Ability to Focus

The Ability to Focus On One Thing Will Make You Unstoppable

The curse every creative person has is his desire to start more things that he can actually finish. There is always this cool new idea in his mind that sounds way better than the current project he is working on. I feel the same way a lot of times. Fortunately, I was able to cleanse myself from this curse. Now, I know, that 1 complete, and decently designed thing, is way than 10 mediocre ones.

No doubt that you’ve heard that the ability to focus will make your more productive and more efficient person, which will potentially earn you more money and probably make you a happier citizen of the modern world.

You don’t have to be a Harvard graduate to know this.

But even though we know this is true, yet again, we let our mind drift away and blur the project we’re currently working on with small tasks that are insignificant.

Probably even now, while you read these words you have 10 other thoughts trying to break the imaginary barrier you placed so they can scramble your mind with different things.

Today, we’re going to explore the reasons we’re so easily distracted and how mastering the ability to focus can change your life.

Why We Do A lot of Things Simultaneously?

Before anything else, let’s take a moment and explore the reasons we end up doing so many things all at once.

There are several easily explainable reasons on why we want to do a lot of things at the same time:

  • Multitasking: There is this modern term called multitasking that everyone is geeking about and it seems like if you’re not doing this you’re falling behind. Even though juggling a few small tasks shouldn’t be a problem for our sophisticated body and mind (e.g. drinking coffee and writing words), trying to even think about two different projects at the same time will give you a headache.
  • Not enough time: Deadlines that seemed months away soon become tomorrow and we start working on several things all out once thinking that we can cheat time in some imaginary way.
  • Fear of failure: We fear that we’ll fail if we don’t constantly produce something new. Hustle is the new normal work mode. At least that’s what the internet people say: “You need to hustle hard bro!”
  • So much to do: The most common reason is simply the fact that there is so much shit to be done that your head can’t figure out what to prioritize and what to leave for later. That’s why your body acts on auto-pilot and starts shifting from task to task, hoping that the pile of things will eventually end. But it never ends. It multiplies because the things you’ve done aren’t probably any good and a lot of times you need to do them once again.

Except what I mentioned above, there is one more reason why we put so many to-do things on our plate:

We don’t know what’s truly important

Besides keeping your family safe, secure and well fed, what are your main priorities in life? What are you big 3 things you should focus on daily to move the needle a bit closer to your desired future?

Often we don’t know the answer to this question. Or, we think we know but we’re actually deceiving ourselves with false desires.1

A lot of people don’t have a clear idea of what their most important goals in life are. They can’t find clarity and they end up doing the same things they usually do: they procrastinate.

And as I mentioned in one of my previous articles, procrastination has never been so much fun.

A simple internet connection can help you waste an entire day. Even reading books is a form of procrastination. A well disguised one.2

Why It’s Hard To Focus?

Imagine each new day as a clean slate where there is still nothing but your own existence. Something like this:

We start each new day with a clean slate. The more things we put on the canvas the harder it will become for us to focus.
We start each new day with a clean slate. The more things we put on the canvas the harder it will become for us to focus.

The moment you wake up is the moment new things start piling up. Your brain wants something to think about and before you know it, the clean slate is no longer clean. It already has a few things that are processing:

  • Social media posts;
  • TV news;
  • What to wear?
  • Who will drive the kids to the kindergarten?
  • What to have for breakfast?
  • What to have for dinner?
  • What email do I need to answer first?

Before you know it, you’re juggling few things in your mind and few others with your hands.

No long after we're awake, our mind is flooded with all kinds of tasks: small, medium, big juicy tasks. Of course, it's impossible to handle all of them. We need to choose which ones are really important.
No long after we’re awake, our mind is flooded with all kinds of tasks: small, medium, big juicy tasks. Of course, it’s impossible to handle all of them. We need to choose which ones are really important.

The simple answer to the question “Why is so hard to focus” is a composition of these two things: First, because in reality, there are indeed a ton of shit that have to be done in a day. Second, because it’s really hard to withhold our body and mind from going in another direction.

If you’re a parent you can’t escape some from some chores. You will have to, somehow, entertain your kids, feed them, go to work, read them stories, entertain your wife, fix stuff around the house while you try to pursue a meaningful career.

And when we’re finally done with changing diapers, grocery shopping, cleaning the house and we sit on our desk to begin writing our new article, record a video, finish a presentation, the real problem emerges.

We can’t gather our thoughts to produce the thing we want!

We get lost somewhere along the way and focusing on a particular task seems impossible. 

Why it’s hard to focus on one project?

