Tools For The Self Directed Life

An Effective Strategy To Keeping Your Focus

 By Calvin Harris H. W., M.

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We are daily bombarded with more information and communications, sometimes its call new and improved, and the pitch we receive is that to get it will allow us to  Have it all, be it all, and do it all. Particularly if it applies to our careers. Sometimes we think that utilizing all the new information that comes our way, is the only path to success.

The result is, you find yourself spending more hours, downloading cool new apps, and trying to keep up on social media. Now I ask you, how is that working out for you?

Inherent in that behavior is the risk factor of burnout. You can find your time and energy being drained away and add to that  Instant connectivity through our phones and computers and your time and energy is really gone, and yet, the time for your path to success becomes less and less and is really under pressure to happen at all.

Have it all, be it all, and do it all. .  is a lot easier said than done.  To say “yes,” too often means ending up overwhelmed. But how do you prioritize competing priorities to stay ahead without driving yourself crazy?

You need to stop, step back, review and analyze where your attention has gone, then recalibrate new habits to invest your attention wisely to get ahead.


I Suggest An Attention Charter

Book Deep Work by Cal Newport

Book Deep Work by Cal Newport

A quick overview about an Attention Charter and Why  You would want to  create one. Starts with a Georgetown University computer science professor, Blogger, and author named Cal[vin] Newport. Newport popularized the Attention Charter in his writings about the “intersection of technology and society.“ In his blog - Study Hacks Decoding Patterns Of Success, He points out the impact of new technologies on our ability to perform productive work and to lead satisfying lives.

TheAttention Charter is a document that lists the general reasons that you’ll allow for someone or something to lay claim to your time and attention. For each reason, it then describes under what conditions and for what quantities [of time] you’ll permit this commitment.” – says Mr. Newport.

It takes a bit of effort to create these guidelines and then set them as habits, but once you do, your attention is no longer distracted whenever something comes along demanding your immediate attention. Instead of reacting in the moment—and thus losing sight of what’s truly important—you would follow your outline charter.

This helps you own your time, and to be more intentional with it. You’re the one setting the limits and yes, that can be scary, but it can lead to better results. You could even spend fewer hours in a week working on projects and yet find that a greater portion of your time is spent being proactive on what actually matters.

That extra time, could be used to take better care of yourself, maintain healthier relationships, and maybe even to sleep better!



How to Create an Attention Charter


Your Attention Charter is a list of guidelines to help you weigh competing priorities.

It is not a blanket ban on all of your activities. Emails, phone calls, and meetings are going to happen it is inevitable. The trick is coming up with the right proportion  of time vs activity to be vital in keeping to your visions of success, while not having these activities distract from reaching that success. In fact some of these activities can be an integral part of your equation for achieving success by focusing on the big picture.

For example, you might limit yourself to:

  • Only attending meetings with a 60-minute time limit and a clearly defined agenda

  • Not to respond to text messages between certain hours (9 and 5 ) unless it’s during a break, lunch, or an emergency

  • Not to access a certain website (social media, porno, etc.) during certain times frames of your day.

  • Not to schedule social or professional contacts for 3-hour lunches more than twice a month

  • To travel to a educational/ industry/professional  conference each quarter

You decide the guidelines. They can be as general or specific as you like. Notice how the examples above aren’t too strict. They allow for certain exceptions or situations where you would want to engage in the activities. It’s not about banning things; it’s about being more intentional with our choices.

Your focus is to think through the different ways you could limit distraction. Once developed, you want to have this list available, written down on paper or on your computer, or laptop or phone for reference when you need it.

Radhika Nagpal, a computer science professor, used some of these principles to earn tenure at Harvard. She calculated the maximum number of hours she could devote to her career each week without neglecting her family. Working from that limit, she created rules for herself (like traveling only five times a year) that allowed her to advance her career without getting burned out by unimportant distractions.


Enforcing Your Attention Charter

Okay, you’ve created your Attention Charter, and you are ready to make them habits. You might find  when getting started it tougher to stick to it, or you slip up, at first that’s okay. Do the best you can. The point is to practice and exercise the new habits when you can. Just a few better choices each day really add up.

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You might, like me, have to confront some bad habits you’ve been struggling with for a while now. In moving pass bad habits Willpower will only get you so far, yet conscious focus and practicing the tools will keep you on track.  

Computer or Apps Junkies might find Website blocking apps empowering in blocking distracting websites, apps, or even the entire internet during hours when you need to be productive.

Small steps or goals at first, there’s no shame in starting small. After you become comfortable with the habits you’ve set with those guidelines, you can gradually add more. Your Attention Charter will evolve with time too, as the new habits become a natural part of your daily process.

 Make Better Choices—Without the Burnout

A workday can feel a lot like an obstacle course or tug-of-war for your attention.

Fortunately, by developing a focused attention on new  habits, like in the use of an Attention Charter, it will help you choose which direction to move without responding to compulsions  in the moment.

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Like Mr. Newport, I have to admit  I’m still monkeying around with my own attention charter. In other words, you’re hearing about this as a fledgling project, before I’ve made it into full functioning habits. Yet I’ve already found value in it, as one of us whose battle against distraction both unavoidably important and unavoidably nuances.


I’d like you to try it and then email me a comment and let me know what you think!