“The fool adds one thing a day. The wise man removes one thing a day.” – Lao Tzu
For me, the most important trait for success in today’s world (and in the future world) is having the ability to focus. For me, focus means to be able to not get distracted in our over-connected world. Focus will help you move mountains. Distractions are the death of us.
Technology is worse than crack cocaine
Today’s economy is all about the “attention economy” — companies, advertisers, and marketers are constantly trying to get your attention. But in today’s noisy world, it is hard to stand out.
Therefore companies have figured out ways to hijack your brain. Popular websites and blogs have “clickbait” articles with “clickbait” images— that you must click. They do this with images that intrigue you, or shock you. And when you click on these articles, you are left feeling shallow and cheated.
Social media platforms do this well. Whenever you get a notification, your phone might make a sound or vibrate. You have to compulsively check it. I know for me, whenever I see a little red circle around any of my apps, I must click it and check it. This is what keeps us hooked — the idea of “variable rewards.” We never know when something might reward us, so we keep checking our email, social media accounts, and favorite news websites.
We also fall victim to “FOMO” (fear of missing out). We have this irrational fear that if we’re not always checking social media, someone might die, and we might not know about it. But trust me, if someone in your family died, you wouldn’t found out about it on Facebook — someone would tell you in real life.
As adults, we also link our ego to social media. I know that whenever I upload an image, a link to an article I find interesting, or an accomplishment I’ve done (and I don’t get as many “likes” as I think I “should”) I feel disappointed. I wonder if my friends care or love me.
Social media is even worse for children — who are hyper-aware of their ego and social standing. Not only that, but youth are constantly comparing themselves to one another, via how many followers, likes, and comments they have on their social media channels.
It is human to compare ourselves to one another. It is humans to afraid missing out. It is human to become addicted to sources of pleasure.
Every time we get a “like” on our photos or posts, we get a shot of dopamine that hits our brain. We feel pleasure. We feel addicted to this sensation.
This is why we upload photos everyday, and try to get as many likes as possible. It re-affirms us, and our ego, and our importance.
What if you didn’t get distracted?
Let’s play a thought experiment: what if you didn’t get distracted in life? What other meaningful projects would you pursue? How much more could you get accomplished in life?
Silence is scary. Not being constantly stimulated is boring.
How few of us can just sit down, and do nothing for 10 minutes, and daydream?
We no longer know what it means to be “bored” — because we are constantly entertained and stimulated by our personal devices.
But how do we focus on what is truly important to us?
Tips to focus
Below are some practical tips to better focus in your life:
- Uninstall one app a day:
This is a daily practice that I try — to uninstall one distracting or superfluous app from my phone everyday. I’m still surprised that even after a year, how many “essential” apps I’ve been able to get rid of.
- Turn off your notifications:
Turn of all the notifications of your apps, text messages, and phone calls from your phone. Better yet, turn your phone to silent mode or airplane mode when you’re not using it. And perhaps in the evening, try to turn off your phone completely.
The less you are distracted by your phone, the more present you can be with your loved ones and family.
- Turn off the internet:
I know that if I really want to focus, I have to turn off the wifi on my computer. I try to stay disconnected from the internet at least 3 hours a day. And that is often when I get my best work done.
When I’m feeling bored, and want to check some distracting websites or blogs, I close the lid of my laptop, walk around, perhaps do some lunges, have another cup of coffee, or have some water.
Also by not using the internet, it has forced me to be more creative. I try to figure out more activities I can do without the internet, like read e-books on my phone or laptop, jot down creative ideas, or review old notes I’ve written on books I’ve read in the past.
How much more creative could you be without the constant distraction and stimulation of the internet?
- Do one thing at a time:
We’ve all heard that multi-tasking is a myth. And it is true — we are the most productive and focused when we focus on one thing at a time.
Rather than figuring out what you need to do, and what you need to focus on — try to figure out what distracts you, and cut that out.
For example, if you check your email incessantly and it constantly distracts you, uninstall it from your phone and only use email on your laptop (what I do).
If you find yourself hooked on Instagram, yet still want to use it, just use it in a web browser on your laptop.
If you want to get some writing done, maybe listening to music might be a distraction. Try experimenting not listening to music when you’re writing, to avoid being distracted by wanting to change a song (when it is a song you dislike).
What other distractions can you cut out of your workflow, to help you focus on that 1 most important thing?
- What is the one most important thing in your life?
We want it all. Yet we need to learn how to prioritize — and focus on the #1 most important thing in your life.
What is that for you? Is it your writing? Your photography? Your reading? Your relationship with your friends or family? Is it your business? Is it your painting?
I know it is hard— but for a week, try to focus on nothing but the 1 most important thing in your life. Granted you still need to go to work and put in the hours, but try to devote 100% of your free-time and weekend-time on your most important task in life.
For me, I think I create the most value by blogging. Other things I like to do include travel, teach, make YouTube videos, interview other photographers. Yet the #1 most valuable thing I can create are articles for the blog (like this one here). Therefore as I’m getting older, I try to spend less time on my other passions, and really laser-focus on my blogging.
It is hard, we want it all. But if we get it all, we will end up with nothing.
Focus is one of the most difficult things to do in today’s world. We are constantly being attacked from every side.
What did Ulysses do to protect himself against the tempting voices of the sirens? He plugged his ears with wax, and had his men tie him to the mast of the ship. Therefore once he started to pass the sirens, he pre-committed to his decision.
How are some other ways you can pre-commit yourself to a decision which you know is good for you — which will help you focus?
Some drastic ideas:
- Install “freedom” on your computer, to block the internet for several hours at a time (once you block your internet time, you cannot disable it)
- Install the Chrome plugin: “Stay Focusd” which blocks distracting websites
- When you need to do work, turn off your phone, and put it in the next room
- Have a strict “no screen” policy after a certain time (perhaps 8pm) — will help you be more present with your family and loved ones, and help you sleep better at night
- Uninstall all distracting apps from your phone for a week
- Get rid of wifi at your home, and only work at the office or at coffee shops
Greatness awaits you, don’t let the sirens of distraction keep you from achieving your laser-like focus. With intense focus, you can accomplish the impossible.
If you want to learn more, check out all the life lesson articles >