Tag Archives: Superfreakonomics

Singletask, Don’t Multitask – The Jury Really is In!

As I have observed many times, there are themes that crop in multiple books.  And when this happens, I think they hint at true truth.  That is, the kind of truth that is genuinely important, something to pay a lot of attention to.

Here’s one that was reemphasized again this morning.  My colleague Karl Krayer presented his synopsis of The Way We’re Working isn’t Working, the new book by Tony Schwartz.  And the book, with lots of really useful counsel, says this about our multitasking world:

The most surprising drawback of multitasking is the growing evidence that it isn’t even efficient…  Once we’re distracted by something new, we often forget about the original task…  The ultimate consequence of juggling many tasks is not superficiality but rather overload.

There are so many books and articles that are making this point in one way or another.  The point is this:


Singletasking is the need of the hour, not multitasking.

Here are some other quotes to reinforce this now seemingly everywhere-present theme:

From ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson:
Instead, you should get in the alone zone.  Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive.  When you don’t  have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings.  Just shut up and get to work.  You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.

From The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp:
The irony of multitasking is that it’s exhausting; when you’re doing two or three things simultaneously, you use more energy than the sum of energy required to do each task independently.  You’re also cheating yourself because you’re not doing anything excellently.  You’re compromising your virtuosity.  In the worlds of T. S. Eliot, you’re “distracted from distractions by distractions.”

From Superfreakonomics by Levitt and Dubner:
A person using a computer experiences “cognitive drift” if more than one second elapses between clicking the mouse and seeing new data on the screen.  If ten seconds pass, the person’s mind is somewhere else entirely.

I think the jury is in.  Learn to singletask, really well.  Work with depth and attention and focus on one-thing-at-a-time.

You can leave the multitasking to those who will be left behind by their lack of focus.

Just in case you haven’t heard, Freakonomics: The Movie is on its way…

Just in case you have’t heard, Freakonomics:  The Movie (Six Rogue Filmmakers Explore the Hidden Side of Everything) is on its way…

From the website:

FREAKONOMICS is the highly anticipated film version of the phenomenally bestselling book about incentives-based thinking by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Like the book, the film examines human behavior with provocative and sometimes hilarious case studies, bringing together a dream team of filmmakers responsible for some of the most acclaimed and entertaining documentaries in recent years: Academy Award® winner Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Casino Jack and the United States of Money), Academy Award® nominees Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp), Academy Award® nominee Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) and Seth Gordon (The King of Kong).

Watch the trailer here.

Yes, I have presented both Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics at the First Friday Book Synopsis.  You can purchase these presentations, with handout + audio, at our companion website, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

Switch & Tribes & Many Other New Business Book Synopsis Presentations now available at 15minutebusinessbooks.com

Karl Krayer and I have just completed our 12th year of monthly presentations of business books at the First Friday Book Synopsis.

Our webmaster (thanks, Dana!) has just uploaded a number of these on our companion website, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  When you purchase one of our presentations, you receive the handout, which includes representative key quotes from the book, and an outline of the content of the book.  In addition, you receive the audio of our synopsis in an MP3 format, which you can listen to on your computer, load into your iPhone/iPod, of use in any other way you would like.

The way to take maximum advantage of this is obvious – listen to the recording while following along with the handout.  This is what the participants at our live monthly event do each month.  But you can get plenty of information by listening alone while you work-out or drive, or just by reading the handout alone.

Here’s a testimonial from the CEO of a mid-sized, growing company.  He knew that a client was a fan of one the books we had presented, and wanted to discuss the book’s implications for his business.  The CEO purchased our synopsis from our site, read over the handout (he did not have time to listen to the audio), and then met with his client. The client had read the book – the CEO had not.  As they discussed the book, it was clear that our handout had provided enough of the important content that the CEO actually had a better grasp of the key content and transferable principles of the book than the other person had, who had actually read the book.

If you have never ordered from us, you might want to read the FAQ’s to understand where these presentations and recordings were made, and learn a little more about what we offer.  Some of these were presented by my colleague Karl Krayer, and the others were presentations I made.

Here is a partial list of the new titles now available on our site.  And more are coming each month.

59 Seconds

Book author(s) Richard Wiseman

Presented at FFBS in 2010 March

The Design of Business

Book author(s) Roger Martin

Presented at FFBS in 2010 February

Fierce Leadership

Book author(s) Susan Scott

Presented at FFBS in TYBTL

The Healing of America

Book author(s) TR Reid

Presented at the Urban Engagement Book Club

Inside Advantage

Book author(s) Robert Bloom with Dave Conti

Special Presentation

Mastering the Rockefeller Habits

Book author(s) Verne Harnish

Special Presentation


Book author(s) Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Presented at FFBS in 2010 February


Book author(s) Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

Presented at FFBS in 2009 December


Book author(s) Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Presented at FFBS in 2010 March


Book author(s) Kevin Maney

Presented at FFBS in 2010 January


Book author(s) Seth Godin

Presented at FFBS in 2009 January

Tyranny of Email

Book author(s) John Freeman

Presented at FFBS in 2010 January

Now, this is an endorsement of a book! — Levitt loves Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, as does Dubner

The Freakonomics/Superfreakonomics guys really like Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto.  (I will be presenting a synopsis of this at the April First Friday Book Synopsis).

