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They hole up in remote, high elevation locations like Flagstaff, Arizona and Utah to train as a team where they push themselves physically and mentally to the brink of exhaustion.
Amidst snow-capped peaks and stark beauty of the high desert, these elite athletes subject themselves to long, grueling training sessions. The air is crisp, cool, and thin. Whereas normal people would feel the effects of altitude sickness merely walking the equivalent of a city block, these superhuman athletes run at breakneck speeds for long periods of time and distance, pumping out miles like it’s an afterthought.
The purpose is twofold. One, they go to altitude to make their bodies process oxygen more effectively and efficiently, unleashing their best performance when they return to sea level for competition. Two, they eliminate distractions.
As important as the altitude is to their bodies, the seclusion, can be argued, is even more important. For weeks on end, there is one thing on their mind: training. They train, recover, refuel, and strive for perfection. They sacrifice time with family, loved ones, children, and friends all so they can focus on getting the most from their bodies. They create an environment that demands and produces their greatest performances.
But it cannot be achieved without the elimination of distractions and interruptions. They do more and achieve more by doing less. Anything not related to training is a distraction and eliminated.
Unfortunately for most of us in the real world, few of us take such a calculated inventory of how much distractions affect and cost us in our own lives.
Now more than ever distractions and interruptions are omnipresent. Worse yet, they can be tremendously deceiving as many of these distractions are sold as “productivity tools” like Slack, email, text, and instant messaging. While they do have the potential to boost productivity, they are only a boost to your productivity if you know how to wield them. The truth is, most, if not all, are a massive distraction and productivity killer.
These are all great tools but 99% of people are controlled by these tools, not the other way around. As soon as a ping, text, or notification pops up, they are ripped away from the truly important task at hand, trading it off for some low-value notification, request, or email that could and should wait for later.
If you’re tired of feeling swamped, overwhelmed, and distracted, and you wish to unleash your greatest potential, then you need to take a cue from elite athletes. You must learn to create high-performance environments by eliminating distractions.
You must quit being distracted all the time.
When you construct the proper environment, you’ll do more each day. You’ll be more focused, energized, and you’ll generate results you never imagined possible.
Ready to begin? Start by quitting these 15 things and you too will be highly productive, effective, and will unleash your greatest performance.
Quit Grinding All The Time
“Dolce far niente” — Italian saying meaning the sweetness of doing nothing.
The level in which we talk about hustling, grinding, and constantly being on now is ridiculous.
There’s a whole cottage industry around “struggle porn”. Just watch a video of Gary V. and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
By constantly grinding though you fail to calculate the cost of diminishing marginal returns in your efforts. The more you work, the more you sacrifice your health and sleep, the worse your output is.
In fact, often world-class performers perform their best when they are not on. Allowing the time and space to think, dream, and daydream is often when they come up with their best ideas.
Legendary footwear designer for Nike and the Jordan brand, Tinker Hatfield, often gets his best ideas when he’s not working. For example, his idea for the fan favorite and perennial best-selling shoe, Huarache came when he was as far away from the office as possible. He came up with the idea when he was water skiing of all things.
Here’s a productivity hack: if you want to be 100x more productive get 8 hours of sleep! Take some time to go on a walk and daydream a bit.
Do as the Italians do and enjoy the sweetness of doing nothing. You never know what brilliant idea you may come up with.
“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.
Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first” things.
People and companies routinely try to do just that. One leader told me of this experience in a company that talked of “Pri-1, Pri-2, Pri-3, Pri-4, and Pri-5.” This gave the impression of many things being the priority but actually meant nothing was.” -Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism
We’ve been living with the multitasking myth for too long.
Of course, you can do two things at once: watch tv and eat food, sing and take a shower, pat your head and rub your belly, but that doesn’t mean you can concentrate on two things at the same.
It’s physically impossible to focus on two things at once. What our brain actually does when multi-tasking is bounce between singular tasks. For example, each time we jump from writing an email to talking on the phone at the same time there is a start and stop process involved. This creates a lag period and is costly in terms of the energy required to perform these activities at the same time.
