4 Secrets of focused people

Do you like that headline? I stole it from CBS. When I saw the headline there, I clicked immediately. I didn’t like the post, but it got me thinking.

Why does anyone want focus? People probably click the headline because we associate focus with success. Of course, I come from a family full of people with Aspergers, so we associate focus with letting the bathtub overflow. But I know that focus is not just the result of obsession and absent-mindedness. It’s also the result of expertise. I have written posts on expertise 10,000 times, but in case you forgot, here’s a link about how everyone should specialize. And if you are sick of me talking about this topic of expertise, here is a new angle. It was fresh to even me, so I bet it will be fresh to you.

But we are not talking about expertise. We’re talking about focus. And after I clicked on the link to 4 secrets and was disappointed by all four, I started noticing that I read about peoples’ secrets for focus all the time.

For example, here is a piece in Vanity Fair about Barack Obama. It’s such a great profile you just have to go read it. There are tidbits about how he picks the people he plays basketball with (if they go easy on him, they’re out) and how he took down the decorative plates in the Oval Office (“I’m not a plate guy,” he says.) There’s also something about how he only wears blue or black suits. Obama says:

“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

So there you have it. The most powerful man in America focuses by not varying his clothes. Which has, by the way, been proven to work for many people. Steve Jobs comes to mind. But I have to say that I not only have a limited clothing pallet, but I often do not change my clothes. And, again, being focused for normal people just looks more and more like having Aspergers for Aspergery people.

I think focus is more complex than that, though. We think of it as getting us what we want. I know that’s not the scientific definition. I’m not even going to link to a scientific definition because that’s how much I don’t care. What I’m interested in is aspirational focus. Which is, I think, why I was so eager to click that initial link.

In case you’re wondering what my blog editor contributes, (since, if you have read even ten posts on this site, you know he’s not interested in proofreading) he does send me really interesting articles. This is one he found about focus. Well, it’s not all about focus. But check this out: If you clench your left hand before you do a penalty kick, you’ll kick better. Because of focus.

The left brain is the distractor part of your brain and the right brain is the focus part of your brain so squeezing your left hand is something to distract the left brain from distracting the right brain. Or something like that. Go read the article. Especially if you play soccer.

But it applies to everything: you need to distract the part of your mind that’s wandering. I felt this when I was playing volleyball. I was simply unable to focus hard enough on the game. My mind wandered.

You need to keep your mind on what you want or you won’t get it. I am very achievement oriented. I care about focus because I want to be a high achiever. I want to get what I want. So to me, aspirational focus is putting tactical measures for big-picture goals on my daily to-do list. Otherwise I’m just doing stuff like answering email and signing contracts and talking on the phone about stuff that’s not at the top of my list. Here’s a link to when I was learning about Getting Things Done. And here’s a link to me not getting things done.

And I’m over that now. I just need to focus on writing blog posts, because that is what makes me happy. And earning money. Because otherwise we’ll starve. Well, and I also have to focus on my kids. I mean, I am homeschooling now. Not that I’m teaching them anything. We are not actually doing school in homeschooling. But someone’s gotta at least be there to keep them from killing each other every time they fight, which is like, I don’t know, every second.

They have good focus when they are fighting.

They also have good focus when they are playing Minecraft. Because it’s creative. And I have good focus now. Because I love writing so much. And you know what I’m thinking? That focus is about really driven by creativity. And the four secrets to being creative are:

1. Drink alcohol at work. The Economist, which is the most expensive subscription I’ve ever paid for, so it has to be right about everything, says that drinking makes people more creative at work and that it’s not a coincidence that the only place where there’s alcohol in the company fridge is Silicon Valley.

2. Experiment with drugs. I am fascinated with drugs. But I am mostly too scared of them to go off-label, so for this link, it’ll have to be to the post where I want to experiment by giving pharmaceuticals to the cows. Drugs give a different view, and often they make you more creative. They fuck you up, of course, but so does going to work and having no focus. So it’s a Catch-22.

3. Meditate. I have written a bazillion posts about that you should meditate. And I still don’t meditate. However I’ve also written a baziliion posts about how you should have a clean desk. And I have a spotless house, desk, everything. I just throw everything out, really. And the principle is the same: clutter distracts from creativity. So clear house, clear mind, it must all mean good focus.

