Get Focused in Your Physical Workspace

We’ve already talked about keeping your digital desktop clear, and said that you likely shouldn’t even have your phone where it can distract you in the office.

But what about the rest of the environment?

Get a small desk

The best way to avoid clutter on your desk is to have a small one. If your desk only fits your monitor and your keyboard, there is no opportunity for clutter to build up. As soon as it does your work will be physically impeded.

I need enough space for my keyboard, two monitors, laptop and my A4 Notebook. There is a space for my water bottle, but other than that there is no room to pile things on my desk.

Sometimes things do get piled there, but I’m forced to clean them up right away or I can’t work.


Outside of the desk, you work at, make sure that your workspace is neat. That means you have a tidy office, nothing piled around you to distract from the task at hand.

I’m currently in a home office so that means I make sure the closet is closed and the bed is made. I clean up any clothes that are on the floor and remove any of the kid’s toys that may have migrated there.

With that done, I’m ready to work.

Cut Audio Distractions

I work at home or at Starbucks usually. With three kids at home that means that both my environments are ripe with audio distractions.

Whether it’s the kids misbehaving, or just behaving and being loud, they can be a distraction.

At the coffee shop, it’s the sounds of people talking and coffee being made.

It can also be your phone. As I’ve said more than once, if you don’t really have cause for people to call you, then keep your phone away.

The other big tip is to wear decent noise cancelling headphones. This will do more than just reducing the distractions that can reach you. As you spend more time doing focused work with your headphones on, they’ll become a cue to do focused work.

It’s going to be a virtuous cycle of focused work.


Some of your focused work will start the day before with your planning. If you walk into your office and have no idea what you need to work on, you’re much more likely to get distracted by whatever seems urgent at the moment.

Instead, write down in a paper notebook exactly what your most important first tasks for the day are. I actually map out the projects I’ll be working on in three-hour blocks in my Bullet Journal and then stick to those items.

When I have a client project schedule for a three-hour block, I don’t have every individual task mapped out, so I then turn to my project management tool and only look at the client in question.

Workspaces for tasks

You can also use different workspaces to help you focus on the tasks at hand. I do most of my first drafts of writing in Starbucks on my iPad Pro.

I do almost all my coding at my house with three monitors.

When I get to Starbucks I’m already feeling in writing mode because it’s a cue to focus on writing. If I’m at home and need to write, I use Hazeover to help me get in the flow.

At home with my multi-monitor setup, I find it much easier to focus on the programming I need to do. Yes, it’s possible on my 13” Air at the coffee shop, but it never feels quite as productive as it does when I’m at home.

The physical space switch and break help as well. Once I’m done writing this I’ll pack my bag and run to the library to drop off a book then run the long way home. This gives me a mental break so that I’m ready to sit down and focus on my next task when I get home.

Get Others on Board

I’ve got three children aged 7, 3 and 1. Two of those kids are capable of coming up the stairs and entering my office. My wife is also capable of this.

Even if it’s just a quick run in for a hug, the change in focus is distracting.

That means we have all sat down and had multiple discussions about when it’s okay to interrupt daddy. Even with this, one of my kids is three and doesn’t get it yet so I have a hook on the door to make sure she can’t just enter the office.

I also had to get my wife on board with not putting stuff on my chair or desk. She’s a bit of a piler, and while I’ll deal with it in many areas of the house, it can’t happen on my desk.

It’s all about intention

Over the course of these three posts about focus, there is one underlying idea.


If you want to get good work done then you need to be intentional about what you allow into your spaces. If you want to only write on your iPad, don’t install applications that allow anything other than writing and researching.

If you want to cut the distractions, turn them off.

You’ll find that most of the notifications don’t matter, at least in the next hour.

With that freedom will come focus. With that focus, will come great work you can be proud of.

photo credit: enigmabadger cc

Setting up iOS for Focused Work

In this instalment of our series on productive workspaces, we’re going to focus on your iOS devices. Yesterday we looked at setting your Mac up for focused work.

I currently operate with two iOS devices, my iPhone and my iPad.

What do you NEED them for?

The first thing to decide with your devices is what do you really need them for.

