Live Your Legend | 11 Steps to Insane Focus: Do More of What Matters
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11 Steps to Insane Focus: Do More of What Matters

11 Steps to Insane Focus: Do More of What Matters

Find Intense Focus

“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:

Photo 1 courtesy of my wife, Chelsea 🙂

Photo 2 courtesy of ssh

  • Andrea DeBell - britetalk
    Posted at 20:49h, 09 November Reply

    Hi Scott! I tend to be a bit ADHD when it comes to completing my tasks. Your points are right on target with most of the strategies I use. I also ‘mlike to do a list before I go to bed to make sure I’m right on target when I wake up. I list the items in the order they are to be completed (by most important first) so I don’t allow myself to get off track. Well, I still get off track sometimes but I’m getting better at this.
    Thanks for these wonderful tips! Loving blessings!

    • Scott
      Posted at 22:43h, 09 November Reply

      The pre-game list is an awesome idea for sure Andrea. Definitely best to know how you will dive into your first big item right from the start so that you don’t have to waste time sorting that out in the morning. As long as the evening list does not get too long, I think this is a powerful strategy.

      I have been ‘refocusing’ on a lot of these focus principles after reading through Leo’s new book and it’s no doubt a constant process but it’s feeling good to continue to simplify.


  • Aaron Richman
    Posted at 22:21h, 09 November Reply


    This really resonated with me. I just logged onto my iPhone settings and turned off my Facebook notifications… and then logged onto Fb and turned off my email notifications. As funny as it sounds, these notifications cost me tens (pathetic… I know) of hours a week, and totally throw my focus.

    I’m really liking these new posts, as I’ve been able to apply many of them to my day-2-day living. Keep it up!

    • Scott
      Posted at 22:40h, 09 November Reply

      Awesome Aaron. It is freaking crazy how much this stuff kills our focus, productivity and just enjoyment of things. We think we like going back and forth checking things non stop but it’s actually super draining.

      Pretty sweet picture of Chelsea isn’t it? I took it en route to Machu Picchu last year at about 13k feet.

      Also, I’ll be in SB for a few day early next week for Catalyst and a few others. Hopefully we’ll connect.


  • Aaron Richman
    Posted at 22:30h, 09 November Reply

    By the way…that photo of Chelsea is SWEET! Double wow 🙂

  • M'Lynn Bermea
    Posted at 05:39h, 10 November Reply

    Interesting take on multitasking. Working from a home office I always felt I had to multitask to be productive: full time job, full time home manager. Yet, the distractions that tag along with multitasking never ceased to annoy me & I was adding counterproductive stress. There are things I have done to help. I ignore the phone. My friends and family know the time I have blocked off for writing. I’m at work by 5:15am to utilize my best brain time. They know not to call or text before 2pm unless there is blood, death or fire. I have 2 cups of tea @ 2 to relax & switch ‘hats’. I then give my family undivided attention the rest of the day.

    • Scott
      Posted at 17:41h, 11 November Reply

      I love your system M’Lynn. And who can beat “They know not to call or text before 2pm unless there is blood, death or fire.”

      I love it!

  • Carolee a.ka. Blogging Biz Mom
    Posted at 07:30h, 10 November Reply

    I am guilty of reading email and blogs before hunkering down to work….

    I think I may change my schedule up a little 🙂


    • Scott
      Posted at 17:42h, 11 November Reply

      You will not believe how big of a difference it can make Carolee. It’s 5:45pm right now and I still haven’t checked my email! The world hasn’t collapsed yet either ;).

  • Royale Scuderi
    Posted at 08:31h, 10 November Reply

    You nailed this one! I’m a productivity expert who still personally struggles with most of these, but #9 is a biggie. I consistently feel rushed and stressed and never get “enough” done. I realize that it’s because of the constraints I place on myself, but to have you articulate it helps!

    • Scott
      Posted at 17:44h, 11 November Reply

      It’s funny how having someone tell you the things you already know can still help. Leo Babauta’s concept of Slow Working is huge with what you mentioned above. Slow down and just do things that matter. It’s not a race. The world will always cherish quality over quantity.

  • Marci
    Posted at 18:48h, 10 November Reply

    First of all, I love the photo – it’s my favorite yoga pose – and it’s on a mountaintop – now that is focus! I love the balancing, focusing poses.

    For me the biggest distraction is my 3 and 6 year old! I also let myself get distracted when I am procrastinating or stuck on something.

