Effort more than talent is the key to achievement

By Martin Vogel

growth bw

In conventional thinking, the people who get on in life are those who are brainy or talented. But this apparent truth was overturned by the Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck. Through many years of research, she found that being labelled as talented could quickly become an obstacle to achievement. It turns out that effort is much more important than talent.

This simple but important finding is presented in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. The key insight it contains is that people learn and develop best when they adopt a “growth mindset” – open to learning as a challenge, relishing setbacks as an opportunity to learn – and flounder when they adopt a “fixed mindset” – defensive of their identity, frightened to take risks in case they fail. The fixed mindset values innate talent over cultivating potential.

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Deep work is the key to doing anything useful in the knowledge economy

By Martin Vogel

The premise of Cal Newport’s Deep Work is that deep work is what creates value in the knowledge economy but our culture encourages people towards distraction. Therefore opportunities exist for those who can prioritise depth. The book outlines strategies for doing so.

Newport defines deep work as:

“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

Its antithesis, shallow work, is:

“Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”

If the thought of a life of concentration sounds exhausting, the good news is that it is not necessary – in fact, would be counter-producive – to try to spend all one’s working time in deep work. Newport says the aim should be to minimise the shallow and get the most out of the time this frees up by committing three to four hours a day to deep work. A certain amount of idleness is necessary to make sure the time spent in deep work is productive and creative.

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Don’t let the urgent crowd out what’s important

By Martin Vogel

Dwight Eisenhower, focussing on what’s important

It’s a given in most management roles that there is more work to be done than there is time available to do it. But it’s with increasing frequency that clients are talking to me about their difficulties in deciding what to prioritise in their unrealistically demanding workloads. In such conversations, I reach for the urgent and important matrix. This is an approach to time management popularised by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and inspired by the former US President, Dwight Eisenhower.

In a lecture in 1954, Eisenhower said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

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The malaise of busyness and a 30-second antidote

By Martin Vogel

sunspot stopwatch

People are busy talking about being busy.

Take, for example, Oliver Burkeman, who has identified a new social malaise of busy-bragging. This seems to be a function of people’s need to derive status from how hard they are working.

I always try to bring scepticism to the idea of busyness as a status symbol. In my experience, when people complain of being too busy, they really don’t like it. But Lucy Kellaway has unearthed data that suggests we’re all busy overestimating how hard we work and it is precisely those who occupy high-status positions who are most prone to bigging up their busyness:

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From a car service to the meaning of life in five easy steps

By Martin Vogel


This week I’ve been refreshing my GTD system: reviewing my horizons of focus, tidying up my project lists, and emptying my collection baskets.

If that doesn’t mean anything to you, perhaps it’s time you were inculcated to the cult of Getting Things Done – a book on how to organise yourself and manage all the stuff in your life with the minimum of stress.

Getting Things Done, by David Allen, must be one of the most blogged about of books so I hesitate to add to the cacophony. But, since I find myself recommending it to clients with increasing frequency, I feel a need to explain its particular appeal to me.

David Allen’s great achievement in my opinion was to notice the kind of things we tend to do all the time, when trying to process and get through the cascade of responsibilities that we all face, and order them into a set of routines which, if adhered to, remove much of the friction around being productive. Instead of prescribing a time management system which tries to slot your work into rigid structures of prioritisation, GTD – as it’s known to its friends – offers a more natural, fluid process of keeping track of your commitments and following your energy in deciding what needs to be done.

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