PILLAR #4 - FOCUS
Do you find it hard to get focused and stay focused on things?
You probably have great intentions. You know you want to get something done but you just find you get distracted so easily and struggle to concentrate one any one thing.
This is without a doubt one of the most common frustrations people share with me.
...And one of the most critical pieces of building up your productive potential.
Has this ever happened to you?
You're trying to concentrate on really crushing the task in front of you.
Finishing it would mean so much but then it happens...
All of a sudden you pick up your phone and start scrolling through your Instagram feed, email, YouTube, Facebook feed, or whatever else is calling for your attention.
It happened so fast you didn’t even realize you did it. It was almost subconsciously done.
Then after you finally snap out of it and get focused again, you wonder where your past 10 minutes just went.
This used to happen to me all the time. It still does from time to time.
I’m not some productive superhero who can resist all of life's digital allures but I now have way more control over it.
You can too.
If you find yourself easily distracted don’t worry, it’s not entirely your fault. You see we all have this lovable but destructive character in our head.
This is our monkey brain.
This monkey craves short term satisfaction and excitement.
Every time you scroll through your Facebook feed it creates a dopamine spike in your brain.
Your monkey brain LOVES this. The more you do it, the more it feeds the monkey and the harder it gets to break out of this and really focus.
This monkey loves getting his ego stroked by how many likes you get, how many comments you receive and all sorts of things that really don't matter at the end of the day.
Unfortunately for us, we live in the most distracting era in all of human history.
Our brains have so many distractions coming at them from all angles that we develop a serious fear of missing out. We don't want to miss the updates from friends lives, the articles that pop up in our social media feed, events we get invited too, restaurants that were recommended and everything else.
It is completely overwhelming.
We are rapidly switching focus to try and take it all in to process it.
However by trying to focus on everything all at once, we are effectively focusing on nothing and missing the point.
Giving 10 seconds of your time to checking emails, then 30 seconds of your time to working on a document, then a quick 10 seconds to check the text message we got may seem like multitasking but it is the opposite of being productive.
By doing this, things either 1. Don’t get done, or 2. Take way longer to get done.
Worse, we keep feeding that monkey and he keeps getting bigger and stronger.
He’s no longer cute, he’s now a Donkey Kong size monkey throwing around barrels of distractions in your head.
Time to take back control. We can do this in two ways.
1. Simply be being mindful of all of the above and knowing that this monkey exists.
2. Cutting off the monkeys food supply by using strategies to de-clutter and remove distractions in our world.
TACTICS TO REMOVE DISTRACTIONS AND GET FOCUSED
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.
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.
HOW MANY NOTIFICATIONS ARE ON YOUR PHONE RIGHT NOW?
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.
All of which are now taking up space in our mind again and causing us some serious feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.
3 QUICK ACTIONS TO HELP WITH VIRTUAL CLUTTER
Clean up and manage your inbox:
This sounds daunting if your current inbox has a boatload of emails in it.
Let me share with you a story. My primary Gmail account once had over 40,000 emails sitting in it. I wanted to clean it up, but 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.
File away the important emails into the sub-folders you made above and delete the rest. You’re now in control of your inbox, no more stress or anxiety toward seeing an insane number like 40K.
Stop receiving so many emails:
Do you get a lot of garbage emails you never read? I used to subscribe to Groupon and all those discount coupon services until I realized I never actually bought anything from them.
I then promptly unsubscribed to all of them.
Here is an awesome tool to do this. Check out Unroll.Me. It’s also why I try to limit the amount of emails I sent out to my list and only really do it when I have something valuable to say. Being someone obsessed with keeping his inbox under control, I want to show the same respect to you guys.
Only keep subscriptions you find you are getting great value from. When you clean this up practicing step #1 above becomes far easier.
Control your social feeds:
There’s 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 newsfeed with a motivational quote.
It’s almost like a subtle reminder to say “do you really need to look at Facebook or should you stay focused on what really matters?” Personally, I also deleted the Facebook app itself from my phone. I found it was pumping out way too many notifications and causing me to lose focus. I got fed up and then it was gone.
