Finding Focus

I wake up, feed Roxie, grab a mug and fill it with coffee. The television turns on to CNN American Morning and the iPad opens to flip between Twitter, my inbox and Zite to see what is going on in the world.

Dylan leaves for school and the television flips over to The Today Show. Emily and I chat, cuddle and watch until she leaves for school as well.

That is when the battle for my focus begins.

The Internet is beautiful and crazy place filled with an endless stream of content that we can consume.

We’ve all had those days where we get sucked into the click, click, boom mentality and suddenly an hour (or more) has gone by and what do we have to show for it but an empty feeling of waste.

These past couple of days have felt like that. It is a rut and one I’ll break out of, but I also needed to clear my head and put this out there because as I talked to some people about it, I realized more people go through this then will ever admit it.

How do I usually break out of it?

My go to method when I must get something done (especially writing) is to fire up a program called Freedom that my buddy Julien Smith suggested that blocks all Internet traffic for a set amount of time that you decide and can’t change. I’ll set it for 60 minutes, fire up some music and get to work.

I’ve also noticed that I’m much more productive when I’m on my laptop and in a different setting then the desk in my office. Not sure why this is, but it helps. With the nice weather I can work in pretty much any room or location and it helps find my focus.

If you start to lose your focus, get up and find it. Sitting and clicking will never bring it back for you.


  • This is what I needed to see. Working from home for me is its own little slice of Hell. I live in a noisy area, so getting it quiet enough for me to focus can be tough. I have started timing myself and writing lists of things that must get done. That helps some.

    The biggest issue is that I am more productive in the morning, and working with that better. I try to get the boss to call me in the afternoon now so he does not kill my most productive time.

    I also do try to take breaks. I may try that blocking program. I am so ADD I need that. I am glad I saw this post.

    Thanks C.C. Now I am off to go find your Digital Dads stuff.

    • Breaks certainly help, but I’ve found that when I really, REALLY need to focus turning it all off is great. I’m famous for “just clicking over to see if there is any new e-mail” and then getting caught in a back and forth.

      I think it is something most of us go through, but few talk about.

      Hope you find some focus.

  • Focusing is easy for me. Procrastinating is also easy for me. Distractions are less a concern than doing the actual work.

  • You rock, brother, millions live this way every day and it is why many business owners are concerned about stakeholders’ time spent on the interwebs. It is not a toy, it is not a place where busy makes money and we have all fallen into its alluring come hither gesture of endless pretty places to visit and just one more look at the comments on the blog and then I’ll finish that proposal or the dog needs out I wonder how Brian is doing perhaps I need to work outside today. 

    I was speaking with a colleague today about Seth Godin and how he reminds us we need to do more shipping. Theories are easy, blog posts are easy, tweets are easy, is easy – shipping work to clients is hard and we need to do more of it.

    Okay so back to work for me. 

  • Amy-Sue

    I had the same problem this morning. I solved it by working on an offline project at my external office, aka Barnes & Noble Cafe. The laptop in a different spot does help.

  • Christopher Johnston

    What do you when the kids are home for the summer?

    • My kids are old enough to take care of themselves so this is not that much of a problem. 

      But, sometimes it does make things tough of course, but having worked from home for over five years now we are all use to it. Plus, I’ve got my own office with doors and they know that if the doors are closed it means I’m on a call or busy and not to bug unless it is an emergency.

  • I downloaded Freedom awhile back because I saw it linked somewhere- and it’s sat in my dock unused since. I forgot it was there! Thanks for the reminder, because I sure can use the help these days. Getting and staying focused is nearly impossible when there’s so much shiny a click away.

    • Definitely give it a try. Just make sure not to set the time limit TOO high
      because then you’ll be locked out.

      I usually set it for 60 minutes which is a nice block of time and at the end
      you can easily kick it off again.

  • C.C.,
    Have you ever read about or tried “morning pages”? A great tool for getting unstuck.

    • I have indeed. It is a great book and a great process. Not my personal
      approach,but I know it works for a LOT of people.

  • Great post C.C I’ve found that the change of scenery thing definitely helps, especially with writing deadlines. I’ll move outside whenever I have to. I’ve also found rewards help. ‘Get five pages written, get one hour of fluff time.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    • I totally forgot about the rewards as that is something I do quite often.

      I tell myself “you can’t do _______ until you get ______ done” and it works
      great. Little mental challenges to make sure I get things done.

  • I write a To Do list and then schedule it by time blocks. I also use a free piece of software called Timer Utility (Mac).

    TU gives me a stop watch on my desktop. It beeps when my time is up and I must move to the next task.

    What’s great is being able to glance over at my time rapidly counting down. This helps me get back on task after falling down one of a hundred million rabbit holes that we call the Internet. 🙂

  • Al Pittampalli

    I love Freedom…sometimes it’s the only way I stay off the internet. Someone once told me, wouldn’t you rather have self discipline than use a silly tool? I responded: I do have self discipline, enough to know I need a silly tool.

  • I try to take a walk every morning to burn off some glucose, which helps me focus. When I’m pulled in lots of directions it helps to make a list of the five or six most important things I must accomplish that day. (I got that second hand from somebody’s time management seminar, and I can’t remember his name.) I’ve also experimented with setting a timer for 20 minutes (as I’ve seen Chrisses Brogan and Penn recommend), and concentrating on one task until the timer goes off. It’s amazing how much you can do in 20 minutes.

  • I forgot the best one: I give myself permission to not look at my email for an hour. That is very difficult for me because I’ve always been in positions where I wanted to be immediately accessible to clients (internal or external). It’s taken me years to realize that if it is really, truly urgent, they will call.

  • Its funny how productivity changes with the environment and even the weather sometimes. I do all my blogging on Sunday afternoons from my home with my bunny in my lap. I know it sounds silly but she brings this sense of calm over me and I am able to clear my head and get to the task at hand. At work, I have not mastered the art of ‘tuning it out.’ My environment is pretty loud and active so there is always a ping-pong game or a rubber ball being thrown around and I find it very difficult to just focus and write. You are right about the internet. There is SO much great stuff out there its impossible to consume it all but we try to do so everyday while doing everything else too. Heard of people not looking at email, tuning off of Twitter for a few hours or just working offline but I havent been able to master the art of ignoring distraction. But – I still manage to get it all done which is the most important part.

  • Elizabeth Norton

    You know how sometimes you have to budget your money? I budget my time. Twitter 15 minutes, Facebook one hour total, skype open this-this time and surfing bs researching with only one window open at ALL times!! Time is money – I say treat as such! It helps me stay focused and “spend” it wisely!

    • Well said! This is why I almost never open up an IM programs unless I need
      to talk so someone.

  • Great post about an issue which starts to become a real problem for many people!
    I personally find that getting to the hard tasks – the creative ones – is when I unconsciously get to look at all these disturbances and interruptions. Getting my music on does help to put myself in a bubble but that’s not always sufficient.
    I really believe that successful people in the Fourth Revolution will be able to achieve a balance between focus and open-mindedness; and periods of deep focus and periods of discovery, on the internet or elsewhere. Striking the right balance is a challenge, and should be taught to every student as part of their web-literacy!