The Number One Key to Productivity is Focus

I’ve been asked numerous times how I manage a portfolio of 10 websites on 3-4 hours a day.  I’ve been asked how I’m able to produce 40-50 pieces of content per day and still only be a one-person company.  In other words I’ve been asked many times how I’m so productive.  How can I achieve what many might consider to be “a lot” but in a little amount of time?  While there are many answers to this question and a ton of variables that come into play, my immediate answer has been, and will always be “focus.”  I would say that unequivocally the people who are most productive in life and business are the ones who can harness their focus the best.  In my eyes, everything else trickles down from there.  Becoming more efficient starts from having the focus to learn efficiency.  Scaling a business comes first from the focus it takes to run a business in the first place. The focus it takes to see what needs to be done, by whom, and how quickly it can happen is critical to productivity. Without focus, there’s simply zero chance anything else can follow.   So then, how does one focus?  How do you actually get into the mental state required to be as productive as possible?  First, we need to define what focus is:

What is focus?

Here’s Webster’s definition of focus:

a center of activity, attraction, or attention the focus of the meeting was drug abuse put immigration into focus as a hot topic for commentators. b : a point of concentration. 2 : directed attention : emphasis The focus is on helping the homeless. 3a : direction sense 6c the team lost focus.

When it comes to productivity I’d like to point you to number two: direct attention.  In other words, being able to work on something with as little distraction as possible.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that distractions aren’t there.  It simply means that the subject is almost entirely not distracted.  An author by the name of Cal Newport put it best by calling this kind of production “deep work.”  Newport defines deep work as:

“Professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

If you want to get to the heart of productivity, it starts from here.  The most productive people in the world are those who can engage in “deep work” the most often.  And it is those who focus the best who are able to reach this “state.”  If you can achieve this state, then you have the absolute best foundation to be the most productive person you can be. And that leads us to this question:

How do you achieve this state?

Now, most of you are wondering, “how in the hell can I pull this off?” How does one get into a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit?  The short answer is that it’s different for everyone.  For some reason from the time I wake up until about 10am I’m as mentally strong as anything.  I head downstairs to my home office at around 6am and go to town until 10am.  Absolutely nothing distracts me.  No matter how loud my kids are, it doesn’t get through.  No matter how loud the washing machine is adjacent to my office, nothing gets through.  No matter how loud the TV is, nothing gets through.  For those 4 hours I’m a machine and I get the majority of my work done for the day.  Granted I have more work throughout the day, but the truly important stuff is done in those 4 hours.  My theory as to why these 4 hours are so productive is that I’ve been doing it for so long that my brain has adjusted.  I simply “know” that I’m in pure concentration mode during this time.  And it’s during this time I’m at my best mentally.  Granted, at first, this wasn’t the case, but now?  Now it’s automatic. But that’s me, and that’s my situation.  Not everyone is this way.  Not everyone can turn on the switch and be in “deep work” mode.  But that also doesn’t mean that it can’t be achieved.  It 100% can.

Here’s how to do it:

Since I happen to be one of those people who can get into this state on a daily basis and without aid, I consider myself one of the lucky ones.  But as I said, it wasn’t always this way.  And I’m sure for many people it’s extremely difficult for them to get into a state of “deep work.”  Luckily, there’s a “manual” way to do it.  Here’s a little exercise you can do for the next month or so.  It works if you are your own boss or if you are employed by someone else.  Although I will say that if you’re employed by someone else your options are more limited and you need to have an accommodating boss.  Even so, there are ways around that as well.  Here we go:

  • Choose the most important tasks of your day that take the most time – let’s say you have a list of 3-5 things (or more, whatever works for you) that you know you do every single day.  And let’s say if you’re being honest with yourself, those things take 2-4 hours to do.   Choose those.
  • Pick a quiet place with zero distractions – like I said, this one is limited if you are employed by someone else but it still works. Your environment is key to concentrating at full capacity.  Some people like a cabin in the woods.  Some prefer a Starbucks.  Others like an office with no windows.  It doesn’t matter what it is, but you need to figure out what’s right for you.
  • Put in one hour of fully focused work – When I say one to two hours of fully focused work I mean one to two hours of work where the ONLY thing you do is your work.  You are not allowed to make any phone calls (unless it’s your work), may not check email, your phone, social media.  You may do NOTHING except for the task at hand.  At the end of this time period you should be exhausted.  Your brain should hurt.

If by the end of this hour you don’t accomplish more in that hour or two than what would normally take you 2-4 hours, then you are likely lying to me and yourself.  Every single person I’ve ever suggested this to has said it works.

*If you have an annoying boss

If you happen to have an annoying boss and are in the kind of work environment that seems to be big on meetings and activities that waste time, try this: Arrange a meeting with your boss.  Ask them what’s most important to them with regards to your job.  “What do you need me to do most?”  “What’s your bottom line?”  Don’t be shy.  Bring it up.  After they tell you what it is, make a request.  Ask for 2 hours of uninterrupted time per day.  No calls.  No meetings.  No emails.  No nothing. Time where you can buckle down and do what you need to do.  Tell them if you had these two hours per day it would dramatically increase your production and their bottom line  See what they say.  If they allow it, they are smart.  If they don’t, you need to think about a new boss.

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