In the last part of my series on productivity, we talk about focus. Knowing how to focus is an absolute necessity for anybody with an ambitious goal.
The third and last part "Focus" concludes the series and ties up loose ends. Being disciplined in your actions and working consistently is an amazing start. However, working a ton of hours with no clear direction will most likely yield mediocre results.
Two keys to reaching your goals are most of all setting them, and second focusing your efforts towards them.
In my earlier years struggled with focus on a meta level (goals & direction) and just like everyone else I'm still confronted with plenty distractions during day-to-day workdays.
Below are my learnings and a methodical approach I utilize to stay focused on what I want to achieve.
Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four-hour days
- Zig Ziglar
I like to separate focus into two levels. The meta level and the ground level.
To me, focus on a meta level means dreams, goals or things you want to achieve in the mid- to long-term future. This could for example include "I want to be a millionaire in 10 years", or "I want to lose 5kg (11 pounds) in 6 months". Goals are direction.
Ask yourself this: "Where do I want to end up in X amount of time?"
Focus on the ground level means focusing on the task at hand.
Picture yourself sitting at your desk working away towards a goal. Focus on the ground level helps you to avoid distractions. This could be the most recent DM on your phone, the incoming call from a workmate or the urge to act on a different task you just remembered. Focus on the ground level allows us to block out distractions and improve productivity.
To master focus on the ground level, you must master discipline. Mastering focus on the meta level requires the mastery of consistency. Once you have, nothing can stop you.
As everyone's goals for life are different, I can't really tell you what you should do. What I can provide is the filtered culmination of helpful tips and tricks from a myriad of self-help books I have personally read.
Whatever you want to do, whether it is building a successful business, becoming a multi-millionaire or getting your YouTube channel to a million subs, finding your WHY will tremendously increase your chances in achieving these goals.
There are two ways to build a career or a business. We can go through life hunting and pecking, looking for opportunities or customers, hoping that something connects. Or we can go through life with intention, knowing what our piece looks like, knowing our WHY, and going straight to the places we fit.
- Simon Sinek
In my personal experience you can only force yourself to do something for so long, even with the greatest discipline. If you don't have a strong why, powering through becomes an everlasting chore wearing you down eventually.
Here a some examples for typical goals and their relation to a strong WHY:
- "Swimming with sharks" -> Lust for excitement and special experiences
- "Buying a house" -> Providing for your family
- "Making a dent in the universe" (Steve Jobs) -> Driving change in the world
Having a strong WHY will provide the needed motivation for consistent work towards your goals.
Visualizing or writing down your goals is a very low effort but impactful step to increase the likelihood of success. By visualizing your achievements, you prime your mind and ready it for what you want to happen. That said, I tend to be on the more sceptic side when it comes to esoteric things like this... it somehow works.
In my opinion there isn't much to it. Think of your goals and write them down in a list. It's that easy. If you are really motivated you can also make a vision board. Disclaimer: I stuck with the low-effort version - the effect is still there and to be frank, it's quite baffling. Try it.
Visualizing regularly will strengthen it.
Planning how and when you want to achieve your goals is absolutely essential if you want to get anywhere. This doesn't mean you should plan every little detail for the next 20 years, but rather working out the general steps and milestones.
I'm personally using a top-down approach. This means I'm setting the overarching goals (life-goals) and working my way down in granularity. The blueprint I use is an adapted version of "Horizons" from David Allen's Book "Getting things done", which I highly recommend reading. I simplified the original and clarified it a little to suit my needs:
- Level 4: Life goals
- Level 3: Long-term visions (5 - 20 years)
- Level 2: One- to two-year goals
- Level 1: Current projects (monthly - quarterly goals)
- Ground: Current actions (weekly - bi-weekly)
Every level represents a granularity and/or milestone for each of your goals. A level 4 goal can have multiple level 3 goals, a level 3 goal can have multiple level 2 goals etc. The further you go down the levels, the more specific you should be. Set measurable goals.
Once you have decided the direction, it is important to check where you are at regularly. I make sure to review the progress for each ground-level goal on a bi-weekly basis. If you find you are not making enough progress, adapt your process.
To keep up morale, reward yourself when you reach significant milestones.
Focus on the ground level, or in other words a high level of concentration, can be achieved by priming your environment and working in a disciplined manner.
You can prime your environment by:
- Planning the most important task at least one day ahead
- Removing distractions
- Implementing systems to make focused work easier
When it comes to the execution in the day-to-day, I highly recommend abstaining from any form of multitasking. Also, doing your most important task as soon as you can, might take a little getting over yourself, but will be highly rewarding once you are done.
If you are having trouble with discipline, I recommend reading the article linked above.
Without doubt, the combination of direction, discipline and consistency will lead you to reach your goals. However, it takes the right mindset and techniques. Remember to be patient with yourself, and to celebrate your successes along the way.
This concludes the three part series of "Mastering discipline, consistency and focus".
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