Why you should invest more of your time in Total Focus.

When I was in college I had a great study routine. I went to the Helen C. White Library on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison every Monday through Thursday night. I headed straight to the quiet study section of the ‘brary, found a private study cube, and focused intensely for 45 to 60 minutes at a pop.

15 Minute Breaks

At the end of each period of intense focus I would leave the quiet study space and head to the non-stop party in the Group Study section of the library. There I would talk with friends, or flirt with the ladies for 15 minutes.

Then I would head right back to quiet section for another Total Focus study session. I would repeat this routine for several hours, until it was time to take the Drunk Bus home and get some sleep.

I loved this routine. In the quiet section there were no distractions. No laptop, mobile phone, or smart watch. Just papers, pens, and books. In that environment my brain soaked up knowledge like a sponge. I felt intensely productive. I felt on top of game. And my good grades indicated it was working.

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Helen C. White Library is the big white building by the lake. Did I mention that Madison is beautiful?

Dealing With Distraction

Fast forward 2 decades, and I don’t feel intensely productive very often any more. Ever since I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, there are distractions everywhere. In fact, even my distractions have distractions. My ever-present iPhone is always trying to feed me news and alert me and ping me and generally mess with me like a digital Larry, Curly or Mo.

My laptop is like a 3-ring circus of emails, Slack notifications and calendar notices. All of them are vying for my attention all the time. Most of us deal with this digital sideshow. But as a business owner it is unrelenting. And it can feel as if staying on top of the pinging and dinging is how you stay on top of the business. But it is actually the death of productivity by a million beeps, blips and bites.

Going Back To College

That’s why I am going back to college. I’m not actually enrolling and going to class and keggers and the KK. But I AM going back to Helen C. White Library mode. I am getting back into my periods of Total Focus. Or ToFo as I like refer to it. As in, ‘Yo, Bro, I need some ToFo!’ 

I recognize that ToFo is my superpower. ToFo, not Budweiser Light, brings out my best.*  ToFo helps me get the most accomplished. It helps me do my best thinking and creating. It makes me feel strong and capable. It unleashes the full power of mono-tasking. And I want more of this right now.

Scheduling The ToFo

I have at least an hour of ToFo in the morning when I write my blog. This focused, uninterrupted work helps me publish 3 new blog posts each week. I have also begun adding ToFo time into my work calendar. I am scheduling 60-minute periods of intensely focused work where I block out all interruptions and distractions.

I turn off the ringer on my phone, and the turn the phone over, so that I don’t hear or see any digital noise. I turn off Slack to avoid momentum killing Slack attacks. Then, for one hour, I am in ToFo mode. Just like I was back in the quiet study section at the library in Madison. I can literally feel the productivity and the progress at work as I am cranking through work and crossing things off on my daily to-do list.

ToFo For Everyone

I also want my team to be able to have more ToFo time for deep work. In the same way that we schedule meetings and lunch I want The Weapons to spend more time focused without interruption for longer periods of time. Which means scheduling time when they are not on a digital leash. It is good for my teammates. And it is good for business.

Key Takeaway

Find more time for ToFo. Silence your digital distractions. Be selfish. And mono-task for 45 to 90 minutes at a time. You can do this by scheduling time when you are totally available, and time when you are totally off limits to coworkers, clients and family. By scheduling this time the rest of your team knows when they can ask question and get feedback, and when the will have to wait. ToFo is your super power. You should use it every day.

*Click on this link to see some memorable beer commercials that treat beer as if it was Gatorade or Red Bull. I was totally inspired by these spots when I was a little kid. Go Beer!

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Great Advice From Ludacris On How To Create Opportunities.

I study successful people. Seriously. Successful people is my favorite subject. I like it even more than gym class. If I was a contestant on Jeopardy, Successful People would be the first topic I would choose. If I had one last book to read on earth it would be about successful people. Unless that book was on the shelf next to Last Minute Tricks To Get Into Heaven For Those Who Giggled Too Much In Church.

I regularly read about, listen to, watch and ask questions of successful people. Recently I watched an interesting interview with the rapper Ludacris (Christopher Bridges). It was the kind of interview where you are on stage, acting as if you are having a normal fireside chat with a total stranger. Meanwhile, a thousand strangers in the audience eavesdrop on your conversation. But they don’t even hide the fact that they are eavesdropping. #TotallyAwkward

MultiPronged Success

At the end of the Ludacris interview they let the audience ask a few questions. A 20-something woman stepped up to the mic and told Ludacris that she wanted to be like him. She noted that he was a Rapper, Actor, Songwriter, Record Label Founder, Headphone Maker, Vodka Creator, Sneaker Line Designer, Restaurant Owner, Real Estate Investor and Philanthropist.

The young woman then listed all of the things that she was doing. Her verbal resume exceeded the number of titles Ludacris had. Which sounded ludicrous. I snickered at the absurdity of her self proclaimed resume. After sharing her laundry list of titles the unknown woman asked the world famous rapper what advice he had for someone who has ambitions to do so many things.

The Response

Luda might have been tempted to laugh at her. I half expected him to tell her to get out my business, my businasz! Or to Move! Or Rollout! Or that your time and your clothes got to coordinate. I was just hoping he was going to rhyme.

