorica Medvec. In a paper published after the 1992 Olympic games, she and her coauthors evaluated photos of athletes on the victory podium and found that bronze-medal winners expressed more positive emotions than silver medalists.

“The bronze medalist compares downward and sees how easily they could have missed getting a medal at all, which made them better appreciate what they had actually achieved,” Roese says. “The silver medalist looks upward to missing out on the gold, and so feels a bit worse because of missing out on an ideal outcome ”

When reflecting on our past, and making decisions about the future, using close friends as clear-eyed sounding boards can prevent us from making choices we will later regret.

It’s Never Too Late

And for those who do drift away from their friends—it’s never too late to be in touch. One of Roese’s central insights is that regret is not simply a way to torture oneself on a sleepless night; it can also be an opportunity to change certain behaviors in a reasonable and targeted way.

“Regret hurts,” he says, “and so our immediate reaction is often to ignore it. But you might also listen to the signal that’s inside that regret, and the signal might represent a lesson, or a useful kernel of truth if you crack open the shell. There’s always time to change your behavior.”

 

HBR: What Great Listeners Actually Do

Which level of listening would you like to aim for? Are you using all four qualities to listen? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman.

What Great Listeners Actually Do

Chances are you think you’re a good listener. People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average.

In our experience, most people think good listening comes down to doing three things:

  • Not talking when others are speaking
  • Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
  • Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word

In fact, much management advice on listening suggests doing these very things – encouraging listeners to remain quiet, nod and “mm-hmm” encouragingly, and then repeat back to the talker something like, “So, let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is…” However, recent research that we conducted suggests that these behaviors fall far short of describing good listening skills.

We analyzed data describing the behavior of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. We identified those who were perceived as being the most effective listeners (the top 5%). We then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in the data set and identified the 20 items showing the largest significant difference. With those results in hand we identified the differences between great and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine what characteristics their colleagues identified as the behaviors that made them outstanding listeners.

We found some surprising conclusions, along with some qualities we expected to hear. We grouped them into four main findings:

  • Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehended it well enough to want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.
  • Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem. The best listeners made the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive (or, for that matter, critical!). Good listeners made the other person feel supported and conveyed confidence in them. Good listening was characterized by the creation of a safe environment in which issues and differences could be discussed openly.
  • Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation. In these interactions, feedback flowed smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made. By contrast, poor listeners were seen as competitive — as listening only to identify errors in reasoning or logic, using their silence as a chance to prepare their next response. That might make you an excellent debater, but it doesn’t make you a good listener. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.
  • Good listeners tended to make suggestions. Good listening invariably included some feedback provided in a way others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider. This finding somewhat surprised us, since it’s not uncommon to hear complaints that “So-and-so didn’t listen, he just jumped in and tried to solve the problem.” Perhaps what the data is telling us is that making suggestions is not itself the problem; it may be the skill with which those suggestions are made. Another possibility is that we’re more likely to accept suggestions from people we already think are good listeners. (Someone who is silent for the whole conversation and then jumps in with a suggestion may not be seen as credible. Someone who seems combative or critical and then tries to give advice may not be seen as trustworthy.)

While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.

Of course, there are different levels of listening. Not every conversation requires the highest levels of listening, but many conversations would benefit from greater focus and listening skill. Consider which level of listening you’d like to aim for:

Level 1: The listener creates a safe environment in which difficult, complex, or emotional issues can be discussed.

Level 2: The listener clears away distractions like phones and laptops, focusing attention on the other person and making appropriate eye-contact. (This behavior not only affects how you are perceived as the listener; it immediately influences the listener’s own attitudes and inner feelings. Acting the part changes how you feel inside. This in turn makes you a better listener.)

Level 3: The listener seeks to understand the substance of what the other person is saying. They capture ideas, ask questions, and restate issues to confirm that their understanding is correct.

Level 4: The listener observes nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions, perspiration, respiration rates, gestures, posture, and numerous other subtle body language signals. It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from these signals. It sounds strange to some, but you listen with your eyes as well as your ears.

