Developing Razor Sharp Focus with Zen Habits Blogger, Leo Babauta

Update March 2018: Since writing this post, I have discovered many other strategies to help stay focused. I’ve compiled the strategies in a simple eBook called 70 ways to minimise distractions and focus better. You can download your free copy here.

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 the most important task 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 Internet 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, Write or Die 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 all 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 doing the following:

    “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. 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. Move your body in some way that feels good to you.

    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.

    Want to learn more strategies to help you focus in the age of distraction? Check out my free eBook 70 ways to minimise distractions and focus better.

    81 thoughts on “Developing Razor Sharp Focus with Zen Habits Blogger, Leo Babauta

    1. Hi,

      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. 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

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

        2. 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. 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.

    4. 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!

    5. 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

    6. 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.

    7. 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!

    8. 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.

    9. Hi, this is brilliant. Thank you so much. Is it possible that we can either share on social media. with attributions of course or create our own style to share? I would also like to create it in another language.

      1. Hi Ian,

        Yes, feel free to share it. I think a lot of people need strategies on how to stay focused at this time.
        If you translate it into another language, I’d love to see what you come up with 🙂

        All the best,

        Dr Jane Genovese

    10. 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.

      1. Thanks Mohammed!

        I have since read some other fabulous books on how to focus. I highly recommend ‘Digital Minimalism’ by Cal Newport and ‘Can I have your attention?’ by Curt Steinhorst.
        They are my favourite focus books and they are packed full of practical strategies.

        All the best with cultivating better focus! 🙂

        Dr Jane Genovese

    11. Good article, I love how this gave me how to focus in the age of distraction and ways to minimise distractions and focus better. I downloaded your book. Thank you.

    12. Beautiful article and map also a amazing and focus is also important in our life.I love how this gave me how to focus in the age of distraction and ways to minimise distractions and focus better.

    13. Developing sharp focus is a necessary thing in our life because of in our any work we need some sharp focus to do any work so we need to build our focus as sharp as we can.

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