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Op/Ed

Looking for more focus in your life? We’ve got a book for that [Interview]

(Opinion Editorials) Here are some actionable items and considerations on how to focus in such an unfocused world.

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The Focus Project book with author Eric Qualman

In a crazy year of serious health concerns and many shifts in priorities, many of us have been grappling with where to focus our attention. Personally, I am a wife, mother of a toddler and two dogs, a full-time employee, and have a side business with consistent clients. I also was leading a women’s group monthly and have a couple of freelance/contract projects. Upon losing daycare in mid-March, I was drowning.

I felt like nothing was being given full attention and my to-do list was running away without me. I also realize now that all of the above is too much and I NEED to make time for rest and figure out where to focus my time and energy. I also was sad about losing some much needed human connection.

As a Career Coach, I’m constantly preaching the power of networking. While some think that word is icky, I want to share how I met Erik Qualman in a pretty cool networking way. He was a keynote speaker at a conference I attended in 2019. He had an interactive way with the audience where he asked you to email him the one word you wanted to be remembered for.

I wrote compassion (if you were curious). He ended up writing back later and we were able to coordinate a coffee meet up since we both live in Austin. Erik hires many of the students I work with as interns and this was a great opportunity for me to ask about his interview process, what skills he looks for in students, and any other nuggets of insight that could help me coach them better.

In the meantime, he’s been a very kind and generous person to answer my entrepreneurial questions. I’ve also enjoyed his podcast, Super U. It’s full of great insights about finding and living your super powers from a variety of people and backgrounds.

When I saw that Erik’s new book, The Focus Project, launched (a bit early than he had planned), I had to order it. I am currently working through it and emphatically believe this will help many people with solid advice and immediate and long-term action ideas.

The book also covers lots of food for thought on how you are living your life and where you may want to consider adjustments. Erik has also been kind enough to answer some of my questions while I’m working through the book. I truly hope these inspire you to check it out and work on your own priorities of focus.

1. In your own experiment, you took a month to focus on each of these categories in this order: Growth, Time Management, Family + Friends, Health, Relationships, Learning, Creativity, Empathy, Mindfulness, Giving, Gratitude, Your Story and Life. At the end of year after reflection, which one (or more) surprised you the most by focusing on that area? Did it have positive ripple effects to other areas or maybe seemed easier than you originally thought? Would you change the order after going through it?

The first month surprised me the most. I’d attempted to do the project 5 times over the course of a year, so I knew how difficult that first month could be. However, once it clicked I couldn’t believe the results! The focus was on growing our revenue so that I could afford to take the time to test the rest of the project for 11 more months. Just by focusing all of my and the team’s efforts around keynote speaking, we not only had a record sales month, but we almost made a year’s worth of revenue in that one month, leading us to our most successful year. In terms of order, I wouldn’t change the order, but a lot of thinking went into the order before I began.

2. Focus in 2020 is great because it is a metaphor for perfect vision. Do you think there’s any hindsight for individuals that would be important to consider as to why maybe they are feeling so unfocused right now (values they hold to be true, work hard/play hard messaging, etc.)?

Our inability to focus on what matters most is silently killing us inside. This silent killer is similar to the fable of the frog in the pot. Recall that the frog happily sits in a pot of water, unaware of the slowly rising temperature. The premise is that if a frog is dropped into boiling water, it will immediately sense the danger and jump out. But if the water is at room temperature and slowly brought to a boil, the frog will not perceive the danger until it is too late.

Our goal is to ensure that we don’t end up like the frog. Our goal is to leap out of the boiling water—immediately—and never look back.

How many times do we find ourselves thinking: “Oh, tomorrow I’ll start my exercise program, tomorrow I’ll start spending more time with my kids, tomorrow I’ll start writing my screenplay, tomorrow I’ll start my fashion company, tomorrow I’ll start spending less and saving more, tomorrow I’ll ask for a raise, tomorrow I’ll look for a new job, tomorrow I will finish that report, tomorrow will be better.” This is the slow boil! We are in danger of wasting our most precious commodity—our individual lives.

3. Can you share your philosophy/how you balance social media so that you’re able to make the most of it in a positive way versus it being a total time suck?

The key in digital leadership is always a balance between having digital tools work for you rather than you working for the tools. These digital tools should not replace face-to-face experiences but are designed to augment it when time and distance are an issue.

Essentially you need to strike a balance. In order for me, and many other digital leaders, to strike a balance we set time limits on the amount of responses on social media we will tackle personally.

