Willpower Workout 21-25: Focus Time

Willpower Workout #21-25: Increasing Your Focus Time

September 21, 2020

For the first 20 days of the 40 days of willpower workouts, we exposed you to a wide range of workouts. Part of the purpose of this was to show you the broad range of uses and demands on willpower in your life. Willpower plays a critical role in cognitive, physical, and emotional tasks. It helps you maintain consistency, push past quitting, break bad habits, and get started on something you don’t want to do. It is needed when discouragement saps your motivation, when discomfort makes every other challenge harder to endure, and when fatigue saps your strength. Willpower has a role in all of these contexts.

Now that we’ve demonstrated that point, we’re going to change strategy. You don’t grow your muscles by working out a different one each day. You grow muscles by consistently workout out the same muscles and stretching them a little further each time. That is how we’re going to approach the willpower workouts over the next four weeks. Each week will have a workout that we do repeatedly over the course of the five days, pushing ourselves each day to go further than before.

We’re going to start this week with the concept of focus time: time in your workday that you have to focus deeply on a single piece of work.

In our constantly distracted and interrupted world, most of us lack any meaningful amount of this time. One study estimated that managers have fewer than seven hours of uninterrupted time per week. Based on our work with managers, seven hours is generous. Those seven hours likely happen after 9-5, on the weekend, or in the pre-COVID days on an airplane. At the same time, focusing deeply on a single piece of work is how we produce the best work, come up with the most innovative solutions, develop the most compelling strategies, and deliver the unique value that only we, as humans, can provide.

Technology is increasingly taking over tasks that require less critical thinking and complex cognitive skills. The value you provide will come from the quality of your thinking – and we all know intuitively that we can’t do great thinking in half-focused spurts of seven to 12 minutes.

Day 21-25 Willpower Workout:

1. Starting today, block off a set amount of time to focus on a single piece of work.

You can pick the duration. It should be doable but a stretch.

2. Work on that task/project for that amount of time without yielding to a single interruption (internal or external).

By yielding, we don’t mean that you won’t get interrupted during this time though you should do what you can to minimize the occurrence of interruptions. We mean that you don’t turn your attention to it. You reject it or delay it or validate it and make a note of it and then move on.

If this seems impossible for you, you may want to watch this training we did on how to find the space and quiet in your workday to do deep work.

3. Increase your focus time every day such that your focus time on Friday is at least twice and closer to three times your focus time on Monday.

We realize that there are real obstacles to completing this that may feel like they are out of your control. Part of this challenge includes telling people you can’t meet with them and doing the hard and possibly uncomfortable work of re-arranging your schedule.

Evaluating Your Workout:

Since we’ll be doing this over the course of the week, it would be helpful to note your answers to these questions somewhere each day so that you can track your progress.

  1. How long did you block to focus for?
  2. Roughly how many interruptions did you experience during this time?
  3. How many interruptions did you yield to during this time?
  4. What were the sources of the most common interruptions?
  5. How focused were you on average during this whole time on a scale from 0 to 10 where 10 is laser-focused?
  6. What strategies did you employ to get through this?
  7. What made this hard?

Willpower Workout in Action:

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This is day 21-25 of a 40-day journey to explore your limits. If you’d like to receive a daily email with the willpower workout of the day, you can sign up here to start at Day 1 with the first workout:

If you’d prefer to jump in where Matt is right now and then make up the other workouts on your own schedule, sign up here:

Past Workouts: