“The most successful people I know are not “busy” — they’re focused.” -Jeff Goins, best-selling author
A focused life is a good life.
But a life full of busyness drains your energy, focus, and discipline. It’s so hard to come home and do important work when you’ve spent all day being busy.
Sadly, most people aren’t living a focused life — if they are, they’re focusing on the wrong things: money, fame, jealousy and comparison, or “beating the competition.”
The main culprit for most people’s lack of focus is busyness. It’s so easy to get sucked into doing busy work, and it kills your focus over time. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey has an interesting illustration for what is “urgent” and what is truly “important”:
Most people spend most of their time in the bottom left — doing urgent yet not important tasks like email, meetings, putting out fires, and dealing with interruptions. In other words: busyness. And busyness sucks.
When you focus on busyness, your time is wasted very quickly, and you don’t get a lot done. You feel tired, but not in a good way — you feel tired and also that you still haven’t done much. That sucks!
But when you set boundaries and refuse to tolerate mindless “busyness,” you become far more productive very quickly. You start to find more meaning and focus in your life. You start achieving actual goals, not just checking off empty boxes of your to-do list.
Here’s how to decrease your busyness and live a more focused life.
“Pretend your time is worth $1,000/hr. Would you spend five of them doing extra work for free? Would you waste one on being angry?” –Niklas Göke
You have very few hours here on on this earth.
Still, many people waste much of their time on pointless, low-quality activities that don’t help them reach their true goals — their mission.
The truth is, most people value their time at far, far less than it’s worth.
They say yes to things they have no business doing. They give away their talents, attention, and effort to others who take, take, take.
They spend hours watching low-quality television and social media when they should be productive and effective.
See, many people could be making a fortune (if they used their time well)…but instead, they give away their time in unproductive ways that leave them broke, unhappy, and stuck.
But what if you placed a high value on your time?
How would that change you? Your life? Your family? Your future?
What would your life look like?
What people would you stop putting up with?
What problems would you stop wasting time on?
What things would you stop — and start — doing?
Your results would be incredible. You’d become exponentially more productive, focused, and effective.
“Most people have no clue what they are doing with their time but still complain that they don’t have enough.” -Grant Cardone, NYT best-selling author
If you have too many priorities, you have no priorities.
As a general rule, without boundaries, you will take as long as possible to complete your task. If you have give yourself 2 years to write a book, or 2 months — that’s how long it takes.
For instance, ever heard of NaNoWriMo? Short for National November Writing Month, tens of thousands of writers complete a 50,000+ word novel in just 30 days, every year. The lesson: you usually take as much time as is available. If you give yourself 5 years to complete a goal, that’s probably how long it’ll take.
As my colleague David Kadavy once wrote:
“When you think you have 24 hours in the day, you invite yourself to procrastinate. If you find a 2-hour block during which you can do 3x the work, you don’t waste a moment.”
But if you gave yourself a very short amount of time to achieve your goal? What’s stopping you from achieving your 10-year goal in, say, 6 months?
Frankly, many people waste years doing things that could actually be done in a few weeks. The time it takes to achieve your goals is dependent on you — you control the quality and quantity of your effort. You can speed up your process by minimizing busyness. To do this, simply set firm priorities.
When I signed my first book deal, my publisher told me I had 3 months to write my book. 3 months!! I didn’t say anything at the time (because hey, they were paying me to write a book, I didn’t want to make them mad) — but internally, I thought, “No way. There’s no way I can complete that on time.”
…And 3 months later, I had written the book.
I was able to do this by setting clear, firm priorities. I wasn’t “busy” during those months — I stopped all my coaching calls, playing video games, dinking around on Facebook. I became intensely focused.The only goal? Write the book.
Simplify your priorities to achieve your maximum productivity. Otherwise, you’ll spent your time doing a little bit of work on a lot of projects, which is exhausting and not very rewarding.
