Focus On What’s Important

by Ryan Yates

Focus by Leo BabautaOne of the areas of my busy life that I have trouble with is focus.  I can multi-task unlike many people.  I can do many different things at once and juggle many balls at the same time.  This is great for my job, but not great for writing and creating.

In my 6 month blogging update I mentioned that I would like to learn to write better and faster in the coming 6 months.  Well those 6 months have come and gone and I’m not much better.  As I’ve began to look at how I create, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not going about it the correct way at all.  While my current multi-tasking lifestyle is great for destroying debt and getting a ton of things done at work, it will not work with writing.

Writing A Blog Post

I usually write over the course of a day.  I piece together little 5-10 minute moments of time while working.  If I’m lucky I can get a paragraph completed in that amount of time.  As I go from task to task at work, I keep 3×5 cards on hand to collect any thoughts.  Then when I get a few more minutes I’ll transfer those to the computer and keep going until I have written a post.

This has worked so far, but I know I can do better.   I could take an hour or so at home to write, but I don’t want to take any time away from my family.  Since I work so much, my family time is very important and I want to make the most of it.  I could stay up late as well but I already average only 4 hours of sleep as it is, cutting into that doesn’t help much either.

There Must Be A Better Way

I’ve been wondering how other people do it, and if there is a better way.  As I was scanning twitter the other day, I noticed that Leo Babauta (Zen Habits) had tweeted about a new book he had written about focus.  I took a few minutes and head over to his site to check it out.

The eBook is titled: Focus-A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction (not an affiliate link).  I read through the description and was immediately hooked.  The best part about the book was that it was free for download; you could also pay $35 to get an expanded version with other extras if you like.  I downloaded the book and began reading.  I purchased the book and the extras are great.

It became clear to me that I needed follow the tips and learn a better way to focus so I can improve my writing.  In the book, Leo lays out some great ideas and tools to use to help you focus.  As a multi-tasker some of the advice is hard to swallow, but I figure that’s exactly what I need in order to write more efficiently and with better creativity.

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned that eliminating many distractions from my life really does help me focus on one task at a time.  Focusing on one task is helping me to complete it quickly and without have to revisit it later.  This cuts down on the time required to remember where I was when I finished working on the task that last time.  It may only take an extra 5 minutes to complete a task in one sitting as opposed to working on it in 3 or 4 shorter sittings.

I’ve turned off my Gmail and twitter notifications.  This was hard to do, but has already proved useful.  I still check my email and twitter, but only at certain times throughout the day.  I use to review my email and/or twitter the moment the alert came in, which took my focus off of what I was working on – not good.  Now I can review my alerts when I’m free to reply and comment instead of storing the data in my head for a later time.

I’ve removed my desktop icons and switched to a launcher program called Launchy.  Lauchy allows me to hit ALT+Space and type the name of the program I want to launch.  I can type “ch” then enter and Chrome will be launched.  This has made it much faster to get around my computer.  No more looking for desktop shortcuts and using the start menu.

I’ve installed a program called CreaWriter.  It’s a program that covers your whole desktop with a cool picture and provides a window to enter text.  I’m using it right now to write this post.  CreaWriter has many options to customize the experience any way you like.  I’m using headphones to listen to the included campfire ambient sound track.  It helps me to detach from the noise of the outside world and focus on writing.  Since no other programs are visible, I can just write and write without worrying about what else is happening on my computer.  CreaWriter also has a typewriter sound going off in the background which is pretty calming as well, reminds me of keyboarding class back in 1989.

Life Saver

If you are having trouble focusing or just want to learn a little more about how you can write better, create better, think more clearly, or just relax more.  I highly recommend you pick up Leo’s books.  It’s a quick read and it might just change your life.  It has helped me and I only got purchased the book 3 days ago.

I just spend an hour writing two blog posts.  The one you are reading and one for another site that will go live later this week. I never could have done in such a short period of time without the tips and help from Leo’s book.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

retireby40 October 25, 2010 at

Jeff,
Thanks for the recommendation. I downloaded the book and will find time to read it on the ride home (rail.) I think everybody has a heck of a time concentrating these days. There are so many distractions and we are all so frantic. Personally, I need at least 30 minutes to draft anything coherent. Writing doesn’t come natural to me so I keep my posts pretty short and get some editing help from my wife, for now.