    • Scott
      Posted at 17:47h, 11 November Reply

      Thanks Marci! You have my wife, Chelsea to thank for that. We were en route to Machu Picchu at about 12k feet or so and she just got up there an stuck the pose. Such a fun shot.

      As for the little ones. I must admit I do not have experience with that quite yet (give me a few years…at least 😉 but one way to deal with it is to get your best focus before they wake or after they go to bed. I am sure you’re exhausted but even 20 or 30 minutes of silence in the am and pm can go a long way.

  • Farnoosh
    Posted at 02:58h, 11 November Reply

    Scott, this is the single best piece of advice I have read on focus and not being distracted- granted the funny irony is that I was distracting myself by going through the Daily Brainstorm where I stumbled upon this ;)! – but in all seriousness, you have a point everywhere….while I think nothing is as bad as smoking and doing drugs, I do agree that the “addiction” concept itself is awful – and I will set out to do more. This week, I focused so hard on getting 3 projects off the ground and it alone feels incredibly overpowering…the power of focus is unmatched when we truly practice it. You are well worth a tweet over here…great write-up! THANK YOU!

    • Scott
      Posted at 17:48h, 11 November Reply

      You are awesome Farnoosh. What an endorsement! Thank you. I hope it helps you nail those 3 projects too. Few things feel better than knowing you really got laser focused on something and cranked it out.

      Have fun!

  • Greg Woodard
    Posted at 08:16h, 11 November Reply

    Great post. I am a Navy Chaplain, in the “people caring” business. It can be hard to find focus time. I especially like your reminder to stay unplugged and not check email until after you have completed your core tasks.
    I tend to get into my email too soon in the morning thinking that whatever is there must be important. The reality is that I don’t think I have ever found anything critical that required my immediate attention. Starting Monday, I commit to not even turning on my office desktop until after those core tasks are completed!

    • Scott
      Posted at 17:51h, 11 November Reply

      That commitment is going to make a world of difference Greg, no joke. If something were that crucial via email, you would get a phone call or hand delivered note! It never is. But if you check, you will not be able to resist. I certainly can’t.

      The calm of keeping the computer and internet off for a while is pretty sweet and even Zen like. I hope this helps with the role at the Navy too. Sounds like a cool gig.

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  • Emaar
    Posted at 00:21h, 15 November Reply

    Very interesting a very organic read.!

    • Scott
      Posted at 09:40h, 15 November Reply

      Ha! That’s the first time my work has been called Organic. I like it!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Alex Blackwell
    Posted at 03:24h, 15 November Reply

    Hi Scott,

    I’m with you regarding #3. I get up every morning at 5 a.m. so I have time, and a quiet house, to get some writing knocked out before the busyness begins.

    Thanks for a helpful list!


    • Scott
      Posted at 09:41h, 15 November Reply

      Awesome Alex. A clear calm morning is tough to beat. No question…unless you had a very late clear and calm night before 😉

  • John Sherry
    Posted at 10:10h, 15 November Reply

    Top notch advice Scott for hyper focus. What I love about your post is that you flag up that you can have tip top focus even when you are taking a break and doing nothing. Letting go now and again isn’t giving up or taking you eye off the ball. It’s just a TV ad break during the Superbowl. Fab post to keep us out of the stands and on the pitch.

    • Scott
      Posted at 23:36h, 16 November Reply

      I love your analogies John. Right on! Focus can be found anywhere indeed.

  • sorrisi
    Posted at 06:39h, 18 November Reply

    I’m repeating what everyone else said, but you deserve it: Fantastic writing! I have been actively searching for such information, and while I found similar advice, yours is well articulated and has a better call to action. Ironically, I stumbled on it by finding an article of yours on elance while procrastinating.

    I’m hoping to use your suggestions with my phd work. I made a notebook with three sections: first, a summary of your pointers. Second, a page for my tasks for today. Third, a place for all those periphery ‘life admin to do’ things so I can select one per day. What helped most was your repetitive emphasis on shutting out email until something has been accomplished. Well, now that I fulfilled my task of saying

    Thank you!!!!!

    I’m off to write. Will remember at some point in the next year to come back and tell you thank you again 🙂 after I submit. Will also give you a shout-out on one of my next blog posts. Finally, I clicked on the link to vote for you, but didn’t see any way to vote. Is it necessary to be registered or in the US?
    Best wishes,

    • sorrisi
      Posted at 08:03h, 21 November Reply

      It turns out I tried to vote inbetween the phases, it works now. This is really exciting voting every day and seeing all the support you’re getting!