Level 5: The listener increasingly understands the other person’s emotions and feelings about the topic at hand, and identifies and acknowledges them. The listener empathizes with and validates those feelings in a supportive, nonjudgmental way.

Level 6: The listener asks questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps the other person to see the issue in a new light. This could include the listener injecting some thoughts and ideas about the topic that could be useful to the other person. However, good listeners never highjack the conversation so that they or their issues become the subject of the discussion.

Each of the levels builds on the others; thus, if you’ve been criticized (for example) for offering solutions rather than listening, it may mean you need to attend to some of the other levels (such as clearing away distractions or empathizing) before your proffered suggestions can be appreciated.

We suspect that in being a good listener, most of us are more likely to stop short rather than go too far. Our hope is that this research will help by providing a new perspective on listening. We hope those who labor under an illusion of superiority about their listening skills will see where they really stand. We also hope the common perception that good listening is mainly about acting like an absorbent sponge will wane. Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.

 

Plant A Tree

Hope Jahren  in Lab Girl  gives us an awesome challenge to plant a tree. She includes an exercise on how to measure and chart the growth of a tree. Below is an excerpt from the book:

EpilogueLab Girl.jpg

PLANTS ARE NOT LIKE US. They are different in critical and fundamental ways. As I catalog the differences between plants and animals, the horizon stretches out before me faster than I can travel and forces me to acknowledge that perhaps I was destined to study plants for decades only in order to more fully appreciate that they are beings we can never truly understand. Only when we begin to grasp this deep otherness can we be sure we are no longer projecting ourselves onto plants. Finally we can begin to recognize what is actually happening.

Our world is falling apart quietly. Human civilization has reduced the plant, a four-hundred-million-year-old life form, into three things: food, medicine, and wood. In our relentless and ever-intensifying obsession with obtaining a higher volume, potency, and variety of these three things, we have devastated plant ecology to an extent that millions of years of natural disaster could not. Roads have grown like a manic fungus, and the endless miles of ditches that bracket these roads serve as hasty graves for perhaps millions of plant species extinguished in the name of progress. Planet Earth is nearly a Dr. Seuss book made real: every year since 1990 we have created more than eight billion new stumps. If we continue to fell healthy trees at this rate, less than six hundred years from now, every tree on the planet will have been reduced to a stump. My job is about making sure there will be some evidence that someone cared about the great tragedy that unfolded during our age.

In languages across the globe, the adjective “green” is etymologically rooted in the verb “to grow.” In free-association studies, participants linked the word “green” to concepts of nature, restfulness, peace, and positivity. Research has shown how a brief glimpse of green significantly improved the creativity that people brought to bear on simple tasks. Viewed from space, our planet appears less green with each passing year. On my bad days, our global troubles seem only to have increased over my lifetime, and I can’t escape my greatest nagging fear: When we are gone, will we leave our heirs stranded in a pile of rubble, just as sick and hungry and war-exhausted as we ever were, bereft even of the homely comfort of the color green? But on my good days, I feel like I can do something about this.

Every single year, at least one tree is cut down in your name. Here’s my personal request to you: If you own any private land at all, plant one tree on it this year. If you are renting a place with a yard, plant a tree in it and see if your landlord notices. If he does, insist to him that it was always there. Throw in a bit about how exceptional he is for caring enough about the environment to have put it there. If he takes the bait, go plant another one. Baffle some chicken wire at its base and string a cheesy birdhouse around its tiny trunk to make it look permanent, then move out and hope for the best.

There are more than one thousand successful tree species for you to choose from, and that’s just for North America. You will be tempted to choose a fruit tree because they grow quickly and make beautiful flowers, but these species will break under moderate wind, even as adults. Shyster tree planting services will pressure you to buy a Bradford pear or two because they establish and flourish in one year; you’ll be happy with the result long enough for them to cash your check. Unfortunately, these trees are also notoriously weak in the crotch and will crack in half during the first big storm. You must choose with a clear head and open eyes. You are marrying this tree: choose a partner, not an ornament.

