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How to Quietly Focus and Get Your Work Done in a Loud World

I read an article recently where the author claimed people without kids are exposed to just as many distractions as people who have kids.

I disagree.

I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I try not to speak in absolutes.

But I’d bet everything I own, plus $47,117 that I don’t own, parents working from home with kids at their feet have to deal with more distractions than those who are kid-free.

In addition to the two young kids I keep muzzled in the closet from 9 to 5 while my wife is working an hour away from home, I’ve also got what doctors call “off-the-charts ADHD” and self-labeled “shiny object syndrome” where I want to say yes to anything that sounds remotely cool.

I’m not a productivity expert.

I don’t pretend to play one on the internet.

But all things considered, I’m doing okay.

This year while also dealing with serious health issues from loved ones, I’ve written 70+ articles on this platform and Business Insider, kept my consulting practice alive, wrote a book proposal that looks to one day get picked up by a solid publisher, and helped a client write a book proposal to the level he just signed with an agent.

Of equal importance, I took off an entire month from work, snorkeled in the Meditteranean 73 times and lost 309 games of Uno.

Some people like to throw in a caveat after listing off a brag sheet.

There will be no caveats listed here.

I may not be mega-successful but I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.

I’ve developed the discipline to quietly focus and get my work done in a loud world and below are a few tips that have worked for me that may work for you too.

This year I’m essentially doing what I’ve done for the last five years while also writing a book, help to write another, and also designing eight 4-hour courses for MBA students that I have to deliver online and in-person.

The book for a client is about how corner stores, restaurants, and retailers of all shapes and sizes can win in the digital age. My values align perfectly with this topic.

We need more people thinking about ways to bring us together and away from our phones and Amazon.

The same goes for my own book. Like me, my oldest son is also shy and has begun to stutter. There are a lot of quiet, contemplative people in the world. I want to arm my kid (when he’s of age to read it) with a book that helps make his words count while letting him know he’s already cool.

If you want to focus, write down your “why” and keep it front and center.

Let it serve as your North Star.

The more you remind yourself why your work matters, the more motivated you’ll be to treat it as a priority.

Would you rather do tasks you despise every day or would you be more effective if you lumped them all together to knock out in one day?

If you’re anything like me, the answer is obvious — keep your positive momentum rolling four days a week and designate one day a week to do the work that drains your soul.

When COVID hit, designating a weekly or even monthly “Hate Day” or “Kleinscheiss Tag” as they’re known in Germany for tasks such as taxes and social media was a lifesaver.

Simply filter the tasks as they come in and if you know it will steal your energy and rob your focus, throw it in your “hate day” pile to free up headspace and keep moving forward.

Many psychologists and therapists recommend designing time to worry on purpose.

Why not do the same for the tasks you hate?

My phone has been on Do Not Disturb for six years. I’m horrible with technology. But I did figure out a way to let the five most important people in my life ring through. No matter the hour, if my wife, parents, and three closest friends call, I answer.

Make a shortlist of people who are more important to you than your work, let them know your schedule, and block the rest.

This is especially vital for the energy vampires in your life as they become much easier to deal with when you’re the one calling the time-slots.

But perhaps the best focus tip very few people talk about is surrounding yourself with fellow life-eaters.

After all, if you’re surrounded by people who are also doing work that matters, your own work is bound to rise.

This took some getting used to, but I now write every article, long email, and even Slack message on a word document and then I cut and paste them all at once when I go back online.

Do you need to be logged on twenty-four hours a day?

Whenever Tim Urban, creator of Wait but Why, needs to get work done, he stands on a step stool, places his phone on a high shelf, and then puts the stool in another room. He does the same with his router if the task he’s working on doesn’t require the internet. His reasoning: The effort it takes to access these distractions is just as unappealing as working. As a result, he works.

The goal of technology should be to enhance our lives, not rule them.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with opting out of how most people work.

Your primary job is to figure out what works for you and silence the rest.

Many people recommend setting boundaries. This is for a good reason. If you’re available all the time, it becomes harder to zero in.

This, of course, is easier said than done.

Especially if you have kids.

During the beginning of quarantine I told my kids I was working from 9 to 12 and then from 3 to 6 and it didn’t work out very well.

But you know what did?

Telling them each morning when I was available to play.

I need two three-hour blocks each day to get the work that matters done.

For this to happen, I’ve found it much easier to let people know first when they can bug me as much as they want.

I’m a big believer that environment affects behavior.

But at the same time, sometimes the environment we find ourselves in can be pretty tough to navigate.

If this is the case with you also and have trouble focusing, cheat by stealing the ideas above and make them your own.

The future belongs to the focused.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the future to be run by only people who don’t have kids.

Thank you for reading.
— Michael

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