In today’s microwave society—where more data is created in one year than the last 5,000 years—it’s a herculean task to stay focused. Getting distracted may seem innocuous, but the consequences are disastrous over time: lost productivity, falling revenues, and a gnawing ever-present sense of missed opportunities.
These overachievers and members of The Oracles share their strategies to sharpen your focus, prolong your concentration, and beat distractions once and for all.
1. Think about urgency and regret.
You never know when your last day will be, so live from a place of urgency to usher your ideas and dreams into reality. Don’t wait for it to be your last day and regret that you didn’t create something meaningful.
Get clear on precisely what you want, then move past any doubts or fears through massive, urgent action. Doing this is a mental game for me: I keep score on how well I’ve done each day. —Lewis Howes, former pro athlete, lifestyle entrepreneur and NYT-bestselling author
2. Bunker down in a secret location.
As a business leader, the demands on my time in the office are immense. No matter my determination to do deep, focused work, I ultimately get interrupted or find myself eagerly solving the problem.
Organizations tend to defer decisions to the leader who’s in the vicinity and “on the clock.” So, my number one tactic for radical focus is spending one to two days a week out of the office, in a “secret location.” There, I get important thinking, writing, and other creative work done with zero distractions.
To maximize productivity, I mentally prepare for deep work with a focusing ritual that includes deep breathing and visualizing my desired end state. I chunk my work into 45-minute blocks and do some movement and yoga between those deep work sets.
Concentration and focus must be trained. By designating special time and space to do focused work, you’ll train your brain to do it better. —Mark Divine, retired U.S. Navy SEAL commander, NYT/WSJ bestselling author, founder of SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind
3. Ask if it’s a ‘heck-yes’ opportunity.
Here’s the trap: The more successful you become, the more shiny opportunities offer themselves to you. These opportunities may be great, but not great for you right now. A great opportunity at the wrong time is just a distraction.
Always ask yourself, “Is this a heck-yes opportunity—right now?” Otherwise, default it automatically to “no.” This question keeps you out of the “grey area” where good opportunities become stressful commitments.
If you don’t have the willpower to say “no” to shiny distractions, form an “advisory board” consisting of two to three friends who know you well, understand your goals, and have a good business mind. Run every opportunity through them for input. This tactic also makes saying “no” easier—you just blame the decision on your “advisory board.” —Chris Harder, philanthropist, coach, founder, and CEO of For the Love of Money
4. Resist ‘doing it all.’
Remove everything from your life that’s unnecessary or simply a diversion. You’ll be left with a bunch of worthwhile things to accomplish. Now, here’s where most entrepreneurs mess up: They attack everything at once. Soon, they’re overwhelmed from juggling too many things and feel guilty for not giving adequate focus to anything.
The simple cure? Have a top-priority item. (I use the Todoist app and keep a running list of my highest priority targets.) Pick only one thing, the most important thing to accomplish—even if it’s difficult or daunting. Stay focused until you check it off. Then move to the next. —Kenny Rueter, co-founder of Kajabi
5. Find something to obsess about.
When you find something you love, focus comes naturally. When I started as a civil litigation lawyer, I excelled but hated it. Meanwhile, when friends of friends got into trouble with the law, they insisted I represent them—even though I had no criminal defense experience. I did a great job on each case because I was obsessed with the outcome and cared about my client’s life.
However, my partner at the time didn’t want me to pursue criminal defense, so I begrudgingly stayed in the civil field. Fortunately, I had another obsession: writing. I wrote kids’ yoga books and about my experiences with cars and racing. I simply wrote because I was obsessed with it, which compensated for my professional discontent.
Finally, when I started criminal defense full time in 2014, it became difficult to not focus on my cases. Colleagues and mentors said I cared too much about my clients and their cases. Then I came across the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College, which advocates this approach. My career has been a beautiful obsession since. —Nafisé Nina Hodjat, founder and managing attorney of The SLS Firm
6. Create a five-step customized strategy.
Every entrepreneur’s methods for staying laser-focused is unique. I’ve incorporated these strategies for optimal performance.
First, make stress your friend. Stress is not your enemy; it’s a valuable tool if you harness its force. Your mental faculties are heightened when you’re pushed against a tough problem or deadline.
Second, develop a morning routine. Make it a habit to get up an hour earlier. Start your day with breathing exercises and meditation. Don’t allow the digital world to control the first hour of your day.
Third, break your work into 90-minute blocks. Forget the standard 9-to-5 mentality. Learn your body’s natural ultradian rhythms, and then schedule your most important and productive work in time blocks. Take 25-minute breaks at the end of each block.
Four, create recharging rituals for your body, emotions, and mind. A body ritual might be a brisk walk. An emotional ritual might be gratitude. A mental ritual might be turning off your phone.
Lastly, optimize your sleep. Sleep isn’t a necessary evil or distraction from work; it’s a vital, natural way to recharge. The standard “eight hours per night” is more of a guideline; I sleep six hours per day with a siesta power nap. This biphasic sleep pattern (six hours plus 25 minutes) is my ideal sweet spot. —Nik Halik, angel investor, entrepreneur, astronaut, extreme adventurer, CEO of 5 Day Weekend; follow Nik on social media
7. Don’t chase two rabbits.
“The man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” — Chinese Proverb
Whatever you’re working on, be fully there. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself at home thinking about work, and at work thinking about home. You’ll work on the company’s vision, then feel like you’re neglecting the daily operations. You’ll be entrenched in the operations, then feel like you’re missing out on the newest “flavor of the month” to scale your business.
It’s not that you can’t multitask or that these tasks are mutually exclusive. You can excel in many things—just not simultaneously. The best way I focus is scheduling my areas of focus directly on my calendar. I schedule the time to work out, be with family, think, read, answer emails, and just be free. This may seem rigid. Ironically, this kind of structure actually creates greater freedom. — Tom Shieh, CEO of Crimcheck; connect with Tom on Facebook
8. Create a fierce focus culture.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” — Mark Twain
In a world that follows the pack, if you want to build something special, fierce focus is not just what you do—it’s how your entire organization must think. This is the only way to avoid the trap of caving into the norm and losing the essence of your core difference.
Fierce focus is only achieved across an organization when each person understands their purpose in the organization and then sets clearly defined, measurable goals to achieve that purpose.
Every new idea or opportunity must be forced through that intense “focus filter.” If the project doesn’t contribute to your purpose, you simply shouldn’t do it. —Peter Hernandez, president of The Western Region at Douglas Elliman; founder and president of Teles Properties