Here’s Levitt…

If there is one topic that I have no natural affinity for, it is checklists. I don’t use checklists. I’m not interested in checklists.

Yet, against all odds, I read Atul Gawande’s new book about checklists, The Checklist Manifesto in one sitting yesterday, which is an amazing tribute to the book that Gawande has crafted. Not only is the book loaded with fascinating stories, but it honestly changed the way I think about the world. It is the best book I’ve read in ages.

But Dubner is not too confident that the checklist will be adequately adopted and implemented, because there is no money to be made on such a “free” solution to a very real problem.

What a sad and discouraging dilemma…

My personal “Bests” — from business books I presented in 2009

In 2009, I presented twelve book synopses at the First Friday Book Synopsis (as I do every year).  At the bottom of this post, I list the books by month. (Remember, my colleague Karl Krayer presented a different book each month).

Here are a few “bests” — my selections —  re. the books from the year:

• Best theme for the year:
• It takes passion, deliberate practice, and 10,000 hours of effort, to get really, really world-class good at something.  The three books with the details and the motivation are:
• Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.
Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin.
• The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
by Ken Robinson.

• Most enjoyable/engaging books to read
• Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.
• The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson.
• Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition by Guy Kawasaki.
• Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity by Michael Lewis (Editor).  (The chapter by Dave Barry on buying a house is absolutely laugh-out-loud funny!)
• SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  It is worth reading just for the parable of the horse manure.

• Most practical business read…
• Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition by Guy Kawasaki.  This one is worth keeping and re-reading for its practical advice.

Were there any books that I could have just skipped?  I think I gained value from all twelve, although I do think the Suzy Welch book, 10 10 10, though worth reading, could have been nearly as effective as an essay.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers

• The best book I presented this year…
And now – if you made me choose only one, and that was the only one I could read for the year – the year’s “best” – I think I go with Outliers.  But I would be unhappy at having to choose only one.


Here are Randy’s presentations from the First Friday Book Synopsis in 2009.

January, 2009:
Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown and Company (November 18, 2008).

February, 2009
Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition
by Guy Kawasaki
Portfolio Hardcover (October 30, 2008).

March, 2009:
Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

by Geoff Colvin (Author)
Portfolio Hardcover; 1 edition (October 16, 2008)

April, 2009:
Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity
by Michael Lewis (Editor). W.W. Norton & Co. (November 17, 2008).

May, 2009:
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
by Ph.D., Ken Robinson.  Viking Adult.  (January 8, 2009)

June, 2009:
10-10-10: A Life-Transforming Idea by Suzy Welch. Scribner (April 14, 2009).

July, 2009:
The Genius Machine: The Eleven Steps That Turn Raw Ideas into Brilliance by Gerald Sindell. by Gerald Sindell.  New World Library (2009).

August, 2009:
The Future Arrived Yesterday: The Rise of the Protean Corporation and What It Means for You by Michael Malone. Crown Business (2009).  

September, 2009:
Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay.  Harper­Business/HarperCollins.  (2009).

October, 2009:
Free: The Future of a Radical Price
by Chris Anderson.  Hyperion.  2009.

November, 2009:
What Americans Really Want…Really: The Truth About Our Hopes, Dreams, and Fears
by Frank I. Luntz.  Hyperion (September 15, 2009).

December, 2009:
SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
by Steven D. Levitt (Author), Stephen J. Dubner (Author)
William Morrow. (2009).


Many of these presentations, with audio + hadnout, are available for purchase at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

First Friday Book Synopsis Update – The Tyranny of E-mail and Trade Off, Coming in January

We closed 2009 with over 90 people gathered for the December First Friday Book Synopsis.  My colleague, Karl Krayer, was out of town, and guest presenter LIn O’Neill helped us get the key concepts from the book Busting Loose from the Business Game by Robert Scheinfeld.  (Thanks Lin).  I had a lot of fun with Superfreakonomics.

Here’s a great quote from the Busting Loose book:
The popular saying “thinking outside the box” refers to inking in creative and innovative ways.  I’m fond of calling what you’re about to discover “dynamiting the box.”

Thanks to all who helped us have a “record year” in attendance and interest at the First Friday Book Synopsis.

In January, we meet on the SECOND Friday of the month, January 8 (the first Friday, January 1, might have caused a few family/parade/football conflicts).

We will present synopses of The Tyranny of E-Mail:  The Four-Thousand Year Journey to Your Inbox by John Freeman, and Trade Off:  Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t by Kevin Mancy (foreword by Jim Collins).

We hope to see you there.