Clean Focus

July 7, 2009

The most powerful ability a human being possesses is the ability to focus on one thing for an extended period of time.

Unfortunately, we live in the age of multitasking and distraction.

I think you all know what multitasking is.  You probably know how horrible it is.  If not, read this article.

We’re going to focus here on eliminating distraction.

To have clean focus, you can’t have anything else taking away your attention from what you are working on.  Some of these can include…

– External things like TV, email, Facebook, friends in the room, construction outside, etc.
– Internal things like internal butterflies, thoughts, emotions, etc.

Now, I think it is a silly goal to eliminate all of these things at all times.

That said, you need to be aware of when these things come up and determine whether or not they are seriously holding you back.

The more important the project, the more disciplined you need to be in keeping those distractions out.  Here are some ways to do this:

1.  Manipulate or change your working environment.  Remember, the place you work should ideally be both inspiring and free of distraction.

2.  Physically center yourself by taking three deep breaths (Deep breaths go all the way down to the stomach).  While breathing, simultaneously feel the breath going through your nose, filling your stomach and notice your peripheral vision.

3.  Mentally  center yourself by accepting everything exactly as it is, detatching from the past and future, and release your identification with your identity.

4.  Emotionally center yourself by visualizing that tension, anxiety and pressure exits your body as you exhale.  Imagine opening your chest and heart.

These may seem a little wierd, but give them a try.  If they work, keep doing them.  If they don’t, discard.

Advertisements

Introducing Clean Focus And Clean Cuts

July 2, 2009

Let me give you a brief introduction to two things that I will be writing a lot more about in the future: clean focus and clean cuts.

Clean Focus: When you are doing something without any internal or external distraction.

Clean Cuts: When you switch your focus to something else, you do not allow what you were focused on before to carry over.

We already know that the ability to focus on one thing is the most powerful tool at our disposal.  We also know that distraction of any kind will kill your focus and make you both unproductive and emotionally unstable.

In every area of our lives, the ideal we should all be striving for is having clean focus and clean cuts.

A lot of people allow the problems in one area of their life to carry over the other areas of their life.  For example, someone might have relationship problems and then allow it to affect their focus in lecture the next day.  If they would just make a clean cut, accept that their problem is what it is and that they’ll deal with it when appropriate, then this will not happen.

Of course, this is much easier said than done.  Both your focus and your ability to transfer focus from one thing to another are like muscles that will get stronger the more you train them.

But just by being aware that having clean focus and making clean cuts is what you should be striving for, you will naturally move towards that (Reticular Activation System, a subject of another post).

For now, just start observing when distractions contaminate your focus.  Those moments will expose things that you need to take care of.

More on this later.


The Internal Butterfly Effect

June 30, 2009

This is another concept I learned from Eben Pagan.

Have you ever been working on an assignment when suddenly a thought popped up, which led to another, and another, and another until 20 minutes have passed and nothing had been accomplished?

You might ask yourself, “WTF happened?”

In science, there is something called chaos theory.  It is the idea that very small events can eventually cause very large events.

The classic example is the “butterfly effect.”  The theory is that a butterfly flapping its wings in, say, Mexico can alter the atmosphere just enough to eventually cause a Tornado in, say, Nebraska.

Well, we all have both internal and external butterflies of our own.  Once you are aware of them, you can “catch” these thoughts before they cause you problems.

Usually, internal butterflies stem take the form of certain thoughts.  For example, perhaps the thought of a cute girl in your Spanish class leads to you trying to figure out how you can talk to her, then imagining the two of you at a party together playing beer pong, then thinking about your previous girlfriend who you did special things with, etc.

Needless to say, you aint focused on the task at hand.

Next time you work on something, observe what thoughts trigger a chain of events that leads to distraction from what you are doing.  In the future, cut the thought loop off at the beginning when it is still a butterfly before it turns into a tornado.


Quick Thought On Whether To Work In The Morning Or Not

June 18, 2009

A lot of websites that give advice on college success recommend waking up early and doing work in the morning.  Here are some pros and cons to working in the morning.

