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Is it actually possible to get an extra day a week? What would that even look like? Imagine going through your entire week, doing all of your work, and having a whole day left over.

Think of all the things you could do. You could relax, you could kick back, spend some time with your family, maybe do some cleaning around the house… Heck, maybe you’re hustling right now and thinking of how much more you could accomplish if you had another day just to work on your side project!

Focus.

“What are you talking about, Sean?”

Silence.

“Ok, now I’m totally confused.”

Those are the two things that most people lack. They don’t have focused work time and they don’t carve out silence and prevent interruptions.

If you’re allowing interruptions, you might as well be throwing money out the window. I’m going to tell you the difference between productive people and super productive people. We’re going to look at the way to create focused work time and how to get an extra day a week.

Show Notes
  • Information Overload
  • 04:00 Sean: We’re going to be talking about focus today.
  • 05:12 There’s a lot of information out there. There’s so much noise and so much coming in. I forget the exact number, but I want to say that every year, the world generates as much information as has been generated in all of history prior (Note: I’m still looking for my original source on this, but we do know at least know: 90% of world’s data generated over last two yearsScienceDaily, 22 May 2013.).
  • 06:36 We’re exposed to thousands of images, messages and advertisements every day. We see these on the internet, on our devices, on shows, out in the real world—we’re exposed to so much. It wasn’t like this 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, and certainly not thousands of years ago. It’s information overload.
  • 07:13 It’s hard enough to fight against all of this noise to be able to get our focus. But what makes it even more difficult is we love it and we’re addicted to it.
  • 08:39 It seems like wherever you go, there’s endless scrolling. You keep going, you keep going, you keep going. Where do you stop?
  • We Like to Feel Busy
  • 09:51 Sean: Tell me how many times you had this exchange:
    • Your friend: “How’s it been going?”
    • You: “Oh man, just busy. Been SO busy.”
  • 10:04 Ben: “Yeah.”
  • 10:05 Sean: I do that all the time. That’s just the easiest thing for me to say. I can’t tell them everything I been doing, so I just tell them I’ve been busy.
  • 10:22 I think we love being busy. At the surface, you may want to disagree with that. You may want to say, “No I don’t! I feel really swept away in all of it. I wish I could find a spare moment,” and that’s understandable. But I’m talking about compared to the alternative. We’d rather be busy than have absolutely nothing.
  • 10:51 The problem is the kind of busyness. It’s very seldom comprised of actually important work.
  • 11:03 Ben: “Yeah, I would say that’s definitely true for myself. Because I hear ‘I’m busy,’ from so many people, I really try to steer away from that when I’m answering the question, but I have a difficult time not doing things that I don’t need to be doing. The problem comes when I’m fading out of things that I should be doing and fading in to the other things. There’s an overlap that ends up running into the time that I should be doing things. It just becomes a cycle where I keep losing time to these busy things I’m doing to keep my mind occupied—to keep that endless feed running that I’m addicted to.”
  • 12:05 Sean: I resonate with that. I’m really good at automatically filling time. If I’m not in a place where I can do something that I need to do, I’m really good at filling that time. I have this wide variety of different sources of entertainment and consumption that I know can fill certain time allotments. If I have 30 seconds, I have there certain things I could read. If I know I have 10 minutes, I might go into my saved articles or watch a couple YouTube videos. I have all of these things at my disposal that I can fill in any kind of gap in my life and I’m really good at reacting to the gaps.
  • It only takes between 10–13 seconds of waiting before you hit the threshold of feeling like you need to try to multitask or get something else done.