How about an oak? There are more than two hundred species and one is bound to be adapted to your specific corner of the planet. In New England, the pin oak thrives, its leaves tipping to a thorny point in a good-natured impression of its evergreen neighbor the holly bush. The turkey oak can grow practically submerged within the wet- lands of Mississippi, its leaves soft as a newborn’s skin. The live oak can grow sturdily on the hottest hills of central California, contrasting dark green against the golden grass. For my money, I’ll take the bur oak, the slowest-growing but the strongest of all; even its acorns are heavily armored, ready to do battle with the uninviting soil.

Speaking of money, you may not even need any: Several state and local agencies have embarked upon tree-planting programs, distributing seedlings for free or at a reduced cost. For example, the New York Restoration Project provides trees as part of its goal to help citizens plant and care for one million new trees across New York City’s five boroughs, while the Colorado State Forest Service provides access to its nurseries to any local landowner holding one or more acres. Every state university runs one or more large operations called Extension Units, full of experts qualified to give advice and encouragement to citizen gardeners, tree owners, and nature enthusiasts of all types. Call around: these researchers are obligated to provide free consultations to interested civilians regarding your trees, your compost heap, your out-of-control poison ivy.

Once your baby tree is in the ground, check it daily, because the first three years are critical. Remember that you are your tree’s only friend in a hostile world. If you do own the land that it is planted on, create a savings account and put five dollars in it every month, so that when your tree gets sick between ages twenty and thirty (and it will), you can have a tree doctor over to cure it, instead of just cutting it down. Each time you blow the account on tree surgery, put your head down and start over, knowing that your tree is doing the same. The first ten years will be the most dynamic of your tree’s life; what kind of overlap will it make with your own? Take your children to the tree every six months and cut a horizontal chink into the bark to mark their height. Once your little ones have grown up and moved out and into the world, taking parts of your heart with them, you will have this tree as a living reminder of how they grew, a sympathetic being who has also been deeply marked by their long, rich passage through childhood.

While you’re at it, would you carve Bill’s name into your tree as well? He’s told me a hundred times over that he’ll never read this book because it would be pointless. He says that if he ever gets at all interested in himself he can damn well sit down and remember the last twenty years without any help from me. I don’t have a good comeback for that one, but I’d like to think that the many parts of Bill that I’ve released to the wind belong somewhere, and over the years we’ve learned that the best way to give something a home is to make it part of a tree. My name is carved into a bunch of our lab equipment, so why shouldn’t Bill’s name be carved into a bunch of trees?

At the end of this exercise, you’ll have a tree and it will have you. You can measure it monthly and chart your own growth curve. Every day, you can look at your tree, watch what it does, and try to see the world from its perspective. Stretch your imagination until it hurts: What is your tree trying to do? What does it wish for? What does it care about? Make a guess. Say it out loud. Tell your friend about your tree; tell your neighbor. Wonder if you are right. Go back the next day and reconsider. Take a photograph. Count the leaves. Guess again. Say it out loud. Write it down. Tell the guy at the coffee shop; tell your boss.

Go back the next day, and the next, and so on. Keep talking about it; keep sharing its unfolding story. Once people begin to roll their eyes and gently tell you that you’re crazy, laugh with gratification. When you’re a scientist, it means that you’re doing it right.

 

Work like Teddy Roosevelt

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport is a must read and one for your bookshelf. It helped me understand the difference between deep and shallow work. Below is an excerpt from the book:

Work like Teddy Roosevelt Deep work.jpg

 

If you attended Harvard College during the 1876-1877 school year, you would’ve likely noticed a wiry, mutton- chopped, brash, and impossibly energetic freshman named Theodore Roosevelt. If you then proceeded to befriend this young man, you would’ve soon noticed a paradox.

