Focus is a prerequisite for doing great work. However, it’s never really that easy to just buckle down and tell the brain to focus; one trick we’ve recommended is spending half your day alone.

Another tactic is to delay opportunities and other tasks that come up, and keep only one or two things on your mind throughout the day. Product People podcast host Justin Jackson recalls a time when he asked entrepreneur Derek Sivers for an interview, and received this reply:

I’d love to do an interview! But could we wait just a few months?

I’m deep in the middle of my programming. Very head-down. Not much to say. I’d be a pretty bad interview right now.

But if you don’t mind waiting a few months, I’ll be more head-up with a lot of new stuff to talk about.

Is that OK? Ask me again after July or so?

Sivers goes for months on end in this head-down mode, which frees up his mental bandwidth to go all-in on programming. However, he still manages to retain this opportunity, simply by delaying it. While time-sensitive opportunities can’t be ignored, it may be helpful to reconsider the difference between the urgent and the important — and go head-down more often to in order to focus on the important. As Tim Ferriss says in this chat at Princeton:

You have to be comfortable letting lots of small bad things happen in order to get the big good things done.

  • clover

    I love the idea of not only going head-down to get something cool done, but being totally transparent about it. I am sharing this with several members of my team who could use a week-long head-down period.

  • Matthew

    Yep. This is fantastic. I’ve noticed myself getting more and more comfortable letting smaller tasks slip – sometimes even relationships that are fruitless – in an effort to serve longer term goals. I’ve also put myself through the ringer trying to do too many things for too many people, which is a total disaster. Cheers to prolonged periods of head-down mode!

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