Case in point, I don’t need my iPad as a messaging device, that’s the job of my phone. That means I don’t turn on iMessage on my iPad.

I also don’t need my iPad as a device to interact with social media, so I don’t install the applications on it.

What do you actually need your device for? Not what are you using it for, but what do you need it for?

My iPad

As I said, my iPad is primarily a writing device. I’m using it to write this and just finished my MacOS post on setting up for focus.

The main applications I use on my iPad are:

Some applications I use semi-regularly are:

Since my iPad is a writing tool, I don’t need iMessage setup on it. I also don’t need games or social networking tools. Nor do I need my work email.

I’ve removed even the possibility of distraction in these ways. I don’t have to make the decision about not checking Twitter because it’s not installed.

My iPhone

The first thing to do with your phone is to put it in Do Not Disturb Mode. Not just after 9 pm, but all the time.

Your phone is a tool for you to get more work done. Is it really a tool for anyone to randomly get in touch with you whenever they think it’s important?

Secondly, turn off all the notifications for all applications except maybe iMessage. You won’t be getting them anyway since it’s in DND mode.

Now, setup the few people that really need to get in touch with you as VIP’s. For me, that’s my wife and the babysitter. Even with them set as VIP’s they won’t notify me with a text message. My wife knows this and if there is some real emergency she will call me.

If I’m out working at Starbucks and she needs me to get milk, it doesn’t matter if I see the message now or in an hour. I’ll get milk on the way home.

One of the final big ways to stop your phone from wasting your time is to not have it near you unless you need it. When I’m at home, I don’t need my phone because my family is downstairs. If there is something I need to deal with they’ll call up to me.

If they leave the house my phone goes outside my office in a little nook. If there is a call my Fitbit will let me know and I can go get it. Text messages won’t notify me and they’re not important at the moment anyway.

As with many of the tips in these posts on focus, the main goal is to be intentional with your environment and tailor it for focus. Don’t let things creep in where they don’t belong.

Choose the tasks you need to perform with your device and make sure that it can only perform those tasks.

photo credit: isherwoodchris cc

Setting up MacOS for Focused Work

Focus and intention are important, if you want to get good work done. Without focus and intention you’ll end up with mediocre work. Work you won’t be proud of.

Writing few people will read.

Code that might be functional, but took way to long to write and is held together with duct tape.

Design that’s pretty, but not as functional as it could be.

Much of the problem we encounter today is that focus is hard. We have so many distractions ready to steal our time. Name the social network, and it’s goal is to take more of your time. It’s not there to make sure you focus on your work and get it done well.

Add text messages to that list or kids or sometimes friends or email. All of these things are set to pull our attention away from the big tasks we need today.

The next three articles will cover:

  1. How to set your Mac up for focus
  2. How to set iOS up for focus
  3. Setting up a focused workspace

Today, we’ll look at what you should be doing with your Mac to make sure you stay focused.

No iMessage or other messaging

The first thing to kill on your Mac is, iMessage. Yes it was amazing to me when I could text from my Mac. It meant I didn’t have to go find my phone to reply to things.

Then as I started to focus more on work and make sure that my environment was not filled with distractions, iMessage could find me wherever I was.

Not a good thing.

So turn off iMessage.

  1. Open Messages on MacOS.
  2. Press Command + Comma for preferences
  3. Choose the accounts tab
  4. Turn off or remove the iMessage account

Second, turn off any other messaging application. Go through any Slack channels you’re a part of and make sure that they can’t notify you. Once you’ve lived with zero notifications from any messaging platform for a few weeks, take stock of the ones that really might need to notify you.

You’re only allowed to turn those ones back on.

No social media

As I said at the top, the goal of social media is attention. Actually, it’s stealing attention.

Almost no one at Twitter or Facebook is worrying about how to make sure they don’t interrupt you. They’re all trying to make sure that they surface content you’ll find compelling, so you stay inside the application.

The few that are trying to make sure that you stay focused are mavericks.

If you want to dip into social media at times in the day, then schedule them and limit your activity to the times you have allowed.

If you’re finding yourself opening a Twitter client at random times because you’re just a bit bored, delete the application from your machine.

