4 min read

How to Focus Better

I've struggled with focus my whole life. I finally feel like I'm starting to win the battle because of these three things I've done.
How to Focus Better
Photo by Sunija Vijayan / Unsplash

A word on this post

I've wanted to write it for a bit, but the words just wouldn't come together. I want to write more in general. I find it useful. I also love noodling with technology and Ghost has released a few new features I want to play with.

You won't even notice they're there.

Two things I struggle with are (1) do people really enjoy what I write? do they find it useful? and (2) what should I write about? should I try to promote this more and try to get more subscribers?

Anyways, if you find there's not a consistent theme - that's #2 above rearing its head. As for #1... I know people find it useful, I just wish I could reach more of them.

On Focus

Today's post is about focus. Something I'm not very good at for reasons not always under my control.

On top of that, as a Product Marketer work-life is interrupt driven.

The combination of not naturally being able to focus and being in a role where focus is hard to come by (but no less important) I've had to develop some habits specifically designed to help me focus.

Here are three things you can do to improve your performance by becoming better at focusing.

Learn more about your brain

The first, a book I recently read that'll change your life if you, or anyone you are near has the behavioral characteristics of Attention Deficit Disorder.

The book, Scattered by Dr. Gabor Maté. Written in plain ol' English. His premise is not about brain chemistry and the way we were born, or drugs, but about how our environment and early childhood attachment (or lack thereof) might lead to easily distractible behavior.

He's got some really good ways of expressing complex ideas around focus that, regardless of your childhood, will help any adult get more focused.

It's an easy read unless you, don't laugh, have ADD... in which case, each chapter is relatively short and self-contained.

I haven't read a book like this in a while, one which I recommend so highly.

Focus app

What would an improved routine be without a great app that goes along with it?!


Focus has been out for 10 years and I've been a paying subscriber for the bulk of that time.

It's useful. It's beautiful. It helps me focus and get more done.

It's not a to-do app, though you can see on the left I have my top three tasks in there that I want to work on in a given day. I have longer lists in Asana, Things, and on paper (yes, I have three separate todo lists).

This is a pomodoro app that allows me to get focused (and more importantly, stay focused) on the most important things in my day.

I often start my day by adjusting the top three things I want to get done, putting them in as tasks, and removing the unfinished ones from the day prior.

It helps me track my time so I can see where I've spent it. I review that at the end of the day manually checking between that and my meetings to see if I'm living up to my own productivity standards.

It works across my mac, iPad, phone, and watch, so depending on my mood or workspace, it adapts to me rather than the other way around (which is never really successful).

Even the mind-set helps. If I want to work for 45 minutes straight, I'm going to get my desk set the way I need to work in a focused way, take a bio-break, get some water... all before sitting down. I'm going to do the things that allow me to focus straight through.

Focus becomes intentional. It's the starting point before the task.

Fight Your Fear and Win

I ran into a friend on vacation the other week. When I asked what he was up to, his response was subtly interesting: "I'm the lead singer in a band, and working at ...". He put his art first and on equal footing.

Well, I'm an athlete and a product marketer. Being an athlete is about performance. It's about getting and maintaining a meaningful edge. It informs my approach to marketing, way more than my work informs my practice in the dojo.

Fight Your Fear and Win is a book we're using to prepare for high level examinations. With a pass rate of about 10%, I don't need to explain the level of detail that goes into this sort of practice.

I have much more margin for "good enough" at work than at the dojo (not even considering the sharp swords we swing around). However, high performance at whatever you do never goes unnoticed.

I like three things about this book:

  1. It starts with a framework for high performers. I like mental models and structure. It's within the structure you can innovate, but without structure that same innovative work is just chaos.
  2. It has a self-evaluation. Not surprisingly, one of my weak areas is focus.
  3. The book is structured so that you can just look at the exercises for the areas you want to improve (focus for me, and others) while ignoring the things you already do well (determination was my highest score).

In truth, I haven't gotten to the exercises part. I'm reading two books at once, and since I'm traveling next week and I have the kindle version of this book, I figured I'd read more when I'm on the road.

Sponsored by my book: The Elephant in the Room has a Paycheck

Passive income rocks.