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How to Gain Laser Focus In a World of Distraction

How to Gain Laser Focus In a World of Distraction

Summary

Finding focus in a world full of distraction can be an extremely hard thing to obtain. 

Sometimes we need to think outside the box by inverting the equation and adjusting our lens to which we view things. 

The first step toward finding focus is to ask yourself "what is the opposite of focus?" -Distraction. 

We can then identify our main distractions and eliminate them one by one, taking back control of what our mind focuses on. 

Today I sat down with Nick Fisher to discuss a tactical approach for eliminating distraction and maximising brain power for the things that matter. 

Here's what we cover:

  • Why I only have 4 apps on my phone
  • How to simplify and outsource your life
  • The zones of focus and the time it takes to enter each level
  • Tactics for maximising productivity
  • How much sleep you should be getting per night
  • How to block time and embrace the chaos

Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.


To your success!

Sam Ovens & the team at Consulting.com


Transcript / MP3

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Nick Fisher: So Sam, the next thing I want to talk about is focus. Now I know for me, personally, like focus has always been one of those things where it's a constant struggle and I'm always getting, like improving upon it but how did you get to the point where you could do 12 hours and just sit there and focus without getting interrupted, without having things distract you and really get what you have to do on your war map done for the day. Sam: You know, that's like taken me a long time to figure that out because I struggled with it for a long time. And the thing is, people try to focus and it's always really hard to try and do something. Like, to try and actually just do it, it's not as simple as that. And so, what I find works best if you take focus and you turn it upside. So like, you look at what is the opposite of focus and the opposite of focus is distraction, so if you don't do distraction, then you are doing focus. So the best way I find is to turn focus upside down and then look at every distraction that you have in your whole life, everywhere. Every time you catch yourself getting distracted, like take note of what it is, and then you just have to start getting rid of all of them. So I've found it very hard to focus and I would always get distracted but then I started, and I thought it was all my fault, you can't focus, but no one can focus when there's all these distractions everywhere, so you have to get rid of them all. And so I just try and get rid of every single thing that can be a distraction and then what happens naturally is I just find myself focusing. So it's kind of like a counterintuitive way to look at it, but it's like if I go to work in the morning, I don't check email before I start work. I don't check Facebook. In fact, I pretty much don't even have a Facebook. I don't have a Snapchat, I don't have like an Instagram. I don't have any of these things. And then on my phone, I have about three, I think I've got four apps and even though I only four apps, I still turn my phone on airplane mode and put it in my desk drawer and close the drawer. Because even if I can see my phone in peripheral vision, even if it is on airplane mode, it's still a distraction because still my brain is kind of like getting an itch to go over and check it. Nick Fisher: That's interesting. Sam: So your brain is always scanning your whole vision and anything that can trigger a distraction, it is, even if you've got a lot of self control, it's still liking stealing the focus away. So you've just got to try and get rid of everything, even down to in the morning to what clothes do you wear. You know, I just started wearing the same thing pretty much every single day. Just like the same shoes, I've got like four pairs of the same shorts. I've got ten t shirts which are all the same brand and same size. And that's another thing to do because that's less distraction again because you have to think like what am I going to wear. Another huge one was getting rid of chores. Like getting rid of having to clean the house, like having a cleaner. That's another huge thing. And then getting rid of having to cook. Like getting a chef in to do all that, then they do all the dishes and everything as well. It's to really focus at 100%, I've never even achieved that, so I don't know what that's like. So to focus at your best, you have to get rid of everything that isn't focus. Nick Fisher: Yeah, I mean, I think most people would be even happy with 80%. Like, even if you could just focus 80% of the day, that's like world class. Sam: I still don't even think I do that. Nick Fisher: Right. I don't think I do either, but that would be probably about as good as you could get, I would assume. Sam: We don't know how good we can get. Just to look at the best people in the world at their things, they're focused on that thing more than anyone else. It's like Michael Jordan's focused on basketball more than anyone else and