By Leo Babauta
I was talking to someone today and he said that with all the time he spends putzing around on the internet, he gets maybe 2 hours of focused time a day. I actually think that’s higher than average!
But if he does incredible work in those 2 hours a day, think of the good he could do if he doubled or even tripled that amount of focused time. His impact on the world would multiply.
It might be interesting to audit your own time, and see how much of it is focused, meaningful work. Is that a good amount for you, or would you like to increase your focused hours and impact on the world?
For me, what success I’ve had in increasing my focused time comes down to three habits:
- Asking myself what meaningful, impactful work I can get done today.
- Creating space for the meaningful work instead of just doing busywork or being distracted all day.
- Working in fullscreen mode and diving in.
Let’s look at each of these habits.
Deciding on Your Impactful Work
Most of us just dive into our inboxes, social media, favorite online sites, and busywork to start our day. We might have some bigger tasks on our lists, but they get lost in the woods of our day.
It’s an incredible habit to take even a few moments at the beginning of your day (or the end of the day before) to give some thought to where you’d like to concentrate your attention. What is worth doing today? What is worth focusing on? What is worth spending the limited time you have in this life?
For me, the answer is whatever meaningful, impactful work I might have on my plate. If I don’t have any, then it’s time to go to an even higher level view and ask what I want to focus on this year or this quarter. What good can I do in this world?
Usually, it’s fairly obvious — I know the bigger, more meaningful tasks I need to do. I make a list of 3-4 of them to try to accomplish for the day. Now I know how I’d like to spend my focused time.
Creating Space for Focused Work
Very often we’ll push off the bigger, more meaningful tasks because they take longer, and we’re either in distracted mode or quick-task mode. We don’t have time right now to do something that takes half an hour or more!
So these impactful tasks get pushed back. The key habit here, then, is pausing to create space. Yes, I’m in quick-task, get-things-done-quickly mode. But I can shift gears. Set aside the next 20 minutes for writing, or getting moving on a big project. I don’t have to do the whole project in this time, but just the act of giving myself more space to focus is a huge shift.
This is more of a mental act than a physical one: you just tell yourself that it’s time to focus on this important task. You breathe, and say, “This is worthy of my attention and effort right now. Let’s put aside everything else and give this some space.”
It’s a physical act as well: you might shut off your phone, turn off your internet, close all the other apps on your computer, clear your workspace a little to give yourself full space. Now you’re ready to focus.
Working in Focused, Fullscreen Mode
This habit is about letting this one meaningful task become your whole universe.
Many of us have worked in fullscreen mode in an app before — it takes your entire screen, and therefore your entire focus. You aren’t distracted by notifications or switching between apps or browser tabs.
To be more focused, we should work in the same way — put ourselves in fullscreen mode. This one task is all that exists, and nothing else. There’s nothing to switch to. There are no distractions. Just this task. It’s the whole universe.
For me, this means writing in a fullscreen writing app. Or opening a browser tab in a separate window (with no other tabs showing) and putting that window in fullscreen mode. Or reading with an undistracted reading app like Instapaper.
It can also mean doing one thing at a time in offline life as well — washing a single dish while doing nothing else, or running with no music or podcast, just being present with the running. Brushing your teeth and really being there. Being fully present with whoever you’re talking with.
If something is worth creating space for in your life, it’s worth your full attention.
With these three habits, I believe we can all increase our focused time each day. It’s not about being perfect, and working in a focused way every single second of the day. It’s about not letting our attention always be distracted, and about giving ourselves the gift of meaningful work more often.