Deep Work – Avoiding Distraction and Procrastination

This post includes a review and some of my highlights from Cal Newport’s book – ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’. I came to read the book as I was starting to think about my latest big work project of trying to launch a subscription website. I’m not a programmer and the work involved in putting this website together seemed daunting and my current main source of income can keep me very busy and doesn’t leave much time to focus on other longer term projects. In addition to my work I am also prone to distraction and procrastinating – I work for myself from home so it would be incredibly easy to do nothing but browse the web and watch box-sets all day. I’m not that bad and have gotten a lot better over the years but still felt I could use so help in the area of focused productivity. So after a lot of research Cal Newport’s book kept coming up and I gave it a go. I finished reading it at the end of last year and some of the ideas I have implemented and some I am still working on. For me meaningful change is relatively gradual rather than a light bulb moment so if I can implement one positive habit at a time then that is great.

I did find some of the ideas in Cal’s book to be really interesting and some were, at first sight, very controversial. One of the main premises of the book is to basically lock yourself away with no human interaction, no distractions, no Internet etc…. So to get your best work done you need extended periods of concentration without distraction. Most people’s response to this is along the lines of ‘it would be impossible to do my job without the internet’ or something to that effect. In addition the typical trend in businesses is to open plan, collaborative working with people sharing ideas and constantly interrupting each other. Cal is also realistic about the implementation of Deep Work so he doesn’t expect us all to disappear off the grid for 6 months. However, for most of us it would be possible to ignore emails for 2 hours a day, for example. A Tim Ferris trick is to add an auto-responder such as ‘I read and respond to emails between 4pm and 5pm each day …..’ to help manage the sender’s expectations. This is an idea I like but I’m yet to use the auto responder – instead I just ignore emails for a few hours and so far there haven’t been any catastrophes!

Here are a few of my highlights from Cal’s book Deep Work:

  1. Focus on a small number of wildly important / ambitious goals rather than simply trying to do more.
  2. Focus on improving lead measure rather than the end result. Cal Newport’s example, as writer of academic papers, was tracking deep work hours per day rather than focusing on the number of papers he wrote per year. Focusing initially on the number of papers lacks influence, whereas tracking hours per day is immediately implementable and ultimately has a direct impact on the number of papers written in a year.
  3. Weekly reviews – Cal looked back at his records of hours worked, progress made, etc…. each week and therefore built up an understanding of what made a good week and what made a bad week.
  4. Make sure you have time scheduled to relax, ideally the same time each day, otherwise you’re robbing your attention centres of the uninterrupted rest they need. So since reading the book I no longer work after dinner in the evening. If I feel busy or have things to do I simply attack them first thing the next morning – I typically get up around 7am which gives me around 2 hours before most people are online so I don’t need to interrupt my evenings with responding to after hours emails and other fairly trivial things.
  5. Its ok to be bored. These days most of us carry around smart phones which have infinite possibilities when it comes to distracting us. So typically when we’re on our own in a restaurant waiting for someone to arrive, or in a long queue somewhere we typically reach for our phones. This accustoms our brains to ‘on-demand distractions’ and makes it hard to resist checking Instagram / checking emails / reading the sports news etc….. even at times when we want to concentrate on other things. So practise NOT looking at your smart phone when waiting 5 minutes somewhere and just be bored for a moment to avoid constantly distracting yourself
  6. Schedule internet use. This point follows on from the point above but does take some discipline. Many of us need the internet for work when researching, emailing etc…. But it also provides a significant distraction and many of us also need to concentrate and get into projects that don’t need the internet for extended periods. For example in my work I have to put together client presentations and complicated property development cash flows that need concentration to pull together and don’t require me to be online. So when working on these I’ll schedule 2 hours offline – emails can wait.
  7. Give some thought to your leisure time. So when it comes to relaxing don’t just do whatever grabs your attention at the time but plan something you’ll enjoy / find interesting.

For practical productivity ideas I’d certainly recommend giving Deep Work and read. In addition I think that and David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity’ is a very good partner to Deep Work. Both give you practical measures you can implement into your daily routine for real practical benefits. I think all the new tech tools,  apps and websites actually provide more distraction than useful tools so these help filter out what is useful and what is mere distraction.

Here are some links to Amazon for Cal Newport’s ‘Deep Work’ and ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen if you want to check them out. If you sometimes struggle with distraction or procrastination or are drowning in emails I’d recommend doing so.











My highlight

Current Affairs: Prisoners of Geography

The post is my view on current affairs, news relevancy and a related book review of ‘Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics’ by Tim Marshall.

