Whether you stay in one location for a month or more, or travel as much as I do, one thing is certain — nomadic life requires moments of true laser focus in order to get shit done so you can make nomad life sustainable.
So how do I create an environment where I can put all of my brainpower and effort into the task at hand, and how do I choose what to do, and when?
To answer the latter, we need to travel back in time to a decade when everyone was talking about the difference between what is “urgent” versus what is “important.”
“Anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant” — Dr. Steven Covey.
The human brain is a remarkable thing. While research tells us that the old adage of “left-brain” people versus “right-brain” people is not true, we do still have two brains — the thinking brain and the reactive brain.
The reactive brain is not our friend if we want to be focused and productive. So how do I engage my thinking brain?
When I was around 21, running my first software company, I came across the Franklin Covey methodology. The basics? Do the biggest task first, and make sure you do what’s important, not urgent.
In fact, it’s a little more nuanced than that.
Those tasks that are both important and urgent are the top priority, with the important and not urgent assignments coming second. Urgent but not important tasks can wait, and — frankly — if it is neither important or urgent, you really should question whether it should be on your list at all.
Franklin Covey also proposed a further prioritization, based on a metaphor of filing a jar — which represents your day — with pebbles and sand.
Pebbles are big tasks, and sand is small. According to the system, if you put the pebbles in first, the sand can fill the gaps. Fill the jar with sand first, and you can’t fit the pebbles in anymore.
I never really thought that was a brilliant metaphor, but getting the most difficult, top priority tasks done at the start of the day does give you a sense of accomplishment that sets the tone for the day.
That being said, this is merely a prioritization system. It doesn’t help you with focus, or with ensuring the work you do is the highest quality.
I credit daily meditation with a lot. Whether it’s staying fit and healthy while I bounce around the world, city to city every five days on average, or staying stress-free, mediation has changed my life.
But it has also changed the way I process time.
Regardless of whether you meditate, run, hit a punch bag, or take a walk in the park, getting to a state where you focus only on the current moment is essential for focus.
By expending all my brainpower on the exact moment in front of me, rather than worrying about things that have happened (which I can’t change), things that might happen (which I can’t control), or things other people might be concerned about (which I also can’t control), I put 100% of my energy into the current minute.
But that isn’t the only thing that increases my laser focus on the task at hand. There’s another little secret that reduces “warm-up time” and makes it possible to get started on any job immediately.
When we play, our brains don’t switch off. Your body chemistry changes as soon as you start any exercise or fun activity.
When you begin to play or exercise, your heart pressure increases, and your brain goes into “fight or flight” mode. To protect your brain from this minor stress, you release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). BDNF protects and repairs your memory neurons and acts as a reset button. The result? After fun, you feel clearer and more at ease.
Also, your brain has been planning the next work phase subconsciously, which means you can get started straight away. The work will be of higher quality, more creative, and you can leverage the inspiration that came from your playful experience.
In addition to fixing your priorities, learning how to focus, and enjoying yourself between work sessions, there’s one more thing that will give you the edge and ensure you apply complete focus to your work.
Factually, humans are terrible at doing more than one thing at a time (excluding walking and breathing at the same time, of course).
Several peer-reviewed papers suggest that not only is multi-tasking a terrible idea, but it’s also bad for us.
My method? I book meetings with myself in my schedule for each task, and I make sure I show up to those meetings as if I were going to discuss business with a client, or have lunch with a friend.
There’s one more thing you need to know about focus, and it doesn’t count as multi-tasking.
The one extra trick
There’s nothing quite like being fired up to complete a task in the fastest time possible, and one thing will help you maintain your energy and get the job done as quickly as possible. Music.
It’s simple really. Plug in your headphones, and put on a playlist that motivates you. For me, it’s Prince, Sleigh Bells, The Ting Tings, Eminem, The Cool Kids and other artists that know how to inspire me.
And no — listening to music while you work doesn’t count as multi-tasking. We have a particular part of our brain put aside for listening to music that doesn’t cause the same problem as trying to do two non-automatic tasks at the same time.