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  • Focus Challenge Day 1: Creating Time to Focus

Welcome!

Today is day 1 of our 5-day Focus Challenge. Thank you for joining us!

(Update: Day 2 is now available)

Our goal by the end of this challenge is to help you clearly identify the one thing that will provide the most traction towards creating the future you’ve always dreamed of. Before you can really start making progress and dive into how to develop your focus muscle, you first need to make time for it. If you don’t create time on your calendar to focus, there’s a good chance you’ll never do it as you get sucked into the business of the day and the routine things that derail you. You’ll get stuck putting out fires, or what Charles Hummel calls, the tyranny of the urgent.

It’s really easy to find yourself in this position. If you’re not careful, you can very quickly get stuck responding to the things that are “urgent”, last minute emergencies and you’ll end up with no time left over for the things that are important.

Important vs. Urgent

“What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” – Dwight Eisenhower

Former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower is credited with coming up with the following matrix, known as The Eisenhower Box

This matrix breaks down everything you have to do into one of 4 categories:

  • Things that are important and urgent
  • Things that are important but not urgent
  • Things that are neither important nor urgent
  • Things that are urgent but not important

If you’re like most people, the tendency is to live your life on the left side of this matrix. Yes, you find time for something that is both important and urgent, but you also spend a lot of time responding to things that are“urgent” but not important. A lot of email falls into this category, for example. The average U.S. worker spends 6.3 hours per day dealing with email, but the same people also say they don’t have time to go to the gym regularly even though they say they want to work out more.

What you want to do is make a mindset shift and start living your lives on the top of this matrix. You want to prioritize the things that are important but not urgent and create the time to do them consistently. That’s what this lesson, in particular, is all about. The truth is that unless you make time for the things that are important but not urgent and prioritize them, they will never happen. You only have a limited amount of time in your day, and unless you protect it diligently it will get used by other things that are “urgent.

Choosing Your Big Rocks

There’s a story made popular by author Stephen Covey in the book First Things First that illustrates the importance of creating time for the important things in your life. The story goes something like this…

A professor once pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of his class. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked his class, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it filled all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class responded. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of all this?”

One person responded that there is always time you can squeeze in a day. While that is true, it was not the point the professor wanted to get across.

“The point,” he said, “is that if you don’t put the big rocks in there first, you will not be able to get them in at all.”

Making Time for Your Big Rocks

The way you make sure you have time for your own big rocks is to put them on your calendar. For example, if you say that exercise is important to you, then you need to block off time on your calendar to go to the gym. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck at the office replying to an email that just came in or dealing with a problem your coworker brought to you right before you left for the day.

If you decide that starting a side business or writing a book is important to you, then you need to create the time to take action on it. That’s what this first lesson is all about. Be intentional about choosing what is important to you, and don’t let yourself be controlled by the “urgent” whims of others anymore.

Last week I shared with you that I was struggling with reaching my goals and Thanh,  the founder and CEO of Asian Efficiency, gave me a life-altering tip. He suggested that I needed to stop what I was doing and approach my goals differently. I needed to stop focusing on the outcome and instead, on an activity that I could do every day for 60 minutes. He said that if I can focus for 60 minutes – without interruption – every day on my goal, I will accomplish it

This was what I added to my calendar, 60 minutes of uninterrupted time to just run so I can accomplish my goal of running a half marathon (and I have never run in my life before!).

Exercise

Now it’s time for you to take action on this lesson and create time in your life for the things you’ve identified as important. We’ll clarify the things that are important a little further in tomorrow’s lesson, so this lesson is fairly simple. Look at your schedule for tomorrow and block off at least 30 minutes on your calendar as a Focus Block

Make sure that you actually put this on your calendar so that you don’t just skip over this important step. Do this for the remaining days this week as well (Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5). This will create the space for you to complete the exercises associated with the other days in this focus challenge and provide the momentum you need to keep going even after it’s finished. If you can make this time consistent (the same time every day), even better.

Once you’ve done this lesson and created your Focus Block, let us know in the comments!