Most creatives, entrepreneurs, hustlers, online influencers, start a lot of things but they only finish a few if actually something is ever complete.

Creatives, in particular, have a vivid imagination. You can’t blame them. Their brain is flooded with thoughts, ideas, colors, abstract things all of which are causing an overload. They want to let go of these thoughts and the only way to do this is to make them a reality. But once a picture is painted, an article is written, an idea is put into action, the brain quickly fills the whole with something new. Which in a lot of cases seems better than what they’ve already made or started.

Therefore, they quickly abandoned the previous project and pursue the new thing. 

Entrepreneurs and hustlers, on the other hand, think that more products equals more customers, which will translate into more money. They start a lot of things, thinking that each individual item will produce them a lot of money.

In theory, this is kind of correct. But in reality, a person, or a company has a limited amount of resources. This includes time, money, staff, etc.

So when a company or a creative person starts to work on several things it looks something like this:

If we work on several projects all at once we’ll produce mediocre outcome if we ever create something at all. A lot of times, our times will be wasted.

Our desire to focus on a couple of projects slows down the completion of all of them and usually leads to a dead end.

Why The Ability to Focus is the Answer?

The ability to focus is what separates the pro player from the amateur.

Take a look at the people who are experts and such we call professionalists. They all have this ability to concentrate on one specific task, project till they’ve mastered it:

One of the things that made Michal Jordan the best basketball player of all time is the ability to focus on the little things. During his basketball career, he told himself to focus on the little things because little things added up to big things.

Tiger Woods most impressive mental strength, as other people who observed his career for decades put it, is his ability to focus: “He knows exactly what he wants to do, and he knows how he wants to go about it. Tiger’s not different than anybody – he’s just better than everybody. It’s not that he doesn’t get nervous like other guys do – he just handles it better. It’s not that he doesn’t have negative thoughts like other guys do – he processes them better.”

Steve Jobs was famous for his ability to say No to good ideas, so he can say Yes to great ideas. He ended one of the “top 100” retreats, where the creators of Apple brainstormed new ideas, by saying No to the bottom 7 out of the 10 project ideas the crew put on a whiteboard. Why spend money, time and resource on 10 ideas where you can focus on 3 things and make them perfect.

When you put all of your efforts towards one thing, you’re going to make it better and faster:

If we focus on one project, we’ll create a better product, faster.

The problem here is that it’s hard. It’s damn hard when the phone rings, someone message you on Facebook, you have a meeting with your boss and a couple of emails that are tagged important are shouting for your attention.

We all know that we need to focus. We all heard all the stories of successful people who focus and they are great and all but how can you actually do it? That’s the really important question.

How to become more focused creatures in this busy world?

Blocking distractions will make you unstoppable but you first need to learn how to conquer your brain, and more particularly your thoughts.

Thanks to the advance of humanity and the modern devices, we now have more distractions that we could ever wish for.

The effects of technological advancement are both positive and negative. Positive: there are so many things we can do. Negative: there are so many things we can do.

But don’t throw away your smartphone or cut the cable TV just yet. It’s not only your smartphone that is preventing you from doing more work. In reality, there are only two things you need to master to become the ruler of your own thoughts.

The main two types of distraction factors that are attacking us daily are: sensory and emotional.

Let’s look at them one by one:

Sensory Distractions

This type of disorder involves everything that it’s around you. Our surroundings basically. There are many environmental elements that are affecting us: crowding, noise, the technology as we mentioned, the explosive growth of information, a dog that barks somewhere near you, a baby crying in an airplane, the sun or a bright light, when someone is talking to you, a smell of a meal, someone is touching you.

All factors that are affecting you in a way that it’s outside of yourself.

Let me give you a brief example:

When you enter the office, you see your colleagues talking in the corner of the floor. They wave at you and you go to talk to them. You have a nice chit chat and after a couple of minutes, you go to your desk. You open your laptop and start going through your emails. While you read the emails, you notice that your phone is still inside your pocket. You reach for it and while you’re holding it, you decide to check what’s happening in the online world. Suddenly, a smell of a fresh cake reaches you.

In the above scenario, the following things are sensory distractions: Your colleagues that waved at you; The actual conversation with them; The emails you see; Your phone; The smell of the freshly baked cake.

How to handle Sensory Distractions?

The easiest way to handle the outside world, focus on what you want to do and get more things done will be to lock yourself in a room with only the work you need to complete. If possible, make the room soundproof so no outside noise will reach your ears.

Of course, this is nearly impossible. If you work in an office I’m sure that your boss won’t be quite happy if you tell him that you need a separate room, that’s also soundproof, so you can do your job properly.

