Table of Contents Brief History on The Project ...........................................................5 The Aha! Moment ...........................................................................7 What is How to Get Focused? . .......................................................7 What The Principles in this Book Taught Me ................................8 The Less Than Glamorous Journey to Those Accomplishments . .9 Introduction .................................................................................. 13 How the Mind Works . .................................................................. 13 Moving Forward . .......................................................................... 14 What this book will teach you . ..................................................... 15 A History of This Book . ................................................................ 16 What this book is not .................................................................... 17 Before Beginning The Journey: The Gut Check ........................... 18 One Thing All Wealthy People Have In Common . ...................... 18
Part I: The Elements of Focus . .................................................. 21 I. The Roots of FocusÂ ...................................................................22 II. Short-Term Focus ....................................................................25 III. Long-Term Focus . ..................................................................35 IV. Flow ......................................................................................... 41
Part II: The daily foundation.....................................................49 V. The Daily Foundation . ............................................................. 51 VI. The Focus Lab .........................................................................54 VII. Hand-writing ......................................................................... 57 VI. What Writing Does For The Mind ..........................................69 VII. Leveraging Sleep to Become More Focused . ........................ 77 VIII. Reading . ...............................................................................85 The Four Types of Blogs . ..................................................93 IX. Exercise ...................................................................................98
Part III: Igniting a Focus-Driven Life..................................... 101
X. Vision ......................................................................................102 XI. Questions to Ask Yourself ...................................................... 111 XII. Setting Focused Goals ..........................................................119 XIII. Finishing Projects and Goals ............................................. 126 XIV. The Zen Master To-do List Strategy .................................. 135
Part IV: Focus 2.0: The Online Battle...................................... 145 XV. Facebook .............................................................................. 146 XVI. Twitter ................................................................................ 153 XVII. Leveraging LinkedIn For Results ..................................... 159 XVIII. The Three Online Wells of Knowledge . .......................... 164 XIX. Email and Focus ................................................................. 172
Part V: The Sage.......................................................................182 The Sage is occupied with the unspoken .................................... 182 The Characteristics of The Sage Entrepreneur .......................... 183 Entrepreneurs Today ..................................................................184 Don’t be bashful .......................................................................... 185 The Seven Habits of Sage Entrepreneurs: . ................................186 How to test an idea in the marketplace: . ................................... 187 What’s next ................................................................................. 192 The Beginner’s Guide to Outsourcing Effectively ...................... 192 Why Outsourcing is Important . ................................................. 193 When should you outsource? ..................................................... 194 Critical Steps of Outsourcing Effectively . .................................. 195 The 5 Steps to Effective Outsourcing: ........................................ 195 Ongoing services ......................................................................... 197 Final tips .....................................................................................198 Focus in the Workplace .............................................................. 199 Critical Characteristics . ..............................................................201 7 Characteristics of a Productive Work Environment: ..............201 Focused Networking .................................................................. 208 Proven Principles of Focused Networking ................................ 209 Focusing in The Face of Emotions ............................................. 214 Why You Must Focus Your Emotions ........................................ 215 How To Counter The 10 Emotions of Life Through Focus: ....... 216 Fear ............................................................................................. 217 Hurt ............................................................................................. 217 Anger ........................................................................................... 219
Frustration ................................................................................. 220 Disappointment .......................................................................... 221 Guilt.............................................................................................. 221 Inadequacy...................................................................................222 Becoming an Autodidact . ...........................................................225 The Good: . ..................................................................................227 The Bad: ......................................................................................229 The Ugly: .................................................................................... 230 The Bottom line: ........................................................................ 230 How to Get an Ivy League Education For Free .......................... 231 Letâ€™s circle back ...........................................................................233
Part VI: Digital Detoxing.........................................................235 How to Audit Your Gadgets For Focus . .................................... 240 The Guide to Giving Up Your Cell Phone ...................................246 10 Tips for Giving Up Your Cell Phone . .................................... 248 Practicing Focused Thought .......................................................252 The Concept of Focused Thought ...............................................253 The Roots of Focused Thought ...................................................253 3 Ways to Practice Focused Thought .........................................254 There are three practical ways to practice focused thought: ..... 257 Focus and Food ...........................................................................257 Your Focus ..................................................................................258 Crash course through basics of metabolism and your brain function 259 The Golden Rule of Focus and Food ......................................... 260 Turbocharging Your Focus for The Long Haul .......................... 261 Special Thanks: ...........................................................................264 The Fascinating History of Coffee ..............................................264 End Notes . ..................................................................................270
How to Get Focused
Get Focused in an Age of Distraction by Scott P. Scheper All Content Copyright - How To Get Focused 2010 Creative Commons License How To Get Focused by How To Get Focused is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at howtogetfocused.com. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author. I dedicate this book to my wife, Laura, who habitually took our dog Winston out to pee, as I wrote away in my office every morning.
Brief History on The Project I wrote How to Get Focused by leveraging a unique writing method that I term, “Writing 2.0.” This centers on publishing chapters as blog posts, and soliciting feedback from readers in the form of comments. As a result of leveraging this method, I’ve discovered that many readers have very similar questions when first discovering this book. I’ve answered these questions below:
Q: I’m not into “How To” books. Why would I read this? A: First, “How to Get Focused,” is a very misleading title. It is not a “How to” book in a traditional sense; rather, it’s a rescue-plan. “How to Get Focused” is an action-plan and a work of stories that proposes to assist people in regaining not only their focus, but becoming aware about their digitally-concentrated environment. Q: Focus? That sounds boring. Almost as boring as studying. This book must be for the math nerds, finance jocks, or lawyers, eh? A: This book isn’t for college kids that need to concentrate better. If you fall into this category, indeed, this book will help you; but this work is intended for creatives, for artists, for entrepreneurs and those with entrepreneurial characteristics. This book is for those who have limitless potential, yet have floundered thus far in bringing their talents to reality due to lack of focus. Q: There doesn’t need to be a book on the concept of focus. Focusing is simple. Why would I need to read an entire book on it? A: You’re confusing Focus with Concentration. This is something we’ll cover more in the book; the concept of Focus is profoundly misunderstood and surprisingly underrated in our age. This book will give you an accurate understanding of Focus, as well as provide you with actionable concepts in adding Focus to your life. Q: I focus fine. Why would I need to read this book? A: Do you really focus just fine? Have you settled for success when you could have significance? Are you simply skooting by in a comfortable environment? Have you fallen short of your dreams, and yet find yourself content because you feel comfortable? In my experience, I’ve found that many of us are simply lost without knowing it. We’re distracted, but are too distracted to realize we’re distracted. You’ll learn about this and much more through reading this book.
The Aha! Moment The song, “Forever Young,” was somewhat audible as we stood on the fourth story of our $20 million yacht as it hummed along the sunny waters of Coronado, CA. We joked and reflected on the day-a day filled with helicopters, Ferrari’s and hanging around the beach-front mansion. In that moment, we felt like the masters of the universe. This feeling was partly driven from the fact that a year earlier I was flat out broke. A year earlier I was holding my wife on the floor of our apartment consoling her that it will be all right, “I think we’ll be able to make this month’s rent.” Later that night, it all started coming together. My group of friends (some new, some old, yet all multi-millionaires), began to reflect upon life. I began to realize that the way we spoke and viewed life was nothing extraordinary; we were just like everyone else in the world. We were people, after all. Yet, we mastered a concept that is rarely covered in books and the media. A concept, which I’ll discuss shortly. About four years prior to our gathering, I invested an entire summer reading almost a hundred books on success. These books were almost twenty years old. They were handed down by my father and forgotten about as they sat buried in the garage. The principles in these books, were just that--principles. Though, after four years of application and looking around at my friends, it was clear that there is an unspoken, but critical gap that separates actualized success from potential success. This book was written with that gap in mind. That gap is focus.
What is How to Get Focused? How to Get Focused takes one through an organic framework of both philosophical concepts and actionable concepts that show you how to master focus. It is my thesis that the critical gap between success and failure is mastering the concept of focus--a concept that is supremely misunderstood. In order to do this, one must
habitually train themselves to step into a state of flow through practicing short-term focus (concentration) and long-term focus (purpose). This is exemplified through six parts of the book: • Part I: The Elements of Focus • Part II: The Daily Foundation • Part III: Focused Goals • Part IV: Focus 2.0: Leveraging technology for focus • Part V: The Sage Lifestyle • Part VI: Digital Detoxing An appendix of additional materials and interviews with bestselling authors and notable entrepreneurs is also provided for application of these principles. Interviews include figures such as Seth Godin, Tony Wright, Lukas Mathis and more. Also included is a wealth of resources at the website: www. HowToGetFocused.com You’ll find the following at the website: Mind games • Brain power games • Focus and productivity applications • Goal setting applications • A focus-driven community
What The Principles in this Book Taught Me This book taught me specifically how to accomplish the following items: • Formed successful startup companies that have been featured in a variety of publications like Tech Crunch, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, LifeHacker and more. • Experienced first liquidity event (selling business assets) before the age of 25. • Went from a labeled, «ADHD» failure to a Magna Cum Laude, triple emphasis, double major university graduate.
• Leveraged specific principles to outsource and build businesses through establishing focused, purposeful processes that operate without lifting a finger.
The Less Than Glamorous Journey to Those Accomplishments I was born in 1986 to a mom who was a loving nurse, and an ADHD mortgage broker father. First thing I did when I took a breathe of fresh air in the world: urinate on my father. No joke. Things were looking good. In Kindergarden I was taken to the school nurse after refusing to use «counting beans» for counting, and instead stuck them deep up my nose. I told the nurse that the counting beans were stuck, and wouldn’t come out. When she took out the tweezers, I quickly pressed my finger to the opposite nostril and blew the bean on to the floor. Soon-thereafter, I was given my first dose of ADHD medication: ritalin. After kindergarden, I quickly established myself as not only the class clown, but the school clown. I did this through my inability to sit still, and the inability to resist repeatedly pulling the fire alarm. By this time, my mother moved me to a couple different ADHD drugs. I soon developed the ability to swallow horse-pill ADHD drugs even with the smallest amount of drinking fountain water. I was proud of myself. Despite being thrown every single ADHD medication known to man at that time, my humor (or «hyperness,» if you’re my mother, and «outlandishness,» if you were one of my teachers), never ceased. As a solution to this, my mother set me up with a doctor that hooked my head up to wires and made me watch a screen. It was a typical videogame, yet the character would only move when one concentrated. I thought it was fun; yet the wires to my scalp hurt a bit. I would go once per week. My father called it «braintendo.» At the age of 12 I started my first business, a technology and video
consulting company. I couldn’t convince my friends to work for me. Thus, for the next three years, I was the only employee. I solved problems, fixed bugs and edited videos for neighbors, parents and teachers. After a while, I realized that there’s only so much of this type of work one can take. Solving problems for others gets old. This spawned the next chapter in my life: my very own version of Jackass. Myself, and a friend named Doug decided to skip out on making videos for others, and decided to make videos for ourselves. This was a mix of skate videos and a mix of video’s that entailed any of the following: Faking like we were injured in the gutter with a skateboard on top of us, and blood all over us (it was really ketchup). • Acting as if we fell on our skateboards and smashed our face into a green power generator. People would stop and ask if we were OK. We’d get up, and walk around as if everything was normal--as if we didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. • Throwing water balloons at anything that moved or didn’t move (cars, houses, and of course, people). • Wearing old football helmets (without the facemask) and asking people serious questions. These were social experiments, and they were hilarious. Getting them on film was even more of a kick. • Putting duct tape on the road upside down with the sticky part facing up, and watching cars run over them thinking that they popped a tire. • Standing on the sides of the road acting as if we were pulling a rope. This worked great when it was dark outside. About every three months, I would get caught, and as a remedy, I was given more ADHD medication. After a certain point, I could no longer fight the medication. I became a bit more serious and hermetic. Instead of throwing water balloons, I decided to throw axes at Elves and Dwarves in virtual worlds. I engulfed myself in the world of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games («MMORPG’s»). When I discovered this phenomenon at the age of 15, I knew instantly--this was the future. My belief in the power
of people’s interaction across technology sparked the idea for my second company, Ktulu Enterprises. Essentially, I acquired (or «looted») goods in virtual worlds, and then flipped them out on eBay for money. I made a killing (well, I thought so at the time, at least). $125/week was great money for a kid. Ktulu Enterprises faded away when I discovered that hitting people in real life was more fun than in online worlds: I discovered football. My days as a football player were cut short by an injury: I blew out my height. I was short, but I was slow. Yet, I enjoyed every minute of it. I have a couple First-team All-league honors sitting on my wall. They make me feel better about myself. My first job was also probably the hardest one I’ll ever have: I was a bagging clerk at Albertson’s grocery store. I’d literally stand for eight hours and bag groceries under the furrowed brow of MILF moms in Orange County. And they weren’t nice MILF’s. My feet hurt like hell every single day after work. Every job I’ve taken since then were carried out sitting down. This brings me to my college days. I went to Chapman University, a small private school in Southern California. I was a very average student up to that point in my life. I’m not sure why any college accepted me at that time. I viewed this as an opportunity given to me, and I had to make the most out of it. I decided to emphasize in three areas of business, tack on a minor and work as a sales guy at a start-up. I ended up getting straight A’s, and doing really well in school. I actually enjoyed school for the first time in my life. Some of this was also driven by the fact that I didn’t want ADHD to define me. I learned that performing well in school isn’t about ADHD, or even intelligence. It was about attitude, which drives focus. This love for school lasted all nine years (just kidding... it was four). After a while, I left work at the startup. When I sat down to really think about it, selling to attorneys wasn’t that fun. I moved on to the next logical thing I could do: I founded a fraternity. As the president, it was my duty to manage a large number of tasks, events, rituals, social events and grow the organization. We began with 26 members. I applied lessons in the classroom to my management style and quickly learned that not everything sticks. When I realized that the principles they teach you in management
classes don’t always work in real life, I was confused. I recovered quickly, and instead focused on people and kicking ass. In turn, we broke International Headquarters records and grew to 81 members. After my term as president ended, it was the spring of my senior year in college. I first tried to launch a startup and outsource items. This quickly failed, and I lost money. You’ll learn more about outsourcing, and avoiding my first business mistake later in the book. As a recovery method, it was my goal to learn how to successfully create a startup. I figured that the successful startups got funded by venture capitalists. Thus, I called every single venture capital firm in Orange County and begged for a job so that I could be around successful entrepreneurs. One firm called me back and allowed me to intern for them. Upon graduation, the internship ended and I was looking for a job. In spite of the financial crap-pool that 2008 was, two of my friends had already landed positions in large finance firms. On the surface, I was very happy for them; however, deep-down, I was down on myself. I was jobless. Fortunately, a couple weeks later, the venture capital fund called me back up and offered me a full time position. I worked with them for another six months. Yet, a little after Christmas of 2008, the managing partner brought me in, explained to me that his fund hit some «rough waters,» and proceeded to lay me off. It was an interesting way to lay someone off. He slid my paycheck across the table and said, «The good news is that this is your paycheck. The bad news is that it’s your last one.» The VC world wasn’t all I’d hope it to be. However, before the layoff, I was planning an event for the CEO of TheFunded.com, Adeo Ressi. The timing couldn’t have been more ironic, as the thesis of his speech revolved around the fact that venture capital is dead. Shortly after that event I was offered a position at a stealth startup. This lasted for another three months. A combination of travel, arguments between founders and lack of direction resulted in this startup heading for the deadpool. Yet in the midst of all of this, I somehow found a way to have little successes and side projects that got me exposure in a variety of local technology publications. One of them lead to a recruiter calling
me up, and placing me at a job in Carlsbad. About an hour south of where I lived. I was reluctant to go down there at first, yet after meeting up with the team and checking out the environment, I jumped aboard and proceeded to build the startup into a multimillion dollar company. After about six months into this position, I was working fourteen hour days, would come home and get distracted by the TV and Playstation 3. Though I was working hard during the day, I felt that my aim in life was directionless. I lacked the long-term focus that are only experienced by those who are successful. This book is the manual that takes you through the journey of getting focus back in your life. If you have questions regarding any part of this book, please feel free to ask me, and introduce yourself. Here’s my email address: email@example.com Now, let’s begin.
If you passed away in 1950, you’d have seen as many advertisements in your entire life as people experienced in 2010 alone. In 1971, the average American saw 560 advertisements per day. Today, we see around 3,000 advertisements per day. Assimilated into this are nearly 5,000 messages from phones, emails, instant messages, wall posts, tweets and more. This is a massive increase; an increase that is profoundly unhealthy–and yet, we’re still adding more and more distractions to our lives every day.
How the Mind Works
In order to understand how dangerous this is, it’s critical to first understand how the mind works. The human mind has 60,000 thoughts per day. When measuring the amount of advertising impressions we see per day, we arrive at the following figures: In 1971, advertisements controlled almost 1% of our minds; today, advertisements control 13.33% of our minds. A significant part of your brain is being run by commercials, brands and pop-up ads. This noise and distraction leads to one thing: distraction. Your focus is under attack. The purpose of this book is to not only make you cognizant of this reality, but equipped to fight the 13.33% of your mind that is run by brands, noise and tweets. So you now ask yourself, what do I need to learn, what tools do I need, what strategies do I need? These questions reveal the problem facing all of us. It’s not what gadgets and tools you need, it’s what you need to forget. It’s what you need to abandon. In order to counteract the stolen 13.33% of your mind, one must learn to extinguish the noise, and replace it with Focused Thought (which we’ll cover later).
You must learn to abandon noise that have taken your mind from 1% to 13.33%. This style of thinking is what will give you the edge in today’s world. We have too many things that do too many things.
Moving Forward In your entire life, you may have never felt focused, or, maybe you’re just in a temporary rut. Whatever the case, know this: You’re not alone. The masters of the future will be those who focus better than others. It’s that simple. Scientists find that focused people feel less frustration, pain and
sadness. Yet, getting focused isn’t a one-time thing, it’s an all-thetime thing. What you’re doing right now is better than reading TMZ. Good job. That’s a start. But, you’ve got a lot to learn, as do we all. Who this book is for • Are you unable to sit still and get things done? • Do you start projects and never finish them? • Do you feel out of control in your life? • Are you unable to accomplish your goals? • Have you lost touch with your dreams? • Do you think that wealth and success are out of reach? • Are you too distracted to create? • Are you uncertain about what you want to do? • Are you confused about your purpose and your beliefs? If you answered yes to any of these questions or a combination of some, this book is for you. This book does not center simply around getting focused. It covers the core beliefs and items that are often the true culprit of losing focus in life.
What this book will teach you After interviewing and researching the lives of the top entrepreneurs, artists, businessmen, writers and musicians, it is my thesis that their focus sets them apart. I will be teaching you specific methods in getting focused, which will result in the following behaviors: • You will become more creative • Have peace of mind • Have more leisure time • Improve your self-esteem • Enhance self-control • Avoid fear and uncertainty • Get more done in less time (thus allowing you to work less) • Have more freedom and fun in life • Reach the dreams you’ve since forgotten • Acquire the success you’ve always dreamed of
A History of This Book The reason you’re reading this book is because one night in a late, warm Southern California winter of 2009, I decided that I needed to get my life back. To be perfectly honest, I was inspired after watching the film Julie and Julia. I experienced a profound motivation to write a book. At that time in my life, I felt unfocused, out-of-control, and as if my life was slipping away into mediocrity. I’d work twelve hours, see my wife for a couple hours, get distracted by my dog, play Playstation 3 and then surf my iPhone until I fell asleep at 2 a.m. I could not find the answer to the question I was striving for: How do I get focused? In order to explore this topic, I set out to research and write about how one not only regains focus, but also becomes focused for the first time in their life. I knew that if I embarked on writing a book about focus, I’d likely lose focus. In order to avoid this, I decided to add social pressure to my writing experience. I did this in three ways: 1. First, I released each chapter to the public through my website www.HowToGetFocused.com 2. Second, I sold pre-orders for my book. 3. Third, I outsourced the books editors to my readers. After releasing each chapter, I’d have a flood of people who loved the work, and a flood of people who pointed out confusing passages, typos and grammar flaws. I gave them free content, they gave me free advice. It was a beautiful bartering system. 4. Fourth, the data told me when I was writing crap. If I wrote the book in private, I’d have to wait until the book was published to see what my readers really thought. Being that I released the book in tranches of chapters (instead of one lump sum), I discovered in real-time which chapters were lacking, and which chapters had an impact. This was gauged through my website analytics, which displayed the average amount of time reading each chapter (after factoring in word-count). I also could gauge good chapters by its viralness (how many times each chapter was shared). And the easiest way to gauge quality was through my readers’ comments. Not necessarily the nature of their comments, but by the number and meaning behind their comments.
As a result, I had hundreds of thousands of people visiting my website and asking for more lessons. I also had dozens of people glaring at me as to when I would release the book in order for them to reap their pre-order investment. I used the capital from the pre-orders to advertise my book, design the book and create supplemental products for the book. Through their support, I’ve been able to not only write this book, but make it a more enjoyable read for them. The names of the people that pre-ordered as well as those that provided insightful comments are listed in the last page as a special thanks. With a little history about this book’s conception, I hope that its unique roots will have a lasting effect on you.
What this book is not How To Get Focused is not a “quit your job, travel the world book.” Those books are cute and amusing, but the core elements within those types of books didn’t work for me. I believe this revolves around the fact that I wake up to a wife and an ugly pug dog every day who count on me to not quit my job. Many people simply have too much responsibility to focus on themselves and travel the world. Yet focused, balanced enjoyment is always needed. This book will show you how to achieve focused enjoyment, as well. “The Me Plan leads to a path of endless suffering.” -
Sakyong Mipham I believe we all have the responsibility to break away from society’s “teet” of distraction. The responsibility to wake up earlier than others. The responsibility to get focused. And that’s what this book is about: Fighting our dopamine-driven age of distraction and getting your focus back. Really, the only thing I’m doing is helping those who want to help themselves with lessons that have helped me.
Before Beginning The Journey: The Gut Check There are two components that lead to a sustainable successful person: Hard Work and Focus. If you’re not willing to work hard, please don’t read this book. If you’re browsing this book at a bookstore, please put it back on the shelf. Or, if you’ve already bought this book, return it or give it to a friend that’s willing to put in the work. It will save you time, and it will save me face in the Amazon reviews. Actually, I take that back. I’ll get a negative review on Amazon for not getting a negative review. Listen, I’m not here to change you. That’s your job. What I can do is show you how I’ve become a more focused person. And hopefully, if you trust and believe in me, you’ll be able to apply these concepts to your life. It’s my thesis that with Focus and Hard Work, you will become more successful in all facets of your life. I can’t teach you hard work, but I can teach you focus. Both combined, will lead you to sustainable success.
One Thing All Wealthy People Have In Common
Wealthy people have one thing in common: They’re grinders. They work really, really, really hard. Yet wealthy people also experience epic downfalls. Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, Michael Jackson even Vincent Young. Why? Because they lost focus. They were distracted with earthly temptations and dismissed their purpose.
Here’s a quote from Tiger Woods prescandal: My main focus is on my game. - Tiger Woods I guess the game Tiger was referring to wasn’t the golf game. His focus was on earthly items, not on values. In this book, you’ll learn that focusing isn’t the answer; rather, focusing on truly meaningful items is the answer. We all lose our focus at some point in our life. What separates you from a success or failure is not a question of working hard, but a question of having the maturity and commitment to regain your focus. Any self-made wealthy person will face a crisis at some point after attaining earthly riches. They often overlook the fact that becoming wealthy is only half the battle. Sustaining wealth and deriving significance from wealth is where the rubber meets the road. This stage requires focus. There isn’t a book out there that can teach you hard work, but there are those that can give you tools to create a purposeful life when complemented with hard work. This book proposes to give you a tool which I believe to be severely under-addressed in our society: Focus.
PART I: THE ELEMENTS OF FOCUS The first part of this book is broken into four sections: The Roots of Focus: This chapter covers the overall concept of focus, the history of focus and the two components of focus: Shortterm Focus and Long-term Focus.
Short-Term Focus: This chapter discusses the concept of shortterm focus, which is “Concentration.” This chapter outlines eight principles that are critical in understanding short-term focus. Long-Term Focus: This chapter covers the second component of focus, Long-Term Focus, which centers around establishing a life of purpose. Flow: This chapter outlines a concept by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, which occurs when one habitually practices a mix of both shortterm focus and long-term focus.
I. The Roots of Focus At its most natural core, the Latin term “focus” refers to a “hearth,” which is simply another name for a fireplace. In the 1600’s, the hearth was the foundation of a home and possessed three capabilities: 1. The hearth was used for light (so that one can see) 2. It was used for warmth (so that one doesn’t feel cold) 3. It was used for hunger (for cooking) The hearth was the life-blood of the home. It was its most critical feature, as well as its most delicate feature. In fact the famous World War I song, “keep the home fires burning,” highlights the significance of the “hearth.” The three capabilities above are true of those who understand and master the concept of focus: • Light: Your character will project a light on others. Focus gives you the “it” factor. People won’t be able to put a finger on it, they’ll just feel that you’re driven by something unique. • Warmth: You will experience life as it was meant to be felt; with love and warmth; with purpose and pride. • Hunger: You will quench the hunger that you unconsciously strive for every day. For some of us this is happiness, for others monetary-success. A life built on focus is a life built on purpose. Definitions of Focus
• The center of interest or activity • The state or quality of having or producing clear visual definition: his face is out of focus. • The point at which an object must be situated with respect to a lens or mirror for an image of the object to be well defined. • A focal point. • An act of focusing on something.
Yea, but isn’t focus just concentrating? The reason most people lose focus in the first place is because they think “focus” and “concentration” are the same thing. Concentration is short-term focus. Long-term focus is driven by purpose. For one to “get focused,” they must first sharpen their skills in both short-term focus (concentration) and long-term focus (purpose). This oversight is why focusing appears so challenging in our age. It becomes nearly impossible to stay focused when one’s idea of focused is so far from reality.
Concentration (short-term focus): You’ve likely heard that the human mind can only concentrate for about fifteen minutes. In reality, most would consider themselves lucky to concentrate for this length of time. Why do you think commercials cap out at around 30 seconds? As technology and entertainment have become standard parts of our everyday lives, so to has our inability to concentrate for extended periods of time. We have trained our minds to operate in short blips of branded messages (as a result of advertisements). Yet there’s also good news. You can re-train your mind. You can re-calibrate your brain to concentrate for longer periods of time. Longer than you ever have. We will be exploring how in this book.
Purpose (long-term focus): A concept that will resurface itself again and again is the concept of sustainability. So often successful people face a tragic fall because of what their success is built on. Success is typically built on past
hard-work and “things” that represent this past hard-work. Once one discovers that the most valuable things in life aren’t “things” is when he or she begins the path towards building sustainable success, not “thing-success.” The sustainability I’m speaking of is driven by establishing purpose, not on dreams of fame, owning a yacht or traveling. Sustainability is built on uncovering a purpose that has nothing to do with oneself. Sustainability is built solely on using your talents to assist others. A well-respected Tibetan monk, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, once said, “The ‘me plan’ leads to a path of endless suffering.” By practicing and understanding the concept of long-term focus, you will avoid the “me-plan.” Shortly, you will learn how.
What’s Next As outlined in the introduction, this book will take you through a series of processes, modules and lessons that will re-train not just the way you think or act. It will recalibrate the lens through which you view life. Change takes time. Lots of it. And sometimes it will seem as if this change in becoming a more focused person is taking too long. For me, this was the case. Even after two weeks of attempting every day to establish focused habits, I would relapse, getting sucked into watching the Real Housewives of Orange County when it was “accidentally” on. Before embarking on this journey, remember that the human body possesses an innate, magical ability to adjust. Your body and your mind are one. You’ll be going through changes as if you’re having withdrawals. As we highlighted in the model previously, that’s where Hard Work comes in and that’s where Focus comes into play. If you’re the type of person that rarely finishes something you start, this book is for you. But again, the Hard Work is for you, too.
More Readings, Sources and Resources: • Wikipedia on Focus and Hearth
Special Thanks: • Thanks to Kristen (from the comment section below) for helping me edit this article. You can read Kristen’s blog, “Factotum’s Rostrum” here.
II. Short-Term Focus “Music helps me concentrate,” Mike said to me glancing briefly over his shoulder. Mike was in his room writing a paper for his U.S. History class. On his desk next to his computer sat crunched Red Bulls, empty Gatorade bottles, some extra pocket change and scattered pieces of paper. In the pocket of his sweat pants rested a blaring iPod with a chord that dangled near the floor, almost touching against his Adidas sandals. On his computer sat even more stray objects than his surrounding environment. There must have been twenty browser tabs open. The tabs included political blog news, random Wikipedia entries, Facebook profiles and a Myspace page blasting even more music at him. Two sound notifications popped-up simultaneously in the top-right corner of his screen. One was an email; the other was a tweet. Behind the dozens of browser windows sat a pending music download and a handful of blinking chat boxes. Mike shifted his attention about every thirty seconds between all of the above. He’d write a little bit of his history paper, check his pending download, reply to his blinking chat boxes, and then start all over again. Do you know a person like this? Those were my concentration habits at one point in my life. Today I cannot even fathom the idea of working in that environment. About six years ago, I made a series of decisions that resulted in a 180 degree turn away from those noise-filled habits. This chapter centers on the first step in making a change towards a more focused lifestyle. This chapter concerns itself with short-term focus, which is the concept of concentration. We’ll first outline what science teaches us about concentration, and then we’ll dive into how one can concentrate even when he or she feels overwhelmed.
The Science Behind Concentration In the above account, Mike is obviously stuck in a routine that many of us may have found ourselves in. Yet in the moment we feel
it’s almost an impossible routine to get out of. Many fall into this pattern because constantly shifting attention and multitasking eases the pain of doing something you hate in the first place. We mitigate essays and projects with blasts of dopamine delivered through tweets, music and gossip.What science tells us, though, is that not only does multitasking make our work 50% less valuable; it takes 50% longer to finish. Moreover, it’s physiologically impossible for the brain to multitask. When we constantly multitask to get things done, we’re not multitasking, we’re rapidly shifting our attention. And this rapid shifting kills the mind’s ability to adequately work. Multitasking waters-down the mind’s ability to create meaningful and powerful forms of output. When we follow Mike’s pattern above, the mind shifts through three phases:
Phase 1: Blood Rush Alert When Mike decides to start writing his History essay, blood rushes to his anterior pre-frontal cortex. Within this part of the brain, sits a neurological switchboard. The switchboard alerts the brain that it’s about to experience a shift in concentration.
Phase 2: Find and Execute The alert carries an electrical charge that’s composed of two parts: first, a search query (which is needed to find the correct neurons for executing the task of writing), and second, a command (which tells the appropriate neuron what to do). This process propels Mike into a mental state of writing for his History essay. Your mind literally puts a writing cap on.
Phase 3: Disengagement While in this state, Mike then hears an email notification. His mind rapidly disengages his current writing state, and then sends bloodflow back to Phase 1, which then leads him to phase 2, and when he gets distracted again, he’ll find himself at phase 3. The process repeats itself sequentially. It doesn’t work simultaneously (i.e. multitasking). The mind shifts rapidly through
this phase at a rate of one-tenth of a second, which tells us two important things: it reinforces the case that we must only focus on one thing at a time, and second, it’s critical to master selective attention, which we’ll explore below.
Concentration drives intelligence Research surfaced recently that revealed what the true drivers of intelligence are. Researchers asked, “Is intelligence simply the ability to assimilate information and recall upon it whenever needed?” Is intelligence really a measure of memory? If not, then what makes a person intelligent? Amazingly, they found that intelligence is not founded on the ability to recall facts. Instead, intelligence emanates from one’s ability to control selective attention. Intelligence arises from the ability to control the three phases above, and how ones routes their blood-flow within the prefrontal cortex of their brain. The most exciting part of this discovery is that you can train your mind in the above phases. In other-words, you can exercise intelligence through practicing focused-thought (which we’ll learn more about later). As one improves in their ability to strategically allocate attention, the brain also improves. In fact, it rewires itself. As you exercise concentration and selective attention, your mind rewires itself to support your new habits. This is brings with it both good news and bad news. The good news is that you become better and better at concentrating when you concentrate. The bad news is that as you age, your mind’s flexibility slows down slightly. Meaning, you can’t rapidly jump out of habits and processes as well as you could in your earlier days. Yet, by practicing the small steps and exercises today within your mind, you can establish solid mental faculties for your older years. By practicing brain exercises through mental games you can significantly sharpen your mind. For some brain exercises that allow you to sharpen your mind, you can visit my website and pour through the resources. You’ll find brain games and many other tools that allow you to become a more focused person (www.HowToGetFocused.com)http://bit.ly/cD7f6u http://bit.ly/cD7f6u
8 Principles of Short-Term Focus Now that you know a bit about the science of your mind, we’ll now explore 8 things that will help you build short-term focus (concentration). 1. You can’t start concentrating until you’ve stopped getting distracted The phrase above is self-explanatory. Yet, it’s amazing how most people look for some crazy, obtuse solution for the reason why they can’t concentrate. They reason, “I just have ADD. I can’t concentrate.” In reality, their situation likens itself to Mike’s situation above. In other words, those who can’t concentrate typically surround themselves in distractions. In the late 1980’s, two researchers asked themselves a chicken-egg question. (“What came first the chicken or the egg?”). Their version centers on distraction and boredom. They asked themselves, “What came first, distraction or boredom.” What they found is rather subtle, yet it’s profoundly significant. They found that distraction leads to boredom (not the other way around). This displays that we must cut out distraction in order to get focused, or else we’ll get bored. 2. Just do one important thing per day Scientists also found that we can only focus on one thing at once. Yet, nobody actually practices this concept. We’ve always got something going on in the background of whatever we’re doing. Makers of the latest smart-phones brag about multitasking capabilities (which means the phone is capable of running many applications at once). Devices are becoming proponents of multitasking yourself into a state of distraction. We’ve always got two-dozen tasks on our to-do list. On top of this, we’ve got a handful of projects that we try and finish simultaneously. How does anyone get anything done anymore? When you’ve got a mountain of paperwork on your desk, the best thing to do is clear it all off. Pick it all up and place it in a drawer.
Do anything required to get it out of your sight. After this, kickup your feet and daydream. Yes, I’m serious. Daydream and ask yourself the following question: “What’s the most important thing I can do right now?” Once you’ve identified the item that will actually make a difference, do it. This concept revolves around focusing on the essentials. Try and make it a goal to do just one critical task per day. This habit proves much more effective than living the routine everyone else lives: doing many insignificant things a day. They live on fooling themselves into thinking they’ve added value.
The quote below by John Wooden summarizes this quite nicely. Recall upon this daily if you’re having a difficult time breaking away from the ineffective lifestyle. “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” – John Wooden 3. Chunk into three’s Most of the time your one important task that you do per day takes more than just one action. Oftentimes it takes a series of smaller steps to accomplish. For this reason, it’s very helpful to chunk activities into sets of three. If you set out to accomplish one important item without a plan, you’ll find yourself just as ineffective as the crack-berry, work-a-holic running around the office making copies. Outline your three-step to-do list using an offline to-do planner (which we outline in another chapter); or if you’re working online, use a three-item FocusList to keep you focused on the task at hand (You can visit www.HowToGetFocused.com for resources, to-do lists and applications). 4. Questions that kill procrastination
The brain processes meaning before detail. Procrastination’s roots stem from this concept. Your boss, professor or co-worker tells you that the task on your desk is important, but your brain doesn’t yet agree. If you push forth anyways, and embark on the task before understanding its meaning, you’ll end up frustrating yourself and wasting time because you may have to do it all over. For this reason, whenever you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself the following questions: Question one: Does this really need to be done? • If you’re in the business world, term it as, “Will this increase revenue, and/or reduce cost?” • If you’re in school, ask “Will this impact my grade?” Note: In school, it’s not necessarily about preparing you for the real-world, it’s about assimilating information, regurgitating it on a test, and then hopefully remembering some of it in the future, which gives you more context for the real world. Hence the reason why the question isn’t, “Will this prepare me for the real world?” Whatever your environment, if you can’t come up with a compelling reason for doing something, ask why the task needs to be done. If it’s not your choice, and it’s your boss’ choice, have him or her step into your office and explain the situation. Tell them, “So, I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to best approach this project, yet I every time I advance further, I keep coming back to why this is meaningful in the first place. Can you help me understand the big picture and value this actually adds to our business?” The result will be one of four things: 1. The person will realize that this is just busy work. Thus, you won’t have to do it, 2. The person will try and convince you that it’s important. In this case, assign yourself an insanely fast deadline to finish the project, and finish it. This type of boss values people that look like they’ve done something; he or she doesn’t actually care about its effectiveness, thus they won’t care about results. 3. The person will come up with a compelling reason for why it’s important, and thus you’ll be able to finish the project with grace and effectiveness because you understand its meaning and purpose.
4. The person will get angry at you for questioning the process. This indicates that you’re at a bureaucratic organization that devalues innovation and purpose. If you’re OK with this, enjoy a work-life of hell. If you’re not OK with this, sprint to the exit as quickly as possible. Question two: Can I delegate this? If you find yourself with a task that has meaning (with or without a lie from a boss), and you don’t want to do it, delegate it. Doing something you hate is a lose-lose. It’s bad for you, as well as your organization because you’ll likely turn in sub-par work.
5. Be Smart With Your Time The Pareto principle is founded on a theory that 80% of effectiveness is driven by 20% of our activity (or causes). I argue that it’s more like 99%:1%. It’s amazing how many insignificant tasks we’re constantly filling our lives with. Don’t make it your goal to involve yourself with 20% of meaningful items during the day. It gets too confusing, and your untrained mind will still end up takingon too much. As state above, just do one important task per day. Say no to everything else–even your boss. Be humble, but be logical. There’s three types of people in corporations: Type 1: Busy People This is the person who constantly stresses themselves out by running around with paper, working on vacations and constantly checking email. They look like work-a-holics, but they get very little work done. They end up burning themselves out. They can even end up lashing out at others. What ends up happening is that others perceive them as being able to get the most done, thus people assign more work to them. The work results in being half-assed because the busy person doesn’t have the appropriate time needed for the task. People end up giving the most work to those who are least effective. This is why busy people and work-a-holics are bad for organizations. They eventually end up hurting companies.
Type 2: Lazy People Lazy people are those that put the blame on their external environment for a lot of things. In the back of their minds sits hope that they’ll one day succeed and hit that million-dollar home-run. Yet in the meantime, they fill their lives with activities that release dopamine. Activities such as T.V., potato chips, video games, researching whether or not Tupac faked his death and conspiring over whether our government is run by free masons. I was this person once. These were my habits. I occupied my time with message-boards, reading hours of sports articles, and more. I wanted to achieve my dreams, but my mind craved dopamine derived from reading sports blogs. Getting out of this state and into the state below is what this book is about. Type 3: A Sage A Sage is one that doesn’t involve themselves in dopamine-driven activities; instead, he or she is very selective about what they do. They have a habit of asking themselves questions that most people are too busy to ask. They pre-occupy themselves with the unspoken, yet meaningful assumptions that others fail to address. Sages ask questions about the meaning behind any activity that they embark on. They view turning down work as a logical decision, not an emotional one. They even say no to their bosses in a strategic way. In order to become a Sage, you must become indispensable to your organization, which is accomplished through practicing Wu Wei (which we will cover soon in the chapter on Flow). Of course, when it comes to business, nobody is indispensable, even the CEO and Founder can be replaced (e.g. Yahoo’s CEO/Founder, Jerry Yang). By becoming indispensable, I mean you must be economically indispensable. Meaning, to the economy, you must be indispensable. In other words, you, yourself, can generate monetary value wherever you go–even if you work for yourself. The most empowering feeling is knowing you can land a job at any time, or just make money for yourself whenever you want to. A true sign of being indispensable is not a pat on the ass from a
boss. It’s not a bonus or a raise. A true sign of being indispensable comes from making money on your own and getting job offers when you’re not looking for a job. In summary, in order to be a Sage, you must earn it. You must earn it by being economically indispensable, and we’ll learn shortly that this falls into place naturally.
6. Mind Maps Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s critical to allow the mind to disentangle itself by mapping out your thoughts on paper. There’s two types of maps: (i) P.S. Map, and (ii) Fear Map I. P.S. Map: A P.S. Map is short for a problem-solution mind map. This becomes a helpful tool when you’re trying to get something done and your mind keeps wandering towards a problem you think you have. A P.S. Map is also critical for when you feel restless–when your mind won’t stop racing right. Whether laying in bed or pacing around the house, your mind spins without thoughts, fears and ideas. Whenever you’re in this state, pull out a piece of paper and at the top write: “Problem.” Then map out every single detail and nature of the problem. Halfway down, on the same piece of paper, write out “Solution” And then map out possible solutions to this problem. This simple exercise slows down the mind, puts things into perspective and makes the solution shockingly clear. II. A Fear Map Sometimes, thoughts and ideas creep into our mind that are intrinsically negative in nature. These thoughts generate fear. In this situation, it’s best to outline the consequences of your fear. Through outlining the results of your fear, you can oftentimes find how insignificant the fear really is. And even in the case of where the fear still seems significant, at least you know what the worst thing could happen is. Oftentimes you’ll find that the worst thing
that could happen, really isn’t that bad. A fear map forces you to apply simple logic to the source of your fear. It’s founded on ‘If X, then Y. 1
On paper map out the following formula “if x, then y.” Where “x” is the fear, and “y” is your estimate of the fear’s result. Through mapping out your thoughts, you can calm the racing mind, which will free your mind to focus on the task at hand.
7. Blame something Other times, sitting down to concentrate is as simple as blaming a simple object for your inability to concentrate. As we discussed above, lazy people are those that blame almost everything on their environment. You don’t want to do this, as it’s not a long-term, sustainable solution to problems. However, in instances where you can’t get excited to actually pump blood to your prefrontal cortex (phase 1 of concentrating), a simple object can help you out. Such an object would be coffee, a drink, a Bonsai tree or a walk. You can reward your mind for concentrating by saying, “OK, mind, here’s the deal–it’s hard to concentrate on this right now, but I’ll pick up a bonsai tree, which will create a more compelling environment to concentrate.” You’ll find that this object-based motivator actually works.
8. Interest Researchers found that concentration is not a gift. It’s not about intelligence. It’s not about being a prodigy with a gifted memory. It’s not about possessing the ability to recall an insane amount of facts (That’s what Google’s for). Researchers found that concentration is driven by interest, and interest is driven by attitude. If your attitude towards a specific project swells with interest, intrigue and passion, concentration is astonishingly easy.