  • 13:30 Ben: “As you’re talking about it, I’m thinking about the idea that everyone has the same 24 hours. There’s a kind of scarcity attached to the idea of how much time we have. We try to optimize our time by becoming more efficient at things, but I think what also happens is we don’t like the vacuum of empty time in our schedules. We try to find things that will add value but my question would be, ‘Are they really adding value if your time is so full that you don’t give those other things that have value room to breathe?’ Maybe that’s the problem: I feel like I can’t let a moment go by that I don’t add value. I can’t let an hour go by where I’m not doing something productive.”
  • 14:58 Sean: I think if you have that problem, that’s one of those “good problems” to have. If that’s your problem, you’re at least in a better place than a lot of people because I think most people’s problem is not, “How can I spend this spare hour I have productively?” but, “How can I do anything other than nothing?”
  • 15:21 That’s what I mean when I say we love to be busy. It’s not that we really like doing too many things, or not having time for what we want to do or for the people we want to spend time with, but compared to the alternative of nothing, we would rather be busy then not doing something. That usually results in our time being filled with just stuff. It’s not meaningful stuff and it’s not important work, but something that is not nothing.
  • 15:55 Ben: “I think in this case the ‘nothing’ is important. You need to give your mind time to process and propagate before you really have fully-formed ideas that you can act on. I wonder if we’re moving so quickly from one thing to the next that we don’t really get to experience how that space would benefit the things that we’re actually doing.”
  • 16:49 Sean: Your hunch is totally correct. That’s actually something I was going to get to in just a little bit here—that need for relaxation and how it plays into the highly-focused productive time.
  • The Proof Is in the Calendar
  • 17:04 This exercise really helps brings some clarity. Take a look at your calendar last week and evaluate how much of your waking hours were scheduled. If you’re like me, it’s actually not that much. Maybe 15%. Most likely, you have more time that is not actually set aside for intentional, purposeful, or important things, yet you still ran around like a chicken with your head cut off just doing, doing, doing, going, going, going. You’re busy and you’re doing a bunch of stuff, but what stuff are you doing? If you took inventory of what you did and listed those things out, what exactly is it that you did?
  • Your calendar last week wasn’t 100% scheduled, yet you were at 100% capacity. What does that mean?

    It means your time was spent doing things that were not important enough to be on your calendar. In other words, you were tending to someone else’s agenda for your life.

  • 18:23 Sean: So if you’re looking at your schedule and it’s not completely full but your energy is completely spent, then whatever you were doing was not important. You know this because it wasn’t important enough to be on your calendar. The things that are on your schedule are the things that are important to you. All else are things that are important to other people.
  • 19:39 Ben: “I don’t do as much of the calendaring thing, but at the beginning of the week I write down all of the things I need to get done. So the things that I do throughout the week that I haven’t actually listed as my to do items are things that are stealing my focus away from what I really should be doing. Then I get to the end of the week and feel like I didn’t have time to do everything. I like to believe it was a really busy or productive week, but if I really looked back and took stock of what I was actually doing, I wasn’t making the most of the time that I had.”
  • 20:32 Sean: You said something there: “I didn’t have time to do those things.” I think the takeaway is you want to get to a point where you can look back on your calendar and point to the places where you did have time because you set it aside. Instead of making a list at the beginning of the week, specifically set-aside time to really work and really focus.
  • 21:12 Ben: “That’s something I’ve tried to get better about doing: actually scheduling time for specific tasks. But sometimes when I do that, I feel like I fill every available hour in my schedule and I get so overwhelmed I end up wasting time. Maybe the problem is that I’m not prioritizing those things correctly or I’m taking on too much.”
  • 21:58 Sean: I think the key difference there is true productivity vs. faux productivity.
  • True Productivity vs Faux Productivity
  • 22:08 Sean: It’s not a matter of scheduling every single hour towards your work, it’s a matter of having very focused time towards your work that doesn’t take up your entire day. Maybe you have other things that you need to get done that are unrelated or tangential to your work but the actual doing of the work probably only takes about 90 minutes of focused time. Most people don’t have even a half-hour of focused time in their entire day.
  • Workers are interrupted once every 10.5 minutes on average.

    That’s not even the worst part: studies show it takes on average 23 minutes to regain focus.

    7-minute interruptions cost you a half hour in actual focused work time.

