I’ve been working through this course called Refocus over the last few months. I’m usually a skeptic when it comes to online courses and boot camps, but the reason I paid attention to this one was because it’s run by two guys that actually lead successful lives and do work that helps people.
And Lensgstorf? Well, he’s done work for John Romaniello, and other figures in the fitness biz, and let’s just say any friend of Nate’s is a friend of mine. In that weird internet-acquaintance-fanboy sort of way. Plus, he writes a lot about working remotely which is something I have had my sights set on recently.
Long story short, these guys are great; they do good work all in the name of helping struggling people like me figure out how to help themselves.
There are a million books out there with advice on productivity and getting focused. There are even some good ones like Steven Pressfield’s ‘trilogy’ on resistance, and Cal Newport’s books on doing deep work and upregulating your creative output. Books are cheap, and in most cases are only useful when action steps are taken, and this course cost a few hundred bucks.
I was considering my decision, and before clicking “purchase”, my thought process was as such:
“If I put down this money, I sure as hell want a substantial return on my investment. Plus, if I do this, I’m more likely to see it through and put in the work expressly for the fact that a decent chunk of change is on the line. That’s called incentive. Let’s go all in.”
The course isn’t about hacking productivity or regurgitated “advice” from your favorite lifestyle guru. Rather, the materials in the require you to sit down and do the inner work of examining yourself and your life. No easy task.
This course is actually an opportunity for you to front load the work in outlining the finer details of a life well lived, and however you choose to define it, that means living more purposefully.
In this post I’m going to break down the core aspects of the course and how they’ve helped me in my life.
The Five-Day Time Journal
(Not to be confused with the Five-Minute Journal, which is completely awesome in a different sort of way).
Do you remember what you did yesterday?
You might remember the major events; going to work and eating dinner, or grabbing a drink with friends, but can you account for your time down to the minute?
Was every moment being used purposefully?
What was your ratio of dead time to alive time?
The first exercise in the course will help you answer that very question.
For five whole days you’ll keep an excel spreadsheet and record everything you do during your waking hours. Everything. Unless you’re some sort of superhuman, I guarantee you waste a lot more time than you realize. Whether that means you were sort of working on a few different tasks haphazardly instead of focusing on just one, or maybe you were compulsively checking your Instagram feed or trolling Facebook on your lunch break.
Ask yourself: How do I really spend my time?
At the end of the five days, you will have the honest answer to that question, and you might be uncomfortable with what you find. With this information, you’ll identify your Leaks — the things that drain you of your time and energy (oversleeping, mindlessly checking social media). You will also identify your Bright Spots — the things in your day that made you feel good, fulfilled, or productive (reading, working out, focusing on a project, or spending time with friends).
One of my biggest leaks was playing with my iPad. I wasn’t even playing games, because that would have actually had a purpose: entertainment. No, I realized that during most moments when I wasn’t focused on a singular task, I was idly browsing social media apps on my tablet.
Over and over again.
The cumulative amount of time I spent just doing this over the course of five days was staggering.
Why do I keep doing this? What could I be doing instead?
You’re going to have some leaks, and that’s ok. Because knowing, as they say, is half the battle. At this point, I condensed all of my bright spots into a document and organized them by common theme, ultimately turning them into personal statements.
Here were mine:
- I Put My Energy Into Meaningful Work
- I commit to Growth
- I Socialize Regularly
- I Make Time to Disconnect
- I Prioritize Health
- I Prime to Start the Day
- I Make Time for Guilt-Free fun
What Are You Actually Good At?
The first part of the course is about identifying your bright spots — the things you value in life on a daily basis. The next step is all about helping you identify the skills you already have so you can focus your energy and contribute in the areas you’re most effective in.
These are your Prime Movers.
This next part will help you figure out what you are truly skilled at, but it requires some courage. You will be asked to reach out to people who know you well and ask them what they think are your best qualities or skills — and they must be brutally honest.
At the end of the exercise you’ll feel pretty great. All of these people saying nice things about you and what you can do is an amazing feeling. The feedback you get will help you identify your prime movers.
Here are the themes I saw in my responses:
- I Learn with Purpose
- I Get Shit Done
- I Take Action to Make the Necessary Changes in My Life
- I Structure My Days Around Important Tasks and Activities
To identify my prime movers, and make sure I wasn’t just being flattered, I needed proof that these responses were verifiable.
What were some of the things I did that made people say this about me?
What actions did I take?
What results do I have to show?
In answering these questions you’ll have clear examples from your life of times when you demonstrated the actions, qualities, or thought processes that other people believe to be uniquely yours.