We now have a method, a method we named cowboy scheduling: A calendar with wide-open spaces and fences. I still can’t ride a horse to save my life, but I can now schedule like Annie Oakley or John Wayne.

This week give it a try — try scheduling like a cowgirl or cowboy by fencing off specific times for certain activities and leaving wide open spaces for creativity, relaxation, and deep thinking (or in this case allotting yourself a set amount of time for social media).

4. If you could change one small thing in your community/neighborhood, what would it be? (Think about examples of small changes we can make for positive impact.)

It would be wonderful if your closest 52 neighbors each wrote one nice note per week to a different neighbor each week. This would be a small change with a tremendous impact.

5. You share lots of additional books that inspired The Focus Project. Do you have recommendations for people that may read all the things but have a harder time taking action?

One reason I started writing The Focus Project is that, in some strange way, it will serve as an antidote for my book, Socialnomics ®. It is an antivenom to the poisonous habits technology can manifest in us. For the purposes of this book, I’m most interested in BJ Fogg’s research and philosophy about developing powerful habits via small steps. Fogg, a Stanford psychologist and researcher, specializes in captology – a captologist studies the effect of computers and mobile devices on human behavior. Fogg first appeared on my radar when I was writing Socialnomics. Fogg’s work was relevant to Socialnomics because many of us using social media are unknowing participants in the world’s largest social science experiment—one being controlled by the data scientists at Instagram, YouTube, Weibo, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and others.

Fogg argues that we mistakenly try to will our way to habits around activities we don’t enjoy. For example, we get up early and drag ourselves to the gym to ride a stationary bike for an hour. Eventually, since we don’t like it, we stop doing it. We don’t develop the habit. Fogg believes this mistake is more detrimental to a major change in our lives than doing nothing at all. Instead, Fogg explains that we need to start with small adjustments that lead to little victories and to celebrate these victories.

Fogg’s formula involves a trigger. An example of a trigger might be doing 25 sit-ups every time you wash your hands. Washing hands = sit-ups. We normally associate triggers with a negative cause-and-effect relationship. In Fogg’s formula, however, instead of negative triggers, the triggers are positive influences.

Here’s the simple formula for identifying triggers.

“After I Establish Habit, I will New Habit.”

Fogg’s best-known example of this formula is:

“After I Brush my teeth, I will Floss One Tooth.”

This sounds preposterous—who would floss just one tooth? This is exactly the point! Once you put into motion the flossing of one tooth you might say, “What the heck, why not floss a couple more?”

Neil Armstrong got it right, small steps lead to giant leaps.

FAQ about the book from the Author

How would you describe your book in 2-3 sentences?

The Focus Project teaches us how to focus on what matters most in this digitally unfocused world. In some ways it’s an anti-venom to my first book, Socialnomics.

Explaining The Focus Project in 7 seconds: The Happiness Project (by Gretchen Rubin) and Essentialism (by Greg McKeown) have a baby with Amazon Alexa as the surrogate mother.

What distinguishes your book from others before it?

The Focus Project is unique in that each chapter is designed to provide a new area of focus, so the reader does not necessarily need to read the book chronologically. Each chapter is a month of the project. The blend of case studies and anecdotal elements are relatable and designed to help people at any stage in life, both personally and professionally. One main differentiating factor is Erik’s personal first-hand studies and stories. Due to his speaking schedule (55 countries and 35 million reached) and exposure to some of the world’s top thought leaders the book is less “dry” than most business books.

What problem will this book solve for the reader or what significant benefit will the reader get from the book? Why should the reader spend their valuable time reading this book? Why is the message of this book important?

The Focus Project doesn’t offer an overnight cure, but with time, patience, and persistence, significant progress is possible. This book will help to provide answers and solutions to the challenges of:

  1.  Focusing on what matters most.
  2.  Focusing in an increasingly unfocused world.
  3. Becoming a focus ninja.

The following is a guide to help lead us on our individual paths of personal development—pursuing less in order to achieve more: More happiness, more love, a more fulfilled life. We will realize that leading an overly busy life is a choice, but it’s not a wise one. Despite the perceptions of many, being over scheduled isn’t something to be proud of—it’s something to avoid at all costs. Instead, we should choose to focus on what matters most. This choice determines our success, happiness, and fulfillment.

The Focus Project solves the problem of prioritizing what matters most and confronting digital distractions to get the most out of life. Using both clinical science and street science this book helps the reader to better focus which, in turn, helps us reduce our stress and achieve our goals.

