Principles of Extreme Focus
I used to be so hyperactive and talkative that my mom’s favorite game to play with me was called-
See how long you can hold your breathe.
Like an stupid overly excited ball fetching golden retriever I was always ready to play this game.
Luckily for my mom this provided a brief respite from my incessant talking and hypothetical questions.
Focus hasn’t exactly been my strong suit and I’m sure many of you can agree it doesn’t get better as you get older. We have more to do, more to worry about and thanks to technology even more to keep us distracted.
With a world so overloaded with information, how can we find focus? Neurology researchers have found that:
Our brains are taking in about 11 millions bits of information per second
Luckily most of that is filtered into manageable streams of consciousness. These streams of consciousness provide us with focus which we can be directed towards the completion of certain tasks.
In the next 10 points I’m going to show you some absolutely awesome proven methods to increase your focus by 10,000,000,000%. ( I arbitarily chose this number because it’s large. Sorry it’s not based on anything)
Your mission while you are reading this:
How can I implement these into my life?
Step 1: Know the Why.
Have you ever started out a new task only to encounter a small setback or idea that frustrates you into not doing anything?
Anyone undertaking a challenge can be easily subject to emotional distractions that are yelling in our ears, “but this, but that, this won’t work”.
It’s easy to jump from one task to another in an honest but disorganized attempt to try to improve.
This is why knowing, WHY you are doing whatever it is you’re doing, is important.
Popularized by Simon Sinek’s best seller, “Start With Why”, the idea of understanding the SOLE MOTIVE behind your project or mission will provide absolute guiding clarity.
It sounds pretty simple, but when faced with information overload and challenges knowing the WHY becomes even more important.
It provides the clarity, discipline and consistency to make you ultra focused.
Knowing the why will;
- a) Keep you focused in the direction you want
- b) Keep you motivated
Solution : Why not write a little manifesto or why you’re attempting to accomplish whatever goal it is.
Make an actionable plan that is broken into sections.
Example: by the end of this week I will accomplish:
Tasks 1-20 (physically write them down)
I prefer using a giant white board for this as the constant physical reminder is like a mother reminding me to do my homework or clean the bathroom.
Weekly is the best in my opinion. It’s a great way to feel awesome at the end of the week.
Next, try to extend that into monthly segments as well. So from a weekly one to a monthly one.
Use Parkinson’s Law
Think giving yourself a lot of time to accomplish a task ensures it being done well and thoroughly? Think again!
Parkinson’s Law, originally used to examine inconsistencies in the British Civil Service says, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
So basically it means more available time means more time wasted. Give yourself a short duration of time and you’ll force yourself to get it done.
Use this law to hack your completion time by basically making you pull all nighters like you were back in college studying for Anatomy 101. It works.
Multitasking is something you are terrible at.
Sorry. It’s true.
Think you can engage in a Facebook group chat, write a report and cook grilled cheese at the same time? Maybe, but know that you aren’t doing it efficiently.
But computers can multitask right? Our brains are like computers, aren’t they?
Computers can’t multitask.
What they can do is called, time slicing. It basically involves the CPU switching incredibly quickly between two tasks. The brain works the same way.
What you think is multitasking is actually your brain switching very quickly.
In research published in Brain: The Journal of Neurology researchers showed, “Humans are generally not really very good at conducting multiple tasks simultaneously.”
So turn your Facebook chat off.
Other research by Clifford Nass about multitasking and brain function, stated;
We were absolutely shocked. We all lost our bets. It turns out that multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking.
Subsequent brain scans revealed
Brain scans showed subjects effectively switching from one area of the brain to the other while completing various tasks, NOT completing them simultaneously
Stop eating so much information.
We live in a world of ever increasing information.
It’s a beautiful thing, but access to too much information simply hijacks your brain. Instead of getting getting the info we need we get a mix mash of irrelevant crap.
The low information diet proposed by author Timothy Ferris in the 4 Hour Workweek involves cutting the information fat out of your diet.
All that superfluous info, news, updates. You don’t need it.
