Protecting your Focus: My Top 5 Tactics

I recently came across a Tweet by a journalist asking for productivity hacks from entrepreneurs, which resonated with me.

I wrote them a short list of tactics that have worked for me, which I’ll get to in a minute, but first — a quick diversion…

I’ve always been interested in improving my own effectiveness and ability to get things done.

This interest turned into a minor obsession at the beginning of 2018 after I finished reading Deep Work by Cal Newport.

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This book fundamentally changed the way I think about my brain and ability to focus on hard problems for sustained periods of time.

Newport considers the Internet, email, and social media to be an army laying siege on our society’s collective ability to focus on meaningful pursuits. Actually, that was my own metaphor, but the point stands.

I took extensive notes while I was reading Deep Work, which I’ll hopefully turn into a blog post in the future, but for now, I would highly recommend you read it if you haven’t already. Here’s the Amazon link if you’re keen on buying it (£10.49), or if you’re in London, reach out and I’d be happy to lend you a copy.

Anyway, I’ve digressed.

Here’s a loosely edited version of the email I sent to this journalist asking for productivity advice. I hope you find it useful.

1. Turn off all push notifications 📳

Every single notification on your phone requires mental energy when deciding between whether to:

  1. dismiss it, or
  2. open it.

If you open it, you are reacting to a stimulus and becoming passive in your actions, instead of proactively and consciously deciding how to spend your time.

I consider push notifications to be “micro-decisions”.

Turning off all push notifications on your phone is life-changing. Check your emails when you’re ready to, not every time a new one arrives. Look at Twitter when you’re ready to, and break the addictive cycle that I’m sure many of us are familiar with:

tweet > close Twitter > ”somebody liked your tweet!”> open Twitter” > repeat

Every single decision wears down your willpower (related article by James Clear), so removing dozens of micro-decisions from your day will give you a lot more willpower to focus on bigger problems.

2. Read Deep Work 📖

Deep Work by Cal Newport completely changed my attitude to my own mental behaviours and habits, and fundamentally changed the way I think about work. I recommend this book to all entrepreneurs.

3. Do not multitask ✋

Multi-tasking fragments your brain and creates something known as “attention residue” every time you switch contexts. Instead, focus deeply on one task at a time, and focus on nothing but that task.

4. Work in short sharp bursts ⚡️

Set yourself a timer of 30–45 minutes, and do nothing but focus wholly on the task in front of you.

Do not look at your phone, do not open irrelevant links or emails, and do not allow coworkers to disturb you, if you can.

This is immensely satisfying, and allows you to get a surprising amount done in a short space of time, if done correctly.

5. Drink LOTS of water 💧

I didn’t realise until very recently that I was perpetually dehydrated, which was affecting my ability to focus and get things done.

Upon realising this, I bought a 1.5L bottle of water that sits on my desk. I fill it at the start of the day, and I aim to have finished it before I leave work.

This has had a drastic and surprising impact on my effectiveness and wellbeing.

A lot of this is taken from a presentation I gave to my team at Encore recently called Protecting your Focus.

This presentation also mentions several of the tools I use to boost my productivity further: