Thinking and focus

A guide to prioritizing what's important, maintaining energy for decision-making, and developing a sense of calm in the actions we take

Learning and processing


  • Learn how you prefer to learn
  • Read regularly, mainly books
  • Be aware of what makes you unique – your preferences, tastes, what energizes you, etc


  • Read books that interest you; don't be afraid to stop reading
  • Take notes to retain your reading; don't just summarize, write bullet points of what comes to mind that you can apply somewhere
  • Learn to read analytically


  • Repetition forms a faster connection to information in your brain, muscle memory
  • 10,000 hours is considered getting good at something, but not necessarily mastering it
  • For effective practice, eliminate distractions, start out slowly, have multiple practice sessions

Keep notes

  • Ideas - including fleshing out concepts and doing research
  • Thoughts On - categories of things you tend to think about regularly that you can refer to
  • Mindmap - boxes and arrows of how thoughts connect


  • Recap of events
  • Summaries/reviews of books, movies, etc
  • Conversations and arguments
  • Thoughts and feelings
  • Look at past entries


  • Set time aside to just think, maybe an hour each week
  • Uninterrupted shower thoughts — the things you want to think about but you find that you are distracted from
  • A walk might help, or a float/sensory deprivation tank

Our brain as software

Our brain works like a computer of 1’s and 0’s, or more accurately, switches. Many people, like Elon Musk, believe we should be optimizing our brains like computer software. An example of how we are already doing this is with apps on our phone, which are essentially tools that help us think.

The brain stem

  • Our reptilian brain
  • Controls involuntary tasks — breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, disgust
  • A computer’s chip-level programming

The limbic system

  • Our monkey brain
  • Controls survival — eating, drinking, having sex, fighting, fear, emotions
  • A computer’s operating system

The cortex

  • Our rational thinking
  • Thinking tools — speaking, reading, writing, riding a bike, coding
  • A computer’s software/apps

Having and maintaining energy

Habits and routine

  • Habits are the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day; It's behavior that becomes automatic
  • Habit is like water: water hollows out for itself a channel, which grows broader and deeper over time
  • Habits can be changed
  • The brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit because habits allow our minds to ramp down
  • When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision-making
  • Habits create neurological cravings
  • Small habits compound over time

Knowledge work balance

Schedule work based on making or managing


  • Focused on craft — core, meangingful work
  • Requires uninterrupted flow state
  • Set aside 1-3 hours at a time for
  • Requires clearing your calendar


  • Focused on strategy
  • Requires regular interruptions — meetings, phone calls, email responses
  • Batch multiple tasks to focus on
  • Requires filling up your calendar

Getting Things Done

  • Get everything you need to do out of your head and into a system of lists
  • Define and prioritize tangible next steps to do now
  • Keep track of projects that need to be worked on later
  • Store ideas and goals to come back to in the future
  • Use simple tools and systems; don't depend on any one tool to get things done


  • Set time aside to deal with once a day; best for end of the day
  • Try to respond with some kind of response each time you read an email
  • Work to empty inbox once a week


  • Always have a clear agenda defined
  • Send out items needing review before meeting, or set time aside at beginning of the meeting to review

Spending your time

What an optimal 24-hour workday can look like.

8 hrs Work

3-4 hrs
Focused flow

  • Uninterrupted task or batch of tasks
  • Top goal for the day

3-4 hrs

  • Emails
  • Phone calls
  • Errands
  • Etc

1-2 hrs Breaks

  • 5-10 min Short break every 1-2 hours
  • 1 hr Lunch

8 hrs Leisure

4-6 hrs
Activities – pick 3

  • TV/unwind/relax
  • Reading
  • Chores and errands
  • Family and friends
  • Hobby (ex: practice playing piano)

2 hrs Misc

8 hrs Sleep

7-8 hrs
Uninterrupted sleep

  • Best during the night
  • Try waking up between 6-8am
  • Don't interrupt your sleep with an alarm (plan for enough hours and you'll wake up before your alarm goes off)
  • Avoid screen time an hour before going to bed

30 min Optional nap during the day

The weekend

  • Rest and relax
  • Explore personal interests
  • Read news weekly (not daily) – consider focusing attention on specific sections: science, business, arts, etc
  • 1-2 hrs Think – review your day/week and prepare for upcoming day/week
  • Read books
  • Spend time with family, friends


  • Plentiful and cheap, there is just not enough time for it all
  • Rule of thumb: enjoy something that speaks to you – is it "knowable and true"?
  • 2 hrs Movie
  • 10-20 hrs TV show, each season
  • 60 hrs Long form video game
  • Activities and hobbies

Resources and tools


Apps and services