As neuroscientist Daniel Levitin explains, when multitasking, “you end up fractionating your attention into little bits and pieces, not really engaging fully in any one thing. All that switching across tasks comes with a neurobiological cost. It depletes resources. So after an hour or two of attempting to multitask, if we find that we’re tired and we can’t focus, it’s because those very neural chemicals we needed to focus are now gone.”
By trying to do two things at once, the end result is you are more inefficient and ineffective than ever which is the exact opposite outcome you hoped for by multitasking. The quality of work done on each task suffers. Your energy, depleted.
Quit Saying Yes To Everything
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” — Warren Buffett
The famous German industrial designer, Dieter Rams, an ardent supporter of simplicity explains his design philosophy in three simple words: “less, but better.”
Often the greatest things are the simplest things. Adding more is just a distraction and takes away from natural beauty.
Musicians have a saying for this line of thinking: “it’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play that matters.”
What makes a great martini? Great gin, a splash of vermouth, a beautiful glass, and an olive. A great steak? Salt, pepper, flame, and high-quality beef. Simple. Elegant. Perfection.
Likewise, successful people become insanely successful because they fully commit to very few things, often just one thing. They refuse to add more.
Warren Buffett’s whole life is based around his work of investing. Steve Jobs was obsessed with product development and so was Bill Gates. Now Gates is obsessed with solving world health problems. Michael Jordan was obsessed with becoming the best basketball player ever and winning as many championships as he could.
All these men had very little else they enjoyed doing or wasted their time on. If you want to boost your productivity and become insanely successful, stop saying yes to every new bright and shiny object that presents itself.
Be strong, say no, and focus on the few things that are truly important to you: your work, your family, your health.
Start quantifying the cost associated with saying yes. If you say yes to something, what are you saying no to as a result?
If someone asks you to grab a coffee at seven in the morning when that is typically your time to workout and you say yes, then you just said no to your health and wellness for that day.
Without ranking what is most important to you in your life, you won’t be able to compare the benefits of requests.
Saying no doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to be a jerk.
Be nice, cordial, and respectfully decline. Affirm them in their efforts and let them down easily. The most important thing is to make it obvious that you are saying no and there is no wiggle room. If you are slightly vague in your response, you will spend more time saying no again.
Quit Bouncing From Activity To Activity
“Stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions.” -Marcus Aurelius
In 1995, two researchers, Robert Rogers and Stephen Monsell, set out to investigate the cost associated with bouncing between two independent types of tasks.
They tested subjects by having them perform two tasks: identify a set of numbers as odd or even and identify a set of letters as a consonant or vowel. They had the subjects perform the tasks in two trials, non-switch trials and in switch trials, i.e. perform the task of identifying a sequence of numbers or letters in separate tests or jump between identifying numbers and letters in the same test.
The results were remarkable. When having to jump from task to task (identifying numbers and letters in the same test), it took subjects much longer to complete each task and with a higher error rate.
Consider this in how many of us operate while working.
We sit down to perform some financial analysis, four minutes in we see an email has come in and we switch over to our inbox to check to see that it’s not an urgent email. You tell yourself, “I’ll answer it later.” You switch back to your analysis and spend a few minutes trying to remember where you left off.
How do you think that analysis will go? From the research, we can accurately estimate that it will take you much longer to perform that task and you’ll have a greater chance of making a mistake in your spreadsheet.
If you want to work faster, smarter, and with fewer errors, start batching activities. It’s nearly impossible to get into a rhythm if you are constantly starting and stopping and switching between different types of work.
For highly productive days, consider implementing batch days where you only work on one type of work. For example, Mondays could be your meeting day, Tuesday could be analysis day, Wednesday could be for writing, Thursday could be for sales calls, etc.
By doing one thing for the entire day you maximize your time, reduce errors, and are able to create a powerful rhythm throughout your day.
Quit Answering Every Email Immediately
Knowing now the cost associated with task switching, pay attention to the cost associated with answering every email immediately.
It seems many of us have forgotten the most powerful thing about emails: they aren’t time sensitive! Emails provide us with the option of answering them on our time, not other people’s time.