then you hear stories about people like Kobe Bryant and stuff. When all of his teammates were out partying, like buying Lamborghini's and drinking and all of this stuff, he would just be at home watching basketball DVDs. Just studying games. The best people of all time in their different crafts, they haven't gotten distracted. Like even when they're making a lot of money, they don't care about the money, they still focus on the game. Nick Fisher: Got it. So how do you weigh your decision then when you bring something that can remove a distraction in your life, say a cleaner. How do you value your time and the cleaner's time in order to know, yeah I need to get a cleaner because an hour spent doing this makes my business go a certain direction as opposed to me cleaning and then having that break of focus? Sam: I think if you're making like 50 grand a year, pretty much you should have a cleaner, because that's one of the lowest value things that you can do if you can, you know, is cleaning, because other people are willing to do that for almost nothing. So I think even if you're making like 50 grand a year, you should have a cleaner. Nick Fisher: Got it. And how's that work for you guys? Do you have someone that comes over like once a week, everyday? Sam: Twice a week. Nick Fisher: Twice a week. And now, the benefit of having a cleaner, is it not just the actual time that you spent cleaning or thinking about it but is it more to do with, if the apartment were to be dirty when you came home and you would just constantly be thinking about that, even if it wasn't cleaning. Is it more that time suck or is it the actual cleaning? Sam: It's everything to do with it. It's not just the cleaning. It's thinking about the cleaning and everything. Once someone's taken care of it, you can just let it go. It no longer occupies any space in your brain. Nick Fisher: Got it. Sam: If something's dirty, you don't even care. You just kep walking because it won't be in the day. Nick Fisher: Right. So that's more of the methodology. Its like, eliminate the things that even, you even start thinking about. Even if you're not actively doing the thing. Sam: So cleaning is a ... The cleaner is a good example for people if they're already making money, but it's not going to work for people who are just getting started. Nick Fisher: Just starting. Right. Sam: Because their money is really valuable to them and time is more abundant. You start to get cleaners and chefs and things like this, when time is more scarce than money. So when you're starting out, you've got all this abundance of time but not much money and when you develop more, you've got all of this money but no time. So you start trading time for money. Nick Fisher: Got it. Sam: But in the beginning, you're trading your time for money. You see what I mean? It flips over. So maybe the things we have to pay other people for, they don't really come into it early on in the equation. Paying people to get time back is like when you're making money. In the beginning it's more about cutting anything out of your life that isn't necessary or doesn't contribute towards your goal. So you got to come up with your goals. Where do you want to be in one year, three or five years, whatever? If anything doesn't feed any of those, get rid of it. Nick Fisher: Yeah, so like you said, at the very beginning when people are starting, often times they have maybe more time than they even know to do with it because they have ... they've gone through that audit of their life and found so many distractions that if they were just simply to take those off the table, they might not even know what fill it off of but business activities. So it's really just getting to that point where you no longer have enough time for business activities in your life. And then, at what point, besides the external things, when did you decide to hire an employee for the first time, or an assistant for the first time? What did you have to get to before you realized that was a good decision? Sam: It's really as soon as you're, you know, you got to be profitable first of all, and you're doing things which aren't moving ... it's like not making the boat go faster. Its like a good analogy for it. So let's say you got a boat. There's maintenance things that you got to do to the boat to make it keep going. Like change the gas, the oil, whatever, but none of those things make it go faster. And so, often what happens is you're just, if all you're doing is maintaining the boat, well, it'll keep going but it's never going to go faster. So you want to always think of tasks in two categories. Does it make the boat go faster or does it just maintain it. And if it maintains it, give it to someone else. And if it makes it go faster, you should be doing that. But often what happens with entrepreneurs is their whole life gets sucked up by things that don't make the boat go any faster and then they're just stuck on a perpetual wheel which never ends. Because they're wondering why their business isn't getting better and they don't have any time. And nothings going to change if nothings improving the business. Nick Fisher: Right. Got it. That makes sense. And