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Brett McKay from the artofmanliness.com

How To Create Laser-Sharp Focus?

Discover how to improve your focus and concentration, maximize your productivity, speed up your success with evidence-based strategies, and identify what specifically is not working within your current 'focus system' so you can increase your focus, whenever you need to and wherever you are, pay attention to this interview with Joanna Jast. 

In this episode you will discover:

  • how to increase focus at work With a Cardboard box (and why your Colleagues might thing it's not a good idea) 
  • Why Mainstream ways to improve concentration and focus might work for others but not for you
  • The "Out the Box Way" That can you Use to help you to improve your focus
  • An Easy Way To spot focus Fails and how to access the root cause of all your problems
  • The 5 Why Exercise To Improve Focus Without Fail


About Joanna Jast

Joanna Jast is a writer, entrepreneur and self-appointed human nature expert who dreams of inventing a direct brain-computer interface one day so she can just upload/download knowledge and update her behaviour software in seconds.

In the meantime, while the appropriate technology is or is not being invented, she works on improving the existing ways of absorbing knowledge and adapting to change. She is refining laser-sharp focus strategies to help you improve your mental focus and concentration, boost your productivity and speed up your success.

If you know somebody who is working on brain machine like that, please let her know so she can make contact with you.

Joanna has a medical background in neuroscience and psychology as a doctor and psychiatrist who started to notice that her brain was not performing as well as it used to be, so she started to look into neuroscience and other solutions.

The Interview

What problems did you have specifically?

There were a number of problems I had with focus and concentration. 

Initially, it was just my inability to process information, for example, when reading scientific papers.

I was unable to remember what I’ve read. I was not able to use this information it in my conversations. Of course, this was not new to me...

It was the way I have always been but still… some of my problems were the result of technology.

I was going through a very stressful time, and things were pretty bad.

I had problems with my memory and my focus, so I started to look for solutions. I came across a book by John Medina called Brain Rules. I learned how all brains evolved and what is the optimal setup for our brain to perform.

How have you improved your focus and concentration?

I have been working on this topic for four years now, and I have learned to manage a number of problems. What I’ve learned is to deal with one specific problem. Once you eliminate this problem, you will be able to see clearly.

I still have problems with decision-making

Joanna wrote a couple of books about focus and productivity.

What Tools Do you use to improve your focus when writing a book? 

I have developed writing routine, which is heavily reliant on my environment. I designed my physical environment to strengthen my writing habits. One of the things I use to make me stay at my desk and keep writing and keep doing my research or whatever I want to do is to chain myself at the desk.

Of course, I’m not chained physically, but it’s harder to get up and leave then to stay in my chair. I have a short attention span and understand this problem very well. I also have a problem with delay gratification, and I had to address it.

I had to create a solution that would fit with my personality. I am actually very lazy by nature. If I am required to do something, chances are I’m not gonna do it.

That means all my solutions have to be easy to implement if I want myself to do something.

If I don’t want myself to do something, then I have to make it harder.

I designed my physical environment to strengthen my writing habits. One of the things I use to make me stay at my desk and keep writing and keep doing my research or whatever I want to do is to chain myself at the desk.


For example, I had a really effective set up in my previous house. When I was sitting down to write, I was basically stuck in a very heavy chair in the corner.

If I wanted to get up, it required physical effort. Right now, I’m sitting with my legs up on the desk, so it takes a few moves to get up as well.

These are little things that I use in my environment to keep myself at the desk. I need to manage my short attention span, which is caused by my difficulty to delay gratification.

This solution to overcome my instant gratification craving is not mainstream. I tried a lot of mainstream solutions and failed.

Instead, I use little rewards now and then.

For example, I use little distractions to keep myself focused. That means I allow myself to go on certain websites to soothe. You could block a website and still reward yourself with 5 minutes of Facebook. 

This might sound strange to you, but this is deeply rooted in understanding myself and my specific problem. I use distractions when I’m sad or anxious over a decision that I have to make.

