Your ability to focus is so important that I believe it determines the quality of your entire life. If you become easily distracted and you’re not able to focus well, your capability to produce high-quality work will be impacted and therefore your chances of success will decrease. Yet, not that many people seem to really take the time to improve this essential mental skill.
For me, it all started to change when I read the book ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport. After reading his book, I massively started to change my approach towards focus, distractions and work in general – and it has changed a lot in my life since then.
That’s why, in this article, I’ll share 7 simple productivity hacks that I use on a daily basis in order to work with laser-like focus. This enables me to produce higher quality work at a MUCH faster rate, and it at least doubles my productivity levels.
Why You Need To Work With Laser-Like Focus
Once we get distracted, it takes on average 25(!) minutes to return back to our original task. This is a phenomenon called ‘attention residue’, which implies that some of your attention is ‘left behind’ at the previous task (or distraction) your brain was dealing with. It can’t simply shift from task to task effectively, as your brain’s capability to focus on your current task has literally decreased.
Furthermore, shifting our attention back and forth between tasks and distractions drains energy from the brain – as it uses glucose – making us feel tired, less motivated and less productive. This is why so many people are completely worn out by a day of work, even though it’s physically not that demanding.
Focus = Deep Work
In this article, I’ll refer a lot to the concept of Deep Work instead of calling it ‘focus’. I think that ‘Deep Work’ is an even more complete definition than focus. And I’d like to use Cal Newport’s definition of the concept, which is that Deep Work is “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
In other words, it’s the most important work you can do, performed in complete focus in order to make it of the highest quality possible.
Productivity Hack #1: Work In A Dedicated Deep Work Space
If you want to work with full focus and concentration, you’ve got to work in a different space than you normally do. It’s a must to dedicate one or two spaces specifically for doing deep work and nothing else. This is because of the power of neuro-associations.
Your brain is incredibly clever. It creates associations between different things very quickly in order to make sense of the world. For example:
- Bed → Sleep
- Ice → Cold
- Red sports car → Ferrari
- Home → Relaxing
- Office → Work
- Jari Roomer → That guy from Personal Growth Lab
These neuro-associations are also a very powerful factor for our productivity levels – which we can either use to our advantage or else we’ll be taken advantage of.
Your brain might have developed the association that it’s okay to be distracted in your current workspace, which prevents you from doing effective deep work at full focus there. This is especially true for entrepreneurs who work from home, as the brain has strongly linked the neuro-associations of fun and relaxation with that space. So if you’re having trouble being productive when you’re working from home, this is probably why.
This doesn’t mean you can’t work from home. It simply means that you shouldn’t work in the areas where you relax (such as your living- or bedroom or your kitchen). If you want to work from home, create a space that’s dedicated to focussed, uninterrupted deep work.
So, dedicate at least 1 or 2 new workspaces that’ll serve as your spots for doing deep work sessions where you can fully concentrate and you don’t allow ANY distractions. This way, you’ll create the powerful neuro-association between that space and doing deep work. Over time, this will prime your brain so strongly, that you’ll automatically get into focus-mode as soon as you enter that space.
Be very strict about this space. It’s your own personal Temple of Focus & Productivity. Keep the neuro-association as strong as possible and don’t ‘contaminate’ it by allowing for distractions and other activities to creep in.
Some guidelines for picking the ‘perfect’ deep work space
- Make sure you use it ONLY for deep work (so not for meetings, relaxing etc.)
- Make sure it’s a relatively quiet space
- Make sure there are no friends/colleagues who you might bump into
- Make it easily accessible for yourself
Productivity Hack #2: Listen To Binaural Beats or Techno Music
For me, it’s not a real deep work session if I didn’t listen to binaural beats or techno music. In fact, when I don’t listen to one of the two, I’m a lot less productive and focussed. It’s really one of those super simple ‘hacks’ that helps me get into a powerful flow state almost every single time. It’s incredible.
The power of listening to repetitive type instrumental music without lyrics (whether that’s binaural beats, techno music or classical music) is that it keeps your mind occupied so it won’t bombard you with mental distractions in the form of random thoughts. And, by putting in your earbuds and listening to instrumental music, you cancel out possible external distractions in your environment – protecting your focus.
Furthermore, when listening to instrumental music, the frequency of alpha brain waves will actually increase, making you less stressed and more focused on a deeper level.
Over time, you’ll also start to develop the neuro-association between these sounds and doing deep work. So it’ll be easier for you to work with full focus and concentration faster than before.
Every time I put on my techno music or binaural beats, my brain knows it’s go-time and it goes into deep work mode almost instantly.
Productivity Hack #3: Remove ALL Possible Distractions
You can’t get into high levels of focus and concentration if you’re being distracted (even if it’s only a few times per hour). In fact, it takes on average 25 minutes to gain back full focus after you’ve been distracted (even if it was just a quick glance at Instagram). All because of the attention residue we talked about at the beginning of this article.