Pros

1.  You have the most untapped energy available in the morning

2.  Being productive in the morning build positive momentum.  In other words, it is easier to be productive during the day if you’re productive from the moment you wake up

3.  You feel like you aren’t “wasting time”

Cons

1.  You lose the flexibility of when you go to bed

2.  You can’t drink the night before (It’s tough to work with a hangover)

3.  If you wake up late, you feel like you are way behind and start off the day in a lousy emotional state

4.  By working in the morning, you put yourself in a logical state of mind.  That will carry throughout the day and affect how you interact with others

5.  A lot of people find their creativity is a little lacking in the morning hours

Personally, I use the morning as a way to prepare myself for the rest of the day.  I like to spend my mornings at the gym, having sex, eating and hanging out.

That does not mean I recommend you do the same.

What I do recommend for everyone is that you do something before you begin working (No, brushing your teeth does not count).  Some suggestions include hitting the gym, meditating, having sex or eating a really nutritious meal.  This is called having a morning ritual.

If you jump straight into work, you will probably be performing at a very sub-optimal level.


The Importance Of Momentum

June 15, 2009

“An object in motion will stay in motion, and an object at rest will stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.”

That is Newton’s First Law Of Motion.  It’s application goes far beyond physics.

As I have pointed out before, we have a set of habits that make our lives pretty fucking predictable.  Naturally, then, to change your circumstances you need to change your habits.

But as we also know, it usually takes a lot of willpower to change a habit.

Usually you need to have serious emotional pain to find the motivation to go through with the difficult work of changing your habits.

So how do we get around this?

One way is by using that inevitability thinking I talked about in another article.  That mindset is a very important one to have.

But inevitability thinking in itself will not solve the problem.  You can mentally masturbate all you want, but until you actually take action, nothing is going to change.

What you need is momentum.  You need to get yourself in motion so that it takes an outside force to stop you, as opposed to being at rest and having to force yourself to be in motion.

Say you are lonely and want a girlfriend.  What could you do to make it inevitable that you will have a girlfriend in, say, a month?  Talk to girls, of course!

Now, if you have serious emotional leverage, you will be verymotivated. For example, if you can hear your roommate railing his girlfriend every night, it’s probably going to be easy to get yourself moving.

But let’s say the pain isn’t that severe.  Let’s say you want a girlfriend, but it’s limited to when you’re lying in bed alone late at night?  When you’re out and about during the day, you don’t feel motivated to blast through your anxiety to talk to girls.

The solution is to get some momentum going.  Start by asking random guys what the time is, if you can borrow a pen, where you can plug in your laptop, what he thought about the homework, etc.  Then talk to some “hired guns” at restaurants or the store.  They are paid to be nice to you.  Then move on to saying “hi” to girls sitting near you in the computer lab.  Maybe the step before that is to get comfortable sitting next to attractive girls in the computer lab.

Do you see where we are going with this?  We are building momentum by constantly moving towards what we want.  Each step is small and isn’t all that scary, but they are steps nonetheless. Most importantly, they do not require all that much motivation to complete.  In fact, after a while, it will take motivation to stop.

To use another example, say you want to increase the amount of time you can focus on an assignment.  Let’s say you can currently focus for 5 minutes and you want to get to an hour.

Start with 10 minutes.  Then move up to 15 minutes.  Then move up to 20 minutes.  You are building momentum.

Another part of this is eliminating stuff that creates “friction” for your momentum.  For example, if you want a girlfriend, you should probably masturbate less.

A more advanced concept is to integrate momentum into your everyday life.  From the second you wake up, you are constantly moving towards what you want.  Implementing the morning ritual is one such example.

I encourage you to think about the different areas of your life where you can apply this concept.


Some Advanced Time Management Skills

May 20, 2009

These are some suggestions for college students with the craziest schedules.  Treat these like a buffet table: take what looks good and ignore the rest.

The Morning Ritual

A fantastic habit to get into is to do the same thing everyday for the first hour or so after you wake up.

Most people in college wake up, roll out of bed after hitting the snooze button a few times, do the essentials, and then go about their day.

The problem with this is that whatever emotional, mental and physical state you were in the night before, you will be in when you get up the next morning.  You lack control over your state when you go to class in the morning.

If you implement a morning ritual, however, you have total control over your state when you get started in the morning.

Here is an example of what I do EVERY single morning.

1.  Wake up, play some chillout music for 15 minutes while I lay in my bed envisioning what I want to do both big picture and small picture.

