Focus can be one of the hardest things to get under control. Modern times have made this worse with technology and the amount of luxuries we can experience with a push of a button. Focus requires cutting through the crap and noise in order to get to the things that matter.
In this article, we cover everything you need to know about focus in depth. There are two types of focus you need to grasp.
1. Daily Task Focus
2. Big Picture Focus
You need to be able to focus on what tasks you are doing in the moment. When you lack this focus, your work's quality goes down, and you take much more time to finish work.
Big picture focus comes down to what you're chasing after in life. What is your mission? What do you want to get out of life? When you lack focus here, you tend to jump from idea to idea.
“One of the secrets of a successful life is to be able to hold all of our energies upon one point, to focus all of the scattered rays of the mind upon one place or thing.” – Orison Swett Marden
What is Focus and Why Do You Need it to Be Productive?
The hard part about focus is not in deciding what to do or what to say yes to. The troubling part is that most people don't know how to say no. To be focused it means that you discover what the most important thing is, and you say no to everything else. Focus people are cut throat with their attention.
If you are doing a daily task, the no could be a present no. But when it comes to your life mission, the focus may be a no for life. Sometimes the only way to remain focused is to know that you can't do everything. Somethings have to be cut off for good.
Obstacles to Focus
It's important that you call out all of the obstacles to focus. If you were walking through a warzone, you would want to know where all of the landmines are. It's too dangerous to keep walking forward without knowing where you could be harmed. The same is true with focus, and you need to call out the culprits.
Smartphones have made us all a lot dumber when it comes to focus. Watch most people work, and you will see them focus for 2 minutes and then look at their phone for 5 minutes. It's hard to make any progress when you only work for such a short period of time.
Phones are huge landmines because of all of the apps and things you can do with a phone. You can get calls, texts, and notifications from other things going down on your phone.
There used to be a time when you wanted to watch a movie or a TV show you liked, you had to catch it on TV at the right time. Those days are long gone because of streaming. You can watch a whole season in a day if you want to.
Some people treat streaming like music and try to say that they like to watch as they do work. This is productivity murder because you are not giving your work the focus. It needs to be high-quality work.
YouTube is a bit different than streaming but the same core issue. YouTube operates like social media. Its always showing you a shin new object that you need to click on to be happy. YouTube is a black hole for productivity, and you need to avoid it at all costs.
Everyone has been down the Google search black hole before. Some random idea pops in your head, and you search something quick that is not related to your work. Before you know it, that makes you think of ten other things that you have been wondering about.
The problem with this type of obstacle is that you're not even focused on the searching. There is nothing intentional about it. After sometime, you're just wasting time for the sake of it.
No obstacle list could be complete without social media. Social media has no mercy when it comes to its ability to distract. These networks were designed to get you to spend all of your time on them. They are the perfect storm when it comes to being addictive.
Algorithms are designed to show you more of what you like. You feed your need for shiny new objects because you are shown something different every time you open social media.
The worst distractions can come from other people. If you are in an office, it can be people stopping by your desk for random chit chat. If you're working remotely, this is often done through Slack. People are always going to need stuff or want to be social.
You have to start finding ways to defend your time and focus from other people who want it. There is a time for focused work, and there is a time for talking and collaboration.
If you are managing a team, it’s important that they are as focused on the task at hand as you are. Consider using team management software to engage and measure employee performance.
It may be surprising to see music on this list. A lot of people use music to help improve focus, and it's great for doing that. The place where music breaks down is if you feel the need to change songs of playlists every few minutes. You end up not working. You spend your time managing your music.
When you eat like crap, it does yourself no favors to increase your focus. You eat not for it to taste good but to sustain life. You don't need to eat until you're stuff and can't think, and you need to eat in a way to maintain high energy levels and the ability to focus.
Multitasking is The Nemesis of Focus
When you look at all of the obstacles above, they all stem from a form of multitasking. If you want to work with focus, you need only to put your attention into that work.
Computers were designed in a way to do a lot at one time. You can have multiple browser tabs open and have different programs running at the same time.
The problem with multitasking is that you're not doing two things at once because that's impossible.
You are just switching your focus between multiple tasks constantly and getting nowhere with either.
Focus means doing one thing and concentrating on that one thing until its complete.
