The Advantage of Focus for Productivity, Joy and Exponential Results.
This month my Coach.me VIP group is focused on single-tasking. Details and a free offer at the bottom of this post.
I used to live and die by my todo list. Then I became obsessed with my tools, hoping that an app like Wunderlist would improve my productivity.
There is a productivity secret that goes way beyond the above. It’s called single-tasking.
If you adopt a single-tasking mindset you will learn faster, get more done, and do deeper work. You will appear to be a genius to the multi-taskers that surround you.
In short, single-tasking leads to powerful focus and this focus is the one true path to exponential productivity. Everything else you know about productivity is an incremental change. This is an actual rocket ship.
Don’t be this…
Have you ever worked with someone that has decades of experience but still isn’t very good.
In the high performance concept of Deliberate Practice, we call these people “experienced non-experts.”
These are people who have practiced a skill or profession for thousands of hours and yet are no better than when they began. What a waste!
Don’t be an experienced non-expert.
Do this instead…
Focus on optimizing a specific brain rewiring.
Here’s a lay explanation of something important going on in your brain.
When you repeatedly exercise a neural pathway in your brain, the neural fibers in that pathway grow additional protective myelin. You can think of this as locking in a new super power.
The myelin makes that particular neural pathway stronger — which means you can call on it again and again. In other words, you’ll have learned something.
The problem is that it takes sustained focus to trigger the myelin growth. Multi-tasking actually interrupts that path so that you never learn anything.
That’s the explanation of the experienced non-expert. They diddled around without accomplishing anything inside their brain.
So, obviously, you want to be a single-tasker instead.
Who are the great single-taskers?
- Warren Buffett. Instead of wheeling-and-dealing all day, he spends hours each day simply reading other company’s financial reports.
- Stephen King. He sits down every day and writes 2,000 words. Sometimes he finishes at 1pm, sometimes at 4pm. He’s prolific without ever pulling an all-nighter.
- Oprah. A practitioner of radical focus — boosted by smart delegation.
- Jack Dorsey. CEO of two companies — a very challenging situation — manages by theming his days. Monday for management, Tuesday for product, Wednesday for marketing.
There are three fundamental rules that put you on the path to increased focus.
The “Touch It Once” Rule
This is the first rule. If you’re going to work on something, work on it until it’s done.
The No Distractions Rule
External interruptions are not ok. Check your email when you decide to check your email. The only alert you want in your life is the fire alarm.
However, the good news is that you can opt out of this world by redesigning your environment.
The Pro-active Calendar Rule
Single-tasking leads to deep work and deep work requires large blocks of time. You say you have to be reactive to the people around you? This is your tradeoff: be a people pleaser with mediocre results or be pro-active about managing your calendar so you can achieve excellence.
Single-taskers are pro-active about managing their calendar.
Make the Change
I’m going to make the change with a group of people as part of my VIP coaching group. For four weeks we will:
- Redesign our environment, and especially our phones, to minimize interruptions.
- Take control of our calendar to defrag meetings and optimize for deep work.
- Take control of our minds, training for focused excellence.
Follow These Steps:
To get started, do the following:
1. Head over to the VIP Group.
2. Enter the promo code VIPJUNE. This will get you the first week free. Stay after that if you’re experiencing radical growth. Leave if you aren’t — no obligations.
3. I coach the group through original research and through the Q&A. Be active, learn the skills, follow the exercises. This is fun and powerful work to improve your life.
4. We don’t always do this, but at the end I’m going to give out a few awards and prizes. These are small things — but I want to acknowledge some the amazing work people in this group do.
P.S. if you’re going to skip joining the group, do this two part self-study instead:
- Follow Tristan Harris and read Reboot Your Phone With Mindfulness
- Buy and read Deep Work by Cal Newport
- Follow Linda Stone. And read the Email Apnea and Continuous Partial Attention posts that I referenced above.
- Remove all alarms, attention grabbers, and slot machines from your life.
- Schedule your email and social media time.
- Defrag your life so that like things are grouped together. Most business people should consider a bi-modal day where email & meetings are one half of the day and writing and producing is the other half of the day. You may have heard this called Manager’s Schedule vs. Maker’s Schedule.
At this point, the world will have stopped conspiring against you to prevent focus. That’s half the battle.
The second half of the battle is becoming a person who has the skill of focusing. Here are some tips.
- Develop a meditation practice. This is the purest form of awareness and control over your mind (essentially meditation is you doing mental pushups).
- Value intensity over volume. Here’s example from one of my coaching clients who wanted to fix his procrastination problem so that he could write his dissertation for 8 hours a day. My first challenge to him was simply how fast could he go from sitting at his desk to writing one sentence. That flipped his goal from volume to intensity and he finished his dissertation on two hours of work per day. (Full version of that story here).
- Use the rules above: manage your calendar, for each project “touch it once,” religiously turn off distractions during your focused time.