Therefore, make the promise to yourself that you remove all possible distractions from your work-place when you’re doing a deep work session. So, put your phone off (or on airplane mode) and close your social media tabs. Also make sure you put your phone out of sight, including any other object that can possibly distract you. When something’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.
When I’m doing deep work, there’s literally no object in sight on my desk except for my water bottle, my earbuds and my laptop. Realize that every object leaves an impression in your mind and that those impressions create thoughts which then can be distractions. Really be strict about this if you want to perform at your highest possible levels.
Me working at one of my minimalistic deep work spaces
Productivity Hack #4: Set A Specific Goal For Your Focussed Deep Work Session
If you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, what you’re trying to achieve and when enough is enough, your mind and your brain will start to wander off eventually. You need a clear, specific target for your deep work session so that your brain can fully focus on its achievement. Whenever you lack clarity, you’ll lack focus.
So, therefore, I always set a clear goal for my deep work session. For example, the goal for my current deep work session is to finish this article. Other times my goal is to edit 5 videos or to work for 2 hours on doing new research for a new course.
Remember, whenever you set a specific goal, your mind has something specific to focus on. When you don’t have a specific goal, your mind will start to wander off.
Productivity Hack #5: Do Deep Work In The Morning
Another major key to improving your productivity and tapping into your full focus potential is to do your deep work session in the morning. At the start of the day, your brain is still sharper and it has fewer experiences to process, which will easier allow for deeper levels of focus.
Furthermore, in the morning our willpower levels are still at the highest levels, making us better capable to solve hard problems, focus for longer periods of time and push through any possible obstacles during our deep work session. During the day, willpower levels will actually decrease as it’s a limited mental resource that eventually runs out (read the book Willpower). This is why at the end of the day it’s much harder to force yourself to do anything that requires willpower, such as working out, eating healthy, studying or doing deep work.
Furthermore, by doing your deep work in the morning, you always make sure your highest value, most cognitive demanding tasks have been tackled. You won’t be able to procrastinate on it anymore. You’ve tackled your ‘frog’ as Brian Tracy calls it in his transforming productivity book ‘Eat That Frog’ (see my top lessons from this book here). This ensures a level of consistency to your work, which is the key to achieving anything worthwhile.
Productivity Hack #6: Work For 1-2 Hours In A Row
In my personal experience, the optimal length for doing deep work is about 1 – 2 hours. In this amount of time, you can get as much done compared to working 4-6 hours in a state of semi-distraction.
If you’re not accustomed to working in a state of unbroken concentration yet, it can be quite hard to even touch 30 minutes. But, over time this will improve and you’ll find it easier to concentrate for longer stretches of time.
However, I personally think that working for 2 hours in a row (when in a state of deep work of course) is the max. After that, I start to lose focus. I need to take a longer break in which I eat something, drink a cup of coffee/tea or go for a short walk. All to clear my head and recharge a bit. After that, I’ll continue with my work day as usual.
On the other hand, doing deep work for less than 1 hour is probably not enough to reach that optimal state of flow (but it’s still better than not doing any deep work!). I’d recommend you time your deep work session or use something like the Pomodoro technique to increase its effectiveness.
Productivity Hack #7: Stay Sufficiently Hydrated
One of the simplest but most overlooked ways to improve the performance of your brain is to drink enough water. Many of us have been brought up with our mom saying “you’ve gotta drink more water dear” – yet most of us forget to actually live up to this piece of classic parental advice.
However, drinking enough water is incredibly important to your ability to concentrate and focus. In fact, a lack of water leads to a few nasty downsides that you can’t afford if you want to reach your full potential, such as:
- Problems with focus and attention
- Brain fatigue
- Brain fog
- Sleep disturbances
The brain consists of 75% of water, so it’s no wonder that we start to experience immediate effects when we don’t drink enough water. I always ask people who feel sluggish, unfocused and low on energy if they drank enough water and the answer is almost always no.
In short, drinking enough water makes sure the energy production of the brain is functioning well, while not drinking enough leads to lower energy production, leaving you to feel foggy, fatigued and not sharp. Therefore, when you’re giving your body the adequate amount of water, you will be able to think faster by 14%, stay focused for much longer, experience less brain fog and fatigue – and feel a lot more energized.
I personally aim for about 4 litres of water per day and I clearly notice the difference in my mental performance when I drink less. However, it differs quite a lot per individual how much water you’ll need. It’s primarily based on how active your lifestyle is, how big you are, your age, whether you are male or female and a few other factors. However, as a guideline, aim for 3.5 litres as a male and 2.7 as a female.
Now Do It
All in all, those who are unfocussed run around in circles, get very little (important) work done and eventually fail to achieve their goals. On the other hand, those who are able to focus well get things done – both fast and of high quality.
So, the action point of this article is to pick out at least 3 of these techniques and start applying them in your next work session! Experience for yourself how it’ll improve your focus, how the quality of your work will improve and how much faster you’ll get the job done. Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below 😉
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab