What if there was a way to become more focused and have greater clarity of mind throughout the day? What if it was possible to increase productivity and reduce the amount of time we waste?
That has been my particular pursuit for a number of months now. More recently than before, I’ve been “aggressively selective” with certain things in my life, but mainly with where my attention is going.
You see, I’m easily distracted. I’m unproductive. I’m unfocused.
To the point that I wouldn’t even argue against the possibility that I may have an addiction to the internet. I’ve spent a lot of time around computers for the majority of my life, so it’s just a “part of who I am,” now. But at a certain point it got out of hand and it’s become hard to moderate.
A couple months ago I downloaded a plugin/app for my computer that tracks all of my activity on the computer (which program or website is active and how much time am I spending on it).
Looking back at the data is a bit disgusting. But that’s precisely why I downloaded it. I wanted to have a more accurate representation of how I was spending my time. And if I felt like I wasn’t making progress, I had a no-bullshit answer to look and point to: I’m spending all my fucking time on YouTube, Facebook, and games.
And while tracking my time in this way isn’t 100% accurate, it’s a LOT more accurate than me trying to assume how I spent the majority of my time in a given month.
Breakdown of Highest App/Internet Activity In the Past 3 Months
Time frame: 7/10/17 – 10/10/17 (3 months) (13 weeks) (92 days) (2208 hours)
Total online hours: 865h 51m (39.2% of total-time / 58.8% of average awake-time) = 36 days, or 5 weeks, or ~1 month
- YouTube – 142h 35m (16%)
- Albion (Game) – 118h 39m (14%)
- Facebook – 109h 58m (13%)
- Guild Wars 2 (Game) – 51h 52m (6%)
- Discord (Communication) – 29h 25m (3%)
- Google Documents – 28h 30m (3%)
- Overwatch (Game) – 27h 53m (3%)
- Grand Theft Auto V (Game) – 24h 33m (3%)
- Spotify – 22h 15m (3%)
- Pinterest – 19h 22m (2%)
- Netflix – 14h 37m (2%)
While this is spanned across 3 months, it’s still a bit painful to see exactly how much total time I’ve spent on different sets or different apps/games. And now all of that time was spent unproductively (such as using YouTube to help me find a solution to a problem, using Facebook to promote Fort Wayne West Coast Swing, Messenger to connect with friends, watching West Coast Swing videos, etc). But I’d still wager that a large majority of that time was NOT spent productively.
So – in recent months, I’ve been trying to become more conscious of how I’m spending my time and doing what I can to minimize the impact of unproductive time. Even though it’s been slow at the start, I’ve taken on a mindset of “aggressive selectivity” or being “aggressively selective” with how orderly my physical environment is, what my goals and directions are, and the “inputs” I consume (for advice, or otherwise). Let me break that down what that means and how it’s helped me personally:
Orderliness of My Physical Environment
So I’ve been watching a lot of content from Jordan B. Peterson, a clinical psychologist and professor from Canada, and he has been (as of recent) the most effective source for helping me clean up my life and get it in better order – and thus, better productivity and drive overall.
One of the first concepts I heard him talk about was “why you should clean your room.” The general ethos (and he is way fucking better at articulating his thoughts than I, so go check him out if you think you might like to fix up or optimize your life), is that we can’t even begin to “fix the world,” or essentially do big ambitious things, if we don’t even have the capability or willpower to keep our clean room.
Spoiler alert: that would be me.
I wasn’t the messiest of people. I liked order and things being organized, but I wasn’t consistent with how often I kept my room tidy. Working on “cleaning my room” was a slow and progressive process. It’s still messy in my eyes, but there’s probably a 70% improvement in how “orderly” my room looks on a given basis. I no longer have stacks and stacks of papers and notes laying around. “Projects” are organized into neat little piles. There’s a lot more open space on shelves and what space is used on each flat surface is used more intentionally. I’m now defaulting to putting things in their proper place as soon as possible, rather than letting it sit on the desk or couch for days.
But by becoming aggressively selective about where I was putting things in my room and the kind of “free space” and orderliness in my room, I’ve found a ripple effect in other areas of my life.
Selectivity In My Goals & Directions
When I really became intentional with improving my life and going after the goals and dreams that I really had was about 3 years ago. I was very ambitious and wanted to do a lot of things all at once. Back then I was still figuring out what I wanted to do, so I had nearly a hundred goals to accomplish in a 1-5 year span. Some of them were larger (like travel to a certain number of countries) while others were smaller (such as exercising a few times week).