Firstly I’ve never been that interested in the news. As a kid is was something my parents viewed as important and would often interrupt whatever my brother and I were watching to put it in. The news is typically very repetitive, deeply depressing and doesn’t even scratch the surface of what is going on in the world. The latter point I only slowly realised as an adult. Also as a young adult bosses at work and peers would champion the importance of reading newspapers and ‘keeping up’ with current affairs. I enjoyed reading books but never really got into regularly reading newspapers. One of my main problems is that news often come with a heavy dose of political bias depending on who you are hearing it from. For example my parents have always purchased the Daily Mail (a UK national daily newspaper) which a polite liberal may describe as ‘having a reputation for right wing leanings’ and a less polite liberal would say is ‘fascist propaganda’. I don’t know the US equivalent of the Daily Mail but Fox News would probably be an appropriate news equivalent. As a brief aside, I do enjoy getting news via comedy outlets – in the UK there is a great long running show on the BBC called ‘Have I Got News For You’ and in the US I really enjoyed Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show until he left and Stephen Colbert’s the Colbert Report. I’d consider myself a relatively liberal person on the political scale and I’m aware a lot of these political comedy shows come with a dose of liberal bias.

Despite not really watching the news or reading newspapers I still feel I have a better understanding of the world than most. The news may report a bombing in the Middle East but at no point during the report or article will they give much detail into the deep rooted motives behind the attack. Many of the countries in the world, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, are a result of arbitrary borders drawn on maps from afar by privileged Europeans decades ago. Whilst these countries and borders look definitive and real when view on a map they have divided communities, thrown small ethnic groups under the command of arch enemies and created land disputes amongst ancient tribes. In addition the actions of many countries are motivated by this historic feuds as well as a push for resources and trade routes. So my advice is that if you want to really understand what is going on in a region, then find some books that explore the history of the area and this will be more enlightening than a 5 minute news report everyday.

A great place to start is Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall. Given the complexitprisoners-of-geographyies of geo-politics this book is remarkably easy reading and concise. It covers 10 keys areas of the world and other than Oceania this is pretty much everywhere. If you’ve ever been confused by the actions of certain countries, such as why big superpowers like China get obsessed with small regions like Tibet, or why Russia have sailed warships through the English Channel, then this book gives you the context you need.

There are other books that provide more detailed accounts of specific regions – for instance if you are interested in the Middle East there is a great book call A Line in the Sand by James Barr – however as a general overview of modern global politics and some context to the major issues and conflicts in the world, Prisoners of Geography is a great place to start.

Here’s a link to Prisoners of Geography on Amazon if you’re interested in checking it out. The maps are better in the hard copy but I’m a Kindle user and found the Kindle version work ok as well.













The Ladder of Success

‘As you climb the ladder of success, be sure its leaning against the right building’

H. Jackson Brown Jr

This post is about decision making and more specifically about decision making on life’s bigger decisions. We can spend days researching and enquiring over a new smart phone purchase but little or no time on major life decisions like whether to have children or not. Many major life decisions seem to be driven by social and family pressure and not given the thought they deserve for each individual case.

To give an example of when I have done this myself: It was back in my teenage years I was doing well at school and the natural progression in the UK for someone who is getting good grades at school is to go to university. Also my school was relatively good so the majority of people were going to university, even those with slightly middling grades. So my question to myself when I was approximately 17 was which university I should go to, not whether I should go or not. This is a fairly major life decision – the costs of going to university when I was that age were fortunately nowhere near what they are today but it did mean 3 or 4 years of my life of further studying and minimal income. So surely I should have been considering alternatives like getting a job, doing and apprenticeship or something like that? I have no regrets about going to university and really enjoyed the whole experience, made some great friends, learned a lot both academically and how to live independently. So if I had given it more thought I believe I would still have gone but I think a lot of people make major life decisions in this manner.

Marriage and kids is the big one for me as my girlfriend and I don’t want to have children. My social circle all seem to be working on the assumption that getting married and having kids is compulsory and the choice lies in who you decide to do this with. However, I’m not even sure of how much choice is going on there as it seems to be that you have to marry who you’re with at a certain age and then have kids with whoever you marry, regardless of how well that relationship is going. So there still seems to be a great deal of social and family pressure in these decisions that can affect the course of your life. I’m sure if my friends all gave these decisions a great deal of thought then most of them would still have kids and still marry their current partners, but I do get the impression that some have walked into their lives without giving it much thought.