(Update: Day 2 is now available)

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  1. I added a time block each morning for the next week to go through and online course I am committed to mastering.
    “5:15 – 7am Watch training course and take notes”

  2. Life got away from me… I did this challenge about a year ago but fell off the wagon. Refresher course here! Sort of resetting life after too many major events.

  3. I did this challenge 17 months back and it was phenomenal. Now reading it over again still makes so much of sense. Often, I fill my jar without ensuring that the big rocks are put in first. Therefore, I need to again re-focus and get back at making time for the most important things in my life.

    Blocked 30 mins for the coming days!

  4. I have Fixed my 30 mins focus schedule, early morning around 7:30 after waking up. First planning for my photography business then learning about few areas in it.

  5. Done… my best time is in the evening when I have shed the stresses of the workday and the others in my house have gone to sleep. That’s my Me Time and when I have my best focus for thinking.

  6. I have added Focus blocks and several other recurring projects to my calendar with pop up notifications. I LOVE this idea, I have shared this idea with my coworkers! However, I find myself not sticking to it-any tips? I have tried different time frames. I am the front line for our Director, so I have a constant flow of traffic standing at my desk and across my phone and email-how do I figure out a focus period when part of my job is to respond immediately?

  7. Added my focus blocks yesterday for this week but just now coming back to post. I am travelling some for work this week so it was a little tough to make sure I did my focus blocks the same time each day, but I made it happen. Might be a little uncomfortable as for the time, but maybe that will help get me going.

  8. I needed this. I’ve had focus time blocked in the morning since the last challenge but along the way it has devolved into my “get stuff done at the last minute” block. Renewed energy and, well, focus around having this time be only for the truly important and not for a mad dash before the work day begins.

  9. Not that long ago I made a list of tasks that were important to me, but not urgent. Tasks that caused me stress and anxiety and I’d constantly put off despite how much they meant to me and my future goals. These were my personal ‘frogs’. Reading this post I realised I have 30min when I get back from work before I go to the gym etc. that’s constantly being filled with those ‘urgent’ but ‘unimportant’ tasks. This post is going to help me change that! Now, that 30min time block, is changing into my focus zone, time to get through these tasks. After all, I eat a frog first thing in the morning at work, why not add a personal one in the evening too?!

  10. I made a list the other day, writing down all the goals and tasks I wanted to accomplish but were causing me anxiety/stress. I often put them off despite most of them being important to my life and longterm goals. They’re my ‘frogs’. Important, and urgent (well, the longer I leave it, the longer I put off the benefits!). So this week, after I get home from work I tend to have 30min before I head off to the gym which I spend ‘filling in’ with those urgent but necessary tasks. This is going to change. This is now my evening focus period towards this ‘frogs’. Why just eat one in the morning too for work, when you can kick a personal one off in the evening too?

  11. In I am … I plan 30 mins at the coffee shop before I head up to my desk every (well, most) mornings. I’m using my Bullet Journal to review the key focus for the week, and what tasks I’m committed to that day.

  12. My daily Chi Gong is fallen by the Monsoon Wayside. Great opportunity to reinstate. Have put it on my personal and work calendar.

  13. Done – booked 1 hour time block 7:30 – 8:30 AM for writing the business plan for a record label and non-profit. I can see moving this block to after 5PM to use more creative time next week.

  14. Just scheduled my focus blocks for the rest of the week. Looking forward to more focus and clarity ar the end of the week.

  15. Have scheduled my 30-minute block times this week. Looking forward to some focus and clarity on my work by the end of the week!

  16. Done :) – allthough it was not so easy to find the time in my work calender.
    I’ve laid it in the afternoon (after I receive your mails as I’m in Europe) and at a time with as little interruptions as possible. I’m a manager in a production factory and hence a lot of the action takes place in the morning.
    I do hope I will have energy left when the time is up. Looking forward to this challenge.

  17. I’ve scheduled an hour of focus block for each workday of this week. They are at different times depending on my work schedule. But I’ve tried to put them as early as possible so that I will have enough energy for it.

  18. Great timing: just this morning I was helping my son pack his backpack and reminded him “Big rocks first” so everything would fit. I really should practice applying that to my life more often, and not just to the dishwasher or my purse! OK, I blocked off 30 minutes in the evenings this week that I usually spend veging out in front of the TV. Let’s do this!

