David Brooks

The Road to Character

“I wrote this book not sure I could follow the road to character, but I wanted at least to know what the road looks like and how other people have trodden it.”—David Brooks

The Road to Character Summary

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The Road to Character is the fourth book written by journalist David Brooks. Brooks taught an undergraduate course at Yale University for three years during the 2010s on humility, the subject of this book.

Who is this book for?

  • Readers who are interested in persuasive and leadership oriented books.
  • People who need to use persuasion to generate sales or inspire change.
  • Anyone interested to learn how to use why to get desired results.

Meet the author

David Brooks (born August 11, 1961) is a Canadian-born American conservative political and cultural commentator who writes for The New York Times.

The Road to Character Summary

Make sure that you understand your reality. Once you understand the way the world really is, you can make sure that you stay productive in that world.

Have you ever felt like that world is leaving you behind? Many people do. The modern world is always changing and evolving, and it can be a real chore to keep up. With that in mind, it can be helpful to think about the processes we use to make our lives more manageable on a daily basis.

How do we get things done? Well, the first and most important step is to realize that the world is changing around us and to understand what the new reality is. What is required of us and how can we make sure that we are ready to act in this new reality?

The most important thing here is not to let things stagnate. We need to be able to deal with each problem or situation as it arises, rather than putting it out of our minds and trying to leave it for later.

To stay on top of all our responsibilities, we need to make sure that we remain productive, regardless of what situations we find ourselves in at any given time. In a world that is continuously changing, it can be effortless, and this causes them to sit in the back of our minds. The more things we forget, the more things are stuck there, not being done. Similar to the RAM on a computer, this can make us progressively less able to deal with new problems that arise in our daily lives.

To ensure that this does not happen, proper workflow management is required, and in his book Getting Things Done, David Allen puts forth some ideas for how we might achieve this.

You cannot solve all of your problems at the same time. Effective management of your time means accepting that you can only do one thing at a time.

The first thing you need to be aware of if you are to manage your life successfully is that it is a process rather than a single solution.

The first step in this process is identifying everything that you still need to do. In other words, you need to collect all of your outstanding tasks into easy to manage groups. It is crucial in this step that you group similar tasks to make them into a manageable group, what Allen calls “collection buckets.”
This grouping of tasks allows you to handle them naturally and productively without getting sidetracked by other tasks.

The next step you will need to take is to empty these collection buckets. That is where you process all the tasks that need to be accomplished and decide when and in which order you are going to achieve them. If a job is quick and straightforward, you should deal with it immediately and get it out of the way. If it is more complicated, you need to plan for when and where you are going to complete it instead.

At this point, it becomes critical to organize the tasks into manageable groups and decide the order in which they will be completed. You need to determine which tasks must be completed in which order and place them in the proper hierarchy. You can help yourself a lot by writing down a list of the functions you wish to finish each day.

The last step before actually doing the tasks themselves is to do a quick review of your planned list and to make sure that your listings are correct.

Once you have done this review, you are ready to start doing the tasks themselves and just like that you’re on your way!

Don’t start a project before you know exactly what you want to achieve. The easiest way to get lost in the details is to not have a big picture in mind.

Have you ever been faced with a big task or project and gotten stuck with no idea of where to start? Don’t worry. It happens to most of us. Luckily, there is a solution.

There is a natural decision-making process that your brain goes through before making any decision, and it is useful. The great thing is that because we understand this process, we can “steal” it and use it consciously in all of our decisions.

The first thing your brain does before making any decision is to decide what it wants to achieve. Effectively it asks: What do I want the result of this decision to be? That is how the brain defines the success or failure of any given situation, and you can use that same question to help you decide what you want to achieve in any given case.

The next step that is required is to imagine the outcome you want. You effectively think about your goal and guess what the situation would look like if you achieved it. If you can visualize that result, then you can work toward making it a reality.

Now making that goal a reality takes a few more steps, the first of which is to identify all the ways that you can make that goal real. If you are not aware of all the possible options for reaching your goal, then you cannot decide which one will give you the best result.

Once you have identified those possible solutions, then you organize them from best to worst. You need to look at the advantages and disadvantages of each option and arrange them in a way that gives you the best chance of choosing the best solution.

Once all of this is finish, the only thing you still need to do is to identify what action you have to take next. What is it that you have to do to apply the solution that you have identified?

Once you’ve answered that question, you’re on your way.

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“Humility is the awareness that there’s a lot you don’t know and that a lot of what you think you know is distorted or wrong.” 

― David Brooks, The Road to Character

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