4. Pick small goals. There is good research about how to meet big goals. The research is not actually about focusing on the goal. It’s about focusing on the process and getting your stuff done each day. Which is so not glamourous that you can already see why I think the Economist is worth the money, right?

I think the real thing about focus though, now that I’ve written a whole post about it, is that we don’t want focus. We want something else. We think focus is the way to get there. But actually, I think it’s more mundane than that. Focus is the result of the mundane tasks. The biggest secret of focused people is that they don’t think about focus. And they’d never click that link from CBS.


Posted in Productivity
65 comments on “4 Secrets of focused people
  1. Will says:

    I’m afraid I hated the headline, Penelope. Yet another simple list of things to transform me to a high achiever? But you cunningly suckered me in with that first sentence.

    And I just loved the typo. In the title of section 3. Perhaps your subconscious is trying to tell us something?

    Mediation, or conflict management, is a valuable skill that is largely about drawing the focus onto the right things. I guess you have written about that elsewhere?

  2. Will says:

    Oh, and thanks for spelling it “focused” and not “focussed”. Though both are correct, one is just horrid.

  3. Ann says:

    ” squeezing your left hand is something to distract the left brain”

    I gave up there. Everyone knows the right brain controls the left side of the body, so why would you want to “distract” the right brain?

    How about a bazillion posts on “4 secrets of basing advice on spurious non-facts”. Or even one on “Why you should mediate” (sic)

    • Will says:

      Ann, there’s a compensating error on the functions of left and right brain, so this tip makes some sort of sense.

  4. Alex says:

    On the other hand, distraction can also be used to enhance focus. We often fail to fully experience and enjoy the present moment because we’re full of anxiety about some aspect of the future. But resisting anxiety only makes it worse. But we can distract ourselves from thoughts that make us anxious with thoughts we find pleasurable. Obviously, this won’t work all the time or for everyone, but when it does work, it can dramatically increase our ability to focus. Great article, Penelope.


  5. Jim says:

    A title like the one on this post just spikes my anxiety and makes me think, “Ok, what am I not doing that means, in reality, that I suck?” But of course, that’s why companies like CBS love headlines like that. I’ll click out of anxiety and see their precious ads.

    I make software for a living and somehow got into management where I get to be strategic. I love being strategic! The thing is, my focus has always been terrible. I can easily spend half of my day screwing around. But somehow I always know what the ultimate thing I’m trying to achieve is, and I recognize when small things that can be done move the overall picture toward that goal. I can usually focus long enough to finish one small thing, or maybe even five or 10 small things in a day. The great thing about being in management is that I can hire people with far better focus than me to take care of the bigger things that need to be done. I hope nobody who works for me is reading this.

    About drinking at work. Almost a quarter century ago when I started making software for a living, every place I worked had beer in a fridge someplace, or had alcohol-fueled celebrations at every noteworthy accomplishment. Those were all small, independent shops. Today, at least out here in the midwest (the Silicon Cornfield) all of those independent companies are now divisions of some Ginormicorp or other, and all of those big companies have liability-driven no-booze rules. We have to go off site to drink. It’s a bummer.

  6. Amy Parmenter says:

    You may find it funny that I actually lost my place, my focus some my say, part way thru this post. I had to go back and read a paragraph a second time.

    t’s not that I wasn’t interested – I just lost my focus. Swear. Of course if I were really focused, I guess I wouldn’t have clicked on the link in the first place. But I love to focus on great writing. Thanks P.

  7. chris says:

    I think it is a (questionable) assumption that everyone is motivated to focus. YOU are motivated because you are a high achiever who wants to achieve more . . . I don’t think that applies to the majority, do you?

    If we don’t recognize that motivation for focusing may not exist in an individual, then our demanding that that individual focus more and better (as is the situation in school) may be like spitting into the wind.

    Triage: what is important to ME? Bump it to the top of the list.
    Get it done: beginning, middle, ending. Within your timeline (or your manager’s timeline, as the case may be). If it takes a long time, keep it at the top of list day after day (the middle and ending phases–more difficult than the beginning phase).

    Be flexible in allowing some other things that come up unexpectedly to get done in a timely way. These things are out of our control, and we simply must yield to those deadlines. Hard to not allow anger/rebellion distract you from getting these things done!

    For me, having a long-term goal that is very difficult (for me), sometimes turns me into a whiner: I can’t do this, I say. Poor me. Brief time-out for a pity-party and then back to practicing, reinforcing, following up, etc . . . towards my goal.

