If there is one thing standing between me and my greatness, it’s a lack of consistently taking focused action.
No amount of talent will carry you to the promised land if you don’t master focus.
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And if you want to stand a chance to stay relevant with AI taking over(hello, chatGPT), you better learn how to do some deep work and deep thinking.
Are you the problem?
I’m the type with 200 tabs open in my browser and 400 books in my kindle that I started reading because, at some point, they sparked my curiosity and hope.
I may be a bit on the extreme side of things, but not by much.
I know many bright, talented, and educated people who are drastically underperforming in life because they fail to take focused action consistently.
Taking action is necessary, but it’s often not enough to succeed.
I take a lot of action (after I conquered overthinking), but I still lack in the attention/focus department.
To do this kind of work, you need enough calm and groundedness to conquer overwhelm and anxiety.
Let’s take a look at what we can do to master the skill of focused work.
Here’s my list of things that help me do more focused work.
Start with the basics.
It’s trite but necessary: if you’re tired and don’t get enough sleep, movement, and proper nutrition, your focus will suck.
I find sleep the key productivity tool, followed by nutrition.
For unparalleled advice on how to fix your sleep (and many other things), check out the Huberman Lab podcast. You’re welcome.
Offloading- looking spider in the eyes.
Lists to the rescue!
The scariest thing is your imagination and everything that is diffused and intangible.
You need to name it so you can tame it!
Know the enemy and remember that action trumps fear (and motivation FOLLOWS action as well).
Lists are a great way to start. Here are some that I create on a pretty regular basis.
- Brain dump. Just jot down everything in one spot: things to do, things that stress you, projects, dreams, books to read, pets to walk.
- Stress list. This is a more focused list of things that raise your cortisol levels, real or imaginary. Name them, contain them, and have them on one piece of paper (I hope!).
- Procrastination list. Things that aren’t getting done against your better judgment. You automatically create that list when trying to fall asleep when you have little control over it. It’s much wiser to create that list during the day when things look less scary, and you can actually do something about it.
- A Must-have list. The things you have to do. Period.
- A Nice-to-have list. The things you may want to do but aren’t necessary and often distract you from what you need to do.
It’s about taking a look at your surroundings and what distracts you.
- Inner distractions — thoughts, wants, urges, itches, etc. Naming them (awareness) is the first step here (lists, journaling, interstitial journaling)
- Outside distraction — noise, other people, tech, pings, pongs, and water coolers.
Try to minimize all possible distractions (noise canceling headphones, ‘ do not disturb’ sign, binaural beats, turning off notifications).
Routines don’t sound sexy, but they help you get where you’re going.
Having a solid routine — knowing when, what, and how you’ll be doing — removes a lot of decision-making, and decisions are distractions/friction.
Focus thrives when you plant it in a good container, so:
Create a time/space container (one hour — in my office — before the rest of the family wakes up).
When is it the safest?
The 5 am club is so popular because of the control you have over your time. It still sounds ridiculous to me to get up at 5 am (or even before 8, if I’m perfectly honest), but for many people, this is the only time in their day when they can feel in control of their actions. It’s about the feeling of agency.
Create a contingency plan. What if shit happens? What if my computer freezes, the delivery guy knocks on the door, and I have a headache? Life gets in the way all the time, so think of what else you can do in this situation.
Groundedness is a big factor in creating enough space for focus.
Focus thrives in a calm environment, and it’s both outside and inner calm.
In today’s hectic world with so much information overload, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and anxious. You need to ‚seal your container’ well so that not a lot of distraction gets in but not so much you forget to breathe.
- Physiological sigh is a great start. It costs nothing and lowers your stress levels in real-time.
- Set a clear goal for your session. You need to create a plan and decide whether what you want to work on is what you should be working on: it’s a valuable use of your time. Let’s not be overly dramatic here; it’s not a life-or-death decision. We’re talking about focusing on one thing for 30–60–90 minutes at a time! Twitter will still be there (with all the likes you got — or not); you can still evaluate your goals and progress later. Just stop second-guessing every step while taking it.
- Don’t give in to FOMO. Before you start your focused work session, set boundaries and contain your focused work to avoid FOMO: set your timer. You can do a lot in an hour of focused work. I like to go for 30mins chunks, usually x2. When the first 30mins is up, I try to take a quick mental note if I’m still on track and get back to work.
I do not stop if I’ve gained some traction. It would be a waste of traction! If it’s going well, I carry on. When 2×30′ is up, I can decide whether it’s finished or I’m ‘finished.’ I can go for another 30′ or stop. 90′ is an excellent focused work time.
- Contain inner distractions. During your focused work session, have a piece of paper (analog is best) to write down any ideas that pop into your head to save for later. When your session is over, you can decide what to do with it. This helps you avoid falling into a rabbit hole.
- There is a point when we WANT to get distracted because what we’re doing becomes boring/tedious/difficult. We start scanning our environment for ways to escape the uncomfortable feeling, and if we don’t distraction-proof ourselves, we will find something! Some bitter sides of being human.
Not easy at first, but worth it.
Doing deep, focused work is a skill that can be developed and strengthened, but you need to visit your focus gym regularly.
The best part of doing so — apart from being more productive and less overwhelmed — is a deep sense of satisfaction no amount of shallow work and internet browsing can ever give.
Now all you need to do is to try!