when you sit down and you find those blocks of times that you can really focus, how often do you typically go before you take a break? Can you go three hours, can you go five hours, can you go a whole day without giving up? What's that look like to you and when do you start to get into the groove? Can you even achieve focus in less than ten minutes or 20 minutes? Sam: No, like there's dips of it. You can't get into your absolute peak focus until you've gone through the gears to get up into that zone. And to get into that zone, for most people it would take three hours to really get there. And so really, focusing, you don't decide if whether you're going to focus or not on a little task. Really you decide if you're going to focus for a day or not. So you can really divide days into two categories. One is like busy work and then the other one is like the deep work. And if it's busy work, you're going to be focusing on like 15 to 30 minute tasks, one at a time just, da, da, da ,da. And you want to group all of those things together in, say like, two days a week. And then the other three days, you want to dedicate those to just focusing on some key projects which require a huge amount of time. Nick Fisher: Got it. So for you, what's that look like? Is it like writing or ...? Sam: Well let's say I've got to make content for my programs. Some of those videos are like two hours long, they might have 300 slides in them and require a lot of research. Each of those videos on average takes me about 15 hours to make, from the start to the end. So I would just say, I'd plan, like the night before, I'd say tomorrow I'm going to make this video. I wake up in the norming and I would make that video. Takes the whole day but you can't do anything else. Can't tough email. Can't touch your phone. Can't talk to a friend. Can't do anything, just that, that's all you are doing. And then, obviously you can't do that forever because all of this chaos builds up everywhere else. And so when you're doing it, you have to get good and you have to get disciplined at just letting chaos happen. So as you start, once you decide to just neglect everything else in the world and just go all in on one thing, your email inbox piles up. Different bills need to get paid. Some different person has their little crisis or issue or whatever. People text you, people might try and call you, leave voice messages. There are all these different things start happening but you just have to block them out and not think about them at all. You just have to go all in on this and then let that stuff pile up and then you might go into deep focus for like two or three days. Then do that on the last day of the week or whatever. Then you're just doing busy work all day. Replying to emails, paying bills, calling different people, handling things like that. Nick Fisher: Got it. Sam: But what people try and do is mix the deep concentrative work with the distraction work, and that doesn't work. It doesn't work at all. Nick Fisher: And what do you think about ... So you schedule that but I know that sleep also plays a role into it for you too, because you track your sleep now. How do you know if it's time to [inaudible 00:12:53] from what you have planned for the day? Like let's say you didn't get a good night's sleep, or do you still try to power through it? Some people would say, "Yeah, you just got to hustle through it. You're going to be tired, just do it, even if the work quality isn't there". How do you feel about that and where do you draw the line? Sam: Well, you always have some nights where you don't have best sleep, or whatever, and the best thing to always do is just finish the day. Give it your absolute best and typically it's fine. Like, people can work longer without sleep than what they think. It is important to have a certain amount but every now and then, you're also supposed to not have that much sleep. Like if you think back into the early days of when humans were alive, they would have had to go hunting, like different animals for like two nights, straight. So they were up for like 48 hours. You don't have the time to think, oh I'm just getting this one go because I need to get my eight hours. You know what I mean? That's what it's like. You want to try to get your eight hours every night but sometimes business requires you, you got to hunt an animal. Nick Fisher: Right. Have you ever had like an aha moment in a time of sleep deprivation, where you've been staying up all night or just didn't get much sleep at all? Sam: Yeah, I mean I've had both. I've had aha moments and I've had making dumb mistakes because I'm too tired. Like it's, one isn't the answer. You've got to just try and have sleep. It's silly to deprive yourself of it purposefully, but you've also got to know that sometimes you're not going to be able to. You've got to go just two days sometimes without anything. Pretty much most entrepreneurs I know, they've gone two days before without sleep. It happens. Nick Fisher: Yeah, you just do what's necessary in that time of need. Sam: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Nick Fisher: Got it. Now as far as schedule, does that play any role in