      • Scott
        Posted at 21:20h, 05 December Reply

        Thanks for your awesome support Sorrisi. I could not think of a more important time for focus than during your phd work. I can’t say I know exactly what that feels like but I can only imagine. Good look and have fun!

        Please do come back to see more of the action over here. Feel free to pick up the free Finding Freedom eBook or sign up for updates if you’re keen. Lot’s more fun to come!

        The voting support is huge. We are in the final stages–4 days left and I need all the help I can get. We are making a great run at it!


  • Justin
    Posted at 02:27h, 19 November Reply

    Totally didn’t recognize Chelsea in the photo till I read the credits. Awesome pic.

    Attended an entrepreneurial event today called EO24 with a bunch of great speakers from a memory expert to the dean of USC’s Marshall school to Warren Rustand, an entrepreneur who has worked with 5 presidents. Almost ALL of them were warning about technology as a distraction, and a serious threat to focus, productivity, and greatness. We think technology is keeping us more connected, but when abused, it can actually disconnect us from our lives and what really matters. Quite a paradox…

    • Scott
      Posted at 12:20h, 22 November Reply

      Sounds like a killer event Justin. I have got to get myself into that EO group one of these days. What a crew! I could not agree more about the tech problems. I think we’ll have to be very careful with this as we build businesses (and lives) going forward. The entrepreneur may be at even bigger risk than others.

      Right on,

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  • Chris Peyser
    Posted at 09:39h, 07 February Reply

    I think it’s ironic how I came here while I should have been doing something else.

    BUT, as requested, tips for better focus. I find that checking facebook (just for a second) adds up to a lot more than a second when you actually take the time to tally. The number of nights I was ‘going to go to bed early, but just check facebook first’ almost always turned into normal, crashing at 1 AM nights.

    I saw a post online that reflected a great book I read on change. I’m not advertising, but “Switch: How to change when change is hard” legitimately changed the way I think about change. Go on facebook monday and friday as much as you want, but in between, don’t go on at all. This does two things, first, it allows you to binge when you need to, which is important emotionally when you think: “No facebook forever?!”. Secondly, in between the two days you are forced to come up with other ways to contact people.

    Now, I did this, and eventually failed because I was using gmail as an alternative facebook. I am going to try again though because this post has inspired me to be more efficient, and spend more time on the things that matter!

    • Scott
      Posted at 13:13h, 27 February Reply

      Right on Chris! Amazing once you realize how draining these simple distractions can be. I am moving towards email twice a day at the very most and many times once or every couple days. I have hired an assistant in Canada to take care of email one the off days. Has helped a lot.

      Great book rec too.

      • Chris Peyser
        Posted at 15:33h, 27 February Reply

        Well I tried, I found that in college the facebook and emails help to keep you connected, which can help for study breaks. I guess the key is just being smart about when you use it. I definitely agree email wise though, I’m stubbornly sticking with my no internet phone because I don’t like the idea of being able to check it all the time. Just another way to kill time when you ought to be living in the moment…

        (also my phone has been broken for the last two weeks, and I love it! I keep getting pressured to replace it, but I’d honestly like to just not bother with a cell phone, it’s such a distraction!)

  • lavanya
    Posted at 02:54h, 26 February Reply

    Good post. The very first thing i do once reaching office is to check mails, now i realize how big blunder is that.

    • Scott
      Posted at 13:14h, 27 February Reply

      Realizing it is the biggest first step lavanya! Enjoy the peace…

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  • Ted Gonder
    Posted at 10:47h, 23 April Reply

    I LOVE your website.

    Great post.

    Minor typo: 6. Turn off email and notifications (and anything else that interrups you).

    Should be “interrupts”

    Thought I’d let you know 🙂

    • Scott
      Posted at 14:20h, 02 August Reply

      Thanks for the heads up Ted! Glad you stopped by.

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  • Sherled
    Posted at 09:57h, 04 May Reply

    I love the photo. It is somewhat electrifying; and generates energy. On being able to focus; my philosopy is “I can’t function without a dysfunction”. I am at my best doing 2-3 things at one time. That’s me. When it is time to focus on one task; that takes a whole lot of control.

    • Scott
      Posted at 14:21h, 02 August Reply

      Well thank you. It’s my wife Chelsea in that photo!

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  • Emily Rose Crowley
    Posted at 14:23h, 31 July Reply

    This is lovely! And so true. I am going to choose doing yoga and studying French as my two core tasks! Starting with just 10 minutes each every day. Thanks!

