True story: I started writing this review about five times. Each time, a distraction presented itself right as I began to write and took my attention away from this task for a while. When I came back to it, it was harder each time to get started again. As an entrepreneur who answers to herself and to clients, staying on task is 100% my responsibility, and in most cases, there is no one to hold me accountable. I have found that the pain/pleasure principle comes into play as I prioritize my work schedule, determining whether or not I will see the pleasure of a job done at a reasonable pace or the pain of a looming deadline. From that perspective, The Smart but Scattered Guide to Success, written by two masters of executive skills and learning/attention disorders, was both a challenge to step up and an answer to a desperate plea for help.
The Smart but Scattered Guide to Success is a practical work written by Peg Dawson, EdD, and Richard Guare, PhD, that is truly deserving of the descriptor “guide.” Its focus on the development of executive skills — defined as the core brain-based abilities needed to maintain focus, meet deadlines and stay cool under pressure — is not age or industry specific, and reads as if targeted instead to the desperate, disorganized and dysfunctional thinker.
The authors set out to take the reader on a journey, beginning first by helping the reader identify both his or her strengths and weaknesses as they relate to executive skills, before walking through the step-by-step, action-oriented process of skill development. While it is scientifically-based with many plentiful case studies and resources for practical application, Drs. Dawson and Guare have successfully encapsulated a course on living with excellence into a 294-page book.
This book fits into my library next to others that focus on strengths and skill-building such as Strengths Finder 2.0 and other personality-based metrics. While I enjoyed those and certainly gained from the coach-like tone of those works, The Smart but Scattered Guide to Success takes a different approach. Going back to my initial example, it was not difficult for me to find my weakness in the area of Task Initiation, listed as one of the Essential 12 executive skills discussed in the book. It was defined (a type of procrastination), explained in accessible language, and then pulled apart, one piece at a time into manageable bits.
One factor that I found particularly unique and increased my regard for this book and the insight of the authors was the emphasis on task and environment modification. In my case, the book prescribed ways to modify both the space and environment around me to strengthen this core area, as well as ways to modify the task itself to empower me to succeed instead of procrastinate. I found this approach to be both effective and innovative, and most importantly, easily replicated.
While this one example targeted only one of 12 Essential executive skills discussed in the book (response inhibition, working memory, emotional control, task initiation, sustained attention, planning/prioritizing, organization, time management, flexibility, metacognition, goal-directed persistence, and stress tolerance), the other sections give breakdowns of the skills listed and explain how both a strength and a weakness in that area can hinder and limit professional and personal growth. Where the book really shines is in the plentiful resources available, including quizzes, charts, organizational tools, action plan templates and more, all designed to not only help you strengthen these executive skills, but also to stay on track to do so. This book also excels at not degrading any one weakness, but demonstrating how each individual is a combination of strengths and weaknesses and that growth is a constant, ever-changing process.
There was considerable information focused on the aging process and the importance of developing these skills as we age, which was both useful and out-of-place. The section was more a prescription of preventative medicine for a future of diminishing executive skills, as is common with general aging. Tucked away at the end, it seemed more as an afterthought than a strong component of an otherwise substantial work on the topic.
From the standpoint of someone invested in building on strengths and lessening weaknesses in the area of executive skills, The Smart but Scattered Guide to Success hits the target with accuracy, precision and an accessible style that will make it a regular fixture in my professional development library for many years to come.
Book Review: The Smart but Scattered Guide to Success: How to Use Your Brain’s Executive Skills to Keep Up, Stay Calm, and Get Organized at Work and at Home
The Guilford Press, January 16, 2016
Paperback, 294 pages