As each year passed, the number of goals I was setting and restarting with continued to drop. While I still think that many of the goals I had then may still be relevant or important now, I don’t view them as massive as a priority. Rather now, I prefer to keep it to as few goals and directions as possible. In other words: I’m aggressively selective with what goals I want to focus on and what direction I want my life to go in. And yes, of course it’s going to be an ever-evolving process. It’s not linear. But as I went from a “hundred goals” to my current “5 directions,” I experienced different things and tasted what I like and don’t like.
My “5 directions” are pretty simple on the surface, but they mean a LOT more to me than the majority of those “hundred goals” I had at the start of my quest-to-improve-my-life 3 years ago.
- West Coast Swing – growing as a proficient westie through regular practice and learning, competing at events, becoming dual-roled. West Coast Swing is hands-down the thing I care about the most. First it was partnered dancing at large, but as time has gone on I’ve consciously selected make West Coast Swing to be “my thing” for the next 1, 5, 10, 20 (etc.) years.
- Communities of Awesome – building communities around my interests and passions (hint: West Coast Swing), providing resources towards helping others achieve similar minded goals. It matters a lot to me to be a part of a group of people that is not only passionate about “the” big things in their life, but also in improving who they are as individuals.
- Wanderlust – traveling to different swing events, going to different cities or countries throughout the world, enjoying unique experiences, meeting new people. Travel is a way to break the mold and get new perspectives on life. I’m almost always re-energized for life after a trip.
- Business – learning how to run an online business, finding new skill-sets that will give me greater selection in how I spend my time, using what I know to help others improve their lives or businesses.
- Serve – helping people. Simple as that. This may be the least “selective” direction that I have, because I intentionally want it to be broad and all-encompassing. How I can serve other people will vary based on what I can provide, who I’m helping, and what’s needed.
The more selective my goals have been, the easier it gets to be focused, and feel a sense of progress in those areas of my life. Many of my previous goals may still be lingering about, but the ones I focus on are consciously selected because they support one or more of the above 5 directions.
Consciously Choosing How I Consume and Handle “Inputs”
This has been the absolute hardest one for me to tackle. Because I’ve been so ingrained in computers and the internet overall, it was literally becoming subconscious thought to use computers and to meander about on the internet. It wasn’t good. For a while (years) on days that I didn’t have something important to do (like work, meeting with a friend, going to an appointment, etc.), I would end up being extremely unfocused – and thus, unproductive. It on average would take 80% of the day to “finish waking up” and “get in the right mood” to do something worthwhile.
Personally I don’t think all of that “wasted time” was actually a waste. (But most of it was, though, let’s be real.) I say that because some of the content and media I would consume on the internet was directed towards optimizing mindsets and generally the concepts behind living a better life. This is all fine and dandy on its own.
The problem was that I was only implementing maybe 5% of what I learned. I often stayed in my seat and didn’t get up to try the majority of things I read or watched or felt inspired by. Many of the most successful people will say, to some effect, “that all ideas are useless and that only execution of an idea matters.” I believe that now more than ever. But it took me a while to really internalize (and I’m still working on it). On the flipside, I also think that my mindset and personal belief structure long ago wasn’t in a place that would allow me to be where I am today (and again, it’s still a work in progress).
So in recent months, I’ve been working on reducing the number of “inputs” in my life. I want to reduce the amount of time I spend watching unnecessary YouTube videos, the amount of time I spend on games (when it’s used for distraction, and not enjoyment with friends), the amount of times I open Facebook and scroll mindlessly.
AND I want to also be aggressively selective in the type of media and content that I consume – and less is better for me.
I’m at a point where I have a wealth of information that is not being utilized. I’ve realized that I’m better off shirking off 90% of the content and media I was consuming and just working off my gut instinct or what my “heart has to say.” My subconscious has a lot of data and information to work with and can guide me to where I want to go. And when, and ONLY when, I feel like I’m hitting a wall and don’t know how to proceed, then I can go searching for a solution – wherever that is or whoever that comes from.
But I cannot search for a solution to a question I don’t know yet: I shouldn’t be just going out into the endless web as if I was trying to find an answer, when I don’t consciously have a question to be answered.
I’ve got enough swimming around in my mind. I need less input, more output.
I feel bad for the amount of time I wasted on things that didn’t matter, but that’s still a part of my “journey” to get where I am now – so I have to hold some respect (and not grudges) for the way things happened. I can only narrow my focus as I move forward, using what I learned and not trying to “learn more.”