    • Scott
      Posted at 14:21h, 02 August Reply

      Sounds pretty damn nice to me. Enjoy!

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  • Olivia
    Posted at 10:34h, 19 October Reply

    Really great post. After the first few paragraphs I was already motivated to do more and cut out all the mindless activities. I even want to start getting up earlier and start utilising my mornings now. Can’t wait to go through more of your posts.

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  • Lubo Zviera
    Posted at 20:50h, 24 January Reply

    My biggest problem recently is killing my time reading blogs like this one. Seriously. Don’t take me bad, I love this blog and few more similiar. They help me with finding happiness, motivation and focus.

    But nowadays, I am finding myself reading these blogs and websites more then 2 hours a day. Even 3 hours some days, I would say! I keep telling myself that reading this kind of blogs is good for me and it makes my life better, but sometimes, I just can’t stop reading 🙂

  • Suzanna
    Posted at 07:18h, 14 February Reply

    So true ! We spend way too much time on useless activities…

  • sanjeev
    Posted at 08:12h, 06 March Reply

    thank you very much for this post. i like it very much. this article clear my concept. good work man. carry on please

  • suhail
    Posted at 08:05h, 08 March Reply

    keep up the good work buddy. kind of eye opener for me.The first thing in the morning i do is check my emails, and i check my emails very often, and i am addicted to it.But i’ll try and change, Thanks for pointing that thing.

  • Matthew
    Posted at 13:19h, 25 July Reply

    I love this post.

    This is just the kind of consolidation of healthy working habits I was looking for, some I have already stumbled on through trial and error… this is a fantastic little catalogue of points to live by.

    Thanks buddy. I’ll be back again soon. 🙂

  • Matthew
    Posted at 14:26h, 25 July Reply

    Just thought I’d mention, Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog is a great book that emphasizes these kinds of idea’s… well worth a look to cross compare.

    I’ll be checking out the book you recommended.

    All the best, and thanks for a great blog post. 🙂

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  • kristen | positively unconventional
    Posted at 15:53h, 27 October Reply

    Hey Scott! These are all amazing tips. The one that I’ve been following for the last few weeks [cold turkey!] is not checking email UNTIL I’ve worked at least two straight, solid, and focused hours. I’ve never been more productive in my life!

    It’s crazy how much time we waste when we’re sucked in the to the abyss of email – plus, I noticed if I check my email right as I wake up, I set the day up to constantly be catching up, which creates so much anxiety. Anxiety/overwhelm can be an ultimate dream killer, so it’s best to focus focus focus, then check email. It’s one thing that will always be waiting for us no matter what 🙂

  • Santiago
    Posted at 14:37h, 15 November Reply

    Scott, looks like this link is down:

    As always, excellent tips. I would suggest the use of the Pomodoro Technique as a technique you can implement to balance focused work and rest.

  • outlet
    Posted at 20:53h, 11 December Reply

    you know what is wrong with the world? no one cares about important stuff anymore? its all about which celebrity has a ha ha ha tape, which celebrity is sleeping with who? why doesnt the media care about important things and give them press?

    • D.Cruz
      Posted at 20:40h, 14 October Reply

      i think its because we as a people give our attention to the unimportant and thats the signal we give to the universe, “show me more unimportant things” if everyone turned off the tv when celeb gossip came on stations wouldnt cover it anymore because no rateings, then they would need to find alternative info that the people want…if thats positive loving sharring carring things and people suddenly start watching tv again thats all the stations would show since thats what the people are reacting to.

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  • Max @ ML Quotes
    Posted at 17:48h, 02 January Reply

    Love that topic!
    For me it’s really a matter of reminding myself what’s important constantly, at least, I try. I like to use TODO list, of course. But one other thing I like to use is this mantra : “First things first”.

    So before I start a task, I ask myself : “is this REALLY important ?”, “will it add value?”, “in 10 years, will I be proud of that?”.

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    Wow! I’m addicted to the “buzz” of checking my email in the morning. I literally roll over in bed in anticipation of what lies ahead, then spend the morning, afternoon thinking thinking thinking of all that needs to be done. I’m scared to unplug & remove it from my iPhone, but I’ll do it Just to get back to being present, to really listen & FOCUS. Thank you for the tips.

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    Thanks for sharing these… I do one more thing… I write my most important goal for the year in VERY VERY BOLD letters in the front of my desk and everywhere… So that whenever I get unfocused it brings me back to what I set out to do.

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