“Success is 25 steps in one direction, not one step in 25 directions.” -Old proverb
In his excellent book The Compound Effect, best-selling author Darren Hardy wrote something that simplified everything for me. I still use this structure to this day. He told readers to write down the 3 most important things they need to do — then focus nearly all your time on those 3 things.
After I read that, I identified my 3 main things:
Simple, right? Social media isn’t on there. Neither is checking email, fretting over my numbers, or screwing around online. I write, I create good products, and I sell those products.
As a result, I’ve seen huge success in all 3 areas:
Simplify your priorities. Identify the top 3 things you need to focus on. Then, do those things.
Success in other areas will follow.
“When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” -Steven Pressfield
Consistently following routines creates physiological energy spikes.
Although your mind and body are extremely fluid (you can adapt to just about anything if you wanted to), there are specific times of the day when you operate best.
Dr. Michael Breus calls this “The Power of When.” He asserts there are specific times when you are most primed for nearly every task — having the greatest sex, waking up, when to see a therapist to immediately get to the root of your issues, etc. — and people are divided into “chronotypes.”
There are 4 main chronotypes (you can take a short quiz here to see which one you most align with). Each type has a very specific timetable for entering into peak flow states.
Most people will go their whole lives without ever really knowing when they’re the most primed to operate at world-class levels. They will continue to operate as a square peg in a round hole.
Learn about yourself. Find out if you get your best work done at 5AM, 1PM, or midnight.
“If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.” -Neal Stephenson
When you consistently begin acting during your prime time, you can expect to see 10x or even 100x better results over time.
The more you practice during these times, the more focused your mind will be.This repetition will train your mind to remember that focus and reproduce it on a daily basis.
Distractions will grow weaker. Flow states will become commonplace.
Operating at your peak level will become a daily routine.
Learn when you operate best for certain tasks, then act every single day.
Power will concentrate around you.
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” -Somerset Maugham
“It is better to look suffering straight in the eye, acknowledge and respect its presence, and then get busy as soon as possible focusing on things we choose to focus on.” -MihalyCsikszentmihalyi
Back when I was teaching English in South Korea, I woke up at 6AM to write and journal. I’ve found my peak creative time is early in the morning.
But there was a time when, instead of writing an article or journaling new ideas, all I could think about in the morning was how much I hated my awful student, Daniel.
Daniel was the worst student in the entire school. He made me so angry that sometimes, I literally wanted to punch him (and he’s 10 years old).
I remember that some mornings, I couldn’t write a single coherent thought, because all I could think about was how infuriating Daniel was.
Julia Cameron once described morning journaling as “spiritual windshield wipers.” By dumping your immediate thoughts out on paper first thing in the morning, you clear away the dirt that’s obscuring your view.
It’s pointless to attempt to enter flow states until you “clean your windshield,” so to speak.
Whenever anybody wakes up — LeBron James, Barack Obama, Beyoncé, you — they are filled with “fluff” thoughts on largely unimportant things. Every day, we’re exposed to tens of thousands of advertisements, distractions, and trivial tasks. It’s so easy to get caught up in that busyness.
You must get these thoughts out (morning journaling is an excellent, proven method) before you can see clearly focus on what truly matters.
It often took me a good half hour to stop focusing on that student Daniel. That helped clear my windshield of him (and other silly things), and I was able to write and do the things I needed to do.
The most important thing you can do when you wake up is dump the fluff-thoughts out so you can access the real stuff that lies underneath. When you completely ignore distractions and focus, you consistently enter flow states and get a lot more done.
“You cannot allow the actions of others to define your reality.” -Steven Pressfield
Busyness is the enemy.
When you are “busy,” you are not productive. It might feel like it, but usually, all you’ve done is work that didn’t really help with your main areas of focus — the things that will truly get you to the next level.’
The most successful people in the world aren’t busy — they’re focused. The completely ignore distractions (or immediately resolve them) and focus on the things that matter most. This creates “flow states” where you can do those important things way faster.
Decrease your busyness; increase your focus. The focused life is a good life.
If you want to become extraordinary and become 10x more effective than you were before, check out my checklist.