  • 23:21 Ben: “How does that even work? It’s every 10.5 minutes?”
  • 23:25 Sean: This is on average.
  • 23:26 Ben: “So while they’re trying to get refocused, they’re getting interrupted again?”
  • 23:27 Sean: Yes.
  • 23:29 Ben: “Oh, that’s not good.”
  • 23:40 Sean: Obviously this is an average, so maybe you have a period where you’re interrupted every 2 to 3 minutes and then you have a stretch of 40 minutes. 23 of those minutes are spent regaining focus. Then you have a little 15-to-20-minute window before you get interrupted again.
  • 23:56 That’s why I’m saying most people don’t have hardly any focused time in a day. They’re constantly getting interrupted and they’re having to regain focus and it takes an average of 23 minutes to regain focus. If you are working in a place where you’re getting interruptions, you are not working.
  • You Have to Protect the Focus
  • 24:18 If you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re working at home, if you’re running your own business, if you’re a freelancer—get your family on board.
  • 24:30 “Why do we need to protect from interruptions?” Because we crave them. It’s really, really hard to have focused work. It takes effort. It takes concentration. It’s not like you can just not have interruptions and automatically be focused. You have to actively focus. It’s effort. It’s sweat. Because it’s such a hard thing to do, interruptions are a sense of relief. Because it’s so hard to focus, interruptions are the perfect excuse to stop. “I got interrupted! They needed me!”
  • 25:28 Ben: “This morning was one of the times that I succumbed to interruptions. Working from home, sometimes I just create them. I would think I heard one of the kids downstairs getting upset about something and assume maybe Rachel needs my help. It’s because I’m sitting here working on something and I haven’t gotten into that place of flow yet.
  • 26:04 “Once I pass the threshold and get into the flow, that’s where I get the ability to really center on my work. Once I’m there, the ideas come more quickly and the creativity is really strong.
  • 26:34 “It takes me a while to get to that place and until I reach that point, I want to be interrupted. Because that’s the hard part. That’s the uncomfortable part. So I see what you’re saying about focused time.
  • 27:33 “Part of me is really resistant to this idea of blocks of focused time because in my circumstances, it’s such a rarity. I wonder if there’s a way to shortcut into flow through practice. Is there any hope that that 23 minutes doesn’t have to apply?”
  • 28:15 Sean: I’m going to say no. Maybe it’s 21 minutes for you, maybe it’s 28 minutes—it’s a statistical average—but no. There’s not any shortcuts. As many thousands of hours I’ve put into it, it’s always a process. It’s always a transition. I don’t think there’s a way to hack it or shortcut it.
  • 28:48 What’s much more important than trying to find 6, 7, or 8 haphazard hours in your day to do faux-productive work, is having have a 1.5-hour block of completely-focused time. Wherever you can find that, you have to get it. Use the first 23 minutes to get into that flow. Have that with absolute silence. No interruptions. No chance of interruptions. There can’t be even a slight possibility of being interrupted.
  • Interruptions feel like relief.

    You don’t really want to go through the work and effort of getting to the focus.

    During that 23-minute transition, it’s a relief to be interrupted because you no longer have to apply yourself.

  • 30:04 Meanwhile, you’re not being productive, you have nothing to show for the day’s work, you repeat that the next day, and the next thing you know you have a whole week of it and you’re telling your friend, “Man, I’m so busy. Just so busy.”
  • Eliminate Distractions
  • 30:21 Sean: More focused time = more successful. If you want be more successful, you have to carve out focused time. Successful people are focused.
  • 30:50 Having this focused time is important, but if you want to be exponentially successful—super successful—then you get really good at creating those focused blocks of time and you create more of them.
  • You need silence.

