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The first three steps to insane levels of productivity

You are just 3 steps away from producing more results than you ever thought possible
You are just 3 steps away from producing more results than you ever thought possible

Ever struggled with lack of focus or not getting as much done as you would like?

Sure, we all have. I have gone through hours of sifting through my email inbox and engaged in mindless activity only to realize at the end of the day, that I haven’t actually produced any results.

If you want your business to grow or your life to improve, producing results is kind of important.

So what does it take to make that happen?

The answer is focus. That’s it! Nothing revolutionary, I know, but read on to learn the three psychological strategies to boosting your levels of focus to Everest like heights.

The biggest mistake people make in being productive

When I first started my business working from home, I struggled with creating a structure that ensured success. I read a few books on the subject, I created to do lists, I marked things down on my calendar, but nothing seemed to work.

I still found it challenging to focus and get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. Until I changed the context through which I approached the subject of productivity.

I realized then that most people focus on the external when trying to be productive. They focus on all the things they need to do, like creating lists and syncing calendars.

The problem is if the mindset is not conditioned to focus, it does not matter how many systems or structures you put in place. No matter what you do, you will still find it challenging to focus on one thing at a time and get things done.

Productivity begins with psychology.

Don’t get me wrong, systems and structures are important. In fact they are necessary to prevent multitasking and to producing results, but if the right psychology isn’t there, external “fixes” won’t be of much value.

Think about this way, your GPS can’t get you from point A to point B unless it has the right maps programmed into it, right? Similarly, we can’t get the results we want unless we program the right mindset into our system.

In this article we are going to focus on creating that mindset. In future articles, we will go more into the external structures to put into place that ensure results.

A world of distractions

A few weeks ago, I was taking the train into New York City. On my way in, I took a look around at all the other commuters to see what they were doing. I noticed that everyone was engaged in some activity on their phone. They were either checking Facebook or their email or they were playing a game. One person had his IPhone in one hand, an IPad in the other and headphones in his ear that led into his pocket, which more than likely contained an IPod.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Apple products as much as everyone else does. But while on the train, it occurred to me how distracted we all are from ourselves. We spend every waking minute bombarding our minds with an overflow of information.

The natural state of mind is chaos

It’s not your fault that you are so easily distracted. Our mind naturally exists in such a state. Inevitably, we created our world as a representation of our mind.

In the bestselling book, “Flow: The psychology of optimal experience,” after decades of research Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that “contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos. Without training, and without an object in the external world that demands attention, people are unable to focus their thoughts for more than a few minutes at a time.”

Not convinced?

Try it yourself. Try silencing your mind from the influx of random thoughts for just one minute. It is near impossible, isn’t it?

Only without practice.

Awareness vs. Focus

The neuroscientist, Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz distinguishes awareness and focus as two different states of mind. He says “focusing is an activity in which you consciously direct your attention. Awareness, on the other hand, is being fully knowledgeable of whatever is happening right now, in this very moment.”

Last week, I wrote this post on the awesome blog run by Mary Jaksch, Good Life Zen about separating yourself from your thoughts and practicing awarness. I highly recommend you read the post and check out Mary’s blog. One of the key takeaways from the article was to name your emotions while you are experiencing them. To expand on that information, here are three action steps for you to start increasing your awareness and improving your focus:

Dr Lieberman, a researcher at UCLA conducted an experiment where he placed participants in a brain scanner and asked them to look at pictures of people’s faces. He found that the act of labeling emotions resulted in decreased activity in the emotional brain, which we are not in control of and an increase in activity in the conscious parts of the brain related to focus and awareness.

Throughout the day, practice naming your emotions. Simply notice the emotion you are going through at any given point during the day and give it a name. This exercise will start to increase your awareness of how you experience life.

Another practice to take on in service of improving your awareness is, throughout the day while you are watching TV, taking the dog for a walk, eating supper, or anything, notice what your body is doing. Become aware of everything that you do without changing your actions. You are only practicing awareness in this exercise. You may notice that you are scratching your face, crossing your legs, shifting your body position or any number of little actions that you engage in without being consciously aware of it.

The secret to focus

Awareness allows the conscious mind to become involved in our daily actions as opposed to being the victim of our subconscious. Focus then gives us the power to direct our conscious mid.