2.  Drink a half a liter of water

3.  Go to the bathroom

4.  Drink a protein shake while browsing the news

5.  Go to the gym and lift for 20 minutes

6.  Return to my room and eat a delicious meal

7.  Get dressed, brush my teeth, etc.

8.  5 minutes of sitting on my bed relaxing

9.  15 minutes of reading

This “ritual” takes me about an hour and a half (yours does not have to be so long or so detailed). Notice how I have things that automatically get me into a calm emotional state, a strong physical state and a focused and present mental state.

In short, I am at my peak every single morning, prepared to dominate the world.

By being at my peak, I can be productive immediately.

Create your own ritual (or copy mine, hehe).  Any good ritual should have something…

– that energizes you

– that you really enjoy doing

– that reminds you of WHAT you are doing and WHY you are doing it

Some things to consider doing are affirmations, meditation, running, trampoline jumping, surfing, a morning blowjob, visualization, playing your favorite music, writing poetry, reading something inspiring and going to the gym.

Take control over how you feel when you go about your day.  This small investment will give you an enormous return.

Figure out your highest leverage thing, and make that the first thing you do every day

Alright, so you’ve done your ritual.  You are feeling like Superman.  What now?

Take advantage of how awesome you feel and go do something that will give you the best long term results: your highest leverage activity.

For example, say you are a premed student.  You need to do well on the MCAT in order to get into medical school.  Therefore, preparing for your MCAT is probably your highest leverage activity, since doing well on that one thing will give you an enormous return in the future.

So, immediately after finishing your morning ritual, spend some time studying for your MCAT.  Even if it is only a small amount of time before class, spend your time on this.  Not only are you putting your best possible effort into the most important thing, you are getting into the “get shit done” state that will make the rest of your day really productive.

You are building positive momentum.

If you instead spend 10 minutes watching SportsCenter, you are getting into a “sit on your ass and waste time” state.  This is negative momentum.

In physics, the first law of motion states that “an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force while an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.”  The same applies to you.

Be in motion from the get-go.  Spend some time on the most important thing in your life before working on anything else.

The Best Way to Block Out Your Time

As I talk about in the Study Skills Every College Student Needs article, it is best to work for a chunk of time, then to take some time where you totally disengage from work.

If you have hours of work ahead of you, you need to take this principle to the max.  I learned how from Eben Pagan.

The 50/60/30 rule works like this.

Do 50 minutes of focused work

Take a 10 minute break

Do 60 minutes more of focused work

Take a 30 minute break

There is a 2:30 hour chunk right there.  Stack them if you need more time.

This is far and away the most efficient way to block out your time.  It maximizes the Ultradian Cycle to give you maximum focus for the longest period of time.  The breaks are just long enough to rejuvenate you so that when you do work, you can work at peak efficiency.

Remember, when you take a break, try and do something that is either emotional or physical.

Manipulate your working environment

I used to do work wherever.  Sometimes I would work in the library, sometimes at a coffee shop, sometimes on my bed, etc.  This is fine if you do not have a super demanding workload.

However, if you workload is really demanding, you need to consciously work in an environment that has no distractions AND inspires you to create masterpieces.

If I sent you to work in a windowless room with soundproofed white walls, you would not work all that well.  While there are indeed no distractions, the environment is, well, uninspiring.

If I sent you to the middle of the rainforest to write a poem, you might be really inspired to produce a masterpiece, but would be pretty distracted by the constant rain and killer bugs flying around.

You can either find places around campus that provide this for you, or you can create them yourself.

In fact, you can take this really far.  One guy I interviewed for this book works 8 hours a day in his room.  Around his desk he has plants, a funky light setup (He claims it inspires his soul), a fish tank and candles.  His desk is one of those raised ones that allows him to stand while he works (A lot of people like to stand while they work).  Moreover, he’s got some funky New Age music playing (Again, his soul) and, to top it off, he uses some kind of spray to make his room smell like the woods.

Ya…

I am obviously not telling you to have the exact setup that this guy has, only to notice how he went about creating an environment that inspires him.  What inspires you?  Pictures?  Music?  Aromas?  Chewing gum?

Think about it.

Plan out your work

*Gasp*  “You want me to regiment my life!!!”

For most college students, this will not be necessary; however, if you have an intense workload, you need to do this.

