We live in a world that seems bound and determined to sabotage our goals.
Everyday, the average American is exposed to more than 5,000 advertisements, a barrage of click bait and irresistible social media platforms, never ending streams of high-quality television and innumerable other distractions.
We live in a world that is working against us. It doesn’t want you to stay focused. It doesn’t want you to do great work. It doesn’t want you to succeed.
But I do.
And today, I’ve compiled a list of 7 simple but wildly effective tactics that will help you improve your productivity and focus by 50% (or more) as soon as tomorrow morning.
1. Know Your Body Clock (And Find Your Magic Time)
Despite what you’ve been told by mainstream media and many popular “gurus,” there are, in fact, a number of elite performers who wake up after the sun rises.
Although there is undeniable merit to the concept of “The 5 a.m. Club,” it should not be seen as a panacea to your personal or professional challenges, nor should it be seen as a mass prescription for success.
Because it’s not.
Different individuals function on different chronotypes–or biological “clocks”–and as such, you must learn to tailor your life and schedule to your natural biological processes. Some people effortlessly rise at 5 o’clock every morning and immediately posses the mental faculties to dive into their most important work with vim and vigor.
Others (like me), are incapable of forming complete sentences before the hour of 7 a.m. (and at least 2 cups of coffee).
And it’s important to note, that according to Dr. David Breuss, one of the foremost sleep scientists in the U.S., your chronotype is biological. Being a night owl or early riser doesn’t make you better or worse than anyone else. It’s simply a part of your unique biology.
Much like your height or the size of your ears, your chronotype may shift or change over time, but there is very little you can do to consciously influence it.
You are simply left with the choice to fight with it or against it. And if you want to maximize your focus and increase your productivity, I encourage you to fight with it.
When you work in accordance with your biology, everything becomes easier. You work when your brain is most capable of producing great work and you rest when your brain needs rest.
As simple as this tactic may sound, if applied correctly, it can be an absolute game changer.
This week, I want you to take Dr. Breuss’s sleep chronotype quiz (you can get it for free here) and keep an hourly log of your subjective energy levels so you can find those 2-3 peak hours during which you should schedule your most important work. Go to sleep when you feel tired and wake up when your body tells you to wake up to ensure your sleep cycle works for you.
And then let me know what you discovered down in the comments below! I’d love to hear if you found anything surprising or counterintuitive.
2. Create Location Based Anchors
One of the most powerful yet least utilized productivity and focus hacks is the intentional creation of location based anchors.
An anchor is simply an external stimuli that triggers your brain to go into a particular state.
For example, if you’ve ever been to a Tony Robbins’ event, you’ll know that one of his favorite exercises is to get the entire crowd AMPED up and then instruct them to make a specific physical gesture to anchor the emotional state into their body. Then, when the power within has fallen back asleep and destiny is flaking on its date, attendees can bring themselves back into that motivated and energetic “Seminar State” with the clench of a fist or clap of the hands.
To increase your productivity and control your focus, you’re going to take this tactic a step further. Instead of one simple gesture or movement, you are going to create an entire series of anchors to help you get into your most productive state each week.
And you’re going to do it by following a very specific routine, to the letter.
First, you need to pick an inspiring location in which you will work every day. It could be a co-working space, home office, coffee shop, whatever. It doesn’t matter so long as you can commit to working there every day. In that location, pick a particular desk or chair at which you will work. Again, it doesn’t matter where it is, so long as you can work there every day. If you’re at a restaurant or coffee shop, order the same thing every day. If you’re at an office, bring the same food or beverages with you.
When you sit down to work, play the same song–mine is Bach’s Cello Suite in G–through a set of noise cancelling headphones (these are a game changer) and plug in a binaural beat track like this one.
Then, and most importantly, do NOT allow yourself to do ANYTHING except work from this location. This isn’t where you read your favorite blog, take calls from your spouse, or watch cat videos on YouTube. It’s where you work. Period.
After a couple weeks of this, your brain will begin to catch on and you’ll notice a slight bump in your productivity. After a month, the improvements will be even more marked. And after 6-12? This simple habit will make you unstoppable.
3. Use these Supplements
Before I dive into the secrets of “Better focus through chemistry,” I must preface this section with a simple caveat.
Smart drugs and nootropics work.
But they work best when coupled with a healthy lifestyle. When you are active throughout the day, engaged in strength training throughout the week, sleeping 8-9 hours a night, eating a clean diet, and spending time relaxing with friends and family.
They aren’t a cure all and, despite what you might have read in the dark recesses of the internet, there is no “Limitless Pill” (trust me, I’ve spent more than $3,000 testing this stuff).
BUT. If you already live a healthy lifestyle and are simply looking for an added edge to your performance…
… Here’s a list of 5 supplements that will improve your focus and productivity (and the respective studies behind them).