I’ve tried all other strategies, but they don’t work for me. from time to time I go down and scroll the Facebook news feed or I go on YouTube and watch a funny cat video which lifts my mood. Once my mood has shifted I go back to work.

Other things I do is to walk away and have a drink of water, or I go downstairs to check my letterbox. Eventually I go to the balcony and check my flower boxes. I try to do things that have the potential to shift my mood.

Afterwards, I go back straight to work.

This system is pretty complex because I not only allow myself to do certain things that feel good to me, but I have measures in place that will not allow me to spend half an hour of watching videos on YouTube or scroll down the Facebook news feed.


All my solutions have to be easy to implement if I want myself to do something.  If I don’t want myself to do something, then I have to make it harder.

I use the system that allows me to do certain things but only within certain parameters.

For example, you could use a viral co-working service like FocusMate to make it more likely that you show up in front of the computer. This topic was covered in the episode “Stop procrastinating. Start producing!”

Then you could use FindFocus to allow yourself 15 minutes of your favorite website before it only allows the sites that you need for work.

What’s the first step to develop your ideal and personalized routine?

There are two things you need to do.

  1. You need to understand the nature of the underlying problem - the root cause of the problem.
  2. You need to understand yourself - your likes and dislikes - what works for you and what does not work for you.

That means you need to understand your personality, your existing setup, your current physical environment as well as your emotional and social environment. If you try to develop better habits because if you try to address something, your solution might help you but not always.

Understand your personality, your existing setup, your current physical environment as well as your emotional and social environment

If you do not access the root cause the problem will show up again. Your solution might work for a while, but before you know it you will be back to square one again. Sometimes it's about working smarter and finding the right time to work. 

If you apply a solution even if you know the root cause and adopted it to your personality but not to your context it’s going to be a problem.

Most people think it’s a problem with motivation. However, if your solution is not adopted to your personality, this will cause a problem.

For example, this could mean that your solution works but requires you to do something you do not enjoy. The less you enjoy your work the more difficult it will become.

If your physical environment does not really allow to implement your solution, you will fail.

Most people think it’s a problem with motivation. However, if your solution is not adopted to your personality, this will cause a problem.

Click to Tweet

Sometimes your social environment and the people you live with will make it very difficult to implement a solution that works for you. If your solution goes on their nerves, your solution will probably not last very long.

Another example is when your solution is very expensive, and you’d don’t have a lot of money then that’s going to be a problem for you.

To find a solution you need to understand the underlying cause and design a solution that is in line with your personality and your current context.

Sometimes your social environment and the people you work with will make it very difficult to implement a solution that works for you.


It’s important to be aware that your context will change of time. It’s worthwhile to adopt your solution to your changing lifestyle and environment to maintain your routine.

Your root cause might be hidden. Sometimes you might think it’s one thing, but actually it’s a completely different one.

What is the best way to improve focus and concentration?

The easiest way to get started is to conduct a self-analysis exercise.

Every time you realize you become distracted or something interrupts your workflow write it down.

  • Write down the time. 
  • Write down and what do you were doing.

It might that you discover that you always become distracted in the morning.

This could simply mean that you are not a morning person.

It might be other reasons, for example...

  • The time of day
  • The room
  • The people you were with
  • The problem is all newly around certain type of tasks

Start collecting data on when, where and how you become distracted

This might give you enough information to understand yourself, but I always recommend going a bit deeper.

The 5 Why exercise

This exercise is very simple.


It’s a sequence of asking yourself “Why?” five times in a row.

For example, if you get distracted you ask:


Why did I get distracted?

I got distracted because the room was noisy.

Why?

Because it’s an open space office.

Why?

Because that’s the way we work.

Why?

Because that’s what the boss said…

Why?

Because that’s the way we work here…

Usually by the fifth why you arrive at the root cause, or you realize that you are circling around.

How Do you find a solution to improve your focus?

