Recently, a video of Denzel Washington went viral. Please take a second to watch the video below.
Denzel. Boom. pic.twitter.com/TIMyJJqoBH
— deray mckesson (@deray) December 13, 2016
In the video, Denzel (he and I are on a first name basis…nbd) was speaking in a broad sense about the current state of the media. How more information is not nessesarily better information.
However, the part that stuck out to me was a little bit deeper.
Really, what is going on is that the gazillion dollar media empire (yes, you are a part of it) is all in one giant land grab for your attention.
- look over here
- check this notification
- answer this phone call
- reply to this email
- NOW NOW NOW!!!
It is exhausting. Although the human mind is capable of processing huge amounts of data, evolution designed us to be able to focus on one or two things at a time.
We are not designed to be pulled in so many different directions at once. Our survival is dependent on completing important tasks. Building a fire, or hunting a deer or catching a fish. Evolution never intended for us to have smartphones.
Our global society is still coping with this huge influx of information, and some of the unintended consequences are, as Denzil said, the need to be first.
Everyone reading this can relate to the struggle of owning your own attention. You should be in control of what you do, what you think and in the order in which to do it. You need to take control back.
Your focus and your thoughts are yours and yours alone. Here are some great ways to regain ownership of your focus.
1 – Use the Pomodoro Technique
I’m not usually a guy who likes “hacks” or tricks. But I will say this technique has done wonders for me and my productivity.
The pomodoro technique is a time management system that will help you maximize your focus.
Simply put, you work for 25 minutes straight. You cut out all distractions and conversations. You focus 100% on the task at hand. At the end of the 25 minutes, you take a 5-minute break.
After 4 rounds of this, you take a 30-minute break.
During that 30-minute break is when I like to check my email, return any phone calls or have any conversations that need having.
It really works wonders, especially if you put your phone on do not disturb in the time you are working.
To make things easier, there is a great iPhone app called Tide which sets a time for you and even plays relaxing white noise. There are options between gentle waves, ambient nature, and a slight breeze.
After your first round or “pomodoro,” the app will ding and begin timing your 5-minute break. In those 5 minutes feel free to get up and stretch or use the bathroom or whatever.
2 – Move Around
There is some amazing science around the harmful effects of long-term sitting.
Many people reading this spend most of their time on a chair or in front of a computer. The damage done to your spine, your heart and your mental health is real. Studies show that long term sitting can increase your risk of a heart attack by 54%.
Laziness is a snowball effect. When we sit, we want to keep sitting.
When we are sitting, it is that much easier to pick up your phone or check Facebook or Twitter.
Make it a priority to go for a walk at lunch. Do some push ups or some air squats next to your desk. You need to do more than just stand up. You need to move your body.
Joe Rogan made a great comparison to the human body and a race car. The human body has requirements. It needs to move. If it doesn’t then it atrophies and becomes fairly useless, in the same way that a car will rot and rust if it doesn’t run.
Even small bits of exercise will increase your mental fortitude and keep things in perspective. The best thing about exercise is the way it channels your focus. When you are doing push ups, you don’t have space in your mind to focus on anything other than push ups.
Moving around a few times during the day will certainly help with your focus.
Forget About the Urgent. Do The Important
One of the best books I’ve ever read is the brilliant The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change written by Steven Covey.
If you have not read this book and you are interested in Designing Your Best Life, then I highly recommend you buy it and read it, twice.
Anyway, in the book Covey outlines his time management matrix. It can be visualized in four separate boxes.
Too much of our time is spent taking care of urgent matters.
In the moment we keep telling ourselves “I need to get this done.” In life, there will always be things that need to be handled. But doesn’t it make sense to spend your time doing things that will progress you in life?
Instead of running to the bank before it closes or staying up late to do your finances, maybe you could spend that time writing a new blog post or making some sales calls.
Doing things that will pay off in the future is where the majority of your time is spent. If you are scared to let urgent matters stack up, don’t be. With enough time in box 2, you will never have to worry about taking care of things that are urgent, because you will be ahead of the curve.
You won’t be playing catch up. You will always be a step ahead and when that happens, things rarely pop up that are considered urgent.
Your bills are caught up, your work is ahead of schedule and your family is happy, safe and secure.
This is a concept that brings anxiety to a lot of people. You have to take it on faith that if you continue to spend your time in box 2, and work on what is “important but not urgent” then eventually you won’t have to be playing catch up anymore.
Don’t Get Stuck in the Loop
We get stuck. We’ve already sent our focus and attention is so many directions that it feels overwhelming. There is no easy trick to getting your focus back, you just have to start.
Turn off all notifications on your phone. Wake up in the morning and plan out your day. Designate time for sleep and exercise,
We can only be in one place. To be most productive and most in control of your thoughts and actions, you have to actively work towards it.
Start now. Start before you think you are ready and see this all the way through.
Your future self will thank you.