Summary A core component of concentrating is building up a repertoire of purpose-driven habits that enables you to seamlessly step into
“flow.” It’s my thesis that “flow” is the combination of mastering short-term focus and long-term focus. This book is about building this repertoire through goals, habits, exercises, philosophies and practices which will result in you becoming a more focused person.
What’s Next As we covered, the key to proper concentration is creating your own purpose-driven habits that enable you to step into “flow.”2 It’s my thesis that “flow” is the mastery of both short-term focus and long-term focus. In this chapter, we’ve outlined the science behind short-term focus, and the 8 actions you can do to improve concentration. Remember – intelligence comes from focused concentration. Beware of the distractions around you. We’re all human and prone to laziness or becoming an inefficient work-a-holic, but we can choose to become a Sage, and thus, becoming effective.
Sources and resources • Attention and Intelligence • Brain Rules
III. Long-Term Focus Jill’s preschool years can be summarized in three words: sex, drugs and fear. You see, Jill’s father began molesting Jill and her sister ever since she can remember. Her mother, meanwhile, was pacing around in an institution down the street as she recovered from nervous breakdowns. At the age of 7, Jill’s father held a family meeting that he deemed important. It turned out, he was right. In the meeting he blamed his problems on Jill before pressing a gun against his temple and pulling the trigger. This was a broken home. We’ve heard similar stories before and thus we know what comes next. Jill will become a drug addict, get pregnant, drop out of High School and end up like her father, right? Wrong. Jill’s an honor student, talented singer and president of her high school class.
Todd Marinovich began training for the NFL before he was born. He was bred to love pain, contact and intimidation. His father, an ex-Raider from the steroids heyday of the NFL, is remembered today for his unusual intensity–otherwise referred to as insanity. Todd was going to be everything his father never was–trained, wellfed and cared for. From his first breath on earth, Todd was on a strict diet that outlawed any hamburgers or junk food. Instead, his father fed him food that only did one thing: built muscle. Todd quietly rebelled in his late high school days. It started with Marijuana, and throughout college and into his pro career, led to Heroin and Methamphetamine. Todd recounts stories of shootingup at half-time of football games as he pretended to take a shit. After his brief stint in the NFL, he shifted between two places: rehab and jail. You might have even seen Todd if you’ve spent time in Newport Beach. He could be seen skating around on the boardwalk. Put simply, he turned into an addict. Todd had all the care in the world–in fact, he had too much care, and he turned into a drug addict. Jill was raised in a violently broken home, yet she became a successful young lady. So, what separates Jill from Todd? I argue that it all revolves around one concept: Focus. Yet, I’m not speaking of focus in its traditional sense. That’s short-term focus, and we covered that in the previous chapter. I’m referring to long-term focus, which is driven by four elements: purpose, values, actions and habits. Those four principles build the foundation for Long-term Focus. The rest of this book is dedicated to showing you how to become a focused person through re-awakening your purpose, defining values that drive your everyday actions, outlining activities that can help you focus and establishing a set of habits that will make it easy for you to step into a state of flow. Not only will this enable you to finish projects that you start, you’ll be able to achieve dreams you were put here on earth to carry out. I can’t tell you how many people I know who still feel empty at night even as their Visa Blackcard rests in their wallet. The problem with success is that it’s the wrong goal. Most people seek success, when in reality they’re looking for significance. Success does not
make you significant. Significance stems from actually making a difference in the world. Many people are shocked when they discover that significance isn’t achieved through action. It’s reached throughout taking focused, purposeful action. Below, I’ll touch briefly on the four components of long-term focus.
I. Habits In the first section of the book, we’ll explore various habits that drive a focused person. These habits revolve around doing something that sharpens your mind before you start the day. Essentially, you get to work before you get to work. Good habits not only enable your mind to focus better during the day, they enable you to feel more complete as a person. You feel younger, more alert, and put simply, you feel happier. I believe that you should establish one of the following habits outlined in the section of the book, and then carry it out once per day. We’ll explore Focused Habits in the next section of the book.
II. Purpose Purpose revolves around living a life built on meaning. It stems from visualizing how you will impact the world and what you are here to do. Living with purpose is then actualized by setting a simple, focused goal, which you reach in a short time-span (three months). We’ll cover this in a later part of this book. Here’s an example of someone who let focus and purpose drive their life. The following passage was uncovered in Bruce Lee’s personal journals after his death. My Chief Personal Aim In Life I, Bruce Lee, will be the highest paid Oriental superstar in the United States. In return I will give the most exciting performances and render the best of quality in the capacity of an actor. Starting in 1970, I will achieve world fame and from then onward till the end of 1980 I will have in my possession the sum of $10,000,000—then I will live the way I please and achieve inner harmony and happiness.
- Bruce Lee 1969 Lee, who died at the young age of 32, often said, “If I should die tomorrow, I will have no regrets. I did what I wanted to do. You can’t expect more from life.” Bruce Lee lived a life filled with focus and purpose.
III. Actions It’s not: Ideas without action are worthless. It’s: Without action, ideas are worthless. (Feel free to read that again to catch what I mean) Long-term focus centers on taking action in simple, logical and effective ways. The philosophy of this book outlines ways to break apart the complexities in life, and only focus on what truly drives results. In later sections, we’ll learn how to use tools including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, email and other activities in a focused fashion. We explore how one can expand their mind through auditing Ivy League courses for free. We’ll also cover how you can sky-rocket the effectiveness of your organization through practices and philosophies that lead to less work and more effectiveness. If you’re stuck in a job or in a routine that feels as if you’re trapped– as if you can’t focus due to your lack of interest in whatever you’re doing–I’ll show you how to get out of that situation. I’m not promising that you’ll be an organized person. I’m by no means organized and my wife can attest to that. What I do specialize in doing better than most around me, is thinking about one thing that truly matters every day, and doing it. Nothing more, nothing less. We’ll get into all of these actions in the book.
IV. Values Purpose tells you what you should be doing; Values tell you what you should stand for. As we learned through Jill and Todd, values aren’t driven by
our parents. Of course, your family influences your values, but they don’t define your values. Values are entirely your own decision. You must make sure you understand what you stand for, otherwise, society and your environment will do it for you. And that’s dangerous. As we’ll learn, our minds have a tendency to get carried away with things that are driven by dopamine–but aren’t necessarily good for us. Before beginning the journey and quest in becoming focused, I first want you to spend some time defining what it is you wish to get out of this book, as well as what your values are. But before that, I’ll share with you my personal values. Defining Values We live in an ideal time to exemplify and learn about the importance of defining personal values. Michael Jackson died from drugs. Michael Phelps took a bong hit and lost millions in endorsements. And Tiger Woods had a sex scandal erupt that will stain his career forever. These people lived a life filled with success. But they didn’t live a life filled with significance or sustainability. Their values were focused on the wrong items. Their focus was on earthly items. Items that society defined as symbols of success; not symbols of significance. Before his scandal, Tiger Woods said, “My main focus is on my [golf] game.” As stated previously, when one places their focus on earthly items, a downfall is almost certain to follow. I bring this up again because it’s absolutely critical in establishing a life of focus. Think hard about what values drive your life. But don’t get too crazy. Have fun with defining and setting values for yourself. If you have a family, bring them together and create your own family creed. My personal creed centers on four values: Integrity: Honesty is not bullshitting others. Integrity is not
bullshitting yourself. If you make it your job to sound off an alert anytime your mind moves towards cognitive dissonance, you’re living a life of integrity. If you’d like asistance in spotting bullshit, I suggest picking up a Bullshit Button from Amazon: (http://amzn. to/d7iwas) Growth: Physiologically, our brains are either learning, or dying. Until the year 2000, we believed that we were given a certain number of brain cells as a baby, and then they would die as we progressed through life. Neuroscience now tells us that we actually fire up new pathways within our minds as a result of how we think. We come from the jungles. From a land of adjust or die; thus, our minds must constantly sharpen itself and learn about the environment. 3
Hard Work: We live in a land of “work less, take a vacation, travel the world.” I agree with pieces of this. I believe that one should work smart, which will lead to them working less; however, I believe that working smart is hard work. Don’t let successful people trick you. Significance (and success) requires hard work. Enjoyment: Of course, you’ve got to follow up Hard Work with Enjoyment. Otherwise, you’ll turn into a work-a-holic. Every day it’s important to appreciate what you have and enjoy what you’ve been given. Those are my values. They’re what drive my actions everyday. They’re what drive my long-term focus. In order to become a more focused person, you must first start with your values. Here’s an exercise that I’d like you to carry out before moving on to the next chapter. Either write the answer in an open area in this book, or pull out a blank piece of paper.
1. What are your values? 2. What specific challenges are you facing that you would like to learn from this book?
In summary, a focused person is one who doesn’t merely have a gift of concentration. Someone who is focused has a foundation built on four things: purpose, habits, focused action and values. The rest of this book is dedicated to a variety of these items that help you become a more focused, productive person. In the next chapter, we’ll cover the concept of “Flow,” which is an organic combination of Short-term Focus (concentration), and Long-term Focus (purpose).
IV. Flow In this chapter we’ll analyze the concept of flow. We’ll first take a look at the historical implications of flow. Then, we’ll outline how you can can adopt the discipline of flow. As a result, you’ll be able to meet the goals you’ve always dreamed of and finish the projects you’ve been putting off. Through developing flow, you’ll not only be more creative, you’ll be more creative on a consistent basis–and through flow–it will be easy; creating will be natural.
The secret history of flow The concept of flow was recently proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, in which flow was characterized as a state of completely immersible, focused energy. Because of Mihaly’s inspiring work, many fell into the belief that the concept is modern–they think the concept of flow is new. A state that describes the zone athletes enter into. Yet through researching history, it becomes clear that the concept of flow is not new. It’s been described for thousands of years–and the concept has been explicitly defined over-and-over again. Below, we’ll look into different cultures’ descriptions of flow.
Taoism’s sacred belief of flow Wu Wei is an ancient concept rooted in Chinese Taoism. Wu Wei is the belief that one is at its most natural behavior when he or she doesn’t have to think about acting, or think about creating. By definition, “Wu” translates to not having; “Wei” translates to
action. Combined, this translates to not having to act. The concept of Wu Wei is likened to the sun’s orbit around the earth. It is acting without trying to act. It’s a natural form of movement. The sun moves because its nature is to move; just like you must create because your nature is to create. The Taoist schools of thought teach that one’s goal should be to experience Wu Wei in perfect equilibrium, thus allowing you to experience the natural, invisible power you were meant to experience.
In the passage below, you’ll find that one who practices Wu Wei is referred to as the third type of person that we covered previously. The Sage is occupied with the unspoken and acts without effort. Teaching without verbosity, producing without possessing, creating without regard to result, claiming nothing, the Sage has nothing to lose. - Tao Te Ching by Priya Hemenway, Chapter II A Sage is one who steps into a state of flow habitually. We will now explore this concept further through learning about the two ancient truths in developing flow.
The two ancient truths to developing flow Within the teachings of Yoga and meditation rests a concept called Samyama. This term is used in a general sense and refers to the concept of flow. Samyama is practice that leverages Daharana (concentration or short-term focus), as well as Dhayana (contemplating purpose or long-term focus). In practice, these two elements are combined with meditation and focus. Upon practicing these two concepts, flow arises as a result. Samyama teaches what we have already established, in that, flow is developed through the binding of short-term focus and long-term
focus, and then practicing it daily.
Zen’s secret to attaining a peaceful mind Within the teachings of zen, there’s a state of flow that’s said to control the minds of martial artists called Mushin. This term is shortened from “mushin no shin,” which is a Zen term for “mind of no mind.” Much like Wu Wei, this is the “zone” one enters which feels as if nature is guiding them. It centers on thinking without thinking; creating without trying to create. When in the state of Mushin, the fighter does not think of the next move; he or she knows their purpose, knows their focus and knows their next action through hours of contemplation and training. The fighting style is intuitive. It’s casual action, yet the mind operates in a hyper-speed state. Teachings have said this state of mind feels like a still pond. The mind is empty–actions are serene. Like a pond reflects its environment and the trees around it, the focused Mushin mind reflects its purpose. The pond’s environment and reflections are only disrupted when disturbances arise. The waves and ripples of the pond distort the ponds environment and foundation. This analogy reflects the minds behavior when presented with distraction. The key in developing flow and Mushin centers on blocking out distraction, and keeping the mind serene, like the unmoving pond. This reminds us of a concept we already covered: you can’t start focusing until you’ve stopped getting distracted.
How to Develop Flow That Allows You to Finish Projects and Exceed Your Goals: Now that we’ve looked into the historical context surround flow, how does one actually implement flow in their everyday life? How can you unleash this practice, which allows you to accomplish your goals, finish projects and feel in control? These questions will be answered below.
There are 5 elements that you must follow in order to establish flow: I. Understand the two sacred elements of flow Above, we learned that history tells us that flow is developed through employing two concepts: 1. Daharana (concentration, which drives short-term focus) 2. Dhayana (contemplation, which drives long-term focus) Flow stems from the combination of short-term focus and longterm focus. In the first chapter of this book, we outlined that shortterm focus is driven by concentration and long-term focus is driven by purpose. Now we’ve introduced a third component of focus, «Flow.» So where does Flow fit into the picture? Put simply, when both short-term focus and long-term focus intertwine, flow arises. In flow, creation is born, artists are made and genius is unraveled. Visually, the inception of flow looks like the diagram below:
When working on something, you simply know when you’re in a state of flow. You feel as if time has no bearing on your creation, you feel spontaneous excitement while performing task. As if nothing can stop you. No matter who you are, flow must be developed. The concept of flow moves beyond any industry, occupation or practice. Flow can be experienced whether you’re in business, music, comedy, a sport, programming, engineering or anything else. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO, bartender or a plumber. If you exceed the basic strictures society places on your occupation, and apply concentration and purpose to it, which in turn adds value to others’ lives, you’ll experience flow; you’ll experience success. And hopefully, if you’ve learned anything from this book, you’ll experience significance. However, this is easier said than done. There are specific practices and routines that can help one develop flow on a habitual basis. II. Eliminate distraction in order to establish a peaceful mind As we discussed in an earlier chapter, you can’t start focusing until you’ve stopped getting distracted. To cut out distraction, you must audit your devices (which we’ll cover in a later chapter) and then simply cut out the distractions. Cutting out distraction is the most critical component in developing flow. As the ancient martial art concept of Mushin likens itself to a still pond, so too shall your aim be in developing flow. This is done through eliminating distraction. III. Develop flow rituals Soon, you’ll learn about a concept called the Daily Foundation. Your Daily Foundation is critical for establishing flow. The concept of flow doesn’t stem from serendipity. It arises from disciplined, focused rituals that drive your actions, and thus leading to flow. IV. The most overlooked element to developing flow When one is in the state of flow, they’re completely immersed
in their activity. You can do this to–almost instantly. What this requires is a deep, thorough understanding of your subject. This can be carried out through a concept called “overlearning,” This concept is so often overlooked and under-explored. The vehicle for flow is challenging the mind, which is done through overlearning. Overlearning is the practice of rapidly crunching information that challenges you to look beyond surface-level implications. For example, if applied to reading, this means that you research each element or concept that you don’t understand. And by research, I don’t mean simply looking up a word on Dictionary.com, I mean looking into the latin roots of the word; the transformation of the word; what history tells us about the word. Much like the historical roots of Focus that I outlined in the first chapterhttp:// howtogetfocused.com/introduction. It means you must look for symbols in what you’re proposing to learn. When you’re creating, innovating and overlearning, time is at a stand-still. You will experience flow and finish the projects you’ve always wanted to finish. V. How to stop handicapping your mind’s thirst for flow: Montessori As we will learn more about in a future chapter, we are severely limited by our education system’s methods for teaching. The curriculum outlined by the universities still cater towards industrial-age workers; not information-age workers. Instead of flexibility, our university systems support stagnant curricula. In the early 20th century, however, a new teaching methodology arose from Italian physician, Maria Montessori. Her philosophy was founded on many of the principles that exist in our present-day world: transparency, problem-solving, team-work and self-learning. This teaching method never adopted a name–it’s simply referred to as the Montessori Method of teaching. The basis of the Montesorri Method revolves around problem solving. Maria put children in natural environments to solve problems. She found that children learn the most when they’re aligned with their normal nature. Much like Mushin (mind of no
mind), Maria believed that children can unleash flow through giving them freedom to leverage their natural cognitive abilities–instead of shoveling a regimented curriculum down their throats. This isn’t a practice that simply withered away. In fact, a recent study published by the journal of Science found that Montessori students outperformed students that were trained using traditional teaching mechanisms. The positive results pervaded a variety of disciplines. The Montessori students displayed higher IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and higher EQ (Emotional Quotient). They were superior in mathematics, literature, social skills and common sense. That’s right, common sense. They had a more mature understanding of fairness and justice and they were also more creative.
Concepts of Montessori: The concepts of Montessori are really not much different than various principles outlined in this book. They are founded on being in touch with nature, and solving problems on your own– on directing your own path in seeking education. The model is founded on preparing an environment that espouses flow (which we’ve outlined previously), and thus allowing you to become a more focused person. A person that finishes the projects they start, and one who finally makes progresses towards achieving their purpose. In summary, if you create an environment that espouses focus and a curriculum driven by your own passion, you’ve set yourself up to be at your most-natural state of creation, which is flow.
Summary We’ve outlined the history of flow and how to implement flow into your life. Below is a summary of what was stated above.
What we’ve learned: • Flow is not new • Wu Wei is a Chinese term that translates to “not having to act.” This describes flow’s state of natural creativity • Samyama is Yoga’s teachings that short-term focus and long-
term focus drive flow • Mushin is the concept of innovating without forced effort • You must make flow a ritual–a daily effort done through the daily foundation • In order to establish flow, your mind must be like a still pond • You must implement the concept of overlearning • And last, you should implement the freedom-based teachings of Montessori Before moving on to Part II of this book, try implementing these principles into your life, and make them habitual. Over the course of this book, we’ll learn specifically how.
Resources: WolframAlpha: (www.WolframAlpha.com) This website is an excellent resource and tool to use when practicing “overlearning.” WolframAlpha is a “knowledge engine” that allows you to learn more about many different disciplines through entering a query. Local Library: Your local library is also an excellent place to learn more about the world around you. On a weekend afternoon, visit a local library and explore books in a section of interest to you. Google Scholar: (scholar.google.com) Many simply conduct research through Googling around and searching blogs. Google has done a wonderful job by allowing you to search millions of academic articles through Google Scholar. Wikipedia: (www.wikipedia.org) Wikipedia provides a wonderful starting point for conducting research. Through their sources, you can find excellent leads to articles that are worth reading.
PART II: THE DAILY FOUNDATION â€™ Part II of How to Get Focused outlines specific principles, exercises and actions that have the ability to help you become a more focused person. Using the principles outlined in Part I, and applying those principles to the actions and habits outlined in this section of the book, will allow you to put focus into practice every single day in
your life. Part II is separated into the following chapters: Daily Foundation: The first step in becoming a focused person in this new information age centers on establishing a Daily Foundation. A Daily Foundation is a daily routine that breaks itself off from distraction. It allows you to win before you even start the day. It allows you to break away from the distraction and noise that kills your focus in everyday life. Focus Lab: The Focus Lab is a quarantined environment that rids itself of distraction. This can be a place in your house, your office, a bathroom (for reading, heh), or whatever. Hand-writing: The first exercise that you may want to implement into your Daily Foundation centers on hand-writing to flesh out ideas, thoughts and insights. This simple practice often results in a surprising result of experiencing a more purposeful, focused day. Flashcards: A second exercise that you may want to fit into your Daily Foundation centers around reflecting on short, brief thoughts. This can help you maintain a feeling of focus throughout the rest of the day. This chapter shows you how to leverage flashcards to become a more focused, purposeful person. Writing: In this chapter we explore what writing does for the mind, and how one can leverage the practice of writing to become a more focused person. Healthy Sleep: In order to change the lives of others through any occupation, one must thrive in their ability to focus. And sleep is a very silent assassin to focus. We explore the concept of sleep in this chapter. Reading: In an age where everyone is flocking to technology, social media-driven news and entertainment blogs, many are forgetting the fact that what you read is more important than how much you read. Exercise: Most people hold the belief that exercise will help you
become more focused throughout the day. But does science hold this as true? Or do people simply feel more focused from exercise because they anticipate they’ll feel more focused? In this chapter we’ll look into exercise and its effects on the human body.
V. The Daily Foundation There’s no time to think. The tools and lessons that once espoused success are quickly being washed away by the surge of innovation within the sectors of the internet, media and mobile devices. If famous success writers like Napoleon Hill took his own advice today from Think and Grow Rich, he’d lose himself at page 6 because he’d be distracted by a tweet, wall post or TMZ’s latest breaking scandal. It’s time to get focused. And the tools handed down to you by our parents are proving to be less effective. So how do you set yourself up for success in this new age? Well, the first thing you’ve got to do, is do. This concept leads us to the Daily Foundation. The first step in becoming a focused person in this new information age centers on establishing a Daily Foundation. A Daily Foundation is a daily routine that breaks itself off from distraction. It allows you to win before you even start the day. It allows you to break away from the distraction and noise that kills your focus in everyday life. If a football team wants to become successful, winning doesn’t start on the day of the game; it starts on the prior Monday morning at 5:30am when players and coaches meet to lift, watch film and study before anyone else is up. One must think and learn before the game because there’s no time to think and learn during the game. The same principle applies to any industry or occupation. Becoming a focused person is not a skill you develop on the job. It’s a skill you hone before you step into the office. Essentially, you must go to work before you go to work. In order to become a more focused person, it all starts with your
Creating the Daily Foundation The objective of your daily foundation is to break away from your typical routine. Here’s an example of an average–but common–lifestyle: • Roll out of bed • Stumble like a drunk to the kitchen • Turn on the lights • “Eyes burn. Light hurts eyes,” you think. • Wife asks questions, you get distracted. • Coffee. “Yes, coffee will solve my problems.” • How do you take your coffee? With Good morning America. Yes, that’ll help me forget the shit I’m about to experience at work. • Stay under the radar at work, getting distracted by Digg, blogs and news websites. • Drive home in a vehicle filled with sports talk and Metallica • Watch a few reality shows, shovel down dinner and gossip about other people • Stalk people on Facebook and Twitter for two and a half hours • Go to bed • Start over There’s got to be more to life than this, right? There isn’t if that’s the way you start your day. So how do you create your daily foundation? We already established that you must not think. Instead, you must do. But here’s the twist: You must do so that you can think. What I mean is you must wake up and immediately–without thinking–move towards an exercise that allows you think. Recently, studies from Harvard scholars found evidence that suggests that new brain cells can be created if one practices deep, focused thought every single day. Deep focused thought is also known as a concept we covered previously, «Flow.» One can establish Flow through carrying out creation-driven exercises. These exercises form the basis of the rest of this section. Excercises
that enable one to step into Flow include: reflecting on small quotes and passages, writing, practicing healthy sleep, hand-writing, reading and exercising. By starting your day with one of the exercises that we’ll outline in the upcoming chapters, the rest of your day will fill itself with Focus.
More on the Daily Foundation The Daily Foundation is so critically important to establishing a life built on Focus that it must be elaborated on further. Stephen King often experiences massive Writers Block. As you may know, Stephen King is the man behind Carrie, The Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption, The Shining and a couple dozen more. He’s an author who’s renowned for slamming out books like a Mormons slam out babies--extremely well. When one experiences Writer’s Block, he or she usually falls into the trap of focusing on an inaccurate big-picture idea. When King finds himself in this state, he focuses on one thing: the next step. He finds that the key to writing is taking it one word at a time. This concept explains why the Daily Foundation is important. The Daily Foundation forces you to take the day one step at a time. Whether rain or shine, or whether you’re giving a huge presentation at work, or taking a huge final for class, you always start the day the same: with the Daily Foundation. You take life one step at a time. And by taking one step at a time, you’ll naturally become a more focused person.
Time Many people object that they don’t have time for something like the Daily Foundation. They argue that they don’t have time for “X” (where X equals either exercise, reading, writing, working, studying, learning or proper sleep). For people that throw out this objection, I understand. In fact, I’ve lived by that objection for a number of years. Yet, the excuse of
the time constraint grows old after a while. Whenever you throw out “time” as an excuse for not doing something, people can see through the excuse and identify what the real issue is: it’s simply not a big priority. The thing is: Everyone has the time. It’s just a question of, what are you willing to give up in order to become a more focused, productive person? In summary, the secret to becoming a focused person centers on establishing a Daily Foundation. And the secret to establishing a Daily Foundation centers on making it a habit. Anthony Trollope, a British Writer who wrote long and profound novels on a regular basis, exemplifies this principle perfectly. Anthony’s day job wasn’t being a writer; it was as a postal clerk. In fact, those red public mailboxes were Anthony Trollope’s invention. Trollope’s Daily Foundation exercise was writing. He wrote for two and half hours every single morning. It was a regimen. It was his routine. He didn’t have to think about it because he didn’t have to think–he just acted. As soon his allocated “writing time” was up, he dropped the pen immediately and went to work. Once you cut out the distraction and make your Daily Foundation a regimen, you’ll have the time.
Summary The Daily Foundation is the first step you must take every single day in becoming a more focused person. The Daily Foundation can be filled with any excercise that allows you to step into a state of Flow. And as we learned about Flow, entering this state must be natural. It must be founded on the principle of Wu Wei, which is a natural state of being. In the upcoming chapters we will explore a variety of exercises that many find helpful in entering a state of Flow. But first, we will explore the concept of the “Focus Lab,” which centers on creating an environment that espouses focus.
VI. The Focus Lab Even after establishing a Daily Foundation, it’s easy to get
distracted. This is the result of one word: people. It really doesn’t matter how meticulous a person’s to-do list is. If one is around people, distractions are bound to arise. People run into problems throughout the day, and unless you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, people will flock to you for solutions. If this happens an appropriate number of times per day, I call this, “healthy distraction.” Distraction driven by the external environment is alright–if it’s people-driven. We’ll get into to-do list construction in a later chapter, which covers how one can organize their to-do list to be flexible and adaptable to healthy distraction. But for now, here’s the greatest secret to getting things done: a Focus Lab. You’ll also hear this referred to as a “man cave” (or, so that I’m not considered a sexist, a “woman cave”). A Focus Lab is much different than a man cave (i.e. one filled with beer, posters of chicks and sports gear that smells like stale Dorito’s).http://www.mancavesite.org/
The Focus Lab This can be a place in your house, your office, a bathroom (for reading, heh), or whatever. Bottom line: create quarantined environment that rids itself of distraction.
The Setup for the Focus Lab Setting the environment for your Focus Lab is critical. There must be a lot of “No’s.” For instance: No TV, no video games, no magazines, no pets, no people, no phones, no computer (unless for writing, offline). Step into the Focus Lab when carrying out your Daily Foundation (unless your Daily Foundation requires being outdoors). First thing in the morning, I step into my Focus Lab in order to develop a foundation that centers on thought-provoking actions (writing this book). At the office, first-thing when I get in, I meet and greet, then shut the door. I knock down the most critical items on my to-do list; and then, I’ll solve others’ problems.
In Stephen King’s memoir, “On Writing,” he virtually dedicates a chapter to the importance of working in a distraction-free environment. Here’s what he recommends for your “Focus Lab.” «If possible, there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall. For any writer, but the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction.»
The Crazy Focused Scientist I once read a story of a renowned scientist who would get sideswiped with an idea and proceed to hibernate in his lab for weeks. He would work tirelessly on the idea until he felt it was finished. According to his assistant, the man worked an insane amounts of hours. Twenty-hour workdays were normal. The only time he would come out was for food. And it was brief. The assistant had one responsibility: guard his lab from distractions. While this may be a little overboard for most professions, it’s important to apply some degree of this characteristic to your work. The degree in which you apply this concept is your decision. For me, I try to balance out my day by shutting myself into my Focus Lab at least two times per day. Once before work (for my Daily Foundation). And once at work.
“I hear dead people” When you study the works and biographies of successful people, you’ll often run into their reliance on a Focus Lab. Oftentimes, they’ll literally cite voices and inspirations that are only heard when they’re in their zone.
When Stephen King concludes that his Focus Lab is critical for success, he touches
on the voice (or the muse): But you need the room, you need the door, and you need the determination to shut the door. You need a concrete goal, as well. The longer you keep to these basics, the easier the act of writing will become. Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said he’s a hard-headed guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of bestseller, Eat Pray Love, cites a voice of inspiration in her TED address. She calls the voice of inspiration by a different name: a little genius. In Napoleon Hill’s classic work, “Think and Grow Rich,” he also cites his imaginary board of directors, which guides his thoughts.
Summary There are a wealth of other successful leaders around the world that cite the same experiences and practices. In my case, I’m able to gather thoughts and ideas that I’ve taken mental note of, focus that thought and actually apply it. I’m not into “hearing people,” or demons, but rather hearing my own thoughts and having them disentangle themselves once I write them down. And this only arises when I’m in my Focus Lab. Action item: Create your own Focus Lab and establish the habit of thinking in that room first-thing in the morning.
VII. Hand-writing The first exercise that you may want to
implement into your Daily Foundation centers on hand-writing to flesh out ideas, thoughts and insights. This simple practice often results in a surprising result of experiencing a more purposeful, focused day. Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through your fingertips - Dawson Trotman Why did we even bother to learn handwriting and cursive if we rarely practice it after elementary school? Today, high schools are filled with laptops and gadgets. Handwritten essays are only assigned for in-class exams. It’s the teacher’s way of ensuring that nobody cheats. With this as virtually the only living conduit of handwriting, no wonder people grow up hating handwriting. The only time one writes by hand is under the furrowed brow of a suspicious teacher or professor. The way in which our teachers and professors employ hand-writing today is ridiculous. And more, it’s wrong. We’ll now explore why. Handwriting is obsolete in certain circumstances and helpful in others. When not to hand-write: • When you’re writing two paragraphs or more. • When you’re writing a book When to hand-write: • Reminders and quotes • To-do lists • Mapping out ideas, strategies or ventures • Reaching very important people • Creating outlines for what you’re about to write • Storyboarding presentations or speeches There’s just something special about writing by hand. It gives one that sense of speed. It gives freedom to draw in whatever pattern
necessary; it enables one to rapidly link together ideas with arrows. It allows you to focus and step into flow–as you’re completely immersed in the idea. There’s no email alert popping up in the background. In brief, hand-writing helps the mind focus.
I. Reminders and quotes
When I was nineteen, I took up a habit of writing down bite-sized thoughts. I wrote quotes, lessons and ideas on note cards. As I read various books, I wrote down vocabulary that I didn’t understand. I’d write the word on the front of the card, and the definition on the back. Every single day I reviewed these note cards. They served as reminders. Reviewing them was a great way to start the day. There was no distractions. Though my time invested in writing has crowded out this habit, I plan on re-awakening it soon. This practice serves as a wonderful Daily Foundation exercise. Repetition is the mother of skill. - Anonymous
There were actually quite a few notable figures that employ this technique–the technique of jotting down quick thoughts. Many of them recommend having something handy next to your nightstand: I keep little notepads all over the place to write down ideas as soon as they strike, but the ones that fill up the
quickest are always the ones at my nightstand. ~Emily Logan Decens These little flashes of quotes, lessons or inspirations are perfect for hand-writing. How to get in the habit of writing down quick thoughts: Listed below are some items, practices and tips that I’ve found helpful in practicing this as part of your Daily Foundation. In the next chapter, we’ll expand on these. Invest in a comfortable pen or pencil. Don’t shy away from investing in a tool over $10. The money spent may help you feel obligated to use it, which is good when trying to establish a habit. Here’s a site with interesting pens. 1. Buy some note cards (3×5) and put them in your back pocket 2. When you’ve written down thoughts or lessons, put them in a note card case (you can pick one up at Office Max or Staples) 3. I separate them into three categories: a) vocabulary, b) life lessons, c) business strategy 4. Review them first thing in the morning as part of the daily foundation
II. To-do lists There’s no better feeling than scratching off an item from your todo list. OK, maybe there is. But scratching out completed items can quickly become a sweet obsession. I’ve tried different to-do lists whether they be online, offline, through the phone--you name it, I’ve tried it. What I’ve found to be the most important is keeping to-do lists simple. In a later chapter we’ll dive more into to-do list strategies, and a special type of to-do list, which I call the FocusList.
A to-do list is a list of things to do. Write it down and do it, don’t over-think it otherwise you’ll get nothing done.
One of the secrets of getting more done is to make a TO DO List every day, keep it visible, and use it as a guide to action as you go through the day. — Jean de La Fontaine What is crucial; however, is keeping your main to-do list offline. To those that object, I feel your pain. I know it sucks to ditch Remember The Milk, Google To-Do’s, or Jott. I’ve been through it. Those services are fine for building repositories of things you’d like to get done in the future, but for everyday actions, get an offline list. Why? Because your to-do list must be flexible and open. You need to circle items, draw connected arrows and scratch things out on the fly.
III. Mapping out ideas, strategies or ventures The Founder and CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, is the greatest presenter of our time. His presentations are founded on a secret. The secret of his great presentations all start with two things: a pad and paper. In the book, “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs,” the following is outlined about Jobs: ”Jobs is closely involved in every detail of a presentation: writing descriptive taglines, creating slides, practicing demos, and making sure the lighting is just right. Jobs takes nothing for granted. He does what most top presentation designers recommend: he starts on paper. ‘There’s just something about paper and pen and sketching out rough ideas in the ‘analog world’ in the early stages that seems to lead to more clarity and better, more creative results when we finally get down to representing our ideas digitally,’ writes Garr Reylods in Presentation Zen.” 4
Many of the biggest companies have massive deals written out on paper. Even Facebook is rumored to have the term sheets with hundred-million dollar deals in venture capital investments mapped out on a napkin. There’s likely a business plan or deal written on a napkin that drives services or products you use everyday--even services you fly in like Southwest Airlines. Richard Tait, the creator of various smash-hit board games, has
a similar story that revolved around mapping ideas out on paper. While on a flight from New York to Seattle, Tait grew tired of staring out the window and reading over the editorial column in the Wall Street Journal. Amidst the sleeping executives flying in the first-class section around him, Tait pulled out a napkin that was resting next to his Canada Dry Ginger Ale. On it, he devised an idea for a game that enabled everyone to succeed in at least one area. The name of this game, he decided, would be Cranium. This simple concept took audiences by storm, and the game was later bought by Hasbro. All of this, was started by simply mapping out ideas on the back of a small napkin. 5 When people gather for lunch and bounce ideas around, they choose one simple medium: a napkin. You’ll rarely, if ever, see two people whipping out their iPhone to map out ideas. Why? Because a pen and a napkin get the job done just fine. For this reason, I highly recommend companies to employ whiteboards within their teams. I’ve lived through a variety of startups, some of which succeeded, some of which failed. What was critical in the successful ones was the ability to communicate ideas. I’ve led various software re-hauls and implemented various project management systems. None of them came close to accomplishing more than the very basic whiteboard. This was hard for me to swallow at first, because I wanted to bring a nifty piece of software to the organization. I wanted to be responsible for implementing software that helped our team become more productive. But each tool I brought failed–they all had one thing in common: the whiteboard does the job just as well, if not better. If you require data and notes for your whiteboard, programmer Stephen Furlani points out that there’s tools that give you this ability: mimio (www.mimio.com). Furlani also notes that hand-writing within programming isn’t dead. In fact, it isn’t even close. With all of the electronic ways to map out ideas and use-cases through software, nothing comes close to mapping out ideas by hand. Furlani writes, “I write it out in pseudocode on a notebook in front of me while I am examining the code, make the changes by hand, and then re-code the section on the computer. It aids greatly in understanding what the original
code does, since most of it is usually undocumented, and how the fix interacts with the original code.” Even if you’re a programmer, hand-writing still prevails.
IV. Reaching VIP’s In an age of emoticons and LOL’s, you’ll stun people when you communicate via hand-written notes. It’ll take the reader back to their childhood. This strategy works because hand-written notes are more intimate. The actual living ink is a reflection of time and work composing the letter.
When reading an e-mail, one processes electronic text. And what do most people complain about at work? Reading too much electronic text. “I’m so busy, I get 100 emails per day.” Think about it. Have you ever met a person that’s said, “In my offtime I really enjoy sipping cappuccino’s and reading emails.” Chances are very unlikely. People very much dislike email. Don’t add fuel to the fire. Instead, try and reach them through less crowded mediums using a personal, hand-written note. I’ve never met a person that’s said, “In my off-time I really enjoy sipping cappuccino’s and reading emails.” People hate email. Don’t add fuel to the fire. Bottom line: It’s a wise marketing tactic to reach people through hand-written notes. In our age of noise, the most crowded channels are the newest ones: texting, emails and cell phones. The emptiest channels are the most intimate: hand-written notes. Next action: I suggest adopting at least one of the four ways to use hand-writing above. Whether making this practice part of your
everyday life through the Daily Foundation, or trying to practice hand-writing more, give this exercise a try at least once this week.
V. Flashcards (or Focused Affirmations) A second exercise that you may want to fit into your Daily Foundation centers around reflecting on short, brief thoughts. This can help you maintain a feeling of focus throughout the rest of the day. This exercise is leveraged through flashcards. In the prior chapter on handwriting ideas, I mentioned the concept of using flashcards to start the day. In this chapter, I’ll elaborate on the why, what, how, who and best practices in leveraging flashcards to focus the mind. The concept of using flashcards In our information age, technology has centered on delivering more information, in less time. In turn, we’re left with TMI (“Too Much Information”). We’re presented with a sea of data, and a millisecond to derive meaning from this data. More than ever, we need to find a way to understand and reflect on meaningful data. That’s where flashcards come into the picture. The act of flashcard reflection is a habit that likens itself to Western forms of meditation–focused, contemplation-based meditations (which we’ll cover in a later chapter). The concept is simple: throughout the day, write down quotes, ideas, actions, insights, vocabulary and lessons. Then, each morning, review the ideas and digest a handful of them to remind you of what you’ve learned and why you’re here. Three Sections of Flashcards: (i) Vocabulary This section includes vocabulary and terms that you’ve picked up out of books, or even a book specifically aimed at vocabulary. Why should you care about vocab? I mean, the SAT is likely long
gone, right? You’ll want to sharpen your vocabulary not for the purpose of using the terms to “sound smart;” rather, you’ll want to digest terms so that whenever anyone attempts to sound smart around you by using “big words,” you’ll be capable of immediately interpreting what they’re trying to say. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to correct them if they use the term inccorectly (if they’re arrogantly using a term, of course). Here’s a book I used for sharpening my vocabulary: Word Smart (ii) Life The second section within your flashcard deck centers on the part of life that matters most: life itself. Life lessons include quotes, ideas and personal experiences that you intend to learn from. These can be anything that are inspirational, moving or self-affirmations that remind you who you are and what your purpose is (we’ll get into purpose in a later chapter). Fill this section with ideas that not only move you, but also define who you are. The pain and lack of purpose in our world is very real. I have quite a few friends and colleagues that have pulled themselves up from their bootstraps and launched successful ventures. These are people that are written about in newspapers, blogs and even books; however, I find that their vulnerabilities and feelings are exactly the same as the rest of the world’s. And the one’s that don’t have a sense of purpose, or a sense of meaning, end up burning out. Again, you must remember that success is not as important as significance. This section within your flashcard deck serves as a reminder of this concept every single day. (iii) Career The career section contains lessons, concepts, quotes and models of a specific industry or occupation that you’re passionate about. For instance, if it’s entrepreneurship, and you come across an excellent article on entrepreneurship, you’ll write down lessons from the
article on a flashcard. If you’re in the engineering realm, write down critical formulas, laws and concepts. If you’re a business consultant, write down business concepts such as Porter’s 5 Forces. If you’re in real-estate, write down some of the old economics laws that build a foundation for your thought process. If you’re an artist, jot down some ideas that inspire you; or inspirational stories from famous artists. Daily foundation: If you elect to make flashcard reviews your Daily Foundation exercise, then you’ll want to review at least ten new flashcards every single day. This results in three outcomes: it gives one clarity, peace of mind and a focused start to the day. Every single day, you start by reminding yourself why you’re here, what you’re passionate about, and what you plan to do in life. If you make this a habit, you’ll get focused at the start of every day–and it will translate into not only results, but fulfillment. Guaranteed. 4 Simple steps for getting your flashcard system up-and-running: 1. Get a large number of flashcards 2. Get the flashcard separators (like manila file separators, but smaller for flash cards) 3. Get a flashcard box (a box about five inches wide and a foot long that stores flash cards) 4. Get a solid pen that encourages your to write (you’ll do a lot of it) Starting from nothing: The value of flashcards, like the network effect, sits in direct proportion to the quantity and quality of flashcards that you have available. In order to get started, though, here’s a trick that wasn’t available to me when I began creating flashcards: It’s called Flashcard Exchange (www.FlashCardExchange.com). This services contains thousands of Flashcards made available by others. It’s like YouTube for flashcards. These flashcards are for studying, and span a wide range of material and disciplines.
The best part of this service is that you can select either to review flashcards online or offline. With productivity applications, I always suggest offline apps because of the environment that surrounds the application. Online applications are surrounded by the internet, which is a powerful, yet powerfully-destructive form of distraction. Yet, There’s really pro’s and con’s with both. • The pro’s with online flashcards centers on the ability to edit, rearrange and save paper. • The con’s with online flashcards sits on the freedom to actually write freely. Additionally, you’re more likely to get distracted when YouTube, and Perez Hilton are just a click away. Why Flashcards Work: As touched on above, we live in an age of information overload. Services that make it a point to provide less information are thriving. You’ll see articles that are going viral that show the best “start-up advice in three words.” You’ll see tools like Twitter, who make it a point to share bite-sized bits of information. Or even productivity company, 37 Signals, who make it their competitive edge to focus on less–and focus on only core features. Bite-sized pieces of powerful, moving ideas are contained within flashcards. The shape, style and nature of flashcards enable one to swiftly engage and absorb those ideas. This is the power of flashcards. The power sits in their bite-sized ability to galvanize one to take action. It’s a perfect routine for starting any day. The Science Behind Flashcards: The use of flashcards is really a form of self-affirmations. The repetitive use of flashcards is a focus-driven form of self affirmations. Being that these affirmations are based on knowledge and prior thought, I refer to them as “Focused Affirmations.” Focused affirmations are a form of autosuggestion that allow the brain’s synapses to strengthen, sharpen and move towards actions that are built within the foundation of focused affirmations.