    With my eye on the prize, I continually tweak my attitude. And I continually break the tasks down into smaller and smaller baby steps so that I can always say (to myself) that I am moving ahead towards my goal. This break-down into baby steps may have elements of creativity.

    Novel tasks may require creativity but there are a great many routine goals/tasks that require doggedness. Repetition may lead to boredom. Thinking up ways to keep it fresh–creativity? I think SAHMs may get caught here. Rearing kids requires equal amounts of creativity and doggedness–maybe more than half doggedness.

    Your last paragraph is golden, Penelope. That focus is the RESULT of doing mundane tasks (doggedness). In other words, you train yourself and focus is your reward. It was fun while it lasted–your mind, like popping corn, bouncing off the walls and ceilings. But then you discover the rewards of focusing on a goal and going through the steps to get to the prize. And you are hooked on focus.

    Which brings you back full-circle to motivation . . .

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      The difference between short-term thinkers and long-term thinkers is interesting to me because the Farmer is a very short-term thinker. He is all about: how is today? am I having fun today? (vs. my thinking which is how are my plans for next year? and i planning for that today?)

      What I have noticed though is that we both have great focus. He is focused on today, this moment, and I’m focused on long-term goals. It’s quality focus in both cases, though. I think.


  8. chris says:

    Alex Lickerman at Happiness in this World has some related material.

  9. Karl Sakas says:

    “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

    That makes a lot of sense. A friend’s father was a two-star general in the Marine Corps. Her dad was extremely indecisive about things at home — my sense was that he got tired of being decisive all day at work, and just wanted to take a mental and emotional break when he got got home.

  10. Polly Squires says:


    Can you go back to the part where you throw everything away? Were you always like this or is this something you have cultivated?

    I know what you are saying is true (Empty space makes room for opportunity and thus creativity), but I am having issues getting to that place and could use some ideas for smaller steps for getting there.


  11. Ssn Bbr says:

    Nicotine helps you focus. Chew nicotine gum or use the electronic cigs.

  12. Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel says:

    My husband and I were just talking about food. I said “I don’t want to think about food, or make choices. I like eating the same thing everyday.” He agreed with me. With have both been watching what we are eating for about a month now. We have our go to healthy foods, and we like it because we aren’t discussing dinner, what to have for dinner, where to go to dinner, take-out or sit-in? It is a non-event. Consequently, I have also cut back on the wine with dinner. Which allows me to focus in the morning on getting up and working out. So very positive results from eliminating something that is relatively distracting.

  13. Tim says:

    I agree that ones ability to focus is a major determinant of success—be it in sports or career. This weekend, I played a game of tennis, and my partner and I were trouncing the competition 4 games to 1. My mind started drifting to errands that needed to be done later that day. Within 20 minutes, our opponents took advantage of my distraction, and tied the set at 5-5. Fearing defeat, I then started focusing on THE BALL, nothing else; this enabled us to regain momentum, and we ended-up winning the set in a tiebreaker.

    In addition to achieving success, there are significant benefits associated with having an “aspirational focus.” When I do activities that I love to do—teaching, writing and consulting—I sometimes become completely immersed in the moment. I lose a sense of time, and feel the endorphins coursing through my brain, producing pleasurable sensations. In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described this mental state as being as close to happiness as one can get.

    In summary, focus is not only the key to success; it is also an important element of happiness.


  14. Avodah says:

    While I think this may not be Penelope’s best post- I think she touches on some good points.

    When I got my new job (yay) the first thing I did was clear off all the sh*t the former employee had on the desk. My energy is focused on work and most important tasks instead of all crap everywhere.

    I try to limit my work wardrobe to a limitied number simple, well-made, professional pieces. I especially like dresses because one clothing item is the entire outfit.

    I never memorize my schedule. I write it down in Outlook or Gmail Calendar. I don’t waste my brain space, when I can simply write it down.

    Paring down and simplifying has really helped me focus at work. What are other peoples’ thoughts?

  15. Chase Miller | Debt free teen says:

    Ya, I didn’t click on that link. Ha, ha. Really well written post! I love how you pulled that in at the end.

  16. Jan P says:

    Great reflections on focus.

    Two points I take from this.

    So, obviously Ernest H knew drinking and creativity.

    And 2nd.

    If I keep my left hand entertained with say a bowl of popcorn or a glass of iced tea, I wonder if it will keep that damn internal editor quiet while writing?