On the one hand, his attention might appear to be hopelessly scattered, spread over what one classmate called an “amazing array of interests”– a list that biographer Edmund Morris catalogs to contain boxing, wrestling, body building, dance lessons, poetry readings, and the continuation of a lifelong obsession with naturalism (Roosevelt’s landlord on Winthrop Street was not pleased with her young tenant’s tendency to dissect and stuff specimens in his rented room). This latter interest developed to the point that Roosevelt published his first book, The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks, in the summer after his freshman year. It was well received in the Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club- a publication, needless to say, which takes bird books quite seriously-and was good enough to lead Morris to assess Roosevelt, at this young age, to be “one of the most knowledgeable young naturalists in the United States.”

To support this extracurricular exuberance Roosevelt had to severely restrict the time left available for what should have been his primary focus: his studies at Harvard. Morris used Roosevelt’s diary and letters from this period to estimate that the future president was spending no more than a quarter of the typical day studying. One might expect therefore that Roosevelt’s grades would crater. But they didn’t. He wasn’t the top student in his class, but he certainly didn’t struggle either: In his freshman year he earned honor grades in five out of his seven courses. The explanation for this Roosevelt paradox turns out to be his unique approach to tackling this schoolwork. Roosevelt would begin his scheduling by considering the eight hours from eight thirty a.m. to four thirty p.m. He would then remove the time spent in recitation and classes, his athletic training (which was once a day), and lunch. The fragments that remained were then considered time dedicated exclusively to studying. As noted, these fragments didn’t usually add up to a large number of total hours, but he would get the most out of them by working only on schoolwork during these periods, and doing so with a blistering intensity. “The amount of time he spent at his desk was comparatively small,” explained Morris, “but his concentration was so intense, and his reading so rapid, that he could afford more time off [from schoolwork] than most.”

This strategy asks you to inject the occasional dash of Rooseveltian intensity into your own workday. In particular, identify a deep task (that is, something that requires deep work to complete) that’s high on your priority list. Estimate how long you’d normally put aside for an obligation of this type, then give yourself a hard deadline that drastically reduces this time. If possible, commit publicly to the deadline-for example, by telling the person expecting the finished project when they should expect it. If this isn’t possible (or if it puts your job in jeopardy), then motivate yourself by setting a countdown timer on your phone and propping it up where you can’t avoid seeing it as you work.

At this point, there should be only one possible way to get the deep task done in time: working with great intensity- no e-mail breaks, no daydreaming, no Facebook browsing, no repeated trips to the coffee machine. Like Roosevelt at Harvard, attack the task with every free neuron until it gives way under your unwavering barrage of concentration.

Try this experiment no more than once a week at first- giving your brain practice with intensity, but also giving it (and your stress levels) time to rest in between. Once you feel confident in your ability to trade concentration for completion time, increase the frequency of these Roosevelt dashes. Remember, however, to always keep your self-imposed deadlines right at the edge of feasibility. You should be able to consistently beat the buzzer (or at least be close), but to do so should require teeth-gritting concentration.

The main motivation for this strategy is straightforward. Deep work requires levels of concentration well beyond where most knowledge workers are comfortable. Roosevelt dashes leverage artificial deadlines to help you systematically increase the level you can regularly achieve-providing, in some sense, interval training for the attention centers of your brain. An additional benefit is that these dashes are incompatible with distraction {there’s no way you can give in to distraction and still make your deadlines). Therefore, every completed dash provides a session in which you’re potentially bored, and really want to seek more novel stimuli — but you resist. As argued in the previous strategy, the more you practice resisting such urges, the easier such resistance becomes.

After a few months of deploying this strategy, your understanding of what it means to focus will likely be transformed as you reach levels of intensity stronger than anything you’ve experienced before. And if you’re anything like a young Roosevelt, you can then repurpose the extra free time it generates toward the finer pleasures in life, like trying to impress the always-discerning members of the Nuttall Ornithological Club.