What is really important to come up with a solution that you know is likely to work for you, and your given context.

That means even if you stuck in a noisy office ask yourself:

For some people, this might be noise canceling headphones.

I’ve tried them and the work for a time, but then they make me dizzy.

So it’s not a long-term solution.

You really need to understand what’s working for you

It does not matter how good the solution is for everybody else in the world. If you’ve tried a solution, several times and failed then don’t waste your time trying it again.

Find something else.

When I work with people, we look for creative solutions and try to think outside the box.

The better you understand your problem the easier this is.

To stay with the example explore options like

  • Can you move yourself out of this room?
  • Can you move the other people out of this room?
  • Can you work at a different time?
  • Can you switch positions?

People put pressure on you, so you have to understand yourself, your physical environment and your emotional and social environment.

Usually, they are more than two solutions. The more creatively you think the more ideas you will get. One of them might actually work. Don’t waste time trying things that have not worked before.

If your solution requires you to learn a new skill, or if your solution requires you to do something, you don’t like doing, or to give something up, it will cost you more. This will make it unlikely to work.

It does not matter how good the solution is for everybody else in the world. If you’ve tried a solution, several times and failed then don’t waste your time trying it again.

What else can you do to avoid getting distracted?


You need to understand yourself and your context.

If you work with other people, your solutions might be great, but they might not be great for others.

Make sure that your solution makes it likely to cause what you want to do and unlikely what you don’t want to do.


I’ve had people come up with solutions like working in the cardboard box. 

They did not have a room like an office, but they worked in the living room.

They did not feel contained enough in the living room and got creative:

What if I put a big cardboard box on the table?

It’s still the same room, the same table, same nobody else…

They just set up the cardboard box entered a different mental realm that was more contained...

However, a word of caution...

Putting a cardboard box into an open office space might not be the best idea when your colleagues would feel strange...


If you work with other people, your solutions might be great, but they might not be great for others.

It’s really taking on board all these aspects to find a solution that will allow you what you want to do without doing what you don’t want to do.

What tools do you use to increase your focus?

More important than any tools was to accept the fact of how I am. As I told you, I am lazy by nature. If your solution relies on your weakness, it’s much more likely to work.

If you have a crappy day, your solution will still be there.

rely on your weakness and not your strength

Relying on your weakness does not require any effort at all.

It’s about making your solution as easy to implement as it can be.

Creator of the FindFocus Website and Distraction Blocker


Martin’s story of losing 5kg with a simple decision

" A few years ago, when I was still working in a corporate environment, we went to lunch in the cafeteria.


Often times I would feel I don’t have any preference for the food (three different meals) that was offered.

Therefore, I came up with a simple rule:


  1. If I don’t have any preference, I will choose the healthy food.
  2. If I don’t know, which is the healthiest food, I will choose the vegetarian menu.

In the next few months, I lost about five kilogram without making any other lifestyle changes."


Well done, Martin. It’s exactly what I’m talking about. It’s important to note here that you made your decision before hand, and you stick with it.

Why motivation is never the problem (Even if you failed multiple times)

From my years of experience with myself and working with other people in conversations I noticed that if you have a problem to improve your focus, you have to try different solutions.

Motivation is not your problem.

You know you have a problem, and you’re motivated to solve it.

That means:

You either miss the point and did not get to the bottom of the solution, or you have failed to adopt your solution to your current context.


More Information

Learn more about how you can improve your concentration and develop laser-sharp focus at Joanna's website The Shape Shifter's Club


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"I turn it on whenever I need to focus.  Really liking it."
Brett McKay from the artofmanliness.com


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Martin Boeddeker
 

Martin Boeddeker is the founder of FindFocus.net, the One-Page Productivity Planner and the mind behind the FindFocus Distraction Blocker for Mac. He studied industrial engineering and management in Germany and worked for some of the biggest companies in the world. With FindFocus he wants to help people to get rid of what he calls DigitalADD so they focus on the things that truly matter in life.

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