Supercharge Your Focus by Throwing Time Management Out the Window

Are you trying to do too much and accomplishing less and less?

Do you find yourself constantly switching between tasks because there’s never enough time in the day to get everything done?

If so, then this complete guide to supercharge your focus is for you.

We’ll teach you how to manage your focus instead of managing your time so you can amplify your productivity.

By the end of this post, you will know how to:

  • prioritize your tasks
  • subtract nonessentials and distractions
  • find time in the day when you can stay focused without interruption
  • learn how to say NO and be selfish (sounds weird—but it works!)
  • avoid multitasking
  • utilize the Pomodoro Technique
Looking through a focused lens at a valley lake
Focus… get it? My comedy career is about to take off

Time management vs Focus management

What is the difference?

Productivity!

When we manage our time, we are simply allotting a set period of time to work on something. But what good is that period of time if we’re not productive?

When we manage our focus, we are setting a realistic goal and eliminating any and all distractions that could prevent us from accomplishing what we want to do. This way, all of our focus is on the task at hand.

Notice the difference?

A cute dog tilting his head in confusion
Or are you just as confused as Alex here?

What does this look like in real life?

Let’s say you need to generate leads for your business.

With a time management approach, you could set aside two hours for lead generation. Maybe you’ll reach out to past customers and ask for referrals. Maybe you’ll make some cold calls. Or maybe you’ll sit there for two hours and get lost on Facebook every time you pick up your phone.

Boom, the two hours are over and it’s time to move on to the next block of time.

Top-down view of a man working on his laptop surrounded by a giant clock
Be aware of time, but don’t revolve your life around it or you’ll never have enough

Now, what about the focus management approach?

Instead of setting aside two hours for lead generation, you decide lead generation will have your undivided attention until you have 20 leads.

Maybe this takes you 60 minutes. Maybe it takes you 6 hours.

Either way, you accomplish the goal and adjust accordingly the next day.

Is 6 hours too much time to spend on lead generation?

Then choose a more reasonable goal or increase the effectiveness of your lead generation approach.

If you want to be more productive, stop splitting up your day into small arbitrary periods of time and start splitting up your day by what needs to be done.

A man writing on a notepad at his desk
Look at how productive Tim is—he’s at the bottom of that page. What a go-getter!

Learn to prioritize a day ahead and pay attention

On any given day it can feel like we have a million things demanding our attention. This makes it easy to create a to-do list that is too long.

But we only have 16 waking hours (if you’re taking care of your health with ample rest). So let’s make those 16 hours count by focusing on what needs to be done.

If something doesn’t need to be done until next week or next month, then it shouldn’t be on your to-do list for today.

  • Focus on writing a list of goals that must get done THAT day. Chances are, you don’t have 20 things that absolutely have to be knocked out before you go to sleep.

  • Stick with 1-3 objectives and write down how you’re going to accomplish them.

  • Lastly, even though we’re not managing time, it’s still important for productivity to keep track of how much time you’re spending on each objective. This allows you to switch off and concentrate on another one if you feel stuck for too long.

  • The brain benefits from short breaks in between periods of concentration, so don’t forget to give your mind a rest so it can process (and therefore remember) everything you just did. We’ll come back to this when we discuss the Pomodoro Technique.
A sign that says, "But first, coffee"
The unstated #1 priority

Trouble focusing? Subtract the nonessentials and distractions

Being more productive is not about adding things to your to-do list.

It’s about subtracting everything that isn’t necessary.

  • If you’re trying to build a business, do you NEED to spend 2 hours a day scrolling through your social newsfeeds?

  • If you’re trying to burn fat or build muscle, do you NEED to spend several hours a week getting drunk with your friends?

  • If you’re trying to finish a big project, do you NEED to keep browsing the internet and checking your phone for notifications?

It is easy to get distracted in today’s world. There are millions of things in our everyday lives scraping and clawing at us to get our attention. And billions of dollars are spent every year on trying to manipulate your brain and capture your attention.

Is it time to start breaking free and take back control?

Besides, whose existence do you want to lead?

Because if you’re constantly giving in to whoever or whatever is trying to break your concentration and get your attention, you are not living for you.

An old typewriter
Try getting distracted by the internet now

Find time in the day when you can stay focused without interruption 

Our latest podcast guest, Tim Grover, made an excellent point related to this.

“You know when the best time to work out is? Whenever you can work out!”

Are you a morning person?

Then you’re better off finding time in the morning to leverage your concentration and increase your productivity.

Are you an afternoon person?

Same deal. Find time in the afternoon.

Do what works for you and your brain. But make sure you treat that time like it’s sacred.

  • No unnecessary phone use
  • No socializing with coworkers
  • No internet browsing (unless it’s absolutely necessary)
  • No distractions

Just you and the task at hand—now CRUSH IT!

Top down view of a surfer paddling out
This could be you—but you keep allowing yourself to get distracted

Learn how to say NO and be selfish

Tim Grover also had a great point on the podcast about being selfish.

“So you tell somebody, listen, from two to three, I meditate. And everybody says, oh, that’s so good for your health. Everybody needs to do more of that. Everybody needs to spend time by themselves, you know? And then you tell somebody else between two and three, my phone is off. Don’t talk to me. Don’t bother me. I don’t want to hear from anybody else. Now, all of a sudden you’re selfish.”

It’s all about perception. If you value your time, you need to get comfortable saying no.

  • If you work at home, ask whoever is at home with you to please not disturb you during your productivity hours unless it’s an emergency.