  19. Blocked my time. On a one-day plane business trip tomorrow so will use focus time on the plane ride home. Then blocked time earlier the rest of the week. Thank you for the challenge!

  20. Blocked 30 minutes every workday first thing at work to work on important things. Instead of the flood of issues coming every day

  21. Thanks a lot.
    I resonated with: focusing on an activity, not the outcome. I’ll start learning how to do that.

    I’ve created my focus blocks, twice a day. Bring it on!

  22. This is great timing. I’m traveling for work and never manage to keep a schedule beyond time with customers. Focus is difficult when I’m in different time zones and feel like I’m working sun-up to sun-down.

  23. I’ve scheduled a 30 min block early each morning to work on launching my website and my writing business.

    If time permits, or should I say, I carve out time in the evenings, I’ll work on it some more.

    My best work is in the morning when I get to bed earlier.

  24. I had a three-hour block for vague ‘research and writing’ in my calendar every morning. This was too vague and too big so I would often end up doing unproductive ‘research’ on the web instead. I have now made this a more realistic one-hour block that I can actually commit to.

  25. Magnífica oportunidad, fijé una hora de trabajo enfocado en mi calendario para este reto 10 – 11 A.M. Gracias por el reto.
    Saludos desde Venezuela

  26. Done. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to incorporate the Eisenhower method into my life for too long. Duh, schedule a Focus Block for the big rocks. Thanks

  27. I already workout 3-4 times per week running. I need more time to focus, so this was perfect for me. I scheduled time to get some real big picture work completed for the rest of the week

  28. Done. I am trying to get better/learn how to analyze sequencing data and will use the block to spend some time doing focused programming practice.

  29. I’ve blocked off an hour each morning for Bible study and reading. I’ve blocked off an hour in the afternoons for writing and working on my blog. These times are not set in stone (especially this week – Saturday is prom for my daughter), but I really like the idea of focused blocks. Never have I put them in my planner before (I know – it sounds ridiculous as I type this out). Thanks so much for the kick in the pants!

  30. I had focus blocks as a recurring item in my calendar from the last focus challenge, but I’ve become really horrible at protecting that time! The last couple months have been decidedly terrible for me honoring that block. So–refreshing the schedule and I’m determined to go back to keeping this sacred!

  31. For the coming days I have blocked 1 hour (2 x 30 minutes) per day in my agenda for focused work and alternating 30 to 60 minutes per day for fitness.

  32. I set up 10 am-11 am as my focus time every week day except Friday, and on Fridays I will wake up early for a half-hour session. This might even be sustainable for the foreseeable future… We will see… Thanks for the opportunity to take on this focus challenge!

  33. I’m in! I created 90-minute spots in my calendar starting today and for the rest of the week to focus on tackling both books and other reading material on my reading list.

  34. I’ve added this new focus block to my calendar this week, and have looked ahead to see where a longer block could be added in upcoming days/weeks depending on next steps of this challenge!

  35. I’ve blocked out 1 hour from 7:30am-8:30am to focus on working on my training program that I have been putting off to the side because of other things that come in.

  36. Alright, stole back the 30 minutes I’ve been mindlessly scrolling social media when I first get up to instead be a dedicated focus block for myself (way better use of my time). Fingers crossed I stick to it! ;)

  37. Finding my focused time first thing in the morning to make sure I’m on track for the day with the startup business I’ll be launching.

  38. I setup my todo list to include 3 focus items for today and then put everything else below the 3 focus items. I separated the everything else into two buckets – should do & if can. However, I stopped at adding no more than 10 items to the list (including my 3 focus items). I think this will help with focus for the day. Thanks for your help!

  39. Just created focus blocks for the rest of the week. I am looking forward to them so that I can finish a project that keeps dragging on.

  40. Calendar has been blocked for the week. This should be interesting as I’ll be on vacation for the second half of the week with no normalcy to my schedule.

  41. I have scheduled 30 minutes each evening during the week and 1 hour in the morning on Saturday and Sunday. I already had 30 minutes blocked out 5 mornings per week that is my exercise time.