Start tracking time

While I don’t advise that anyone bill based on their time, you should be tracking it. You should be reviewing your time log at the end of the week to see where you’re really spending your time.

A great tool for this is RescueTime. It will run in the background on your computer and tell you when you were not doing what you thought you were doing.

Where a tool like Toggl may fail you is in the 15 minutes you spent surfing YouTube randomly in the middle of your ‘writing’ time.

If you can be very focused most of the time, then just use something like Toggl to track how much focused time you get in a day. Somewhere between 5 and 6 hours is really good.

I go for 5.5 hours of focused time in 6 hours. I can usually get this at least four days a week. Most people get four hours of work done in an eight hour day, so even at six hours of office time I’m usually getting at least an hour more focused work time in.

Keep a Clean Desktop

We’ll discus this in our workspaces post coming up, but distraction is a killer. That doesn’t just go for your physical environment. That goes for your digital environment.

That desktop filled with a bunch of crap you figure you need to put there so you don’t ‘lose’ it, yup it’s sapping your focus and thus your productivity.

Same with that downloads folder that’s full of random crap you downloaded and then never dealt with. They’re both inboxes1 and the more inboxes you have to deal with, the less likely you are to deal with them.

If you’re a SetApp subscriber, I highly recommend you start using Declutter. Declutter lets you set rules for your desktop and then it will sort the files you put there according to those rules.

Even better, is to cut either your downloads folder or your Desktop as an inbox. I cut my desktop as an inbox and put everything in my downloads folder.

From there, deal with everything. If I download a file for a client project, I file it right away with their project folder. It doesn’t sit there for two weeks to accumulate, I deal with it right away.

The thing about clutter is, that the bigger the mess is the less likely you are to clean it up. It continues to become more overwhelming.

Forget about the Dock

The first step you need to take with your Dock is to hide it.

To hide your Dock, right click on the Dock Separator and select “Turn Hiding On”.

Now, go back to that Dock and cut out all the applications from it. Literally nothing should be in it unless the application is open because you’re using it.

For some of you, the Dock has been the main way you open applications. Start using Spotlight search which is usually setup for Command + Space.

Better yet, get some more power with Alfred. Not only does Alfred allow you to open applications, it can do stuff like grab the currently selected file and then send it to the system archiving tool so that you get a .zip file.

No mouse action required.

Cut the tabs

Browser detritus is another place where distraction creeps in. If you’re Chrome user, start the rule that if your tabs need to start ‘shrinking’ you’re not focused enough.

On Safari, I usually aim for 10 tabs or less open. I’m only allowed 10 if I’m researching something. If I’m putting up blog posts, then I can have my site open and Flickr so I can find my photos.

If you’ve done some research and need to keep the tabs around for future reference, file them. On Chrome and Safari there are extensions that let you save groups of tabs. Save your research and title it properly.

Along with your new rules on tabs, add the rule that your browser isn’t allowed to open the last opened tabs. Start from scratch every time.

Better than simply a blank tab, use the Momentum Extension for Chrome. Unfortunately for Safari users, they don’t have a currently supported version. Momentum will prompt you to put in exactly what you should be focusing on. This prompt will help you stay focused because you have no think about it.

Distraction blockers

Let’s face it, it’s hard to learn to cut distractions. We’ve trained ourselves to look at distractions by pulling our phones out in the grocery line or by checking Twitter quickly while we wait for something to load on our computers.

It’s going to take time to stop those habits.

To give you a leg up, install something like SelfControl. This will let you block websites for a set period of time. I used it heavily when I was first training myself to stay away from distractions.

I’d start it first thing in the morning and set it to block Twitter and Facebook for a few hours while I should be doing focused work. Then I’d have a small window to check the and start SelfControl again to finish out the day.

I rarely use it now, but I also rarely jump into Facebook or Twitter in times when they’re not scheduled.

Setup The Apps You need

Yes I’m about to recommend another SetApp tool called Switchem. For any given task2 you have a set of applications that you need and likely a bunch that are open and you don’t need.

When I’m writing I don’t need Dash open to search code documentation. When I’m coding, I don’t need Ulysses open to write.