If you have an idea of what you will be doing during your blocks of work time, it is much easier to focus because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Moreover, the annoying voice in your head won’t be running through your to-do list since you will have already done all of that beforehand.

What do I mean by “plan out your work?”

As an example, let’s say today I need to write a 5 page paper for Psychology, read 40 pages for Sociology, and get a room for the next Squirrel Club meeting.  Here’s what a “plan” will be.

I will need three 50/60/30’s.  During my first 50/60/30, I will outline my paper and write exactly 3 pages.  During my second 50/60/30, I will read 40 pages for Sociology.  For my last 50/60/30, I will finish my paper in the first 50 minute chunk.  In the 60 minute chunk, I will make the calls to get a room and then look over my paper.

It doesn’t need to be much more complex than that.

Clean the grill

This is another concept I first learned from Eben.  When the restaurant closes, chefs do not just leave.  First, they clean off their grill so that when they come in the next morning, they can get right to cooking.  If they leave the grill dirty, then they would have to waste some time the next morning cleaning it before they can get to work.

Cleaning up yesterday’s mess kills whatever momentum you have going.

You need to do something similar to this when you are getting work done.  When you are finishing a block of work, take a couple of seconds to clean everything up.  For instance, if you are typing up a paper, close Microsoft Word.  If you are on the web, close the web browser.  If you are working at a desk, clear the desk.  That way when you go to use it again, you can get right to work.

This might sound trivial, but it can make a difference.  Don’t get too hung up on it unless your workload is really heavy.

Become an early riser.

If you are really, really busy, then you need to become an early riser.  Humans are biologically programmed to be the most active during the day, so if you want to be most productive, you need to get out of bed early in the morning.

This is a habit required only for those with crazy workloads.  If even after applying all the other habits you still find yourself overwhelmed (Unlikely for 95% of you), then you need to do this.

Of course, if you want to become an early riser anyway, by all means go ahead.

This is pretty easy to do.  For 30 days straight, get up at the exact same time every morning.  Do not deviate by more than 30 minutes.  If you under sleep one night, you will be more tired the next night, which will make it easier to get to bed early.

After a week or so, you will be able to get up without an alarm.  After a month, it will feel weird when you do not get up at that time.

Again, this is not required unless you truly are overloaded with work.


Dealing With Crazy Workloads

May 20, 2009

Alright, so you are a premed student in 5 different organizations who works a part-time job.  How the hell do you handle all of that work?

The most common thing you hear from college students is “OMG, I’m so busy.  My life sucks.”  Most of the time, this is just nonsense being said to get a reaction, but there are obviously situations where this is the case.

If you are legitimately busy, or even legitimately overwhelmed, the basic tactics in getting stuff done described in the Basic Study Skills section probably won’t cut it.  The principles still hold, but some additions are needed.

The good news is that there are college students with crazier workloads than you who are very successful.  Two girls I interviewed when gathering the information for this site take over 20 credits a semester.  One is an engineer, the other premed.  Both have GPAs above a 3.8 and still have enough time to run their own businesses and be involved in organizations (one is in a sororiety, the other does political activism).

There is nothing special about these two girls.  Neither of them were born on the planet Krypton, nor are they exceptionally “book-smart.”  All they do differently is take the “work smarter, not harder” doctrine to the max. 

They do this in two ways.

College students who are the most successful in spite of their busy workloads have habits and systems that allow them to AUTOMATICALLY generate high quality work in the least amount of time

In the Goal Setting… On Steroids article, I talked about “inevitability thinking” and how the best way to get an outcome is to develop habits that make that outcome inevitable.

Well, this is doing just that. 

The second way comes about when you think about the definition of a “heavy” workload.

The definition of a “heavy” workload and a “light” workload is entirely dependent on your perspective.  If I asked you to bench press 500 pounds, you would probably say that doing so would be next to impossible for you to do.

Now, imagine that I asked the Hulk to bench press 300 pounds.  I suspect he could do it pretty easily.

Same task, different levels of difficulty.

The lesson of this metaphor: heavier workloads become lighter when you become “stronger” physically, mentally and emotionally when doing your work.

We now have our two ways to deal with heavy workloads:

1.  Implement habits that generate high quality work quickly (“Work smarter, not harder”)
2.  Do things to make yourself “stronger.”