Another area people seem to have tied themselves down with little or no thought is their careers. I have friends in areas like law and engineering where their career is directly a result of their university course. They are doing well by social measure and supporting themselves and their family – however in many cases they have been working 80 hour weeks more or less none stop since graduating university and don’t seem to get any enjoyment from work at all. In the UK if you decide to do something like law at university and then get into a career as a solicitor you will have made that decision about doing that course at university when you were approximately 17. At that age (I know this from experience) your typical career adviser will have given you the impression there are only about 10 possible career paths. For example – I was good at Maths so was suggested careers in accounting and actuarial work (I’m glad I ignored them!). I have never met anyone who was told by a career adviser to be an entrepreneur. Also the fact our school career adviser had no experience outside of working at a school doesn’t give them much credibility on advising young minds what path to commit to. Anyway, let’s say you make that decision to study law – it certainly pleases your parents and teachers as it’s a respected and well paid profession. You get the position feedback about your career despite not even having started it yet. This is the societal pressure that is basically making this decision for. Then in your final year of your law degree you would have the big law firms come to the university, ply you with free food and drink, tell you how amazing it is to work for them and talk about salaries that, as a student, seemed life changing. As a broke student you dive straight into your well paid job as a solicitor and this is certainly the path of least resistance. Once started at work you have to spend some time learning the ropes and completing your training contract so that means more study, which your law firm kindly pays for. The hours are long but the pay is rewarding so you see your bank balance steadily increase and with pay rises on the horizon and the potential of making partner on the longer term horizon you settle into your career. Your social circle and family view you as ‘successful’ and you attract a desirable mate which typically sets you down the path of getting married and having children. This gives you other financial commitments but is another tick in society’s box of what a ‘successful’ human looks like. Now, some people will enjoy this type of life and career but others grind it out for the money and dream of a deferred life plan. Derek Sivers has some interesting thoughts on success (Google ‘Derek Sivers success’) but despite what society thinks surely having lots of money and wife and children doesn’t make you successful if you hate your job and are largely absent from home life?

For a while I thought it was just me who thought this way and that everyone else really did want the career and family life of the path they were on. However, I recently read an interesting article on the BBC website about people who regretted having children – they were responsible adults, they loved their children and brought them up well but were open about the personal and financial sacrifices made. They typically said that given the choice they wouldn’t do it if they could go back and relive their lives. Firstly, this is brutally and admirably honest. Secondly, it clearly shows there are intelligent people out there who are not giving these major life changing decisions much thought.

My only suggestion is to be aware of these potential pitfalls and try to pursue things that interest you. Try to strip away what your family and friends think is socially acceptable to get to what you really want. For example, when you think of a career don’t focus on the salary and it’s status in society – think of the day to day work and what it might mean in terms of sacrifices (such as no free time, working weekends etc…). I’m not saying a steady career and bringing up children are bad things to do so if you come to the same decision after giving it a lot of thought then great. But you haven’t lost anything by spending some time to really think it through and if you do come to a different conclusion then it might save you committing a huge amount of your time and resource to something that doesn’t bring you any satisfaction.


HiiT, Gymnastic Strength Training and Mobility

I went to my usual gym yesterday and it was around 5 times busier than normal. Early January is predictably a busy time of the year for gyms. Something that is equally predictable, albeit more depressing, is that the vast majority of people who attack their New Year exercise regime with vigour for a week or two, won’t be continuing beyond their training beyond the end of January. I think there are a few key reasons for this:

  1. People tend to thrash around on cardio machines until they’re pools of sweat but don’t see much in terms of results
  2. A lot of guys will hit the weights hard and at best have very bad muscle soreness and at worse give themselves an injury
  3. Thirdly I think most people either ignore their diet or at least get it wildly wrong and if weight loss is the goal what you eat should be the first thing to look at. I don’t think restricting calories dramatically for a few weeks in the New Year and then going back to the crap you were eating before is a particularly healthy or beneficial way of going about things

I’ll look at the diet side of things more in future posts as there is a lot to cover there but for now I’m going to give an overview of the exercise I do. I’m not an elite athlete or Men’s Health cover model but I’m 6 foot 2 inches tall and a relatively lean 87 kgs (sorry for mixing metric and imperial measurements!) and keep active. My natural build as a teenager was always very skinny and the exercise mentioned here has seen me put on as reasonable amount of muscle and improve my mobility. I had started to put on a bit of fat a few years ago which I’ve subsequently lost – I put this mainly down to improving my diet but exercise is an important part of my healthy lifestyle and I think everyone could benefit from the exercises listed here. I also haven’t been ill for over 3 years (not even a cold) and whilst I think most of this is also down to diet, exercise plays a part.


