Productivity's Greatest Power Tool

My boss turned to me and said…”Fanning, we need closure!”

In anger, he drove home to me and everyone else on the team that we were getting a reputation for letting our projects drag on beyond the deadline to a tune of $22,000 per day.  It was so bad that other parts of the organization were padding our deadlines for us…

I was a little freaked out, but I eventually saw this as an opportunity…

“Hey Boss, let me help with that”.  (Bosses love to hear this kind of thing)

Before long I was leading a series of lunch-and-learns for our team.  One of the big ideas from that day helped me and the team:

  • get our gotta do work done
  • finish our projects on time
  • re-establish our reputation as a dependable team

It happens to be productivity’s greatest power tool...

Attention: Unfocused like the Sun or Focused like a Laser?

When you think about productivity tools, it’s easy to consider your to do list. There is no denying a good to do list is an important tool for getting things done. However, there’s something even more powerful in helping you tackle your ‘gotta do’ work (you know that work you have to do no matter what) whether you really enjoy it or not.


And, at all times of the day you’re using your attention in one of two ways:

#1 Shining your attention like the sun – Much of the day your attention is probably spread like the sun. It’s focused on all things at the same time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  You find yourself focusing on multiple projects or even multi-tasking, which is focusing on multiple projects at the same time.  You make progress albeit slowly.

Most days though this “sun approach” to your day results in a day of feeling “busy” but not necessarily accomplishing any one thing.  If you spend too much of your day like the sun, you may look back and realize that a lot happened but not much got done.

On the other hand, consider the laser beam approach…

#2 Focusing your attention like a laser – When you focus the rays of the sun through a magnifying glass, it creates a beam that creates a fire!  Focused attention is powerful just like this.  You can power through and end up giving the air a high five when your ‘gotta do’ work is finished giving you peace of mind and the motivation to move through the next part of your day.

So when you’ve got to get your gotta do work done, you need less sun and more laser beam…and that’s your greatest productivity power tool….focused attention.

How to Build Laser Focus in Your Day

You don’t have to focus your attention all day to reap the benefits.  Just try these two, straightforward steps to build a little laser beam like focus:

Step #1 Proactively Block Laser Time

Focus does not happen in 5-minute increments; it requires solid chunks of time.  It takes a little time to prime the laser and heat things up!  Proactively book a large block of time in your calendar. You may need to look ahead a few days or even weeks, but block out a solid 60-90 minute chunk of uninterrupted time.

Go a head and do this right now. I’ll wait here 🙂

You can sprinkle your attention evenly across everything, but that doesn’t always help with your ‘gotta do’ work like writing that book chapter or an important proposal to fix a problem around the office. If you get interrupted, you lose your focus and end up feeling frustrated that it’s just not getting done.

Step #2. Focus on One Project

On Cal Newport’s blog he discusses the Einstein Principle which is:

We are most productive when we focus on a very small number of projects on which we can devote a large amount of attention.

Of course, I’m asking you here to just focus on a single project for the entire 60-90 minute block.  Einstein was focusing his attention across a “very small number of projects”, and you’ll be focused on just one.  So you’ll be even more focused than Einstein!

The key in this step is to decide what you’ll work on before you get to your large block of time.  Do not wait until you get to your precious focused time to decide.  If you’ve POPed your to-do list and put your Architect hat on, this will be quick and easy.

Here are some of the ways myself and my clients use this time:

Writing a book – For focusing your creative energy.

Self reflection – also known as transforming your personal experience into insight

Preparing for your annual review

Working on an important keynote presentation

Tackling a case of nasty project overwhelm

Helpful Hints for Even More Laser Focus

  • Eliminate distractions – Make sure your blocked out time is uninterrupted.  That may mean leaving your phone in a different room, temporarily turning off internet access, and sharing with your team and family that you’ll be out of reach for a bit.
  • Notice what happens – Recognize how this exercise impacts your results. When you chose to see the benefit, you’ll be more motivated to do it again.
  • Add Your Peak Working Time – You can get even more out of this activity by scheduling it during your peak working time – see my article about this.

Laser Experiment Time…”Double Your Output”

Right now, put one block of time in your calendar and focus on the one priority for that period and see what happens. If it works, do it again and see if you can double your output.

If the 60-90 minute block of time isn’t working because your project is complicated or just plain hard… like a chemistry experiment or math problem…try the Pomodoro technique.

I used this technique when I was writing my bestseller. I would work in 20 minute blocks with a break in between, and it worked! 


P.S. Next week I share the ‘turn it on’ ritual. It’s a quick ritual that you can adopt during your work day.

P.P.S: What are you using for more laser focus in your work day?