To make the transition between workspaces faster use Switchem. Switchem will allow you to setup workspaces and the apps that are needed inside those workspaces. Then trigger Switchem and you can transition to the new workspace with out sorting through all the applications.

Reducing friction will make moving into focused work much easier.

Focus on the one thing you need

My final recommendation is to focus ONLY on what you have at hand. Especially when I’m done research and sitting down to fully write something on my Mac I use Hazeover.

Hazeover does what the name implies. It creates a haze over all the other apps you’re not currently using. That means on my Mac I have two of my three monitors blacked out and not distracting me.

I also use this when I’m reading a PDF on my Mac, because I find it very easy to get distracted from the PDF I should be reading.

The overall principle

The overall principle is that you need to cut even the possibility of any distraction. By cutting out that possibility, you’re not forcing yourself to make a minute by minute decision about where you’re going to put your attention.

It’s these minute by minute decisions that wear on us, and lead to distraction. Especially later in the day, we’re suffering from Decision Fatigue and are much more likely loose the battle with discretion.

Is there anything you’re doing to cut the distractions that I missed?

photo credit: wwarby cc

  1. To use Getting Things Done terminology. 
  2. Like during our writing time or your coding time. 

What Gets Your Blood Boiling?

  • What experiences both good and bad have shaped your life?
  • What similarities can you recognize in your most notable achievements?
  • What problems in the world are you most passionate about solving?
  • If money were not an issue, what line of work would you be most drawn to?
  • Which dreams in your life do you feel the most regret for not pursuing harder?
  • What is the lasting legacy you want to leave?
  • Whom do you most admire in life? What specific characteristics of this person do you want to emulate?
  • What has your blood boiled? (can be in anger or passion)

Have you ever really sat down and answered questions like this? Are you working in service of a mortgage and cars and … stuff you don’t really care about.

That’s stupid. Stop it.

The biggest regret of the dying has been said to be the regret that they didn’t live a life that was true to them.

You now know this, so what are you going to do about it? Actually, you’ve probably even heard this before and thought that it sounded good.

Why are you going to do something different with the information this time?


photo credit: yunir cc

Motivation is hard

My friend Ryan recently wrote a great article on motivation.

The truth is, motivation is hard. Sticking with a routine long enough that is truly becomes a habit is hard1.

We all know that we should exercise. We all know that we should eat right.

We know we should do more follow up with prospects.

We know we should blog. We should network.

Yet we don’t do it.

Even me, who falls strongly towards the disciplined side of the equation doesn’t do as well as you may think. At least a day a week has a huge chunk of time I’m not really pushing things forward.

The sad fact is that for many business owners they only have one day a week that’s productive which makes my schedule look amazing.

How effective is your work time? Is it as effective as you want it to be? What changes are you going to make today to hit your ideal?

Who’s going to hold you accountable?

Have an awesome day


PS: I help people be more effective with their business. Book a FREE strategy call if you need help executing.

photo credit: nickdm cc

  1. I’m actually writing a book about change and habits. Should be out in Q1 2018. 

Your Salary and the C-Suite aren’t as important as you think

For fathers, manliness means living up to the responsibilities you have to your family. – All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Business

It’s not enough to have a big salary.

It’s not enough to have a spot in the C-suite.

If you have those things and have hurting relationships with your spouse and kids, you’re not successful. I don’t care what society says, you’ve failed.

You need to be as intentional about your relationships as you are about your work.

If you spend lots of time reading about marketing, or business, or success, you need to be reading about parenting and relationship skills to.

That means, blocking out time regularly to be with those you love. Knowing what the love language is for your spouse and your kids, and then actually using it to communicate love to them.

A question that my 6-year-old asks almost every day is “Are you done working yet dad?” It doesn’t matter if it’s 9 am or 3 pm, she wants to know if I’m done work and can hang out with me.

I find this question very frustrating. Because I’ve never worked out of the house, she has no idea that many parents head out at 6 am and come back at 6 pm. She has no idea that most parents can’t help her with math at 10 am in the home office while everyone works together.