  • 31:18 You have to create the focused time and you have to carve out silence. If you’re in a place where others are nearby, they must know and support your carved out time. There can be no interruptions. Absolute none.
  • 31:34 You have to treat interruptions on the scale of throwing money out the window.
    • Every time you’re interrupted, I want you to go to the bank, take out a one thousand dollar bill, and on your way home, I want you to stop at the gas station and buy a lighter. The reason I want you to stop at the gas station and buy a lighter is because I’m going to really believe and hope that you don’t already have one in your pocket because smoking is bad. Now that you’ve bought this lighter, I want you to come home and sit down in your office chair and set the one thousand dollar bill on fire.
  • 32:42 Ben: “Can I ask you a question about silence? One of things I do sometimes is put on some music in my headphones so that I can’t hear what’s going on in my house. Does that count?”
  • 33:10 Sean: If that is not doing a disservice to the kind of focus you need for the work that you would consider productive for that day and you can ensure that there would be absolutely no interruptions for a dedicated block of time, then yes.
  • 33:46 Now while I am answering yes, I have a feeling that some of what you would consider productive work for the day would be better served by absolute silence. I would love for you to be able to carve out time to have the full silence and just experience that. Really try it out and see if that is better for you.
  • 34:44 Ben: “Maybe the more that you’re in that environment, the more accustomed to it you are. I live in an environment that’s constantly filled with noise and when there’s not noise, my brain almost instinctively tells me that something is wrong. The white noise approach gives me something to focus against so that my brain’s not occupied with the silence. But I can also see that the more I practice being in silence the more accustomed I would be to it.”
  • 35:28 Sean: Yes, it’s a learned thing. Some people sleep with fans because they need that white noise, other people can’t sleep with a fan because they need silence. It’s something that you learn. The worst nightmare of a parent with 5 kids is everything suddenly going silent. That’s a sign that something is wrong.
  • 35:52 You’re used to that environment. You’ve definitely come to a place where you concentrate against that. I can relate because I grew up in a house with a dozen kids. So I was very, very good at tuning it out. It was just constant noise. We would play this game as a joke when someone would come over: I would put my finger up and say, “Shh! Just wait. Wait for a minute. Just listen. Listen for a moment of silence.” There would never be one.
  • 36:35 It would never get to the point where there was silence. You’d think it was about to be quiet and suddenly—there’s another kid. Where did this kid come from? I have no idea. Came from outside, came from the other room, came from behind the couch—they spawn. It’s like magic. Like clockwork, they would fill any kind of silence. There would not be a single moment of it.
  • 37:00 So I learned to concentrate against the noise. I learned to tune it out. We used to get in trouble. I would be on my computer and my mom would tell me to do something and I wouldn’t even hear it. She’d say, “Of course you heard me!” but I really didn’t. That was something I had to unlearn. I still have elements of that even now. My wife knows she can’t something to the back of my head or I will not retain it. It just bounces completely.
  • 37:34 I have personal experience with being in both kinds of situations (incessant noise and absolute silence). I did learn to focus against the noise, and still get work done, but it does not compare to my level of productivity now in my own place, in my own office, with absolute dead silence.
  • 37:57 Ben: “The idea of silence terrifies me a little bit. It’s something that I’m just not used to and would have to actually experience regularly in order to to see how effective and productive I can be.”
  • 38:13 I have something in my notes here I want to share. I’m telling you that I’m looking at my notes because otherwise I would just seem like a jerk coming off of what you just said. So this way you know that it’s already prepared.
  • 38:23 Ben: “Ok, go ahead.”
  • 38:25 Sean: Ok:
  • You need silence. No interruptions.

    Do you want to set money on fire?
    Do you?

    That’s how I want you to think of it.