You need to simply find a way to mute the outside world. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Wear headphones while you do important work;
  • Put your phone on an airplane mode;
  • Block social media on your laptop;3
  • Eat something when you go to the office. This way you won’t be seduced by tasty smells;
  • Keep your surroundings clutter free;
  • Have clear goals when you start working.

I’ve put together a practical guide actually for becoming more productive. You can see it here: Productivity workbook.

These type of distractions are kind of easy to handle compared to what’s next:

Emotional Distractions

Clearing out your email box will require time but it’s not impossible to be done.

However, it’s way harder to block the thoughts that are inside your own head so you can focus on a project.

Emotional distractions are the ones inside our brain. If you’re overwhelmed by negative emotions, you’re stressed, you’re feeling sadness, persistent anger, fear, anxiety, or guilt, you won’t be really productive.

These are all emotions distractions. Your feelings. Your thoughts: “Did I turn off the oven” kind of thoughts.

These distractions are the ones that are really slowing us down.

Let’s imagine the same situation as above: You enter the office and you see your colleagues…

Emotional distractions might be the following: Your colleagues mentioned that someone today will be fired. Even if you’re doing your job OK and you don’t have to worry about your position, your mind will try to figure out who will be this person; While you go through your emails you hear someone mentioning your name in the background. You immediately turn around to see who is that person because your mind is restless till it finds out; While you check your Facebook feed you see that your best friend just got engaged and your mind goes: “No one loves me; I’m going to die alone; Should I call my ex and try to make things alright? It’s probably my fault that we broke up?”

How to handle Emotional Distractions?

Emotional distractions are difficult to handle even for a well balanced and self-aware person.

It’s hard, sometimes nearly impossible, to block thoughts related to a recent loss of a relative, a breakup, divorce, financial losses.

Such thougths attack us for a reason: to figure out what are we going to do with our lives. How are we going to handle these situations?

For example, if you recently lost 10,000 dollars on a poker game, your mind will daily remind you about this. Especially if your wife doesn’t know about it yet.

“What should I do? Should I tell her? How will I earn that money back?”

The best course of action in this situation will be to come clean with your wife and take future measures. Probably you need to talk with someone about your gambling addiction?

The way to handle emotional distractions and prevent them from sabotaging your ability to focus will depend on the situation. Still, here are a few tips that you might consider:

  • Write down what’s on your mind: Or the so-called brain dump. Keeping a journal about thoughts that are constantly circling inside your mind is a good way to start. This will give you visual of what are your problems/worries and allow you to search for a way to handle them;
  • Learn to let go: There is a reason your ex is your, well, ex. Becoming careless about past decisions can save your life;
  • Don’t avoid facing your fears: Face them. The more you postpone something, the more you’ll think about it. Thoughts will come back to you like a boomerang till you stand in front of what scares you;
  • Don’t expose yourself to a lot of things: If you expose your mind to a lot of things it will naturally think about a lot of things. For instance, If you chat with 10 people at the same time, you will enter their world for a bit and their worries will become your worries;
  • Take a break: Unplug for awhile. Go for a walk in nature. This will earn you time and also allow you to fight with your inner demons;
  • Share with people: The most simple technique. Simply talking with other people will make things better. That’s why there are AA meetups, divorce meetups, procrastinator meetups, even kinky meetups.4
  • Shift your focus: So, the next time you’re thinking about your ex, force your mind to also consider the reasons why you broke up. After you remember, shift your focus and your attention back to your prime task. If your mind still wanders after a couple of mites, repeat this process. Slap yourself in the head if you have two. Everything that will wake you up from the cryosleep.

Conclusion

The ability to focus, concentrate your body and your mind towards specific tasks will make you ultra productive. There is no doubt of that.

The hard part is actually doing it. Clearing your mind from all the thoughts that are knocking, waiting for your attention.

Letting go, meditating, clearing the clutter, and working in a cabin in the woods with no wi-fi are good solutions. But are not an easy solution.

Imagine the ability to focus like a muscle, if you don’t train it, it will stay weak and clumsy. If you practice though, you will make it sharp and you will be finally able to laser focus on a specific task and become unstoppable.

Cover photo by Paul Gilmore.


Footnotes:

  1. A lot of times we think that more money is what we want but money alone can’t make us happier. We need to figure out what we really want to feel better.
  2. A lot of people think that reading alone can make them smarter and richer. But in reality, it won’t. You need to practice what you’ve learned to get better.
  3. You might also consider unfollowing everyone on Facebook.
  4. I was kind of surprised about the last.
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