Focus on what matters. Filter out what doesn't.



Imagine you have an empty glass, and you need to fill it with water so you can have a drink. You're thirsty, you need water to live, and this glass will help you achieve that goal, right?

Now imagine you have a few options to fill that glass of water to keep you healthy:

1. In option one, you can fill it from a filtered pitcher of water. It pours nicely and neatly, you can control it, and you get a clean glass of water.
2. In option two, you can fill it from a sink. It's arguably less clean, but still drinkable, and it comes out quickly so you need to cut it off fast so you don't spill.
3. In option three, you can fill it from a broken fire hydrant that is spewing out water at full speed. You struggle to approach it because of how fast the water is coming, and even when you place your cup in front of it, the water just spits back out because of how fast it's coming in. You end up with just a few drops of water that stick to the edges of your glass, and you remain thirsty.

I think we live in scenario #3 every single day with the amount of information we take in. I know my days typically look like this: I wake up, grab my phone, and start reading and checking on personal email, Twitter, Facebook, app installs, blog stats, app stats, ranks across the globe, work email, messages in various apps, Instagram, the news... Often I spend so much time in this loop I restart it once more to see if anything's changed. And this is even before I've moved an inch out of bed.

Finally I get up (about 20-30 minutes later), take the dog out, shower, & get ready for the day. As I eat breakfast, I have an iPad or computer in front of me reading even more-- blogs, news, Facebook statuses. Then it's time to walk the dog, so I put on headphones and listen to podcasts giving me even more information.

I come back home and now it's time to work, so I put on headphones again and listen to music while I try to work. It's hard because every few minutes I feel compelled to check my email or app stats, or IM someone on Google Talk, or check the news.

By the end of the day, I feel so fried and I'm not sure what work I've done--if anything. I was busy all day long but certainly not productive. Not meaningfully productive, that's for sure. I had absolutely no focus because my attention was being overwhelmed with data. Just like with that fire hydrant, I was getting way too much and as a result, I was thirsty and starving for something REAL.

When I had this 'aha' moment, everything changed. I made myself way more aware of this terrible habit, and started to make changes. I now have a rule: No screens for at least 30 minutes after waking up, and no screens for an hour before sleeping. I also have a rule of not having any screen time while I eat, allowing me to more mindfully eat (and thus eat healthier).

I cut down on blog reading time dramatically to just 30 minutes a day. I use that time as leisure time: Time to catch up on news I care about, but I not so much that I obsess over it. I don't need to check those sites every fifteen minutes. Just once a day, if at all.

When I sit down to work, I focus on my work. I try to go full screen with apps so I don't get drawn into clicking somewhere else. I generally don't have any IM apps open so I don't get distracting notifications flying in on my screen. I turn off my mail notifications and I silence my phone or put it in DND mode. When it's time to write, I go a step further and write in a separate room without any distractions. Even if this a walk-in closet, it's better to create a distraction-free zone for those times you need extreme focus.

When I made these changes, my life started to feel fuller. Happier. Healthier. More balanced. More focused.

I switched to scenario #1, where I filtered all the data. I figured out what was actually important to me, and what fulfilled me. I realized so much information I was receiving every day was useless and I could live much better without it. I'm still informed, I'm still reading what I like to read, but I'm doing it in a much more controlled manner.

Challenge yourself to make changes like this-- even for a day. See how you feel at the end of the day. Maybe instead of 30 minutes after waking up, only go 10 minutes without touching your phone. Pick up a book instead or simply sit and breathe. Do something that keeps you present, rather than takes you away virtually.

We live in an amazing age of information, but as a result, we need to work to filter what comes in, otherwise it's just too much. Make February your Focus month. Start with focusing your attention each day. We'll keep writing about the other ways Focus is important throughout this month. Sign up below to get the latest.