Build Your Focus Muscle & Beat Distraction
BUILD YOUR FOCUS MUSCLE
When you want stronger legs or arms, you go to the gym and lift weights to work them out.
If you want to train for a marathon, you build up your stamina by running progressively further distances.
If we want to focus more, you guessed it, we need to build and strengthen our focus muscle just as we would like lifting weights or training.
There are three main areas we need to work on. Strengthening these will help take control back over our monkey brain so he can't run rampant in our lives.
After we learn these we will also get into some tactics to help keep that monkey further at bay.
Three Areas Impacting Our Focus:
Anxiety - Most people suffer from a pretty strong anxiety when they leave their phone at home. It's now so common that scientists gave it a name called nomophobia or "no mobile phone phobia".
What are we so afraid of? We're so used to having immediate access to the world through our phone that the thought of it not being there for even an hour causes some unnecessary anxiety. We have extreme FOMO - fear of missing out.
We want to change that FOMO to JOMO (joy of missing out) while we are trying to be productive.
Accessibility - We have more information then ever before. Each new alert or popup we see carries the promise of some exciting piece of information.
The barrier to receive this information is also lower then ever before. New information is pushed to us, whereas in decades past it was only possible by actively seeking it out.
Tackling on the anxiety above, this level of accessibility with fear of not knowing what's going on makes for an almost never ending anxiety cycle of suffering from fear of missing out.
The quote below from a great book called The Distracted Mind, is telling us that this accessibility of information, makes it harder for us to focus on just one thing.
"The more readily available a new patch of data is, the earlier the time someone will disengage from their current source. It is essentially the same for animals foraging for food. If another tree full of nuts is sitting right there, a squirrel is going to take the leap earlier to this new patch then if had to work harder to get to another nut filled tree."
The Distracted Mind
Boredom - The combination of the two above have created a powerful monster.
When people are bored by default now they reach for their phone or something to distract them to occupy the time.
Try this little social experiment. Next time you are in line, waiting for a coffee or something stop and look around. I always laugh now when I am waiting in line for a coffee and I am the ONLY one not looking at my phone.
You can imagine how this only worsens our ability to focus as now any time we don’t get this quick reward, we find other things (like focusing on work) more boring.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR MIND IS WANDERING
If you're doing your best to focus, but find your mind keeps drifting off course here are a few things to check and try out.
- Check Your Sleep - A fatigued brain makes it harder to focus. This comes back to Module 1 and why sleep is so critical to everything you do. It will come back to haunt you if it's not as good as it could be.
2. Breathe - Take a quick break and check your breathing. Deep, slow breaths can be used to calm your nervous system and bring your wandering mind back on track. Close your eyes and try doing this for 60 seconds.
3. Take a break - If your mind is wandering, sometimes you need to change your state. Get up and go for a walk outside, get some sun or walk in a nearby park for 15 to 30 min.
4. Do something physical - This is my go to option on this list. Sometimes a more drastic change of state is needed. When I'm feeling lethargic but shouldn't be, I find working out completely energizes me and gets me ready to focus. Work out, go for a run or switching to a standing desk, anything that changes it up.
5. Recognize if you're in a bad state - On certain days, when you're feeling particularly tired and off and none of the above works, it's best to just say f*ck it.
On these days I avoid doing any tasks that require a lot of focus and instead switch to easy admin type work. Focus on recouping your energy so you can perform strongly the next day,
HOW TO FIGHT DISTRACTIONS
One of the easiest things we can do to regain some focus is to do what our mom’s told us to do when we were young.
Clean our rooms and put our toys away.
Or in more adult words, de-clutter our physical and virtual worlds so we approach each day with organization, instead of chaos.
The reason for this is that the more things we have in front of us, calling for our attention the harder it becomes to focus on any specific one. We want to limit the amount of things our monkey brain has access too.
When you have a really long list of things to do, you probably start to feel a little overwhelmed and anxious right?
When we add in our own “self made distractions” on top of that, those two feelings of overwhelm and anxiety tend to get worse.
There are two areas we have 100% control over and can easily clean up to regain some focus. Remember, part of the key to controlling the monkey is to give the monkey less things it can reach for.
HOW MANY NOTIFICATIONS ARE ON YOUR PHONE RIGHT NOW?