High Intensity Interval Training (HiiT) has been fairly popular for a while now and has been something I’ve done regularly for around 3 years. There are various forms of it and a quick Google will find countless articles, workouts and YouTube videos with some useful tips. I basically don’t do any steady state cardio at all anymore and do HiiT instead – I used to run a lot but started to get minor injuries – mainly very tight Achilles tendons that were painful everyday I woke up (foam roll and stretch your calf muscles and stop running if this is you), occasional knee pain and occasional lower back pain. My HiiT workouts typically follow one of two categories and both involve an interval timer on my smart phone (I use IntervalTimer in the App Store).

My very short interval workout is a Tabata session – this is 8 rounds of 20 seconds of very high intensity with 10 second breaks between. This means your workout is done in 4 minutes! For the exercise I think the resistance bikes are a good option as you can get your big muscle groups screaming very quickly – nb normal exercise bikes tend not to work as well as you can’t vary the resistance as quickly. Alternatives could be a rowing machine on full resistance, battle ropes, jump squats even sprints if you are outside and don’t have access to a gym (ideally sprint up a hill to add resistance). The key here is to pick an exercise that will get your heart rate up and have you out of breath in the 20 second interval so intensity is the key. I either do this when I have very little time free in a day or tack it onto the end of a workout. The science of this is beyond the scope of the blog but there are lots of resources on line about this but I find Ben Greenfield to be a reliable source on diet and fitness and he has a guide to Interval Training, including the Tabata Method.

My longer interval workout can last around 20 minutes so still fairly short and sharp compared to most people on the cardio machines. Here I will typically do 10 different exercises in a circuit, each for 20 seconds, with a 10 second interval between then. I will complete 3 circuits of the 10 exercises with a 2 minutes rest between each circuit. Exercises include stand press up, jump squats, kettlebell swings, mountain climbers etc…. I have a ‘no equipment version’ that I can do in a hotel room or anywhere I have no gym but a bit of privacy! You can experiment with different interval lengths and rest times and if this is new to you break yourself in gently. I used to do 30 second intervals but reduced it to 20 seconds as I found I was pacing myself a bit on the exercises – remember intensity is the key so don’t make the intervals or workouts too long if intensity is suffering.

Gymnastic Strength Training and Mobility

Gymnastic Strength Training (GST) is something that is relatively new to me and is another thing I was put onto by Tim Ferriss. He had a person called Christopher Sommer (Coach Sommer) on his Podcast and Coach Sommer is a very experienced Olympic gymnastic coach who has developed a program for normal mortals to benefit from gymnastic strength training. I started a Foundation course from their website ( around 3 months ago. I’ve noticed some improvements in certain areas like mobility and posture – some of the benefits take a long time to develop as it isn’t just muscle strength but building stronger connective tissue and greater range of motion in key areas like shoulders and hips. This won’t make you a professional gymnast but if, like me, you spend a lot of your day sitting at a computer and not moving as much as you’d like I’d suggest some training like this. If GST isn’t for you I think some similar benefits could be gained from yoga and Pilates but I think GST provides some unique moves and strength / mobility in important areas not necessarily covered as well in other exercises. There is a cost to the Gymnastic Bodies courses but you can find some free initial info around the web – here are a few places:

  1. A YouTube Video with some introductory moves
  2. Tim Ferriss’s Podcast On Gymnastic Strength Training With Christopher Sommer
  3. There is an iPhone App called Power Monkey Fitness that has some similar moves and content – this isn’t anything to do with Christopher Sommer and isn’t as structured as his courses on Gymnastic Bodies but I believe there is some good free content there
  4. Instagram – search for GymnasticBodies, GST, GymnasticStrengthTraining and you’ll find lots of inspiration and short videos

A lot of people start GST but get frustrated with the slow progress – a quote from Gymnastic Bodies nicely summed this up:



The mobility element of my training is largely now covered by the GST I do. However as I have gotten older (I’m now 36) I’ve increased the amount of mobility work I do as part of my work out and feel this is a really important factor in keeping injury free. A relatively well known mobility guru is a guy called Kelly Starrett and his book ‘Becoming A Supply Leopard’ is well worth checking out. If you’d rather find some free information on Kelly he has loads of YouTube videos so check those out.

