Developing Razor Sharp Focus with Zen Habits Blogger, Leo Babauta

If you’ve just logged into Facebook or your email for the 10th time today or find yourself thinking in Facebook statuses throughout the day, it may be time to read Leo Babauta’s eBook Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction”.

This free eBook contains dozens of practical suggestions to help you enjoy life more, enhance your creativity and get things done.

If there ever was an equivalent of steroids for focus, this book is it – it’s a great tool to help anyone develop razor sharp focus and churn out quality work.

After reading this book, I made a number of changes that dramatically sharpened my focus. I have summarised a number of the strategies in the mind map below.

Create Focus Rituals/Habits: Babauta defines a ritual as a set of actions you repeat habitually.

He argues that rituals can help us to get into a focused mindset and suggests a number of rituals for the morning, before you begin your work, to help you refocus on your work and for the end of the day. For instance, my morning ritual involves having a shower, eating a bowl of healthy muesli with fresh fruit and 10 minutes of meditation. Nowadays, I resist the urge to check my email and Facebook in the morning.

Managing Email: A lecturer once told me “You’ll get 10% more done in the day if you don’t check your email first thing in the morning”.

She was partly right. A more accurate assessment would have been 30%!

I’ve noticed that when I check my email first thing in the morning I feel slightly out of control for rest of the day. In reactive, agitated mode. Far from proactive, productive and peaceful.

Babauta states –

“Have a disconnect time each day. It’s like setting office hours if you’re a professor – you set the times that work best for you, and you can even let people know about these times”.

Set your office “disconnection” hours and be strict with them (8am – 10am is what works best for me). It’s highly likely that you’ll get the majority of work done for the day during these distraction free hours.

Take Time to Reflect and Review: Babauta recommends that we create a simplified list of the top three things we need to do in the day and then complete task number 1 before checking email, Facebook, etc.

Sometimes it’s really tempting to want to check your email before completing the first task. But Babauta states –

“If you feel the urge to check your email or switch to another task, stop yourself. Breathe deeply. Re-focus yourself. Get back to the task at hand”.

Help for Addicts:
Don’t kid yourself, Facebook and email is highly addictive. Behavioural psychologist B.F Skinner’s experiments with rats in the skinner boxes illustrated just how addictive unpredictable rewards can be. The reality is Facebook is designed to be addictive. It’s full of unpredictable rewards.

So let’s face it, some of us need help when it comes to controlling the number of times we log into these sites. That’s where blocker programs come in – they either lock you out of the Internet entirely or certain sites that you specify.

When it comes to writing on the computer, some of us are easily distracted. Writing programs, such as Write Room and Typewriter, clear away all distractions and take up the whole screen on your computer. Some programs even make the sound of a typewriter as you write (but a word of warning, this gets kind of annoying after awhile!).

It’s important to note that these applications won’t miraculously solve your problem of getting easily distracted. They are just tools. They will help you sharpen your focus but only if you’re committed and disciplined enough to use them in the first place.

Take a Digital Detox: We need time away from the Internet, television, video games, etc. Time when we disconnect from these digital devices and immerse ourselves in other creative pursuits that will help us to grow. It’s also important for us to take time to reflect on our lives (when was the last time you sat back and thought, “Am I really doing what I want to be doing with my life?”)

Babauta suggests –

“Go on a mini cleanse. Start with something that’s not so scary: perhaps a day, or even half a day. Do this once a week. Later, as you get used to this, try a 2-3 day cleanse and maybe even work your way up to a week.”

Managing Your Space: Remove 95% of all the posters and bits of paper stuck to your office wall (all I have is a Gantt chart and colourful picture of a Hindu goddess). A clear wall means you have less stuff to be distracted by.

You may also want to consider investing in a pair of comfortable headphones. Headphones serve two functions – firstly, they block out the noise made by others so you have more attentional resources available. Secondly, they signal to others that you’re deep in thought and don’t want to be disturbed.

How to Work: Work in focused bursts for 50 minutes (no distractions) and then take a 20-minute break. In your break get away from technological devices. Go for a walk, do some stretches, etc.

