09 Nov 11 Steps to Insane Focus: Do More of What Matters
“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular. ” -Tony Robbins
This morning I woke up, brewed some Yerba Mate, caught a glorious rooftop sunrise and proceeded to get more done before breakfast than I had in the past 4 working days combined.
How about you? How many important things did you get done last week? I mean the things that actually got you closer to your biggest goals and dreams.
Take a minute to think about it and write a couple down. How many did you come up with?
For many the answer is few if any at all. Why?
In a word: Distraction.
Lack of focus is the most common killer of making things happen.
In the last 10+ years there’s been an unconscious shift from encouraging focus to condemning it. It’s happening without us knowing and we’re all likely victims. As soon as multitasking became possible and encouraged, our focus died.
Mine certainly did.
We have to fight our very best fight to get it back.
Leo Babauta is leading the charge with his book Focus, which is more than worth the read. I hit up a sweet barefoot run with Leo last week where he filled me in on some of the good stuff. Unbelievably powerful.
Without focus we are headed for disaster and the consequences are as dangerous as they come.
What’s the biggest risk of losing our focus? Wasting our time and living a meaningless life.
The solution is to simplify. Get back to the basics of doing the important.
Here’s a brief 11-step guide to reclaiming insane Focus.
1. Know what actually matters. Be honest with yourself about the actions that truly move the needle in your business and your life. An 80/20 analysis is a great place to start. If you’re stuck, just think of the tasks you fear the most–that give you anxiety just to think about. Those are likely the most important.
2. Pick your top 2-3 core tasks each day. These are the things that must happen no matter what. If you get these done your day is a success. Stick to no more than three, or better yet one. They must move you closer to your big goals. Checking email does not count.
3. Do them first thing. For me writing is one of my core actions, so I write for an hour or so as soon as I roll out of bed or after my morning workout (it’s 5:45 am right now). The longer you wait, the more distractions will intrude. Nothing happens before these get done.
4. Do not connect to anything until your core tasks are done. Don’t convince yourself you need the internet or email to do your most important tasks. 95% of the time you don’t. Leave the internet off and phone on airplane mode until you crush through the important.
5. Kill multitasking. Stop thinking it’s more efficient. It’s not. No surfing during phone calls, reading during meals, chatting while writing. Do one thing at a time. Simple. Not only is multitasking terribly inefficient but it stresses you out and it’s rude to anyone around you.
6. Turn off email and notifications (and anything else that interrupts you). When you sit down to do something, nothing else gets attention. Just because someone decides
to email, chat or call you, doesn’t mean it’s more important. Those things can wait. But if you know they are waiting there, you’ll be too tempted. Avoid temptation at all cost. We are too weak. I don’t trust myself with email on my iPhone so I totally removed it.
7. Don’t check email in the morning. This is the most effective (and difficult) single practice I’ve found. I know every one of you have heard this one. So why doesn’t anyone actually do it? It will change your life. It feels terrible to know we’ve spent a couple hours refreshing and going in and out of email without really getting anything done. I assure you that if you check it, you won’t be able to help yourself, and you’ll stumble face first into the worm hole. So don’t even open it until you have a few hours of focused action under your belt (this is at least 11am for most).
8. Batch your emailing to two times a day MAX. Maybe 30 min before lunch and 30 min late afternoon. If you need an email for your core task, do not go to your inbox. Go straight to the search feature and find it. If you need to write an email as a core task (which should very rarely be the case), write it offline in a simple program like notepad. Save reactionary items for after you get the important done.
9. Try to get less done in a day–practice Slow Working. Don’t fill every moment of your calendar with tasks (this is a huge one I’m working on). You’ll be stressed and rushed the whole day. Slow down and move through your core tasks calmly. Then maybe you do a few more things with the remaining time but don’t cram them in. If you do, you’ll always feel behind.
10. Plan more time for each task. This is the easiest way to alleviate the schedule. And things always tend to take longer than we think. If your core task will take you 45 minutes, then block out 90. Actually schedule it on your calendar. If it only takes you 40 minutes then suddenly you have free time–how awesome (and rare) is that!
11. Take breaks and reward yourself. Most of us can only intensely focus on something for an hour at best. Take at least a few-minute break every 30 or 60 minutes to clear your head. I love going up to my rooftop for a couple deep breaths and a view of the Golden Gate. Find a fun way to get you free and clear. Take a walk, meditate, feed the ducks, breathe, get a snack or some water or listen to an inspiring song. You pick.
Do the above and your day will be a victory before most people wake up.
It’s a pretty awesome feeling. You’ll get way more done than you planned but your mind and schedule will also be clear to enjoy life a little more. Few things feel worse than an unproductive day. Nail your big things early and use that energy to take the rest of the day by storm. Take a walk with your wife, play with your kids, go down to the beach and read. Do whatever you want. That’s the point.
Enjoy having nothing to do.
When was the last time you had nothing to do? Many of us can’t remember. It’s because we set our days up for failure. With more tasks than we could ever accomplish and loads of wasted time in between. Filling every second of your day will do this. With the above, you’ll suddenly have time to spend in your own way. That’s when your mind really starts to have some fun. The big ideas will begin to show up.
We are addicted to wasting time.
Realize that mindless work is an addiction. It’s just as dangerous as smoking or alcohol. I’m not kidding. Email, Facebook, twitter, texting, surfing, news–it’s all a deadly serious addiction. We just think it’s ok because everyone else around us is wasting their life on it. If everyone started smoking tomorrow would you start? That’s what I thought.
The path to freedom can be difficult to see, mostly because the world is telling you it’s not there. A path begins by walking. These addictions have caused us to lose our way and most importantly, lose our focus. We avoid the present. We avoid what matters. And we avoid what’s right in front of us. Be it a sunset, your husband or that client call you’ve been putting off.
With pure focus we can be unstoppable.
You’ll get more done in a day than most get done in a week, with time left over to savor the subtleties of life you forgot you enjoyed so much.
When in doubt, ask yourself “Am I wasting my time to avoid the important?” Be honest. You’ll know the answer. Do something about it.
Other Resources to Help You Focus:
- Focus by Leo Babauta
- Quadruple Your Productivity and Enjoy a Little Life
- Living the 80/20 Life: 5 Ways to Achieve More with Less
Photo 1 courtesy of my wife, Chelsea 🙂
Photo 2 courtesy of ssh