focus. Like the fact that you have a schedule every single day and it's the same time or are you able to achieve the same levels of focus even without that? Sam: So the key to scheduling is to remove the decision fatigue of what should I do, because most people spend most of their brain energy everyday deciding what to do, and that's silly. You should be spending most of your brain power doing the thing instead of deciding what thing to do. So you want to schedule, really, you want to schedule tomorrow today. So what I do every day at 8:00 PM or 9:00 PM is schedule out tomorrow, and I write down all the things I want to do tomorrow and I will schedule them in. And it's pretty much I plan out every half hour from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. And sometimes you can do that and you can schedule every 30 minutes but sometimes the project might be a deep work thing, like just making one video. My to do list for that day might literally be just make this video, and that's it. It depends on the type of work. Sometimes your to do list is just to do this one thing and sometimes it's to do a whole bunch of different things. Nick Fisher: Got it. Sam: But the key is you have to do it the night before because when you go to sleep, your brain is doing all of this stuff while you're asleep. I don't know if you have noticed before but have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and you're thinking about something, like Facebook ads or spreadsheets. Mine, I always think about spreadsheets and trying to consolidate different things. So your brains is working while you're asleep and it's actually like getting further towards its goal, while it's asleep. So if you see it's what you're going to do tomorrow and then go to sleep, you've already pretty much figured out what you're going to do subconsciously and it makes it much easier to do. It's kind of like if you say, "I have to wake up for this flight in the morning" and it's really on your mind when you go to sleep. You go to sleep, bam, you're just up. Nick Fisher: Right. That happens to me all the time. Sam: That's the same thing. That same thing when you say you have to be up by this time. If you see it like your to do list the night before, you achieve the same thing. Nick Fisher: Got it. At what point do you know if, let's say, the day just doesn't go as expected and you're getting towards the end of the day and you haven't achieved everything that you wanted to in that specific time frame. Let's say like 9:00PM you're supposed to be done. Do you continue to push to get those things done or do you regroup in that time period and re plan those things out for the next day or for the next week, or how's that look? Sam: It depends on whether the thing that has to be done or not. If it's mission critical, right? Nick Fisher: Yeah, maybe that's a better question is how do you prioritize your task? Do you put the most important ones at the beginning of the day or at the end, or does it matter? Sam: I'll put the most important ones first. Like everyday, they come right at the start and I'll always be working on the most important thing now. But sometimes you get started on task and it's not done by the end of the day and it didn't go as you planned, that happens all the time. Plans always change. So at the end of that day, the decision to keep going and stay up late or just to go to sleep on time and then wake up the next day, it totally depends the urgency of the thing. So I'll give you an example. If our, let's say our merchant account and billing system goes down, right? That means no revenue can come into my business. It's just stuck. If I had the ability to fix that thing by staying up late, then I would stay up late and I wouldn't care about throwing my routine out of whack because that's mission critical. If we don't do that for a day, we lose a serious amount of money because everyday counts and that's really important. But if I'm making a video and it's not, I haven't left it to the absolute last minute, then it's fine if it goes over. It's better just to get the proper nights sleep. You've got to really evaluate these things. I mean, most of the time, if you got a schedule and you're working on things and you haven't been irresponsible and left them to the last minutes, most of the time things can wait. And that's the key. It's to work on things early because if they don't go to plan, it's all right if it foes another day. Nick Fisher: Got it. So going back to what we had talked about at the very beginning of the video is, no one can focus at 100% and you said even that you're still working on it. What are ways that you're trying right now to improve your ability to focus? Or things you've experimented with that you've tried to improve your ability to focus? Sam: So it's just starving ... the key is to starve distraction and starve compulsions. So the things that break people's focus compulsions and habits and distractions and once you have done these things a lot ... A big one, which everyone has is just pulling their phone out of their pocket, unlocking it and checking it. And it's probably a few apps that they check in sequence. There's