focus-toolstopWe live in a world that has been optimized for distraction and short attention spans (squirrel!). Finding focus in this environment is definitely an uphill battle, but it’s the difference between being a lamp and a laser.

Focus is essential to becoming more productive, creative, and successful. When you hear the stories of the most accomplished people in the world, there are almost always two things that they have in common – focus and persistence.

In his book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell identified the “10,000 hour” principal. Whether Bill Gates or the Beatles, to become a “master” you need to spend approximately 10,000 hours honing your skills. If you do the math, it’s clear that you’d have to focus on your craft for the better part of every day – to the exclusion of almost everything else – for many years.

So what are you focusing on? What priorities have your attention to the exclusion of others? Regardless of whether your goal is to be the best or just your best, applying a couple of simple focus principles will start improving your results and your overall ROE (return on energy) – immediately!

The Power of No

I’ve heard it said that “strategy is not about what you say yes to, it’s about what you say no to.” Focus is all about saying no. It is about saying no to everything else outside the task at hand – email, phone calls, interruptions, cats playing piano, etc, etc, etc. It’s a simple approach: One thing at a time.

Cutting edge brain science has shown us that we are physically incapable of multitasking. I hate to break that news, especially to those of you who pride yourself on your multitasking prowess. Even the most efficient task-switchers are adding 20%-50% more time to each task. It is a huge waste of your most precious resource.

Of course some people have no choice. If you are an air traffic controller or if you have three small children in the house, multitasking is essential. But for those of us who have a choice, focus opens the door to your most productive, efficient, creative performance.

Ping Junkies

Our always on, always connected technology culture has created a lot of addicts. Many of us have (whether we admit it or not) become addicted to the immediate short-term buzz (or ping) of incoming email or text messages. We let them interrupt whatever we are doing – ever hopeful that it is something good and exciting (usually not).

This is a key area where taking control of your habits can yield big results. Try relegating your email/phone mail checking to specific times. You’ll be amazed a how much immediate difference it will make in your productivity, creativity, and decision-making.

Focus Locus

Working in focused sprints of 1.5-2 hours is optimal, but to start training your mental muscle – your focused attention – try stringing together a few 30 minute focus sessions. Shut off your phone and email, and remove all other distractions, whether digital or biological (you know who you are). Focus on your top priorities. You will probably want to quickly expand those 30-minute periods once you reacquaint yourself with the power of focus. I’ve found that 1-2 hour sprints, with a break in between, is a very productive, creative rhythm that I can keep up pretty much all day long.

By simply becoming aware of how you are using your focused attention and how you can consciously limit distraction, you can improve your performance and results. It’s the difference between being a lamp and a laser.