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Circle of Competence Issue #54


"Instead of having one or two true friends that we can sit and talk to for three hours at a time, we have 968 “friends” that we never actually talk to; instead we just bounce one-line messages off them a hundred times a day. This is not friendship, this is distraction." - William Deresiewicz


Focus and Solitude

One of the unfortunate realities of modern day life is that we live in a world with informational, sensory, and opinion overload. The overwhelming amount of stimulation can lead to a severe lack of focus and thoughtful solitude - I can certainly speak from experience. But the fact of the matter is that focus and thoughtful solitude in all areas of life leads to much higher returns on time invested than time spread too thin over too many activities. The over-dated bachelor feels emptier than a fulfilled one-woman-man just as an impatient trader will forfeit the long-term gains that accrue to the most patient shareholder. The best investors, athletes, and leaders roles achieve peak performance through their ability to FOCUS on the task at hand, get uninterrupted SOLITUDE with their 'craft', and keep extraneous distraction at bay.

Focus is ultimately saying 'NO' to things that do not support your current endeavors. A perfect example of focus (in education/self development) can be found in Shane Parrish's piece on Arthur Schopenhauer and the dangers of click bait whereby he expresses the importance of focusing your time and efforts on reading things that will outlive the moment (i.e. less news, more long form). If we want to build up a base of knowledge that is constantly expanding (or any skill!), we can't allow our focus to be on less informative material. This abides by Buffett's rule of consuming information with a very long half life (information that can be built upon and will not lose its importance very soon). Focusing on information that matters allows the reader to compound knowledge faster than consuming bite-sized news snippets that will be outdated tomorrow. In the same spirit of focus, an author has a moral obligation not to cheat his reader with click-bait material that is less than helpful. In agreement with this sentiment, I have slowly whittled the content each week that I send along down to only the pieces whose content will educate and outlive the moment. Otherwise, I am committing a moral error in the form of wasting your time. This is time that you cannot get back.

Continuing with the broader topic of focus, I listened to a solid podcast episode on the case for digital minimalism with Cal Newport (Village Global) that was worthy of sharing for its central message. Cal's entire interview underscores the severity of our addictions to our phones, to social media (short 'bites' of information), and to digital information consumption in general. He is an advocate of digital 'minimalism' which means eliminating digital distractions from a focused life in order to regain our ability to be present in our relationships, our work, and gain significant time benefits that can be 'reinvested' into other more important activities (such as reading, self development, a marriage, etc.).