- L-Tyrosine (source)
- Bacopa Monnieri (source)
- Creatine (not just good for muscle growth, source)
- CDP-Choline (source)
- Caffeine (source)
If you’re looking for an “all-in-one” nootropic to enhance focus, creativity, and motivation I’d also encourage you to check out Qualia from Neurohacker Collective (no affiliation). It’s a bit on the expensive end but it is far and away my favorite “smart drug” and it saves you the time and hassle of creating customized supplement stacks to optimize your brain.
As with any advice you receive on the internet that encourages you to tamper with your bio and neurochemistry, be sure to do the research for yourself and talk to a knowledgeable health care practitioner before embarking down the dangerous road of smart drugs and biohacking.
4. Read More…Slowly
With of tablets, smart phones, and other e-readers, the consumption of written online content has gone up a staggering 40% in recent years. Amazing, right?
Because, according to a study conducted by Slate and website analytics company Chartbeat, fewer than 5% of readers finish the articles and blog posts on which they click.
We’re no longer reading online. We’re skimming. Right before we hop over to yet another piece of content that we will leave half-read and unfinished.
To improve your focus and increase your productivity, you must first increase your attention span. You must have the capacity to focus all of your attention on one thing without interruption or distraction for a prolonged period of time.
Yet modern TL;DR culture makes it difficult for you to accomplish this aim. Each and every day you’re bombarded with advertisements, click bait, and a sea of content in which you can lose yourself. But you struggle to fully consume or internalize any of it.
To remedy this situation I have a simple challenge for you. Read more…slowly. Don’t just skim through content, read it through until the very end. Instead of speed reading 100 business books every morning, take half an hour to read a classic work of fiction or an inspiring biography.
Train yourself to regain control of your attention and channel your focus where you–not some advertiser or marketer–want it to go.
And start by picking up a copy of War and Peace and reading that sucker through until the very end (hate me now, thank me later).
5. Take More Breaks
Counterintuitive though it might be, recent studies have shown one of the fastest ways to improve your focus and productivity is to actually work less and take more breaks. And, when you think about things, this actually makes a lot of sense.
Your brain, like the muscles in your body, becomes fatigued after prolonged periods of use. In fact, because of the energy required to sustain long periods of intense focus (your brain does consume 20% of your body’s calories), long hours behind your desk can physically exhaust you too. Yet most of us try to push through them, erroneously believing that taking an hour long lunch or dipping away for a quick cat nap makes us “weak” or “lazy.”
The truth is, frequent breaks and at least one 60-90 minute break can increase your productivity upwards of 20%. This means if you adhere to the standard 8-hour work day, you will actually earn back 1.6 hours of productive time while only “losing” 1-1.5.
Furthermore, breaks give you separation from your work and the ability to re-examine big projects with a more objective eye. That one sentence you can’t seem to write? That one sales proposal you just can’t finish? That one sales campaign where you can’t seem to optimize the sales video? Take 90-minutes to eat lunch, take a nap, and talk with someone you love and I promise you’ll solve your problem during your next block of work.
Frequent breaks, although counter to everything you’ve ever been taught about success and work ethic, allow you to work better, focus deeper, and create like a true Empire Builder.
Although you might have written “A great multitasker” as a ‘strength’ on your resume 20-years ago, you wouldn’t want to do it now. The reason is simple, according to every cognitive science study conducted over the last 50+ years (at least all the good ones), your brain is incapable of multitasking.
Not inefficient. Incapable.
According to the Harvard Business Review:
“It takes time (an average of 15 minutes) to re-orient to a primary task after a distraction such as an email. Efficiency can drop by as much as 40%. Long-term memory suffers and creativity […] is reduced.”
You cannot multitask, so stop trying now. Quit answering emails while writing blog posts or checking social media while talking to a client or trying to play a game on your phone while working on your sales funnel.
Play when you play. Work when you work. And when you work, only work on ONE thing at a time. Period.
7. Destroy Distractions (Or They Will Destroy You)
Finally, to boost your focus and become more productive so you can achieve those big goals and dreams you’ve set for yourself, you must destroy the distractions in your life or they will destroy you.
When you’re distracted by shiny objects, well-intentioned co-workers, family members, and a constant stream of notifications and updates you are incapable of tapping into flow and engaging in true deep work. Instead your work will be shallow, dull, and incomplete. A mere skeleton of what you could achieve in a state of unadulterated focus.
Distraction is a death sentence for your dreams.
It neuters your ability to do great work, holds you back from enjoying the balance you desire, and stunts your growth personally and professionally.
So eradicate it
Guard your attention with your life. Cut out all distractions and ruthlessly eliminate anything or anyone (in the metaphorical sense…and do it politely please) standing in between you and your goals.
Turn off your notifications. Tell your family not to call you unless there is a true emergency. Inform your co-workers that you will be unavailable for any of their requests until a set time (and ask them to email you first). Create an environment and professional ecosystem conducive to intense focus and your productivity will skyrocket overnight.
In a world that seems hell-bent on distracting and derailing you, this will not be an easy task.
But I can promise you, it will be worth it.