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Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long

David Rock

Personal Thoughts

Summary Notes

5 Functions that Make up the Majority of Conscious Thought:

  1. Understanding
  2. Deciding
  3. Recalling
  4. Memorizing
  5. Inhibiting
  • Prioritizing is one of the brain's most energy-hungry processes.

Making Decisions

  • Your ability to make great decisions is a limited resource. Conserve this resource at every opportunity.
  • Becoming an expert in any field seems to involve creating large numbers of chunks, which enables you to make faster and better decisions than amateurs.
  • We often think about what’s easy to think about, rather than what’s right to think about.
  • Taking time to work out the right order to make decisions can save a lot of effort and energy overall, reducing unresolved issues in your queue.

Divided Attention

  • You can focus on only one conscious task at a time.
  • Consciously decide how long you will split your attention, then go back to focusing on one thing. An example of this is leaving a BlackBerry on for only a limited number of hours a day while you work, perhaps only in the afternoons, when you are not trying to do focused work.
  • It can be helpful to let others around you know that you are splitting your attention.
  • If you do multiple conscious tasks at once you will experience a big drop-off in accuracy or performance. 
  • The only way to do two mental tasks quickly, if accuracy is important, is to do one of them at a time. Multitasking can be done easily if you are executing embedded routines.
  • Switching between tasks uses energy; if you do this a lot you can make more mistakes.
  • Catch yourself trying to do two things at once and slow down instead.


  • Expectations are the experience of the brain paying attention to a possible reward (or threat). 
  • Expectations alter the data your brain perceives. It’s common to fit incoming data into expectations and to ignore data that don’t fit. 
  • Expectations can change brain functioning; the right dose of expectations can be similar to a clinical dose of morphine.
  • Expectations activate the dopamine circuitry, central for thinking and learning.
  • Met expectations generate a slight increase in dopamine and a slight reward response. 
  • Exceeded expectations generate a strong increase in dopamine and a strong reward response.
  • Unmet expectations generate a large drop in dopamine level and a strong threat response.
  • Practice setting expectations a little lower. To stay in a positive state of mind, find ways to keep coming out ahead of your expectations over and again, even in small ways. 

Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long

David Rock
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