You’ll find autosuggestion and affirmations in many self-help books; typically they come across as touchy-feely, and the author sometimes doesn’t even give a damn on whether it truly works or not. They’ll just say, “tell yourself that you’re the best!” Then they’ll give you a quote from some benign author; or they’ll take you through a meandering story about someone that told themselves that they were the best. I’ll do you a favor and cut through that. Here’s the real juice:
The no bullshit take on self affirmations, and whether or not they work: In the human brain, there sits a type of cell which rarely gets any coverage or exposure in the media--or even in textbooks one finds in school. These cells are known as glial cells. Glia, in Greek, refers to glue. These cells surround and glue together neurons within the brain, and kill inanimate and dying neurons. Thus, if you’re not using a specific set of neural synapses, you’ve got a glial cell looking over its shoulder ready to kill it off. Thus, in order to counter this neurological act, you must routinely exercise your neurons. You do this through consistent focused thought. Scientists have found that affirmations keep the neurons firing, and as a result, the neurological pathways remain fresh. Thus, focused affirmations do expand the mind and allow you to carry out the actions in which you’ve envisioned.
Self affirmations vs. Focused Affirmations Self affirmations are short phrases that are in the present-tense. For instance, “I am confident,” or “I make shit happen.” On the otherhand, Focused affirmations are quotes, vocabulary, lessons, models and phrases outlined on flashcards. So which type of affirmations should you implement? In my flashcard deck, I have about 95% focused affirmations, and 5% self affirmations. I proportion my affirmations this way to supplement focused insight with active belief. For me, this works and makes sense. I suggest having more focused affirmations than self affirmations; however, the actual percentage proportion is on
you to decide.
Summary: The act of using flashcards for focused affirmations and selfaffirmations is critical for expanding the mind, and moving towards a life of focus. By building a daily foundation containing the focused affirmations, you’ll feel a certain sense of clarity. This clarity will allow you to focus and live a more fulfilled day.
VI. What Writing Does For The Mind If your brain isn’t growing, it’s dying. The brain continually recalibrates itself based on your inputs. No matter what age you are, your brain loses or grows neurons in proportion to your activities. It really is use it or lose it. Unlike any other organ in your body, your brain is wired to do one thing: think. Your brain is a thinking organ. In order to grow your brain, you must interact with the world through perception, contemplation and action. Mental stimulation drives brain functionality, and prevents cognitive decay. Just as exercises helps the mind grow, so too does writing. In this chapter we’ll answer two questions: 1. What does writing do for the mind? 2. How can one become a better writer?
The Truth Behind Writing’s Effect on the Mind One day, Dr. Stephen Krashen grew curious. Enjoying the beautiful sun of Southern California, he paused and asked himself a couple questions. Everyone always told him that in order to become a better writer, one must write. “But is this really true,” he asked. “How do we know for sure? And how does one uncover if writing really expands the mind?” As a black belt in Tae Kwan Doe and a champion in Venice Beach weightlifting competitions, two things always drove Dr. Krashen:
curiosity and discipline. Now, as a middle-aged man, questions like those above were his outlet for exercise. Much like his 300-plus published papers and books, those questions drove him to dive deep into the beliefs we hold true. And his research on this subject changed our thoughts about writing forever. In fact, his research on this area led to his induction in the International Reading Association’s Hall of Fame–a profound and prestigious honor. His paper, We Learn To Write By Reading, But Writing Can Make You Smarter, yielded two findings: 1. Writing does not help you become a better writer; reading does. 2. Writing makes you smarter and allows you to solve more complex problems. Dr. Krashen found that through writing, the brain becomes stimulated. Ph.D.’s from UC Berkely, Robert Yerkes and John Dodson, have found that through stimulation, the mind is pruned to become more focused an attentive. The more your mind is stimulated, your mind grows and increases its ability to focus. In summary, two important things were discovered about focus through writing: • As one writes, they become smarter • As one writes, they increase their ability to focus
Formulating ideas Through writing, thoughts disentangle themselves. When speaking, thoughts are poured out in real-time. The communication is raw. With writing, however, one has the ability to redraft and refocus their thoughts. This results in a more clear and concise form of communication. This act of organizing thoughts, is a powerful way to enhance the mind. It allows you to slow down and ask yourself critical questions. After making writing a routine, the way you think will change, the way you speak will change and others will sense this change. Your ability to formulate thoughts and present them in a concise
manner will set you apart. If you make this a habit, you will go further in business, in life and with people.
Grasping the main idea Just as important, writing out your thoughts on a consistent basis will allow you to better grasp concepts–no matter how vague or abstract. For instance, a study was conducted by Arngala Ganguli in the field of mathematics. After each class, the professor asked one group of students to write a paragraph on what main ideas they’ve learned. When compared to the normal group, the group that wrote down their thoughts significantly outperformed the rest of the students. The act of writing down and summarizing what they learned significantly helped them not only learn more proficiently, but apply their knowledge more accurately. The lesson is: If you want to really grasp something, don’t read about it. That’s passive; instead, write and reflect on it.
Writing is focused action The vast majority of people out there reason, “I don’t have time to write,” or “I’d rather act and get things done, than write.” These excuses completely miss the point. Writing is focused action. Writing hedges the trap most people run into: acting without focus. Writing sets you up to act in a focused manner. If all we did was act, we’d all be running around like headless chickens. Writing leads to an action-oriented life, not a reaction-oriented life. Just because one acts, doesn’t make one succeed. It is through focused-action that one finds success. And this focused-action can be procured through writing.
It is in giving that you receive In , I outline what types of blogs and books you should look out for. I exhibit that you must be wary of certain types of blogs. Over the years, I’ve read countless books and blogs that have allowed me to grow as a person. If this wasn’t available, I would’ve made countless more business mistakes and wouldn’t have self-taught myself how to program, or even write this. I am in great debt to the leaders
and individuals who wrote books or blogged. Yet, they too benefit from writing and teaching people like me. Authors and bloggers learn more about their subject as they write. It is in giving that you recieve. It is in writing that you learn.
9 Tips for Becoming an Unstoppable Writer: It’s clear that writing not only makes you a more focused person, it makes you smarter. It will propel your career and your life ahead of those who drool on themselves while watching The Kardishians. It will enable you to re-spark your path to accomplish the dreams you’ve since put on hold, or the projects that are on the backburner. So how do you get started? Here are 9 tips to become an unstoppable writer. 1. Read. A lot. As discovered above by Dr. Krashen, you must read to become a better writer. In order to do this, I suggest writing in the morning and reading at night. Slap on a pair of headphones and read while your spouse stares at the T.V. Yet, is what you read more important than how much you read? To this day, studies haven’t found anything conclusive on this; however, it’s common sense that this principle should hold true. We are what we think about. And what we think about is correlated with the inputs we load into our minds. 2. Map out the idea
Before you sit down to write, map out what you’re going to write. Otherwise, you’re just journaling. And news flash: nobody cares. We live in a world where people have less and less time to read. Don’t make it harder by meandering through thoughts; instead, spend time in communicating points. Don’t restrict your mind by using electronic tools to map out your idea. When I asked bestselling author Seth Godin about his favorite tool for writing, he replied, “Big pads. Different ones all the time. Grease pencils.” If you’re always on the go, you may want to look into Moleskine notebooks. They’re basic, simple and straightforward notebooks. They’ve gained somewhat of a cultist following due to their history. The list of famous writers and authors that use Moleskines include: Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Bruce Chatwin. 3. How a writing strategy makes writing easier When writing about something, you want to present it in logical fashion; yet, this concept doesn’t hold true in writing a novel. In a
novel, you’re essentially telling the truth. You’re revealing a story as it comes to you, as the inspiration speaks to you. You then go back and redraft. It’s different when writing a book that centers on communicating and convincing others of your thesis (like this book). As in my case, my thesis centers on the belief that the most successful people have a degree of focus that normal people rarely practice. In order to reach this thesis, I continually craft and map out how I’m going to communicate this point. My chapters are much different than it would be if I were writing a novel. My chapters center on essentially three parts: (i) I tell you what I’m going to tell you, (ii) I tell you through stories, data and steps, (iii) I tell you what I just told you. You must have a strategy for writing the piece of art of your choice (whehter novel, memoir, poem or thesis-based book). If you’re writing a novel, your strategy should be freedom of thought in telling the story. If you’re writing a thesis-based book, your strategy should center on mapping out the direction of your book, and focusing on what your reader wants to know about the subject at hand. Once you understand your strategy, writing becomes easier. 4. Creating a writing environment You need to create an environment that drives you to focus, and enables you to write. Your environment should be quarantined of any major distractions. This includes cell phones, television or anything that may distract you. In my Focus Lab, there’s basically two things: a light and a desk. There’s no pictures, no furniture--nothing. The closest thing to art is the entire wall that I painted a deep red–it’s my belief that this color drives creativity, it drives action and it drives focus. 5. Effective ways to listen to music while writing Believe it or not, Stephen King rocks out to Metallica while writing. We all have different music preferences for working. Some prefer listening to Pandora all day (www.pandora.com), whereas others prefer silence. When writing, if you do decide to listen to music, I
recommend using headphones and an iPod instead of listening to music through your computer. If you’re trying to write and you’ve got music that’s running in the background, you’ll stop where you are and begin fiddling with iTunes, Pandora, YouTube or whatever’s on your computer. Before you know it, you’ve just wasted an hour. Having music running in the background on your computer is a distraction--a dangerous one. As we’ll cover in auditing your gadgets for focus, when writing, you should only use tools that serve one major function. In this case, use a computer for writing, a pad of paper for mapping out thoughts and an iPod for listening to music. 6. Redraft later and you’ll finish writing a book When writing, nothing’s going to be perfect. Don’t try to finish the perfect chapter. In my case, I literally write this book in real-time. I ship the chapters, and then re-write at a later time. Redrafting a chapter over and over is a roadblock to finishing your project or book. With this book, I was very selective in choosing when and what to redraft. I shipped my chapters, and moved on immediately to the next chapter. After finishing the entire book is when I went back and actually revised and re-arranged the book. If you want to finish a book, finish it, let it rest for six weeks and then redraft it. 7. Enjoy the process It’s odd that in many professions, people hate the process of creating. They’re so focused on finishing, that they miss the enjoyment of creating. Ironically, it’s because one loses focus on the creative process that they never end up finishing projects or books they’ve started in the first place. Take a step back and enjoy the process of writing. 8. Have a time-line
This is the most critical component in writing. Have a time-line of about three months to finish the first draft; otherwise, the passion that drove you to start the project will start to fade. In a later section on goals, we’ll explore why the time-line of three months is so critical to keeping focused in the creative process. After you finish the first draft, leave it alone for six weeks. When you’re ready, pick it up again, print out your work and read it through (making marks of any changes). You’ll find great amusement out of this process. You’ll be surprised with how good your work is. You’ll have forgotten about things you’ve written. And you’ll be confused about things you’ve written, which allows you to quickly correct the confusion. That’s why taking a break is good. 9. No biggie Life is too important to take too seriously. Just like life, writing is too important to take too seriously. You need to be honest with yourself, and be honest with your readers. They’ll be able to sniff out any bullshit you throw at them. For instance, as I was rereading this chapter, I had an introduction that could be cut down to three words. So what did I do? I cut it down to three words. I don’t want to waste your time, because you respectfully haven’t wasted any of my time. Yet, if you do end up writing something that sucked, or even an entire chapter that didn’t move anyone, don’t worry about it. No big deal. Trust yourself to improve. Trust yourself to grow, and don’t cut yourself down for imperfect writing style. Everyone must start somewhere. If you look back at prior drafts and nothing stands out that could be improved, you should be worried. That means you haven’t grown as a writer. It’s a healthy sign to look back at things you’ve written in the past and correct them, but again, make sure you enjoy the process.
Summary: In this chapter we learned the following lessons about writing and the mind:
• Writing helps you focus • Writing makes you smarter • Reading makes you a better writer • Writing helps you formulate ideas • Writing helps you grasp concepts In order to become a better writer: 3. Read. A lot. 1. Map out the idea 2. Have a writing strategy 3. Create a writing environment 4. How to use music to become a better writer 5. Re-draft later 6. Enjoy the process 7. Have a time-line 8. No biggie: forgive yourself if you make style mistakes Other tools: • Tempation blocker • Write or die Further Sources, Resources and Readings: • Your brain and exercises to expand the mind • Stephen Krashen PDF on Writing • Ganguli on Mathematics and Writing • Xomba Writing Tips • Tips to Focus on Writing
VII. Leveraging Sleep to Become More Focused If take a stroll around any college campus before 12pm, you’ll hear it. “I’m so tired, I didn’t get any sleep.” Yet, this phrase echoes beyond dormitories and college classrooms. It echoes into the corporate world. Everyday you’ll run into one person that’s just “so tired.”
The issue of sleep arises everyday in our lives; yet, we have a foggy sense of what science tells us about sleep. Sure we’ve seen a 60 minutes documentary on the topic. Or read an article about sleep deprivation in Readers Digest; but those articles quickly become forgotten. We don’t realize that sleep deprivation is a much bigger issue than we think. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a study from 1999 – 2004. They found that on a monthly basis, almost half of the United States experiences sleep deprivation to the point where they’re rendered useless in the workplace. People arrive at work without the cognitive ability to actually work. Almost twenty five percent of adults experience this on a weekly basis. Due to lack of sleep we’re literally seeing a work-place filled with sleep-deprived zombies.
Why this is important The future of wealth accumulation, success and changing the lives of others centers on your ability to focus (both short-term and long-term focus). No matter what industry you’re from–social services, studying at a university, in the medical field, the financial realm, creating technology, developing web applications, realestate–whatever. In order to change the lives of others through any occupation, one must thrive in their ability to focus. And sleep is a very silent assassin to focus. You can do everything outlined in this book, and implement any Daily Foundation exercise (writing, reading, flashcards, etc.). However, if your physiological sleep systems are out of tune, your ability to focus is severely hindered. For this reason, we’ll outline the scientific nature of sleep, and cover interesting elements surrounding the subject of sleep.
Sleep and The Mind After a marathon one regenerates muscle fibers through sitting still. Awake or not, you can simply kick-back, prop your feet up and stare at the television. With the mind, we regenerate and recover through sleep. Sleep is the mind’s way of recovering from a workout. Sleep revitalizes cognitive functions of the brain.
There are certain stages of sleep–and during those stages, different parts of the mind are recovered, and like muscle, they develop differently. Some stages develop neurons within the cerebral cortex; while other stages generate synaptic connections within the mind. To exemplify this, take the experiment of the temporal lobe. Within the cerebral cortex, the temporal lobe is used for processing language. Two subjects were given an exercise in order to test the development of this area: sleep deprived subjects and normal sleep subjects. Those that were sleep deprived scored lower across the board. Their results were embarrassing; after a period, the sleep deprived subjects were literally slurring through the exercise. Through hundreds of studies, and thousands of metrics, one thing stands true: there are no instances where lack of sleep enables one to perform better in a given subject or test. There are certain sectors of the brain that fight a good fight against sleep deprivation; yet, other parts of the mind either shut down completely, or are rendered useless through severe hallucinations, or in extreme scenarios, death. Bottom line: without sleep our brain deteriorates. With sleep our brain regenerates. And with certain sleep exercises, our brain can grow.
How Much Time You Need to Sleep The number of hours required for sleep is a topic that arises in water-cooler conversations around the office. “I only need five hours of sleep,” someone brags. You’ve heard growing up that eight hours is the golden number for adequate sleep. Though truth reveals that each individual has a different requirement. For myself, I need a solid seven hours of sleep to be operate adequately. Sometimes, I’ll sleep eight hours. I’ve got a family member, on the other-hand, that sleeps three hours, and feels refreshed. You’ll find that the people that sleep very little have been doing so since they were very little. It’s not a choice–it’s natural. And to me, it’s not admirable, but I’ll admit, it is quite fascinating.
Polyphasic Sleep: There’s recent buzz about a sleep pattern called “Polyphasic sleep.” This centers on the practice of taking frequent cat-naps throughout the day; opposed to one eight-hour sleep-cycle. This practice is founded on the following concept: There are multiple phases of sleep, and REM is the one that proves itself critical for re-energizing the mind. Ironically, REM is also the period where the brain is most active–mainly due to dreams. Polyphasic sleep is founded on the theory that many catnaps throughout the day will result in immediate REM cycles, thus allowing you to shave off the time spent in the preliminary sleep stages. In theory, this sounds logically sound, however in practice, it’s much harder. Just because one takes many catnaps throughout the day doesn’t mean everyone else will. The practicality of this schedule typically deters people from adopting polyphasic sleep patterns. It must be noted, though, that there are a handful of historical figures and even presidents that have successfully, and sustainably, implemented bi-phasic sleep schedules (sleeping twice per day). My suggestion would be to adopt the sleep pattern that is most aligned with your environment and schedule. If your current sleep pattern has proven itself unsuccessful for an extended period of time, experiment with different sleep patterns--even bi-phasic and polyphasic sleep patterns if your environment and schedule permits it.
18 ways to leverage sleep for focus Not all sleep issues are in your control. If certain components of your psychological system are out of whack, your sleep will likely follow suit. For instance, if your cardiovascular system or nervous system experience harmful abnormalities, chances are your sleep will suffer. Yet there are certain elements within your control that you can learn to counter. Below we will explore eighteen such elements that you can control, and tools that you can apply to your life, which will allow you to get more peace out of sleep.
1. Don’t pretend to be a Rockstar: Many people live life like rockstars (and by rockstars, I mean they’re rockstars in their own minds). They constantly are pounding away on their Blackberries, or tapping away on their iPhones. If they’re waiting in line, they’re shooting off pointless emails to annoyed co-workers. They brag about getting up at 4am for conference calls around the world. They are the people you can’t stand, and unfortunately some of us are on our way there. I admit, I once thought I was a rockstar (in my own mind); but thankfully, I had a wife. And she was good at bringing me back to reality: the reality that we are stewards of this universe, not owners of this universe. Before going to bed, you need to stop and take a deep breathe. If you don’t you’ll be a sleep-deprived zombie. Non-stop work, texting and emails in the hours leading up to bed interrupts regular sleep patterns. You need a sleep ritual that tells your mind when to “simma down.” Stephen Furlani notes that it’s critical to have a ritual every night.6 For instance, brushing teeth, reading book from nightstand, taking off glasses. The most critical component (and I’ll touch on this more below), centers on avoiding electronics–TV, Internet, iPads (unless only reading from iBook) and cell phones–before bed. 2. You are your environment Ever had a horrible night’s rest where you were tossing and turning because it was hot? It’s a pitiful experience. You wake up with in a sweat. You’re tired, groggy, just out of a crazy dream, and more, you need to figure out how to turn off the “gah-damn” heat. Same experience applies when your room is too cold. You must create a tranquil sleeping environment. The following factors need to be in-check for a great night’s sleep: climate, light, electronics and noise. Create an environment that tailors itself to proper sleep. 3. Get the lag out of your jet When you travel, you throw off your circadian rhythms (which is a
fancy name for your internal sleep clock). When traveling it’s best to slowly ease into your new time zone–and by slowly, I mean stick to your old time zone for the first day, and then start gravitating to the hours of your new time zone. By slowly gravitating towards the new time-zone, you’ll rupture your body’s sleep cycle. 4. Know what the con’s of shift-work schedules are Twenty percent of the United States is filled with shift-workers. If you’re a shift-worker, you face a chance of sleep deprivation that’s four times more likely than other occupations. A shift worker is the practice of using various time-slots wrapped into a 24-hour period. Essentially, you’re an employee on-demand and your times are contingent upon what your boss tells you. There’s usually three shifts wrapped into the day: graveyard shift, sunrise shift, evening/afternoon shift. Depending on which one you get, or which combination you get, your circadian rhythms may suffer. Before accepting a shift-work job, make sure you understand its implications on your sleep-cycle. 5. Don’t be a pig Ever had one of those sleep experiences where you slept much longer than usual, yet in the morning you still felt tired and groggy? For the rest of the day you feel “out of it.” Chances are the night before was one filled with an irregular routine. If you throw off your body immediately before going to bed, your body is semi-shut off and semi-trying to digest what you’ve just wolfed down. For this reason, it’s smart to avoid eating too much before bed. In addition, the following items can hinder your sleep. It’s recommended to avoid these before bed: alcohol, caffeine and exercise. 6. Stop stressing The number one cause of bad sleep: stress. We’ve all gone through this. You lay there contemplating the upcoming day or re-living the previous day. That big test you have tomorrow or presentation begins to freak you out. You begin to stress out. Remember: it’s not wise to experience failure before you experience failure. Otherwise,
you’ll experience failure. We all experience stress, and ultimately it’s on ourselves to calm down. What’s helped me in the past is realizing how insignificant the problem really is. When you adopt a high-level perspective on stress-related problems, you can usually extinguish the stress. If you’re still experiencing stress, you’re not at a high enough level. 7. Got Tryptophan? Tryptophan-based foods are excellent for sleep. These include milk, bananas, poultry, oats, turkey, yogurt, oat-based cereal and honey. The key centers on eating a tryptophan-based snack, and not on pigging out. 8. Don’t eat lard Avoid fatty foods because they not only assist in weight-gain, it also hampers sleep stages. 9. Just say no… to caffeine Avoid caffeine after 2pm 10. Alcohol + Sleep = Fail Alcohol not only can result in massive hangovers, it also leads to ineffective sleep. Balance is key, and timing is key. Don’t quench your late-night thirst with Jack and Coke. 11. Don’t be a spice-girl (or guy) If you’re going out for a spicy dinner, keep it light–and make sure it’s not within a couple hours of your typical bed-time. 12. Slurping down protein shakes ‘aint gonna help you sleep Here’s an interesting tip: avoid protein-rich foods immediately before bed. Protein takes longer to digest, thus you’ll be straining your body and mind while sleeping. So, stay away from protein
shakes as a midnight drink. 13. Don’t wet the bed Unless you like wetting the bed or constantly getting up to urinate, try and avoid drinking lots of fluid before bedtime. 14. Stick to your guns Make sure you keep a regular sleep routine. Don’t deviate from this routine as it may throw your body off. Even if you’re traveling or in a hotel, try your best to stick to your routine. 15. Don’t be a hermit Your body needs exercise. Make sure you get out during the day and get some exercise. This doesn’t have to even be jogging. A walk per day will help round out your routine and assist with proper sleep. 16. Invest in some tools to enhance your sleep environment As we outlined above, your environment is critical for proper sleep. If your spouse prefers leaving the T.V. on or letting your snoring dog sleep in your bed, get some earplugs and a sleep mask. During my college days my bed was about 20 yards away from a train. Even better, I had a massive window next to my bed. After picking up some earplugs, the train never bothered me again. 17. Hate the sound of your alarm clock? Good, ditch it. Don’t rely on your alarm clock. If you rely on your alarm clock, you may be waking yourself up when the mind isn’t ready to. You may reason, “I’m never ready to wake up.” Don’t kid yourself; you are– it’s just a matter of getting to bed early enough to wake up. It’s dangerous to get in a habit of waking up 15 minutes before sprinting out the door for work. Your mind needs time, your body needs time. Give yourself this by going to bed early enough to ensure two hours of slack time in the morning. This slack time should be allocated to your Daily Foundation.
18. Sleep is a “no smoking” section Last, nicotine’s effect likens itself to caffeine. Avoid it before bed or your mind will be racing for hours.
In closing, “The Most Valuable Sleep Tip” For about six-months I fed the habit of going to bed around 12am. At this time, I would read blogs, scan email and play games via my iPhone. I’d get a computer tan before going to bed every night. Guess what happened when I was in this habit? My mind would be racing and I’d end up falling asleep around 2am. One of the worst things you can do for sleep is surrounding yourself with a computer, iPad or iPhone before bed. It’s like asking your mind to run a marathon one minute, and fall asleep the next. So what did I do? After ridding myself of the iPhone (which you’ll read about later), I picked up a Kindle and decided to read before going to bed. This is a beautiful replacement as there’s really only one thing a person can do on a Kindle: read. This replacement resulted in two effects: (i) it calmed my mind, which prepared my mind for sleep, and (ii) it also fed my mind with interesting thoughts and profound ideas before falling asleep. Instead of having a dream about how many points Kobe scored the previous day, my dreams were filled with contemplations about theories from books I’d just finished reading. In closing, the most important lesson I can give to you would be to avoid the internet before going to bed.
Further Sources, Resources and Recommended Readings: • On Sleep and the Mind • Normal Sleep in Adults, Infants and Elderly • Fascinating visualization and explanation of Polyphasic Sleep • Web MD Sleep Foods
http://howtogetfocused.com/chapters/grow-your-mind-and-increase-focus-through-reading/ - comments My track record with reading likens itself to J-Lo’s acting career. I’m either really good, or really bad. I can digest a handful of books a month; and then follow it up by not picking up a book for six months. In an age where everyone is flocking to technology, social mediadriven news and entertainment blogs, many are forgetting the fact that what you read is more important than how much you read. I remember a conversation I had with Ho Nam, a well-respected venture capitalist. I asked him, “What blogs do you read?” His response was simple. “Take a look at my blog. It lists about 20 books I’d recommend highly. In general, reading as much as possible is a good idea. For the most part, I think blogs are a waste of time. Bite sized ideas that are never fully developed. Read some books which are vetted and more well thought out.” Many people overlook the fact that technology, political and entertainment blogs are nothing more than content factories. They blast out hundreds of stories daily because they’re in the business of cramming, not crafting. Most follow a formula like, “x ways to improve your y,” “what everyone should really know about x,” “scientists discover that taking x improves y,” “why x is the y killer.”And on, and on… They blast out content so that you’ll drive up advertising impressions, and hopefully over time, click on advertisements when exposed to enough impressions. If not, then perhaps later–which is why you’ll see news blogs push for RSS feed readers. It’s critical to understand not only the nature of what you’re reading, but the business model behind what you’re reading. In this chapter we’ll explore three areas: 1. What scientists say about reading’s implications on helping one focus 2. How one should approach blogs and reading differently 3. Ways to help yourself get into a habit of reading
1. What science tells us about reading’s effects on the
mind Around the year 2000, an academic study surfaced that addressed the question, “What effect does reading have on the mind?” This research was compiled by Anne E. Cunningham and Kaith E. Stanovich, two academics revered for their work in the field of literacy. Their findings drive many concepts we know to be true about reading today. The findings can be broken into 7 areas that reading enhances one’s mind:
2. Reading develops your vocabulary Reading, indeed, increases your vocabulary. The table below displays this principle. The table is derived from the corpus of written English. This ranks words based on their frequency. The word “the” is ranked number 1; “it” is ranked 10; “pass” is ranked 1,000; “vibrate” is ranked 5,000. You get the point. You may look up words at Wolfram Alpha if you’re interested in exploring more terms. In the table below, the column “Rank of Median Word” shows you how advanced the medium is, in terms of word rank. Medium
Rank of Median Word
Abstracts of Scientific Articles
Popular Prime-time T.V.
Popular Prime-time Children’s Shows
Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street
Expert Witness Testimony
College Graduates Speaking to Friends, Spouses
A couple interesting observations can be made from the table above. First, the words used in popular adult T.V. shows are less complex than those used in popular children’s shows. Second, college graduates speak to their friends and spouses at levels lower than Preschool books. What this tells us about our society One can conclude that we’re being spoon-fed simpler words and simpler ideas as we age. We don’t have the time to comprehend complex vocabulary because, as a whole, we don’t have time to read complex works. Yet I argue that if we don’t have time to comprehend complex ideas, as a whole, we won’t have time to create complex ideas. For this reason, do not shy away from complex or provocative texts that may challenge your current reading selection.
3. Reading develops a wide-range of cognitive abilities Reading is not only for those who want to impress others through vocabulary. If you’re an academic, that may be the case; but if you’re a normal person (and by normal, I mean not a tool), reading provides significant other benefits. Reading makes you a more focused person. Reading gives you quicker wit. In the end, reading elevates your mood, making you a happier person. These wide-range of cognitive abilities are driven by the fact that reading requires one thing: thought.
4. Comprehension grows over time As you read more, you comprehend more. This embodies the Mathew effect, in that the “rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”
Reading has a tough barrier to entry because those who are new to reading, won’t enjoy reading as much as those who habitually read. As you read more, your reading experience becomes more pleasurable.
If you’re a first-time reader, or trying to get into the flow, lower your expectations initially, but keep pressing on. If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards — Tommy Boy (The Movie)
5. Reading drives street smarts The study above was not geared towards the “goody-two-shoes” kid that aimlessly regurgitates vocabulary words. The two researchers found themselves under heavy criticism from all sides. How do you measure knowledge? By being able to comprehend archaic writings? The last thing the world needs are a bunch of hermits that can comprehend Shakespeare. Many argued that real-world knowledge trumps the ability to score high on an academic aptitude test. For this reason, the researches used both styles of testing for knowledge: academic aptitude tests and street-smart common sense tests. What they found was rather surprising; those who read more than their peers possessed more practical knowledge about the world around them than did those who hardly read at all. In short, reading increases not only book-smarts, but also street-smarts.
6. Reading is inversely related to T.V.
In the study conducted by Stanovich and Cunningham, they found that reading’s positive effects were inversely related to watching T.V.
“We observed a clear effect of reading volume on the scores on the question and significant effect of television viewing, but the effects were in opposite directions! Reading volume was associated with higher scores on the question, but television exposure was associated with lower scores.” The question they’re speaking of was a sample question they used to test their sample. They asked their students, “are there more Jewish people in the world or more Muslim people in the world?” This isn’t a trick question. Don’t worry, 69.3% of their sample got this wrong. Even I was hesitant to answer–even though I’ve studied both religions. I knew that there were much more Muslims in the world; however, it’s weird to say because I know more Jews than I know Muslims. The fact is Muslims outnumber Jews around 44 to 1. Those who read were more likely to get this right. Those who watched T.V. were more inclined to get this wrong (too much Seinfeld watching, I suppose). If similar questions hold true for other areas in life, we’re essentially getting dumber–or at least more culturally unaware. And this downward trend is driven by staring at an electronic box. On the flip side, those that read develop the mind and expand their knowledge about the world.
7. Reading helps you age better In a separate study by the researchers, the performance of college students and senior citizens were analyzed based on the following metrics: general knowledge, vocabulary, working memory, syllogistic reasoning and several measures of reading volume. After a series of analyses, “the positive relationships between age and vocabulary and age and declarative knowledge were eliminated.” What this means: “The results of this study are consistent with the conjecture that–in the domain of verbal abilities–reading a lot can even help to compensate for the normally
deleterious effects of aging!”
8. Doesn’t matter where you start, just start “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, don’t care what you did, as long as you start reading, bayybayy.” – The Backstreet Boys
OK, so that quote wasn’t from The Backstreet boys. Thank God. However, it is true. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or how smart you are, reading will give you an edge over others that do not read. A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read. – Mark Twain
Research finds that reading yields significant benefits for everyone–not just that “prodigy” who sat in front of you in second grade and wore suspenders. Reading has a positive effect on everyone– regardless of background or starting point. Those who read a lot will enhance their verbal intelligence; that is, reading will make them smarter. It’s clear that reading can make you smarter. Yet does that mean you can read anything and expect to grow smarter than others? No this does not. Actually, reading can hurt you. As outlined above and further emphasized by venture capitalist, Ho Nam, reading books develops one’s mind; however, reading the wrong things can fill the mind with half-baked ideas, and thus hurt
one’s intelligence. In the next section we’ll explore how to approach reading blogs and reading books.
9. Blogs vs. Books
Blogs are for anoraks who couldn’t get published any other way. – Janet StreetPorter Well, there are more writers of blogs right now than there are readers, so that’s clearly a vanity phenomenon. – John Doerr Blogs are a great way to monitor and even participate in the chatter about your new site. – Mike Davidson The quotes above seem to contradict one another. Yet, if you look closer, one can observe one thing they all have in common: the quotes above are high on opinion. And people love expressing their own opinion–a need that blogs fill. It’s interesting to think that less than 10 years ago, blogs as we know them today, really didn’t exist. At its roots, blogs began as personal journals that were published online. And, in turn, strangers read and commented on them. It was new; it was cutting edge. It also possessed no sustainability because there were more bloggers than readers. And readers only want to read blogs that give them that dopamine fixture and never-ending satisfaction. This gave rise to entertainment and news-driven blogs, which has proven itself a more sustainable form of blogging. This has also given rise to the question: Are blogs and news sites really synonymous? TMZ breaks the news faster than CNN–we learned that over the Michael Jackson death. News sites and blogs aren’t synonymous, because there are different types of blogs; yet, everyone is hung up on the association that blogs are online
personal journals. This is wrong, and we’ll explore why below. With all of the buzz surrounding blogs, people are flocking to the internet unprepared of the time that they are about to waste. People get sucked into reading various blogs and stories that give them a dopamine fix; instead of reading content of actual value. After one hears Ariana Huffington beating her chest on The Daily Show about how important blogs are, they blindly dive into the blogosphere without knowing their own objective. They jump into the blog world without understanding the time-wasting traps that many blogs become. We’ve learned that what you read is more important than how much you read. Now, we’ll explore guidelines for finding blogs that allow your mind to grow. After exploring the four types of blogs, you’ll know what to look for and what to avoid when reading content online.
The Four Types of Blogs There are four types of blogs: 1. Personal Journal Blogs 2. News and Industry Blogs 3. Wisdom Blogs 4. Online Books
1. Personal Journal Blogs Personal Journal Blogs are blobs of content that have no objective other than expressing oneself. These blogs are managed by one person and typically contain entries about things they’ve done. They are essentially online journals. You can checkout these types of blogs by visiting tumblr (www.tumblr.com), or many Blogger blogs (www.blogger.com). Be wary of these types of blogs because they’re high on opinion, low on statistics and often die after a couple years. Obviously, this is not true for all of the blogs hosted on these services, but many of them fall into this characteristic.
2. News and Industry Blogs News and Industry Blogs are those that propose to compete with news sites and pump out content. These are the ones that are in the business of cramming, not crafting. They’re usually called content factories; however, not all are bad. The best one’s have their own culture and personality. This is typically driven by a powerwriter (like a Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch). These blogs are moderate-high on opinion, often contain drivel (“6 ways to read gmail”), sometimes contain gems and sometimes contain breaking stories. Really, these types of blogs are a mixed bag. Some of the blogs in this space rock, some spit out drivel. Select which ones to read wisely.
3. Wisdom Blogs Wisdom Blogs are those manned by one person that’s knowledgeable about a certain industry or hobby. Unlike a Personal Journal Blog, these blogs don’t spit out personal feelings; they spit out facts, findings and ideas. These are very interesting to read–that is, if you read the right ones. An example of a Wisdom Blog would be Fred Wilson’s, AVC (www.avc.com) or Paul Graham’s Essays (http://www.paulgraham.com/articles.html).
4. Online Books Online Books are essentially blogs that have a purpose and an enddate. Every business and every product undergoes four stages: embryonic stage (born), growth stage (getting traction), maturity (growth begins to slow), and decline (product starts declining). This phase mirrors a book, and mirrors online books. Most blogs fail because they lack a focus and an end-date. For example, a blogger gets an idea, writes about what they’re passionate about for about three months. When the three months expire, they’ve said everything they needed to, and give up. Online Books are different. They have a purpose and a timeline with an end date. Of course, any revisions or interviews will be added after the online book’s life ends. This style of writing online is picking up; you’ll see this writing style surface over the next five years. Example: 37 Signal’s Online Book, Getting Real (http://
gettingreal.37signals.com/), and this book was written online (www.HowToGetFocused.com).
How to find the right blogs So now you understand the difference between books and blogs; as well as the different types of blogs. But how do you find the right blogs to read? Finding a great blog is simple in theory, but it takes a long time to truly find the gems. Here’s five steps to get you on the right track: 1. Visit AllTop (www.alltop.com) or Technorati (www.technorati. com) 2. Review the topics you’re interested in and select 10 blogs that you really like 3. Read about five or so posts from each–also note their date (make sure the blog isn’t dead) 4. Cut your favorites from ten down to three 5. Check their blogroll (links to other blogs typically in the sidepanel) for more interesting blogs Those steps will get you rolling in the world of finding excellent blogs. In a later chapter, we’ll explore how to leverage an RSS reader in order to become more productive, more focused and squeeze the most knowledge out of your blog-reading time.
Finding the right types of books Now you know how to find the right types of blogs; however, we’ve learned that books are more potent than blogs. Thus, you’ll want to find the right books before you find the right blogs. There are two ways to find great books:
1. The first is through researching what strangers say online (surfing Amazon’s top books and bestsellers). 2. Second, find a certain role model or person that’s successful in a field that you’re in. Email them and ask them for a book recommendation. Ask them to suggest a book that they found insightful, but one that’s not getting a lot
of love. Find a way to shoot them an email or call them. Here’s a sample: Hey xxxx — Just wanted to reach out and ask for a bit of help on something. I’ve made a commitment to becoming a more successful person in the field of [industry that you’re in]. I’m looking for a recommendation on a book that you’ve found insightful. This doesn’t have to be a best-seller; in fact, I prefer it not be. I’m simply looking for something that helped you out in your journey to the top of your field. Any recommendation is much appreciated. Thank you very much. - xxxxx This has the potential to result in two things: (i) a great read that will hopefully inspire you to action, and (ii) that leader will take note of your commitment to hard work–because you’ll be surprised with how rare these requests are. Of course, you have to be serious about the desire to read. The second benefit is really just that– secondary.
All of the above tips and lessons really don’t matter Talk is cheap. You must actually read to become a better reader. The hardest part in all of the lessons above centers on developing a Daily Foundation that espouses reading. Yet once you get into the habit of reading, you won’t turn back. My daily foundation and routine was driven by Stephen King’s book, On Writing. I write two hours before work; and read for about two hours after work. I get this done even with a wife and an ADHD dog (a dog that if he could, should probably read this book).
How you form the Daily Foundation of reading Sitting down to actually read was one of the hardest parts in my
journey to break away from digital-driven distraction (T.V., internet and videogames). The first stepto not watch T.V. was very difficult.
What helped me establish a Daily Foundation of reading was three actions: 1. First, I thought of the most successful person in my field; I then asked myself, what would that person be doing right now? Would he be playing watching T.V.? 2. Second, I asked the additional question, where do I want to be in five years–and how will my actions get me there? Watching T.V. certainly wasn’t the hidden key to reaching my goals. 3. Third, I put myself in a position where my back was against the wall. I had to read because I made a commitment to read. How did I do this? With the little discretionary money I accumulated from the holidays, I bought an Amazon Kindle. This gave me a sense of, “Hell, if I don’t read I’ve just wasted $270.” It also added a positive association to reading, though. The kindle is a really neat and focused piece of technology; reading essentially became pleasurable. Those three acts above drove me to establish the daily habit of reading. In turn, I’ve become a more focused person since making that commitment. Next step: In the first step to getting focused, we spoke of getting to bed earlier, and developing the Daily Foundation first thing in the morning. Now I want you to somehow augment reading into your daily routine (either in the morning or at night).
And with that, here’s a parting quote on reading: “I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.” – Thyla Tharp Further reading, sources and resources: • What Reading Does For The Mind
• Life Dev on Reading
IX. Exercise Most people hold the belief that exercise will help you become more focused throughout the day. But does science hold this as true? Or do people simply feel more focused from exercise because they anticipate they’ll feel more focused? In this chapter we’ll look into exercise and its effects on the human body.
Mice and exercise Researchers at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan found that if you allow laboratory mice to run as much as they like, its brainpower improves. And if you force it to run harder than it naturally would, its thinking and focus improves even more. Yet, if you force them into unnaturally long periods of exercise, their cognitive performance drops. The mice who were forced to run harder than they naturally would displayed evidence of molecular changes in several portions of their brains. The mice who ran natural rate showed changes in only one area of their brains. Regardless of the type of exercise, one thing happened when the mice exercised: there were new developments in their brains. This poses as evidence that exercise does change the brain of mice. But does it change the brains of humans, and how so?
On Growing Brain Cells Recently Scott Small, of Columbia University, and Fred Gage, of the Salk Institute, found that exercise’s impact on the brain was much more powerful than simply increasing blood flow to the brain cells.
Here’s what happens when you exercise: 1. As you exercise, your muscles contract. 2. This releases chemicals, including a protein called IGF-1. 3. IGF-1 travels to the brain and stimulates the release of several chemicals, including brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). 4. Regular exercise increases levels of BDNF.
5. BDNF stimulates neurons (brain cells) to branch and connect in new ways. 6. New junctions between neurons are the basis of learning. This release takes a couple hours to kick in. Yet something significant happens immediately to the mind: it becomes more focused. The creation of new brain cells is not only critical in terms of becoming more focused, but also preventing depression. In a neuroscience article by Gretchen Vogel, she finds that a slowdown in brain cell growth may be linked to depression. John J. Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School declares, “Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being.” It’s clear that exercise is good for focus, but what kind of exercise, and what type? Read on below. How To Exercise in Order to
• Rule #1: Do not over-train • Rule #2: Do not over-train • Rule #3: 8-12 minutes of exercise per day (as recommended by John J. Ratey who is mentioned above) • Rule #4: Balance is key. Balance cardio, weight-training and stretching exercises (like Yoga) Why don’t you want to over-train? I mean, come on, the mice in the first example showed increased brain activity when they were pushed harder in their exercise, right? Here’s why: As soon as you push yourself beyond a certain limit, your alertness will significantly drop.
The Bottom Line Science supports the finding that exercise helps the mind focus So, there’s really not much more to say. Exercise equals increased brain power and focus. Not a bad way to start off the day. As a next step, experiment with implementing exercise into your Daily Foundation.
Further reading, sources and resources: • Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain • What sort of exercise can make you smarter? • Train Your Brain With Exercise
Daily Foundation Summary We’ve now covered the concept of the Daily Foundation, and a variety of exercises and practices that you may wish to implement into your Daily Foundation. By no means, though, are the exercises and practices listed above comprehensive. Any exercise that allows you to step into a state of flow is an adequate and recommended exercise for the Daily Foundation. Just ensure that you practice something every single day that allows you to step into a state of flow. This will result in a more focused, grounded life. In the next section of this book, we’ll learn more about establishing a foundation built on focus through analyzing the meaning ingrained within one’s life, as well as setting goals that give rise to focus in one’s life.