When you work it can also help to get away from your computer and work with just a notepad and pen. Again, it’s most likely that you’ll feel the urge to want to go online when you do this for the first time. If this is the case, take a deep breath and refocus.

All in all, I really enjoyed reading “Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction”. It was easy to read and written in a clear and focused way. Babauta provides a lot of valuable information and strategies that can easily be incorporated into one’s life.

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56 Responses to Developing Razor Sharp Focus with Zen Habits Blogger, Leo Babauta

  1. Johnny September 6, 2011 at 11:52 pm #


    Thanks you so much for sharing this! I see, and know that I really struggle with how I focus my work these days. I have so many things taking my concentration other places then it should be.


  2. Mohib Sheth September 9, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Nice article. Any chance of getting a high resolution image? Would like to take a A1 paper size print out and stick it on the wall for my employees. Thanks

    • Jane September 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

      Yes, no problem. I will email you a high resolution version of it now 🙂

      • Alisa October 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

        can you send me one too? I would love to have this on my wall and help me focus with my tasks. Thanks!

        • Jane October 6, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

          Sure, I’ll email it to you now.


          Jane Genovese

      • Alison Branagan April 24, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

        Dear Jane,
        I teach ‘Entrepreneurship for Creatives’at Central Saint Martins in London, I’ve also written a number of books with mind maps in. I think your mind map is wonderful and I am going to tell my students this week about you and your blog. I would also like a print res version, of the distraction mind map if possible. Perhaps you should start selling them because your mind map is one of the best I have ever seen.
        Alison Branagan

  3. Patrice Jacquot September 14, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Thanks very much !

    I’ve made a french version of your mindmap to share it with my froggy fellows:

    (I hope it’s compliant with copywright. Otherwise, let me know and I wil delete it…)

    • Jane September 14, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

      This is wonderful! I will provide a link to this on my website.


  4. elle September 15, 2011 at 1:55 am #

    May I use this wonderful map on my website, with a linkback of course.

    • Jane September 16, 2011 at 6:29 am #

      Yes, of course 🙂

  5. Gail Perry September 30, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

    This is incredible! I’m ADD and hopelessly distracted by all of it. May I use this picture on my web site with attribution of course?

    • Jane October 1, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

      Hi Gail

      Yes, feel free to post this to your webpage.

      All the best,

      Jane 🙂

  6. Javier Ibn La-ahad October 16, 2011 at 7:05 am #

    How can I print this graph??? Is f***ing awesome.

  7. Aide Bunce November 24, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    I found this blog while searching for other blogs on self-esteem. I enjoyed the article and I think that self-esteem is one of the most important but under-appreciated pieces of psychology. A lot of people suffer from it but most people do not realize they possess it nor how to treat it. It is a shame because we have so little time on this planet and we if we don’t love ourselves what kind of emotions are we having and even more sadly what kind of existence is that? I actually just wrote an article on self-esteem on my blog. I would love for people to check it out and tell me what they think of it. Either way this was a great read and I am going to see what else your site offers.

  8. Prof. Dr. Kira Klenke November 29, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    Thanx for this blog post! i will recommend it to my students!

  9. Sérgio Jardim December 2, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    Hello Jane!
    I’d like to know if I can translate your beautiful mind map to brazilian portuguese and use it as an example (with attribution of course) on a book that my boss is planning to write. It’s that possible?

    Cheers from Brazil!

  10. jbl December 16, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    This is very interesting, You are an overly professional blogger. I’ve joined your feed and look ahead to looking for extra of your fantastic post. Additionally, I’ve shared your site in my social networks

  11. ??? ???? January 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    I am not certain where you are getting your info, however good topic. I needs to spend a while finding out more or figuring out more. Thank you for fantastic information I used to be looking for this information for my mission.

  12. K January 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    Can I get a high-res version too? Would love to put this up in my bed room so it’s the first thing I see each morning and the last every night!

  13. Frank | Modern Monkey Mind June 5, 2012 at 12:45 am #

    Great article Jane! I’ve been a long time reader of both Zen Habits and mnmlist, love both, and honestly not sure why I haven’t gotten “Focus” yet. Went ahead and downloaded it after reading this.

  14. michelle April 29, 2015 at 2:13 am #

    beautiful mind map!!! thank you!! 😀


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