Many people dream of superhuman productivity. The best you can hope for, really, is to always be fully-focused in the task at hand.
I am a mere mortal, but I’ve learned a lot about keeping myself focused. I even managed to integrate some of my philosophies into Google Calendar in the process.
Here’s how I keep myself fully-focused.
- Take sleep seriously. Sleep helps consolidate your memories so you can make creative connections throughout the day. You can’t cut corners on sleep, but you can make the most of it. I wear blue-blocker glasses for two hours before bed, I stay away from social media or video content 1 hour before bed, I keep a bedtime, I wear a sleep mask, and I wear earplugs when I sleep.
- Build mindfulness. If you aren’t aware of the inner workings of your mind, it can revolt on you. It will trick you into wasting mental energy on things that don’t matter. I meditate for a mere 10 minutes every morning, but the real benefits come every few weeks, when I do a long, 90-minute session.
- Keep a clean diet. Maybe you’re one of those people who can eat anything and not notice the difference. I’m not one of them. I eat a high-fat ketogenic/Paleo diet with lots of vegetables that keeps inflammation down, and keeps my brain running on ketones, so I can focus.
- Exercise. Your body is the instrument that does the focusing, and it is the vessel that suffers the consequences if you can’t. My exercise sessions are a habit, scheduled on my calendar. It’s a mere 30 minutes, 3 times a week. I hire a trainer to design my program, so I don’t have to think about it.
- Build creative habits. I’m writing this article—on Thanksgiving day, no less—because I have a creative habit. When you build a habit, you don’t have to spend mental energy deciding what to do.
- Work with the ebbs and flows. All of the bits and pieces of your work and life feed one another, like a perpetual motion machine; and, your energy fluctuates anyway. I arrange not only my days, but my weeks so that my energy is harnessed, momentum is not lost, and I can recharge to do it all again.
- Eliminate every distraction. During my Deep Work sessions, I face a blank wall, and wear earplugs. When my work is more suited for a cafe, I wear the best noise-cancelling headphones money can buy. I’ve used electric shocks to wean myself off Facebook, and I’ve replaced my bad habits with a reading habit.
- Be a minimalist. When I moved out of the U.S., I had to sell nearly everything. With fewer possessions, my mind is free to focus. Living in a furnished apartment—where no object that surrounds me is of my concern—also reduces my cognitive load.
- Be a foreigner. An added benefit of living in a foreign land is I’m exposed to much fewer relevant marketing messages in a given day. Any ad I see is in a different language, aimed at people with different cultural baggage. I don’t get junk mail. I’m free to focus.
- There is only now. When you think you have 24 hours in the day, you invite yourself to procrastinate. If you find the 2-hour block during which you can do 3x the work, you can’t waste a moment. When you realize that there is only now, you won’t procrastinate.
You may already do some of these things, and some of these things may seem extreme to you. Whether it’s one of these tactics, or something you come up with all on your own, just remember that there are nearly endless opportunities to cut out distractions, deepen your focus, and make the most of every moment.
David Kadavy is the author of Design for Hackers and the host of Love Your Work podcast. He interviewed neuroscientist Dan Ariely, about how to use behavioral science knowledge to achieve Full Focus. Listen here.