PART III: IGNITING A FOCUSDRIVEN LIFE Part III dives specifically into the elements that build long-term focus in oneâ€™s life. This section proposes to provide you with the solid foundation and direction to achieve sustainable success (and not experience an epic down-fall because your success is built on a brittle foundation).
This section is broken into the following chapters: Vision: In this chapter, we’ll first explore the science of goals. We’ll then look at the argument that’s arisen recently about goals being ineffective. And last, we’ll outline the organic process of painting a picture for your subconscious, and creating a vision. Questions to Ask Yourself: Most people try to ask others the right questions; however, they fail to ever ask themselves the right questions. We’ll explore the questions you must ask yourself in order to help you find your path. These questions will help you gain a glimpse into what focused goal you should set, which we cover in the next chapter. Focused Goals: This chapter is for those that have tried setting goals in the past, but the goals they set fizzled out. This chapter is for those that became overwhelmed in intense goal-setting exercises. In this chapter, we’ll explore what it takes to set effective goals. Goals that inspire you, drive you and are founded on common sense. Finishing Projects: In this chapter, you’ll learn how to finish the projects that you start. You’ll find that it’s not necessarily about finishing what you start. It’s about starting what you’ll finish. Zen Master’s To-Do List: If you want to become a more focused person, there are certain principles and characteristics you must understand about a to-do list. In this chapter, we’ll explore characteristics of successful to-do lists and specific strategies that help you throughout the day.
X. Vision Why Goals Are Critical For Focus Focus is becoming a lost concept. It’s being drowned out by iPads, apps, noise and buzz. Those who make a concerted effort to master the concept of focus have a greater propensity to take action, succeed and have a meaningful impact on the world. Becoming
focused is not simple. It’s not a one-time decision, or a one-time act. Focus is a state of mind. It’s founded on a series of actions, habits and philosophies. It’s also founded on the concept of goals. In this chapter, we’ll explore a concept that is closely related to goals, but vastly misunderstood: visualization. We’ll first explore the science of goals. We’ll then look at the argument that’s arisen recently about goals being ineffective. And last, we’ll outline the organic process of painting a picture for your subconscious.
The Science Behind Goals Scientists found an astonishing reality about our brain. The brain cannot differentiate between what we want and what we have. Our brain is made up of chemicals that carry out brain functions. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters. There’s a specific neurotransmitter that’s critical to one’s focus: dopamine. Dopamine is the carrot on the end of the annoying stick. Dopamine keeps you motivated and drives pleasure in your mind. It’s a critical chemical for keeping the mind alert and focused. In fact, dopamine is a key ingredient in diagnosing ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder); as some forms of ADHD are the result of irregular dopamine levels and reactions. When our mind perceives that we’ve attained something that we want, our mind releases dopamine, which pleases us. When our mind perceives failure, our mind is drained of dopamine, which results in fear. Here’s a simple depiction of this:
As you can see from the figure, it really is all about perception. Perception trumps reality. Thus, it’s important for you to hack the subconscious of your mind into perceiving what you want is what you will achieve; and what you haven’t achieved isn’t what you necessarily want. This also tells us that it’s critical to set only one goal (which will be covered shortly), instead of failing at many goals. Why? Because if you achieve two goals, and fail at four goals, your dopamine will be drained, and you’ll feel a sense of anger, fear or like a failure. This builds evidence for why it’s important to only set one small shortterm goal. Give your mind one carrot-stick at a time.
To Set Goals, Or Not To Set Goals Recently there’s been a trend that revolves around the belief that goal-setting is becoming worthless. Growing up, we hear from others that in order to succeed you should set explicit, written goals. This camp is driven by Napoleon Hill’s infamous book, Think and Grow Rich. After this work, self-help books all began to regurgitate the same thing: “set goals and you’ll succeed.” Yet, recently, young successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople are throwing this ideology out the window. They reason that you shouldn’t set goals. “Goals pigeon-hole you, and prevent you from reacting with the times,” this group proclaims. To recap, Group A says that in order to succeed, you must set goals. Group B declares that goals are worthless; just focus on the present. So where does this leave us? Andrew Warners is a successful entrepreneur and founder of Mixergy (www.mixergy. com). After retiring in his early 20’s, Andrew now spends his time asking successful people how they’ve achieved their dreams. He’s the “Napoleon Hill 2.0,” of our era. He, too, is struggling with the question of whether or not one should set goals. In an interview with Joe Cirulli, a successful fitness-freak out of Florida, Andrew says, “I’ve been going back and forth on this whole goal setting thing. I’ve talked to entrepreneurs who don’t set any goals and they end up just feeling their way through and it never used to work out that way. People who just felt their way through ended up nowhere. They ended up watching TV because that’s where they felt the most comfortable. But now I see internet entrepreneurs who just do what they love and then they find an audience and before long they have a real business from it and here I am interviewing them and…I don’t know how to fit that in with what you’re telling me. In fact if I ask them, ‘Do you set goals?’ they laugh at me and say, ‘No of course not. I just feel my way through.’” So which Group is right? Group A, who sets goals; or Group B, who doesn’t set goals.
Before answering this question, let’s listen carefully to interviews from both groups and detect commonalities, as well as differences. Using money as a qualifier, we’ll do this by observing Andrew’s interview with two successful people: Joe Cirulli (a millionaire entrepreneur who’s pro-goal setting) and Jason Fried (a millionaire entrepreneur who’s anti-goal setting). From listening to both interviews, here’s what we can derive: 1. We know that both sides have reached success; thus, success is not contingent upon setting explicit goals. 2. We know that both sides work very hard and are persistent. 3. We know that both sides speak with a tone of conviction, certainty and belief. 4. Being that they speak with a tone of conviction, we can infer that they have a strong sense of who they are, what they stand for and where they’re going. They’re focused on what they stand for.
Explicitness and Conviction After analyzing the dynamics inherent with these two camps, my thesis is that it’s not a question of “whether or not to set goals;” rather, I believe goal setting centers around two elements: explicitness and conviction. Traditional goal setting centers entirely around explicitly writing down your goals. By doing this, one gains a stronger sense of purpose. He or she also gains conviction. After analyzing the two individuals above, it’s clear that they’re not on the same page regarding explicitness. Jason Fried doesn’t need to write down goals to gain a sense of conviction, but Joe Cirulli (and most people) need to explicitly outline their goals. Fried and Cirulli are different in that area. However, they both share the same sense of conviction in what they’re doing.
Though some successful entrepreneurs don’t explicitly set goals, in the back of their mind’s sits a vivid picture of where they are, what they stand for, and where they’re going. They’re absolutely certain that they can achieve their dreams. Whether or not they write this down, doesn’t really matter. They have the conviction to take them there. Joe Cirulli clearly displays this sense of conviction. In an interview he says, “You know, where I have a thought and I’ll wake up a three o’clock in the morning and I just, I can’t figure something out. But the one thing that I’ve learned about myself is I will figure it out. So that’s what I know, that it will take some time but I will figure it out. I mean I had to make a decision about building another club that I really didn’t want to build, but I was trying to convince myself that I did want to build it and without going into a long story, and I thought I’m going to sleep tonight and my gut know the answer tomorrow. And
I woke up the next day and I had a stomach ache and it’s no joke. I was sick to my stomach. And I said well, I guess that told me the answer. So I have to rely on my gut feeling a lot of times. But I trust my gut to know whether it’s in unison with really what I want in my life. And so no, I go through those too. I mean, I have those holy crap moments in the middle of the night thinking things through and having a problem and being concerned about something but I’ve learned through time, I can solve it. And that’s the confidence that I have in myself, that I will solve it.” That’s the secret. It’s not necessarily about setting explicit goals; it’s about painting a picture for your subconscious that instills a sense of conviction, purpose and focus. In a nutshell, conviction trumps explicitness. So all of this leads us back to the question: should you set goals? Yes or no? You should set goals if it helps you gain a convicting sense of purpose. And I believe it does. When goal-setting, your goal is not goals, your goal is conviction. Yet, I don’t recommend setting goals in the traditional sense. I recommend an exercise that centers on painting dreams within your subconscious, not about setting a bunch of SMART goals (which we’ll cover shortly). As stated above, your mind cannot differentiate between what you have and what you don’t have. Thus, it’s critical to paint a picture of where you want to be in five years. Naturally, your mind will guide you to this. After painting a picture for your subconscious, set a simple goal to achieve in three months. We’ll explore the art of painting a picture for your subconscious shortly.
The Model After pouring through the classic success books, studying zen principles, Eastern philosophy and reading voraciously through the biographies of entrepreneurs, I believe that we’re moving towards a model where conviction and simplicity trump belabored models. In order to make your dreams a reality, I’ve outlined five stages below, which I feel serve as an organic process for achieving goals. Each of these five stages will be covered in the following chapters. 1. Painting a picture for your subconscious (This chapter)
2. Auditing your ambitions through questions 3. Setting simple, focused goals 4. Carrying out the focused goals 5. To-do list strategies Below, we’ll cover the first element, “Painting a picture for the subconscious”
Painting a picture for the subconscious For the past five years, I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not visualization truly works. Whether it’s just blowing smoke, or actually has scientific viability. What pushed me over the edge into becoming a believer was not science (though, science does make a strong case for visualization working). What made me take a serious look into the viability of visualization was riding in the Ferrari of an entrepreneur I know. I realize that sounds materialistic, but seeing a Ferrari pull up with someone that was working in a factory five years earlier, and through visualization achieved his dreams, was the thing that really woke me up. And this is someone who’s not glittered all over the press. This isn’t a person who’s an outlier. This was an everyday person like you and me. Yet, he did one thing that set him apart. He painted a picture through words of his dreams on a piece of paper. He then followed it up with a convicting sense that he’d achieve that picture one day. What’s critical, though, is that he didn’t stress out over achieving the picture he painted in his mind. He held the picture in the back of his mind and knew that one day he would achieve that vision. Fulfilling your dreams doesn’t center around making a huge list of goals or even getting anything in writing (explicitly). Instead, it revolves around triggering a vision in your mind, and then generating the belief that you know for certain that you’ll achieve it one day (certainty).
4 Steps to Paint a Picture for The Subconscious: Below is a 4 step process for painting a picture in your subconscious that drives purpose and focus in your life. The process below is not stringent; it’s organic, free and open. Before beginning, make sure you eliminate any distractions or objects that may divert your
attention. You may want to carry out this exercise tomorrow during your Daily Foundation time. 1. Step 1: Clear everything off your desk and pull out a pencil and paper 2. Step 2: At the top write out the following question, “What will my life look like in 5 years?” 3. Step 3: Using your pencil, paint a picture of what you want your life to look like in five years. Do this through words, a list, a blue-print of your house, of your office, of your charity, your nonprofit or anything else that comes to you. 4. Step 4: For assistance, keep the following sectors of life in front of you. But don’t feel obligated to paint a picture of each of them: hobbies, family, career, financial, health, spiritual, mental, social and giving. After you’re done with this exercise, peg it to the back of your mind and recall upon this picture daily. Many entrepreneurs review such an item before heading off to bed at night. Bottom line: review this image daily. The key centers on not grading yourself against this. Do not set goals within the various sectors outlined above (hobbies, family, career, finance, etc.); shelve this image in the back of your mind, and look upon it as if you know for certain that you’ll reach this picture–because you know for a fact that you will.
The Next Step If you make this a part of your life every single day, you’re going beyond goal-setting. You’re hacking your subconscious to achieve the dreams you desire without forcing it. Now that you’ve developed your vision for who you’ll be, you’ll need to be moving towards something concrete. Or else, you’ll just be wandering through life. This brings us to setting focused goals. The concept of focused goals centers not on doing any specific activity related to the one above; instead, it concerns itself with setting a simple actionable goal that is achieved within three months. This is what we’ll embark on shortly. But first, you must audit your dreams and your gifts in order to better understand which goal to set. This leads us to the next chapter, “Questions to Ask Yourself.” http://howtogetfocused.
XI. Questions to Ask Yourself http://howtogetfocused.com/chapters/goal-questions/ - comments
Walking through walls A focused person is one who walks through walls because they know where they’re going and why. Nothing can prevent them from reaching their destination. They secretly tell themselves, “This is what I’m doing; this is where I’m going. If anyone wants to join me, fine.” Of course, their attitude isn’t one of disrespect; it’s one of determination--as we learned above, it’s one of certainty. A person that lives with this fire immediately gives off an intangible aura when they enter a room–and they don’t have to say a word. You know they’re driven and you know they’ll be going somewhere. This, of course, begs the question, “How did they get into this state?” The answer is simple; they’ve found their long-term focus. They’ve found their purpose. And they’ve found it through asking themselves questions. So often we stray away from our purpose. We do the opposite of what we’re naturally good at. We will be exploring how to become a focused person by diving into the following chapters: 1. Vision (previous chapter) 2. Questions to Ask Yourself (this chapter) 3. Setting focused goals 4. Finishing the goals you embark on 5. Bringing goals to reality through personal productivity systems This chapter centers around number 2. We’ll explore the questions you must ask yourself in order to help you find your path. These questions will help you gain a glimpse into what focused goal you should set (which is covered in the number 3 above).
Why Asking Yourself Questions Is Important In the chapter onthe concept of flow, we find that flow is a wonderful indicator of purpose. Flow displays what you’re passionate about. The state of flow occurs when the mind is so entrenched in the task at hand that time stands still. One gets lost in a task because it’s natural; it’s exhilarating. It’s their purpose. In order to find what one’s purpose is, it’s best to think back to where you were and what you were doing in order to fall into a state of flow. Through the series of questions below, you’ll be auditing your past and your dreams. You’ll be exploring the last time you were in a state of flow. This prepares one to set goals that are actually meaningful; rather than setting goals merely to set goals.
Your Challenge Before moving forth, I’d like to present you with a challenge.
Your Challenge For Tonight First, I want you to bookmark this chapter. Next, If you have a planner, write the following phrase in it. If you don’t have a planner (which we’ll discuss later), I want you to write this on your hand: “1 hr bedtime — htgf in morning” This serves as a reminder for tonight’s exercise. Tonight, I want you to cut out the T.V. or late night ‘net surfing and lay in bed for an hour before you normally go to bed. Do not bring your phone or any electronic device. If you need to bring anything, bring a fiction book with you (note: make sure that the book is fiction--it will allow you to relax more than reading a non-fiction book). Tomorrow morning come back to this chapter first thing in the morning and continue reading below. Block out at least an hour. Ok, if you’ve finished the above exercise, you may continue on by reading below. If you haven’t yet, please put the book down and pick this up tomorrow morning.
Day Two: So it’s bright and early and you’re likely thinking about all the things you must do for the rest of the day. You may also be thinking about how you can scan this material and move on. Take a deep breath and understand that the day is going nowhere. Trust that this exercise will be profoundly rewarding and insightful. Here’s what you’ll want to do: Like the exercise in the previous chapter, pull out a pencil and a piece of paper. We’ll now be moving towards an exercise that asks you two defined questions. Instead of the organic, free-flowing question in the previous chapter, this exercise is more defined. Below you’ll find two questions. Your task is to write a half-page response to each of these questions. You may answer in bullet-points or paragraphs. Just make sure you’ve written your response down. Take your time with this exercise and do not rush this. Question 1: What is your purpose (long-term focus)? For further clarification, we’re all betting our life on something. Your response could center on you betting your life on there being an after-life. And you can elaborate on how feeding the homeless, building a family, or working 70 hour weeks will set yourself up to achieve this goal. Or it could be that you’re betting your life on no afterlife. You don’t have anything that you’re betting on. You simply work and help others because it’s intrinsic to human nature. It’s a choice. Or it could be something entirely different. Bottom line: there’s no right or wrong answer. Just your answer. Again, take your time. Question 2: If there were absolutely no constraints in life, if you had all the money in the world, what would your typical average day look like for the rest of your life? 7
This question is critical because we rarely think of how we’d live life if we had everything we needed. We’re so pre-occupied with
thinking about how we’d be able to achieve riches that we forget why we actually want riches. We’re so distracted with trying to get out of our current situation, or our current job, that we don’t realize what we’d do with our lives if we escaped our current situation. If the person who drifts through life, hates their job and complains about their boss was given a million dollars tomorrow, they’d be ecstatic... for a while. But after a certain period of time, it’s almost certain that find themselves bored to tears. They’d be miserable because they wouldn’t have anything to be miserable about. It’s scary how many people fall into this trap. Even I only recently asked myself this difficult question. This really changed my outlook on life. It’s critical that you get specific with your answer to this question. Define exactly where you’ll live. Define what you think about when you get up every day. Define where you’ll go, what you’ll do, and what you’ll look like doing it. For me, my typical average day looks like the following: First Part of The Day: I wake up earlier than the rest of my family. I have a couple kids and my pug, Winston, is still hanging around the house happy as can be. It’s still a bit dark outside, but not completely black. I walk over to my large, upscale walk-in closet which contains my jogging gear neatly laid out. I have a white Under Armor shirt, light jogging shorts, clean white comfy socks, comfortable sneakers and a regular jogging shirt that carries a symbol that represents a conference, event or company that I’m a fan of. I put on my jogging gear, and head downstairs. There’s beautiful carpet laid out in the house, a curved staircase and I can grab a peak at the ocean as I walk down the steps. My dog Winston senses that I’m up and scurries over to me looking to be petted. I find his leash, put it on him and get ready to take him outside. I’m thinking about how lucky and blessed I am during this period of time. Before heading out, I grab a glass of water, sip it, and then place it down on our marble kitchen coounter. I then step outside the back door. We have a doggy-door now; and thus, I don’t have to take Winston outside to pee or poop. He does it automatically. I walk down to the beach and go on
a brief five minute jog with Winston. I circle back, turn around and drop Winston back off inside the house. I then continue on for another ten minutes. On my jog, I spend my time thinking and contemplating my purpose and my direction in life. I contemplate how I can help others. I also listen to some music, and an audio book. I turn around and walk back up to the house where our weight-room is. I lift some free weights, do some push-ups and sit-ups and then call it a day. I head back upstairs to our master bedroom shower which is built of marble and I take a shower. I throw my clothes in the nearby basket, not worrying about having to do the laundry, or stressing out my wife with the laundry. I get out of the shower, and put on some comfy clothes. If it’s the summer, it will be comfy shorts, nice slip-ons a comfy shirt. Second Part of the Day: I’ll head down into my study, which is a stern, rigid-yet minimalistic room that is filled with oak, books on the wall, and a desk with only my Mac laptop computer. The desk is placed next to a window that overlooks the ocean. There’s a separate area that contains more working space, a light-wood desk that is about six feet long. On it lays white paper for plans, chords for working together, video equipment. Across from this is a PC computer, which contains the latest Microsoft Office and other tools that aren’t available on my Mac. On another wall their lays a massive area for a white-board. In fact, the entire wall is a white board. This is for future plans, ideas and strategies that will change the world. This area is partly for work, partly for ideas, partly for meeting and brain-storming with other entrepreneurs. The area is partitioned off from my writing area, though. As I stroll into this study area, I sit down at my writing station. I write for a little over an hour. I work on my own book at the time, and I do this every day. After finishing writing, I wake up my children and hang out with my wife. We play with the children and I throw a couple football passes to my son. We then head over to the school where we drop them off. After this, I head over and grab some coffee from the local coffee shop. I chit chat for a bit before heading to my work-office, which is a small office with a couple other inspiring, purpose-
driven focused people. We work on a three-month focused goal and a project that shakes the world until around 1pm. We grab a bite to eat and sometimes brainstorm with other figures in our industry. We then head back to the office and work for a couple more hours. After the work day is over, it’s officially over. No Blackberries, iPhones or work-related calls after 4pm or whenever we leave the office. We have people working all hours all over the world. Our venture is not only changing the landscape in the given industry, but also bringing in more money. Third Part of The Day: I leave my office, and meet up with my wife to pick up the kids. If they’re in an after-school sport, I help coach the team. We play, have fun and enjoy the rest of the day until nightfall. We then head back to the house for a family dinner. We reflect on the day and the good we’ve provided to the world. We talk about our personal three-month goals, as well as a family project that we’re all a part of. This family project centers around helping the poor, or doing something innovative and special that hasn’t been done before. We discuss life, purpose and changing the world. Other: • We are not stressed; we are calm, confident and happy. • We go on three week vacations twice a year, and one week vacations twice a year. • I drive a nice car, but not one that is out-of this world extravagant. Same with my wife. Cars are material, and the money could go to help a struggling family in a third-world country. • My kids will not turn into trust-fund babies. If they want money, they need to start a business and figure it out, or work for someone--and that someone is not myself, my wife, a friend or a relative. That’s cheating them. If they every want to start a business, and they need funding, I’ll need a business plan, proof of concept, a capital spending table where they plan to put the money and at least three months of time invested in the venture.
If you followed the exercise above, and this was before your day has started, excellent work. You just invested some time in thought and self-reflection before the day’s begun. Answering these two questions before beginning the day will give you a more elevated sense of purpose and focus throughout the day. After the first day of doing this, I felt a little different. However, after a couple days of doing this, I not only felt more focused during the day, at the end of the day I felt as if I’d just woken up. The drowsy, tired feeling that one feels at the end of a work-day is extinguished through focused thought at the beginning of the day.
57 Questions to Ask Yourself Now that you’ve finished answering the two critical questions, here are some more questions that you may elect to answer. These questions do not have to be as in-depth as the two above. The questions outlined below are for the purpose of putting you into the proper state for the next chapter. What is the first instance of being in the state of flow that you can remember? 1. Did you have any friends or family there to appreciate what you were working on? 2. In your opinion, what’s the most amazing idea you’ve ever had? 3. Why was this amazing? 4. Looking back, what was the dumbest idea or venture you’ve ever embarked on? 5. Why was it dumb? 6. What thought-process led you to this idea in the first place? 7. Before you pass away, what’s one mark you want to leave on the world? 8. What are the barriers to achieving this right now? 9. What is the next step to achieving this? 10. What do you do every day between 6-10am? 11. What do you do every day between 10am – 2pm? 12. What do you do every day between 2pm – 6pm? 13. What do you do every night between 6pm – 12am? 14. Describe your first undertaking or achievement that was
successful. 15. Describe another undertaking that was successful. 16. What was the difference between the two? 17. How do you feel about money? 18. Have you ever been given significant responsibility over others? If so, how did you act? 19. How do you react to compliments? 20. Do you like to compete? How do you see rivals? 21. Do you like your day job (if you have one)? 22. Who do you look up to (past or present people)? 23. Why do you look up to them? 24. What do you and your role models share in common? 25. Where are you different? 26. Do you believe that some people are naturally geniuses, or naturally just more talented in what you’re passionate about? 27. How do you respond when you see people that claim to be overnight successes, or simply lucky? 28. What was the last argument you had, and what was your position? 29. How do you react when someone is hostile towards you? 30. How do you react to failure? 31. What drives you to keep pressing on after failure? 32. Which do you enjoy more: The feeling of achieving the goal, or the process of trying to reach the goal? 33. If you never had to work, where would you spend your time, and what would you spend your time on? 34. What do you fear most? 35. How would you react if the above happened? 36. What makes someone an expert in a specific field? 37. What is your dream? 38. Describe a complex situation in which you had a lot to learn. How did you go about learning, and did you enjoy this process? 39. Would people say you’re someone who diligently pursues every single detail, or are you more of a big-picture person? 40. What difficult decisions have you made recently, and would you make this same decision? 41. Describe your decision-making approach. 42. What maxims or beliefs do you live by? 43. Do you like facing concrete, short-term challenges; or do you enjoy conceptual, abstract long-term challenges?
44. Are you more of a visionary, or more of a person that makes stuff happen today? Why? 45. What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in recent years? 46. Was the risk worth it? Why or why not. 47. Describe a situation in which the pressure to compromise your integrity were the strongest you’ve ever felt. 48. Are you better at starting a lot of projects, or squeezing results out of fewer projects? 49. Do you believe in asking for forgiveness rather than permission? 50. What sort of mood swings do you experience? Where and what does this usually stem from? 51. Describe your sense of humor. 52. When there’s a difference of opinion, do you confront others indirectly or directly? 53. When was the last time you put your foot in your mouth, and what was it about? 54. Are you a natural leader? If so, cite how you are and why. 55. What drives you everyday? Why do you get out of bed? (besides putting bread on the table) 56. What pace do you work at? Are you fast, slow or moderate worker?
XII. Setting Focused Goals http://howtogetfocused.com/chapters/setting-focused-goals/ comments We’ve all been in a state-of-mind where we’re content with life, but want more. At the end of the day we ask ourselves what else could there be? We’ve explored exercises that show you how to get focused, ask yourself questions and establish a Daily Foundation; but what about goal setting? What about traditional “SMART” goals? Should you set goals like, “Become a leading figure in my industry and accumulate $52 million within six years.” Those are nice, those are “smart,” yet are those truly meaningful? Are they focused? Or are they just regurgitation from summer reading selfhelp books?
This chapter is for those that have tried setting goals in the past, but the goals they set fizzled out. This chapter is for those that became overwhelmed in intense goal-setting exercises. It’s for those that have abandoned the thought of setting goals because the exercise proved to obtuse, vague and complex. It’s for those that can’t find any inspiration in the thought of setting goals–because they’ve lost the belief that setting goals serves any purpose. In this chapter, we’ll explore what it takes to set effective goals. Goals that inspire you, drive you and are founded on common sense.
The Third Faction: You must understand that focused goals are unlike any goal exercise you’ve done before. In today’s world of goal-setting there sits two extreme groups or factions: Faction 1 The first faction proclaims that you should set “SMART” goals. This is a clever acronym for goals that are “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.” This concept is typically introduced in all-day seminars on goal-setting. Faction 2 The second faction proclaims that goal setting is a worthless exercise. This group reasons that the world changes so fast, that you shouldn’t waste your time setting goals–you should just act and react. One who exemplifies this would be entrepreneur, Jason Fried from 37 Signals, who we discussed previously. Faction 3 Focused goal setting sits in a different group. The Third Faction isn’t a meeting between these two camps. The third faction is a meeting between common sense, simplicity and action. This method centers on setting goals that are rather simple in nature, and then executing these goals within a short time period. You can explore this concept more and view productivity
applications for this third group at Faction 3’s website (www. faction3.com).
Focused goals aren’t smart Before moving forward, you must understand one thing: Focused goals aren’t smart. SMART goals stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Courses and books are written that take you through a whirlwind of examples, lessons and reasons for implementing these types of goals. Yet the biggest problem with SMART goals centers on one thing: they lack purpose. These goals are carried out after reading about the concept in some textbook, or special seminar. Participants tend to create goals that are more focused on abiding by the “SMART” system than their own belief system. When creating a goal, it’s just as important to know when to start, as it is knowing what to start. Thus, before setting a goal, you must make sure that you’re in the proper state to set goals. This is precisely why the last two chapters asked you tough questions in hopes of placing you in the proper state-of-mind.
The Proper State of Mind The reason why most goal setting exercises fail is because they focus more on popular concepts (like a catchy acronym), rather than the desires of those setting the goal. Outlined below are two elements that will assist you further in stepping into the proper state before setting a goal. It will allow you to set a goal that’s meaningful for you; not a goal that’s driven by catchy concepts or phrases.
I. Humility Goal setting is not about you. Naturally, goal setting is a profoundly selfish exercise. We focus on what we don’t have, what we want, how much we want and when we want it. We think of material items like a Lexus or a BMW or a golden toilet (one of those would be nice). We write out
proclamations like, “I’m going to get a Master’s degree within two years, and accumulate a net worth of $2,000,000. After this, I will be happy and content, and work whenever I want to.” We can easily lose ourselves when thinking like this. This thought-process is dangerous. When setting goals, it’s not about you. It’s about how you can leverage your gifts for others. For assistance on getting into this state, I find it helpful watching videos of those that are living their purpose. Like this one: (http://bit.ly/goalsetting-htgf) When in a state of goal setting, first start by humbling yourself and realizing how lucky you are to be setting goals in the first place. Your goals shouldn’t focus on net worth, cars or materials; your goals should focus meaning, purpose and your gifts. It’s perfectly fine if your vision contains material-defined images like cars, net worth or houses; but keep your Focused Goal centered on using your gifts to provide a special output on the world.
II. Meaning The second element for getting into the proper state-of-mind when setting goals centers on mining for meaning. In order to mine meaningful goals, you’ll need two things: a pad of paper and a pencil. Most goal-setting exercises tell you to get your goals in writing as soon as possible. What’s more important than that is putting your thoughts in writing (not necessarily the goal in writing). As we learned, by writing by hand, your thoughts suddenly free themselves from the confines of your mind. You’ll allow yourself to understand your desires and your dreams in a clearer fashion. Motivate yourself by grabbing a writing pad and a pencil. At the top of the paper, write the following question: “What am I here for, and how can this move the world?“ This is a very open question, and a tough one to answer. In order to help you understand what you’re here for, think of the hobbies that you have or the times in which you’ve fallen into the state of flow. There’s no correct answer; there’s only true answers. Be true to yourself when mapping out different answers and components
of your life. After each item that you write down, move further by constantly asking, “Why is this important?” This question is very similar to the questions you’ve asked yourself previously. If the previous exercise is still fresh in your mind, and you’ve already defined your purpose, then elaborate on the second part of this question, “How can your purpose move the world?”
The Focused Goal Formula Now that you’re in the proper state to be setting a goal, it’s time to unveil the actual formula for setting a focused goal.
Focused goals contain only two elements: three words and three months. I’ll dive into these elements now, and then show you a sample of a focused goal.
1. Three Words Now that you’ve conducted an audit on who you are and your dreams through asking questions, it’s now critical to cut these ideas down into actionable bites. This doesn’t mean one must make the goals smaller; this concept centers around creating “memes.” What a meme is A meme (pronounced so that it rhymes with “cream”) is an idea, a thought, or an image that drives emotion and spreads–almost instantly. Much like a picture speaks a thousand words, a meme drives a thousand emotions. Your goals should be memes. My method for creating a goal that likens itself to a meme is to condense it into three words. The reason the goal should be only three words is that there’s so much fat and extra fluff when you’re given free reign–even 140 characters is too much room for setting a goal (Twitter gives the user 140 characters to write their thoughts). Keeping a goal tied to three words cuts the fat, and drives action. Samples: • Write a book • Create a startup • Make an album • Quit smoking cigarettes • Run a marathon • Change children’s lives After you’ve listed a handful of memes, select one that is aligned with the meaning you’ve mined from the exercise above. It’s important to select only one.
2. Three Months After you’ve selected one meme that really inspires you, it’s time to “chunk it.” Do this by setting a time-line of three months for this meme. In order to successfully carry out your goal, it’s wise to make the goal an everyday part of your life. Make it a habit to recall upon the goal every single day. Because your focused goal is a meme, and
doesn’t contain any fluff, you’ll surprise yourself with how easy it may be to recall upon this goal. But what if your goals can’t be carried out in three months? This is where the concept of “chunking” comes into play. We often feel overwhelmed because we’re staring in the face of a goal that is daunting, and seemingly, impossible. Yet, you’ll find that when you actually embark on the goal, and break it into smaller chunks, you’ll find yourself fast on your way to accomplishing the goal. The reason why your goal’s time period should be short is because life itself is short. Here’s sample focused goal that I set for myself: “Write a book.” I’ve set the due date within three months for the first version. I worked every single morning to meet this goal. I turned it into a habit. Did I finish the goal in three months? The answer is no. It took me three and a half months to finish the first draft. If you don’t finish the goal within three months, no big deal. Don’t beat yourself up over not meeting the deadline; beat yourself up if you never even start. As an alternative, I could have taken a more traditional route and set a SMART goal. I would have written, “I want to write a book in 2010 and get on Oprah before I’m 30 years old.” The only problem with this centers on the fact that at that time, writing a book did not meet the “realistic” requirement of SMART goals. If I followed SMART principles, you would not be reading this right now. What ends up happening when setting SMART goals is you set goals that are founded on brittle purpose. The goals you set end up being too confusing, and not action-oriented. Simply select a meaningful three-word goal and do it in three months. That’s an effective goal, it’s a meaningful goal.
Summary As a next step, follow the action plan below:
1. Watch the video in the chapter and get into a humble state
2. Find a blank piece of paper and a pencil and write the question, “What am I here for, and how can this move the world?” Again, if you've already found a powerful purpose, simply elaborate on the second part of the question. 3. Select a three-word goal. 4. Do it in three months–make it a habit and a part of your life every single day.
XIII. Finishing Projects and Goals http://howtogetfocused.com/chapters/heres-how-to-finish-anything-you-start/ - comments It happens all the time. You look back on a couple weeks or a couple months of work and you realize that you’ve started a wealth of innovative projects, but you haven’t finished any of them. A sense of being overwhelmed creeps into your mind. You feel like you’re great at starting projects, but you need someone else to finish them. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to finish the projects that you start. You’ll find that it’s not necessarily about finishing what you start. It’s about starting what you’ll finish. We’ll first take a look at the nature of losing passion and focus in the midst of a project. We’ll then outline various steps that show you how to start projects that you’ll finish, and then finish the projects that you start. The previous sentence is key. Read it again before moving on.
The Story The story is always the same. First an idea is born in your mind. You finally build up the audacity to begin building the idea. You pitch it to others, you tell your friends and colleagues. And you tell your family about it over a plump-ass turkey Thanksgiving dinner. “You’re going somewhere,” you tell yourself. You’re passionate. And you’re taking people with you. Yet three months down the line you
begin questioning yourself internally. “Wait a minute, what am I doing?” You hear a story from a friend on another person’s success that is entirely different from your own route, and you question if you’re even being effective–if you’re even doing the right thing. Soon after, you get down on yourself and you start losing focus. You lose sight of the fire that got you started in the first place. By six months into it, you decide to abandon the project, and tag it as a “learning experience.” You tend to your wounds, rest up for a couple months and then start the process all over again with a new idea that fails. Before we can diagnose this all-too-common cycle, we need to understand the nature of it.
The Nature of Projects: In business school, there’s a core component that everyone learns about. Whether you’re an aspiring finance jock or the next marketing guru, you all sit through one basic lesson: the product life cycle. This is a four stage process that represents the life that every product experiences. Yet, the interesting part of this cycle, is that it represents a lot of things. Not just products. Every product, company, idea, project and even person can be likened to this cycle:
As you can see, there’s a decline at the very end. As stated above, this diagram reflects not just companies, products and projects, it reflects life. “In the long-run, we’re all dead.” – John Maynard Keynes Your goal with many of the projects you take on should be to get it off the ground as swiftly as possible. And soon-after, move it into the mature state, which allows you to delegate to others so that they may maintain it until it declines. This cycle is true if you’re a Hunter; but what if you’re a Farmer? We’ll dive into this now.
6 Sure-fire Ways to Get Projects Done 1. Sprints, Hunters and Farmers Many people fail to finish projects because they take too long to develop. They spend too much time in the introduction and growth stage. Here’s the key with projects: Make the introduction and the growth stage only three months. If you make it six months, to a year, your passion will fizzle out. An idea can only stay in development for so long before it dies. Yet, after you’ve sprinted out of the introductory stage, people are so tired that they have to get their minds off of it. They’re burnt out. They’ve been sprinting too long. At this point, you must find someone to maintain it for you. In the startup world, people have a passionate idea; work on it tirelessly for six months, and then get burnt out and quit. The key centers on getting the project to the maturity stage within three months; and then passing it along to someone else to help you maintain it. Gina Trapani of LifeHacker summarizes this concept nicely. She calls herself a serial project starter “(especially at 3AM, when anything in the world seems possible) and a terrible closer (like at 8AM, wondering what the hell I got myself into).” Gina brings up a great point. Getting projects done also depends on your personality. You must understand if you’re a “hunter” or a “farmer.” Neither one is good or bad. There are rich hunters and rich farmers. Warren Buffet is a perfect example of a farmer. He purchases stakes in other people’s ventures, he sits on their board, he farms it and maintains the company. After the company grows after a long period, he harvests his crops. He’s exceptional at this, and he’s a billionaire. Again, one’s not better than the other. You simply must figure out which one you are. • If you’re a hunter, you’re best at getting projects off the ground to to the maturity stage, so that the farmer can maintain it. • If you’re a farmer, you’re best at taking an established cash cow and milking it.
Figure out who you are; because it will allow you to gear up for the stage in which you’re not naturally exceptional at. If you get it to the stage where you’re not naturally gifted, and abandon it (instead of delegating it to a farmer), you’ll fail at finishing the project. If you try and farm something that hasn’t even taken off yet, you’ll get nowhere. 2. Horse-blinders and bunny ears About a month after embarking on the project of writing a book, I discovered that one of my favorite authors was beginning to write a book that was very similar to mine. I was really bummed out. “Was it even worth moving on?” I asked myself. Yet, I decided to reach out and let him know that I thought his project was excellent, yet I was discouraged that he was doing something so similar to me. His reply actually encouraged me, instead of stampeding on my passion. It was something I should have been telling myself all along. He said that even though our book idea is very similar, our approaches and philosophies are much different. And being that the problem we’re proposing to address is significant, the more people writing about it, the better. I learned that all too often we begin projects and then let external variables stamp on our dreams. There’s an important saying in the world of entrepreneurship that “You don’t have any real competition until you’ve hit $50 million in revenue.” The point is that you should avoid focusing attention on any external variable until you’ve hit that mark. Why? Because if you focus on what others are doing too early, you’ll lose sight of what you can control. You’ll end up living down to the competitive environment, instead of living up to the expectations of your customers. For this reason, the key when starting a project is to wear horseblinders, and cut off your bunny ears. 3. Break Brittle Reasons Soon after graduating from college, I was living paycheck to paycheck with a wife and a dog to support. It was a very tight time, and we scraped by for a while. During this time, I identified the
problem as not having enough credentials to make real money. Boy, oh boy, was I wrong. In my off-time I’d visit the local public library and browse through the career section. I found a book that showed the average income per profession. Two jobs stuck out to me: (i) an anesthesiologist, and (ii) an attorney. I didn’t want to go to medical school. Science wasn’t my thing. I didn’t want to kill anyone by putting them asleep. Plus, I couldn’t even spell anesthesiologist, so I dropped the idea of becoming one. This, of course, left me with the option of being an attorney. So, I reasoned, “Hey, Lawyers make money, business law isn’t so bad. I’d like to make money. I’d like to go into law school.” Thus, for about five months I studied for the LSAT. I took the logic games, read through the books, spent hours and hours pouring through forums. On day 151, I woke up and asked, “Why am I doing this?” I couldn’t find a compelling reason why I was pursuing what I was pursuing (other than reading about the average income); so, I decided to ditch it. I based my pursuit on a brittle reason–money. Many times, failing at getting projects done isn’t about losing focus based on others, or based on time, it’s based on passion. Your passion is founded on a compelling reason for undertaking something. If your reason for embarking on something is brittle and materialistic, it will fizzle out. Before beginning any project or short-term goal, you must invest a lot of time in answering the following question: “Why am I even doing this?” This questions sounds like an easy one, but don’t fool yourself. We’re really good at B.S.ing ourselves, and telling ourselves things we want to hear. You’ll find that if your reason is founded on others, external variables, or materials, it’s brittle and will break. If your reason is founded on your purpose, you’ll carry out the project. The key is not to finish the projects you start; but to start the projects you’ll finish. Choosing a project founded on a brittle reason will prevent you from ever finishing. 4. Avoid Too Many Meals
So often I meet people that have too many things on their plate. Theyâ€™re trying to eat too many meals. These people tend to respond that their life is chaotic. In reality, their decisions to take on projects are chaotic.
The diagram above depicts what the process is like when you take on too many projects.
Neil Patel, a well-respected entrepreneur, writes that the reason most entrepreneurs fail is that they have too many projects; they have their hands in too many pots at one time.
If you don’t focus on one business you’re bound to fail. Hypothetically, even if all of your ideas are revolutionary and they are bound to do well in this world, you’ll make them crash and burn. Why? Well, it’s because if you’re splitting your time between a few businesses, you won’t be able to put in the required amount of time and energy into any of them. You must learn to stick to one venture, respectfully turn down other projects, and tell people what you’re doing and in what direction you’re going. Stick to one thing, respectfully turn down distractions and move boldly in that direction. 5. Crunching Most of the time, projects really aren’t our choice. Unfortunately we sometimes find ourselves in positions where a boss gives you projects that you otherwise wouldn’t have done on your own. Obviously, you want to pay attention to detail; yet, I find that the best way to finish these projects is to batch them (a concept we’ll cover in a future chapter relating to email ). It’s best to outline precisely what needs to get done, crank it out as swiftly as possible, and tell yourself that after sifting through this project, and getting this out of the way, you can focus on what you’re good at–projects that drove you to the job in the first place. Crunching out projects is easier said than done, though. The simple everyday secret to crunching out projects centers on one thing: a todo list. The most productive and effective business leaders, artists, programmers, developers and designers I know all have one thing in common: they write themselves a to-do list every single day. They crunch out that list–usually by hand, and then move on to the next item. Whenever you feel overwhelmed with a project, it’s critical to break the project into smaller, actionable pieces and add them to your daily to-do list. You’ll be surprised with how much you get done, and how fast your outstanding projects get executed. We’ll cover todo list strategies and philosophies in the next chapter.
6. Shutting out the world As stated before, you can’t start focusing until you’ve stopped getting distracted. Though this phrase is profoundly simple, most people disregard this at all costs. They’ve got the T.V. blasting in their face as they try and crank out a project. Two things will happen when you try and finish projects in a semiconscious state: 1. You will become frustrated 2. You will fail It’s happened to me before, and it’s likely happened to you. Sure, your project may turn out–and it may turn out just fine; however, that sheer genius that would have pushed your project over the edge to greatness diminishes when other stimuli crowd out your focus. The sad part centers on the fact that you won’t even realize this. Don’t let this happen.
Conclusion: In the end, it’s really about hard work and persistence when undertaking projects. It’s hard to finish projects until you’ve gone through the act of failing in finishing projects–and I’ve definitely had my fair share of project failures. To summarize, if you’re a hunter, it’s critical to identify a deadline to which you hand over your project to a farmer at the maturity stage. The farmer’s job is to then maintain the project, and the excellent work that you’ve launched. 1. Marathon of Springs 2. Horse-blinders and Bunny Ears 3. Break Brittle Reasons 4. Avoid Too Many Meals 5. Crunch out projects 6. Shut out the world By following the above principles, and starting projects that you’ll finish, instead of attempting to finish projects that you start, you’ll always be able to finish the projects that you start.
