The most essential skill to master in the 21st century


A few years ago, I was diagnosed with stage 4 ‘I don’t give a shit.’ 

I’m afraid it’s terminal. 

Let me clarify. It’s not that I don’t care about anything, you know, like a pimpled teenager.

But at some point, my mid-thirties thick and balding skull realized that it pays to be in the dark on most things – and that you should only be in the know about a few, carefully chosen areas, if you want to get ahead in life. 

It’s called focus.

Go ahead and grab your torch and pitchfork. I’ll die on the hill that focus is the most essential skill to master in the 21st century.

Because focus, my friend, is exactly what we need in this over-dopamined, keep-up-with-the-Jones’s, stressful, can I bother you for a moment, beep-beep, ring-ring, oh god, how do I look in this photo world. 

What the hell do you want?

Many people are busy with news media, gossip, the latest Netflix show, social media, emails, and the like. 

The more you stuff your life with these things, the less bandwidth you have for acquiring new skills, building wealth, thinking, reading books, or being present with family. It’s simple math. 

Focus is to decide and pursue what you want to do in life, who you want to meet, what type of salary you want, where you want to travel, and what you want for your family.

You should only do what’s important to you and your closest ones.  

Never go with the flow

If you study the great Jim Rohn, you have probably heard that focus is like setting the sails. 

Do you want to decide where you end up? Or do you want the wind to carry you somewhere random and just go with the flow? 

Write all of your essential goals down. And then figure out what you need to do to achieve those goals. Remember to store your old lists to keep track of your progress. 

Written goals are the first pillar of focus. 

You don’t need more time

Focus is a fierce game of reduction. And this is why most people are too scared to play. 

If you feel like you don’t have enough time, you’re dead wrong. You have 24 hours every day like everyone else. But what you probably lack are skills and priorities. 

But how do you free up more time? I’m glad you asked. Forget about scribbling another to-do list or downloading the latest productivity app. What you need is a give-up list. 

Here’s my growing give-up list:

  • News media
  • (Most) sports
  • Social media
  • Gossip
  • Gaming
  • Being “in the know.”

What are you willing to let go off to get what you want? 

Do the few, vital things more often if you want to improve.

Plan to focus

Do you remember the last time you were in the zone and just killing it on that critical job?

You lost track of time, nothing else was on your mind, and your output was unusually great. 

Focus gives you the ability to take all of your physical, cognitive, and subconscious power and apply it to the most significant project for a scheduled, uninterrupted period. It’s potent. 

Now let me ask you this: How often do you plan to get yourself into this uninterrupted flow of focus? 

Well, you have to. And here’s why. 

On average, we are distracted every 3 minutes. The even worse part is that it takes 23 minutes to regain concentration!

The math explains why some people work long hours but still produce very little.

Which distractions do you allow?

If you can say yes to some of these types of distractions, you are in trouble:

  • Do you allow interruptions from phone notifications?
  • Do you allow small talk throughout the day? 
  • Do you find it difficult to say no to other people’s agenda?
  • Are you often in over your head to finish up projects?
  • Do you enjoy the chaos and adrenaline of being overly busy? 

These distractions are all in your control.  

Nothing stops you from turning off notifications on your phone.

It’s not illegal to escape to a quiet room, where people can’t find you for a couple of hours.

And your boss will thank you, not fire you, for working on the most critical task instead of answering emails, brainstorming ideas, and updating your budget at the same time. 

Plan your way out of distractions to get focused, uninterrupted time. 

If you want to learn how to get into control and achieve focus, which helps you reduce stress and increase productivity, check out this piece.

Why are we so easily distracted? 

Ninety percent of behavior and choice happens automatically. If you want to change results, the key is to become aware of your actions and decisions to make focused efforts. 

We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.

Jim Rohn

Without focus, you tend to chase immediate gratification to avoid frustration and hardship. We choose to do the most straightforward job or dive into YouTube videos about monkeys’ gambling habits when we should have been working on that sales pitch. 

Always start with your biggest frog, as Brian Tracy would say. It’s a typical sign of an important job when you run into something challenging or even uncomfortable. 

Grind it out. These gritty tasks are the ones that lead to everything from better relationships and bigger paychecks to life epiphanies and new inventions. 

Focus starts with a plan

I’ve kept a note of the following wisdom from James Clear, which sums up the three primary drivers of results in life: 

  1. Your luck (randomness)
  2. Your strategy (choices)
  3. Your actions (habits)

Did you notice something about them? That’s right; you control two out of three, which isn’t half bad. If you master your strategy and your actions, you can seriously improve the odds that luck will work for you instead of against you. 

But let’s skip to the part you will probably hate. 

A strategy requires that you sit down and do some serious thinking about what to do and what never to do again. And then your actions have to carry out your focused strategy. 

No beach at the office – and no office at the beach

We’re all like mosquitoes on a nudist colony. The problem isn’t the absence of opportunities. It’s the lack of focus to figure out where to start and where to finish. 

Most people don’t know who they are if they’re not busy. Do yourself a favor and get off this sinking banana boat. 

I’ve found that I accomplish more when I work less. Focus allows you to take time off when you most need it. Work hard and rest hard to regain clarity and energy. 

Decide to miss out and learn to enjoy it. It’s a pure waste of time to always be in the know. Spend less time following other people’s lives and more time creating your own. 

In addition to productivity abundance, focus delivers something fundamental that we all crave:

Peace of mind. 

By Kristian Magnus

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