  • 38:51 Sean: Ben, if you had focused time, you could work half as much and get four times as much done.
  • 39:00 Ben: “That would be fantastic.”
  • 39:01 Sean: You could afford to build a separate office that was isolated and in a place where you had no sound distractions—no chance of interruptions. So the question is, would you invest in building that kind of a place now to be able to get to that point?
  • 39:24 Ben: “You know honestly, before I would build myself a separate office, I would make the house more silent by sending kids away from it. That’s what I would invest in.”
  • 39:36 Sean: That’s another option. Have someone watch the kids.
  • 39:41 Most people have no focused time. They switch from one thing to the next all day. That’s just what they do. It’s just a habit. They don’t even think about it.
  • 39:52 If you want to be more productive, all you have to do is have a small amount of focused time. If you want to be super productive, then you just need more focused time.
  • 40:05 How do we do that? We have to create focus, we have to eliminate distractions. We’ve talked about this on a grander level, but I want to give you a few practical things. Sometimes it’s just the simple things for people. Maybe they don’t have kids. Maybe they’re not in a crazy office, but they’re creating their own interruptions and they’re not even taking stock of it. They’re not even aware that sometimes it’s just the simple things.
  • 40:32 How to create focus:
    • Enable Airplane Mode.
      • Instant distraction-free zone.
    • In general: disable all of your notifications.
      • Turn off desktop notifications.
      • Turn off mobile notifications.
    • Email notifications? Are you kidding me? STOP. Turn them all off.
      • Turn the badge off.
      • Turn the sound off.
      • Turn the popup off.
      • Turn the banner off.
      • All of it.
    • Clear your second monitor.
      • I get it. I have two 27″ monitors. They’re very helpful. I use them a ton, especially for research.
      • But you can’t multitask.
      • If you want to focus, clear your second monitor. Put up a pretty picture or turn it off.
      • Don’t have Twitter on it, don’t have email.
      • Anything else is kidding yourself.
  • Recovery Periods
  • 43:19 Sean: The recovery stage is super important. It’s like working out. You have periods of intense focus and intense stressing of the muscles, and then there’s recovery. Recovery is where it builds. Recovery is where you actually get the benefits of the hard work that you did. You can sit back and reap those benefits. You have to have that. If you work out the same muscles every day and you’re not skipping days, it’s can be counterproductive. You’re not allowing yourself to bounce back and take the full benefit of the hard work that you put in.
  • 44:10 So it’s highly focused time, then highly focused breaks. This is important on a daily level as well as weekly—and for me, also my seven-week sabbatical periods.
  • 45:40 I think rest is really important. I also think that in the context of focus and considering the significant lack of focus that most people have, they would be better served by carving out a 90 minute period of their day where they have highly focused work time. They can do whatever they want for the rest the day—it doesn’t even matter. The resting would take care of itself if they actually emphasized the focused work time. Because people have so little of it. People don’t even have half an hour of the day because they’re constantly interrupted.
  • All Interruptions Are Your Responsibility
  • 46:26 Any form of interruption is something that you can take responsibility for. That sounds weird, right? Because interruptions are typically not you. We talked about disabling notifications—those things are obviously you—but when other people are interrupting you, that seems like it’s not you. But you can take responsibility by evaluating the situations that you’re putting yourself in. Evaluate the expectations that you allow other people to have of you: your availability, your time, your willingness to stop in the middle of what you’re doing. That’s something you have to communicate people. That might be coworkers, it might be family, whatever it is, you need to tell those people, “I need you on board. I want to be able to help you. I want to give you my full focus and in order to do that, I need to keep my full focus on these other things right now.”
  • Are You Doing Things That Matter?
  • 47:33 Sean: I think the biggest thing is we’re not doing the things that matter. The things that matter are the things that only we can do. This is something I’m working hard to minimize: the things that I shouldn’t be doing even if I want to do them and even if I’m good at them.
  • 47:55 The clarifying question for me is: “Would I be willing to pay someone else less than the value of my time to do this task?” If so, I need to be willing to have them do.
  • 48:20 The only exception is if my voice is vital to this. If my voice or insight is vital to a task, then that is something that I need to do. My goal is getting to the point where every thing I’m doing is only the what I need to be doing.
  • 48:39 Ben: “I think another question you need to ask, ‘Is this task vital to my values? To my goals? To what I hope to accomplish?’ Not just in the short term but also the long-term. You can be vital to a task that is not absolutely vital to what you’re really trying to accomplish.”
  • How to Get an Extra Day a Week
  • 1:03:45 Here’s the part that everyone’s been waiting for:
  • What is a day worth to you in effective work time?

  • 1:03:57 Think about it. What have you set as the precedent for your output in any given day in terms of effective work time? For most people, that focused work time is maybe 30 minutes. Maybe for some people it’s 45 minutes. The rest of it the running around and not getting anything done that’s important. That’s that’s evidenced by the fact that it wasn’t on the calendar. It wasn’t something so important that they put it on the calendar and set aside time for it.
  • 1:04:35 So what is a day worth to you in effective work time?
  • 1:04:39 Here’s the key: If you wake up an hour and a half earlier and the first thing you do is work on the most important task of your day—90 minutes of focused work time—you’ve effectively got an extra day.
  • 1:05:01 If you do that every single day, those are all entire extra days. Now you have the option of enjoying the rest of your day and doing whatever you want and you’ve still hit par, or you can set aside any other section of that day to continue to add more focused work times.