XIV. The Zen Master To-do List Strategy The Link Between Dreams and Reality There’s one item that represents a link between your dreams and reality. One thing that you must do every single day required to carry out your purpose. That one thing is to take action. And the ultimate tool for taking action is a to-do list. To-do lists aren’t just for people that wish to be efficient; to-do lists are for people that want to be effective. In order to become a more focused, driven person, you must understand how to leverage a to-do list properly. The wealth of productivity tools available are not only confusing consumers, they’re hurting them. Most web to-do list applications out there focus on features. This focus kills productivity. Such web to-do lists include a focus on iPhone apps, syncing to-do lists across services, tagging to-do lists, categorization, and more. We’ll explore why these tools end up hurting your productivity; rather than helping it. If you want to become a more focused person, there are certain principles and characteristics you must understand about a to-do list. After exploring the characteristics of to-do lists, we’ll look at two to-do list strategies that will help you focus throughout the day.
A Zen Master Named Barney At one point in my life, I had a wonderful system for getting things done. It was simple, efficient, and most importantly, it was profoundly effective. My system centered around an offline to-do list planner. A basic paper and pen system. It was perfect. Yet at one point, and I can’t really remember how it started, I began looking for more. I wanted to find new, innovative ways to get things done. And almost instantly, I became an online to-do list junkie. I tried every single online to-do list application. The features that I needed at first were small. For instance, I wanted an online to-do list that synced with my iPhone, with my desktop, and wherever I was online. Soon after, my needs grew dramatically. I wanted to be able to call a number and record my to-do list items by voice.
I wanted to Tweet a to-do list item; I wanted to email a to-do list item. I wanted anything that sounded neat: things that allowed you to take pictures of tasks; pegging items to Google maps; syncing with Google calendar; hooking my to-do list up to my RSS feed. And on and on these needs went. Before I knew it, almost a year had passed and my old reliable system was long gone. A distant thought, much like childhood. After hearing my challenges about being productive, a good friend of mine suggested I meet up with an acquaintance of his: a Zen Master named Barney. Yes, he goes by “Barney.” He’s a master in the art of focus, as well as various Buddhist branches (Tibetan Buddhism and more). He’s written a handful of books that received praised from other well-respected monks. “This could be interesting,” I thought. So I met Barney on a sunny November morning in Southern California. In Barney’s office sat waterfalls, bonsai trees and a computer with a sticky note hanging off the screen’s right side. When explaining to Barney that I was having trouble focusing and getting things done, he paused for a moment, which felt like forever. Literally. It was about a 30 second pause, which doesn’t sound all that awkward, until you experience it for yourself. He asked me a simple question: “How do you get things done?” I outlined my system, which was a combination of web 2.0 applications, Gmail, Google Calendar, iPhone apps, Twitter and calling phone numbers. After five minutes of outlining my productivity strategy (which I was actually pretty proud about at the time), he paused and asked again: “How do you get things done?” This time, his tone was glittered in curiosity and a hint of concern. It sounded as if he was astonished that I was able to get anything done in the first place. He didn’t really have to say anything more. The tone of his second question opened my eyes. I was no longer focused on getting things done; I was focused on applications that promised to get things done. In turn, this prevented me from getting things done. It’s an irony that is more common than ever before. He took me through a series of lessons and examples that displayed
how we’ve become an overextended, over-distracted society because of our obsession with features–not effectiveness. He suggested starting from scratch. Starting with the basics, and starting with a pad and pencil. This led me back to where I am today: happily using a paper planner to-do list. Obviously, this wasn’t new. I just needed a kick in the butt to realize that minimalism still trumps features. Though, he did show me something that he uses, which helps him get more done throughout the day–even when using the internet: he uses a three-item to-do list that he stores on a sticky note. He stores this sticky note on the side of his computer monitor, which keeps him focused on the task at hand. I’ll share this method with you shortly. To summarize, Barney suggested using two tools in order to get more focused: 1. An offline, minimalistic to-do list (pen and paper) 2. A three-item focus list that allows you to chunk your most important items We will explore these now.
The Two Tools For Getting Things Done Like a Zen Master 1. The To-Do Planner The first tool centers on combining your calendar and to-do list. I call this combination a “To-Do Planner.” Successful to-do lists systems combine a calendar and to-do list for one reason: simplicity. If you have many tasks scattered throughout a variety of different places, you’re more likely to have tasks slip through the cracks. I’ve seen people spread out their appointments and to-do items between Google calendar, Google tasks, Remember the Milk, Jott, Evernote and others (I admit, I was one of them). It’s an absolute nightmare. It’s profoundly inefficient. The key is to use only one platform: A weekly to-do planner.
Sample Picture of A Weekly Planner (above) A weekly to-do planner allows you to keep a daily to-do list, with enough room to write that to-do list; as well as allowing you to book certain appointments in the future. Instead of looking at Google Calendar for appointments, and then at your daily to-do list; you only need to look one place to get things done. The reason I suggest using a weekly to-do planner is because daily planners have too much room, and monthly planners have too little room. Get a weekly to-do planner. And focus not on how many things you can get done in a day; instead, focus on one critical task that will actually have an impact on your life.
Why not online to-do lists? The reason why online to-do lists fail is because they try not only to replicate offline to-do lists, they try to out-do offline to-do lists. They do this by adding dozens of features, services, items and confusion to this simple system. Additionally, online to-do lists sit within the worst environment for your focus: the internet. And being that you are your environment, online to-do lists end up being distractions. So where and how can you get a planner like the one above? Unfortunately, these things aren’t the easiest to find. It usually takes my about three trips to different stores to find one that will work for me. If you don’t want to go shopping for a to-do list planner that fits your needs, you can design your own templates and styles of to-do planners here: Do It Yourself Planners (www.diyplanner.com) If you don’t want to design your own, here’s a weekly planner I suggest using: Moleskine Weekly Planner (www.moleskine.com) http://bit.ly/9SQOy1 2. Online focus list The second item that Barney suggested was having a three-item list used in conjunction with your computer. This list poses to keep you focused on the task at hand. Have you ever needed to check a quick email, or something that should have taken you 2 minutes, but ended up taking you 45 minutes? The online world is so addicting, stimulating and distracting that it’s hard not to get lost. It starts by opening your email, but then you get a notification from Facebook. “Stacy just poked you on Facebook! Poke her back.” You visit Facebook and there goes an hour of your life. The biggest problem with offline to-do lists is that they don’t do the best job of keeping you focused when you’re using a computer. Even the online to-do lists out there are horrible at keeping you focused for this. They hurt the cause more than help the cause for getting focused.
Bestselling author Tim Ferriss, has a method for countering this process in which he has a small sticky post-it note. On it he writes three things that he’s going to do when he sits down to use the computer. Guess what was on the right-side of Barney (the zen master’s) computer monitor? A three-item sticky note that listed what to do. Though I’m not sure who influenced who, my guess is that it’s neither. For some reason, three item to-do lists are naturally gifted at helping you get things done. I call this concept, a “FocusList.” As stated above, online to-do lists fail because they’re trying to replicate the wrong thing. Online to-do lists try to replicate offline to-do lists. Online to-do lists should instead try to imitate the Zen Master’s strategy for getting focused when using the computer. The best to do list you can get for getting focused while using the computer is a “FocusList.” A FocusList is a minimalistic to-do list that limits your wandering mind. Instead of allowing you to add 10 items, a focus list only allows you to enter 3 items. This keeps you focused on effectiveness, not efficiency. If we give our mind too much room, we end up hurting our productivity by focusing on things that don’t matter. A FocusList asks you one question, “What are the three most important things you can do right now?” To which you respond with three things that keep you focused on the task at hand. Here’s a sample picture of a FocusList:
Faction3’s Focus List So where do you get a “FocusList?” Faction3 develops productivity applications that focus on you, rather than focus on features. Faction 3 has a “FocusList” application that is founded on the philosophy outlined above. It’s a downloadable application for PC (Windows), Mac OSX and Linux operating systems. Visit www.Faction3.com to learn more. I highly recommend the “FocusList” for two reasons: 1) I designed it, and 2) I use it every day. You can get the free version of FocusList at www.Faction3.com or upgrade to the paid version there. You don’t have to buy the FocusList in order to experience the Zen Master’s principle. You can use a sticky note, a notepad, your textedit tool, or simply a piece of paper. I personally use the FocusList because it’s tailored specifically for the Zen Master’s strategy. Whatever you choose, make sure you keep the list only three-items long.
4 Characteristics of Successful To-Do List Systems Now that we understand the two tools you should employ for housing a sustainable to-do list system, we’ll explore 4 characteristics of your to-do list system. 1. Free and open As we touched on in a previous chapter, it’s critical that you design your to-do list to be successful and take into account the distractions people bring into one’s life every day. Keep your to-do list free, open and flexible. Your to-do list shouldn’t be broken down hourly. Here is a sample of a rigid, ineffective to-do list: • 6:30am get up • 6:34 am put on jogging gear • 6:36am exercise • 7:22am shower • 7:28am shave Don’t kill yourself with micro-detailed to-do lists. Keep your to-do list simple, focused and free. My offline to-do list has arrows, text and items floating around all over it. It looks like a mind-map where to do items have arrows literally pointed across pages. Everything is spread out. To others, this looks like chaos; to me, it looks like art. It looks organized; it looks as if I’ve creatively outlined ways to make sure I got the most important tasks done. Obviously, it doesn’t start as chaos. This is the result of using a todo list actively throughout the day. That’s what we’ll talk about next. 2. Making it a habit Your to-do list isn’t something you check once per day. Rather, it serves as an all day, constant reminder tool. Successful to-do list systems are founded on the habitual action of checking what you’re doing, and “chunking” your next actions into three-item steps.
Anyone can purchase a to-do list planner or the FocusList, but if you don’t make the tool an everyday habit; or something you do without thinking, you’ll never benefit from it. Like anything else, it’s “use it, or lose it.” When using a to-do list, two things are critical: (i) you must begin every day by looking at your to-do list; (ii) you must chunk your actions into bite-sized achievements. I usually break these into three steps. Here’s and example of my three-chunk to-do list: 1. Design a blog 2. Do some SEO marketing 3. Read one news story The third step is the carrot. I make a habit of constantly doing two critical things, and then rewarding myself with a quick entertainment activity. Like exploring a tech news article, watching hilarious YouTube videos or reading a certain story I’ve been wanting to read. This is yet another reason why online to-do lists are harmful rather than helpful: they’re overwhelming. Starting a list of 40 items is much more intimidating than starting a list of 3 items (as in the Focus List’s). Chunking in three’s is much more effective than trying to check off a 40 item to-do list. 3. Fire A major part of your success with a to-do list relies on your motivation and fire; rather than the actual application. If you have the passion (or the fire), but don’t have the correct tools (the offline to-do list and the FocusList), then you’ll be inefficient; however, if you have the tools, but not the fire, you’ll be completely ineffective. If you’re extremely passionate and believe that a certain online todo list will work for you; you usually can make it work (no matter what system you’re using). The fire and belief in your to-do list system will drive you to get things done. Thus, it’s critical that you believe in your to-do list system. This belief and fire, combined with the two simple tools (offline to-do planner and a FocusList), will
allow you to start carrying out your dreams. 4. A writing device The last characteristic that one should employ for an effective to-do list is quite simple. It’s the habit of carrying around a writing device at all times. Famous novelist, Paul Auster, wrote a simple, yet moving essay on why he writes. In the story Auster retells a childhood moment in New York where he forgot a pencil when asking for an autograph from Willie Mays. Auster was fumbling around for a couple of minutes as he frantically asked his family and strangers for a pencil. Not one person had one. After a while, Mays responded, “Sorry, kid. Ain’t got no pencil, can’t give no autograph.” From that day forth, he never left his house without a writing device. And that’s how he became a writer. He was always prepared. If you’re committed to a truly effective to-do list system, make sure you always carry a writing device with you.
Next Step: As a next step, I suggest two actions: 1. Pick up an offline planner in a weekly format. 2. Implement the art of the “FocusList.” You can do this through sticky notes or by picking up Faction3’s FocusList at (www. Faction3.com)
PART IV: FOCUS 2.0: THE ONLINE BATTLE Part IV guides you through specific web applications and technology that we use everyday. Each chapter proposes to teach you precisely how to leverage each tool in order to get the most out of each service, in the least amount of time.Â Weâ€™ll cover how to leverage the following services for focus:
Facebook: We will explore exactly why Facebook is so addicting, and why Facebook’s interests are in direct conflict with your focus. Twitter: We will explore the brief history of Twitter and how the service has morphed into something completely different than what the founder’s envisioned. We’ll learn how to get the most out of Twitter without having to life a finger. Linkedin: We will explore how to leverage your LinkedIn account to make more money, meet new connections and get found for your gifts. Digg, RSS and Content Aggregation: We will explore the nature of RSS, blog syndication and finding great content among the internet’s sea of information. Email: We will explore tools on how to leverage your email to become a more focused, purposeful person. Instead of shooting off emails at the dinner table, you’ll learn how to get more done in less time through focused principles when using email.
XV. Facebook Ever wondered why Facebook keeps releasing redesigns? The old facebook layout was fine, right? Facebook provides an atmosphere to keep up with your friends in a neat, simple environment. This was Facebook’s edge. It was Facebook’s value proposition. In part, this is why Facebook surpassed its over-crowded competitor, Myspace. Yet one thing remains certain: Facebook is a business. And in order for their business to thrive, they must make money. In this chapter, we’ll explore the “why” behind Facebook’s redesigns. The goal is not to call out Facebook for being a distraction. After all, it’s one of the most useful online utilities, as it centers on cultivating relationships with friends. The goal is to promote awareness. It’s to make users more aware of Facebook’s goals. It’s to outline how Facebook makes money. And through this,
you’ll see how Facebook’s monetization strategy sits is in direct conflict in making you a more productive person. Facebook’s re-designs centers on improving two things: (i) Increasing search-based advertising impressions, and (ii) increasing overall advertising impressions. We’ll explore why below.
I. Why is Facebook focusing on driving up search? Facebook is driving up its search efforts for three reasons, (i) to combat Twitter and Google, and (ii) to gain more insight into their users in order to advertise them (they’ll log which search terms you look for), (iii) display text advertisements on the results page related to your search query. Think about the people behind Facebook right now. They’re young, they’re smart and they’ve got confidence. Many employees within Facebook think they’re the biggest thing since sliced bread (or at least Google). Search is a massive business model within the internet. Google is down the street raking in ~$20 billion every year through search. You probably recognize the thought process of Facebook. It likens itself to a caveman’s thought process. Facebook’s caveman discovery process: • Google good. • Facebook good. • Google a search company. • Google like information. • Facebook have information Google can’t have. • Google make lot of money through search ads. • Facebook try to be like Google to make big-money-pow. • Facebook make search more important in redesign. • Facebook make more money from search. • Facebook happier With Facebook’s shift towards search, they are hoping that you will spend more time searching for people, apps, groups or fan pages on Facebook. In return, you’ll be spending more time on Facebook, and seeing more advertisements. Their intentions are to suck more
time out of you on Facebook.
II. Facebook’s Core Business Model: Distraction Using RescueTime (www.RescueTime.com), one can observe where they are spending the most of their time on the web. I observed my time spent on Facebook. By no means am I a Facebook addict, I thought. In fact, I rarely ever use it. I told myself that I use Facebook for development and work purposes. I maybe use it 5-10 minutes/day. But apparently, I lied. RescueTime found that I use Facebook an average of 35 minutes/day. How much would you guess the average user spends on Facebook? I mean people are seriously addicted, right? Maybe two hours, maybe three hours? Nope, the average user spends only 45 minutes per day surfing Facebook; however, crunched into this 45 minute window is an average of ~70 pageviews. More pageviews equals more exposure to advertising impressions. Think about that for a second. That’s an average of almost two clicks per minute. There’s likely a wealth of people that drastically exceed that figure. Facebook is crunching out a massive amount of ad impressions in a very short amount of time. This may prove why Facebook is so addicting. You’re actively engaged immediately after logging in. Before you know it, you’ve just wizzed on 45 minutes, which seemed like 5 minutes. Time flies when you’re actively engaged. And Facebook has done this better than anyone out there. Facebook’s core U.S. business model centers on advertising. Yes, they have virtual goods in place (in order to monetize the areas where there are practically zero advertisers–like Indonesia, the Philipines, Japan, etc.) Being that their business model is contingent upon advertising, their goal is to drive up impressions, which in turn will drive up clicks (money). Facebook also has more pageviews than Yahoo’s network of sites,
and they’re fast-approaching Google. This means that Facebook has the potential to show more ads than Yahoo’s content network. Yet, Facebook’s ads, unlike Yahoo’s, are significantly more relevant (and also more pricey). Here’s an example of a Facebook ad:
Yahoo ads are traditional display ads (banners with pictures–Gif or Swf file):
But the images above only show the look and feel of the ads. The key parts sit within the system and algorithms powering the ads. This is where Facebook shines. Facebook has the data advertisers
have dreamed of since the dawn of time: knowing people’s true desires.
Facebook knows more about you than you know about yourself Sure, Facebook knows your demographic information. They know where you live. They know where your friends live. They know where your family lives. They know your interests, your goals, your passions, your role-models. However, the true gems sit in the data. It’s more than likely that Facebook logs additional data about you. Facebook knows how much time you spend on Facebook per day. They know what time of day you log in. Facebook also knows which profiles you click on most. Through this data, they can capture your hidden desires.
Let’s take a use-case example: Ashley is an average-looking 16 year-old high school girl. She hangs out with the nerdy crowd. Her interests include reading. Her favorite music is the Jonas Brothers. She’s having trouble getting over that nerd hump–and the fact that she still likes the Jonas Brothers. Ashley has 246 friends. Not much for a teen her age. Her average time spent on Facebook outweighs others’ at 2 hours/day. Ashley clicks on Stacy’s profile an average of ten times a day. Ashley knows Stacy through friends. Stacy is a popular girl and hangs with the popular crowd. Stacy has 1,200 friends and her wall is always flooded with funny recollections of the previous day and photos– photo’s in which Ashley constantly browses. In Stacy’s profile, it shows that Stacy loves the band Greenday, and Stacy likes “rocking out.” Guess what types of ads Ashley (the geeky girl that loves Jonas Brothers) will see? Take a guess: Will Ashley see Jonas Brothers ads or Greenday ads? Greenday ads (the band that Stacy, the popular girl, absolutely
loves) Facebook has the potential to carry this out. Right now, Facebook is only giving third-parties access to basic desires (Ashley would see Jonas Brothers ads in this case). This is the truest form of relevant advertising. Facebook essentially knows what Ashley wants to be through the data Ashley logs in clicking and browsing Stacy’s photos. Thus, the more you do on Facebook, and the more distracted you are, gives Facebook more data on what type of person you are; thus, allowing them to deliver more relevant ads to you and make more money. The question social networks, like Facebook, ask themselves everyday is, “How can we get, (i) more people using Facebook, (ii) more often, and (iii) get them to see our ads more frequently?” There are hundreds of ways they attempt to do this (adding features like video, games, fan pages, etc.). However, the main way is through four core distractions:
The Four Innate Distractions From Facebook:
1. Notifications Those little red bubbles that display a certain number of messages drive clicks. People love clicking those little red notification icons. This, in part, is driven by the fact that your Facebook inbox displays the same style. And people love feeling important. “Ohhh ahh, someone took time out of their day to message me directly through
Facebook? I must be important.” Getting a direct message is more intimate than a wall post. There’s a reason why the Facebook Inbox notification share the same look and feel as other notifications. Facebook wants you to click on anything with a red notification box. And with each new Facebook redesigns comes more and more red notifications. 2. Email alerts Facebook sends out messages to your email when specific actions occur (like Friend Requests). This is Facebook’s way of saying, “Get the hell back over here.” 3. Chat This is Facebook’s way of saying, “You’re not leaving.” When a friend ping’s you, “Hey! How’s it going? Been a long time. How’s the family?” You can’t just ditch them and leave Facebook. At this point, Facebook’s got you hooked. 4. Pictures This may possibly be the biggest source of distraction for Facebook users. As soon as pictures pop-up in the Facebook news feed, say goodbye to 10 minutes of your life. People love pictures. It’s easy, pictures speak a thousand words, and conveniently for Facebook, there’s ads snugged next to pictures. In order to negate these distractions in the face of Facebook’s redesign, I recommend the following steps: 1. Use RescueTime to set up alerts. These alerts will help you identify and keep track of the time spent of Facebook. 2. Get used to the red notification buttons, and feel comfortable in keeping them unread. 3. Before you login to Facebook I highly recommend writing down your objective in logging in; if you try making a mental note of your objective when logging in, you’ll forget when you’re hit with thousands of social stimuli (friend requests, pokes, wall posts, etc.) For example, write down on a sticky note, “Logging in
to wish my cousin a happy birthday.” 4. Turn off all email alerts–anything “Facebook” should not appear in your email inbox 5. Go into invisible mode on Facebook Chat 6. Categorize your news feeds into groups–those that are your close friends, work friends, family, and “rando’s” (by Rando’s, I mean random people that you felt awkward in declining their friend request). This will help you not get distracted with photos posted by randos, as they won’t appear in your family group. 7. Also, don’t forget about Facebook lite: http://lite.facebook. com In the end, Facebook’s latest re-design centers on increasing notifications and boosting their search usage. Facebook is definitely moving in the right direction in terms of captivating users; however, it’s critical to understand how and why time flies when surfing Facebook. Hopefully the overview and tips above help you focus and become more productive online. Until, the next re-design, good luck.
XVI. Twitter http://howtogetfocused.com/chapters/twitter-is-dead/ - comments Today, more than ever before, we’re presented with new web applications and tools that promise to help get things done. The truth is, they do the exact opposite. In this chapter we’ll learn how to truly leverage Twitter for results. This will allow you to focus more on things that matter; instead of spending time on something that simply wastes your time. In an age of distraction, this skill is critical to reaching the freedom and dreams you desire. I think it’s time that we again ask ourselves the question we’ve always been asking, what is Twitter? Or more, what has Twitter become?
Just like the web, twitter has undergone a profound transition. Whereas web 1.0 was about publishing static web content, web 2.0 arose and centered on dynamic, social content. So, too, is Twitter’s recent transition. Twitter started as a nifty little experience for sharing small details about your life (Twitter 1.0). This included people saying things like, “I’m eating a hot dog right now.” Now, we’re seeing changes. Changes that are showing up right in front of us. Instead of “Sharing,” we’re “Tweeting”. Instead of the question, “What are you doing right now?” it’s replaced with “What’s happening?” Slowly, and perhaps painfully for the founders, Twitter has turned into something else. Twitter has transformed into story sharing and link-sharing with a social twist. It’s transitioned from a place of primary sharing and interacting, to place filled with brands, links and ads. Instead of real-time conversations, we’re seeing a stream of real-time affiliate links. Twitter has transformed into a place where people primarily do three things: 1. A place where entrepreneurs/bloggers/freelancers share links 2. A place where celebrities write when they’re drunk or bored 3. A place where brands go to prove that they’re ahead-of-thecurve
This is Twitter 2.0 — welcome. So how does one leverage this new form of Twitter to get the most out of it–in the least amount of time? Read on.
Understanding Twitter 2.0 Many get sucked into the hype machine and dive into Twitter without understanding its purpose. After a certain period of time, most fall into two camps: (i) either they never use it again, or (ii) they continually use it without understanding why they’re using it. There’s an interesting concept in psychology that is on the rise
today, more than ever before: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This concept is outlined in a fantastic book on Focus, Find Your Focus Zone, in which the the author, Lucy Jo Palladino, suggests that people are absolutely freaked out about missing the action. People are constantly afraid of being left out. So, too is this concept within Twitter. As Kathy Sierra points out, “Ironically, services like Twitter are simultaneously leaving some people with a feeling of not being connected, by feeding the fear of not being in the loop. By elevating the importance of being “constantly updated,” it amplifies the feeling of missing something if you’re not checking Twitter (or Twittering) with enough frequency.”
The Magic Bullet Secret To Getting 17 million followers in 3 hours!(kidding) If you glance at the top most-followed people on Twitter, you’ll ask yourself, what’s the secret? How’d they get there? What’s the magic bullet for getting more followers? It’s simple: Be Shaq. Yes, be a celebrity. You’ll notice that the most-followed people on Twitter already have a community offline. They’re movie stars, famous news anchors, musicians and pro athletes. You’re not going to build a massive following by having a cool, magic bullet twitter strategy. Such ideas are short-term solutions. Typically followed up with massive un-follows, and in some cases, even getting banned from Twitter.
Here’s how the typical magic bullet Twitter follower software works Simply write a program using Twitter’s API (application programing interface), and then follow a ton of people. Message them, and have the program interact with them. Once this is done, they’ll follow you. And then after a month or so, you un-follow them.
This is the strategy I once took on for an account, but have since abandoned it–because I didn’t get any value out of it. After a certain point I had to ask myself, why I was trying to game a system. Why I wanted to get more followers. And really, the answer never came. So I decided to purge my account, and start fresh and new with a long-term value-driven strategy. A strategy that didn’t suck time out of my day; but instead, added value to my day.
The 7 New Dependable Ways to Use Twitter Below are 7 new, dependable ways for leveraging Twitter in a focused, effective manner. A way in which results in sharing valuable information with a close set of followers. 1. Don’t read any other guide to getting productive on Twitter Challenge me. Every other guide on the net that preaches how to use Twitter in a more productive, focused manner only adds to the confusion. The tools that you’ll see within Twitter only do one thing: they insist upon themselves. They’ll add to the confusing mess that Twitter already is. Here’s a sample of the tools you’ll find in these guides: Sample Fluff Apps: • TweeCalendar: Just sign up for TweeCalendar and you can Tweet appointments to your Google Calendar! You’ll send your followers info they don’t care about at all, and you’ll probably forget the calendar! • TweeWeather: Set up weather alerts using Twitter! You’ll know when to not get out of your mother’s basement, and go outside! • FlightTweets: Get tweets about your upcoming flight! The flight you’ll miss because you were busy tweeting • TweeDo Lists: Write to-do lists via Twitter, annoy your followers, and get nothing done! By all means, avoid these guides, and avoid these tools. 2. Avoid Twitter clients
Seesmic and Tweetdeck are good for two purposes: (i) Power-users, and (ii) Pissing on time. I only recommend using Tweetdeck or Seesmic if you’re in the PR/ Marketing field. If not, then don’t use it. 3. Don’t market yourself within Twitter Don’t market yourself within Twitter; market yourself outside of Twitter. Do this by putting a link to your Twitter profile within various communities in which you interract: • Facebook Profile • LinkedIn Profile • Your Blog • Your Portfolio Website • Your Email Signature • (and any other site where you’re building a community) 4. Share valuable information without trying — schedule tweets This is easily the most overlooked, and under-implemented tool within Twitter. As outlined above, over the past two years, Twitter has undergone a slow transition from a “What are you doing now” service to a “What news can you share?” Within the era of Twitter 2.0, the question is not, “What can this person tell me that they’re doing.” Instead, it’s “What valuable information can this person give me?” In order to share valuable information, the key is to not try. And more, make it a habit. What I mean by “not trying” is that instead of manually blasting out awesome news stories everyday; instead, adopt an automated tweet scheduling tool that allows you to bookmark valuable links, and then schedule them over a period of time. A couple services allow you to do this: • Sharefeed
• FutureTweets • Twuffer • TwitRobot • CoTweet • HootSuite • Twaitter The one I use personally, and the one I recommend is Sharefeed (www.sharefeed.com). I recommend this one due to its simplicity, and effectiveness. 5. Respond and cultivate your community Just like the secret and critical method for building a community on any blog, so too is the concept of building on Twitter. Twitter is really just an extension of your community on a different service. For this reason, it becomes critical to respond to each person that @ replies you. 6. Only follow people that provide valuable information This is one of, if not the most, critical elements in using Twitter. The foundation of twitter centers on what industry researchers call, “The Network Effect.” This holds that the experience drawn from Twitter is in direct correlation with who you follow. You are your environment. If you follow spammers, then you’ll think of Twitter as a place for spammers. 7. Check Twitter 2-4 times per day at most In a later chapter we’ll discuss the concept of email batching or email crunching. This is the concept of chunking your emails into short, intensive sessions only a couple times per day. For me, I recommend starting at four times per day, then bringing it down to three times per day, and finally getting it down to twice per day. An extension of this crunch period should be your Tweet checking. Don’t check Twitter constantly throughout the day; instead, chunk it into infrequent, short sessions.
Conclusion: The 7 steps outlined above will allow you to get the most out of Twitter, in the least amount of time and give your community actual valuable information. To summarize, Twitter has undergone a shift from sharing Haikustyle details about ourselves (i.e. “I’m eating a hot dog right now”) to a place for brands, links and affiliates. In order to get the most out of this era of Twitter, I recommend following six steps: 1. Be weary of tools that preach that they allow you to be more effective 2. Don’t use Seesmic or Tweedeck, or any other client 3. Market yourself outside of Twitter; not within Twitter 4. Share Valuable Information Without Trying (scheduling tweets) 5. Respond and cultivate your community 6. Only follow people that provide valuable information 7. Implement Twitter Batching
XVII. Leveraging LinkedIn For Results An overarching theme within this book centers on cutting out distraction, and using services and tools that actually have a purpose. Leveraging social tools in a focused matter, leads to one thing: results. There are certain fallacies and specific practices that you must employ to leverage LinekedIn in a focused, purposeful way. In this chapter we explore specifically how to leverage LinkedIn for results.
Think about the future Think ten years back. Now imagine if you kept a tidy record of all the contacts you’ve helped out. Think of all the people that you’ve interacted with. It’s hard to wrap your mind around all the people you must have met. In fact, you can’t. We meet hundreds, if not thousands of people per year. It would be handy to leverage those relationships again, right? I mean, it couldn’t hurt.
Now imagine your LinkedIn account in 10 years. Are you actively building your contacts for the future? The value of LinkedIn doesn’t center on the now; it centers on the will be. It’s a tool that will tremendously rise in value over the course of the next decade. In fact, it’s probably the most focused social network out there on the web. And by focused, I mean results-oriented. Because its purpose centers on one thing: cultivating professional relationships. During transition, most career services tell you to get a LinkedIn profile; however, they don’t cover the most critical part in using LinkedIn. There’s a specific ways that you can leverage LinkedIn to help others out, stay in constant contact with your connections, and in turn, help yourself out–whether that be clients, a job, strategic partnerships or business partners. Below, we explore how.
8 Ways To Leverage LinkedIn for Results: 1. Turn off Email Notifications: Out of the box, LinkedIn comes with constant notifications via email. These emails are not only a distraction; they’re downright annoying. In an otherwise sound service, this component of LinkedIn really is distracting, and doesn’t lend itself well to producing focused results. I recommend turning off all email notifications through LinkedIn. You can find “Email Notifications” within the “Settings” tab. 2. Turn On Nutshell Mail: Nutshell Mail (www.nutshellmail.com) is an application that I’ve covered before, and one I definitely recommend. Nutshell Mail groups together the most important events, emails, followers, tweets and wall posts from three services (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin). It then emails you a daily digest of what happened within these services. Thus, enabling you to never have to check out those services ever again.
3. Recruit your contacts:
Using LinkedIn’s email import tools, import all of your contacts. From this point forward, make it a point to add all of your daily contacts–whether casual contacts or business contacts–into your LinkedIn profile. Everyone is worth knowing. Everyone is an expert in something. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, “Every person I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of them.” 4. Apps: Your profile needs to stand out. For this reason, I recommend leveraging LinkedIn’s application features. You can link your blog, a Power Point presentation, Amazon book reading list and more. 5. Connect Twitter: I recommend connecting your Twitter account to your LinkedIn account. This can be found in the “Settings” tab. If you don’t have a Twitter account, I recommend picking one up. Immediately. I don’t want to hear a lame excuse that you don’t have time to “tweet.” A results-oriented strategy doesn’t center on needing any time. It centers on needing a good eye for great articles. It centers on sharing interesting links that help your contacts. The LinkedIn/Twitter Strategy: Use a service like ShareFeed to schedule your tweets. Throughout the day, if you find an article that you think people would like, you can schedule that article out. All you have to do is bookmark the article. If you have a good eye for fascinating articles and stories, your followers and contacts will love your updates. Like most things in life, it’s not about quantity, it’s quality. 6. Answers Most people overlook the Answer section within LinkedIn. Within this section, people pose questions and others answer. There’s a massive amount of viable questions out there that you can answer. Why would you want to answer the questions of others? How can this help you?
As Emerson made clear above, everyone specializes in something. Everyone’s passionate about something. The Answers section is your time to unleash knowledge about your passion. By helping enough people out, you’ll be recognized as an expert. Because the “Answers” section is so overlooked, you’ll be able to leverage and provide excellent answers with little competing answers. 7. Two critical details that everyone forgets Make sure you fill out your “Summary” and “Specialties” section in a calculated fashion. These sections are critical for getting discovered. LinkedIn’s search engine pays specific attention to these two sections. If you’re familiar with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you can liken this section to the meta description and meta keywords within your site. Make sure these two sections are keyword rich. For your summary section, keep it short and sweet. I suggest setting a limit of 3 sentences. Have the summary contain specific keywords that you want to be found; however, make it colloquial and easy to read. As an example, here’s mine: My activities center on monetization, analytics, business development, product development and ping pong. In my off-time I write about social media and productivity. Learn more at www. scottscheper.com For your specialties section, list 7-10 keywords separated by comma that describe what you specialize in and what you want to be found for. Here’s mine: Search Engine Optimization, Blog Creation, Blog Design, SEO, Social Media Marketing, Web Monetization, Analytics, Social Media Strategy, Product Development, Ping Pong Obviously, I’m kidding about ping pong; however, it makes people laugh.
8. Recommend others This is the most critical step for leveraging LinkedIn. In fact, the other steps are virtually worthless compared to this. All of the success books and relationship books all say the same thing: you can get what you want by helping other people get what they want. Basically, focus your time on others. Just because the internet presents a new conduit for connecting doesn’t mean basic relationship principles are obsolete. In fact, it’s the opposite. With the recommendation engine within LinkedIn, you’re leveraging a powerful system of reciprocity. Recommend all contacts that you’ve had an appropriate amount of interaction with. Two things result from recommending contacts: 1. First, your contacts appreciate it. Everyone loves a compliment, and everyone loves being recognized for their work. It’s critical, though, that your recommendation has merit. If you recommend someone that you barely even know, it will show. Make sure that your recommendation comes from the heart. 2. Second, you’ll gain exposure. Think about it. Everyone’s profile features recommendations. Recommendations get very prominent real-estate on another’s profile. Every single day there’s at least one, if not more eyeballs, viewing someone’s profile. If you’ve recommended someone, you’ll be in front of that pair of eyeballs. Now multiply that by the network effect; you can experience a constant healthy flow of traffic by simply recommending your contacts.
Summary In closing, leveraging LinkedIn is a game. And in this game, there’s only one way to score: help others. This is done through recommendations, answering questions or posting exceptional articles through Twitter. In the end, make sure that you are helping others, and actually adding value. Upon doing this, you’ll experience results that cannot be measured by merely glancing at your website analytics. Your connections will increase, introductions will increase, followers will increase and your bottom line will increase.
Further Readings and Resources: • Guy Kawasaki’s LinkedIn Makeover • 20 Ways to Use LinkedIn Productively
XVIII. The Three Online Wells of Knowledge http://howtogetfocused.com/chapters/focusing-in-the-crowds/ comments
In an age of wiki’s, blogs and cogs, we’re presented with a surge of information. And the rate in which this information is presented hampers our ability to sift through the noise, and uncover knowledge. With the internet comes noise. Yet, I argue that knowledge can also be sifted out from the crowds and online thought-leaders. In the chapter below, we’ll uncover and identify critical methods for sorting through the noise, and finding the content that contains knowledge. This act of uncovering wisdom from the crowds requires focused, actionable habits. We’ll explore how this is developed.
History Wouldn’t it be interesting to live through history’s greatest inventions? Gary Marshall of Tech Radar writes: Since we came out of the caves, every new technology has been greeted with alarm and disdain. When we invented fire, people moaned that we’d forget the art of making salads. When we invented the wheel, people moaned that we’d forget how to walk. And when we invented the internet, people moaned that we’d forget how to think. The difference is, the internet moaners might be right. After ground-breaking research in the realm of information and its effects on cognitive behavior, researchers found that the internet is, indeed, encumbering our intelligence as a whole. The report finds that deep thought is replaced by fast-moving, dopamine driven clicking, flicking and shifting. I argue that this stems from the fact that the majority use the internet without a focused, purposeful plan. We’re highly manipulable beings. Stimulation, flashes of action and fast-moving pixels quench our dopamine-seeking minds. Yet, in the midst of this digital Wild West and this information
revolution, sits a colossal amount of untapped value–even knowledge. The key centers on where to look for this value, and what strategy you wield to sift through the noise. In order to gain wisdom from the crowds, a focused action plan is required. Below we look at the three different wells of knowledge that you can draw insight from. The three wells are, (i) an RSS reader, (ii) a large industry user generated content site and, (iii) a niche user generated content site. After this, we explore the threestep strategy for sifting through the noise.
The Three Wells of Knowledge Online Well 1: Really Simple Syndication (RSS) RSS is a severely underused and misunderstood concept in the online world. Those little orange buttons you see on websites–that’s an RSS icon. Everyone tells you RSS is simple. “It stands for Really Simple Syndication!” The irony is that even years after the birth of RSS, nobody knows how to use RSS. The Use Case Scenario We’ve all had the basic email subscription experience. You find a great site, and you want to stay updated on their articles, so you fill in your email address. After about two weeks of receiving the posts via email, you’ve had enough. It adds way too much clutter to your inbox, and you just can’t keep up with the content. That’s where RSS comes into play. The principles of RSS centers on aggregating all of your posts, articles and content and housing them in a separate service than your email. We will do this through a syndication reader. My syndication reader of choice is Google Reader (www.google.com/reader).
RSS vs. Email: • Email: Private messages from people • RSS: Public messages from people (articles and blogs) To set up your Focused Syndication System, follow these 5 steps: 1. Set up Google Reader Visit http://www.google.com/reader and sign up 2. Change the view Once you’re in, change the view to “List View” 3. Avoid almost everything Google Reader is a very feature heavy service. Don’t pay attention to the home feed, the suggestions, the stars, the shared items, etc. Those are all distractions. The only elements you need to focus on are how to categorize and organize your folders in a manner that enables focus. 4. Labeling for focus Label folders based on their categories, and then a premium level. For instance, break your stories into the following: • Finance • Career • Technology • Politics • Business • Health • Sports • Entertainment • Comedy • Premium Traffic Leaders (outlined below) • Premium Thought Leaders (outlined below)
Then add a premium category, such as “Premium Traffic Leaders”– these are blogs or websites that are traffic-leaders in the space. They drive influence and are massive for the industry. They typically see unique visitors over 100k per month. Then add a category for the up-and-comers; or otherwise referred to as the “Premium Thought Leaders.” These are blogs that aren’t necessarily the traffic leaders, but their influence spreads and is read by the traffic leaders. 5. Checking the stories Once you’ve set up your RSS reader, its a matter of habitually scanning the headlines for the best, and most compelling stories. In my case, I rarely read anything else but the Thought-Leaders; I scan the other ones from time-to-time, but the thought-leaders are where you’ll draw a lot of your insight. Finding the Thought-Leaders In a prior chapter on how reading effects the mind, we uncovered that what you read is just as important, if not more-so, than how much you read. In the chapter, we identified how one should go about finding the thought-leader blogs. Here it is again, but expanded for creating an RSS system. 1. Visit AllTop, Technorati or search a term using Digg 2. Review the topics you’re interested in and select 10 blogs that look enticing 3. Read about five or so posts from each–also note their date (make sure the blog isn’t dead) 4. Cut your favorites from ten blogs down to three finalist blogs 5. Of the three finalist blogs, add them to their appropriate category within your syndication reader (Google Reader) 6. After a period of time, if the blog is still valuable, check their blogroll for additional blogs Well 2: Leveraging Social News Communities
Defined, “social news communities” are websites in which users vote and determine how interesting stories are. For instance, Digg, is a social news site where users “digg” the top content on any blog, image, video or anything online that they find newsworthy. In turn, other users digg the story as well. If the story is dugg enough, it will appear on the front page of the social news site. This typically results in blogs covering you, more exposure and more visitors to your site. The inbound links that you get from being on the front page of these sites will boost your ranking within the search engines. Hours, upon hours, can be wasted within these sites. Many people preach that you should use social news sites for your business; yet, most wander into these sites without a focused strategy that engenders results. Your goal with these sites is not to get on the front page. Let me repeat that, your goal with these sites is not to get on the front page. Why? Because it’s likely not your core strength. You can have the best content in the world, but if you submit it to Digg without a power-user backing you up, you’ll rarely see it get picked up. You’ll end up wasting a wealth of time trying to get stories Dugg. Instead, outsource this method to a power digger or PR team. Obviously, don’t try to game the system; Digg frowns upon this and may kick you out. Simply put, be smart. Don’t waste your time on Digg all day when you could be focusing on your core gifts–like creating good content. Notice which stories make it to the first page. Understand the headlines and articles that make the front page. You’ll see headlines like, “The 47 Most Powerful Design Tips Ever.” Or stories like, “Man Catches Big Foot and Has The Caged Animal to Prove It.” The stories that get on these sites contain very powerful headlines, or unbelievable ideas that make you stop and pause. If you’re a content creator, you want to adopt this style of thinking when creating web content. However, for most of us, your focused strategy when using social
sites centers on simply leveraging the social proof of others to source good stories, and stories worth reading. We’ll soon outlined the three-step method for sourcing good stories. In the meantime, here’s an article that lists 50 social news sites (http://bit.ly/htgf-socialnews) Well 3: A Niche Story Machine The previous wells for gathering knowledge (your syndication reader and the social news site) are great for gathering stories; however, you should also find an online community that relates to your industry in which you interact with personally. There are many niche social news sites out there that are smaller in nature. They appeal to a specific user or industry. With these sites, you’ll want to become very active and get to know the users outside of the social news site. In these niche sites you’ll find a lot of talent. You’ll find people, that like you, want to increase their skills or knowledge about a specific realm. Examples of these sites include answer communities like Get Sponge, Pligg-built sites, vbulletin built sites or even blogs. They include communities found in many member’s only websites. They include communities found in message boards. Or book clubs. Or Meetup groups. With these niche communities, your goal should center on giving back and interacting with members of the community on a daily basis. Make it your goal to answer everyone’s questions on the message board or answer forum. Obviously, don’t just answer questions for the sake of answering questions; provide valuable answers. If you can’t provide valuable answers, and you’re really interested in the niche, take a back-seat and don’t respond until you can actually help people. Why invest time in this? 1. You’ll meet talented individuals 2. You’ll establish yourself as an expert among these individuals
3. You’ll get more traffic to your site because you’ve established social proof as an expert Make this a quick habit. Not something that you get carried away with. Log in, answer the questions, and get back to the day. Don’t spend more than 5-10 minutes during this process.
