If you are like most nonprofit communicators, you are used to wearing many different hats while you constantly re-prioritize. Most mornings, I walk in to work and look at my long list of things to do before writing a slightly shorter list of things I will do today. But then a crisis will happen, a last-minute EXTREMELY URGENT request, or a journalist calls, and I put my list temporarily aside.

All this means that the one tool of the trade that I need more than anything else is the ability to focus. And re-focus. That’s why I was so interested in reading Daniel Goleman’s new book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.

A best-selling author, I’ve never read Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence. If you have, that’s great. Please let me know if you like it, and I’ll pick it up at the library. I was looking for this book to give me useful tips and tricks that I could use in both my professional and personal life in order to become a renowned ukulele player and eventual ruler of the world. This paragraph is an excellent example of my brain starting to lose focus and wander.


Learning to rule this world

This book will probably not help you learn how to rule the world. Sorry – that title was a bit misleading, I know. However, you will probably have a better understanding of how important focus is to succeeding after reading it. Balancing scientific studies with real-world examples, Daniel Goleman does a good job of proving that focus is not only more important than you might realize, it’s often far more complicated.

How often do you start one task or end up sitting halfway through a meeting before realizing you’ve been thinking about something completely different for the last five or ten minutes?  Ever read a book and then tried to recall details from what you’ve just read and can’t? That’s your mind, wandering. Can you pinpoint the exact moment your mind started wandering? Many people can’t, but they can learn to be more aware of when their brain gets sidetracked and, with practice, learn to pay more ‘focused’ attention to things.


Practice being mindful

While Daniel Goleman cautions that ‘focused attention, like a strained muscle, gets fatigued’ he argues that ‘optimal practice maintains optimal concentration’. He recommends the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn in mindfulness meditation as a good place to start learning to be more aware of when your brain starts floating off and how to bring it zinging back to where you want it to be. Mindfulness programs have been introduced successfully in workplaces such as Yale Law School, Google and General Mills, creating teams that work better together by being more self-aware and focused.


Focus on the positive

Another piece of advice, as corny as it sounds, is learning to focus on the positive.  The book argues that focusing on the negative ‘focuses us on a narrow range – what’s upsetting us’. Whereas focusing on the positive opens up so many more options, by activating part of our brain called the nucleus accumbens, which helps with motivation and thinking long-term.  Focusing solely on the negative opens up another part of your brain that wants to shut down immediately because you’ve made it so sad.


Are you a mindful person?

I enjoyed this book and would give it a solid 8.2 out of 10. I found the examples and the science interesting and I am going to take Daniel Goleman’s advice and look in to this whole mindfulness thing. Think you can’t learn something from this book? Then riddle me this: what three organizations mentioned in this review use mindfulness programs? What musical instrument do I want to learn? What is the subtitle of the book?

If you can answer all these questions immediately and accurately, then I unscientifically announce you queen/king of focused attention. If you didn’t, or it took you awhile to remember, or you had to re-read the article to find the answers, it wouldn’t hurt for you to read this book. As Mr. Goleman says, ‘lacking focus, we store no crisp memory of what we’re learning’. If you’ve just put on your third hat of the day, I would recommend reading this book, if for no other reason than to start considering what focus is and how it can help you succeed.


Sarah Anderson

Sarah Anderson

Senior Manager of Communications and Marketing at Daily Bread Food Bank
Sarah Anderson is the senior manager of communications and marketing at Daily Bread Food Bank, a Toronto nonprofit that provides food and resources for people struggling with hunger and poverty. Prior to Daily Bread, Sarah worked in communications for the provincial government. In her spare time she reads, writes and promises herself she will go to the gym more often.
Sarah Anderson
Sarah Anderson

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