In his research, Dr. Andrew Newberg scanned the brains of praying nuns, chanting Sikhs and meditating Buddhists. When comparing them to brains at rest, he found increased activity in the areas of the brain related to focusing our mind and focusing our attention.

In a follow up study, Dr. Newberg taught a group of elderly people experiencing memory problems a short meditation. They were told to practice this for 12 minutes a day for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, Dr. Newburg found “some very significant and profound changes in their brain just at rest, particularly in the areas of the brain that help us to focus our mind and to focus our attention.” Participants in the study also reported better memory and an increase in ability to think more clearly.

We all have the power to literally change our brain, we just have to work it out more.

To build the focus muscle, spend 10 minutes every day in silence, with your eyes closed and no external distractions. During these 10 minutes, focus your attention on your breathing. If you notice your mind start to wander, that’s okay, it’s natural, simply bring your attention back to your breathing. Your breath provides an anchor for you to direct your focus.

At first it may be challenging to keep your mind focused on your breath for even a minute without it wandering because you have not worked out this muscle. In time, you will start to find that ten minutes of focused time will be a breeze.

In later articles, when we discuss the external structures needed to increase our productivity, this practice will help ensure success in implementing the structures.

Reviewing the action steps

To summarize, here are the action steps to start practicing every day:

1. Notice the emotions you experience and give them a name.
2. Practice being aware of what your body is doing throughout the day in various activities.
3. Spend 10 minutes every day in silence with your eyes closed focusing on your breathing.

If you have two friends who are struggling with productivity, email this article to them so that they too can develop insane levels of focus. Then post a comment in the space below describing your biggest challenge with focus and productivity.

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24 thoughts on “The first three steps to insane levels of productivity”

  1. Good article. Only one glaring problem: I find it a bit insensitive to share an article that ends with “Do your friends a favor and email this article to just two friends who are struggling with productivity”.

    That seems condescending. And I almost hit the button to send it to my spouse… A close shave it was…

    • Hi Eitan. Thanks for your feedback, that’s what helps me grow and improve. I reworded that part, hope it comes of as less condescending. The intention was simply to have more people benefit from the three strategies. I apologize if it came of as offensive Eitan. I am glad you enjoyed the article though!

  2. Akshay – great article. I especially have found for me taking that 10 minutes at points of mental fatigue during my work day makes all the difference. Once you’ve cleared your head of all the noise it’s easier to see what’s next.

    Good stuff!

    • Thanks Ryan. Once I started implementing that time to just be still with my thoughts, I noticed significant results in all areas of my life. Jack Canfield himself has also attributed meditation to be the number one thing that has helped him achieve the success he has created in his life.

  3. Thanks for an insightful article. I’ve been practicing 12 minute meditations for a few years but I will definitely start practicing the other 2 points also.

    • Glad you liked it Johann. I am curious, how has the 12 minute meditation practice impacted your life? I am sure you will get a lot of value out of the other 2 steps as well. They have made a huge impact in my life.

  4. I feel this article is for me!
    I’ve never been able to focus on just one thing.
    Even growing up, when iPads etc weren’t around, I could never just sit and read a book. My mind will start thinking about other things, more fun things that I’d rather be doing than reading. But if it was a book I had to read for school, I’d skim read. I’d skip a few pages and just put together what might have happened in those pages I missed and write that in my report.
    Now in my adult life it’s the same… But I’d have 2 or 3 different things going at the same time.
    I remember I went to a workshop once and we had to sit there and do a guided meditation for a few minutes before we started, was my mind in the meditation? No. It was thinking about other things.

    • Hi Phillipa. Thanks for sharing your story. I can relate to where you are coming from, I myself used to find it extremely challenging to focus on just one thing. One tip that might help is to hit a start timer button before you get started on a particular hour shift of work. Know exactly what ONE thing you are going to do in that hour and hit a button on a timer when you are ready to begin. I find that this sends a trigger to my brain knowing to do just one thing in that hour. Hope that helps Phillipa. It’s just a muscle like any other, that keeps needing to be worked out.

  5. Great subject and post. I love Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book “Flow.” It’s sitting on my bookshelf counter dog eared. Everyone has to find what works for them. I can be hipper focused one day and then find myself brain locked the next day.