The Three Step Method For Sourcing Knowledge: Above, we outlined the three wells of knowledge (RSS, Social News Sites and Niche Communities). How does one actually sift through the level of information? How do you source knowledge from the three wells outlined above? We’ll now combine this strategy with a daily activity. Below is the three step method for sourcing knowledge: 1. Visit one of the wells outlined above and spot three valuable links and stories 2. Apply Readability (http://lab.arc90.com/experiments/ readability/) which is a web application that allows you to format the page of any website into book format. 3. If you find the article noteworthy, share the article on Sharefeed, which is a tweet scheduling tool Here is a video that shows exactly how to source knowledge using the three step method above: http://bit.ly/htgf-sourcing The video shows how to apply this tactic using QuickSilver (http:// docs.blacktree.com/quicksilver/what_is_quicksilver), a Mac application that allows one to type which services they want to open. For instance, if you type in “Gmail” it will open Gmail. In the video, using Quicksilver, I open up my well of choice, which is a social technology news site called Hacker News (news. ycombinator.com). I then apply the Readability widget, and then share the story on Sharefeed. After which, you can visit Sharefeed’s website and actually schedule out when you would like the story to be Tweeted. Repeating this focused process everyday will not only allow you to quickly sift through the noise-driven stories, it will allow you to gain
a following for providing valuable stories.
Summary In the chapter above we covered the three online knowledge wells: 1. Syndication Readers (using RSS) 2. Large social news sites 3. Niche social news sites We outlined how you should source knowledge from these three wells: 1. Visit one of the wells and find three great stories 2. Apply the readability widget and read the story 3. Schedule and share the story via sharefeed Applying this method in a focused, purposeful way will allow you to source the best ideas online in the least amount of time.
XIX. Email and Focus Thousands of applications exist for email productivity. You’ll find long sales letter pages preaching the next “magic bullet” or “ultimate email productivity success system.” Yet, most productivity applications do a better job in confusing chaos than solving chaos. It’s clear that email is taking over a significant portion of our lives, but what is not clear is how to actually prevent emails from taking over our lives. Effective email use is simple. In the chapter below, we’ll outline the simple philosophy and steps to getting the most out of email in the least amount of time.
Glorified Emailers We’ve shifted from a society of artists and specialists to one that stares at digital pixels all day. In April 2008, the New York Times published an article which
uncovered that nearly a third of one’s work day is spent on irrelevant items and distractions such as email. What’s more, the Radicati Group found that the average person is on track to spend nearly half of their day staring at email. Our innovation and information has quadrupled over the past century. But why hasn’t our value grown proportionally? If our innovation has sky-rocketed, why hasn’t our effectiveness skyrocketed? What happened to the concept of peace-of-mind? Looking at the late nineties and early twenty-first century, our innovation within the information realm outshines the industrial age. It’s absolutely staggering. The wealth of available information on demand, as well as our ability to communicate anytime, anywhere, is absolutely insane. Yet, amidst this firestorm of information innovation, we’ve lost touch with what truly adds value to the world, and what truly makes us different than computers. Our creator didn’t put us on earth to process inputs and spit out outputs. We are here to think, to shape, to give and to create. The way we use email endangers our purpose. It threatens our potential to innovate and create art. Email constantly attacks your focus. For this reason, you must learn how to make email work for you. This chapter will show you how.
Are you an email farmer or an email hunter? In the section on finishing projects, we introduced the concept of being a farmer or a hunter. Now, we’ll explore this concept within the context of email. Have you ever driven home from work, and wondered what you actually did that day? You question if you even did anything productive. You fear you were just busy with items that were good for one thing: keeping you busy. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s OK. We all go through the thoughtprocess above every once in a while. However, the key centers on knowing when and how to correct this. A day filled with shooting the breeze with employees, answering questions, staring at emails, checking social networks and chatting with colleagues will make
you busy, but it won’t make you rich. There’s too much information flying at us, and in order to fulfill your purpose, you must learn to respectfully say no, and decline distraction. Many of the innovations within our information revolution are valuable–they’re meaningful, and can actually add significance to the world. Yet, we rarely work as if email is simply a maintenance tool for creating. We use it as a substitute for creating. Instead of using email like a farmer (maintain crops); we try and use email like a hunter (try and get business). Your goal should be to use email like a farmer, not a hunter. Use life as the platform to hunt and bring in business, not email. In order to master the art of sifting through email, and not getting distracted by irrelevant items, we’ll first outline the nature of email itself. We’ll then outline an appropriate philosophy towards email and then show you the process of batching email.
The Nature of Email Email is a radically different form of communication than any other form. It combines two elements that make it less personal than other forms of communication: 1. lack of time, and 2. lack of personality. Other forms of communication like meeting up with people, mailing somebody a letter or picking up the phone to call someone possesses at least one of those two elements. Email is instant. And with less time spent writing an email, also comes less meaning. Yet, this is fine–if you understand the nature of email, that is. A person gets more meaning, and a bigger smile from a phone call than an email. Same goes for meeting in person. Why? Because you’ve invested actual time in delivering the message. Time is not only money; time is value. As you invest time with someone, you’re also investing value in that relationship. Email is a different beast. Here are 3 characteristics of email. Understanding these characteristics will help you to put your interpretation of email into perspective:
1. Emails usually aren’t emergencies Emails may be emergencies in the mind of the sender; but if you take a step back, an email message isn’t going to contain life or death information. And if it does, you should definitely have a talk with the person sending such an email–because they’re nuts.
2. Bite-sized clarifications or confirmations Email isn’t an appropriate medium for negotiating, agreeing on items or correcting term sheets. You’ll be wasting a lot of time if you try and get negotiations done over email. Not only does it take longer to read through the others response, you’ll also have to wait for him or her to get back to you. Unless they’re addicted to email, the lag time can get long, and annoying. After a certain point within an email thread, it’s wise to just pick up the phone and give the person a call. (And by pick up the phone, I mean work or home phone in my case–because I’ve forgone my cell phone, which you’ll learn about shortly).
3. Emails aren’t insightful Emails are worse than reading a children’s book because at least children’s books contain words, and are proof-read. If you’re spending half your day staring at digital jargon, guess what you’ll end up spewing out to others throughout the day? Digital jargon. We’ll dive into how exactly you should counter this mass of emails, and filter out the good from the bad, but first, you must have a solid philosophy and mindset towards email.
Your Philosophy Towards Email Your philosophy and attitude towards email determines how productive you are using email. There’s hundreds of applications out there that confuse things. You’ll find tools that suggest setting up advanced filters, having email sync with certain applications, through setting emails up through an army of assistants, or all of them combined.
Here’s the thing: no piece of software can improve your email productivity. Only your attitude can. Mastering email isn’t complex, and doesn’t warrant thousands of applications and books written about it. Some email guides are excellent; yet, some are filled with noise and applications that add zero value to your life. They actually end up hurting your productivity. The key with leveraging email for productivity is first founded on your philosophy and attitude towards email itself. If you hate email, you’ll become more productive in using email. There are many famous authors, bloggers and celebrities that proudly declare that they answer every one of their emails. The only problem with this centers on their response. It’s usually watered down. And more, they tend to wear themselves out. You’ll find that these people are constantly tied to their Blackberries. They check email every five minutes. Here’s the irony: the people that check their email throughout the day end up being less productive; yet they reason that they do so in the first place because it makes them more productive. If they looked at the data, they’d see that the antithesis was true. Research cites that multitasking actually slows down your productivity. Then why do they check email throughout the day? Typically, when you have something that is proven to harm your productivity, yet people still swear by it, there’s one thing involved: entertainment. And guess what people are addicted to? Entertainment. Believe it or not, some people find checking email entertaining. I did at one point in my life. Research shows that you get a dopamine kick when your mind is entertained–and you can become entertained through email. People love getting email notifications because they love getting noticed. A private message that is aimed directly at them excites them; and this excitement leads them to constantly check email. For this reason, your philosophy towards email shouldn’t be based on pleasure. Email should equal pain. It should be seen as spring cleaning. You let the dirt build, and then crank it out and clean it up
within a day.
The Three Types of Emailers There’s three types of emailers in the world: Person One: Billy Blackberry Checking email hundreds of times per day. Leaving the unimportant ones unread; and then after about a month or so, clearing every email out. Person Two: Casual Cassandra Checking email casually about a dozen times per day, and leaving some items unread so that you can do it later (many of us are in this stage) Person Three: Betty Batcher This centers on checking email only 2-4 times per day. It involves clearing out hundreds of messages within 5-10 minutes. After which, your inbox will read zero. For the purpose of becoming more effective, it’s best to adopt strategy three. We all need to become a Betty Batcher. We’ll now learn how.
3 Steps to Mastering Email Productivity for Your Entire Life As stated above, the concept of developing productive email habits is simple. So, we’ll jump straight to it now: 1. Set a schedule When I first set out to make email as productive as possible, I made the mistake of simply telling myself to check email less than five times per day. I didn’t define a schedule. I ended up checking email less frequently than I normally did, but I didn’t develop the
productivity that I could have developed. Thus, in order to actually make this process work, you’ll need to clearly define two times per day when you’ll check email. Here’s my schedule: • Monday through Friday: 10am and 3pm • Weekends: Check personal email once per day, and don’t check work email at all 2. If you’ve left an item unread, you fail Before outlining the principles of effective email use below, please understand that the key with avoiding procrastination centers on processing every single email, and taking a specific action with it. Choosing to not do anything will hurt your productivity. There are four actions that you must take when processing email: 1. Delete 2. Delegate 3. Add to your to-do list 4. Do it now The action you must avoid is leaving item marked unread. If you’ve left an item unread, you fail. You’ve procrastinated. 3. The three questions Below is the process that will allow you to conquer email, and make email a productive, swift time for getting things done.
That’s it. It’s simple, yet takes some practice to implement effectively.
Advanced Email Tools You may find these tips obvious or common sense. They are. The philosophy above reassures the simplicity you thought email was all about. As I said above, you should avoid guides like, “47 Gmail Hacks from Google Labs.” However, if you have a problem that’s a bit more complicated, or an email system that’s already a mess, I suggest reading some guides that share the philosophy outlined above, yet they also provide you with advanced tips in the case that your email system is out of control. You may want to check
out Jared Goralnick’s Guide to Not Checking Email. (http:// notcheckingemail.technotheory.com/). You’ll find that many of the philosophies outlined above are very similar in nature. In fact, whether you’re reading The Four Hour Work Week, Inbox Zero or Getting Things Done, you’ll find they all outline a similar philosophy. Why? Because it works.
Conclusion Best of luck in your journey in conquering email. Though the idea is simple, it’s easier said than done. As always, please tell me your thoughts and share your experiences through the comments below. Additional advanced resources and Links: • Nutshell Mail • AwayFind’s Guide for Not Checking Email • 4hww • Merlin Mann Inbox Zero Presentation • Getting Things Done • Zen Habits Power of Less • Filtering Emails from Technotheory Email Filter Guides by Service (for advanced use of email–when you want to filter messages): • Microsoft Office • Gmail • Mozilla • Apple Mail
PART V: THE SAGE
The Sage is occupied with the unspoken ..and acts without effort. Teaching without verbosity, producing without possessing,
creating without regard to result, claiming nothing, the Sage has nothing to lose. - Tao Te Ching by Priya Hemenway, Chapter II
As we outlined in the chapter on flow, your goal should center around practicing focus like the sage described in the passage above. In Part V, we’ll explore characteristics of the sage as applied to living in today’s world. The Characteristics of the Sage: In this chapter, we’ll outline specific characteristics of the sage and apply them to living in our world today. Outsourcing: We’ll explore the concept of outsourcing projects to others; thus allowing you to focus on your purpose, and further allowing you to step into a state of flow. Focus at Work: We’ll explore how the sage lifestyle interracts within the workplace. Focused Networking: We’ll explore the concept of networking and meeting with people on a consistent basis, which results in a more rounded, pupose-filled life. Handling Emotions: We’ll explore how the sage operates in the face of the many emotions in life. Constant Learning: We’ll explore how the sage lifestyle makes it a point to involve his or herself in constant learning.
The Characteristics of The Sage Entrepreneur There are two types of characteristics one should seek to model
themselves after. Both types of characteristics are the same: The Focused Entrepreneur and The Sage. The Focused Entrepreneur possesses characteristics of The Sage. We will be using both terms interchangeably in the following chapters.
Entrepreneurs Today The old belief regarding entrepreneurs is over. The Rock Star entrepreneurs don’t seem like Rock Stars; in fact, they’re not Rock Stars. They’re silently dominating in our down economy. They’re driving average cars. They’re unassuming. And they’re confident and calm. This stems from the fact that they’re focused. In our age of distraction, it’s critical that you keep a level head and cut out the “latest apps” or innovations that really aren’t innovative at all. The apps you should stay away from are the newsworthy ones (on blogs), ones that contain buzz words and ones that add to already distracting services (like Twitter). The person who dominates tomorrow is the one who can differentiate between features and effectiveness. This person possesses characteristics of The Sage. Below you’ll learn what types of entrepreneurs there are and the habits of the sage entrepreneur. There are two types of web entrepreneurs: 1. Those that make money 2. Those that lose money The irony of the second type of entrepreneur stems from the fact that it’s their decision to lose money. Some people are too squeamish about making money. Their revenue model always sits within future plans. “We need to scale build users first, before monetizing them.” I can’t tell you how many entrepreneurs I come across that have decent technology; yet, they have absolutely no idea how to monetize. If they say their monetization plan is through serving relevant ads, I ask about what type of CPM they’ll generate based on the ad position. Are they going to use a set of 160’s, 300’s, or 728’s? (Ad sizes)–or custom build advertisements leveraging an xml feed?
They have absolutely have no idea what I’m speaking of. In fact, they get offended anytime someone brings up advertising.
Don’t be bashful Making money online isn’t selling out. The online realm has a certain entitlement to be “free.” Everything’s open, free and fun. This is fine if you have balance. Balanced open-source and balanced freemium revenue models are fantastic; however, problems arise when people believe everything should be free online. People shy away from making money online because they don’t want the opensource warriors that hang out on Reddit all day to think less of them. The fear of money can come from a variety of factors, but two I see most often sits in their environment.
I. Location, Location, Location: Many web 2.0 startups in the Silicon Valley are horrible at making money. They don’t feel like it’s cool, or trendy to make money. Their business models center on raising capital, burning cash flow and flipping their companies to Google–and if they’re unsuccessful, to Microsoft, eBay or Yahoo. News flash: if this is in your business plan, you will fail.
II. Power Users: The second are the entrepreneurs that focus on features, not actual value. They focus on enhancing a certain app component of twitter; they focus on new visualizations of rss-realtime social graphs (whatever that means). Their focus is on the wrong place: themselves. Social media power-users are the worst market to go after if you want to make serious money online. The customers in this realm are overly critical, overly-needy, overly vocal and overly broke. That’s right, broke.
The Seven Habits of Sage Entrepreneurs: 1. Focus on People, not Personas The entrepreneurs that dominate the online world are those that don’t live on Twitter. Many of them usually cut internet access most of the time like Paul Graham, founder of YCombinator (www. PaulGraham.com). They’re not tied to their blackberry. In fact, they dominate the online world without lifting a finger. How? Because they dominate the offline world. Sage entrepreneurs focus on people. They meet and interract with people at networking events, dinners, charity events and whenever they feel like grabbing a beer. They’re not hermits that focus on online personas. They don’t tremble at the feet of a well-known bloggers. They don’t live in the sewers of tech blog comments; instead, these entrepreneurs build relationships offline. They understand that people are people. And even though technology has taken hold in this decade, people still drive technology. There are real people behind Twitter’s avatars.
2. Downsize and automatize Downsize the tools you use (both online and offline). Sage entrepreneurs only use a handful of core apps that all have one thing in common: they assist in generating revenue. In addition to this, there are certain actions that require habitual, routine maintenance. For example, social media marketing centers on targeting specific keywords that are aligned with one’s product, and getting in front of every individual that tweets those words. This is a 24-7, 365 task that must be automated. Focused entrepreneurs make it their job to outline the goal, or objective of this and have others carry this out for them. There are two ways to automatize your applications: I. Through Technology First, you can have technology automatize your applications. Here
are three pragmatic applications that get this done (two of which we’ve touched on previously): 1. Sharefeed: Allows you to schedule tweets. This allows you to schedule and send out important articles that you’ve discovered over periods of time. Instead of tweeting great articles back-toback, which can annoy your followers, use ShareFeed to spread your tweets out throughout the day. 2. Nutshell Mail: This services takes LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and sends you a daily digest email of anything important that’s gone on within your social networks. It’s excellent for keeping in touch with friends and sending them a quick note on their birthday–without getting sucked into hours of Facebook stalking. 3. AwayFind (www.AwayFind.com): This services acts as your own personal assistant. It alerts you whenever an important contact emails you–otherwise, it allows you to go on with life. II. Through coaching Second, if you’re generating enough revenue to support it, I suggest hiring and training a team of social media marketers. Spread the love, and share the wealth. Have them to carry out your work by teaching them. I suggest long checklists. Writing a checklist of very specific steps and actions will help you understand your overall goals. Mentor and train people and show them the overall goals of focused social media. We’ll explore this method more in the upcoming chapter on outsourcing.
3. People lie People lie, data does not. Or does it? It depends on how you interpret the data.
How to test an idea in the marketplace: In order to test an idea in the marketplace, there’s some folks out there that suggest running a Google Adwords campaign and measuring the number of clicks on certain keywords:
For instance, if you’re advertising “California Hotels,” you can test specific titles and call-to-actions through Google.
Google Ads in Top Right 1. You set up the keywords and different ads within Adwords: “Book a Hotel Now” or “Beautiful California Hotels” 2. You then let the campaign run for a specified amount of time 3. You measure the click-through rate, which is calculated by taking the number of clicks divided by the number of impressions ((clicks) / (impressions) = Click Through Rate)) So if the ad touches the eyeballs of 100 people and 1 person clicks on the ad, you’ve got a Click Through Rate (CTR) of 1%. If you have an ad that has 50 impressions and has 1 click, you have a CTR of 2%. In this example 100 impressions isn’t enough–quantity matters at a certain point. However, it gives you a better sense of measuring and testing ideas in a marketplace. This is fine; however, there’s a better method. In the above method, data can lie. It doesn’t capture the whole story.
4. Disconnect for Nowness
Within Tibetan Buddhism, there’s a branch known as Shambalah. This is not so much a religion as it is a lifestyle. Shambalah is a vision. The actual term Shambalah refers to an ancient, mystical city that people believed espoused enlightened ways of living. The recent pioneer of Shambalah was Chogyam Trungpa, who outlined a critical component of this ancient way of living: nowness. Nowness, or the magic of the present moment, is what joins the wisdom of the past with the present. When you appreciate a painting or a piece of music or a work of literature, no matter when it was created, you appreciate it now. You experience the same nowness in which it was created. It is always now. – Chogyam Trungpa You can’t experience nowness while staring into the abyss of your smartphone. We live two lives: a virtual life and real life. Which one matters more? Unfortunately, a lot of people spend time in opposite proportions of which one matters. Virtual life is easier; if you lack confidence, you can hide behind your keyboard. Focused entrepreneurs are those that live life in order of importance: (i) real-life first, and then (ii) virtual life. In order to promote nowness, I’ve been undergoing an experiment ever since writing this book: freeing myself of technology when I’m on the move. I carried this out by digitally detoxing my gadgets. In my practice, I got rid of my cell phone, which you’ll learn about in a later section of the book. Disconnecting promotes awareness. Try unplugging the talk radio
on your way to work today. You’ll notice things around you that you never noticed before. I’ve had people go through this exercise and report that they’ve commuted to work five years, and once they disconnected, they were amazed with how much they were missing. Disconnect, promote awareness and practice nowness.
5. Persistence Sage entrepreneurs are persistent. They’re persistent because they understand their goals. Their goals drive their long-term focus which leads to persistence. The entrepreneur that fails at a handful of startups in his family’s basement isn’t a fairy tail. I interact with entrepreneurs like this everyday. They’ve tried, failed, tried, failed, tried, failed and then succeeded. This really requires three elements: (i) Persistence, (ii) Focus, and (iii) a wife that doesn’t go insane.
6. Polymaths aren’t dead The age of the polymath isn’t over. In fact, it’s what will separate you from other cogs that specialize in specific functions within your organization. A polymath is one that’s well-versed in a variety of subjects. For instance, Leonardo Da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin were polymaths. They excelled in mathematics, physics, art, politics and more. Today, however, our education institutions and corporations are herding us to adopt more specialized practices. Why? Because if you look through history, generalists manage specialists. And unless you’re an entrepreneur, you’re expected to take orders and specialize in a specific function. Academic institutions train students as if they have already chosen not to be entrepreneurs. As they say, a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” However, your goal is to be a Leonardo of all trades. And this isn’t impossible. This can be done through simple hard work and focus. The best part: it can be done for free. In a future chapter, I’ll be showing you how to hack education and learn the secrets of the polymath, which will put you above and beyond any specialized cog.
7. Break away and back to the basics
When it comes down to crunch time, sage entrepreneurs don’t mess around. Suddenly the vocal, warm entrepreneur turns serious. He or she immediately gets in the zone. Shaun White, pro snowboarder and skateboarder illustrates this perfectly. When training for the Winter Olympics, Shaun knew he needed an edge. Every single year everyone unleashes something new. Something that’s never been done before–something that until then, was impossible. And snowboarders unveil near-impossible tricks every single year. The only issue is that there’s a lot of buzz and talk within the snowboarding realm. The best snowboarders know one another. They hang out, they’re friends. As the Winter Olympics approached, Shaun knew he needed to get away. He needed to cut out distraction, cut out the noise, and even cut out the cell phone. If he trained as normal–with friends–he knew they’d be feeding off one another and his focus might suffer at the expense of looking at what everyone else is doing. So what did Shaun do? He got away. Literally. He built his own half-pipe in an obscure part of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. He was the only snowboarder with access. It was just him, his board and the half-pipe tucked into the beautiful Rockies. You can view a video of this here: http://bit.ly/htgf-shaunwhite We think of Twitter and our online social networks as distractions, too. Ironically, so does its founder, Ev Williams. Though there’s routinely controversy and attacks on Twitter, there’s also much praise. Even I am critical of some components of Twitter. Many get carried away with social media and it ends up distracting them rather than helping them. However, at its core, Twitter still allows users to share bite-sized information. The key is deciphering the important buzz vs. the wasteful noise. As Ev puts it, “Try not to get caught up in the echo chamber. That is probably the toughest thing when you are trying to break out and do something original.” Ev doesn’t listen to the noise of others; he moves back to the basics. When he’s had success, he got there by thinking, “Back to the basics. What do I want? What do I want to see in the world?”
What’s next So now it’s your turn. What do you want? What do you see out there that’s not in the tech blogs, but in the world? What’s out there that’s missing, and how can you change this? Once mastered, these 6 habits will allow you to sit with the best–the focused entrepreneurs
The Beginner’s Guide to Outsourcing Effectively http://howtogetfocused.com/lessons/the-beginners-guide-to-outsourcing-effectively/ - comments My journey with outsourcing began in college. I wish I could say that I accomplished something. I wish I could say that my decision to outsource made me money, or even just saved me time. Yet, I can’t. I did everything wrong. I saved up $800 for outsourcing tasks (which was also my net worth at the time). I decided to “invest” this into my first business. Six weeks later, I had nothing. Actually, I take that back. I did have something. I now possessed irrelevant and error-ridden work product from the people I outsourced to (Irrelevant research reports, spreadsheets, and a half-done website). And it was my fault. Looking back, I really didn’t have the right reasons to outsource in the first place. What started it all was listening to a friend brag that he was outsourcing everything. He said he was building a business and didn’t have to do anything. This sounded neat, I thought. But what pushed me over the edge was hearing the media talk about outsourcing. Thomas Friedman in “The World is Flat,” wrote about how miraculous outsourcing is, and how the world is changing forever. The message from him gave me the sense that if I didn’t outsource, I’ll miss the boat. So with my brain’s FMO decision making process (“Fear of Missing Out”), I decided to jump into the outsourcing game head-first. When I was outsourcing my tasks, I walked around campus
arrogantly. I felt innovative. I felt cutting-edge. I remember listening to my professors lecture on some theoretical concept, and then getting distracted by an IM on my phone from a worker in India. I bragged to family and friends that I was working smart, not hard. I told others around family gatherings that academia was out of touch with reality. “I’m listening to pedantic professors with an army of workers in India building my business.” But the bragging would be cut short by the reality that I was failing to outsource effectively. In those days, I outsourced tasks like, “Determine the market size of Israel-based startups by writing a 30-page paper supporting your findings.” You see, my first business idea was strategy consulting. This was genius because I had absolutely zero business experience (sarcasm). I reasoned that because I had put hundreds of hours into studying strategic models and theoretical business concepts, I could create my own business that taught this to others. Turns out, business school is different from the real-world. It took me about six months of denial, and living paycheck-to-paycheck before it set in that I wasn’t creating much value. Actually, this really set in when I discovered that my younger sister, who was working at Golden Spoon, was pulling in more cash than me. That was a hilariously painful reality. There’s two lessons in the story above: First, fail fast and move on. Second, don’t outsource for the sake of outsourcing. We’ll concentrate on number two: how to outsource effectively.
Why Outsourcing is Important The thesis of this book doesn’t center around getting organized and concentrating better. It doesn’t even concentrate on getting things done. It centers on getting the right things done. It revolves around integrating a specific set of habits and actions that allow you to focus on important items in life, and outsource, delegate and not get distracted by the rest. If you want to become a more focused person, the answer doesn’t
arrive through doing uninteresting tasks in a half-assed manner. It centers on defining what you’re good at, what your purpose is, and carrying that out in the most effective way. For all the other items that arise in life, you must find a way to rid yourself of them through outsourcing them, or getting them done through others that are passionate or proficient at carrying out the task. In this chapter we’ll first explore when it’s appropriate to outsource (so that you’re not outsourcing for the sake of outsourcing like I did above), and then I’ll take you through a series of steps and practices that helped me outsource effectively.
When should you outsource? The first step in outsourcing effectively concerns itself with the question of, “Should you even outsource this?” This is the most important step, and the most critical piece when beginning the journey of outsourcing. It doesn’t matter how well you define and communicate the task. If you’re outsourcing something that really isn’t that important, you’re wasting your time. For this reason, I created the diagram above, which should help you decide when, where and with whom you should outsource your tasks. And yes, I outsourced this: Special thank to Nicolas Franz and Italo Oliveira (rock stars who I outsourced this to) for getting this done. In the end, if you decide to outsource, you’re left with three options of where to outsource your tasks: 1. Outsourcing to a rock star: I feel that this is the best-case scenario, because you know what you want and that you can rely on this person. 2. Outsourcing globally: Outsourcing globally is a good option if you know exactly what you want, and how a person should likely carry it out. Outsourcing globally enables the scenario where you’re sleeping and work is getting done. And that’s a really good feeling.
3. Outsourcing locally: If you’re a beginner, or you’re fairly new to outsourcing, I suggest using Craigslist for one reason: If you can’t really explain what you want, or how you want it carried out, you can meet for a cup of coffee face-to-face and iron out your confusion. Before beginning the journey of outsourcing, make sure you review the diagram above. Otherwise you could be wasting time in the steps below. Just ensure that they don’t make the same mistake I, as well as many others make: outsourcing irrelevant tasks.
Critical Steps of Outsourcing Effectively At the very core of outsourcing, we all know one thing: If you’re outsourcing, you have a problem. Don’t freak out. That’s not a bad thing. When outsourcing, you have an important problem that you’re willing to pay someone else to solve. And getting this problem solved effectively centers on two things: communication and people. You must ensure that you’ve effectively communicated what you want done, and you must ensure that you have the right person attempting to carry it out. People that you outsource to are usually smarter than you think; however, for your own sake, you must write as if you’re speaking to someone who has no idea what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what you’re looking for. In order to get this message across, I’ve outlined a 5-Step formula for outsourcing.
The 5 Steps to Effective Outsourcing: When signing up for an outsourcing service like Odesk, or speaking with someone you found on Craigslist, you’ll want to get the following five elements communicated to them. Whether through Odesk’s messaging service, email or chat, make sure you communicate these five elements:
1. Background The first step when outsourcing centers on giving the person some context as to who you are and what you do. Example: “Hello, my name is John Smith. I live in Northern California and I have been in the real estate industry for 25 years. Basically, I help people sell their homes.”
2. Your Goal The second step gives the person a sense of what you’d like to accomplish. Example: “My goal is to break into the social media space by releasing 10 videos and having them appear on YouTube.”
3. My Problem The third step centers on defining the problem. Usually the problem is implied by your goal (i.e. you don’t have the know-how to reach your goal); however, you must make sure that you clearly state your problem for yourself, as well as for the provider. Example: “I’m having a tough time achieving this because I don’t know how to do any of the following items: 1) Edit the video, 2) Add music, 3) Add text introductions, 4) Upload it to YouTube. I do know how to record the video because I have a camera, though.”
4. Scenario The fourth step is where you outline how you envision the outsourcing relationship to carry out. Example: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the following scenario would work: 1) I will record the video and send it to you via email, 2) You will carry out the items I outlined above, and then upload the YouTube video, 3) You will then send me the link to the video.”
5. Next step
The last step is essentially a “call to action” for those reading your job description. It’s critical in this step that you cater towards those that have done similar work in the past. You don’t want people who think they can solve your problem. You don’t want someone learning on your dime. Thus, ask them for their portfolio and past work. Example: “If you feel you are suitable for this position, please email me with your portfolio and sample videos that you created.” Last, here’s an important tip: Select the candidate with work product that fits your needs at a fair rate. Do not simply search for those that are the cheapest. Quality may suffer by employing this habit and you’ll end up wasting time. The goal is not to brag to your friends that you paid someone in the Philippines $3/hour for work. That’s not only immature, it’s ineffective. Your goal is to solve your problem with solid workers in an effective manner.
Ongoing services The 5-step process above works great for projects; however, when there’s an ongoing task, you’ll need to employ another method to make it work. For instance, if you’re a small business looking to hire a social media manager that does all your tweeting, you don’t want to subject yourself with moving through the 5-steps above, and training many providers over and over again. You want to hire one provider, and have them execute your plan on an ongoing basis. For these type of tasks, the 5-step process above is necessary, but there’s an additional component: a checklist. If you’re a checklist fanatic, or even if you’re not, a book I highly recommend picking up is “Checklist Manifesto.” It’s a book about the effectiveness of checklists. It’s astonishing how organizations can drastically improve, and lives can be saved by merely employing a checklist in your organization. If I had to work off a checklist all day, I’d go nuts; yet there are certain people who prefer checklists. It gives them a sense of consistency and comfort. I find that those who seek out process-
based tasks, really enjoy and value checklists. And that’s why I recommend it. I’ve been using this technique for about a year, and find that the people I outsource to absolutely love it. It enables them to not be micromanaged. I don’t constantly have to check in with them–I can just glance at their checklist. You’ll want your checklist to be simple and separated as follows (usually in an excel or Google docs spreadsheet): 1. Checklist Item: Column where you outline that item you need done 2. Date: Within the date box, have them put in their initials (it somewhat bars against any b.s. taking place) You’ll be surprised with how effective this simple tactic can be.
Final tips In closing, it’s critical that you outsource for the purpose of getting important items done, not for the sake of outsourcing. In order to become a more focused person, it’s critical to understand your strengths, and master the art of outsourcing your weaknesses. If your strength is in development, and you lack design skills, it’s important that you understand design, but even more important that you know how to effectively outsource design. By now, it’s clear that outsourcing is here to say. It’s no longer the future, but the present. But it’s not going anywhere. If you don’t outsource right now, don’t think that you’re missing out. You likely don’t need to because you’re not faced with a task so critical that it needs to be outsourced immediately. Yet, when you do find an appropriate item that needs to be outsourced, make sure that you follow the steps above. It will hopefully make your first outsourcing experience a lot more effective and enjoyable than mine.
Resources: • I’ve used Elance, Asksunday and Getafreelancer, but I’ve found the best service to be ODesk. For some reason, I just find the service, the organization, the website and the providers to provide
a better experience than the other ones. Admittedly, I haven’t tried the other ones for over a year, so maybe they’ve improved things. But barring any unforeseen scenario, I’ll continue using Odesk and continue recommending them. • I’ve used 99designs for logos, blog headers and other items and found their model to be excellent for myself. I’m not sure how much designers like it, but I’ve been a satisfied customer whenever I’ve used their services. • Last, but not least, Craigslist is a great tool for beginners because you can meet up with the person you’re outsourcing work to. Just make sure going into it that you understand the spammy nature of Craigslist. Tread lightly when looking for somone on craigslist because you may receive a hefty amount of spam. Additionally, make it clear that you’re only looking for a local provider. Otherwise, you’re better off simply going with Odesk.
Focus in the Workplace http://howtogetfocused.com/chapters/7-practical-ways-to-createa-productive-work-environment/ - comments The dot-com bubble and burst taught us a lot about what one should look for in successful companies. Ever since the burst, two trends have arisen when venture capitalists and entrepreneurs speak about their success.
1) People The first trend revolves around people. Silicon Valley is known as the hotbed for entrepreneurship and innovation. At the center of this ecosystem sits Ron Conway. Conway has been referred to as “the most important man” in the silicon valley by more than just a handful of entrepreneurs and celebrities. He invests in a variety of startups, many of which end up changing the technology space forever. His investments include: Google, Ask Jeeves, Paypal and Brightmail. Ron has spent time advising the following companies: Twitter, Digg, Bright Mail, Ask Jeeves, Facebook, RockYou, Zappos, Trulia, StumbleUpon, Plaxo
(acquired by Comcast), Photobucket (acquired by Fox), and many more. When asked by the LA Times what he looks for in a startup, Conway responded, “We invest in people. We don’t invest in ideas. Ideas can morph. But great people end up building great companies.”
2) Focus Investors and venture capitalists tout that people are the most critical component to startup success; yet, when you talk to the actual people that were successful in the space, they claim that “Focus” was their key to success. In a series of interviews about success and failures, the following entrepreneurs discussed what went wrong.
The founder of whitepages.com, Alex Algard, writes that his focus was in the wrong place: We focused too much on specific skills, and too little on fundamental abilities, raw talent, and passion for our business. A couple of years thereafter, we went thru some gut-wrenching people changes as a result of that. In retrospect, hiring rapidly was too easy and it should have been a giant red flag to me. I’ve learned that in good or bad times, hiring should always be difficult. – Alex Algard, successful entrepreneur and founder of whitepages.com
The lesson I learned was to keep laser focused on your core service until your core service does not provide for enough growth. If your core service is still growing at a good pace, keep focused on it. All the other partnerships, new verticals, new products, etc are meaningless if you don’t build a very solid foundation of your core first. – Brian Lee; Founder of Legalzoom To summarize, their focus was off.
Critical Characteristics If you ask venture capitalists what they look for in successful startups, they say, “great people.” If you ask the great people within successful startups what their key for success is, they say, “focus.” The right people, combined with focus, determines the success of an organization. In this chapter we’re going to concentrate on the specifics ingrained within the concept of focus and the workplace. We’ll outline how you can get more productive at work, get more done, and in turn, work less. The lessons that I outline in this chapter will gear itself towards startups and entrepreneurial organizations. I’m not going to pretend that all of these lessons will translate smoothly into any organization. You can only do so much in an environment that frowns upon innovation, and smiles upon process. Becoming an intrapreneur (an entrepreneur within a large corporate or government organization) will only take you so far. Yet I am absolutely convinced that at least one of these ideas can be applied to your organization no matter what the environment is like.
7 Characteristics of a Productive Work Environment: Below, we’ll cover seven characteristics of focused companies. We’ll identify how to adopt focused principles within your organization.
Implementing these principles will allow you to get more done in less time; thus, allowing you to work less.
1. Whiteboards Successful project management systems revolve around people, not Gantt charts. I’ve tried almost every project management system, customer relationship management system and planning system. Even the ones that claim to be unique have failed when put to the test of actual use. Most of them touted features as their competitive edge. You’ll see a long chart with check-boxes next to features like RSS Feeds, iPhone Synching and dashboards. Every organization I’ve been a part of progresses through the same stage. We try a new, “innovative” project management tool (usually one that I find and get all excited about), we try it out for three months, and then ditch it for the old, reliable white-board. I’m a fan of whiteboards because they’re open, free and are usually used with a group. It’s the ultimate collaborative tool. It’s a tool that relies on people, not on features. For one to create a focused work environment, you must adopt tools that are simple, people-centered and invite collaboration. In my experience, nothing beats the whiteboard. Yet, there’s a sad occurrence that takes place in many organizations. After a certain period, sophisticated project management tools replace whiteboards. “Whiteboards don’t scale,” someone will say. It is within these transitions that the focus of your organization may deteriorate. Yet, after a certain period of testing out the latest, greatest feature-rich project software, they’ll likely go back to the old reliable whiteboard, or hopefully find a way to simplify the software. The whiteboard drives focus and collaboration due to three primary characteristics: 1. Face-to-face: When you’re setting tasks and to-do items on a whiteboard, you’re in the presence of people. Getting an item assigned to you while talking about items on a whiteboard is much better than opening up your email and seeing that you’ve been assigned an item. 2. Natural: The whiteboard conforms to the person; the person doesn’t conform to the whiteboard. There’s no learning curve.
The whiteboard is a natural project management tool. 3. Batching: Depending on the whiteboard you use, there will be limited space. This is a good thing. The whiteboard has limits, meaning you can’t write down 100 items that need to be done and then forecast them. When you see a sheet that has 100 to-do items on it, it’s both overwhelming and daunting. This usually results in nothing getting done, or half-assed work getting done. You forget that there’s a starting point. The whiteboard allows you to batch your projects into chunks. I highly recommend pruning your projects so that there’s only 10-15 items total (for a group of up to 5 people). This encourages small victories, not a long, drawn out war. That not only gets old, it becomes tiresome for your team. In brief, I highly suggest using a whiteboard for your team. It encourages focus, collaboration and effectiveness due to the constraints it presents (limited space).
2. Open Space Is Overrated Openness is overrated. I know what you’re thinking. “You just preached openness in the section above on whiteboards, now you’re saying it’s overrated?” Yes.... well, sort of. Open office environments are overrated (i.e. those environments where everyone’s sitting next to one another and there’s no personal offices). In our era of opensource technology and transparency, startups have shifted towards office spaces that espouse openness. You’ll find desks stacked immediately next to one another, and a proud CEO will proclaim that this drives collaboration and innovation. However if you look closer, or if you’ve worked in such an environment, you know what this really engenders: distraction. I’m not a proponent of work environments where people work immediately next to one another in a cramped space. I believe that you should plan with people, and execute without them. A focused environment provides each employee with their own desk and own personal space. In the middle of your entire office floor, it’s excellent to have open space and places for people to collaborate on white-boards, pool tables or whatever. But it’s critical to have at least some space that allows you to shut the door and get work done in an environment that rids itself of noise, distraction and people.
My belief in private, distraction-free workspace is not just driven by personal experience. In Scott Belsky’s book on productivity, “Making Ideas Happen,” he outlines the findings of a study by 8 Joan Meyers-Levy, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota. She discovered that the nature of your workspace has a direct effect on the end result of your work-product. Working in small-ceiling, confined spaces allows you to focus more on critical details; whereas working in open, high-ceiling spaces fosters a bigpicture, collaborative style of thinking. Bottom line: collaborate with people, work without people.
3. Shake-up Your Workspace The section on focused goals revolves around setting one threeword goal and carrying it out within three months. In order to avoid a slump, I’ve found it helpful to rearrange your workspace every three months, as well. Likely, it’s been a while since you’ve carried out some office-space spring cleaning. One day, on a late Friday afternoon or whenever there’s down-time, stop everything, shut your door, and rearrange your workspace. If you have an insanelyheavy desk, just rearrange easy-to move items like your monitor or some other easy-to-arrange objects. I’ve found that this simple act re-energizes me. It acts almost like a reset button in how you work. I’ll cover what types of personal work-environments you should strive for next.
4. Seek Rags, Not Riches The success stories we see on Oprah have a very similar storyline. A person is poor, starting from nothing, then hits it big, and becomes rich. The world loves rags to riches stories. It feels right, it feels natural and it feels fair. We’re so accustomed to seeing riches emanate from rags that it’s actually beneficial to put yourself in rags to reach success. What I mean is that you should strive for constraints in your work environment. You must put yourself in a position of hunger. If you’re a startup, this means being lean, and not fat with venture capital. If you’re a government organization, it means doing something incredible with a small budget. The projects that always fail are those with an endless budget and
an undefined date. The successful undertakings, the ones that hit it out of the park, are those that have constraints. For instance, “We need to reach 40,000 people on a $10,000 budget within three weeks.” Those projects tend to do better than, “Let’s reach as many people as possible, in however long it takes us, on an endless budget.” Within your personal workspace, seeking constraints means creating a simple, minimalistic environment to get work done. So often I see pictures of work-spaces that have plants, bonsai trees, comfy chairs, food, snacks, couches and televisions. What they’ve done is transformed workspace into a bedroom. This is dangerous and hurts one’s ability to focus. Instead, put yourself in an uncomfortable, small, windowless environment. Knock out your work in a couple hours, and then get out and collaborate! Bottom line: Seek constraints. Seek rags, not riches. This philosophy will lead you to riches.
