I. Focus: What It Is and How it Works
What is Focus?
Why Can’t I Focus?
The Myth of Multitasking
II. How to Focus and Increase Your Attention Span
Warren Buffett’s “2 List” Strategy for Focused Attention
One day, Buffett asked his personal pilot to go through the 3-step exercise.
STEP 1:Buffett started by asking the pilot, named Mike Flint, to write down his top 25 career goals. So, Flint took some time and wrote them down. (Note: You could also complete this exercise with goals for a shorter timeline. For example, write down the top 25 things you want to accomplish this week.)
STEP 2:Then, Buffett asked Flint to review his list and circle his top 5 goals. Again, Flint took some time, made his way through the list, and eventually decided on his 5 most important goals.
STEP 3:At this point, Flint had two lists. The 5 items he had circled were List A, and the 20 items he had not circled were List B.
Flint confirmed that he would start working on his top 5 goals right away. And that’s when Buffett asked him about the second list, “And what about the ones you didn’t circle?”Flint replied, “Well, the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”To which Buffett replied, “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”I love Buffett's method because it forces you to make hard decisions and eliminate things that might be good uses of time, but aren't great uses of time. So often the tasks that derail our focus are ones that we can easily rationalize spending time on.
This is just one way to narrow your focus and eliminate distractions. I've covered many other methods before like The Ivy Lee Method and The Eisenhower Box . That said, no matter what method you use and no matter how committed you are, at some point your concentration and focus begin to fade. How can you increase your attention span and remain focused?There are two simple steps you can take.
Measure Your ResultsThe first thing you can do is to measure your progress.Focus often fades because of lack of feedback. Your brain has a natural desire to know whether or not you are making progress toward your goals, and it is impossible to know that without getting feedback. From a practical standpoint, this means that we need to measure our results.We all have areas of life that we say are important to us, but that we aren’t measuring. That's a shame because measurement maintains focus and concentration. The things we measure are the things we improve. It is only through numbers and clear tracking that we have any idea if we are getting better or worse.
- When I measured how many pushups I did , I got stronger.
- When I tracked my reading habit of 20 pages per day , I read more books.
- When I recorded my values , I began living with more integrity.
The tasks I measured were the ones I remained focused on.
Unfortunately, we often avoid measuring because we are fearful of what the numbers will tell us about ourselves. The trick is to realize that measuring is not a judgment aboutwhoyou are, it's just feedback onwhereyou are.Measure to discover, to find out, to understand. Measure to get to know yourself better. Measure to see if you're actually spending time on the things that are important to you. Measure because it will help you focus on the things that matter and ignore the things that don’t.
Focus on the Process, Not the EventThe second thing you can do to maintain long-term focus is to concentrate on processes, not events. All too often, we see success as an event that can be achieved and completed.Here are some common examples:
- Many people see health as an event:“If I just lose 20 pounds, then I’ll be in shape.”
- Many people see entrepreneurship as an event:“If we could get our business featured in the New York Times, then we’d be set.”
- Many people see art as an event:“If I could just get my work featured in a bigger gallery, then I’d have the credibility I need.”
- If you want to be a great writer,then having a best-selling book is wonderful. But the only way to reach that result is to fall in love with the process of writing.
- If you want the world to know about your business,then it would be great to be featured inForbesmagazine. But the only way to reach that result is to fall in love with the process of marketing.
- If you want to be in the best shape of your life,then losing 20 pounds might be necessary. But the only way to reach that result is to fall in love with the process of eating healthy and exercising consistently.
- If you want to become significantly better at anything,you have to fall in love with the process of doing it. You have to fall in love with building the identity of someone who does the work , rather than merely dreaming about the results that you want.
Focusing on outcomes and goals is our natural tendency, but focusing on processes leads to more results over the long-run.
III. Concentration and Focus Mind-HacksEven after you've learned to love the process and know how to stay focused on your goals, the day-to-day implementation of those goals can still be messy. Let's talk about some additional ways to improve concentration and make sure you're giving each task your focused attention.
How to Improve ConcentrationHere are few additional ways to improve your focus and get started on what matters.
Choose an anchor task.One of the major improvements I've made recently is to assign one (and only one) priority to each work day. Although I plan to complete other tasks during the day, my priority task is the one non-negotiable thing that must get done. I call this my “anchor task” because it is the mainstay that holds the rest of my day in place. The power of choosingonepriority is that it naturally guides your behavior by forcing you to organize your life around that responsibility.Manage your energy, not your time.If a task requires your full attention, then schedule it for a time of day when you have the energy needed to focus.For example, I have noticed that my creative energy is highest in the morning. That’s when I’m fresh. That’s when I do my best writing. That’s when I make the best strategic decisions about my business. So, what do I do? I schedule creative tasks for the morning. All other business tasks are taken care of in the afternoon. This includes doing interviews, responding to emails, phone calls and Skype chats, dataanalysisand number crunching. Nearly every productivity strategy obsesses over managing your time better, but time is useless if you don’t have the energy you need to complete the task you are working on.Never check email before noon.Focus is about eliminating distractions. Email can be one of the biggest distractions of all. If I don’t check email at the beginning of the day, then I am able to spend the morning pursuing my own agenda rather than reacting to everybody else’s agenda. That’s a huge win because I’m not wasting mental energy thinking about all the messages in my inbox. I realize that waiting until the afternoon isn’t feasible for many people, but I’d like to offer a challenge. Can you wait until 10AM? What about 9AM? 8:30AM? The exact cutoff time doesn't matter. The point is to carve out time during your morning when you can focus on what is most important to you without letting the rest of the world dictate your mental state.Leave your phone in another room.I usually don’t see my phone for the first few hours of the day. It is much easier to do focused work when you don’t have any text messages, phone calls, or alerts interrupting your focus.Work infull screenmode.Whenever I use an application on my computer, I use full screenmode. If I’m reading an article on the web, my browser takes up the whole screen. If I’m writing in Evernote, I’m working infull screenmode. If I’m editing a picture in Photoshop, it is the only thing I can see. I have set up my desktop so that the menu bar disappears automatically. When I am working, I can’t see the time, the icons of other applications, or any other distractions on the screen. It’s funny how big of a difference this makes for my focus and concentration. If you can see an icon on your screen, then you will be reminded to click on it occasionally. However, if you remove the visual cue, then the urge to be distracted subsides in a few minutes