Focus is often the most under-appreciated tool we have in our creative toolbox.
As an example of why focus matters so much consider this: I woke up one hour late yesterday and yet I left the house at exactly the same time I always do. Why? Because unlike most mornings, I only did the things that really mattered. I didn’t check email; I didn’t browse Facebook; and I didn’t try to figure out the harmony parts to the guitar solo in Hotel California – much as I wanted to.
On the days I manage to achieve it, focus is always my most effective multiplier. Whenever I see someone who appears to have more time than there are hours in the day or who achieves more than any normal human being could reasonably be expected to, I’m fairly sure it’s because they’ve learned to apply the multiplier of focus each and every moment of their day.
One tool I find useful for keeping myself focused is the Pomodoro Technique. I like it because its rules are relatively easy to remember, there’s no scope for the sort of “creative interpretation” I’ll often apply when trying to avoid doing something, and it’s flexible enough to fit into my day regardless of my schedule. I rarely use it to organise a whole day (unless things get really full-on) but I’ll often use it to get me started on tasks I’ve been procrastinating over, such as writing a blog for example.
The essence of it is just seven steps that don’t allow much room for interpretation:
- Be clear about the exact task you want to focus on;
- Set a timer for 25-minutes;
- Start the timer, start the task, and focus your full attention on the task until the timer goes off;
- If you should get interrupted or distracted before the timer goes off reset the timer to 25 minutes and start over;
- Do this until you’ve worked on your chosen task for at least one full 25-minute block;
- Once you’ve finished an uninterrupted 25-minute block take a break;
- Repeat until the task is finished;
Its psychological effect is beautiful – in one fell swoop the Pomodoro Technique fools my ego into action because it doesn’t want to admit I’m the type of person who’s unable to focus on something for only 25 minutes.
I’m not disciplined enough to be so focused all the time unfortunately, but I can certainly appreciate the potential a technique like this could bring for anyone who can muster that level of self-control. Until then however, when I find myself distracted by something that’s usually fun but irrelevant to my goals I reach for the Pomodoro Technique and try to remember the wise words of Gold Five…