    Choosing the evening time pushes me to leave work on time. I have been working 60 to 70 hours per week for over two years. I need to stop doing that. If all these projects I get assigned are so important then they need to hire another person to take over some of my work or they can just wait. For the last few weeks I have cut my hours down to 40-50 and feel so much better even though I’m now playing catch up at home and in my business.

  42. Normally my calendar gets booked with work related meetings automatically. As a result I find myself attending meetings that are not always the best use of my time. I have taken a very passive approach to my calendar which has basically given over the power of my time to others.
    Booking a half hour everyday for focus has given me back some of that power and a sense of control. I see this is going to be a real paradigm shift!

  43. Recurring appointment set up on weekdays but I always struggle with weekends and actually sticking to my calendar. Let’s see if we can change that!

  44. Created a mini-quadrant to remind myself to make a quick decision about where the action falls, and more importantly, what time block to assign it to.

  45. Dedicated 30 minutes each morning as a Focus Block for the next 5 days! Once it’s in my agenda, it has to be followed!

  46. I work for a boss who creates constant chaos, and that’s why I am in for this challenge. Last week I actually asked his permission to not answer emails immediately upon receipt. That was a wake-up call!

    I just blocked off an hour each morning on my calendar. He may have a fit at first but I have got to get control of the situation. I also blocked off another 30 minutes, but it is before he usually arrives so he probably won’t even notice ;-)

  47. I have created focus blocks for the remaining exercises, and scheduled out time to work on the project that I am currently working on.

  48. I am the worst at getting up mindfully and slowly 😂 I’m going to spend my focus block on reading a book I’ve been trying to finish for years (Viktorl Frankl’s ‘Man’s search for meaning’) – I just get so involved in the story that I need to take a breather. Here we go!

  49. I have set up my morning ritual which consisted of me exercising for at least an hour and dedicate 30 minutes in the evening cleaning out my “inbox” at my desk and/or phone.

  50. I created a 30 min. focus block for each morning during the rest of this week. Looking forward to this challenge! Let’s do this :-)

  51. Well, 1 hr focus blocks added as a recurring appointment, plus 30 min blocks for swimming before work. Unfortunately today I was really late for work so not a great start, but I will try to get on track

  52. I identified what I want to accomplish and blocked time every morning for 60 minutes. I called it FOCUS: to be reminded to Focus, but also to be reminded what my objective is each time I review my calendar.

    I find the Big Rocks so true. Never thought about it in this context. In my OmniFocus I use the Eisenhower to determine what I need to work on, but to focus on those big rocks first it makes it much easier, once that’s out of the way your day is open to chip away smaller tasks, without the burden of that big rock hanging above your head :)

    Great post, love it.

  53. I set up 30 minutes for myself to complete an online training I signed up for 3 months ago and haven’t started yet!

  54. I just scheduled my focus block so I can make time for this online training I enrolled in 3 months ago but haven’t started yet!

  55. I’ve calendared time focus blocks for the rest of this week, with one hour in the morning for exercise and 30 minutes in the evening for organizing.

  56. Made 1 hour time Block in the evening for my most important tasks. I have heard of this quadrant concept before – excited to really implement in practice.

  57. Created 1 hour time Block in the evening for my most important take and marked in the calendar.

    I heard about this quadrant concept before – excited to implement this in practice.

  58. Just created my time blocks for the week first thing after my morning routing. Looking forward to the rest of the challenges!

  59. I created time tomorrow from 3-5pm. This is in addition to my regular block labelled ‘DW’ (for Deep Work) every Friday morning from 9am-12pm. That’s my standing appointment with myself to get focused work done (usually writing papers, grants, etc.)

  60. I have time blocked tomorrow for cleaning up/prep work. I am a doctoral student and our semester has ended. So now I am filing what is no longer needed, and preparing for the next semester. Plus take a bit of personal time to ‘sharpen my saw’.

  61. I’ve put three focus blocks on my calendar. One in the morning, one in the mid afternoon and one in the mid evening, I also put an hour of exercise on three days this week.

  62. Just created focus blocks for days 3, 4, and 5. I’m away at a conference but will be getting up a little earlier so I can do that first thing in the morning and not have to worry about fitting the time in later. Looking forward to using them!

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