In this article, I’ll share the exact process that I use in order to work with laser focus for longer periods of time, without getting distracted. I dare to say that implementing a deep focus session in my work day has boosted my productivity levels like no other productivity hack over the past few months.
Through my focus process, I’m able to complete my most valuable tasks both much faster and of much higher quality — simply because I can direct all of my mental resources towards the task, without getting distracted.
In fact, a study led by Harvard showed that the average knowledge worker spends 47% of his or her day in a state of (semi)distraction. In other words, when you learn how to focus well, you can get the same exact task done twice as fast. This is like completing a 4-hour task in merely 2-hours.
Our ability to focus is rapidly declining because technology is wiring our brain to seek instant gratification (it’s exactly how social media is designed for example). Therefore, focusing on just one thing for more than an hour is something that the brain finds incredibly boring, as it doesn’t provide you with as much dopamine hits compared to most other things.
Because the ability to focus is declining so rapidly, it becomes an increasingly more valuable skill. Those who are able to focus without getting distracted 47% of the day are going to be the ones who will be rewarded disproportionally.
Step 1: Work At Your Peak Biological Time (PBT)
Focusing intensely costs a lot of mental energy, so you need to make sure that you do it at a time where you have the most energy. In fact, when you try to focus while you’re low on energy, you’re going to have a hard and frustrating time.
You need to use your willpower to focus on just one thing and not get distracted along the way. Tapping into your willpower and attention is energy draining, so you absolutely need to do it when your mind is sharp and energized. For me, that’s between 09:00 and 11:00.
I don’t do any other work (or check email or social media) before I do my first hyperfocus session of the day. This way, my brain is fully energized to do deep work for about 2 hours in a row without getting distracted.
When you try to focus for longer periods of time while you’ve already checked your email 14 times, scrolled through 27 Instagram posts and worked on a few other tasks, your brain has already spent a lot of energy on processing these tasks. Therefore, it’ll be much hard to work with laser focus — your brain is simply too energy drained to handle it.
Step 2: Remove All Possible Distractions
It’s been proven by research that in order to reach the deeper levels of focus, you must eliminate all external distractions. Every time you get distracted, you’ll be taken further away from deep levels of focus.
And we get distracted a lot: RescueTime has researched that the average knowledge worker checks email 55 times per day and instant messaging apps about 77 times per day.
Furthermore, a study by Gloria Mark showed that, on average, each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given projects before being interrupted. All in all, distractions are the number one enemy of intense focus and peak productivity.
As it takes about 10 to 15 minutes of undivided attention to fully get ‘in the zone’, it’s critical that you remove all distractions. And if you want to sustain this zone-like focus, you need to put your phone away and disable all alerts and notifications (as this is the biggest source of distractions nowadays), close all social media & email tabs, remove all unnecessary files and objects from your workspace and preferably go to a quiet environment. This will protect you from being disrupted and allows you to enter a state of hyperfocus.
In fact, whenever you get distracted it takes on average 25 minutes (according to research) to gain back your full attention on the task at hand. This is because of something called ‘attention residue’, which implies that some of your attention is still left behind at the previous task or distraction that you were dealing with.
Internal distractions can be equally disruptive. If there’s something on your mind that distracts you, write it down, journal about it or do a 10-minute meditation in order to clear your mind. When to-do’s or other important thoughts come up during your deep focus, write them down quickly on a notepad to get them out of your head. Keeping these thoughts in your head is disastrous for your ability to focus as they keep pulling for your attention when they’re not stored onto paper.
Step 3: Hydrate Sufficiently
One of the simplest but most overlooked ways to improve the performance of your brain (and thereby focus much more intensely with ease) is to drink enough water.
The brain consists of 75% of water, so it’s no wonder that we start to experience immediate effects when we don’t drink enough water. I always ask people who feel sluggish, unfocused and low on energy if they drank enough water and the answer is almost always no.
In short, drinking enough water makes sure the energy production of the brain is functioning well, while not drinking enough leads to lower energy production, leaving you to feel foggy, fatigued and not sharp. All of which leads to heavily decreased productivity levels and make it harder to focus deeply for long periods of time.
Step 4: Get Clear On Your Exact Objective
Whenever you lack clarity about what exactly you want to accomplish, your brain will struggle to get into optimum concentration. Therefore, clearly set out what you’d like to accomplish to avoid this mental hurdle.