5. Ditch Robert’s Rules Meetings can be cancerous to your organization. Not only that, they can kill morale. Yet even those that proclaim that they hate meetings, too, end up holding them. Why? There are a number of reasons: insecurity (is everything OK, let’s hold a meeting to find out), boredom (what else am I going to do with my time?) or simply because they think they should hold meetings because other companies do. If you’re heading to a meeting without a clear agenda, and a clear goal, boycott the meeting or bring a book– because nothing important will get done. In order to maintain focus and effectiveness, always set an agenda and a time limit if you’re holding a meeting. Do this by meeting thirty minutes before you have a phone call. Give yourself a reason to keep things swift, quick and action-oriented. Additionally, keep the meeting small (3 people or less), and have only one problem to solve. I’ve also found it helpful to not hold any regular meetings. Make meetings impromptu. Meet because something needs to get done, not for the sake of meeting. Robert’s Rules is a book that tells you how you should meet. This
is fine, and actually effective for government-run organizations. But if you’re trying to implement it within a startup, or innovative environment, you’ve just let out a toxic bomb. Put the fire out immediately and throw Robert’s Rules out the window. Don’t talk about “Old business forever.” Don’t assign a Corresponding Secretary to take notes about the meeting. Nobody reads them anyways. Decide on something that needs to be solved. Bring your planner, and write down the next action of how to solve it. Adopting flexible, action-oriented meeting principles will allow your organization to not get distracted and maintain focus on its main goal. Speaking of which, we’ll cover organizational goals next.
6. Building an Organization Built on Meaning The worst thing you can do to your startup, team or organization is be secretive. Obviously, there’s details that not everyone should know. However, if you’ve got people at the top making plans, and having others carry out those plans without understanding why they’re carrying out their daily activities, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. And more, you’re killing your organization’s culture. Focus-driven organizations are those that are working towards something. They’re organizations that have a clear-cut goal that is not only communicated, the goal is understood. Just asyou should set focused goals for yourself personally to carry out in three months, so too should your company. Set one company-wide goal every three months and communicate it with your employees. Make sure everyone understands exactly why they’re working towards this goal. This is critical, as understanding why you’re working towards something translates to meaning, which converts to purpose (and, of course, focus). If someone interviews your company’s CEO and an employee in a separate room, their answers should be completely the same. If asked the question, “What’s your purpose, what’s your plan and what are you guys working towards?” Their answers should literally mirror one another. If you’ve got a mission statement, and nobody can recall or recite it, ditch it. Replace it by setting a focused goal every quarter, and communicating the meaning behind the goal to each employee. This simple practice will lead to a focused organization.
And according to successful startups, focusing on the right things is critical to success.
7. Don’t Get Fat at Work The last element that you should consider when at work is not to get fat. In brief, don’t eat a massive lunch. When I say, ’seek rags, not riches,’ I mean it. You’ll find that there’s two types of organizations: fat ones, and lean ones. You can tell which one is which by their cafeteria (if they even have one). I know of two organizations that exemplify fat vs. lean quite clearly. One organization has raised millions in venture capital and they have lunch catered to their offices everyday. These aren’t just lunches. These are Thanksgiving dinner-style lunches. At 2pm, it’s game-over. Everyone’s in a food coma. They hit that point where no more work gets done. The other office has a personal cook that arrives everyday and cooks them lean, light, healthy lunches. After 365 days of this, which work environment do you think gets more done? Which one do you think is more productive? Bottom line: Don’t get fat at work.
Conclusion In conclusion, venture capitalists look for great people. Great people create an environment that is filled with focus. Creating a focused environment can be embodied within seven characteristics and practices: 1. Implementing natural, people-centered tools (whiteboard) 2. Creating a focused work environment (one that prevents distraction) 3. Shaking-up your workspace every three months 4. Seeking rags, not riches (constraints) 5. Holding focused meetings (brief and to the point) 6. Setting focused goals (make sure everyone at your organization understands the why behind their actions)
7. Don’t eat a lot at work
Focused Networking You’ve heard it before that business is all about relationships–it’s all about people. This is only half truth. Researchers have found that success in business is 50% is about relationships; whereas, the other 50% is actually bringing something valuable to the table–it’s smarts. Too often, we focus on one or the other. In order to reach the green fields of success, people must know what you’re doing. You could have the next biggest search engine algorithm and live in a siloh in Montana. But guess what, if nobody knows about it, you won’t make a dime–and more importantly, you won’t add value to anyone’s life.There’s no better medium than being in-person. This is why networking is critical. Now this isn’t networking in its traditional sense–it’s focused networking. Below we’ll explore this art.
Background When you think of networking, memories may resurface that are filled with awkward situations containing salesy people and knowit-alls. Depending on which networking event you choose, you’re bound to encounter different types of people, and different types of personalities. The trick centers on selecting the right conferences and gatherings. In this chapter, we’ll explore how this is done through “Focused Networking.”
What is meant by focused networking Focused networking is nothing more than having a plan to habitually meet great people. Focused networking centers on meeting people that you can help, and in turn, they can help you. This doesn’t revolve around hitting up every conference in sight and handing out your business cards. Instead, the idea of focused networking concerns itself with mapping out events where people that you want to be around congregate. If you’re
into books, join a book club. If you’re into wine, go wine tasting. If you’re into football, join a local touch football league. You are your environment, and the raw materials of your environment are formed at networking events. You’ll find that meeting people keeps you sane in times where the economy is bad. Networking allows you to get out, and remember why you’re here and what you’re doing. How? Because you’re constantly explaining to people why you’re here, and what your purpose is. At networking events you meet people. And people ask you questions about yourself. Thus, you’re put in a position to answer questions you should have been asking yourself all along, yet you’ve been too busy. I run into some of the wealthiest and most successful entrepreneurs weekly. Most successful online entrepreneurs are successful because of their offline activities. They’re constantly making introductions, helping people out, meeting with people in person and making deals happen. They have employees and all-stars around them that specialize in dominating online; meanwhile they’re establishing relationships offline. This type of entrepreneur characterizes focused networking. Below we’ll outline specific principles involved in focused networking, and the action plan to begin networking in a focused manner.
Proven Principles of Focused Networking Below, we’ll explore eleven principles that form the basis of focused networking.
1. Free Is Not Free At free networking events, you’ll find people in transition–which is perfectly fine. In fact, I was this person many times. However, you’ll also find snake oil salesmen. People selling you multi-level marketing services and debt relief packages. And by debt relief, I mean people that will try and con your employer on the employee’s behalf. It’s dirty business. And if you go to any networking event
unguarded, you’re bound to dislike networking–or even worse–get ripped off. Thus, make sure that when you attend a free networking event that you’re more susceptible to salespeople or service businesses (like attorneys, accountants and human resources services).
2. Finding the right events Finding the right events takes time initially. Yet, once you get the ball rolling, finding the right event becomes almost too easy. To get started, there are three steps: 1. Do not follow the traditional ways in finding events (like newspapers, Meetup.com groups or Google). Instead, source events by making a list of the ten top people in your industry. Visit their website (or better, visit their blog). Some of these people have events that are on their radar to attend. If they don’t, contact them directly if they have a contact page, and ask them what conferences or events they recommend. Hopefully at least one of them, will give you the first lead. All it takes is one event recommendation to get you started. 2. After attending the event, find people that fit your niche and your industry, and then ask them what events they recommend. 3. Repeat the above step over and over, and you’ll soon get a pulse of all events that relate to your industry.
3. Get a networking partner I’ve got a close buddy that is my networking partner. Attending networking events alone is tough for two reasons: (i) If you’re alone, and haven’t engaged anyone in conversation, it’s awkward, and (ii) if the event sucks, at least you’ve got a friend to hang out with. In my case, the hardest part in attending a networking event was actually getting myself to go. Once I’m there, I usually enjoy it. Having a friend to attend events with makes the barrier to entry of attending less severe. Your networking partner doesn’t have to be with the same company; he or she is someone you can go to bat for, and recommend to your colleagues and friends. Going to an event with someone that has your back allows you to meet the right people–
people you might have missed if you went to networking events alone.
4. Make it a routine Focused networking should not feel like networking. Networking, in its traditional sense, leaves people feeling awkward. Relationships feel forced. In order to prevent this feeling from arising, focused networking must be a regular routine--same as eating. It’s nothing special, focused networking is just part of your everyday life.
5. Leverage LinkedIn As we learned, Linkedin is an excellent source for maintaining relationships. With your networking system, don’t worry about pinging everyone constantly and asking, “How can I help you?” You’ll come off as a multi-level-marketer. Instead, add them to linkedin, and if there’s a potential way to work together in the future, contact them. Naturally, they’ll be updated by you routinely (if you’ve connected Twitter to your LinkedIn account, as outlined in the previous chapter).
6. Reach out to people everywhere You’ll find great people at networking events, and great people that stay the hell away from networking events. In order to not miss out on meeting great people, you’ll want to meet people both at networking events, and away from networking events.
7. Birthdays After meeting a contact, add them to LinkedIn. Using services like NutshellMail (www.nutshellmail.com), keep a pulse on any upcoming birthdays. Upcoming birthdays are fantastic for reaching out to your contacts. Many people brush birthday’s off as if they don’t care; however, deep down people do care, and they do take note whenever you reach out to them on their birthday.
8. Prepare to learn Most people I speak with hate networking events because the
situation feels “awkward.” If feels forced according to them. Obviously, your first time at a networking event does feel a bit odd; however, when you start making it a habitual activity, it will quickly feel natural. Each time you attend a networking event, prepare yourself to learn. When you learn how to effectively communicate at networking events, you’ll become more comfortable at networking events. After a certain point, people will sense your comfort level, and thus they’ll be attracted to speaking with you. In turn, this makes networking less awkward.
9. Extend a hand Let’s face it. It’s always awkward when you’re standing next to someone at a networking event and it’s quiet. You both know why you’re there, but you’re tired from the workday and choose to zone out or watch a nearby T.V. Here’s a trick that will always work: reach your hand out and say, “Hi, I’m [state your name].” That small action will immediately kill any uncomfortable feeling at networking events. When attending any event with people, don’t focus on anything else. Just focus on making contact and saying, “Hi, I’m [state your name].”
10. Establishing a sensational story After you’ve extended your hand and introduced yourself, you don’t just sit there and stare at the person. You’ve got to have a story. Here’s the three part process to establishing a sensational story. 1. Outline who you are in one sentence This centers on capturing a title that can define who you are, as well as three three specific characteristics that you would like to project when introducing yourself to others. For instance: • [1-3 word title] Web entrepreneur. • [3 specifics] Specialize in social media, SEO and monetization.
2. Establish seasoned proof This part proposes to separate you from the rest of the folks networking in the room. This is a one sentence “pop” statement that projects specific numbers, a big name firm or any other type of proof in establishing your credibility. For instance: • [One sentence proof] “For example, I’ve helped companies like TMZ increase their revenue by over 417% to $113 million within three months.” 3. Outline your goal with networking. Before embarking on the networking journey, you need to understand why you’re even at an event in the first place. And you need to project that. Otherwise, you’ll look lost. Your goal could be something simple like: “to meet local people in my community,” or something direct, “to set up one appointment with a potential client.” If you have two goals, narrow it down to one simple sentence. For instance: • [Your goal] “I’m here to meet great tech entrepreneurs in my community.”
Now combine them all: I’m a web entrepreneur, and I specialize in social media, SEO and monetization. For example, I’ve helped companies like TMZ increase their revenue by over 417% to $113 million within three months. I’m here to meet great tech entrepreneurs in my community. That’s your story when networking.
11. Choose who to follow-up with carefully Only when you’ve found a connection that you truly can help out, and they can truly help you out, should you actually meet up in
person. Otherwise, you’ll just waste each others time. And that doesn’t do either of you any good. Some people recommend you to follow-up with everyone. I say, don’t. Instead, add the majority as LinkedIn connections for future opportunities. And for the one’s that you’d rather not be connected with, burn their cards. Just kidding, but seriously, throw them away. You should legitimately follow up with 1-2 people after an event, and meet up with them. Shoot them a quick email like below: “Hey [Name] – Great meeting up last night at [the event]. We should grab coffee or a drink some time and figure out specifically how we can help each other out. I run into a variety of clients that could definitely benefit from your services. Would like to learn more about your business. Let me know a time that works for you.”
Conclusion In the end, focused networking is taking the art of networking, and turning it into a routine. Through this style of thinking networking won’t be an unbearable activity–like it traditionally is. Networking turns into something natural, something unforced. Focused networking is nothing more than networking with a plan. And this becomes an art. As an action step, follow the principles above, outline specific events and begin implementing the principles. Not all of the principles above will stick initially, but over time, you’ll pick all of them up, and it will come naturally.
Focusing in The Face of Emotions Life is filled with people. And with people come one thing: emotion.
We are emotional beings. And emotions constantly drive our actions. This is both wonderful, and horrific. We possess both empowering emotions, and draining emotions. And if you don’t approach emotions in a focused, logical manner, you risk becoming a reactive, irrational being. In order to sustain long-term focus, one must think logically in the face of emotions. One must learn to reason with focus when faced with towering levels of emotions. In the chapter below, I’ll outline 10 emotions, and how a focused person should react when faced with these feelings:
Why You Must Focus Your Emotions We all have an idea of the negative consequences distraction has on us. We get less done in more time; rather than getting more done in less time. Yet, most people overlook the most dangerous component of distractions: the weakening of cognitive pathways within the pre-frontal lobe of our brains. Many don’t realize that as one grows more distracted, one’s mind deteriorates. The good news is that this can be countered. In fact, you can grow your mind to a point where it’s never been before. By facing emotions in a focused manner, you create synapses between your limbic system and your prefrontal lobe. Your limbic system is an older part of your brain that specializes in feeling. When leveraged correctly, the prefrontal lobe results in mindfulness and focus. As you create synapses, your mind grows and matures– allowing you to become a more reasonable and focused person. In ancient Buddhism, there sits a principle known as abhidhamma, which teaches that emotions are impermanent. By reflecting on emotion, and experiencing their rise and fall, one can strengthen their cognitive abilities. This is not detaching yourself from emotion, it’s taking in emotion, and reflecting on emotion to the point where you become more mindful of your emotion. This results in a more alert, and focused state.
How To Counter The 10 Emotions of Life Through Focus: One summer, I sat and read through dozens, if not hundreds of success books. After a while, they all grew stale; yet, I found one section within Anthony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within that really hit home. He displayed how one should react to emotions. I’ve decided to create my own version and guide for facing emotions below. My version centers on countering these emotions in a more focused manner, which will allow you to expand your cognitive pathways, and become more focused.
Discomfort: When something just doesn’t feel right, it’s an odd feeling. Sometimes you can’t put your finger on what it is, but you feel uncomfortable. And you know it. This feeling nags you throughout the day and the discomfort can really drag on.
How to reflect on discomfort Discomfort sends a message that something isn’t quite right. This stems from the lens in which you view life. You may be thinking simply about yourself. You may be using a lot of “Shoulds.” For instance, “I should be getting this, and I’m not.” You may be frequently focusing on yourself, and using “I’s” and comparisons.
Focused action steps: 1. Using a notepad, write down a focused goal and your objectives that you feel will fix this discomfort. 2. List out your daily actions that enable you to reach the focused goal. 3. Audit these actions and make sure that they will lead to the end result; consider honing and changing some of your actions. If not countered right away, discomfort can really stress you out. Little-by-little, discomfort can drain you. Just as Phil says in the profoundly classic film, The Hangover, as he references marriage, “You’ll die just a little bit every day.” That’s what discomfort will do
to you. This is further increased by one’s ability to visualize things in our minds. It’s critical to logically outline your objectives and your actions that lead to this discomfort. It’s important to map out in hand-writing exactly what actions are leading to this level of discomfort. If not handled correctly, discomfort can lead to the next emotion: fear.
Fear Everyone experiences different levels of fear throughout their life. This can be characterized as either apprehension or slight uneasiness to intense fright and even terror. The key with fear centers on facing the fear in a logical, focused fashion.
How to reflect on fear: Fear sends a message that you’re anticipating something that is about to happen, or at least should be prepared for. In order to counter this fear, one must look at fear from a logical perspective, or simply out-prepare their fear. What do I mean by out-prepare your fear? I mean, prepare so much for the action at hand, that you no longer fear it.
Focused Action Steps: 1. Define precisely what you fear. 2. Outline the steps you need to take in order to extinguish that fear. 3. Act. Through action, fear is killed. “Action cures fear, inaction creates terror.» -Doug Horton 4. Have faith that you’ll be able to accomplish those activities. 5. Look at the big picture; realize that if you continue to visualize the situation, and experience failure; you’re really just experiencing failure before you experience failure.
This emotion stems from human relationships–both personally and professionally. This usually is driven by a sense of loss. After being hurt, one often lashes out at those around them. The key with hurt is to understand the emotion, and put it into perspective.
How to reflect on hurt Hurts serves as a signal that some expectation has not been met. An expectation that you visualized in your mind suddenly finds itself stamped on, and results in loss. This is painful to experience. Put simply, it hurts. This can come in the form of expecting someone to keep their word, and they didn’t; or they just did something that feels as if you’ve lost trust in them. Something in which you expected them to do, but they didn’t.
Focused Action Steps 1. Make sure you’re not being irrational. Immediately after experiencing a feeling of loss, or feelings misconstrued from your expectations, it’s easy to act harshly, or immediately. Take a step back and calm down. Go to a coffee shop with a pad and a pencil, or a book, and get your mind off of it. 2. Understand the situation by asking yourself if you really lost anything. Likely, what happens is that your expectations are the only things that are misconstrued. In order to prevent this from happening again, adjust your expectations. 3. Communicate this to the person involved. Make sure you don’t use the word “you,” and instead use the terms, “I feel as if I’ve been let down because I expected x to occur. Am I wrong to expect this?” 4. Hedge your emotional risk. The feeling of hurt can really be detrimental to one’s life. Just as your financial assets shouldn’t be tied to one investment vehicle; all of your emotions shouldn’t be tied to your expectations of one person. Now I’m not talking about becoming a polygamist. This isnt’ sexual at all. I’m speaking about the work-place. About the ventures you pursue. About the clients you count on for revenue. Every great football team has one thing that other teams don’t have: depth. If their star quarterback goes down, their season isn’t over if they have
depth. Aim to have this type of depth and diversification in your life–whether it be a business, a client or whatever. Hedge your emotional risk by diversifying your emotions. If your emotional expectations are contingent upon yourself, instead of others, you’ll feel empowered–and less likely to feel hurt if things don’t pan out. 5. Hurt usually re-awakens a sense of vulnerability, too. It almost feels as if a carpet’s been pulled out from right underneath where you’re standing. If you don’t have a solid foundation by the time you experience hurt, you can fall really hard. The vulnerability and lack of experience one feels from hurt can actually be shifted to an empowering emotion. Instead of dragging your head after a feeling of hurt, you can instead re-convene with your core values, and what you’re actually in charge of.
Anger When anger takes hold, your adrenaline kicks in; you can become resentful, furious, or simply downright pissed. This stems from a chemical in the primitive, survival part of your brain– norephinephrine. This chemical is a type of adrenaline that drives a fight-or-flight response in your mind.
How to reflect on anger: Anger sends a trigger that an action has taken place in your environment which violates a rule or belief that you hold dear. It can be a rule someone else violated; or you yourself violated.
Focused Action Steps: 1. Before reacting in anger, ask yourself a simple question, “What other possibilities could have driven this rule to be broken?” Make sure you explore reasons and rationale for how a person could have misinterpreted a pre-set rule you hold dear. 2. Realize that just because you hold certain beliefs and rules dear, that doesn’t mean the world holds them dear, as well. Everyone has their own beliefs in which they interpret the world. The key is to constantly communicate these beliefs and rules that
you hold true to others. 3. Instead of letting the anger drive you into an irrational, reactive state, ask yourself two questions: First, “Going forward, what can I learn from this experience?” And second, “In the longrun, does this person have my best interest in mind–they just merely slipped up through lack of understanding?“ It’s critical to reflect in the time of anger. Adrenaline and dopamine fuel anger. When reflecting, serotonin is released into the mind, which calms the senses, promotes rationale thought–and helps the mind grow.
Frustration Frustration is an emotion that stems from a feeling of being overwhelmed. If you’re exhausting yourself through a certain practice, or certain set of actions, and yet they fail to translate into success, you may get frustrated.
How to reflect on frustration: Frustration sends a very positive signal. It tells you that your expectations aren’t being met for yourself. It’s a signal that you expect more of yourself than you currently are producing. Frustration tells you that you’re not meeting a certain goal you have for yourself.
Focused Action Steps: 1. First, you must explore your thoughts and explicitly define what goal isn’t being achieved. 2. Understand that you must leverage frustration to map out new actions and strategies to meet your goals. 3. In order to meet these goals, get some input from someone that’s experienced the goal you’re pursuing. Find a mentor and leverage their knowledge and insight to achieve that goal. 4. Pursue the goal. Remeasure your results. If you have yet to gain progress in reaching the goal, redraft the strategy, and pursue the goal gain.
Disappointment This emotion is dangerous if not dealt with quickly. Disappointment sends a signal that you’ve been let down. Unlike hurt, disappointment usually stems from letting yourself down.
How to reflect on disappointment: Disappointment sends you a message that your anticipated goal probably isn’t going to happen. And, even though it’s painful to admit, you know it. Thus, you must re-calibrate your goals, and look at them in a new perspective. Perhaps even scratching out the goal completely and shifting focus towards a different goal.
Focused Action Steps: 1. It’s critical that you map out what you’ve learned from this experience. What critical lessons did you learn? What skills did you develop? What can you take with you to your next venture or goal? 2. Understand that disappointment is sometimes very temporary in nature. It’s a critical skill to know when to pull the plug on a goal. Yet, sometimes goals take longer to develop than anticipated. Make sure that you know for certain whether to kick-it or stick-it. Ultimately, this is on you to decide. Yet by mapping out your rationale behind your decision, you can make a more focused decision. Benjamin Franklin had a process where he listed out the pro’s and con’s of each decision he made. I recommend mapping out your decision to stick with a goal much like this. Weight not only the costs of sticking with a goal, but the opportunity costs of sticking with a goal. 3. Now that you’ve reflected on what you’ve learned, it’s time to create a new goal. Make this goal agile, lean and something you can accomplish within three months. Let this goal drive you.
Guilt We all try to avoid guilt, remorse and regret. The pain we expect to
feel from these emotions drive us to make sound decisions. If guilt did not exist, many of our actions would cause pain to others, as well as ourselves.
How to reflect on guilt: Guilt tells you that you have standards set for yourself. It tells you that some or all of these standards have been violated. And because of this, you feel guilt.
Focused Action Steps: 1. If guilt is a constant feeling–something that stems up on a daily basis–then consider re-drafting your standards. Perhaps they’re too high. The slogan for another profound movie, Tommy Boy, is, “If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards.” This is humorous; yet it’s true in many aspects of life. If you don’t meet your standards every once in a while, that’s one thing. But if it’s a weekly, or daily feeling of guilt, consider lowering your standards. 2. Come to the realization that you have, in fact, not met a standard set for yourself. Write out that standard and define it clearly so that you can better understand it. 3. Outline what action you took that violated this standard. 4. Write out what you would do in the future now that you understand your standard more clearly. 5. Commit that you will not violate this standard.
Inadequacy Inadequacy sends the signal that you’re feeling unworthy. This is usually driven by an irrational standard–a standard that makes you feel as if you’re inadequate.
How to reflect on inadequacy: Inadequacy sends you a signal that you may not have the skill or talent to accomplish a goal. It sends a message that you need more information, experience, help from others, talent or strategies to accomplish your goal. Sometimes this feeling may be appropriate;
sometimes, it’s irrational and driven by lack of confidence.
Focused Action Steps 1. First, you must determine if your feeling of inadequacy has merit, or if you’re being pessimistic about your abilities. Write down exactly what skills, experience, knowledge, talent or strategies that you’re missing, which prevent you from reaching your goal. If there’s nothing there, get tough on yourself, realize that you do have what it takes to achieve the goal, and press forth. If there’s sound reason behind your feeling of inadequacy, map out what you’re missing, and structure how you plan to fill the gap. If there’s certain skills you need, consider outsourcing the skills using the lessons we covered previously. 2. Inadequacy sends you a positive signal that you have room to improve. If you never feel inadequate, that sends a signal that you’re not challenging yourself. We all need to start somewhere and end up somewhere. It’s better to feel inadequate at the beginning of your journey, rather than at the end. 3. If you’re feeling inadequate, find a person that feels adequate. Find a mentor, industry leader or person that’s been in your shoes before. Leverage their knowledge and skills in order to get to the next level.
Overwhelmed I once went through a stage of profound motivation. I was passionate and driven. Overtime, though, the passion grew a bit stale, and I began living down to sociecty’s expectations–that is, being normal, climbing the latter and going the route society deems normal. There were many distractions and set-backs that hit me. Eventually, I gained a feeling of helplessness, being overloaded and feeling overwhelmed. This gave me an indifferent approach to a lot of things. I was still positive at the core, but I was sarcastic and cynical. I felt as if I was in quick sand. The harder I tried, the more I was hit by setbacks. I feel this is a trap a lot of people fall into at some point in their life. They go through a very driven period, and then soon feel overwhelmed, causing them to fall into a state of indifference.
How to reflect on this feeling
Being so overwhelmed that you’re driven to indifference tells you that you need to reevaluate what’s critical at this point in time. Get in touch with your purpose, and with what drives you. Too often the distractions of life throws us away from our true purpose. When feeling overwhelmed, it’s critical to sift through the noise and identify what’s truly important.
Focused Action Steps 1. Identify one thing that you want to focus on in your life. Outline a critical goal in the field of your career, your personal life and an overall goal. 2. Now identify which one is critical for you to not feel overwhelmed; set it up so that it can be accomplished in three months or less. 3. Outline the action steps that are needed to achieve this goal, and list them in priority. 4. Immediately tackle the first item sometime today, or if it’s at night, then tomorrow. 5. Focus on the elements that you can actually control in life; if you can’t control the elements that lead to feeling overwhelmed, don’t focus on them. Just as with any economic market, there’s two types of risk: systematic risk and firm specific risk. Systematic risk is driven by the environment of business (legal, economics, society, politics). You can’t control systematic risk, you just have to bear it and not focus on it. With firm-specific risk, however, you can diversify and control this risk. With the feeling of overwhelming, you usually are side-swiped and stressed out about systematic risk. Don’t fall into this trap. Only focus on elements that you can control.
Loneliness Life is about people. When we are disconnected from people, we are disconnected from life. Everyone’s felt alone. How you act determines how alone you feel.
How to reflect on loneliness Loneliness sends you a message that you need to connect with people. It’s an excellent signal because it tells you that you really
value people, and you feel the need to connect. Many fall into the belief that this means sexual intimacy; however, the feeling of loneliness doesn’t center on that. It centers on connecting with people–whether with a group of friends, with leaders in your field or colleagues.
Focused Action Steps: 1. First, outline what type of connection you need–business connection, friend connection or intimate relationship. 2. Realize that life is about people; life is about connecting with people. Instead of sitting couped up in your office or home, make a commitment to get out and meet people. This can be done through the following actions or activities: • Classes or groups at a church • Apply the focused networking techniques we covered previously • Get a dog (warning–they’re a lot of work–or at least mine is). A dog is an excellent excuse to get out and meet people. Like kids, they demand attention. They’re selfish. This will allow you stop focusing on yourself, and instead get in the habit of focusing on others. • Go to some wine-tastings in your community • Grab a newspaper or book and head over to a coffee shop • Reach out to industry experts and meet up with them for lunch
Summary: We’ve learned that life is about emotions; and if you react emotionally to emotions, things can get ugly. Fast. The emotions above and their action steps will help you gain a focused mindset when approaching your life, your career and your goals.
Becoming an Autodidact If you were in my shoes, and you were hiring an individual for a specific role in a technology company, would you take an Ivy League grad or a high school grad? Right now, without question you’re leaning towards the Ivy
League grad; however, by the end of this chapter, you’ll see things differently. You’ll be given more insight in order to answer this question, and you won’t make the same mistake I did when faced with a real-life scenario involving this question.
Autodidacts We live in a world where the common belief held towards education is disenchantment–especially if you’re an entrepreneur. “School or college is worthless,” people reason. Indeed, many components within the education system is broken. However, just because some pedantic teacher dropped the ball, doesn’t mean your education has to suffer. You’ll find that many wealthy entrepreneurs are autodidacts–meaning, they’re self taught in various disciplines. This doesn’t apply to the one-hit-wonder entrepreneurs; this principle exists through the billionaire entrepreneurs you’ve never heard of. The sage entrepreneurs that absolutely dominate without kicking up dust in the media. These entrepreneurs leverage and hack education in order to squeeze out knowledge and expand the mind. This practice not only expands their mind, it enhances their focus. In the chapter below we’ll discuss the nature of education, what’s good, what’s bad and how you can hack education to acquire an Ivy League education for free.
People who argue against education have it all wrong. To give you some background, I absolutely detested teachers growing up. I reasoned that many were lazy. They lacked critical thought. And a lot of them simply went through the motions. I, too, went through the motions–the motions of goofing off. And I did this better than anyone. Seriously. I wasn’t a class clown–that had too much “class” in it. I was simply a clown. Yet when I attended college, I took a glance around and suddenly the goofing off didn’t matter–it was all about results. Goofing didn’t matter, as long as you delivered come test day. And I thrived in this environment. I took classes I wanted to take, I studied because I wanted to study (and I studied an insane amount of hours); and last, I took advantage of every mind-expanding opportunity I could–because I was fortunate enough to be there in the first place. Then the real world hits, and it’s much different than academia.
As if this is unexpected, you’ll find that many students grow angry at this reality. They exclaim, “You mean, the four years I spent studying didn’t set me up for automatic success in the real-world?!” You hear business authors preach how education is off and it’s all academia’s fault. They say, “Education only teaches standards. Education only shows you how to get good grades. Don’t follow the rules.” I argue that there are definitely good things within the education system, there are bad things within academia and there are exceptionally ugly things. Yet, the good elements of education teach one the habits in order to become a more focused person.
The Good: Education gives you context for life. Diversifying one’s knowledge of religions, histories, cultures and philosophies doesn’t necessarily pave the way for a successful career. It does, however, give one better context to view the world. You wouldn’t believe how many times you’ll find yourself in the presence of someone that shares a cultural background that you’re familiar with. For instance, at business functions, I’ll routinely run into people that have cultural roots from Tibet. In those moments, awkward situations are transformed immediately into conversation, and rapport is established. This is definitely valuable, as these situations have a higher likelihood of turning into business deals. Obviously, one could study the culture of Tibet on their own; yet most never would. Most would be too concerned with their desired occupation to learn something almost entirely unrelated to their intended field. That’s the value of college. If I didn’t have to learn about different religions, cultures and philosophies, I’d have read business books instead–because that’s what I was interested in. If a university didn’t require me to learn about such fields, I would have never studied the subject. This academics structure provides context for different areas of life.
College puts the burden of learning on you. Your educational experience is directly aligned with your effort. If you drank yourself through college, you won’t learn anything. Sometimes, the people that do this blame their negative experience on school as a whole. Many argue against the school system because they don’t understand its purpose. Its purpose is to put you in an environment to compete, to challenge yourself, to develop critical thought and to acquire context for life. It’s not to prepare you to get rich. Only work will prepare you to do exceptional at work; not school. A lot of the pedantic professors you come across in college are very focused. Their focus is not on succeeding in life; rather, their focus is on what history reveals about certain questions that give insight into life. It’s your job to read and interpret that, and then act on it within life. The school system can give one tremendous ability to focus, but only when you graduate will you have the actual opportunity to focus. It’s your burden to learn this and apply this to life.
Eat the food, not the vomit Education often puts you in an environment with very bright individuals. Universities are filled with professors that love research. Most of these professors conduct sound research. The scrutiny of their colleagues, peers and the academic community as a whole, drive professors to conduct sound research. The end product they churn out is quite raw; however, it’s in its truest form. Many authors make a killing off of reading this research, and then packaging it for the average person. Eat the food (source of data), rather than the vomit (author’s regurgitation of data). Education is an excellent conduit for the interpreting the source of data and research.
Promotes critical thought Last, education promotes critical thought through structuring an environment that requires writing papers on a wide-array of subjects. Of course, the burden of forming this critical though rests on you; however, the structure is there, and it’s there for one to take
The Bad: Your degree does not dictate worth When I interview candidates that are fresh out of college, there’s one red flag I always look for: their interpretation of their degree. When you ask them, “What salary do you think is fair, and why?” Many respond with an answer like, “Well, I have a college degree, so that makes me worth more in the market-place. So I think I should at least make 60 grand a year.” I have to hold myself back from laughing. It’s really not their fault that an answer like this is given; it’s a habit that’s ingrained in our society, and they’ve accepted it. At least in my world–the world of entrepreneurship and fastmoving technology–I’ve found that your degree doesn’t correlate with your worth. Is your degree worthless? No, it’s an indication that you were given the material to acquire knowledge; however, that’s all it’s worth. Your worth is directly correlated with your value. Your value stems from your ability to apply the knowledge you’ve accumulated. Unfortunately, many employers and corporations don’t have the insight, audacity and time to manually gauge value, so instead they use the college degree as an indicator. An answer that would make more sense would be something along the lines of: “Well at my last position, I outlined seventeen areas that we were inneficient, and I implemented various revenue streams that resulted in $80,000 in four months. Thus, taking an average of that $80,000 and dividing it by four, gives you a figure of $20,000 per month. I’m not sure of our margins at this company, however I think at least 25% of that value per month would be fair.” What, in turn does that get you? $5,000 per month, which equates to $60,000 per year.
Education gives you potential knowledge, not kinetic knowledge
In the example above, you’ll notice that I wrote “Your worth is directly correlated with your value. Your value stems from the ability to apply the knowledge you’ve accumulated.” Education merely gives you potential knowledge, once you’ve applied the knowledge, it becomes kinetic knowledge–or value.
The Ugly: Elementary schools and high schools Our elementary and high school system. Yes, our elementary and high school system, at least in California, renders itself broken. It’s filled with teachers that punch in the time clock, sit you down for hours, and make you do work. It’s much like Family Guy’s interpretation of a math student. Peter Griffin, the thick-headed father of the family, adopts a Chinese immigrant, puts him in the corner, pokes him with a pencil and says, “Do math.” Believe it or not, I’ve seen teachers teach in a manner that relates to this. Obviously, not all are bad. And not all is broken; but the fact that there are so many broken pieces in such an important area is plain ugly.
We are creating factory workers The traditional education system hasn’t grown proportionally with society’s innovation. The curricula, structure and style of our education system centers on training the industrial-age worker, not the information-age worker. They teach one to specialize in a specific area and do repetitive work, instead of growing the mind through a wide-range of material and then applying the material to different problems that matter in the world.
The Bottom line: Don’t fall into the group that blindly blasts education. It has its pros, cons and ugly cons. Just make sure you understand the
nature, and goals of the education system so that you don’t feel scammed upon graduating into the real world. So how can you take advantage of education, and allow it to help your mind focus? That’s what we’ll cover next.
How to Get an Ivy League Education For Free You don’t need money to get an education–even an Ivy League education. As outlined above, the biggest advantages of education center on its ability to unroll a road-map of courses that you otherwise would never take. Education, if employed correctly, gives one context for life, critical thought and raw knowledge. In addition, at least in college, it’s all on you to succeed. It’s on you to learn. It’s all about results. So how can you acquire an Ivy league education for free, and become a more focused person? There’s only three steps.
First, find the roadmap Create a your own course of study. Your course-load is on you to decide. Figure out your time period: 4-week, 8-week, 16-week or some other time period. You can find curriculum and credit requirements for specific degrees and programs just by visiting university websites. They literally give you the road-map to acquire any degree you wish. For instance, for Stanford’s Business School, they have the following course-loadd for first year students:
Autumn Quarter: 1. Critical Analytical Thinking 2. Ethics and Management 3. Global Context of Management 4. Managerial Finance 5. Managing Groups and Teams
6. Organizational Behavior 7. Strategic Leadership
Spring Quarter: 1. Data Analysis and Decision Making 2. Finance 3. Financial Accounting 4. Human Resource Management 5. Information Management 6. Managerial Accounting 7. Marketing 8. Micro-economics 9. Modeling for Optimization & Decision Support (MODS) 10. Non-market Strategy 11. Operations Pretty straightforward material–and pretty expensive material (this can cost you about $100,000 for two years). So how do you find the classes and take them for free? Read on.
Second, gather the material through open-courseware Universities have made a recent push towards open-sourcing their courses. They’ve opened up lectures, notes, presentations and tests that are free to the public. Why did they do this? With the rise of the internet, knowledge quickly became readily available and free to anyone that wanted to learn. The internet put more power into the hands of the student, instead of the institution. What these academic institutions found, however, is that most people didn’t need to learn courses of interests because they already have universities that spoon feed them material. If you give away the material without the spoon, most people don’t know what to do. This is where the sage entrepreneur excels. It doesn’t hurt, it only helps the brand of the university if they open-source their course-ware because it’s free advertising and mind-share for them. There’s a variety of sources from which you can gather material; however, here are some of the places that I’ve used:
1. MIT’s Open Courseware Library: MIT has been spearheading the open-course movement since 1999. They offer a wonderful array of curricula and material for taking a variety of course in many academic disciplines. They have a wide-range of humanity courses, computer science courses, literary courses, film, cognitive sciences, mathematics, physics, marketing and more. MIT is only one of many world-class universities that offer open courseware. 2. iTunes Open University: iTunes has a wide-array of courses, as well. In both audio and visual format, the open university free’s the knowledge that was once housed in the silos of Stanford.
Third, Make it happen As a daily foundation exercise, I suggest taking courses in a variety of subjects. You may want to combine the following into your course-load: Mathematics, Philosophy, Literature, Cognitive Sciences and Religious Studies. The age of the polymath isn’t dead; in fact, it’s what will separate you from the specialized machines that are now present in our workplace. Learn and apply a variety of disciplines to your educational experience. Take special note that the above steps will allow you to acquire an Ivy League education, but not an Ivy League experience. The experience is founded on the relationships you meet while at school. Essentially, this is the main, if not only, value that universities offer today.
Let’s circle back Let’s move back to the beginning with the question of hiring an Ivy League grad or high school grad. Now, I’ll give you some more background and insight into this question. If you were in my shoes, within the entrepreneurship realm, which candidate would you rather hire: Candidate #1: 1. St. Peter’s Prepatory Academy
2. Harvard University 3. Harvard Business School 4. No real work experience 5. Wanting $120k per year Candidate #2: 1. Managed twenty people 2. Failed at two startups 3. Succeeded at one startup, and succeeded big. She, herself, generated $400k annually for startup 4. Autodidact in cross-disciplinary subjects including mathematics, marketing, literature, computer science and architecture from MIT, Stanford and eight other schools while working. Don’t make the same mistake I made; if you’re a sage entrepreneur, you know which one you’d pick: Candidate #2.
Further Resources: • Startl makes it their job to identify and enhance the future of learning • Fred Wilson, a visionary venture capitalist on Hacking Education • Sir Ken Robinson on how school kills creativity
PART VI: DIGITAL DETOXING This section of the book revolves around the mind and body of focus. In the first section, we explore the concept of digital detoxing. This concept centers on ridding oneself of devices in order to gain a fresh perspective on the world. Itâ€™s important that we balance our gadgets with life. Part VI is broken up into the following chapters:
Giving Up Your Cell Phone: This chapter outlines the story of my first digital detoxing experiment: giving up my cell phone. Auditing Gadgets: In this chapter, we’ll explore a four step process for auditing your gadgets. The purpose of this audit is to evaluate whether the tools you use hurt you more than they help you. After which, we’ll outline how to snip off the tools that impede on your focus. The Guide to Giving Up Your Cell Phone: By ditching an item that serves as a constant form of distraction, you train your mind to become more focused and more productive. If you decide to give up your cell phone as a digital detoxing experiment, this will show you specifically how to give up your cell phone. Practicing Focused Thought: In this chapter, we’ll cover different types of thought (meditation, contemplation or simply quieting your environment to think). By practicing Focused Thought and contemplation everyday, one can improve their concentration, productivity and happiness. Focus and Food: This chapter was written by one of my readers, and explores different foods that help one become a more focused, balanced person.
Giving Up Your Cell Phone “What? You are insane.” Those were the words my wife spoke to me when I told her I didn’t want a cell phone. Actually, I’ll be completely honest, I’m one of those d-bags that had their iPhone drown in a pool. But it was for a good reason. I had to rescue my drowning puppy (just acting as the typical hero, as usual). To my credit, after I lost the phone, I didn’t create a Facebook group for it (i.e. “I lost my cell phone please write your number on my wall!!!”) My wife was shocked when I told her I no longer even wanted a phone. And, who could blame her? A cell phone is something
everyone–seriously–everyone uses in this day and age. You’ve got to be a whack job to ditch your cell phone, right? Heck yes (in Napoleon Dynamite voice). And that’s what I did. “How are people going to get a hold of you?” she asked. “That’s the whole point. I don’t want people to get a hold of me.” [Pause] “I want to get a hold of you.” “That’s fine,” I compromised. “You and family will be the only ones that will be able to reach me. The rest of the calls will go straight to voice-mail and email. I’ll call people back on a house phone, or send them a thought-out response via email.” It’s been months since I’ve had a cell phone. The difference isn’t as astonishing as you may think. The day definitely seems calmer and more focused; but more than anything, the best part about not having a cell phone centers on the reliance on one’s own self. When I had an iPhone in my pocket, I never had to prepare for anything. That thing was my escape–and, oh, what a beautiful escape it was. When I would travel, I’d simply use the iPhone’s GPS for mapping out directions. I’d use Yelp in order to find great restaurants around me. I’d take a wizz while reading tech buzz through Google Reader. I’d avoid talking to people standing in line at a starbucks by checking email. It was a great device. It was a horrible device. In the next five years, you’ll see a major shift in our society where everyone is connected everywhere at all times. In fact, it’s already begun. It’s almost like a movie if you stop to think about it. Big brands are feeding us devices that are constantly monitoring us; constantly distracting us, and constantly allowing people to stare into the abyss of the internet wherever they may be. Really, people will be living two-lives: one real; one virtual. We are
moving towards a half-life society. There’s a virtual, moving cloud that syncs your online life with your mobile life and disguises itself in beautiful hardware. At the end of the day, there’s no point in fighting the surge of mobile technology. We are all going to be connected. We’re going to be watched, monitored and served ads depending on our location. We’re going to be tweeting our lives away until we’re six feet under. In my mind, there’s three options you can take regarding mobile devices: I. Go all in Get an iPhone, download a ton of apps, tack on a $100 phone bill and escape into the world of constant connectivity in the cloud.With the rise of android phones, you can obviously go that route, as well. II. The balance act Get a phone that does one thing: acts like a phone and doesn’t connect to the internet. A phone that simply makes phone calls. III. Ditch the phone This one’s simple: ditch your phone. I’ve ditched my phone; however, in the case of emergency, I have a phone that I can break open like a fire extinguisher. I never turn it on. It’s essentially an emergency phone.
