When is the last time you paused from all the busyness and gave yourself a chance to be still, in the moment?
Before I managed to write this, I was sitting in front of my computer researching on today’s topic and I allowed myself to be pulled into the Youtube universe. I watched some inspiring videos and without even noticing one hour had passed. It felt so good in the moment, which made it incredibly hard to stop (especially since I am my own boss). Yet, I know better! I know that this makes me focus on input rather than output.
So I forced myself to close my browser and I opened my favorite non-distraction writing tool (Ulysses). This is the magical moment when I choose creation over distraction and consumption. Without these moments of discipline, I would not be able to write and share my thoughts.
Why focusing is difficult
Attention is our most valuable resource. Everyone is fighting for it. It is the currency of social media. And if you are not careful you will be sucked into a deep rabbit hole of distraction that is designed to make you hooked.
Fun fact: Did you know that social media companies hire “attention engineers” with the single-minded goal of maximizing your attention?
And since no one else will manage your attention for you, I would like to argue that focus is the single most valuable skill for the 21st century.
Only Deep Work creates real value
Cal Newport wrote the book “Deep Work” to talk about the difference between shallow work and “Deep Work” and makes a case that we need to develop the skill to focus on intensive concentrated work if we want to be successful in business and life.
Deep work requires you to step away, clear time in your agenda and sit down without distractions, and focus only on that one thing for a minimum period of 2h. This kind of work is uncomfortable and therefore requires the training of your mind, but it’s the only way to make real progress.
Deep work also gives your life more purpose than checking off endless to-do lists. It nurtures our inherent need to create something unique in this world.
Productivity for fools
The reason shallow work is reinforced in the corporate world is that you appear productive when you respond to hundreds of emails and attend countless meetings. But while you are busy doing a lot of stuff, you might not really produce anything of significance.
There is the illusion that something that can be checked off quickly means you are being productive.
7 Effective strategies for more focus
Here are some strategies and tools to increase your focus. I am sure you have heard about all of them, yet you probably have not made them your practice. So I challenge you to take action when you finish reading this article.
1. Capture your three priorities first thing in the morning
Before you turn on your computer or read any emails in the morning, take out a clean sheet of paper and write down all the important things you want to work on that day. Then choose the top three to focus on. Ignore the rest. You will see how productive you will become with this hack.
2. Mono-task on emails only at certain intervals
Only check your emails at certain times a day and focus on just reading, answering and writing emails in “machine-gun style”. Ideally, put a time cap on these slots. If you get any push back, add an auto-response email with your regular email slots.
3. Say no and renegotiate your priorities
Sometimes we commit to things because saying no would be more difficult than just doing it. But this is taking valuable time away from you. Learn to say no and renegotiate expectations with your boss or family.
4. Adopt the mantra “Create before you consume.”
For each thing you consume as input, make sure you have created something beforehand. Rather than just blocking inspiring input altogether, this hack gives you a tangible reward for each piece of value you create.
5. Break the stimulus-response cycle
Don’t immediately open emails or messages as they fly in. Be mindful that you stay on task when you are working on something. Turn on “do not disturb” mode when you are doing deep work. And for more sustained results, remove notifications on your phone.
6. Quit some of your social media
You are probably following people on several channels. This eats valuable time away without you even noticing. Take a step back and reflect on what value each social media channel is providing you with. If it’s purely for entertainment purposes, is it worth the cost? Are all of the social media channels you use essential?
7. Capture all your projects and match them with your big goals
Make a mind map or list of all the things you need to do. Then think about your big goals in life and how the projects and tasks fit with your desired future. Mark your top 3 priorities. If you have a boss, review your priorities with her/him and negotiate to remove things off your list to create more value.
Busyness is the death of meaningful progress
Busyness and cramming things in our full agendas lead to overwhelm and exhaustion.
I believe that busyness is a symptom of not wanting to deal with uncomfortable things, like saying no or making difficult choices in your life.
Are you relentlessly chasing items on your to-do list without taking a moment to pause and re-evaluate if you are actually happy in your life?
You have the same time each day as the most inspiring and successful people on the planet. The difference lies in how you make use of your time.
Take. more. time. to. create.