We call this, Virtual Clutter.
Go ahead, stop and take a look at how many are on your phone right now.
We call this virtual clutter, which can be summed up as small, subtle distractions from the electronic world that slowly chip away at our focus and attention.
Eventually these add up to consume so much space in our mind that it becomes really hard to focus on any one specific task.
Unchecked emails, Facebook and social media notifications, push messages from apps on your phone, text messages or any other of the hundreds of ways companies try to grab your attention these days.
A lot of these though we may not open them immediately, we tend to file them away thinking “oh I can use this later”. Of course, we never do and then every time we open these up again we see a mountain of stuff we never took action on.
Three Step Action Plan to Deal with Virtual Clutter
1. Take Control Over Your Inbox - If your email overwhelms you do this.
Let me tell you a story. My primary Gmail account once had over 40,000 emails sitting in it. It stressed me out every time I opened it. Wanting to clean it up, I kept putting it off because it was such a daunting task.
One day I simply got fed up of feeling overwhelmed every time I looked at it and dedicated two hours to cleaning it.
I searched for any emails I knew were important (travel details, reservations, appointments, emails from my wife and my mom, any leases or documents I signed) and put those all in a separate folder.
I then said screw it and deleted everything else, which was 99% of the emails in there.
Did I end up needing any of those 99% I deleted?
No, and I bet you won’t either. Was it scary as hell? Yes, but completely worth it after. Once you get down to zero it becomes way easier to manage afterward.
As part of my boot up and shutdown list, I empty my inbox from top to bottom. It helps me during my focused work blocks to avoid distraction and simply feel in control.
CEO - Blue Sea Studios
2. Use this tool to mass unsubscribe to emails - How many email lists do you think your are subscribed too? I bet you the number will shock you.
Use this tool Unroll.Me. to unsubscribe to emails in bulk.
3. Control your notifications - Recently, I have disabled all sound or vibrate notifications on my phone except for calls and text messages.
I love the feeling of knowing I have the power to control when I will check my social feeds as opposed to them constantly telling me to check them.
There’s also an awesome handy little tool I love called “Facebook news feed eradicator”. Its an extension for Google chrome, that when you log in to Facebook, replaces your news-feed with a motivational quote.
Limiting the amount of these notifications is a powerful tool for keeping the monkey at bay. You can set time to check them once your focused work blocks have passed.
Optimize Your Workspace
The "noise" or messiness of the environment around us is called Physical Clutter.
Physical clutter has the same effects of virtual, except it’s a physical object you can lift and move as opposed to a piece of software that exists on a screen.
Here is a typical scenario:
I'll be at my home office, working on something. There are some dishes sitting on the counter from when I made breakfast that I know I need to clean, a pile of laundry I know needs to be done at some point, a book sitting on the table that I want to read, cookies from the cupboard begging to be eaten and so on…
I’ll be trying to focus but my mind and attention are being distracted by all the “clutter” around me.
Turns out all of our "stuff" sprawled out around us can have a pretty negative impact on our mind. Especially when we're trying to focus.
A Princeton University Neuroscience study was actually done on this stating the following:
"Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation. by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system."
Or in simpler terms, when your environment is cluttered, it negatively affects your ability to focus and process information on the task at hand.
Looks like Mom was right, cleaning up our room was a good thing.
We have two options here:
Clean up your home office or get out:
If you are trying to work from home and suffer from the same problems I did above, you essentially have two options.
Drop everything and clean up the clutter, or get out and go work somewhere you won’t think about it, like a coffee shop or library. As long as that clutter is present and in your mind, you will find it harder to stay focused.
Ask yourself, do I really need this?
It is completely worth it to invest some time going through everything in your possession and auditing if it is truly needed or not. Cleaning out tons of items you no longer need or use can make you feel like you just shed 10 pounds of weight.
Achieve 30 minutes of focused, un-distracted time.
This section covered a lot and the entire goal is to get you to be able to focus for at least 30 minute time blocks.
In the next section of this module we will learn how you can make yourself get mentally tough, so it's easier to say no to distractions.
In Module 4, we will put these 30 minute focus blocks into action.
You will learn how to a powerful way to use these and organize them to get massive traction on your goals and get things done.