Besides the fact that emails consume vasts amounts of time and resources to manage, by answering emails and clearing out your inbox, it provides a false sense of accomplishment. You may feel like you just accomplished something, but in reality, you have just diverted time and energy away from more important activities to a lower-value activity.
99% of the time email does not equate to meaningful work. Email just feelslike work.
Quit Letting Notifications Own You
We’ve all been there before, you sit down with a friend or colleague engrossed in an important conversation when a chirp or buzzing noise comes from their phone.
Mid-sentence your friend’s train of thought is derailed. He pauses for several seconds to check his phone letting him know his buddy just liked the picture he posted from his bottomless Mimosa brunch. After getting a quick hit of social validation he returns back to your conversation, the only problem is, he has no recollection of what you two were talking about.
The conversation has been completely hijacked.
Great ideas are halted never to be completed and a deeper connection fades away. This scenario plays itself out dozens of times each day.
Our devices provide us with two options: own them or get owned bythem.Most people are owned by their devices. They jump at the slightest noise to check their phone. They check it incessantly in fear of the off chance of missing an important text or call that never materializes. It becomes a subconscious impulse. In fact, on average, people check their phones roughly 80 times per day while Millenials average around 150 times per day!
Accounting for eight hours of sleep where you physically can’t check your phone, this means that the average person checks their phone once every six to twelve minutes.
The logical question to ask is, what is the cost of this non-stop distraction?
If you are constantly checking your phone every few minutes, how can it be possible to enter a flow state of work? The answer: it’s nearly impossible.
Quit Letting Badges Cause You Anxiety
What are badges? Badges are the little red counting indicator on all sorts of applications on your phone and desktop letting you know how many messages you have. In reality, they are just an indicator of how far you feel like you are falling behind.
They let you know have 13,694 unread emails, 14 people have texted you, 24 people are waiting for you to like their comment, and that the world is spiraling out of control and you’ll never be able to catch up!
Badges may be one of the most insidious items on our devices. How could something so small and seemingly irrelevant cause so much stress and pain?
For many people, every time the badge ticks up, a sliver of fear and anxiety flashes through their mind, “what if this is an important message?” Nearly always it is not.
The stress and anxiety associated with a growing inbox number is real. Only when you shut it off do you realize how much control it has over you. Try as you may to ignore the little badge on your email inbox or apps, chances are your willpower is not strong enough to completely ignore it.
I for one didn’t realize how much stress and distraction this caused me until I disabled badges from my inbox and apps. Only then in that space of zero distraction did I realize the enormous effect it had on my psyche. Every time I saw the badge counter tick upwards I had to check it no matter how important the work I was currently engrossed in was. I became a slave to those little red icons.
This isn’t just some low-grade anxiety, the amount we use our devices and phones can have an enormous impact on our health. In fact, research shows a strong correlation between depression and anxiety, and smartphone addiction.
If you want to radically decrease your stress and anxiety, and quickly boost your productivity, get rid of badges on your phone and desktop.
Quit Treating Your Desktop Like Your Trash Pile
Marie Kondo has become a cultural phenomenon by tidying up our physical spaces around us, but when it comes to our digital spaces, we let anything fly.
Are you one of these people that has 24 separate browsers open in Chrome, 12 applications running at once, and has a desktop background photo of your wedding day completed blotted out by a hundred different desktop icons?
If you want to feel better immediately and increase your effectiveness, clean up your physical space and clean up your digital space. You’ll feel the stress wash away after doing so and even better, you’ll limit unnecessary distractions from your workspace.
Quit Staying Logged Into Instant Messaging
Gchat, Jabber, Slack, you name it, there are tons of chat and instant messaging apps. Although these are great for enabling immediate discussions, they are also an enormous distraction keeping you from engaging deeply in your work. Even worse, studies show 58% of IM users use IM apps for personal use during the workday.
Here’s a tip: if you’re at work, work. If you’re off work, don’t work. Relax and spend time with friends and family. Become fully engaged in both activities exclusively and you’ll be significantly better at each. You’ll extract much greater satisfaction and value from each activity.