  17. Mark W. says:

    What about using feng shui to focus?
    I haven’t used it but you’ve written previously that you have.
    I searched for “feng shui focus” and did find some articles where feng shui was used for the purpose of focusing. I’m thinking it could be one of many techniques used to create more focus.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s an interesting point. I have used feng shui as a way to focus. I realized that if you rearrange your house to get what you want (like, purple in a certain corner brings money, or something like that, feng shui experts would not say it that way). Anyway, if you rearrange your house to get what you want, whether or not feng shui works, the commitment to changing your house to get what you want will ripple over into other parts of your life where you’ll take action to get what you want.

      Really,the premise in here is that purposeful action begets focus.


      • D says:

        I don’t know anything about feng shui, but I do believe surroundings have a real impact on cognitive process.

        In addition to getting rid of clutter, another thing I did was convert my dining room into a music studio. I never used it for entertaining, so I felt guilty every time I passed it on the way to the kitchen. Now I’m more likely to feel inspired (though I sometimes feel guilty for not practicing more).

      • Daniel Baskin says:

        Feng shui is just a fancy, antiquated name for a psychological phenomenon that scientists have indeed confirmed to have immense merit.

  18. Kasturi says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Great post! Found a typo. Point 3 should be Meditate, not Mediate! Threw me off a little when I read that.

  19. Lisa says:

    I liked the Obama quote about paring down decisions. I am that way with clothes and food. Maybe it’s an NJ thing. (I think Obama is an ENFJ)

    I have to disagree about the drug use and creativity link. Creativity is largely a reaction against boredom and drugs make being bored more interesting, so there is no need to create anything when you’re high. Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest and most creative filmmakers of all time, agrees with me.

    “I believe that drugs are basically of more use to the audience than to the artist. I think that the illusion of oneness with the universe, and absorption with the significance of every object in your environment, and the pervasive aura of peace and contentment is not the ideal state for an artist. It tranquilizes the creative personality, which thrives on conflict and on the clash and ferment of ideas. The artist`s transcendence must be within his own work; he should not impose any artificial barriers between himself and the mainspring of his subconscious. One of the things that`s turned me against LSD is that all the people I know who use it have a peculiar inability to distinguish between things that are really interesting and stimulating and things that appear to be so in the state of universal bliss that the drug induces on a “good” trip. They seem to completely lose their critical faculties and disengage themselves from some of the most stimulating areas of life. Perhaps when everything is beautiful, nothing is beautiful.”

    • Avodah says:

      That’s funny that you bring up the ENFJ thing. I am also an ENFJ, and, as I said in my last comment, paring down has really helped how I perform at work and manage my career. I feel like with less stuff (papers, pictures,clothes,food items, unread paperbacks, read paperbacks) I have so much more “room” for my goals and accomplishments.

      • thatgirl says:

        So agree with this! I think I’ve been the most focused/successful when I’ve had complete control of papers and other extraneous items in my office.

        In a year where I had to travel a great deal for work, I bought nothing but dresses, for each season. This way, I could assign a dress per day, pair most with the same shoes, and I was done being dressed in minutes, instead of mulling over what goes with what. Very effective–it was a uniform of sorts.

  20. GenerationXpert says:

    I found this really interesting. I’m either really good at focusing or really bad at it. When I read the part about squeezing your left hand, I realized I had my left hand tucked under my leg, so I was sitting on it, which I often do when I have to read something on my computer. Same effect as squeezing, I guess.

    I can really focus on work tasks and get them done. But then my BFF points out to me when I just zone out for a minute (I did this to her when we were sitting in the audience at our kids’ dance recital rehearsal. Just zoned out in the middle of our conversation. Then when I snapped out of it, she said, “that’s okay, I just wait for you to come back. You do it all the time.”)

    My hunch is that I can’t focus a little. Just a lot.

  21. Crane says:

    Focus if it is effective is good. If you missed the bigger picture, then we call it tunnel-vision.

    Getting the big picture is good, unless focus in warranted. If you keep the big picture, at the expense of focus, you are scatter brained.

    The right balance is keeping all of your attention on the one or two things that matter the most, and avoid the meaningless information that distracts you.

    However, you must keep you mind open, while so very focused, on the stray fact out side your focus, that might matter and encourage a very important change.

    Using a team of thinkers, some watching your back, while you focus, and some scrutinizing what you have chosen to focus upon, can be a very effective strategy.