One point regarding mobility – this is not the same as flexibility. Being flexible without strength in the extremes of your range of motion can be dangerous and make you prone to injury. Mobility ensures a broad range of motion and strength in the associated muscles and connective tissue to minimise injury risk.

















Goals For the Year / Tools of Titans

I’m not one for New Years resolutions but have in the past set goals and tried to introduce new positive habits. Therefore I’ve set various goals and habits for the year and will look into others in future posts. The goal covered later in the post is to do with my business and the habit I’m looking to introduce is maintaining this blog!

I read a lot of non-fiction / popular science type books and many have referred to regular writing as being beneficial in many ways. One way is simply to improve one’s writing. Beyond that if you have any sort of online presence such as a blog, a company website or have to correspond with people by email then being able to communicate in writing in an effective way is hugely beneficial. My business goal for the year is covered below but will involve creating significantly more website content and blog posted than I currently do so I want to be in the habit of writing on a daily basis. The aim with regards to the blog is to update it once or twice per week and beyond that daily journaling will help me to create content and ideas. The journaling idea and the change I’m looking to make are both inspired by Tim Ferriss and therefore I’ve included in this post is a brief review of his latest book that I recently read.

I was away in Costa Rica over Christmas and spent most of my time surfing, relaxing in the sun and reading – one of the books I read was Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans. I’ve been reading Timtoolsoftitans‘s books for several years, ever since the 4 hour work week, and have also listened to his podcasts for a few years.

Prior to reading Tim’s books I’d dipped in and out of certain ‘self-help’ type books and I hadn’t found them that interesting or practical. With the 4 hour work week I found genuinely useful ideas and practises that have slowly crept into my day to day activities. Through Tim and other writers (they’ll get mentions in future posts) I have looked to improve areas of my life that are important to me such as my health and my work life. Willpower is rarely sustainable so making something a daily habit, like brushing my teeth, gives me a much better chance of maintaining it long term. So with blogging and journaling the aim is to commit 10 – 30 minutes first thing every morning (or at least 5 days a week). My working day doesn’t properly kick off until 9am and I’m fortunate to work from home so I have plenty of time to fit this in before my phone starts ringing and emails start rolling in.

Tim Ferriss does keep very good company and Tools of Titans is a collection of ideas from his podcasts with various high functioning guests. I read the Kindle version and like to bookmark various pages for future reference. It is the kind of book you will dip in and out of regularly but not necessarily read cover to cover. That said, I did read it cover to cover to make sure I didn’t miss anything – I found some of Tim’s most interesting contributors those I’d never heard of before so just going to chapters with the familiar names may not have been as rewarding for me. If you were to listen to all of Tim’s podcasts and condense them into the most useful highlights you’d have something similar to this book but if you don’t have the time or inclination to do that I would recommend checking this book out and making notes and / or bookmarking things that peak your interest. If you’re not familiar with Tim’s work I would recommend starting with either the 4 Hour Work Week or the 4 Hour Body depending on whether your interests lie in Lifestyle Design and Productivity or Heath and Fitness. His other book – the 4 Hour Chef – I found less interesting but it might be worth checking out if you can’t cook but want to learn some basics. I also find his podcast interesting and a habit I introduced last year was going for walks whilst listening to Podcasts – Tim’s along with various others – have been hugely interesting and useful.

So on to one of my goals for the year – the aim is to make my main income fully remote. This blog is not part of that directly so if you find my writing clumsy, boring or irrelevant that is fine – this is more a tool to get my thoughts down and make myself accountable on my goals. I am going to recommend certain books and products through this blog but my main income comes from a completely unrelated business. That business is a property finance consultancy where I work with property developers to help them fund construction projects and property acquisitions. I can do a lot of work remotely, and most of my work is done from home, but currently need to attend meetings fairly frequently and this is something I’m looking to change. I have been doing this for over 10 years and have worked for myself for around 8 years. I enjoy my work, find it interesting and like working for myself but I would like to spend more time overseas and pursuing other interest so if I can remove myself from areas of my work or change the way I monetise my business that would allow my to leave my current base (London, England) for longer periods of time. As part of that I need to also address the accommodation situation – I currently rent an apartment in Central London with my girlfriend. This is fairly expensive and that is fine while we’re here but if we were to be overseas for an extended period then renting here and somewhere else doesn’t make sense.

I’ll pick up on this and some other goals in future posts. They include health, fitness, creating better habits for myself and business related goals. I’ll be including very brief reviews of books, podcasts, supplements and other resources I’ve found useful along the way.