People Why have I elected to do this? Because of one thing: people. Life revolves around people. However, it does not revolve around one getting interrupted or distracted by people–or more importantly, by the internet and applications. One gets distracted by the internet already on the computer; why bring this distraction with you everywhere? My objective in giving up the cell phone centered on moving closer to people and reality.
Different tools, for different fools If I told my mom to ditch her phone in order to get more productive, she’d laugh at me. “How will I be able to chat with my friends and take clothes back at Nordstroms?” she’d say. Sorry mom, you’re right. And a lot of people don’t have a problem using their cell phone as a cell phone. Some people use the phone and achieve it’s core purpose: to speak with people. In my specific case, giving up the phone was geared towards disconnecting from the internet. I wanted to extinguish constant email checking, tweet checking, new app downloads and finding ridiculous blog posts to kill time.
The future is less Now, we’re seeing a rise in the tablet marketplace (iPad, and more competitors in the future). These devices accomplish many objectives and have an amazing set of features. Yet they’re outdated. Why? Because as a society, we’re moving towards an age of constant connectivity. It’s only a matter of time until one discovers that being constantly connected isn’t healthy for focus– for getting things done. It prevents focus.
Paul Graham, a modern day polymath, is the founder of Y-Combinator. He’s an investor, entrepreneur, programmer and artist. On the subject of devices and distractions, he writes: I now leave wifi turned off on my main computer except when I need to transfer a file or edit a web page, and I have a separate laptop on the other side of the room that I use to check mail or browse the web. (Irony of ironies, it’s the computer Steve Huffman wrote Reddit on. When Steve and Alexis auctioned off their old laptops for charity, I bought them for the Y Combinator museum.)
My rule is that I can spend as much time online as I want, as long as I do it on that computer. And this turns out to be enough. When I have to sit on the other side of the room to check email or browse the web, I become much more aware of it. Sufficiently aware, in my case at least, that it’s hard to spend more than about an hour a day online. And my main computer is now freed for work. If you try this trick, you’ll probably be struck by how different it feels when your computer is disconnected from the Internet. It was alarming to me how foreign it felt to sit in front of a computer that could only be used for work, because that showed how much time I must have been wasting. The concept of disconnecting from internet devices is becoming a common theme for successful developers, designers and programmers. After experiencing the iPhone’s multi-use power, I also came face-to-face with the innate ability it wields to distract one from getting work done. It’s my thesis and my belief that the future of success rests on devices that have one function–not many. The future is less. In the next chapter, we’ll be exploring how to audit your devices and prune those gadgets that hurt you more than they help you.
How to Audit Your Gadgets For Focus Ever had a meal with someone that was constantly checking email on their phone? It comes off as annoying and rude to the other person. I was “that guy.” I was the guy that checked email when someone was in midsentence. I constantly checked email in front of people. At the time, I didn’t realize how rude it must have been. Probably because I didn’t care. I reasoned, “I’m busy–if I don’t check my email now, I’m being rude to those relying on a response from me.”
This was before I understood two things: 1. The quality of time you spend with someone outweighs the quantity of time you spend emailing the masses. 2. Your degree of focus is directly correlated with the degree of focus within your gadgets. In this chapter, I’ll be sharing a four step process for auditing your gadgets. The purpose of this audit is to evaluate whether the tools you use hurt you more than they help you. After which, we’ll snip off the tools that impede on your focus.
The Fox and The Hedgehog In the bestselling book, Good To Great, Jim Collins uses an example of the Fox and the Hedgehog. The fox, he explains, is good at many things; however, the hedgehog is good at one thing: defending himself. And in the end, the hedgehog wins every time. The devices that destroy focus are the devices that propose to do many things like the fox. Instead of choosing devices that do many things (like the fox), one should use gadgets that do one thing very well (like the hedgehog). In order to eliminate your “fox devices,” one must follow five steps: Step One: Make a list of your gadgets For example: Gadgets iPhone Macbook Kindle iPod Playstation 3 Vizio Rolex (no, I don’t have one) Garmin GPS
Sony Digital Camera Flip Video iPad
Step Two: Categorize your gadgets For example: Gadgets
Video game console
Rolex (no, I don’t have one)
Sony Digital Camera
Step Three: List out their capabilities For example: Gadgets
List of Capabilities
Number of Capabilities
Make phone calls, surf the internet, play music, get directions via GPS, watch videos, tell time, alarm clock, as of early 2010, there’s well over 50,000 apps for the iPhone
Computer, phone calls (via skype), play music, get directions, watch videos, tell time; in short, there’s easily a million capabilities that the computer wields
Read books and magazines, eventually apps
Mp3 player, take video footage, take photographs, alarm clock, apps, podcasts
Video game console, music, photos, movies
Rolex (no, I don’t have one)
Tell what time it is
Sony Digital Camera
Shoot video footage
Comparable to the iPhone: make phone calls (via skype), surf the internet, play music, get directions via GPS, watch videos, tell time, alarm clock, as of January 2010, there’s well over 50,000 apps for the iPhone
Step Four: Calculate the number of distractions In this step, you’re going to tally up the number of capabilities (in step two) and subtract the categories (in step three). This gives you the number of distractions present within that device. Obviously, this is an art–not accounting. Don’t worry about GAAP reporting methods. Just try and outline a ball-park figure. For example: Gadgets
Number of Capabilities
Number of Categories
Number of Distractions ((Capabilities) (Categories))
Rolex (no, I don’t have one)
Sony Digital Camera
In total, the devices above wield 1,180,000 distractions Our goal is to get this down to zero. We’ll be able to do this with everything besides the computer. One can’t snip out a computer– they must instead learn how to manage it down to zero. Here’s how we’ll turn 1,180,000 into zero: Step Five: Snip Snipping is covered in another chapter in order to cut out distraction. The concept surfaces itself in our society over and over. Simply cut out distractions: Gadgets
How to Snip
New Number of Distractions
Ditch the iPhone and buy a regular phone
Learn to manage your computer– this will be covered in a future chapter
Do not download any Kindle game applications
Sell your iPod touch and replace it with an iPod shuffle–or simply remove all apps besides music
Sell all video games, don’t download any photos; use it strictly as a blueray player
This one is a deceiving one–in our audit, it masks itself as having no distractions; however, its entire capability is a distraction; for this, you may want to make the decision to completely cut out this gadget
Rolex (no, I don’t have one)
The Rolex possesses no distractions; it may be a distraction for other people around you; but maybe that’s your thing. You need the attention ;-)
Requires no snipping
Sony Digital Camera
Requires no snipping
Requires no snipping
Don’t purchase one; but if you do (for travel, butsiness, or whatever), follow the methods outlined in the future chapter about managing focus when using a computer
After snipping, we have zero distractions. Of course, this doesn’t address the computer, which is the biggest distraction of all–cutting out distraction from a computer is its own chapter. And you’ll find out why once you read it. So how did we eliminate our distractions? Simple. We either snipped the whole gadget or snipped its additional capabilities. You may be resistant to cutting out an entire gadget–especially if you love it and its new. Seriously, though, ask yourself if the benefits of which you derive from using the gadget actually contribute to your career or life goals. If it does, then how so, and can you back it up with analytics? For instance, if you reason that you need your iPhone because your job is social media; do you have actual analytics that show you how many of your mobile tweets convert to sales, or paying customers? If you do, more power to you.
If you don’t, find the analytics on your mobile browsing behavior. The results may surprise you–and shock you into ditching the habit all together.
Your next action Go through this five step audit right now and either snip out the distraction-filled devices altogether, or snip out its unnecessary capabilities. Trust me, and many others, this simple act will give you the tools required for you to get focused. As soon as you complete this focus audit, you’ll free yourself to make massive strides in achieving focus.
The Guide to Giving Up Your Cell Phone By learning about different methodologies of getting work done, and becoming more productive, you will learn how the act of giving up your cell phone allows you to focus on the most critical elements of your life. By ditching an item that serves as a constant form of distraction, you train your mind to become more focused and more productive. Whether or not you decide to ditch your cell phone is your own prerogative. Any act or “How to,” is different for different people; however, the principles that underlie the act of giving up your cell phone are immutable. By digitally detoxing, you will come to understand the concept of nowness. Embracing this principle will allow you to accomplish your goals and gain the freedom you deserve.
Why would anyone ditch their cell phone? As we learned at the beginning of this book, we see more advertisements in one year than people of fifty years ago encountered in their entire lifetime. With distraction, and multitasking, one’s pre-frontal lobe falls into
a sleepy, deteriorating state. As your distractions increase, your intelligence, focus and mood decreases. In an effort to extricate myself from this growing trend (as well as rescuing my dog), I decided to give up my cell phone.
What living without a cell phone feels like Whenever you go on a relaxing vacation to a tropical destination, the first couple of days are a struggle–a struggle because there’s typically no cell phone service or internet. It’s odd, and almost unbearable. You feel fidgety and restless. Yet, after the initial withdrawal from the digital world, life feels great. Life feels peaceful. There’s no phone, or distraction that enables you to stop what you’re doing and shift your focus.When you’re waiting in line, you’re not burying yourself into the digital cesspool or app store, you’re forced to interact with your surrounding environment. You suddenly become aware of everything around you. This is how I live my life every single day. I duplicate the environment one typically experiences when on vacation. I do this in order to become a more focused, action-oriented person. I also do this in order to better enjoy life. You can travel the world and live a nomad lifestyle; however, if you’ve still got an iPhone or clients buzzing at you constantly, you’ve escaped nothing. You’re just asking for attention. You can live in New York City without a cell phone and gain more peace-of-mind than you could if you were in Argentina with an iPhone and needy clients barking at you.
My experience thus far When one ditches their cell phone, they must learn to react differently in simple situations. It’s like writing with your left hand. At first it feels weird, but over time it expands your mind and increases focus. As discussed in the concept of flow, this type of activity significantly stretches your mind. If you want to add both peace and challenge back to your life, ditch
your cell phone.
Pro’s to a cell phone-free life: • Freedom • More productive • Better peace of mind • Allows you to focus on what’s really important; not get distracted with tweets and noise • Sense of humor (when in a stressful situation, you laugh because of the path you’ve decided to take. You take a joyous approach to life)
Con’s to a cell phone-free life: • Prevents simple fixes (like the quick communication above) • Can be dangerous if you don’t have it with you all the time • Can be ineffective if not leveraged right
10 Tips for Giving Up Your Cell Phone 1. Have a replaceable object For a year and a half an iPhone always sat in my left pocket. After ditching my phone, it felt weird. It felt as if I was missing something. Obviously, I was. So instead of simply abandoning a device in my left pocket, I rotate different objects in there as needed: business cards, an iPod Shuffle (for audiobooks), notepad, note-cards or whatever’s needed at that time. Even though the feeling of forgetting something is all in my mind, having a replaceable object allows me to act as if I’m not missing a cell phone.
2. Have an emergency phone Much like a fire extinguisher sits in a case, and is cracked open only upon emergency, so too is the nature of your emergency phone. It’s dangerous to not have a way of contacting anyone in case of emergency (i.e. car accident, car breakdown, etc.) For this reason, I recommend purchasing an a la cart phone plan from Virgin Mobile
or Boost Mobile. Activate it, and leave it in your car turned off. If there’s an emergency, call with it.
3. Brace yourself You’re going to encounter situations where you really need your cell phone to the point where it pisses you off. After a while, though, stressful situations will become humorous. Stressful situations without a cell phone teaches you to have a profound level of patience and trust. For instance, if you’re meeting someone at a restaurant, and they’re late, you just have to trust that they’re on their way. With my wife, we’ve established an unspoken trust that we’ll show up. And whenever we meet up, we meet up. We stick to our word of where we’ll meet, and trust that the other shows up. It’s a lot more peaceful this way.
4. Have a system in place. If you’re really going to ditch your cell phone, don’t go into it blindly. Map out a system that actually works–a system that allows you to free yourself from the cell phone’s distractions. My system: • When at work, I use my work phone for work related items • When on the road, I have an emergency cell phone (that sits in my car) • When at home, I use Skype or the house phone Most people use their cell phones throughout all of those stages outlined above. They’re constantly racking up bills. Most people now reason that there’s no need for a house phone, or work phone. When you’ve got your cell phone, you can use it anytime, anywhere and now, for anything. When you ditch your cell phone, you make a decision to compartmentalize your life. Additionally, you can leverage Google voice to catch your messages, transcribe them, and allow you to determine what needs to get done with that. Google voice (get a google voice account that emails you who called you, so that you can call them back on a work phone or a house phone whenever you’re ready to make the call). Use google voice to send text messages from
your computer to their phones.
5. What about your friends? It’s hilarious watching people’s reactions when you tell them you don’t have a cell phone–especially when you’re in the tech industry like myself. People exclaim, “What? How? Why?” We’ve grown so reliant on cell phones that it’s somehow unthinkable to not have a cell phone. They ask, “What about your friends? Do you just abandon your relationships?” Obviously, ditching your cell phone bars your friends from having constant, immediate and never-ending access to you. However, when you ditch your cell phone, you’re not ditching your friends. You’re simply compartmentalizing your life and setting boundaries. You’re setting yourself up for a time where you can pay the attention that friends deserve–focused attention; not attention while multitasking. When transitioning to a cell phone-free lifestyle, I recommend getting an account with Google Voice. Here’s the process I underwent: 1. Set up an account with Google Voice 2. Set up a cell phone message that explains your recent decision to ditch your cell phone. Here’s mine: “In order to become a more focused and productive person, I’ve decided to forego all inbound calls; however, leave your name, number, and a sweet little message, and I’ll get back to you at the appropriate time.” (Obviously, you can term it however you want). 3. Google Voice then transcribes your cell phone and emails you their message 4. Email your contact or call them back via your house or work phone when you have the time that your friend deserves 5. Even better, set up a time for you guys to meet up in person This will ensure a transition that isn’t ineffective and one that doesn’t simply block calls. Plus it prevents you from needing to create a Facebook group explaining your transition. That annoys
6. Call everyone back Just because you’ve ditched your cell phone doesn’t mean you forgo the responsibility of calling people back. Because Google Voice allows you to receive voice mails via email, I recommend chunking your phone calls into one-time windows scattered throughout the day. This likens itself to email batching (email batching is a topic I’ll be covering later).
7. The secretary syndrome If you have a wife, tread carefully when ditching your cell phone. Try not to make her feel like a secretary. Don’t do what I did. I was selling something on Craigslist and I gave them my wife’s phone number. She was pissed. She felt like a secretary. Additionally, my parents called her to get a hold of me; that’s not a very sustainable system. For your parents or people that will actually call your significant other to get to you, make sure they understand your new system.
8. Meet up with people in person If you’re making a business deal, or meeting someone and they’re local, don’t half ass it through an email or even a cell phone call. I’ve gotten about four deals done in the past month because we met up in person, it allows you describe ideas, map out ideas in person and get things done. If you want to be more efficient, as well as effective, I recommend meeting up in person. Tweeting and IM chatting will only get you so far in business. Even if you work in the web realm like myself.
9. Offline activities Replace cell phone activities with mind-expanding activities. If your habit centered on making calls on your commute to work, replace this with a book on tape or audio CD.
10. Baby steps
Obviously this chapter is going to humor some, but most aren’t going to take action and actually ditch their cell phone. It’s still ingrained in our minds that it’s unthinkable–and for some, due to their work nature, it is unthinkable. What I suggest is at least experimenting by giving up their cell phone for a day or two. Or, if you have an iPhone, ditch the dataplan and try your hardest to use it as simply a phone. Try some experiments with your communication devices in order to become aware of how ditching your cell phone can result in nowness and awareness.
Conclusion In this chapter we learned about the increase in distractions and advertisements over the past fifty years. We learned that we are constantly distracted, constantly asking for interruption. And we learned that through the practice of unplugging, one can discover how distractions have really driven their lives. There’s also ten tips for giving up your cell phone: 1. Have a replaceable object 2. Have an emergency phone 3. Brace yourself 4. Have a system in place 5. About friends 6. Call everyone back 7. Avoid the secretary syndrome 8. Meet up with people in person 9. Offline activities 10. Take baby steps
Practicing Focused Thought On March 3, 1993, Jimmy Valvano, a well-respected basketball coach, gave a moving speech shortly before losing his life to cancer. His speech didn’t center around winning basketball games, championships or money. He outlined three things, which he believed defines a full day: laughter, being moved to tears and thought.
This chapter will revolve around Jimmy’s third element: thought. We’ll cover different types of thought (meditation, contemplation or simply quieting your environment to think). By practicing Focused Thought and contemplation everyday, one can improve their concentration, productivity and happiness. We’ll explore how.
The Concept of Focused Thought Focused Thought isn’t new. You’ve heard principles of focused thought emanate from the concept of meditation. Yet, when you think of meditation, an image may arise in your mind of some eccentric relative that’s constantly preaching about seeking enlightenment through meditation. Carry Barbor writes, “The romantic notion of quitting everything and joining Tibetan monks on a mountaintop is not the only way to meditate. You don’t need to quit your job, give up your possessions and spend 30 years chanting.” In this sense, you’re confusing meditation with one branch of meditation: Eastern Meditation, which is a more mystical and religious-based branch of meditation.
Eastern Meditation vs. Western Meditation In brief, Eastern Meditation revolves around focusing on nothing. Whereas, Western Meditation concerns itself with focusing on something. Eastern Meditation centers around eloquently moving thoughts out of your mind and only concentrating on a small act (like breathing). Whereas Western Meditation revolves around contemplation, and getting lost in thinking about something. The branch of meditation that likens itself most to Focused Thought is Western Meditation.
The Roots of Focused Thought
Defined, Focused Thought is the act of contemplating a specific problem, and in turn, falling into a state of flow. Time slows as you contemplate a specific problem. The roots of Focused Thought arose from a group of hermits in the Egyptian desert around 400 AD. These hermits were actually Christian monks who practiced repetitive and focused contemplation of the scriptures. Their practices centered around contemplating verses, ideas, phrases and prayer on a daily basis. It is suspected that these methods were influenced by the East.  Researches have found that such acts increase activity in the left prefrontal cortex–the part of your brain that drives concentration, meta-cognition and decision-making. Essentially, these desert monks were increasing their brain-power every single day through Focused Thought. The same researchers found that such acts may even decrease anxiety and depression. The simple act of focused thought not only increases the mind’s ability to concentrate, it reduces the likelihood of depression. Focused Thought enhances attention-span and makes the mind more flexible. This increases awareness of your environment, as well as the ability to be objective in emotionally-charged situations. This sense of awareness doesn’t just apply to your environment. It also applies to the creative component within your mind. Essentially, you’ll find it easier to fall into the state of flow when you practice Focused Thought on a habitual basis.  In summary, the concept of focused thought isn’t a qualitative act (i.e. practiced in order to seek spiritual enlightenment). Focused Thought is a quantitative, and calculated way to exercise your prefrtontal cortex; thus, improving your creativity, decision-making and general sense of happiness. So now the question is, “How do I get started and practice focused thought?” We’ll now cover three ways that will help you practice focused thought:
3 Ways to Practice Focused Thought
Practicing Focused Thought isn’t complex. It doesn’t warrant books, lessons or drawn-out instruction. Focused Thought is merely setting a specific time to think. Though there’s limitless ways you can practice Focused Thought, here are three applications of this principle that will get you started:
1) Get Lost Before Work I find that it’s best to practice Focused Thought before starting the day. Some practice Focused Thought while exercising; others find themselves in Focused Thought while praying or reading. Right now, my favorite way to practice Focused Thought is through writing before I start the day. As Jimmy Valvano outlined above, thought is a critical component of a full day. Because our world is filled with so much noise, movement and distraction, I find that it’s best to practice Focused Thought when there’s no noise, movement or distraction. By practicing focused thought before starting the day, you will feel less rushed, less stressed and less anxious. You know that daily thought where a voice tells you, “I need to do something important. I need to prove my worth or others are going to wonder if I’m really good at what I do.” That feeling is mitigated or even extinguished when you’ve practiced Focused Thought. For some reason, you feel confidant in yourself and your abilities throughout the day after practicing Focused Thought. You feel a greater sense of awareness of who you are and what you stand for. And this sense of awareness results in more confidence when stress, noise and distraction attack your mind throughout the day. Bottom line: Get lost in Focused Thought before work.
2) Dead Silent Car I drive an hour to work and an hour home every single day. Yes, it’s quite a commute. When I first began this commute, I listened to a mix of music and sports-talk radio. This lasted for about three months until I grew tired of music and annoyed with the radio. I then shifted to some books on tape and marketing lessons. This again lasted around three months. I grew tired of listening to people. I’d listen to people on the car-ride (through books on tape),
I’d listen to people at work and then I’d come home and listen to my wife (though, my wife would argue that I hardly do that!) For this reason, I stopped listening to books on-tape. I was sick of listening. Instead, I did one simple thing–and this method has stuck ever since–I turned off the noise. My car-ride is dead silent. For two hours every single day, I surround myself in complete silence. I find this gives me an opportunity to quiet my mind and practice Focused Thought. I typically start the trip by contemplating a problem that I’m trying to solve. This method can be broken into five steps: 1. Define your goal 2. Ask yourself how others have achieved that goal (or a similar goal) 3. Contemplate specific methods that could solve the problem 4. List out the pro’s and con’s of each specific method 5. Select the best method to solve that problem When I say “problem,” I don’t actually mean a problem in the sense of conflict. I’m referring to a problem that likens itself to a typical math problem. For instance, “Our goal is to create a product that allows people to learn and have fun. How can we create a product that is fun, educational and results in profit?”
3) Clear Away Distractions The final practical way to practice Focused Thought is to create an environment that enables one to think clearly. We cover the concept of clearing distractions over and over again in this book, but it’s necessary and critical to both becoming a focused person and practicing Focused Thought. You can’t practice Focused Thought if you can’t think. And one usually can’t think when there’s email notifications popping up while getting text-messages from friends. I’ve heard people say that music helps them focus, but I’ve never heard anyone say email notifications helps them focus. In brief, create an environment that is minimal and distraction free. If you’re unable to do this where you live, search out a local library–you’ll be shocked by how much your environment drives your ability to concentrate. In college, I never studied once in my room. I only did work at the library. This
environment allowed me to practice focused thought batched into a two-hour period, which could have easily been stretched into 8 hours if I worked at home. Bottom line: Clear your working environment of any distractions that may arise.
Summary • Eastern Meditation revolves around focusing on nothing; whereas Western Meditation centers on focusing on something. • Focused Thought likens itself to the Western Meditation practice of contemplating something. • Focused thought is the act of focusing or contemplating something to the point in which you get lost–i.e. you fall into a state of flow.
There are three practical ways to practice focused thought: 1. Get lost before work: Fall into the state of flow first thing in the morning through, reading, exercising, writing or some other exercise. 2. Seek silence in your car ride: Turn off the radio and music and contemplate a problem 3. Remove distractions from your environment
Focus and Food As you’re aware, I’ve embarked on writing a book in real-time online. As one writes and publishes their content, some listen, some don’t, and some really enjoy your work. That’s the beauty of the format in which I’m writing this book. This method, which I’ve termed for now as “Writing 2.0,” results in interacting with readers that are passionate about specific areas of focus–areas in which I, admittedly, am not as knowledgeable about. For this reason, I decided to invite Ashley Marie Smith write this chapter on the
subject of Focus Foods.
About the Guest Author: Ashley Marie Smith is an alumna of UC Berkley where she studied economics. She spent a summer as a research assistant in an endocrinology lab at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine. In her own words, she says, “I had the crackpot dream that I could be strong enough to withstand sleep deprivation to go to medical school.” Though, she’s still very interested and passionate about healthy living and public health issues. To learn more, you can follow Ashley on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/ amarie_s
Your Focus It’s 3pm in the afternoon. Your co-worker barges in for the zillionth time while your phone incessantly rings. You being the ordinary, upstanding citizen are now beginning to harbor unsavory thoughts towards humanity. Or if you’re the typical college student, imagine it’s 3am in the morning. You’ve got one night to bang out that paper assigned only mere months ago. Alas, you’re beset by serious munchies and urges to check your brother’s girlfriend’s neighbor’s Farmville updates on Facebook. Do you reach for a Snickers? Coffee? Red Bull? Maybe something natural and healthy, like a banana? Dial for a pizza? No matter what the old GRE Verbal section may have me believe, my best analogy for food is likening it to fuel for car engines. Our motor shuts down when we run on empty. Regarding gingko biloba and other herbal supplements, there really are no miracle concentration cures. Anyone who says so will also probably sell you natural hair solutions from Donald Trump and other sorts of oil from slithery, coldblooded creatures. Yet some food combinations are indeed better than others when it comes to fighting slumps. Nothing, however, will rescue you from the food coma that results from overeating any combination of food, healthy or not. How does
this all work? Why does such a fine line exist between not enough food and the all-you-can-eat buffet that disturbs our focus? And how does this knowledge help you make better food choices for optimal concentration?
Crash course through basics of metabolism and your brain function Remember the kid from Jerry Maguire who says, “Did ya know the human heads weighs 8 pounds?” It actually comprises 2-3% of an adult’s body mass. Thus for the average person of 150 lbs, the brain would indeed weigh about 8 lbs. Despite its relatively small percentage of mass, it consumes about 10% of the body’s entire metabolic energy due to the constant firing of the neurons. The primary fuel to run the brain is glucose, which the neurons cannot store. When you eat, your pancreas releases the hormone insulin into the blood stream. The insulin scoops up excess glucose and starts a chain reaction where the glucose is added to glycogen molecules for storage in the liver. At the lowest point, i.e. your fasting blood glucose level, you have about the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar floating in your blood. Simple carbohydrates easily enter the blood stream via the stomach, which is why you feel the surge from simple sugars so quickly. Another hormone from the pancreas called glucagon breaks down the glycogen back to glucose when your body needs to increase the blood sugar level. While used in by most cells, glucose has been observed to increase activity in certain hippocampus cells of rats, as well as inc. The hippocampus is one of the major areas of the brain associated with short-term memory and learning. Previously, it had been believed that the brain was able to maintain stable glucose levels. In the early 2000’s, Ewan McNay of Yale School of Medicine observed that for rats learning new mazes, their glucose levels were depleted in the hippocampus, and the older rats faced a faster rate of depletion. Other studies have examined the effects of glucose on acetylcholine formation, a key neurotransmitter involved in sustaining attention
and in controlling the motor movements of muscles. So more is better, when it comes to glucose? Depends. Marathon runners can get away with pasta and other simple carb loading for speedy pick-me-ups. But unless you swing a night job as a lab rat hooked to a wheel or as a professional marathon runner, that amount of carbs will usually lead to nothing more than a crash later. Too many carbohydrates can trigger insulin overload, thereby pulling too much glucose from the blood stream.
The Golden Rule of Focus and Food So the golden rule of food for focus is to keep your blood sugar stabilized. Stay hydrated, get caffeine in moderation, and eat small meals combining complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and a little fat at regular intervals throughout the day. Eating every 3-5 hours should be sufficient, if the meals are small enough. Be reasonable, though. If you cannot bring yourself to drink 8-10 cups of water a day, drink seltzer mixed with a little juice and bask in your European chic with their standard way of drinking juice. Or if you do reach for a candy bar, find one that has nuts and/or dark chocolate. Digestion rates can be slowed in the presence of protein and small amounts of fat. Dark chocolate merely has less fat than milk chocolate. If your sweet tooth can be appeased with nonrefined sugars, try a a bit of honey mixed with cinnamon and peanut butter on a rice cake. “Tasty” and “rice cake” might not be words normally uttered in the same sentence, but the honey, cinnamon, and peanut butter just nails that perfect salty-sweet combo. If coffee is your fix, try smaller cups or alternative caffeine sources like teas and chocolate. All contain some level of caffeine, although the levels of metabolized caffeine derivatives like theobromine also may influence how an individual reacts to the caffeine. White, green, and black teas come from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. They differ by the length and process of fermentation. Yerba maté is another type of leaf that is brewed and purportedly has a gentler post-caffeine crash than coffee. If you’re really in a focus
jam, maybe then an energy drink. Remember moderation, despite what the scantily clad energy drink salesmodels may say. Try not to eat or drink while you’re working. Take an actual break. Get up, walk, stretch, breathe, and use that 5-10 minutes to enjoy your food or drink. Whether one can truly multitask is under scrutiny; mindless eating, even of focus-friendly foods, can be counterproductive to focus. The world will not end if you take 5 minutes to eat. The world might end momentarily, or at least a small island economy might sink, if you do put a “b” instead of “m” in front of “illion” due to fuzzy thinking from dehydration or while juggling a sandwich and your keyboard. While I exaggerate here, at the University of Geneva Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, the 10-minute water break for every class that met for more than an hour is no laughing matter. Students in my econometrics class practically threatened mutiny when a professor once asked if the water break could be skipped, and a “compromise” was reached that the class would end 10 minutes earlier.
Turbocharging Your Focus for The Long Haul Perhaps you’re still thinking about all the good stuff you’ve read about gingko biloba for memory. That indicates that you might have a better functioning cognitive state than that of the target population who actually demonstrated measurable benefits from gingko biloba. Of gingko’s mixed reviews, the studies who find slightly positive results often are examining laboratory animals under large doses or persons suffering from cognitive decline due to factors like age-related dementia. Gotu kola is another East Asian leaf occasionally declared a new remedy. Peppermint has also been touted as a aid to wake up the senses, and a recent study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found positive memory effects of blueberry juice on elderly subjects at risk of dementia versus the control group. Blueberries, pomegranates, and green tea already have enjoy reputations as superfoods due to their antioxidant concentrations; B vitamins
from sources such as whole wheat, vitamin E in sources like avocados or olive oil, and Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and other cold-water fatty fish also may prevent cognitive decline. The media tends to report on one “breakthrough” study that finds x-y-z result, but often it is better to look at meta-studies which review a large portion of studies to see overall trends in findings. Individual studies may achieve results that are very specific to a population under study or certain laboratory control settings. Researchers also may report positive correlations but fail to adequately measure size of effect or control for variables that are inherently linked to the supplement under study. Or the study might have been “published,” but in the world of academia there exists a hierarchy and broad range of certain journals that are more selective in the quality of the studies published. These supplements probably will not hurt in moderation under careful supervision, but they’re a bit like fancy shoes and performance gear for runners. They are not going to help the person who has not been consistently training their bodies. Generally, the best way to get your vitamins and nutrients is through whole foods. Taking some supplements, like fish oil or vitamin D, might be worthwhile though. Talk to your physician so he or she can monitor possible signs of drug interactions with your current prescriptions. And caveat emptor: be aware of the source. The quality of herbal supplements are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration in the United States, so look for the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) stamp for some measure of assurance. If you are reaching for the energy drinks for an extended period of time because you are really unable to focus at certain parts of the day, go see a medical professional. All sorts of health issues, often arising from unbalanced diets and sleep affected by said diets, can express symptoms of fatigue or inability to focus.
Conclusion The advice in this article may seem like common sense and obvious: stabilizing blood sugar levels through moderation, drinking water, and eating balanced, small meals. Eating foods for focus might be hard if no particular list of foods was actually mentioned.
Sharpening focus is a process in which one pares away the nonessential, and let this rule extend even to your eating habits.
Just The Beginning: Through the previous six sections, we’ve explored the specific principles and actions required to get focus back in your life. In Part I we learned about the composition of focus and flow through leveraging short-term focus and long-term focus. In Part II, we learned about the concept of establishing a daily foundation built on exercises such as: flashcards, reading, exercise, writing and proper sleep. In Part III we learned about how to go about setting focused goals, and carrying out those goals through todo list strategies. In Part IV we learned how to leverage web and technology to become a more focused, productive person when using the internet. Part V we learned about the Sage Lifestyle (Focused Entrepreneur) through focused networking, outsourcing and handling emotions. In Part VI we learned about Digital Detoxing, and using focused thought, gadget auditing, and healthy food to become a more focused person. It is my sincerest hope that you view the principles as only the beginning of your journey back to a life built on focus. I’ve included an appendix of material that includes the story of coffee, the concept of caffeine, experiences from my readers and interviews with famous entrepreneurs and writers on the impact of focus in their lives. You will find a wealth of other material at the website where this book was conceived: wwwHowToGetFocused.com You’ll find applications, the interactive community, lessons, updates and products that will assist you in your journey to becoming a more focused person. Make sure you stop by the website and introduce yourself to the community. If you have any feedback or stories of your own to
share, please feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you for joining me on this journey, and best of luck.
Special Thanks: Thank you to the following people who pre-ordered my book without the book even being complete. They put their faith in my hands, and I am forever grateful for their trust and support: Shera, Matthew Maranell, Calum, Dave Saslavsky, Joan Schlichting, Matthew Duder, Tony Sparkz, Wojtek, Maria, Juan, Judas Omar, Jeremy Gaines, Sunil Krishna, Dirceu, Antje, David of ActionComputerSupport, Angelika, Stephen of EnchantedPortraits, Richard Alpert, Andres Santana, Larry of In2Mentoring and Elkan. Last, thank you to my friends and family for their support during the writing of this book. Specifically to those who believed in me and believed in this book: Grandmere Jacqueline Le Put and Nathaniel Broughton. Appendix A: Extra Material
The Fascinating History of Coffee The story of coffee is one filled with twists, turns, politics, adventures, ancient rituals and religious baptism (yes, baptisms). It is believed that coffee’s true roots point to Caffa Ethiopia. The discovery came from a sheep herder named Kaldi. On one early evening while rounding up his flock Kaldi noticed that something was wrong with one of his sheep. The odd part centered around the fact that this was Kaldi’s most well-behaved sheep. Yet, the sheep wouldn’t follow Kaldi’s orders. It was energetic and focused on continuing to graze the grass.
After investigating, Kaldi was stunned. “There’s blood all over you.” But the sheep didn’t appear to be injured at all. “Wait, that’s not blood, but what is it?” Nearby, he had the answer, red cherries. Intrigued, Kaldi tasted a small portion of these “red cherries.” As a result, he became hyper. Hyper enough to try and sell the idea of coffee to all the people in his village. Some met him with uneasy smiles, most met him with indifference and the village monks met him with strong disapproval–that is–until they tried some themselves. After experiencing the coffee kick, the monks were literally up all night praying. Why wouldn’t God want one to enjoy coffee? After years of consumption, the natives of Kaldi’s village quickly learned the ins-and-outs of preparation. Villagers recognized the powerful effects of coffee and used it for war. Before leaving on long battles, men would wrap coffee beans in animal fat. In a battle’s most crucial moment, the coffee bean would be consumed. Back then, it was baseball’s equivalent to performance enhancing drugs. This secret boost was kept sacred until commercialization reared its ugly head. The Arabians took the coffee plant from such villages and proceeded to establish a coffee monopoly. With more exposure also came more ways in which cofee was prepared. In 1453, the Turks discovered that when brewed, coffee gives off a nice aroma. Not only that, it tastes good, too. After people’s tastes for coffee were established, the first coffee shop was opened: Kiva Han. Humorously, this also gave rise to a law in which a man must provide his wife with enough coffee to last her throughout the day. Around 20 years later, amidst the growing surge of coffee, the governor of Mecca, Khair Beg, campaigned to banish coffee due to its influence. He felt it may give rise to anarchy within his rule. The Sultan of Arabia didn’t share his view. At all. In fact, he had the governor killed because he felt coffee was not only a core component of their economy, he felt coffee was sacred–sent by the gods. For years, the coffee plant was Arabia’s core product. However, this monopoly could only last so long. In an amazing tale of adventure and espionage, a man named Baba Budan infilitrated Arabia’s cash cow and smuggled coffee been seeds to his homeland: Mysore, India. Even to this day, coffee is grown in Mysore, and
Baba is still highly revered. After nearly a hundred years, word of coffee trickled its way down to The Catholic Church. It was now time for The Vatican to address coffee and whether it was good, or if it was the devil! Pope Vincent III took on this task of evaluating coffee. In fact, that’s pretty much all we know about Pope Vincent III. His entire legacy was founded on his evaluation of coffee. “Drink only a small amount, your grace,” warned Pope Vincent’s servant. “Coffee is the devil’s drink.” Upon sipping the coffee, Pope Vincent exclaimed that it was so delicious, not only would he declare the Christians should drink coffee, he baptized the coffee on the spot. Soon after that, the first coffeehouse opened in Italy. This then filtered throughout Europe–with coffeehouses opening up quite frequently. The popularity of coffee sky-rocketed. In New York City, coffee quickly became a favorite drink upon everyone. This brings us to the tale of Lloyd’s of London, the most acclaimed and profitable insurance company in history. Lloyd’s of London started as a coffee shop. Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse was so popular, it attracted so many regulars that it was the epicenter of the town, and over time, it took on the business of selling insurance. Why? Because through gathering for coffee, it understood the needs of the local people–the need for quality insurance. When the power and profit of coffee suddenly became clear, the Dutch smuggled coffee out of Arabia and duplicated the cash cow established by Arabia. After observing this craze, French naval officer Gabriel Mathieu do Clieu saw his opportunity, stole a coffee plant and shipped it to Martinique. This plant would turn out to compose the most sought after coffee crop, serving 90% of the worlds coffee. In Brazil, Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta went on a voyage to mitigate a border dispute between the French and Dutch colonies in Guyana. While there, he had an affair with the wife of the French Guyana. Upon departure, he was secretly given bouquet by his mistress. In the bouquet sat hidden coffee seeds–these seeds drove the Brazilian coffee farms for years to come.
Meanwhile the Americans were throwing coffee and tea overboard afoot a revolution. You may know this as The Boston Tea Party. Moving forward a hundred years, coffee’s biggest moment came during the roaring 1920’s in the U.S. during prohibition. Coffee sales went through the roof. When World War II arose, soldiers were issued rations of coffee to keep them alert. In fact, 70% of the world’s coffee was imported for the United States citizens and soldiers. In Italy, they were nurturing the power of coffee, as well. An Italian named Achilles Gaggia invented the espresso machine. In turn he named the Cappuccino after realizing that it mirrored robes of monks in the Capuchin order. The love of coffee continued with niche coffee shops opening and doing very well. That is, until Starbucks hit a home run in 1971 with their first coffeehouse in Seattle’s Pike Place public market. In less than thirty years, coffee became the power that you know today.
More reading, sources and resources • Wikipedia • Coffee Research • Talk About Coffee
What Everybody Ought to Know About Caffeine Before diving into specific focus foods, drinks and supplements, it’s critical to first understand details of the most widely used focus supplement: caffeine. In North America, 90% of us consume caffeine on a daily basis. Defined, caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that causes one to become more alert, and less drowsy.
History: Caffeine isn’t new. Humans have consumed the substance since the Stone Age. First, this came in the form of bark, seeds and leaves.
Humans would consume them in order to ease the effects of fatigue. It also promoted alertness, which was critical to survival in that age–especially in battle. Surprisingly, the form of consumption that we know today, coffee and tea, was a much later discovery, and its roots can be attributed to ancient tribes and rituals. The first time the term “caffeine” was coined came in 1819 from German chemist, Friedrich Ferdinand Runge. He used the phrase “kaffein,” a chemical compound in coffee, which in English became caffeine.
The 5 Myths of Caffeine: Myth 1: Caffeine Causes Dehydration: Ever heard that caffeine causes dehydration? As of today, that’s a hypothesis not a fact. In a New York Times article, Anahad O’Connorwrites, “Caffeine may not be as powerful a diuretic as it’s often said to be.” In other words, caffeine does not cause the dehydration claimed by many. Myth 2: Coffee Contains More Caffeine Than Tea: Tea leaves contain more caffeine than coffee beans; however, once it’s prepared, coffee contains more caffeine than tea (yea, that’s a cheap myth–still, it’s a myth). Myth 3: Caffeine is Inherently Bad For You: The most extensive research study on caffeine was conducted by Harvard University. They studied 126,000 people over an 18-year period. They found that people who drink one to three cups of coffee per day are up to 9 percent less likely to contract diabetes. What’s interesting is what happened to those who drank six or more cups of coffee per day – men slashed their chances of contracting diabetes by 54 percent, and women by 30 percent. Myth 4: Caffeine is Safe. Caffeine can actually kill you if you go overboard with intake. You’ll need to go really overboard. For me at my weight of 170, it would take 107 cups of brewed coffee to kill me. Here’s a site that allows you to calculate how much caffeine will kill you: energy fiend (http://www.energyfiend.com/death-by-caffeine) Myth 5: Caffeine Makes You Pee: Ceffeine does not help you
pee. It helps you poo (this suddenly feels like preschool). In all seriousness, caffeine is a good reset button for the first thing in the morning. This helps you focus, right?
What forms caffeine comes in: When people think of caffeine, they think of coffee; some think of tea. In reality, caffeine finds itself spread through a variety of foods and plants: beans, leaves, herbs and in fruit, where it acts as a natural pesticide. Different cultures use caffeine in different ways. There’s the Yaupon Holly, which ancient tribes made “Asi,” with (commonly referred to as “The Black Drink.”) There’s also the Kola nut (coca cola–sound familiar?), guarana berries, yerba mate and more.
5 Other Health Benefits of Caffeine: 1. Regular coffee drinkers are 80 percent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. 2. Two cups a day gives you 20 percent less risk of colon cancer. 3. Two cups a day causes an 80 percent drop in cirrhosis. 4. Two cups a day prevents gallstone development by 50 percent. 5. It has also shown to be beneficial in asthma, stopping headaches, boosting mood and even preventing cavities
The Bottom Line: Doctors and researchers are beginning to find that caffeine is only a temporary solution for focusing. The more one takes in caffeine, the more he or she will become immune to caffeine. Because of this, you may want to rotate different Focus Foods, or simply take in caffeine when you feel the need to get focused. In other words, for caffeine to work, one should use it as a solution; not out of habit.
More readings, sources and resources: 1. How Stuff Works on Caffeine 2. Actions of Caffeine in the Brain with Special Reference to Factors That Contribute to Its Widespread Use 3. Coffee — The New Health Food? 4. Wikipedia on Caffeine
End Notes 1
[Source: Nathaniel Broughton]
Nathaniel Broughton assisted me with the rewording of this section. [Source: Nathaniel Broughton] 2
(Source: John Medina, Brain Rules)
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs (Location 257 in Kindle)
Idea from The Presentation Secrets of Steve (Location Kindle 284)
Stephen Furlani - Get permission to publish in book (a reader)
This question was inspired by Frank Kern in his List Control program. 7
 Pg 102-103 Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belsky
Get Focused in an Age of Distraction