If you want to do deep, thoughtful work, it’s hard to get in the zone if you are constantly bombarded by someone trying to chat with you.
IM is great in that it eliminates the waiting time associated with emails but is very poor in that it is a constant distraction.
If your team works heavily using IM, only log in to IM at dedicated times where you will be there to answer or discuss with colleagues purposefully rather than constantly subjecting yourself to messages that impede impactful work that will drive you forward.
Quit Trying To Work In An Open Environment
The openwork floor plan is all the rage right now but it turns out, it is not the collaboration wonder drug we were all hoping for. In fact, the thing it was supposed to promote, face to face interaction and collaboration, has suffered as a direct result because of the open floor plan.
In a recent study on the open floor plan concept, researchers found that in an open floor plan, face to face interactions decreased by 72% after moving to an open concept.
“Even though everyone on the floor could see everyone else all the time (or perhaps because they could), virtual interaction replaced F2F interaction in the newly boundaryless space. After the redesign, participants collectively sent 56% (66) more emails to other participants over 15 days, received 20% (78) more emails from other participants, and were cc’d on 41% (27) more emails from other participants.”
Worse yet, the study shows that as emails increased, productivity declined.
What does this mean for you if you work in an open floor plan? One, get some good noise canceling headphones. In a space with no walls and a design aesthetic favoring hard, sleek, industrial surfaces like metal and concrete it gets loud, trust me. Two, with no privacy it invites distraction form colleagues since it never feels like you are entering someone’s personal space.
What this means is the responsibility is on you to create privacy and solitude in your environment. Without solitude, it will be nearly impossible to produce the results you so desperately need to get ahead.
This doesn’t mean shutting out your colleagues completely, this means you need to be more diligent in creating productivity sanctuaries.
How you can achieve this is by blocking off time to do your hardest work and then go and find a quiet meeting room, cafeteria booth, or coffee shop to seclude yourself and eliminate distractions.
Do yourself a favor and let your colleagues and boss know what you are doing. Tell them in order to be most productive and effective for the team you need to find some time to work on the most important projects for your team. Help me, help you. If you put it in reasonable terms like this, most managers will have a hard time disagreeing with you.
When you are done with your work, return back to your space to interact with your team.
Quit Working With Your Phone On
If you want to do more high-quality work than you ever thought possible in the shortest amount of time, place your phone in airplane mode. Even better, turn off your phone.
By turning your phone off you are creating a distraction-free environment. Carve out a little bit of time one to two hours each day to do this and you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done.
Still can’t make that full investment? Then program your phone to be on silence mode until a certain point of time in the morning like ten or eleven. This way, only people on your favorites list can get through to you in an emergency.
Quit Trying To Do It All
“Don’t pretend you have a particular skill if you don’t yet; yield to whoever has the requisite experience.” -Epictetus
On a recent podcast with Donald Miller, Michael Hyatt, author and leadership expert, said, “if you can’t scale yourself, you can’t scale your company.”
Many solopreneurs and leaders fail because they don’t have the ability to delegate.
Here are three common excuses from business owners and managers on why they continue to micro-manage:
- They live by the words “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”
- They believe it takes longer to explain how to do something than to just do it themselves.
- They believe they can’t afford to pay someone to do a specific task.
First, as long as you believe you are the sole reason your business will be successful, your business will never reach its full potential. Tim Ferrissrealized after he delegated important tasks and automated many of his company’s processes that he was actually the one holding back the business. By removing himself and allowing others with better skill sets than his own to complete specific tasks, he enabled his company to thrive.
Second, the first time you delegate a task, it will take longer to explain and get the task completed. However, once you set that up, you will later be able to reap the rewards and benefits of gettings tasks done that don’t require your time. That’s a major time rebate for you.
Last but not least, use some simple math and estimate what your hourly wage equates to. If you are worth $100/hour then why are you wasting your time on an activity that can be outsourced for $20/hour?
If you are doing that activity, you just demoted yourself to a $20/hour pay rate.