Collectively, your bright spots and prime movers will be your Acceptance Criteria, and they will serve as your internal compass, guiding you towards the ideas and opportunities that you should pursue, and those that are probably better suited for other people with different skill sets.
Priority, or Priorities?
Whenever he needs a new opportunity or idea to run with, James Altucher has a daily practice he calls Idea Sex. This is where you mash together two or more seemingly disparate, unrelated ideas, and spawn beautiful new ones.
Unlike Altucher’s assertion that the more ideas, the better, if you already have a bunch of great ideas, you probably just need choose one and focus on it exclusively. As Highlander famously put it: “there can be only one.”
In the Highlander technique, instead of letting your ideas have sex with each other, you break a stick in half, toss the resultant sharp objects in the arena, and have them engage in a gladiator-style fight to the death.
Idea Sex = several ideas enter, several more ideas leave, and then some.
Highlander Technique = several ideas enter, ONE idea leaves.
This technique is about identifying your Priority (singular), not priorities (plural).
My main priority was to see if I liked freelance work and whether it would be a viable stream of income.
One of my bright spots involved having the flexibility to schedule my day around around the things I like and value, and one of my prime movers was my ability to perform research, collate information, and produce a concise report of my findings. For the past month or two I have been working with clients on freelance projects including writing blog posts for health, fitness, and nutrition sites. Conducting research on products for nutrition supplement companies, as well as doing research for high quality health-oriented websites like this one.
The freelancing has been a neat experiment. I’m able to work anywhere, anytime, do work I’m good at, and get paid to do it. Pretty sweet.
Outline the Steps to Your Success
Once you have your Priority, you’ll put together an action plan to get the idea off the ground and figure out the steps you need to take in order to see the project through. This is called the ATOM Technique. This step entails listing all the steps that are Actionable, Timely, Ownable, and Measurable. This technique is infinitely reusable and can be applied to just about any task you can think of. It’s helpful because you’re forced to front load the work and develop an actual step-by-step plan to get it done. Then all you have to do is follow the steps.
The Five Enemies of Effectiveness
The last part of the course is about using habit to your advantage, and working with your natural rhythm of productivity throughout the day so you can push through the five enemies of effectiveness.
Enemy 1: Willpower
Solution: Find a window of time each day when you are most productive. For some people that means waking up early when their willpower is naturally at its highest, for others that means staying up late at night when the rest of the world is asleep.
Enemy 2: Lack of Clarity
Solution: If you’re feeling unsure that you’re spending your time in the best possible way, remember your acceptance criteria, that should help clarify things.
Enemy 3: Lack of Urgency
Solution: Implement self-imposed constraints that will encourage you to complete your work quickly while avoiding wasted time or unnecessary stress. This can be a timer, or a ‘hard-stop’ like a scheduled appointment or social event that you can’t blow off.
Enemy 4: Distraction
Solution: Use your natural rhythm of productivity during the day and schedule short blocks of time (60, 90 minutes) to work. This will help you do the deep work you need to do, while minimizing interruptions. Additionally, web-blocking software like freedom can help remove potential distractions so you can get to work.
Enemy 5: Resistance
Solution: Resistance happens because doing good work is hard. It requires effort, persistence, and focus. Rather than clash with it, you need to find a way to push through it. Develop a ritual so you can sit down and get to work; make it a habit so every day at X time you know it’s time to get to work. Since you only have one priority, you already know what you’ll be working on. Also, create the optimal working environment, whether that’s a home office or the coffee shop down the street. Experiment and find out what kind of environment works best for you.
Overall, I had a really good experience with the course. Nate and Jason give you the tools to identify the specific themes and activities you value in your life, and help you figure out what you’re actually good at. The most beneficial part of the course for me was parsing out what I actually want my life to look like, and letting myself believe that those things are valid. If you enroll in this course, you’ll have to ask yourself what success really looks like, to you.
I think most people have a vague idea of what they want their life to look like and how they define success for themselves. How the day-to-day would actually play out in a perfect world, but who actually puts pen to paper and sketches out what that looks like?
An even more important question, how can you build the life you want if you don’t even know what that looks like, down to the fundamentals?
This course will help you do exactly that, if you’re ready.
To make this work, you have to do the hard work and really look at yourself and your life. You have to identify what’s working and what isn’t. What you truly value and the things that just get in the way.
In short, Refocus exists to answer the why
Why you work.
Why you do what you do.
Why you love what you love.
In answering these questions and following the modules in the course, you will have the tools to construct a life of balance, to engage in activities and work opportunities with purpose, and to find meaning in what you do, in work and in play.