Highly Focused People and their
The biggest reason people struggle to focus is that they don’t understand what focus really is.
Most of us think about focus like willpower — the effort you apply to keep your mind on one thing when it wants to go somewhere else. But this is only a tiny part of focus — and by far the least important.
The ability to focus deeply and for long stretches of time is the result of many habits cultivated over time.
If you want to produce great work, you need to master the art of focus. And to do that, you need to cultivate the right habits.
Here are 5 habits of highly focused people that will lead to deeper focus and outstanding results no matter what kind of work you’re doing.
1. Procrastinate productively
Productive procrastination means cultivating a set of activities you can procrastinate on that will still lead you to be productive in the long run.
But here’s the real secret of productive procrastination:
Allow yourself to procrastinate in small ways and you’ll rarely end up procrastinating in major ways.
And when you stop wasting boatloads of mental energy fighting against the urge to procrastinate and criticizing yourself for it, you’ll find that it’s far easier to get back to work quickly and easily after a brief session of productive procrastination.
The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.
— Walt Disney
2. Ruthlessly eliminate distractions
Focus is much more of a subtraction problem than an addition problem.
Whether it’s a Facebook notification on your phone, a colleague dropping by your office to chat, or a new video game on your iPad, nothing sabotages our focus and concentration like a distraction.
Unfortunately, most people resign themselves to the belief that distractions are simply inevitable and that the best way to stay focused is to try and resist distractions.
This means that they see focus as something they have to do and apply willpower to. But this is a losing strategy…
Stop trying to resist distractions and work like hell to avoid them in the first place.
Highly focused people know that while some distractions are inevitable, many of them are avoidable if you’re willing to make some tough choices.
For example, I only use messenger for Facebook and use social media sparingly. Like 10 minutes per day max! You can’t imagine how easy it is to stay focused.
This may seem a bit extreme but it’s human nature that we’re far worse at managing distractions than we like to believe.
If you’re serious about improving your focus, get serious about eliminating distractions.
Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.
— Nathan W. Morris
3. Be compassionate with your mistakes
Being hard on yourself is a short-term strategy with disastrous long-term consequences.
Early in life, most people learn that the proper way to motivate yourself is to “get tough” with yourself. Like a drill sergeant yelling at his new recruits, we’re led to believe that unless we’re incredibly hard and exacting with ourselves, we’ll end up soft, weak, and unable to achieve our goals.
This is based on the incorrect belief that fear is an effective motivator. While fear can very temporarily get you to act, it tends to have a de-motivating effect in the long-term because it negatively impacts your self-confidence.
What’s more, if you over-rely on fear as a motivator, it tends to lose even it’s short-term benefits with time.
This leads most people into a dangerous situation when it comes to trying to stay focused:
They’re dependent on a single strategy to motivate themselves.And just like investing your money, it’s not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket.
Their one strategy doesn’t actually work anymore. Especially when you’re trying to stay focused on tasks without external accountability (sticking to a diet, for example), fear-based motivation is pretty ineffective.
The side effects are disastrous. Constant self-criticism not only leads to anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem, but it also tends to kill what little motivation you do already have.
Highly focused and productive people understand that — while strangely tempting — self-criticism only sabotages your ability to stay focused and do your best work.
You’ve already fallen down… How does kicking yourself in the gut make it any easier to get back up again?
Instead of being hard on yourself, cultivate self-compassion in the face of adversity or mistakes:
If you get distracted and momentarily lose focus, gently remind yourself to get back to work and refocus your attention.
If you feel the urge to start procrastinating, calmly remind yourself that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to procrastinate. It happens to everybody.
If you forget to work on a goal or task one day, acknowledge that everybody makes mistakes and make a note to yourself to come up with a better reminder system for your work.
Think about it this way:
If a good friend were to tell you about some episode of getting distracted or losing focus, how would you respond to them?
Most likely, you wouldn’t start criticizing them for being weak and undisciplined; instead, you’d offer one or two sympathetic words of encouragement and not make too big a deal over it.
Why not do the same with yourself?
It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.
— Albert Einstein
4. Take advantage of inspiration but don’t rely on it
Inspiration is like extra credit: Good to take advantage of when you can but never to be relied upon.
One hallmark of highly focused people is that they have a healthy relationship with inspiration.
First, never take it for granted. Instead of assuming that you need to feel inspired or motivated to work, believe that you can do pretty good work regardless of how you feel — especially if you build the right habits that make it easy to start working and stay focused (see Section 1 above).
Second, when inspiration does show up, they take extreme advantage of it. For example, if you sit down to work and find that you’re really feeling inspired and doing great work, do whatever you can to stay in that flow.
Never waste a good jolt of inspiration. It might not be back for a while.
Finally, highly focused people know that the relationship between feeling and action is a two-way street. While feeling inspired obviously leads to high-quality focus and good work, the inverse is also true: Focusing and working well tends to produce motivation and even inspiration.
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.
— Stephen King
5. Clarify your values
Clear, compelling values are the ultimate source of focus and motivation.
At the end of the day, you can arm yourself with all the best tips, tricks, tools, and techniques for focus, but the quality of your work matters more than anything else.
If you’re consistently working on things you don’t care about, maintaining focus will always be a struggle.
Doing the right kind of work pulls you into states of focus almost effortlessly. Think about it…
Kids don’t have to try hard to focus on playing video games.
You probably don’t have to try hard to focus on a good conversation with your best friend.
If you love playing basketball, you probably don’t have to try hard to maintain your focus throughout the game.
Highly focused people understand this simple truth:
The real secret to staying focused is to work on things you value.
Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
— Theodore Roosevelt