That’s what Henry Kissinger, the renowned diplomat and politician answered when a young man asked him if he would give some career advice.
When the young man turned around to go away, Kissinger stopped him. And explained: “my advice is no. Always let your first answer be no.”
To move mountains, you have to learn to say no. You have to learn to be selective in the tasks you say yes to. You have to learn to focus. Because energy flows towards the place you focus your attention on. Solar energy – the Sun’s rays are merely hot. But they’ll burn the grass afire if focused through a magnifying glass.
As Sam Parker says: “At 211 degrees (fahrenheit), water is hot. At 212 degrees, it boils. And with boiling water, comes steam. And with steam, you can power a train.”
You have to focus and persevere to reach the boiling stage.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996-97, he cut down the product line from 350 products to just 10. This allowed him to focus Apple’s energy and resources in creating the ipod – that revolutionized the music industry forever and was the beginning of Apple becoming the most valued company in the world!
We know that focusing is important. But this knowledge doesn’t make focusing easy.
Why do we find focusing difficult?
There are two reasons for it.
- Attention requires energy. Focusing your attention gobbles up glucose and other metabolic resources. It literally drains you.
- Being focused and doing the same thing bores us. Predictability is boring to our minds. And that’s why we chase new and exciting things.
You have to fix these issues to make focusing easy.
5 tactics to make focusing easy
Time your focus. Your ability to pay attention peaks with your circadian rhythm. Just like how the Sun’s rays can be focused the most at noon, your body’s energy also peaks at a certain time. If you sync your most important work during those times, your ability to focus and do better work will improve.
This is extremely important but often neglected. Research done on athletes have shown that when their bodies are at its circadian peak, they are more likely to beat world records.
Football teams who cross time zones to play their opponents were twice as likely to be beaten by lower ranked opponents. Playing at your peak matters.
So pay attention and listen to your body to see what time of the day you feel most focused.
Focus is a muscle. And just like any muscle, it needs downtime to be replenished. Scheduling breaks between tasks is important to be able to better focus and perform with higher productivity.
According to neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, a research done on children with ADHD showed that those who took a walk through a park performed better in subsequent concentration tasks.
Naps have also been proven to improve concentration and productivity.
Limiting distraction is essential. Distractions are cognitively exhausting. It takes a lot of mental energy to switch your mind from one task to another. So you have to create an environment where sensory distractions can be minimal. Switch off your phone and email alerts. And make room in your day where you can focus on tasks without disturbances.
Besides sensory distractions, there is another kind of distraction too. Emotional distractions that come from within.
During the 1970 British Open Golf championship, Doug Sanders missed winning the tournament because of his lapse of concentration on an easy shot. He missed putting the ball from 3 feet away – something he could have done in his sleep! Sanders exclaimed later on that he was preparing the victory speech in his mind at that time!
Thinking too far ahead, or being nostalgic in the past can hamper your focus. Being affected by negative emotions like anger, arrogance, excessive pride, lust, greed can crush your focus in the moment.
How can you deal with emotional distractions? With mindfulness practice. Mindfulness meditation is like weight-lifting for your attention span.
Research done by psychologists Sheard and Golby shows that swimmers improved their strokes even when they spent just 45 minutes a week on mindfulness exercises like visualization and concentration.
Just a few minutes of focusing on your breathing can center you. Making a practice of such mindfulness will make you better focused throughout the rest of the day.
How do you beat boredom when you have to perform the same tasks again and again? You have to trick your brain. Trick your brain to like the tasks you do. Because when you like something, you don’t get bored as easily during the process. You’ll find joy even in the mundane.
The whopping focus question
In his bestselling book on focus called “The One Thing”, Gary Keller gives us the lense through which we should focus our energy: “What’s the one thing that I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
The answer to this question helps us in directing our focused energy to a place where it’ll have the most impact.
- Focused energy moves mountains. You have to say no to a lot of random things to be able to say yes and focus your energy to things that matter.
- Focusing is a muscle. You need to get rid of the distractions and pay attention to your mindset to bring the best out of it.