But instead of dropping giggles, verses or hardcore attitude on her, Luda dropped some great advice on the ambitious young woman. He said:

My best advice is to first get really, really good at one of those things. When you get really, really good at something it opens up doors that allow you to do the other things you want to do. -Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges

First Things First

This is excellent advice. You create great value for yourself when you provide the world with great value. You do this by first putting in the time to become really, really good at something rare and valuable. Which then creates opportunities to do other things that excite you.

Don’t be a Jack or Jill of all trades but master of none. Master one of those trades. The world will then ask you what else you want to do. Because if you are willing to put in the work to be great at one thing, you have what it takes to be great at many things.

Key Takeaway

It’s great to be ambitious. But serious success requires serious focus. Start by becoming great at one valuable thing. Use that greatness as a bridge to your next opportunity to create, lead, write, perform, teach, speak, launch or invest. Success sets off a domino effect of actions. But it all starts with that very first domino. That’s where your focus should be first.

Why you should mind your own business.

In 2016 I left a comfortable job to start my own business. After working in the advertising industry for two decades I had a clear vision of what the perfect advertising agency was like. I used that vision as a blueprint to create a new agency called The Weaponry. At the same time, I began writing The Perfect Agency Project blog to share my experience and learnings along the way. And in case you didn’t notice, I just created a link to this blog, in this blog. Which may technically be the silliest thing I’ve done in 219 posts.

The Perfect Agency

I have thought about every aspect of the perfect advertising agency. From the dress code (which is only 9 words long), to the way we respond to client requests (always explore them), to the way we deliver invoices (singing telegram*), we are creating both the agency I would want to hire to create my advertising, and the place I want to work.

Competitors

But one thing I haven’t done since launching The Weaponry is think about our competitors. In fact, I don’t even know who our competitors are. We are not trying to win a geographical area. We are not trying to win a singular discipline, or serve a niche industry. So it’s hard to find another agency to throw in a cage match with us.

We are focused on building a machine for developing great creative ideas, delivering excellent customer service and providing a fun experience for everyone involved. That’s it. Oh, we’re also drinking a lot of chocolate milk. 

Occasionally in an RFP (Request For Proposal) we are asked who we compete against in various services. I always respond by saying we compete against everyone who offers those services.

But I don’t pay any attention to those supposed competitors. I don’t worry about what other agencies look like. Or what their websites say. I don’t go to awards shows to see their work. There is not a thing I can do about how they conduct their business. I am not trying to hurt them or steal their business. I am solely focused on us handling our business and delivering against our client requests.

In fact, there are only two agencies I think about at all.

  1. The Weaponry in its current state.
  2. The fully formed version of The Weaponry.

I am focused on closing the gap between the two, and making the business we work in today look more and more like the ideal.

Key Takeaway

Mind your own business. Don’t become distracted by what everyone else is doing. Understand what your customers and your employees want, and work diligently on delivering that at the highest level. It’s the shortest path to success.

This same principle hold true for us as individuals. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, or how they are doing it. Focus on what you believe in. You can never go wrong doing what you know is right.

(*Okay, so we haven’t fully implemented the singing telegram invoice delivery system yet. But let me know if you would like to be part of the beta test.) 

The one thing to focus on to be most successful.

Do you know why you are successful?  I know why I am.  Since you are reading this post, I expect you want to learn to be more successful too. So let’s get right to it, after this distraction. And another distraction. Wow, so many distractions before we get to the one thing!  These distractions are ruining this blog post! Or maybe this is an important demonstration of the point of this post.

The common theme of my greatest successes comes down to one word: Focus.

When I have created the best work, come up with the greatest answers or had the most impact on my clients, I was able to focus completely on the challenge in front of me. The same holds true for personal successes and achievements.

Far too often we take on too many responsibilities concurrently, juggling and reordering them like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory.  Focus is about concentrating your energy. Taking on too much dilutes your power, potential and performance.

FOCUS = Focus On Completely Until Solved

Focus means prioritizing. It means scheduling so that everything can be the star for a time. Sometimes that means we focus on projects exclusively for a month. Sometimes it means focusing on a challenge for a couple of days. Or a couple of hours.

Scheduling to eliminate distractions is key.  As my friend and excellent business ideator  Duane Nelson often says, ‘Multitasking is a myth.’  But it is such a popular idea it could win the Myth America Pageant (if there were such a thing).  It’s really a matter of how hard we are able to focus. More focus means greater intensity of thought, deeper evaluation and more intelligent solutions.

When I have won major pieces of new business or created work that helped transform the way a brand behaves and spurred transformational growth, I have been able to clear my plate, my desk and my brainium to get the work done.

As we attack client challenges at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am always thinking about focus. I want to deploy the thinking power of each member of our team in a way that drives the greatest client results.  That is why we schedule our work  so that every project can play center stage for the appropriate amount of time.

It can be tempting to take on as much work as one human can shoulder to show how tough, capable or responsible you are.  While seemingly helpful to your team and your employer, this load-it-until-the-axles-bend approach doesn’t lead to the superstar performances you will be most proud of. It may, however, lead to broken axles.

This isn’t just a work thing.  Distractions are everywhere. Volunteering, attending events and getting roped into activities in your personal life can detract from your focus too.

Micro focus moves the needle micrometers.  Macro focus can move it miles. So if you are looking for greater performance, greater ideas and greater results find a way to get greater focus on the project in front of you.

*This blog post has not been brought to you by the Ford Focus, a model of Performance & Efficiency. With available SYNC® 3 · Dual-Zone Temp Control · Smart-Charging USB Ports.  It is designed to inspire | Ford.com “Car of the Year Award” – Autoguide.com