probably like email, then it might be Facebook, then it might be Instagram. They will even have a sequence, right? And so their brain is just trained. Every time they do that, it goes like, a synapse fires, bam, goes through the different nodes in the brain and it burns like a cable in your brain every time you do that. And the more times your doing it, the cables getting thicker, thicker, thicker. That means that whenever the brain fires that piece of electricity, it's just going to go down that path because it's the path of least resistance. Those are all the things that people are fighting when they're trying to focus. Let's say they're focusing on one task, then they've just got this urge, which just comes out of nowhere to pull their phone out and look at it. Or their focusing on something and they got this urge to check their email and sometimes these things all happen and the person's done it before they even catch themselves doing it, because it's that ingrained into their brain. So really what everyone's got to work on is starving the distraction and feeding the focus because you can't fuel focus without starving distraction. It's actually more like you don't get good at focus, you get good at starving distraction and you're getting rid of all of your compulsions. Like some people, they've got to have a smoke or they've got to check the news, or they've got to check their phone or they've got to text someone or they have to grab something to eat or they have to go get a coffee. All of these things, which you can feel like bubble up inside you in the middle of things, you got to get good at acting the feeling and being like, this is what I want to do, but no, just back in. And it just keep happening and you have to be pretty safe aware to catch it in the first place because most people feel it and then they're doing it. Then they don't even know how that happens, they just were doing it. And so you got to be able to catch it before it happens and then have the discipline not to act on it. And then you'll notice the more focused you get, like the better you get at it, you start noticing even thoughts. So forget about compulsions and habits and actions. You'll be focusing on something and then you just might think about something when you were 12 years old. And you're just like, what the hell, and then you're just straight back in. But you get good at even catching every little thought and you're just like, this is weird, like you're just back in. Then another weird one, back in and then the more you get good at just noticing the thing and just shutting it off and giving it no thought, no respect, nothing. Like most people identify with their thoughts as important things. Like, oh, I thought it, it must be what I should do. Or I thought it, I should look into this. Or I thought this ... Thoughts don't mean anything. They're just like, you are better to not associate with your thoughts. Just let them starve to death because the more you let them starve and the less you entertain them, they just start fading off. It's like imaginary friends. It's exactly the same concept. You know how children have imaginary friends who they play with. Once they stop doing it as frequently, the friend dies and then it's just gone. And all a thought is, is an imaginary friend, so you just got to starve them out. Nick Fisher: That's real interesting. So it sounds like you can recognize those pretty well in your own life now but for someone just starting, it's probably pretty hard. Now that they know, they might start seeing it, but did you ever do anything like journaling. Like sitting down there and every time you got distracted write down what it was, just so you could kind of get a sense of what was distracting you on a daily basis? Or do you find that would be useful for other people? Sam: I mean, most people know. Nick Fisher: Most people just know. Sam: Most people know and they don't want to get rid of them because they're attached. Imagine if someone was like, oh man, I want to focus. I'm like, all right, give me your phone. All right, first I'm going to get rid of Instagram, then Snapchat, then Facebook and all of these things. The person is going to be almost in tears. A lot of people would be in tears. Some people might say their life, you just ruined their life. Nick Fisher: Yeah. That's true. That's typically what teenagers tell their parents when they take their phone away. Sam: Yeah. Nick Fisher: Yeah. Sam: Yeah, but the smartest most successful people in the world don't use their phones. There was an article you showed me the other day of Jeff Bezos, he doesn't check his phone at all. Pretty much never. And there's movie directors too. Like, I think it's Christopher Nolan, he doesn't even have a phone at all. Nick Fisher: That's interesting. Sam: Doesn't have one. And most of the probusiness men I know will never answer it and if you do call, it'll go straight to voice mail, and even the voice mail will just say, I don't use my phone. Nick Fisher: Right. Sam: So, the really good businessmen and really good businessmen in any field, they block out the distractions.

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