It’s easy for me to fall into the “when I was your age my dad left at 6 am and came back at 6 pm kid. You don’t know how good you have it.”

As if saying anything like that will change how she feels.

Built into her daily frustrating question, is what really matters to her. She doesn’t notice when income is low, or when I’m stressed. She just wants time with me.

Remember, that the money you earn has no bearing on your personal value. Remember that your success hinges not only on money but on the relationships you build.

Be as intentional about those relationships around you as you are with the business work you do.

Have an awesome day!


PS: If you’re ready to start taking business and family seriously, let’s talk about your plan to make that happen.

photo credit: julochka cc

Key Questions to Ask Those You Care About

  • How might I be shutting down your ideas and actions?
  • Do I do anything that makes you cringe?
  • Do I do anything with the best intentions that isn’t perceived that way?
  • Am I doing anything that diminishes others, even if inadvertently?

Sit down with your spouse/partner and talk through these questions.

Sit down with your business partner and talk through these questions.

Sit with your closest peers at work and talk through these questions.

Reframe them to apply to work or your parenting or … anything.

If you have had a habit of shutting people down, you’re going to need to spend some time digging in. It’s likely that your spouse/peers/partner doesn’t feel safe with honest answers to start, but you need them.

You need them so you can achieve the life/business you dreamed of.

Have an awesome day


PS: If you’re tired of not running that business you dreamed you be running, book a FREE strategy session and let’s get you back on track.

photo credit: julochka cc

The Worst Way to Start Your Day

Anytime I start my day with junk food for the brain, the quality of the day goes down. I’m less happy, focused, and productive. I spend a ton of time on the internet and don’t get any real work done. But if I start my day with health food for the brain, I find that my mood is better, I’m happier, more focused and productive. – Starting Your Day with the Internet is Damaging Your Brain

While you may know you shouldn’t get up and eat cookies (seriously cookies are a struggle for me if you didn’t know) you still do it sometimes. I know that I feel bad on my morning run if I start the day with a cookie.

The same principle applies to the starting of your digital day. Junk in, junk out.

Instead, plan your day the night before. Wake up and start with your routine (mine is a quiet walk with the dog then reading for an hour and then writing for 2 hours).

Make sure your routine has you centred.

It doesn’t have to be 3 hours like mine, but it should be an hour of focus and getting ready.

Then dig into the most important task you have for the day.

“Oh but Curtis I have kids” or … “some other lame excuse.”

I have kids too. Getting up early means I go to bed early. Stop wasting your time watching TV. 99.9% of the time it’s not worth the investment. If you’re looking at your stupid phone while the TV is on, it’s clearly not worthwhile enough to maintain your full concentration.

You’re just lying to yourself.

So get up earlier and execute on your routine.

Or…keep doing the same junk brain feeding you’re doing now. Let me know how that goes.

Have an awesome day!


PS: If you’re ready to stop lying to yourself, book a free strategy session and let’s get you heading in the right direction.

photo credit: starstreak007 cc


My friend Jason brought this link up to me recently.

The Power of Anti-Goals

So, what is your anti-goal? What does the worst day of work look like for you?

Knowing this can help you say no. No is the most productive word you have

Say no more often. That leaves you room to say yes to the things that matter.

Have an awesome day!


PS: If you’re having trouble setting boundaries, I love to help people do that so book a FREE strategy session and I’d be happy to help you say no more.

photo credit: venndiagram cc

Hours are far from the whole story when it comes to burnout

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the term “burnout”. Some of you are likely even familiar with the feeling. The lack of energy to make any progress.

I’m not convinced that burnout is the result of overwork. The hours you put in play a part, but hours are far from the whole story.

I think that more than hours, the amount of forward progress, or lack of it, is the root cause of burnout.

If you’re not doing meaningful work.

If you’re not making a difference in the lives of those you serve.

You’re on the path to burnout.

Does your work have a purpose? Are you feeling fulfilled by it?

If not, what are you going to do about it? You can’t just keep trying to convince yourself that the lie you’re living is working.

Have an awesome day


PS: If you’re tired of all that work with so little progress. Book a FREE strategy session to start making a difference.

photo credit: stonebrad cc