Quit Being Reactive
“It is for you to arrange your priorities; but whatever you decide to do, don’t do it resentfully, as if you were being imposed on.” -Epictetus
Getting disrupted is easy and lazy.
It’s also easy to get frustrated and upset every time a coworker bugs you and asks you a question while you are mid-stream on an important project.
If you really want to be productive and much more effective, then you need to be proactive.
If you are at the office and you know you have some important work to complete in the first few hours of the day but know there’s a high likelihood you will be interrupted by a colleague, plan for it.
Before diving into work, go to those colleagues of yours that you know will likely come to you with a question or interruption. Tell them you are about to go into a deep work state for the next few hours and before you do, you would like to know if there’s anything they need from you before you begin. Repeat again that you will be working on a very important project for the next few hours. Make it known you will not be available and make sure they have their needs satisfied.
Chances are they will not have anything for you and you will be free to dive into your work. Plus you’ll have the added benefit of making your colleague feel listened to and understood.
That’s a productivity and work relationship win-win!
Quit Setting Yourself Up For Social Media Failure
Focus on creating fail-proof systems rather than relying on willpower.
You are a fool if you don’t think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media apps aren’t trying to hack your brain.
That’s essentially their whole reason for existing now. They want your attention so they can repackage you and sell you to the highest bidder. Knowing this, they have masterfully engineered these apps to hijack your brain and time. The more you use their product, the more they can sell you products.
By no means am I saying these companies are evil, they are just trying to do what’s best for their company and product. We just need to be aware of this and plan accordingly.
On average, people spend roughly 2.5 hours a day on social media. That’s 17.5 hours per week, roughly 75 hours in a month, or the equivalent of 3 days, and slightly more than 900 hours in a year. That equates to nearly 38 days in a year wasted on social media!
In the spirit of working big to small, if you want to drastically improve your productivity, start where most of us waste an inordinate amount of time by shutting down social media.
Assume your willpower will always fail when it comes to social media apps. If you operate in a world without guardrails you will fail spectacularly.
Highly successful people don’t have rules, they go one step further and construct fail-proof systems.
Two simple ways to combat this is to one, add time limits on your phone for social media apps using the Screen Time functionality on your phone. Once you hit your daily limit, the phone restricts your usage. The only problem with this feature is it still gives you the option to extend the time, essentially nullifying the point of the restriction.
Second, the best thing you can do to combat all this is delete your most time wasting apps and install them daily only when you plan to use it. Once you are done using the app, delete it and don’t reinstall it until the next day. You can’t use what you don’t have.
This tactic has been monumentally helpful to me. I used to find myself subconsciously reaching for my phone and opening Instagram at all hours and times, even when I was having a conversation with family and friends. How rude!
An added benefit, since I don’t have the apps on my phone daily, I’ll forget about them and I’ll actually go days without using any of the apps. This means I am getting back hours each week for activities that will actually help me, not distract me.
Quit Going Through Life Unplanned
“Discipline equals freedom” — Jocko Willink
Too many of us float through our days without a plan. We act based on what’s seemingly most urgent, not what’s most important. We bounce from unrelated activity to activity never really achieving a deep state of work.
We are at the mercy of other people’s unimportant requests: an email from a colleague, a text from a friend, or a message on Slack.
How can you counteract this? Through thoughtful, purposeful daily scheduling and planning.
At first, scheduling and planning may feel as restrictive as a straight jacket, but once you begin scheduling you realize the process is liberating.
It’s liberating because you no longer waste your energy on lower level activities like thinking about what you should do. Rather than being overwhelmed by an unlimited number of paths to choose from there is only one to follow. It’s already been decided.
You divert your energy towards tangible work. You go from acting like a scatterbrained hummingbird, jumping from flower petal to flower petal, to a thoroughbred racehorse with blinders on. What you need to do and must do are directly in front of you at all times.
It’s what James Clear means when he says, “If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything”
Here’s a simple task, each night before going to bed, commit to the biggest goal you are working towards and then write down the three big things you will work on tomorrow that will get you closer to achieving your goal.