    We are made for community, but community is hard.

    Just some thoughts on focus and keeping the big picture.

  22. Daniel Baskin says:

    I kick myself every time that I stay up (like last night) doing work (which is better than staying up doing nothing, I suppose), because I am so useless, tired, and I over-eat the next day. But there is something that happens to my cognition that is completely remarkable when other parts of my brain have dulled or shut down for the night.

    I always tell people whenever I remember to, or comes up in conversation, that intelligence is often not so much about additive brain function, but subtractive brain function–or, we are able to improve our performance at activities when unnecessary parts of our brain are actually shut off. There’s a clip of a guy drawing a horse, then they shut part of his brain off with directed EMP or something, and he draws it much better.

    I tend to not be as accurate when I drink, but my enterprising ability (to get started on something) improves.

  23. Father Muskrat says:

    I have a fridge full of beer and a decanter full of Makers Mark in my office, and I’m nowhere near Silicon Valley!

  24. CEO Confidential says:

    I think I’m focussed. Other people think it’s a bad thing. They call it ‘stress’. http://ceoconfidential.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/stress-decision-making-fortune-magazine-and-being-a-great-ceo/

  25. LTMadison says:

    I just finished the fascinating Vanity Fair article late last night and it should be pointed out that it was written by Michael Lewis, who is arguably the best writer of narrative nonfiction working today. And in the spirit of this posting, I get a shrink-wrapped Vanity Fair with its perfumed ads every month because I signed up for five years of US News at something like $4 a year and when it stop publishing convinced them to send me Vanity Fair instead. Lewis’s articles and those by the sorely missed Christopher Hitchens made that swap one of my best bargains ever.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      You make me want to read more by Michael Lewis. Thanks. And you remind me that I need to subscribe to Vanity Fair…


    • thatgirl says:

      The cost of the entire magazine was worth it, for Hitchens alone, rest his soul! His last book is also so very worth reading!

      I read Vanity Fair for a broadcast service I run that reads a huge variety of daily, weekly, and monthly print media for the visually, physically, and cognitively-handicapped–anyone who cannot pick up and read print. I can get three to four hour-long broadcasts with Vanity Fair for it’s exceptional variety of articles and in-depth reportage. It’s outrageously popular with our client base. If it fails to be part of the weekly lineup, we hear about it!

  26. Katelyn says:

    This is an awesome post. But to me it is not about focus per se. It is really about agenda setting. Your agenda (Penelope) is writing and taking care of your people. When you think you’re unfocused is maybe when you’re actually focused on non-priority agenda items. Not necessarily unfocused. The wandering mind is very active.

    Drinking, drugs, meditation, and scaled-back goal orientation are all about agenda setting. Drinking and drugs lower your inhibitions so you can prioritize agenda items more honestly. (E.g., “I should be in a well-paying corporate job, but that would kill my soul; so I must instead prioritize writing and being a good mom.”) I don’t know what meditation does other than waste time.

    The scaled-back goal orientation thing is really counter-intuitive to me. I understand it’s a good way to get things done from the perspective of minimizing procrastination or reframing the possibility of success. But it also fits with a certain pessimism about how futile it is to try to accomplish anything big and important on a grand scale. That’s demotivating.

  27. Paxton says:

    Great post as always!

    I recently attended a fair in Germany. All of the big stands, and even some of the medium-sized stands, had beer on tap and wine. It was not uncommon to see people drinking at lunch and the into the rest of the day. I had a few beers at lunch on more than one occassion while talking shop with other people in the industry. The amount of alcohol consumed at this event I am sure is staggering. I think serving alcohol at these types of social events is a great idea.

  28. ben says:

    typo: 3. Mediate

    We have a full bar, pool table and darts at my office in San Francisco. They are used a lot. And we are a very focused bunch. And we laugh at work. Good post, as usual.

  29. GingerR says:

    I was with you until you got to items #1 & #2. Drinking at work may be OK for executives in fancy offices but I’d prefer my System Engineers and Train Operators to be stone cold sober when punching keys or designing schemes.

    It’s certainly easier to stick to a diet if you keep your potential menu limited. Endless choice is hard to manage.

