UPDATE: The Art of Focus course is now closed.
How do you learn to focus?
We don’t need to be reminded about the importance of focus. But if its so important, why is it so hard to learn how?
There’s a lot of material out there claiming to teach you how. Anywhere from psychology, self-improvement books, to Lifehacker.
Which one actually works?
As part of Project 2017 (i.e. Continuously improve myself throughout the year, through a series of sprints ), I set out to learn how to focus in six weeks.
Given the deadline I didn’t want to waste my time sifting through all the options, so I decided to just pay someone to teach me.
After a bit of research, I narrowed it down to two choices:
- Farnam Street’s The Art of Focus
- Shawn Blanc’s The Focus Course
How I heard about these focus classes
I’ve been a regular reader of the Farnam Street blog for a while. I firmly believe Shane Parrish (the original blogger behind Farnam Street) and his team have some of the best content in the web. From books to the pursuit of wisdom, Farnam Street writes about things I truly care about.
Through his blog he mentioned the FS courses, one of which was The Art of Focus.
In Shawn Blanc’s case, he had featured in some of Sean Wes’s videos and podcasts back in December where he talked about the Focus Course he was developing. Sean was a big fan: he recommended the course to his subscribers, even offering a discount.
Sean Wes, in case you aren’t aware, has a huge online presence. Getting a plug like that is practically guaranteed revenue.
So why did I go with Farnam Street? Even if it had no discounts? And so few reviews?
Because it’s Farnam.
Before The Focus Course, I had never heard of Shawn Blanc. I didn’t know if he was any good aside from the selected testimonials on his landing page.
On the other hand I’ve been a longtime reader of the Farnam Street Blog. I can attest to the quality of the content. But I didn’t know if this quality translated to the courses.
I came to the conclusion that even if the course doesn’t work for me, I can consider the course fee as a form of donation to the fantastic blog.
So was it worth the money?
Its hard to quantify if the course fee was worth it. Doing so would mean putting a dollar amount to my hours, and that I have a baseline to compare against.
But I will admit I learned a lot.
If you’ve read Cal Newport’s Deep Work, much of the material in The Art of Focus course is based there. What the course offers is a structured way to execute the material from the book.
I had enrolled in the course before reading the book, so much of the content was new to me.
Now that I’ve read the book, I wish I had done it the other way around: I felt I should have had context first (something the book does well) before being taught the plan (something the course does well).
One big con is that the course felt very much one-way. i.e., Shane explains, you absorb. There was no feedback mechanism to tell if you’re headed in the right direction. Maybe that was the idea behind logging your hours (one of the steps Shane implements in the course), but it didn’t work for me.
I felt annoyed considering I thought I had paid for a course, not just content.
But as I said earlier, I had gone into the course with the mindset that the money was a donation to the blog, rather than the fee for the course. I couldn’t stay annoyed for very long.
Especially since the material itself—whether it was Farnam’s or Newport’s–was good.
Would I recommend?
So in spite of all my complaints, I would recommend The Art of Focus if:
- You are looking for a structured way to execute the strategies taught in Deep Work.
- You are very much a self-learner and do not expect interaction nor feedback.
- You learn well through videos.
That last one was a doozy. Most of the material is delivered through videos–a miss for someone with poor hearing like myself. Shane does offer transcripts, but I’d appreciate subtitles more as transcripts don’t allow me to view the video content at the same time.
I guess I should be thankful it wasn’t something like podcasts, or else I’d demand a refund.
Much of the content of the Art of Focus is based on Deep Work, so its difficult to say who was the source for which takeaway.
I did notice that the Art of Focus gave a lot more err, focus, to these topics:
- Attention residue
Which is why I’m finding that, even without implementing the other Deep Work strategies, just addressing these two have already made a significant impact.
The latter especially, as I’ve never really meditated and assumed it was something only yogi do.
The course seems to assume you already know how to meditate though, so I had to look up elsewhere to learn how. FYI, the Headspace app is great, but lately I’ve been using Smiling Mind.
I’m considering re-doing the course again in a few months, maybe even next year, now that I’ve finished Deep Work. I’ll give myself more time to digest the content before I start implementing such structure again.