With the two steps above I find I have way more control over how much time I actually spend on Facebook. I tend to log in the old school way through the browser a couple times a day, quickly check my notifications to see if anyone needs me, maybe check on a few close friends, family or people I enjoy following and then log off.
I’m controlling the monkey's addiction to social media instead of letting it control me.
DOES YOUR WORK-SPACE LOOK LIKE THE LEFT OR RIGHT?
The "noise" or messiness of the environment around 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:
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.
2 QUICK ACTIONS TO HELP YOU WITH PHYSICAL CLUTTER
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.
I also implement systems to maintain this. For example for clothing, if I have not worn it in the past 12 months I donate it to charity. This same thing can be applied to pots, pans, glasses, electronics etc. In most cases with a few exceptions, if you haven’t used something in the past year you will probably never use it again.
I recommend watching the documentary “minimalism”. While the folks in this take it to an extreme level, it truly shows that carrying around more “things” in your life doesn’t make you happy, nor will it make you any more productive.
ARE YOU FOCUSED ON WHAT REALLY MATTERS?
A number of years ago, a younger, less mature version of myself with fewer gray hairs would say yes to basically everything. Friends would ask me to come out to a bar, help them with something, go to a party in the city and I would always say yes.
Even if inside I didn’t want too…I was too afraid of the backlash and disappointment I’d receive by saying no. Learning to say no is one of the hardest things to do, but also one of the most valuable for re-claiming your focus.
When you’re afraid to say no, you are really no longer in control of your schedule, your energy or your life.
This can lead to some serious resentment, negative feelings and procrastination on your part.
This holds true for the work you take on as well. Trying to take on 5-6 projects at once doesn't work.
A HUGE part of getting more done is actually by doing less. You need to truly pick and select a few things to work on and outsource or put the rest on hold.
In the next Pillar, I will give you a breakdown of how I choose what projects to take on.
For now, let's create more space to help you get focused.
3 THINGS TO FILTER TO HELP YOU GET FOCUSED
Have you ever really stopped to watch the news? It is like getting repeatedly punched in the face with the most negative stories across the globe.
They do it because it they know it gets people to watch but it can slowly turn us into believing the world is a negative, fearful, dreadful place instead of one of hope, opportunity, learning and curiosity.
Up for a challenge?
If you are a regular news watcher, try taking 7 days off from it. I bet you will still find out anything that's important and relevant to you but will feel far less stressed out and anxious.
This is probably one of the most toxic things ever present in society today that can drag down your energy and distract your focus. We all know people who love to complain about things all the time. They drag you into their problems as they are looking for empathy on them.
We all do this, it’s only human. It's always great to help people but be mindful of how much of this you take in though. Be around and follow people who take 100% control of their lives instead of blaming everything and everyone else for their problems.
Spending time focused on others
Do you spend more time following other people’s lives then your own? By that I mean, keeping up with the latest celebrity news and gossip or vigorously following people on Instagram and Facebook to see what their up to.
To re-claim your focus, spend more time focused on living your own life as opposed to watching others. If people spent as much time as they did focused on improving themselves, as opposed to complaining about what others are doing, they would probably find they would have far less things to complain about in life.
TOOLS TO HELP YOU GET FOCUSED
(I use all of these)
See everything your email is subscribed to in one spot and unsubscribe with ease.
An awesome focused and inspiring extension for chrome that replaces your new tab window.
Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator
Replaces your Facebook news-feed with a motivational quote.
An all in one website and distraction blocker for Windows and Mac.
YOUR ACTION STEPS
- Whose in control of your day, you or your distraction monkey?
- Do you have too many things around that are keeping you distracted? Make the time to clean it up and free up the space to get things done.
- How much necessary and negative information are you taking in each day? It's probably a lot. Focus on what only really matters too you so your mind doesn't get distracted with unnecessary things.
Leave comments below on any questions, topics or discussions you may have about this module.