Some main ideas in the book:

  1. What items if I focus on them will bring me fulfillment? What’s preventing me from focusing on them? How can I focus on them first?
  2.  The power of saying no and how to say it.
  3. Making a Not-to-Do List is more important than your To-Do-List

You can learn more about Erik and the book here.

Erin Wike is a Career Coach & Lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and owner of Cafe Con Resume. Erin is fueled by dark roast coffee with cream AND sugar, her loving husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs. She is the Co-Founder of Small Business Friends ATX to help fellow entrepreneurs + hosts events for people to live a Life of Yes with Mac & Cheese Productions.

Op/Ed

Want to move past your burnout? Stop using multiple lists

(EDITORIAL) How my evolving understanding of “burnout” helped me learn an important distinction between being busy and being productive.

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too busy to burnout

When I used to hear the word “burnout” I would picture the freaks from the gone-much-too-soon series, Freaks and Geeks, as they would bum around outside, smoking in between classes. Now when I hear the word “burnout,” I think of myself a few years ago as my brain was being fried by life.

I wasn’t smoking between classes, rather running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to figure out how to manage all of my tasks at hand. I’d make a to-do list, see everything I had to do, and drown in overwhelm.

I’d spend my days fretting over how busy I was, and nights catching up with friends via phone, talking about how busy I was and how there just wasn’t enough time in the day.

Notice that nowhere in here was I actually doing anything productive. I fell into a vicious hole of being so consumed with how much I had to do, I wasn’t taking the time to do anything but stress.

At first, it made me feel interesting and somewhat important that I had so much going on. I quickly realized that no one cares and it’s not that interesting (I also quickly remembered how much I love to just relax and not have something planned every day of the week).

This is where I learned the of the most important lessons to date – being busy does not equal being productive.

It got to a point where I was running on fumes and eventually had this epiphany that how I was operating was doing nothing to help me. This was in part brought on by seeing someone close to me behave the same way, and I was able to actually look at how defeating it was.

From there, I made it a point to change my tune. Instead of wasting time writing and re-writing to do lists, I challenged myself to make one master to do list and accomplish at least one item upon completion of writing the list. This helped shake off the cobwebs and I was able to feel a bit of weight off of my shoulders.

The ideas surrounding the hustle mentality had me so consumed and all I was doing was hustling my way to nowhere. After feeling the burnout, seeing someone else operate that same way, and seeing that hustle mentality mocked, I was finally able to break free and get stuff done.

And, guess what? I have even more to do now, but feel more calm and collected than ever. I just have to repeat the mantra: Being busy does not equal being productive. Being productive – especially in silence – is so much better and much more rewarding.

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Op/Ed

Morning rituals of highly successful people – do you have one?

(EDITORIAL) Success looks different for everyone. But even as an individual, there are some patterns you can incorporate in your morning routine that can get you started on the right foot. Let’s take a look at what successful people do in their morning rituals.

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realtor working

Fleximize took a look at the morning habits of 26 of the country’s most successful individuals to include the President of the United States Barrack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve Jobs and even Oprah Winfrey.

What was discovered? Well, each of the men and women on their chart start their day early with time blocked out for exercise and meditation, breakfast and family. In short, things that are important!

Someone, somewhere coined it best: “If it has to happen, then it has to happen first!” Everyone has an “it.” Anyone who has managed to find professional success is surely embracing this philosophy. The first hour(s) of the day are used doing whatever is one’s top-priority activity. And no sooner do you start you risk the priorities of everyone else creeping in.

Interestingly enough, exercising in the morning is one of the group’s top priorities. It’s been said many times that exercise helps keep productivity and energy levels up and better prepares us for the everyday challenge of achieving all we can.

From start to finish, the daily life of each successful person is very much dictated by their family and job. But there are definitely some patterns that we can all incorporate into our own lives to achieve higher success and order.

An Insider article found that “the most productive people understand how important the first meal of the day is in determining their energy levels for the rest of the day. Most stick to the same light, daily breakfast because it works, it’s healthy for them and they know how the meal will make their mind and body feel.”

The Fleximize chart demonstrates that successful people consider the quiet hours of the morning an ideal time to focus on any number of things: important work projects, checking email, meditation. And what’s more, spending time on it at the beginning of the day ensures that it gets complete attention before others chime in.

So check the chart and find someone you can relate to.

BI points out that planning the day, week, or month ahead is a crucial time management tool designed to keep you on track when you’re in the thick of it. Using the mornings to do big-picture thinking helps you prioritize and set the trajectory of the day!

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Op/Ed

If ‘likes’ are dead and no longer matter, what does?!