  • If you work in a cubicle farm (then I’m sorry), you can tell everyone who stops by that you’re busy and can’t talk. Or you can do what I did and wear earbuds all day long and simply point to them when someone stops by your cubicle to talk. It is that easy and helps prevent the destruction of your attention span.

  • If you’re fortunate enough to have your own office, then you have full control over your environment and no excuse. Put a “Do not disturb” sign on the door and lock it.

In each of the above scenarios, leave your phone in your car or turn it off until you’re done.

There is certainly more to living than maximizing productivity, but that doesn’t mean it should take a back seat to everything else. If you need to be productive in order to support yourself and/or your family, then productivity should be a high priority.

A cross walk sign with the "Stop Hand" lit up
Just say NO… to people and billion-dollar mega corporations trying to get your attention

Avoid multitasking, which is more likely to lead to distraction than success 

Some people claim to be experts at it.

They might be.

But think about the following example.

Let’s say you have the superhero ability of laser vision and need to boil three pots of water to make them potable. What would be a better use of your time?

  • Heating up the first pot for 2 minutes, switching to the second one for 2 minutes, then switching to the third one for 2 minutes, and repeating the cycle?
  • Or heating up one pot until it’s boiling, and then heating up the next one until it’s boiling, and then heating up the last one until it’s boiling?

Boiling one at a time is the best option. If you’re constantly switching from pot to pot, the water will be cooling down in the pots you’re not directing your awesome laser vision towards.

This is what happens to your brain when you’re jumping from task to task. Each time you switch from one thing to another, you’re going to “lose heat” on the task(s) you abandoned. So when you come back to them you’ll have to spend time reviewing what you did and what you need to do next before you can even start.

Man covered in sticky notes
This guy could use some laser vision

The Pomodoro Technique

But staying focused on one objective does not mean you shouldn’t take short breaks.

This is where a tool like the Pomodoro Technique comes into play.

The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The idea is to use a timer to break down work into intervals separated by short breaks of 3-5 minutes.

This allows you to work in focused sprints and then take a moment to catch your breath. Taking short breaks like that also allows your brain to process everything you just did and prepare for the next sprint.

The Pomodoro Technique traditionally involves 25 minute sprints, but make it work for you. Different types of work will benefit from longer sprints of 60-90 minutes, while others will benefit from 20-30 minutes.

But keep the breaks short—ideally 3-5 minutes

Think about it like being in the gym. If you take a long break in between heavy sets of squats, your muscles will cool down, your heart rate will slow, and your central nervous system won’t be as prepared to get back under that weight.

A man sprinting through an empty airport
Sprint, Pomodoro! SPRINT!

FAQ

Why is time management the wrong strategy for increasing your productivity?

Time management is a reactive rather than proactive approach. It focuses on fitting your to-do list into the time that’s available instead of focusing on completing the critical objectives as soon as possible and then working out what to do next.

Why should I focus more, not manage more?

Focus means getting things done faster by concentrating all of your energy on the task at hand. While we may think we’re capable of doing more than one task at a time, our brains are only physically capable of focusing on one task at a time.

Additionally, a study from UCI proved that it takes upwards of 23 minutes to regain your focus once it’s been broken. Work in focused sprints for 25-90 minutes and take short 3-5 minute breaks when you feel like you haven’t made progress in a while.

Why do I need to plan my tasks the day before?

Simple.

Once you finish your work today, it is fresh in your mind so you are in the best place to determine what you need to do the next day. This allows you to get started on what you need to do the moment you sit down to focus tomorrow. In other words, you are saving yourself the headache tomorrow of reviewing what you did today before starting on what you need to do next.

Finish your work so you can step away from it and focus on the other important parts of life

Closing Thoughts

If you want to get more done and have less stress, start by figuring out what’s important.

How do you prioritize your to-do list? Does everything seem equally urgent or is there a way for you to rank them from most important to least?

Think about how long each project will take. This will help determine the order they need to be done.

Make sure to only focus on one project at a time. If you get stuck and start feeling frustrated, take a 3-5 minute break. If you still feel stuck after returning from the break, consider working on one of your other critical objectives for the day.

Learn how to say NO and be selfish. If you need your work to support yourself, your productivity is just as important as going to the gym, eating healthy, meditating, and getting enough rest. It is ok to block off time each day and let people know you are not to be disturbed.

Avoid multitasking, which is more likely to lead to distraction than success. The human brain might be capable of storing a ton of information in its memory, but you can only focus on one thing at a time. Make it count.

If you’d like to learn more about what it takes to achieve the focus and productivity of world-class winners like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, check out our latest podcast with Tim Grover!


If you’d like to learn how to crush your big goals and pursue your wildest dreams without hesitation, we’re here for you. We can help you make this happen by providing expert coaching in our X-Factor Accelerator mentorship program. You’ll have the confidence and control you need to seize opportunities in your career, influence winning outcomes, and live life on your own terms.

Rick Ahlgren - author of 12 posts on The Art of Charm

Rick is a 35-year-old human who spends his time freelancing as a writer, deadlifting (with his scrawny high school physique), and performing odd jobs for friends. He takes satisfaction from helping humans become more aware and better at life, which means he has to know what he's talking about for him to be able to help others. Rick enjoys long walks and bike rides because they help him slow down and pay attention to the details of this crazy ride we call life. And he digs reading fantasy like George R.R. Martin and science fiction like Frank Herbert and Alastair Reynolds. Sometimes when Rick finds himself staring into space without any distractions, he'll ask himself "What am I doing?" Usually the answer is nothing.

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in Art of Business, Productivity

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