  30. laura says:

    The most effective thing I have done lately for my life is to pick out all my outfits for the week on Sunday and hang them up together so when I get up I can just grab one. I don’t know why, but getting dressed had become a real problem for me. That kind of decision making is really hard for me. I used to keep dice in my shopping basket to decide between brands, after spending 10 minutes staring blankly at all the peanut butter options and then going home empty handed.
    I think when people want focus, what they want is mental energy. They want to stay up late, never exercise and just be fresh and clear thinking and do great work all the time without getting distracted or procrastinating or feeling bad.

  31. Emilee says:

    I know this isn’t the point of the article, but I can’t help myself:

    “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

    In the previous paragraph it states that Obama took down the decorative plates in the Oval Office because he’s “not a plate guy.” So our President is giving us tips on focusing while using his decision-making energy on decorative plates? Ironic…

    Oh, and Barack Obama is not the most powerful man in America. Ben Bernanke controls the printing press, and we all know that’s where the power lies.

    • thatgirl says:

      How marvelous that you used your energy to make this political!

      Might it ever have occurred to you that he took down the plates because they are, to many, a frou-frou visual distraction?

      Probably not, because you took a quote that was already taken out of its original context, and used it even further from that.

  32. laura says:

    I don’t think minecraft would command the same focus if it was manditory. It is fun because it is creative, and maybe relaxing because it is fun, and drinking is relaxing, but all of this is just what we already know. That our energy for thinking runs down over the day.

  33. redrock says:

    Alcohol does not improve focus or concentration – it depresses the ability to think critically about your work. Therefore even a mediocre text will seem brilliant. Until you are sober.

  34. Peter Wilson says:

    On our blog http://www.SecretKnowledge.us, you will get information about the secret job vacancies too.

    Can I share your post on my blog as we are writing on similar topics?

  35. CJ says:

    My husband forwarded this post to me. He reads this side of your posts, I read the homeschool side and only on occasion do we x over ;-) He sent it because the topic of focus, success, and the ways different people achieve this in their lives is some thing that fascinates us both and we discuss it with our children often. Einstein famously, and to the dismay of his sig others, had closets full of the same suit, just like your Steve Jobs ex., and his closets full of the same black mockT. Both men explained the stream lining of thought not worrying about the clothing helped with too, albeit, Steve’s was an aesthetic reason in addition that Einstein likely didn’t care about in the slightest. I bet POTUS knows all this too though. Chris Hitchens, one of the greatest writers, masterful opinion jabber and prodigy minds was completely pissed out of his mind by his own admission throughout the nights that he wrote his multiple Opuses. And on the hard stuff too! The Beatles/LSD. Sting and meditation, as well as great lengthy sex and orgasm. Countless artist examples…

    I know I write and focus more creatively after a night on wine, even though I work on nonfiction. But, to me the greatest personal inner success feeling I get professionally is when I have lost hours on a project unknowingly. It’s like you wake up when you have completed and written something you are really proud of. It’s amazing- if the phone was ringing, or the doorbell ringing, or the dog barked, I had no idea because I was so immersed and it’s like an active dream state that I can’t make happen- it just does. And this is where I get those that utilize meditation techniques to find this place. I feel very fortunate that this level of focus comes to me with ease. But, if this were on the HS side, that is also the professional difficulty, because nothing stops the flow of concentrated focus like my children needing me! I am too focussed when I work, so as an HSr, I have to let my work side drift purposefully, regularly, so that my children have me and my mind.

    • thatgirl says:

      Very well put!

      Dr. Cornell West also has a closet that contains four of the very same black suit, white shirts, and black shoes. A busy writer and lecturer, he’s always traveling, and explains his wardrobe thusly:

      “I’ve got four black suits that I circulate, and they are my cemetery clothes — my uniform that keeps me ready for battle.

      Your cemetery clothes?

      It’s ready to die, brother. If I drop dead, I am coffin-ready. I got my tie, my white shirt, everything. Just fix my Afro nice in the coffin.”

      Very similar to my “dresses only” rule for a year. I had to travel for business constantly. I brought one dress for each day, and shoes that went with everything. That way, there was no need to coordinate much of anything, allowing me time and focus.

