Although I enjoy watching a movie, resting a little bit and eating a meal, I usually always succeed to complete quality work, like for example writing this email to you today.
The reason for this is that we don’t necessarily need to work harder to get bigger results, but smarter, for example by scheduling short time slots of the kind of uninterrupted work that requires effort, creativity, and our fullest attention.
Unfortunately, to do this kind of work has become harder than ever before:
Wherever we go, the world is shouting for our attention. And nothing does this louder than our smartphone which alerts us every time we receive an email, text message or social media update.
At the same time, you must realize that our economy is changing:
We no longer get paid handsomely for mundane tasks that anyone can replicate. Instead, the world is rewarding those people who are able to continuously learn how to solve difficult problems.
In other words, the ability to focus is what will help you increase your paycheck.
So how can you learn to become more focused?
Great question, and usually you will have to read tons of books to get an answer which more often than not won’t be conclusive nor practical. Luckily I have done that for you and have detected a very simple practice that will help you experience results in weeks, if not days.
Change can be simple.
In the last 10 years, science has discovered more about the human brain than ever before. What we know now is that our brain is susceptible to change, no matter how old we are.
For example, in one study they found that violinists have bigger parts of the area in the brain responsible for the movement of their fingers. Similarly, in a different research, individuals who started a daily habit of meditation, witnessed a growth of specific parts of their neocortex- the part of the brain responsible for many things including, for example, self-regulation and positive emotions.
In fact, neuroscientist Richard Davidson argues that just as we can learn to play the piano, we can learn to improve our well-being, happiness and ability to focus.
This is what he says:
“We can intentionally shape the direction of plasticity changes in our brain. By focusing on wholesome thoughts, for example, and directing our intentions in those ways, we can potentially influence the plasticity of our brains and shape them in ways that can be beneficial.”
In short: it is through deliberate practice we can literally reprogram our brain.
Unfortunately, though, this concept of neuroplasticity also works the other way around:
Guess what happens when you continuously interrupt your work with checking emails?
You train your brain to stay alerted for distractions.
This is why it becomes so much harder to focus on things that really matter….
Now don’t understand me wrong:
I appreciate that most of us need to check emails. Most of us also have an urge to use social media. Agee all- we are humans.
So there is no point to try and stop yourself from doing so.
I tried many times and it didn’t work! I kept wanting to see if I got a new email, or what new updates I could find on Facebook.
However, I felt that I was seriously wasting my time, and in a sense, my life, and this is very frustrating for a dad. So I kept looking for better ways to keep my phone addiction in check until I came across an idea from Cal Newport, which I have called “online time blocks“.
Newport suggests that rather than trying to stop yourself from using the web, and testing the limits of your willpower, do it the other way around:
Dedicate a specific time for online activities like browsing, checking emails and being engaged with social media.
This might sound difficult and counter-intuitive, but it really isn’t.
And it also works if you need to be online a lot:
Say you expect important emails frequently, simply schedule many online blocks throughout your day– even a 5-minute session every hour if that is what it takes for you so keep up with your commitments.
But here is the key:
Plan these in advance, and stick to them.
Throughout the rest of your day, you must stop the temptation of being online.
No browsing, no emails, and no social media.
At first, this may sound limiting. We all seem to have this urge to be busy all the time, maybe fearing that without constant outside stimulation we could feel bored and lonely.
However, it does become easier over time: it is like going to the gym. The more you practice the better you become at controlling your impulses and staying focused on what matters.
And it is extremely rewarding:
By resisting the urge of instant gratification, you create more time for essential work.
More importantly, though, you are rewiring your brain so that you will be able to think clearer, become super focused and eliminate time-consuming distractions. This is how you will eventually do the deep kind of work that will help you not only outperform your competition in business, but also create stronger bonds with your loved ones.
In short, you will become:
create more time for the things you enjoy.
experience deeper interactions.
To make this as easy as possible for you, let me help you overcome two challenges you may face:
First, what do you do if suddenly you have to write an urgent email and your next block is in an hour?
Easy- get a timer and resist the urge to write for at least 5 minutes. This is brain training remember. Then write your email and reschedule your next online blocks. Again, the key is to prevent yourself from giving in to the urges to check your phone the second you hear an alert ring.
Second, can you include some exceptions?
To make this strategy work for you, you need to be practical and anticipate where things might become difficult. This is why I want you to add some ground rules.
Let me share some examples from my life:
I allow myself to use my phone outside my online time blocks:
When I meeting a friend and we are trying to find each other.
When my wife calls me.
To listen to inspirational ted talks or lectures while driving.
While traveling I increase my online time blocks and also allow myself to have my phone with me so that my family can reach me and I am able to do some work between meetings.
This is my schedule during meetings related to my tennis activities in Dubai. On the right side, you can see how I have marked 2 sessions for my online blocks between my meetings. While I don’t always manage to stick to them, I make sure I delay checking my phone for at least 5 minutes outside these times. This is how I train myself to resist giving in to the urge of playing around with my phone.
I keep these guidelines as specific and narrow as possible so I don’t waste energy deciding if a certain situation triggers them or not. Without a doubt, they are never perfect which is why I need to keep refining them on a regular basis.
However, they have helped me find the balance between becoming super focused and able to work free from distractions, with being able to use my phone whenever needed. This is what I call true freedom.
If you too want to enjoy these benefits, give this strategy a try. All you need, is introduce specific online slots, define clear potential exceptions, and stick to them.
Remember, any new routine can be a struggle initially. After all, you are training yourself to resist your conditioned temptations that have shaped your life for so many years.
And if you want to go a little deeper about optimizing the way you work, so you can get so much more time in the limited time you have, finish work daily by latest 4 pm every day, and enjoy guilt-free afternoons with your family, get your free copy of the Business-Dad Productivity guide.
In this guide, I will teach you the exact system that I’ve used to become super focused on achieving big projects and get more work done in a short period of time without neglecting my other obligations, like for example writing a bestselling book without anyone realizing when I did it.
To get access to the 30-page free guide, just leave your name and email in the box below and I’ll send it to your inbox!