I am always looking for ways to improve it, develop it, get better at it.
There are many ways I work on it - meditation, saying no to things, working from a list, cutting down on consumption. But in the day-to-day, one of the best ways I've learned to focus is by using this tool: the kitchen timer.
How does a kitchen timer make you focus?
Setting a time limit on a task allows you to go deep and shut out distractions. It's you versus the clock. How much can you get done in 20 minutes? in 30 minutes?
During those 20 minutes, you make a deal with yourself: buckled down and do this one thing for 20 minutes, then you get to do something else.
I use a timer when I practice ANYthing -- guitar, drums, bass, voice. I use a timer when I sit down to write.
When I have a choppy day full of errands, lessons, and sessions, I set the timer for 10 minutes and get small, deep practice sessions done before I head out the door, between two appointments, or right after I walk in my apartment.
I can hear you saying it right now, "Why not just use the timer on your smart phone?"
I'll tell you why. Using the timer on your smart phone means you have to fiddle with your smart phone to set the timer and turn it off. It also means your smart phone will be sitting right next to you during your "supposed" deep focus session. No one -- not a single person -- does deep work with their smart phone beside them. Get real. How do you get real? Get old school. Go analogue. Get a stand alone, honest to goodness kitchen timer.
Over the years I've bought, broken, or lost 20 or more of these things. There are a million timers on the market; an Amazon search pulled up 2682 results. Walk into any kitchen store and there will be five or six for sale, ranging from $5 to $55 or more.
One of my $5 timers recently broke. So I was on the hunt for a new one.
I decided to hit up Amazon and found a GREAT one. It's called the Smart Cube Timer.
Why am I in love with this timer (besides the fact that I am a total geek)?
1) It limits your choices. Less is more. You can only time yourself in 5, 15, 30, or 60 minute intervals.
Limiting your choices -- when it comes to getting anything done -- is a good thing. Less is more.
2) It is whimsical and playful. The large cube shape reminds you of a Rubik's cube, of dice, of wooden blocks. You want to touch it, flip it over, turn it around. To time yourself for 15 minutes, you push the on switch and put the side with the big number 15 facing up (toward the ceiling). The timer immediately begins to count down. When 15 minutes are over, the timer beeps. To stop the beeping, you turn the cube around so the zero faces up.
What if your sweet spot for practicing is 10 minutes or 20 minutes? Challenge yourself and grow: focus for five or ten extra minutes. You can do ANYTHING for five minutes more. Or get a different cube. There at least three other cubes (in bright colors) that count down in different intervals (the yellow cube counts 5-10-20-45 minutes, the purple counts 5-10-20-30 minutes, the green counts 1-5-10-15 minutes).
In the end, of course, it is not about your kitchen timer, but about the time you put into your instrument. The kitchen timer is a tool. That's all. The best tools are the ones that get used ... a lot.
What are your strategies for focusing? What tools do you use? Any tips and tricks you want to share? We are all in this together. It's us against the forces of distraction ... Give it up!