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Social media likes don’t equal people ‘Like-liking’ you. What should you measure instead?

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likes in social media

What is “like”? Baby, don’t hurt me… but it’s the same as what it “meant” in middle school.

As in, it could mean any number of things, most of which aren’t as deep as you were lead to believe.

A lot of us are still hanging on to a like count translating directly to how many sales we’ll make, or how valuable our presence online is, and news like Instagram shutting down like counts threw people who land between the extremes of gas station flip-flop brands and Nike on the ‘How well are we known, and how much does it matter’ spectrum for a serious loop.

Well, this is where you exit the loop, because the likes are made up and the counts don’t matter.

That’s a bit harsh, let me try that again…the amount of likes you get on something doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.

Take YouTube’s interface for example. You can like a video to show your support, or dislike it because you disagree or think it sucks. Here’s the twist: it doesn’t actually matter how much a video was liked or disliked. YouTube just sees people interacting with the content, and doesn’t discriminate between fame and infamy when it bumps things up the lines for more people to view.

If any given shoe company shared a video of grade-school age kids working on our athletic wear, it’s highly likely that there’d be a lot of comments, a lot of likes, and a wave of dislikes.

Are the likes edgelords agreeing just to ‘own the libs’? Do they like the production values? Do they like the company values? Do those likes belong to repeat customers or not? Are they being liked because the person behind the account gave herself tendonitis being on her phone all day for a solid week, and selecting which playlist to put it in was too painful, so she just added it to her liked videos to save it for later because the Advil is too far away?

You have no idea.

And the same goes for any and every other platform out there. Ergo, strategy, presentations, and investments based on number of likes are all castles built on shifting sand.

I still remember a long form content-style commercial for some…keto…thing? With a witch in it, and she got her revenge body, and…stuff? Slapped a like on it. Did NOT buy that keto stuff. I couldn’t even tell you if it was a drink, powder, bar, or a gym at this point. We’ve come back full circle to the era of people remembering fun commercials, but not moving past that.

So what DOES matter?

Comments: Kind of.

You actually have to read these to see what’s valuable. There’s nothing sadder than having an alert go off with ‘10 new comments!’ but all of them are ‘I made 10k in a week working from my moonbase’ type spam.

Moreover, if all of the comments are negative, you’re doing great as far as eyeballs on all the ads you have supporting your site, but not so great on actually spreading what’s going to get you paid paid.

Shares: Sort of.

Have you ever seen a ‘hate share’? Those shares where your friends put a poor horrifically abused animal on your feed for NO GOOD REASON other than to show how much they hate the person that did it? Your brand content is not immune.

And not everyone’s settings will let you see the spirit in which something was shared. They could be buying. They could be outraged. The important thing here is that you monitor as much as possible, and don’t fall for the ‘no bad publicity’ line. You’re not the late Anna Nicole Smith (…right?). You’re a business owner.

Purchases: Mostly.

This always bothered me back in other places I worked. We’d huddle up, and cheer over an email generating loads of opens and buys—woo, we did it troops, we’re on the way up, and so forth.

The catch was usually that this email was about a giveaway, or a huge sale.

When we used the same formula in titling, formatting, and getting hyped about other emails that offered products at full price? Crickets. And now that you can purchase through new social media integrations, we’re facing the exact same potential for premature e-celebration with old new media.

If no one’s willing to buy your product/service at full price, purchases during sales periods are nothing to get super excited about.

We’ve gone through a lot of caveats here, good job following it all! This is where we get to the positive part.

Follows are something you can reliably keep track of!

It’s confusing since Facebook uses the same verb for inviting a page into your life, and doing whatever with an individual post, and also you can follow without liking, or still like a page but unfollow it, so I’ll call the phenomenon of clicking a button that will put your content into people’s feeds free of charge (somewhat) ‘follows’.

Follows are people saying ‘I need you by me, beside me, to guide me.’

It’s someone being totally willing to let your company be a part of their day. It’s a reliable stop-gap measure between awareness and purchasing! Hate-follows are ‘a thing’, but unless your brand pages are set to follower-only (which…WHY), you’re more likely to know that the folks following you like-like you, and you can adjust your focus accordingly!

This whole article can be summed up as ‘You can’t make quantitative data the only thing you look at.’ Even going by follows, if you have high follows, but low purchases, it’s probable that the people you’re pitching to don’t have the capital you’re actually aiming for. Not to get woo on this, but a human-focused, holistic approach to analyzing your social presence’s performance is your only option for success.

Whether or not you include bells and incense is up to you.

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