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Jeffrey Kosola October 26, 2010 at

Retireby40, I’ll just start calling you my writing buddy. I’m not a natural writer either, maybe we can share tips 🙂

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Forest Parks October 25, 2010 at

Thats awesome Jeff. What I do these days is work out what I am going to write in the morning at around 9-10. I then sit down for 1-4 hours and write 2-5 posts which I publish as I finish them. I am serious about expanding my blog and have been focusing super hard. It’s paying off. During that time I do have twitter and mail open but only check between posts. I may see if that writing program is available for apple mac and try it out.

Because I am so focused in the mornings I am finding my afternoons a little in disarray so I need to rein those in. Catching up on emails, reading posts and such things is much more erratic and I need to find some time for client work and my darn accounts!!! Getting there though and will definitely be reading Leo’s free book.

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Jeffrey Kosola October 26, 2010 at

Hey Forest, you are a posting machine these days. When I get your weekly update I can’t believe how many posts you’ve written through the week. I like your focus plan, sounds like it’s working. Leo’s book was great, many many great tips.

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Financial Samurai October 25, 2010 at

Intersting Jeff! We write in very different ways. I sit at my desk, or have my laptop during football and try and pound out two posts at a time and schedule ahead. It was the same with studying in college. I’d lock myself in a room or library and just study for 3-5 hours non stop a night and be done with it.

Did you study in increments as well during school?

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Jeffrey Kosola October 26, 2010 at

@Sam, during my early college days, when I was only in college and not working – I would study in one sitting. After I got my associate degree I began working full time. I later returned to college for my 4 year degree, which GM was happy to pay for. At that time I was working 85 hours a week, courting my wife, and taking a full load in night school. Similar to today, I didn’t sleep much. I almost never studied though. I figured out that if I sat in the front row and took good notes, I was able to forgo the “studying” part. Paying attention in class was the key and sitting in the front removed all distractions. I was always the only one in the front so I could focus completely on the instructor. It’s true what people say, we get smarter with age 🙂

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Little House October 26, 2010 at

Thanks for the book recommendation. I think I’m pretty good at focusing, but I could always speed up my writing process as well. I’ll have to check out some of these tips and the CreaWriter program you’ve started using. Sometimes I have great ideas, but if I don’t get them down ASAP I forget!

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Jeffrey Kosola October 27, 2010 at

@Little House, I’m the same way with ideas. I have many of them, but they usually disappear as quickly as the happen 🙁

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Getting Out of Debt October 26, 2010 at

OMG! I know about multi-tasking! I have 80 sites, 7 kids, a small zoo and a very large home. My sister is convinced we have ADD. I have to live with lists. If I don’t write it down, it won’t get done. This is because I’m juggling my kid’s dr appts, deadlines for my client’s projects and everything else that comes with internet marketing. HELLOO???? This is why I never open yahoo unless I absolutely need to. I use Google as my home page because it’s clean and white and clutter free! YAY!!! If I get on Yahoo, I’m on there for over an hour-reading senseless stuff!

Anyway, great post. Isn’t great when you find a solution to a problem. By the way, you might want to use odiogo.com to create a podcast which is automatically transcripted. Well, at least it used to work that way. There is also a program you can purchase that automatically transcribes your voice. I read that a lot of internet gurus use this. Saves a lot of time!

Good luck…

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Jeffrey Kosola October 27, 2010 at

@Getting out, Sounds like a crazy life, best of luck getting everything done.

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First Gen American October 27, 2010 at

In college I took a philosophy class and learned about meditation. WOW is it hard to think about nothing. I learned that the mind is like a muscle and requires exercise to train it just like anything else. I was amazed that when I really tried to meditate I could only do it for like 5 seconds before my mind started wandering to other thoughts. If you practice, you can make great strides pretty quickly.

I’m intrigued by CreaWriter. Will have to check it out.

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Jeffrey Kosola October 27, 2010 at

@First Gen, I’ve never really tried to meditate. I’m not sure I could do it without a ton of practice. My brain is always running a million miles an hour, even when I’m thinking of “nothing”. As I read more about the subject though, I think I’m going to have to figure it out.

CreaWriter is really cool. I’ve used it for 5 days now and I really like it. It helps to get my thoughts out on the screen much quicker. You still need to use and editing program to make the writing pretty, but for me the hard part was getting it out of my head.

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