Stick to facts. Stop surfing the Internet. Turn off the radio/TV.
I used to read 2-3 books at once, until I realized that I was basically retaining ZERO percent of it.
Focus on one thing and keep your focus laser sharp.
Use the Pareto principle
Also called the 80/20 rule. This simple but EXTREMELY important rule was founded in 1886 by Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto.
He found that regardless of what you measured, from profits to plants growing in a garden that-
80 % of effects come from 20 % of causes.
Apply that to business and time management, it means your results will be disproportionately skewed to a few certain activities.
These may be activities that you excel at or resources that are exceptionally helpful.
This might sound a little abstract now. Once you have identified what you goals are, be observant of what activity or method brings you the most success. Focus on those and exclude the ones that slow you down.
We covered this a bit, but let’s do it again.
Distractions come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. Put your cell phone away. Turn off your Internet if you’re writing.
Remember that every time you are distracted it takes a few minutes to get back on the focus train.
Studies concluded that people performed post-interruption tasks more slowlycompared to pre-interruption performance. They also found that people mademore errors in post-interruption performance.
Although there has been some controversy over these findings, I know I focus best in a specific situation/time.
For me this comes right after working out and eating something (maybe it has something to do with all that delicious satisfying starch). Either way my ADHD is appeased if only temporarily and I can write effectively.
Find your focus zone. I can’t tell you what yours is. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning or perhaps it’s an overly crowded fashionable cafe. Experiment. Find out.
Use the HIT method
HIT – means High Intensity Training, basically extremely focused work for a small duration of time followed by a rest period.
I use this same approach for writing or blogging. Try using a thirty minute window. Work your ass off for 30 minutes then go do something else.
Intermittent breaks keep your brain fresh and make you be able to work longer.
Exercise and Sleep
Clearly everyone knows that regular exercise and sleep help us focus. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of this. Here’s your reminder.
Getting a full night of sleep and regular exercise 4-5 times per week can serve to supercharge your focus.
Attempting to do work when you’re half rested will more than likely lead to either sloppy work or more mistakes that you must fix later.
Sleep deprivation has been thoroughly researched with most research fairly conclusively saying;
People who are exposed to sleep loss usually experience a decline in cognitive performance and changes in moodYou brain isn’t going to work well if you have no fuel in the tank.
Rest up. Don’t be stupid.
It’s not so much about the hours invested but rather the quality of that invested time. Regular sleep and exercise ensures your brain will be running at full capacity.
Setting goals is easy but completing them is much harder.
Having a system for making sure you complete them is important.
Here are a couple of suggestions:
A mastermind group is a group of individuals who work in a similar field and set up weekly meeting times to discuss projects and keep each other accountable. This is a good form of social pressure to make sure you keep on track.
Make a Schedule
We talked about making a schedule, broken down into weekly and monthly components. But there is a little twist. Share your schedule. Either with your customers in the form of a product release schedule ( wordpress app available for this ) or with a few close friends. Adding this social element of pressure helps.
But if you say it make sure you MEAN it.
Don’t be the person who always says, “I’ve decide that from now on… “
Studies show that sharing your goals with others immediately before EVEN starting to do anything about them sabotage your chances of actually doing anything.
Research by Peter Gollwitzer showed;
On the basis of this work, Gollwitzer and his colleagues hypothesized that even if others notice only our plans for identity-relevant activities, we might also feel closer to having achieved our identity goals. Because we then feel closer to having achieved our identity goals, we may feel less of a need to actually enact those behaviors
Getting that initial encouragement from our friends and peers doesn’t help you. Unless you are super committed, keep your goals to yourself.
Congratulations you’re now supercharged.
I know that was a bit long, but hopefully you asked yourself the question I brought up at the beginning.
How can I implement some of these in my own life?
Remember these are all tested methods that will seriously increase your focus.
If ten steps seems like a bit much, that’s fine. Just pick one. Implement it. See how it works.
We live in a world of every increasing distraction and information. With that also comes the unparalleled ability to leverage information from countless sources to make that focused attention that much more effective.