So you want to be more focused?
That's good. You've probably identified the fact that focus today is more challenging than ever to achieve. And hopefully, you've figured out that your best work comes from the times you are most in a flow state—also known as "the zone."
If you put these few principles of success and work together, what you get is a simple solution:
Figure out how to focus and direct that focus on your best work.... and win!
The most successful people today and in the future will be masters at channeling their focus (and attention) into the few things that matter.
If you're trying to improve your focus, you probably went to Google and searched "how to improve focus."
What you got were tens of thousands of results to help you do that.
But what you usually find is the same boring listicle-tpye articles full of tips, tricks, and hacks.
Aha! The dopamine flows in.
You can already see their new life of success, fame, and leisure as a result of your new perfect productivity routine built upon a foundation of Terminator-like focus.
So you start implementing these productivity tips, and maybe some of these tips work for a while.
But then big bad reality sets in, and you slip back to your average level of focus—you regress to your mean.
This is the typical, I want to improve my focus, routine.
There is a reason this path fails. And there is a much better way to improve your focus.
The problem with this kind of advice is the idea that you will add something to your routine. Add this gadget, app, or habit, and miraculously your focus will become like a bullseye.
That rarely works.
Remove to improve
Humans aren't good at adding things. We are much better at subtracting.
And since we are where we are in life because of the average of the things we do, adding more isn't going to help and will probably hinder.
To increase focus, you want to remove.
Before we get to that, we first need to define what focus isn't.
What do you think is the opposite of focus?
Distraction is the state you are in when you are not focused. When you aren't distracted, you are focused.
See the beauty here?
To improve your focus, eliminate distraction.
That means turn your phone off, your notifications, people around you, noise, the TV, everything.\
The best way to get stuff done is to lock yourself in a room for hours on end.
Most people won't go to monk-like extremes to improve their focus.
So if locking yourself in a room to focus is not possible, at least get a heavy set of headphones and put your phone in airplane mode. That's a good start.
Now that we've covered how to think about productivity, I'll give you some strategies for improving your focus.
Removing all distractions is the most important aspect of focus.
So don't let people or things interrupt you, and for the love of productivity gods, don't task switch.
After that, try all the productivity hacks you want.
Try different apps, and GTD calendar-based systems, and so on.
Those may or may not help you.
What's really going to make the difference and contribute to your most important work is when you eliminate distraction and give your undivided attention to your most important work.
That's how you focus and how you benefit from that focus.
What's going to matter the most is taking your most important work (see: The One Thing) and then eliminating all distractions so you can give it your rapt attention.
Focus combined with importnat work is the secret to productivity, getting things done, and separating yourself from the screen-distracted masses.
How To Increase Your Focus and Productivity
First, turn off ALL notifications.
Airplane mode on your phone. Turn WiFi off on your laptop.
Airplane mode is for the pros.
There are plenty of philosophical reasons why we all should be using airplane mode as our default mode for our devices. I'll say it this way: the pros use airplane mode.
Pros gladly turn off the outside world because they long ago figured out that distraction is the opposite of focus.
Researchers have found it takes around 20 minutes to get back to the same mental state you were before being interrupted. (That's why open offices are a joke, btw.)
There is another reason why you need airplane mode rather than just turning notifications off. You must become UNREACHABLE to the outside world, and so must your device. Let me explain.
I've been working for myself for a long time. I've figured out that I can't get in a deep flow state if I'm "available' to the outside world. That means anytime my phone is on but silent, my brain is still connected to the idea that someone might call or text me.
The only way to sever this mental connection is to turn your phone off completely.
It's a night and day difference.
Pros use airplane mode.
One writer I heard about superglued his ethernet port so that he couldn't get online while writing. So he used a dedicated "can't connect to the Internet" writing laptop. That's the kind of stuff you must-do if you want to get your best focus.
Airplane mode is also a metaphor for your routine around your deep work. It's not just your phone or device that needs to disconnect; you need to put your entire person on airplane mode—somewhere ALONE with NO PERSON or ANIMAL or THING nearby to trigger a break in your focus.
The pro figures out her routine and is ruthless with her solitude because she wants peak focus.
Your Work Environment
The second consideration for reaching peak focus is your work environment.
Because I've been doing it for so long, I can usually get into a flow state at most coffee shops. A solid pair of noise-canceling headphones are a must. And if you can tuck yourself in a corner away from the door, ideally facing the wall, all the better.
I can't fathom working in a place like this without a way to block out people's conversations or the comings and goings of the highly trafficked setting.
I long ago adapted to this routine because I have to get out of the house in the mornings.
Final thoughts on focus and deep work and environment
Before I let you go, I feel compelled to make a note about "co-working."
The amateur likes to co-work with others because it feels good. I'll admit, it's fun to have people around as it can make those long work sessions go by faster.
It feels good to co-work because it is easier to be distracted while feeling productive.
When you're co-working, you're rarely productive. It's usually not worth it.
For focus, having people around when I'm trying to get stuff done is a TERRIBLE idea.
There might be a time and place for this kind of work, but it should not be when you do your essential work.
Here are a few tools to help you build out your focus routine. Let's recap the foundation:
1. Airplane mode for your devices2. Airplane mode for your body3. Choose your work environment carefully4. Don't co-work
These are the foundation. After that, yes, I'll admit, there are some ways to increase focus. But these are just a distraction until you have 1 and 2 down.
Books: Deep Work, 80/20 Rule, The One Thing, The Artists RoutineRescue TimeFocus blockerCooking jar put your phone in it.