Master Your Focus: A Meditation Trick
Episode #1 of the course Master your time: The secret to being insanely productive by John Robin
Welcome to the first lesson of Master Your Time.
My name is John Robin. I’m an author and an entrepreneur. I’ve written nine Highbrow courses about writing, math, science, and productivity, including my most recent, “Mental Models: How to Make Better Decisions.” While writing these courses, I have gone through more than four revisions of an epic fantasy novel. I’ve written other novels in between drafts. I’ve also run an editing and publishing company and have overseen more than 70 publications. While doing all this, I’ve spent just as much time reading books and articles for research and self-improvement. You might not believe it, but I’ve done all this while keeping up an active personal and social life, including a workout routine.
You could say that I am insanely productive! This course is all about how exactly I’ve learned to master my time, because it’s a skill that I believe anyone can adopt.
Master Your Focus
Throughout this course, we will start at the most fundamental level and work our way upward.
The most important skill to develop when mastering your time is mastering your focus.
You might have heard of the power of mindfulness meditation. You may have already practiced it, and if you have, then you have a head start.
However, just practicing meditation is not going to make you more productive. You have to apply it to how you work.
Here’s the insight that forever changed me: You can make anything your object of directed awareness!
In mindfulness meditation, you can proceed in two ways:
• directed awareness
• open awareness
In open awareness, you simply try to notice where your mind wanders.
In directed awareness, you anchor yourself with a specific object of attention. Usually, it’s your breath.
You can practice this right now.
Set a timer on your phone for two minutes, then sit upright and try to focus on nothing but your breath.
Every time your mind wanders to something that’s not your breath, notice that, then begin again, focusing on your breath. Do this until the timer finishes.
Try it right now—I’ll still be here.
All right, let’s try this again but we’ll make it more practical: Instead of your breath, focus on your work.
This time, set a timer for 25 minutes. If you’re a writer and have a book you’re working on, then for this exercise, you would open your manuscript and focus on nothing but trying to write.
Right now, in fact, I have a 25-minute timer on and I have this course open, and it is my object of focus. This 25-minute period is a 25-minute meditation for me, and I am focused entirely on the course, the object of awareness I set before I began.
If my mind wanders and—somehow—I find Facebook or Twitter open or some other internet window because I had a shiny idea … well, I notice that, then close all windows and return.
There is only one thing right now: this course.
I will close internet windows in the middle of typing as soon as I notice this. Just like in meditation, you let it go and return your attention to the one thing it should be on. It is this act of noticing that makes you improve. With time and practice, your focus only gets stronger.
We will talk more about timer periods tomorrow, but for today, what I want you to take away is how you can treat focused work like meditation. You set your intention before you do it, then maintain that throughout.
You can do this for any project that requires focused time greater than 25 minutes. Examples include:
• writing or editing or revising
• practicing an instrument or performance gig
• working on art
• reading a book or article
• doing homework or studying
• solving a problem or researching
• developing a product
What I want you to take away from this is how you can completely shift your paradigm about getting work done: Instead of thinking about a quantity of work, you think about the specific focused time. This is your new unit of measurement for productivity.
As you’ll see later in the course, this paradigm shift is critical to making sure work doesn’t take over your life—a problem just as bad as being unproductive.
The most basic key to mastering your time is to turn your work into meditation, where the specific focus for each given work period is your directed awareness anchor.
You should practice this. Your homework is to break down your day into distinct things you want to focus on, and try “meditating” with each as an object of focus.
Tomorrow, we’ll move on to the next level, as we look at how to eliminate the enemy called distraction.
The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh
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