When you have a clear outcome or goal, you make sure you prevent mind wandering and internal distractions. If you don’t have a clear outcome, you don’t know exactly when you’re finished with your task. Procrastination loves it when this lack of clarity exists, as it’ll try to push you towards quitting earlier or switch to easier tasks instead.
Therefore, pick one specific task that you’re going to work on and define beforehand when it’s accomplished. Maybe it’s writing a blogpost, recording or editing a video, recording a podcast episode, writing copy or designing an awesome logo. Be very clear about what exactly you’re going to work on.
Preferably work with laser focus on your most important tasks. Focusing intensely costs a lot of mental energy, which is a finite resource. Therefore, spend it wisely. Personally, I always go in hyperfocus mode for writing my Medium posts, as that’s my most important task at this moment in time.
Step 5: Single Task Instead of Multi-Tasking
As mentioned before, it takes about 25 minutes (according to research) to gain back your full attention on the task at hand after you got distracted or switched from another task. This is because of something called ‘attention residue’, which implies that some of your attention is still left behind at the previous task or distraction that you were dealing with.
In other words, this means that you should avoid multi-tasking like the plague. You literally can’t reach the deepest levels of focus when you’re multi-tasking, merely because of the attention residue. Instead, pick out one very clear task (such as writing a blogpost, creating chapter X of an report or creating your salespage) and work only on that task that during your hyperfocus session.
Step 6: Set A Time-Limit For Yourself
Another key element is to set a clear time limit for your focus session. When you don’t know exactly how long you’ll need to focus, you’ll feel a lot more resistance towards it and you may experience more mind wandering. As your mind doesn’t like the ambiguity of the situation, it tries to distract you and pull you towards working with less intensity (in order to preserve energy and avoid the uncomfortable).
Therefore, set a clear time limit for your focus session so that (1) it becomes less intimidating and (2) you give your mind a clear structure and guideline to follow. Preferably, work no longer than 2.5 hours in a row as after this time your brain will have a much harder time to focus. It’s recommended that you take a 5–10 minute break every hour that you work in order to recharge and fuel your brain with the necessary energy to focus intensely again.
In the beginning, it can be already hard to focus for 30 minutes if you’re not used to it. That’s okay, slowly build it up from where you are right now. If you can focus for 30 minutes, focus for 30 minutes. Only increase the time limit when you can handle your current level with a degree of comfort and confidence.
The great thing about setting a time-limit for yourself is that you make use of Parkinson’s Law, which states that ‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion’ which means that if you give yourself a day to write a blogpost that can be written in 2–3 hours, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting.
We will, in fact, take the entire day to accomplish this task which could have been accomplished much faster. The extra time might not even be filled with more work to actually improve the quality. Often, the extra time is just filled with more stress, tension and worrying about how to get it done. Often, we fill a lot of the time procrastinating and wasting hours away.
But now, since you’ve got only max 2.5 hours to complete a task, you work with much greater efficiency and impact as the limited time forces you to focus on the core essentials instead of on the lesser important details that normally cost a lot of time. I found this effect to be incredibly powerful on both the quality and the efficiency of my work.
Step 7: Use Music To Your Advantage
Music can actually help you become highly focused and, therefore, highly productive. Especially when you listen to music on repeat (or repetitive type music such as techno, classical music or trance) it’ll be easier to focus with great intensity
However, it’s important that the music you put on is familiar to you (aka, no new songs) and that you put it on repeat. When new songs come up, or when you listen to a variety of different songs that include vocals, the music starts to compete for attentional space in your brain. As your brain now needs to spend energy to fight off these distractions, it’ll be harder to focus on your task at hand.
Therefore, put one song on repeat for 1–2 hours or listen to repetitive type music like techno (which works like magic for me), classical music or trance music. This will help you reach a state of deep focus with more ease.
Now Do It
Especially in this world full of distractions where instant-gratification is the norm, it’s critical that you learn how to focus with great intensity for long periods of time. Those who are able to do so will be the ones who’ll have an edge over everybody else.
The thing is, accomplishing meaningful things can’t be done effectively or efficiently when in a state of (semi)distraction, which most of us operate in nowadays.
Therefore, I highly encourage you to follow these seven steps on a daily basis in order to work with laserlike focus on your most important tasks. I bet you’ll see one of the biggest improvements in your productivity in a long while.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab
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