    • Thanks Fred. Glad you liked the article. I completely agree with you, this is a very personal journey and there is no exact “right” path that works for everyone. What I offer is simply a place to start. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Fred!

  6. very educational post! it gives reassurance to those that have difficulty focusing on one task that through practice and conscious effort you can get better…

    • Thanks Sonia. You most definitely can better with practice. I wish you all the best in doing so. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions as you continue to build your muscle if any blocks come up and I would be happy to support you in moving past them. Thanks for sharing Sonia!

  7. excellent post, akshay! i love all of your tips for better focus and increased productivity, but especially #1 – noticing and naming your emotions. i work with women who are often very out of touch with their feelings, who find it extremely difficult to sit with them/accept them/learn from them. we spend a lot of time exploring this area together, and the changes these women experience as a result are phenomenal. thank you for sharing your insights.

    • Thanks April. Glad you liked it. In the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Bradberry and Greaves found that only 36% of the people they tested were able to accurately identify their emotions as they happen. So I know what you mean, most of us are very disconnected from our own experience of life and reconnecting with that experience really produces monumental shifts in the overall quality of life. Thanks for sharing your experience April and it’s really inspiring to see the work you are doing.

  8. Thanks for this article! Like everyone else, I also find it difficult to focus. Actually, I’ve fallen prey to the multi-tasking myth. . . but I find that when I can center myself before starting something that I’m likely to struggle to focus on, I do much better.

    In fact, you’ve inspired me to meditate for 10 minutes a day. I’ll give it a go and see if it helps!

    Thank you!

    • Awesome Jessica. So glad you decided to start meditating. I hope you are enjoying the practice so far and starting to see some results from it. Let me know how it’s going and if you ever have any questions about it, more than happy to help!

  9. Excellent post Mr. Nanavati. Naturally we are all creatures of habit, unfortunately a lot of the time we don’t practice ones that empower us. When creating change that will empower your life you must be consistent in that new way of being that you want to create, practice and repetition will definitely help you have a shift.

  10. Hi Akshay,
    Great post.
    I love the idea of being aware and labelling your present emotion. This not only helps to improve focus but also helps to decrease the frequency, intensity and duration of negative emotions.

    Three things that has helped me to improve productivity:

    1. Keep a short checklist of specific tasks right of front of my face and do only those tasks,
    2. Set an alarm every hour on the hour and record what I did in the last hour and plan the next hour, and
    3. Formally end the day at 9 pm. Then review my performance in the present day and set goals for the next day=checklist. (Finally set goals for the 2-3 hours before bedtime.)

    Thanks again for this post – I’ll be sharing it with my mother, who’s going through a tough time at present.

    much metta.

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed this reminder to embrace the present.

    Akshay, this is a BIG share. I love the daily “practice” you outlined above.

    I engage in meditation—but not as frequently as I intend. Your article made me stop and smell the proverbial roses. Yes. I had to set my iPad down. But it was worth it 😉

    As I was reading, I was reminded of Eckhart Tolle and The Power of Now. I first embraced the practice of awareness after reading Tolle’s book. There’s a phenomenal, yet very unassuming video on YouTube where Eckhart raises the question, “If you close your eyes, how can you tell your right hand is intact? How do you know if it’s attached to the end of your arm?”

    As an exercise, Tolle suggests focusing your attention on your right hand with eyes shut while becoming completely aware of all the sensations that allow you to discern the existence of your right hand.

    Try it. Close your eyes. Focus all your awareness on your right hand. Now maintain focus on your right hand for no less than 60 seconds. You’ll feel the energy leave your headspace and move up your arm. At least that’s what happened to me. Powerful exercise if you do it right.

    Akshay, I followed your instructions above. The result? A slight, low-level tinge of anxiety mixed with excitement. Perhaps too much time in front of an LCD monitor. I should go for walk 🙂 Thanks Akshay.

  12. Mindfulness and meditation can be so benficial to being productive. I know that when my monkey mind takes over then I can’t get anything done. Being aware of your emotions and labeling them helps you realize that they are just emotions and will pass, which will allow you to not get swept up in them.

    I am going to start my meditation practice back up today. Thanks for the reminder of the benefits of it.


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Fearvana inspires us to look beyond our own agonizing experiences
and find the positive side of our lives. ~ The Dalai Lama