  36. Amanda says:

    I have to admit, I hesitated when I saw the headline of this post. I wondered if I cared about focus and what kind of role focus or lack thereof played in my life. I also wondered if focused people are really successful and then I thought that since I’m an avid follower/reader/whatever that I should give this post a shot (after all I did read about how to set up my career in my 20’s to be a stay at home mom to the kids I don’t want in my 30’s).
    Then I started worrying that perhaps I should have spent more time trying to focus and less time doing all the things that steal my focus away.
    As I was trying to focus this morning on getting stuff done at work I realized something that helps me focus is putting in my earbuds and listening to music, usually fast paced. It helps me get into a rhythm and ups my productivity, which is a result of my new found focus.
    Considering your post ended by stating that people with focus don’t usually worry about focus and since I’d never given it any thought before I guess I won’t worry so much about it. I was going to conclude by thank you for another great post but instead I’ll thank you for making me think about a new topic and making me feel good about my ability to focus, so thank you Penelope.

  37. David Kolker says:

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  38. Neil Cannon says:

    Great post Penelope!

    Thought provoking and entertaining. I may quote some of it for my site if I may – and of course I’ll link back to yours as per my Curation policy. I liked your closing paragraph. I’d go one step further and say that if you focus on the bigger picture, then all the admin that stands in the way of reaching your goals becomes small and insignificant and you just get on and do it. When you create that vision, that end goal, it’s a lot easier to focus without even thinking about the fact that you’re focusing.

  39. Suzanne Kaplan says:

    I’m probably being redundant by commenting, but I feel like doing it anyway. I’ll add to the removing clutter bit. It’s important not just to remove physical clutter but to “remove” the cyber clutter. Research is coming out from Harvard and Stanford psych departments that says that the frequent internet surfing that people do and all of this texting and checking email every 5 minutes is messing with our brains – making us unfocused. So, I’m trying hard to not even open my web browser and just get to work in word if I have to do some writing to stay focused. I keep my phone in my purse so if someone texts me I get it later… Obviously it’s not working well because I’m here in the middle of the day!

  40. Sandra says:

    How serendipitous this post is. For the past four days I have been listening to a well-known motivational speaker talk about focus. One of the things mentioned, and that I have heard other speakers talk about in terms of ‘results’ is to tie what you’re focusing on to emotions.

    When I was up in Portland and knew I wanted to move back to California to be near my friends and family (I’m grateful every day, and it’s been three years), I would feel what would it would be like to be back home. I knew I was coming back to California, although I didn’t know at the time how that would happen, but feeling what it would feel like to see the bay area again and be around people who love me a lot, I think contributed to my getting back here—and it happened fairly quickly too.

    So now I want a new job, even though I’ve gotten a nice raise, and I’m focusing on that and how it will feel. I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone else, but it works for me.

  41. Melita says:

    Well, I am glad I am not the only one who finds choosing an outfit everyday a focus-sapping activity! I have a friend who wears a white t-shirt to work every day. After several months in her current job, a colleague asked “So, what’s with the white t-shirt?” She replied that it as easy and it meant that she didn’t have to think about what to wear everyday.

  42. Dustin says:

    Penelope, a must see for more left-brain-right-brain insight.


  43. Ebriel says:

    When we moved this year I could only bring a 40-pound suitcase to Beijing.

    I looked at all my clothes, and saw they were mostly in reddish or bluish. Much of my artwork is blue, so I took the blue clothes (and neutrals like black/white) along, figuring that being surrounded by blue would get me into the color, and my art, more. Can’t say the art’s any better, but it certainly cuts down on the time it takes to get ready in the morning.

    Bonus: blues never clash with one another. Reds, and purples are much harder to get to work together.

    Focus? I clicked on this article because I read all your posts these days. I haven’t clicked the links but will do afterwards, one by one. Then scan them, and file away the relevant info for my life – or not.

  44. Lisa Rangel says:

    Focus is overrated in my book. Wildly irratic and illogically creative produce far better ideas and results for me :). But I was intrigued by the title….

  45. Joe says:

    I wish Obama had demanded that his Romney standins in his debate prep challenge him the way his stupid basketball pals do.

    I actually got nervous when I read that Vanity Fair article last week on your recommendation. I thought “he’s not preparing enough. He’s going to be a one-termer. He’s so proud of being COO that he will be canned as CEO.”

    Hasn’t happened yet, but we’re WAY closer to that outcome now.

  46. Diane P says:

    I thought you might enjoy this Forbes article from 9/29: Want to be more focused? Look at pictures of cute baby animals:

  47. Brainie says:

    > I am very achievement-oriented.

    No, you are very attention-oriented. Your only achievement is as a blogger. The rest is fabrication.

  48. Sinnary Sam says:

    I really like the “pick small goals.” Such a great reminder. Thanks for the post.

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