Finding motivation and inspiration outside of myself is only a way to avoid responsibility and answering our callings (in both small and large ways). It hasn’t been easy for me to really grasp this (I “knew” it, but didn’t “use” it). It’s taking a long time to really optimize this approach. But I’m finding that the less stuff I let in to grab my attention, the more focused and calmer I become.
Reclaiming My Attention
By choosing to be aggressively selective with where my attention is going and who or what gets it, I can begin to reclaim that attention for myself and put it into pursuits that are more worthwhile for my time. That’s not to say that I’m doing it perfectly or that I won’t let myself relax and enjoy free time on occasion. But let’s take a look at the progression of being “aggressively selective” and see how things have improved:
The week that I’m writing this (the last bar on the right) accounts for my #2 most productive week since I started recording (since July) and it’s only been 2-3 days in the week (Monday, Tuesday, and part of Wednesday). I still have more than half a week to work with.
This week might be a little bit of anomaly because I recently purchased some new backend tools for the websites that I’m managing. New toys make it easier to pour myself into it without distractions.
But even then? The week before this was my #1 most productive week, before I had these fancy new tools and toys to play with.
So going back into the analytics, I can see where my attention was going in that specific week.
Distractions are still obviously a problem for me, with YouTube and Facebook leading the charge – like every week.
But my productivity in certain areas has gone up comparatively. It’s easy for me to get frustrated that I’m not spending even 30 hours on something meaningful, but what I accomplished that week (and this week) is a bigger improvement than I realized (and I’m glad I went back and looked into the data for that reason).
But what stood out the most to me was looking at the general decline in distractions (red) in the previous 3 month weekly view. With the exception of an extreme spike (each one was probably affected by a new game release), the average was declining in total time spent in non-productive manners.
Is it still a lot of time? Yeah, more than I’d like, but it’s far less now than it has been.
And I can track that general decline in distractions to a few key actions/turning points:
- Glancing at RescueTime (my analytics tool for online/app time) to become more aware of how much time I’ve already spent in a day or week on certain websites.
- Deleted games off of my computer. I now limit myself to having only 1 or 2 games installed on my computer. Ever since doing this, my willpower has increased and now I’m not defaulting to launching a game when I get anxious.
- Using Cold Turkey to at raise awareness of when I was defaulting to distracting behavior (it’s crazy the number of times I would open a tab and instinctively hit F and enter, which automatically goes to Facebook). Cold Turkey can block access to websites and apps of your choosing and on a schedule. I’ve set mine to automatically kill apps and new connections to websites at certain times (e.g., when I want to try and go to bed).
- Cleaning my room. This is the concept I mentioned earlier from Jordan B. Peterson. This simple practice and mindset has really helped me to start building momentum in small, bite-sized ways that has overall increased my level of focus on average. The act of looking for “things that are in need of repair” makes it easier to find solutions, which makes it easier to actually take an extra minute to go about fixing it. And that simple process has really helped in rebuilding my ability to act more consistently (and catch myself when I’m distracted).
- Consciously making the choice to be more useful with my time. This is easier said than done, but simply setting your intentions to yourself and doing so often is the practice I needed to do in order to even reclaim my attention and make baby steps towards being useful again. I had to remind myself that it’s not possible to go from 0 to 60 overnight. And when I’ve been “out of the game” for so long, I pretty much have to start over and increase momentum slowly-but-surely.
- Unsubscribing from YouTubers, unsubscribing from emails, and unfollowing people on Facebook. Right in line with deleting games off of my computer, doing these three things has made a substantial difference in the amount of “free space” that I feel around me and in my mind. I don’t feel as called (due to anxiety) to go and check YouTube for subscription updates every 30 minutes, or to check my email, or to open a new tab in Facebook. The majority of the time I used any of those it was to distract myself and to put off a responsibility I had.
These steps have helped me to focus more on relying on my inner resources and instincts rather than going to someone on the other side of the screen to give me “permission” and “motivation” to do what I know I already want to do.
Is there something you could be “aggressively selective” about in your life? About what’s grabbing your attention? About who you’re providing unnecessary energy to? About what you’re pouring your heart into?
Is there something you could select more of? Select less of?
Sometimes being a little aggressive in that nature can pay off.
Don’t let the world around you rule your attention and take hold without you knowing.
It is a limited resource, like time, and no-one can take it without you giving it (willingly or otherwise).