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Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits and author of The Power of Less, offers practical advice in Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction. All parts of this review are available in the Archive.

“The field of consciousness is tiny. It accepts only one problem at a time.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Over the last few weeks, we’ve covered how to plan the perfect day, cut back on technology, simplify our lives, and finally find focus. In theory it makes sense; in practice it can be tough. Since we don’t live in a perfect world of complete isolation to get on with our work, a big challenge is that of other people: family, friends, co-workers, (and on and on and on). Sometimes it can feel as though everyone we interact with is bent on derailing our plans for peace with their constant interruptions and never-ending requests. What should we do?

  • Talk to the people in your life. Offices aren’t the best place to work since all the interruptions mean you often get nothing done. So why not discuss the possibility of flexible hours with your boss? Even though companies increasingly expect employees to be available all the time, this can be arranged (especially if you’ve proven yourself before). Be prepared to offer concrete proof that working from home will increase your productivity, ultimately benefiting you both. You might also offer to start small with a trial period (perhaps just one afternoon a week) to see how things go. Then, once you have solid results to prove it’s a better arrangement, you can increase the length of your offsite time.

The same goes for talking to your partner about your desire to find focus. Explain why you’ve been overwhelmed and why you’d like to find some peace in your life. That might mean no more texting each other all day long or having time alone in the evening Make sure they know this isn’t a personal attack. Instead, emphasise why it’s important, why you need their help, and how the positive effects will benefit them too. The best would be to have them fully support your efforts and perhaps even feel inspired to make changes in their own life. In other words, you both end up as better people in an even better relationship.

  • Remove yourself as a bottleneck. As a parent or employee, there’s no need to commit to doing every responsibility under the sun. At the very least, there’s no need to do them all yourself. Delegate wherever you can. This doesn’t mean you’re lazy or constantly pass the buck. It simply means you’re willing to ask for and receive help when necessary. At home, this might mean getting a babysitter to watch your children. At work, you could train a second-in-command to make decisions when you’re out of the office or working on other projects.

Outsourcing your life really doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In any case, the time and stress you save makes it worthwhile. That’s why I happily pay to have my apartment cleaned and my taxes done (not by the same person). Yes, it does mean relinquishing control and accepting that things won’t always be done in your ‘perfect’ way, but oftentimes other people can do it faster and better. So why not let them? For the matters you need to attend to yourself, try to automate the process wherever possible. Can you prepare all the meals for the week on a Sunday and freeze them for later? Can your customers consult a list of Frequently Asked Questions instead of constantly coming to you? Setting up systems now will save time in the future.

  • Segregate your roles. This comes down to the central idea of focus. Whatever you’re doing, do just that. You’ll be far more effective and connect with others far deeper than before. Separate chunks of your day and focus on your activities or roles individually without mixing them together. Be in the moment by giving your full attention to each person or problem that comes your way. As a parent, have time for yourself, time for your kids, time for your housework, etc. Let your children know when you’re working and don’t want to be disturbed. In exchange, they get to enjoy dedicated time with you when your BlackBerry isn’t a-buzzing.

As an employee, have time for email, time for work, time for meetings, etc. Make sure your colleagues know when you’re available for consultation or chatting and when you need to be left alone except for absolute emergencies. If you’ve set the expectation that constantly bothering you isn’t a problem, they’ll constantly bother you! Change that by letting people know you’ll only check email at a certain time and won’t respond any sooner.They’ll learn to adjust.

Conclusion

All in all, I really enjoyed reading Focus. The book is full of practical advice that I’ve already started trying with a good deal of success. Leo Babauta is a writer who clearly knows what he’s talking about because he’s successfully made these changes in his own life. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give as many personal examples to explain what life was like before and what it’s like now. Doing so on his blog adds such warmth to his posts and makes the reader feel a lot more connected to the message. Then again, the fact that the material clearly ‘proves’ itself when implemented by the reader means this slight detachment isn’t the end of the world.

My biggest problem is that the book comes across as a collection of 27 individual blog posts and not one focused (!) work. Yes, presenting it this way makes it easier to find whatever chapter is relevant to you and start from there (much like his famous list format makes it easier to scan for key ideas), but it does mean a lot of the advice gets repeated. For example, the suggestion to clear distractions came up in several small and incessant bursts whereas covering it in detail just once would have been enough.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend the book simply because you can immediately start making and seeing changes. And considering how many of us are desperate for a little balance, this is a great place to start.

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