Stop Chasing Two Rabbits and Focus
So far we have covered focus, in terms of daily tasks. You also need to have macro focus. You can be focused on your work day to day and still not get anywhere in the long run because you have no focus with your big picture.
When I started Habit Stacker, I committed to work on helping people with Habits for 10 years. Why? Because I needed to have focus over the long run. I wanted my life mission to remain constant for a while because I have spent way too much time switching my focus.
One week I am working on one thing, then a month later its on to something else. You never succeed doing this no matter how focused you are day to day. You need to work on the same thing for a long time in order to become a huge success.
Rabbits are quick and agile animals. Chasing them is not easy. When you go after two at the same time, it makes the task damn near impossible. If you chase after one rabbit you give yourself a chance.
Hacks to Improve Your Focus
Here are a few simple things you can do to get more out of your focus.
Throw Your Phone Away
When its time to work, toss your phone out of the room. If you can, please physically throw it. When you do this, its a great reminder that its time to lock in and focus.
When you throw your phone away, you're also sending a message to your brain that the phone is gone and not available for use. Once you're doing working, you can go and grab it and use it again.
Make a List of Your Top 5 Things
Make a list of the 5 things that matter most to you. These are the 5 things that you know you want to accomplish on your deathbed.
Once you have that list, circle the one that matters the most and throw the rest of them away. To get really good at something it may take a lifetime. You don't want to chase two rabbits and let them both getaway. Pick the most important work and go after it.
Track Your Results
When you track how much you do of something, its easy to know if you are improving or getting worse. You can do the same thing with your focus. Keep a journal of your focused work time. Each time you lose focus and do something else, write down what you did and how long you drifted off. The goal is that overtime, you lose focus less and less.
Love the Process
Focus on the process is one of the sweetest hacks out there. Results come from a great process, not from focusing on a result. Would you rather believe in the person who has learned how to train like a boxer or the person who never trains and visualizes knocking someone out?
The process is what produces the results you want. You need to fall in love with the process that produces success. Anything else is just a waste of time.
Do Your One Thing
Each day, you need to have one task that is the most important task. Each day you should make sure that you get the one thing done. You will always make progress towards your goals if you get the most important task done.
It's too easy when you begin working to start on tasks that make you feel busy but not important. Being busy is not the goal; focusing on the important work is.
Manage time - Build Energy - Focus Attention
To master focus, you need to get all three of these down. Your time needs to be managed well, and you need to be able to build your energy and focus your attention. If you have focused attention and managed time but no energy, then it will not sustain itself.
Having habits and routine help you to manage your time automatically. Eating and sleeping right help you to be able to build and maintain energy. Focus comes from knowing your one thing and removing all distractions.
Do Important Work Early
When you begin each day, your willpower is at its highest point. That is why you rarely wake up and start making poor choices compared to night time. At night your willpower is often drained, and its easier to walk into temptation.
The way to take advantage of this is to do your important work early in the morning. Don't start your day with busy work. Choose one thing and make it the first thing you do each day.
Forget About Email
No checking email before noon. It's hard to do, but email is such a waste of time. Save all of the back and forth crap for after you get your important work done.
Your mind was not made to focus for hours on end. It's impossible, and you should not feel bad about taking intentional breaks. Breaks are a way for your mind to restore itself, and it also allows your willpower to build back up again.
In typical hardworking cultures are seen as being weak or a waste of time. The problem is that if you don't take breaks the quality of your work will drop off. You need time to let your mind wander and scroll on social media for a bit.
Hire Someone to Do Your Hated Tasks
You will have tasks that you have to get done but don't want to do. This is the best work to hire someone else to do. Find someone who loves that type of work and put them in charge of it. You don't want to focus on work you hate. The better you get at this, the more you will be able to focus on your best work.
Improve Your Diet
Drink more water and less of everything else. Eat more fresh foods and less fried and sugary goods. These small changes will have huge boosts in your energy levels. You are what you eat, and if you feed your body low-quality fuel, you will get low-quality results.
One of the best things you can do is focus in on whatever it is you're doing. Not only will you get it done faster, but you will produce higher quality wins. There is no downside to focus!
Focus is more about playing good defense than it is about a great offense. You have to protect your time and commitments by saying no. When you do say yes, give that all of your attention until its complete.