When You Really, Really Need to Be Productive and Focused, Try This

J.K. Rowling, Carl Jung and I Have This in Common

Intensive Work Trip to VegasRight now I’m sitting in my suite in Las Vegas. Not here to gamble or party or even have so much as a drink (though I may have a nice vino after dinner). But to get productive and focused.

I flew in two days ago from San Diego to think and work. Intensely. For three days.

See, there are a number of important projects I’ve been putting off a bit or just haven’t had time to focus on. They’re not urgent, but they’re big, important.

So I did what J.K. Rowling did when she couldn’t muster the focus to write the final book in the Harry Potter series. She checked out of her home office and checked into a posh hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland for two weeks…and banged it out.

It’s called The Grand Gesture: Making a radical change to your environment, coupled with a significant investment (of money or effort or both), to force yourself into a more productive and focused state.

Pioneering psychiatrist Carl Jung did his most import thinking and writing only in the turret of the castle-like home he himself built, expressly for the purpose of productive and focused work.

Now, before you yell at me about not being able to build your own turret or to zoom off to Scotland or Vegas, let me first answer this question…

How Does the Grand Gesture Make You More Productive and Focused?

The radical change in environment is part of the magic. I talk a lot about the restorative power of “venue change” — a simple productivity hack where you just switch work locations every hour or two. Even from one chair to another, but ideally from one room or building to another.

But when you combine that change of environment (what I call Venue Change — see more at bottom) with an appreciable investment (could be money, but effort works just as well)…

ONE. You create an invisible contract with yourself to stop procrastinating and do the work you set out to do there, and…

TWO. You are therefore much less vulnerable to distractions, busywork (pseudo-productivity) and lollygagging (e.g., futzing around on YouTube).

How to Be More Productive and Focused

Get ultra-productive and focused with even a little radical change.

So whether you can get away for a few days or just a few hours, making a grand gesture can get you away from the “tyranny of the urgent” — and focus hard on things that are critical to your career or business, but that may not be screaming at you right now. (In other words, those “Quadrant II” things that are important but not urgent.)

As Cal Newport puts it in his book, Deep Work, the Grand Gesture helps you mitigate distractions and “wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual ­capacity.”

Now, back that question of cost…

Hold On! I Can’t Afford to Go to Vegas…or Edinburgh!

I definitely put more effort than money into my three-day Vegas jaunt: I’m in a huge suite near The Strip that costs $36 a night (Vegas rooms go begging in summer, when it’s over 100F/38C), and the flight was $80.

But most importantly, you don’t have to go very far at all to get the benefits of the Grand Gesture. For instance, consider…

Working in a conference room (preferably with glass walls so people can see you working — that “body double” effect will keep you more disciplined and focused).

Working at a coffee shop instead of your office — and maybe not the same one you always go to. Try a different one, in a different neighborhood.

Working in a park, or in your back yard or on the roof — literally, if possible. Chris Ducker, a famous entrepreneur and author, has a chair at the very top of his house that he only sits in when he’s doing his biggest thinking. That’s his Grand Gesture chair.

As some of you know, I do a mini-Grand Gesture several times a week by getting in my truck and driving to the ocean or to a park — or even a parking lot — and working from the passenger seat for several hours.

These are all enough to be considered Grand and to provide some disproportionately productive and focused work sessions.

Venue Change: Maintaining Energy Throughout 3 Days

Productive and Focused DeskI change where I work up to seven times a day. Each change provides a psychological and physical “fresh start.” It’s a great productivity hack. Here’s how I used it in Vegas.

7:00am-9:00am: Grab Starbucks from hotel lobby and work in room. (Desk was rearranged to look out window — not at a freakin’ wall!. Research tells us that sunlight as well as looking at sky/nature while working help with focus, mental stamina and clarity.)

Productive and Focused at Pool9:00am-12:00pm: Head to pool and work there until heat becomes unbearable. Again, sky and trees and fresh air provide brain fuel.

12:00pm-1:00pm: Have a solid protein lunch and head back to room for a 15-minute power-nap and/or meditation and/or exercise.

1:00pm-2:30pm: Another work session in room until 2pm — then treat myself to 15 minutes of news headlines and email checking.

Productive and Focused Conference Room

2:30pm-5:00pm: Find an empty conference room in convention area of hotel (check out the one I found empty!) — and work until my brain won’t go no more.

And at the end of the day, I find some form of recovery (power nap, exercise, just “being”) so I might have a shot at another little burst of work after my (protein-rich) dinner.

Of course, I might also call it quits and hit the blackjack tables or the wine bar. Hey — I worked for it!

Interested in more productivity hacks like this?

I dedicated an episode of Crusher™TV to productivity Power RitualsClick the image below for the Episode Preview.

Power Rituals for Productivity and FocusEpisode Description: Imagine if you could power through your day, thinking more clearly, getting more top priority tasks banged out, and actually having reserves of energy at quitting time. This is the power of Power Rituals. Not hard. Just need to do ‘em. I’ll show you how. With Guest Expert Eliza Cantlay, CPO®.

 

You can watch over 100 full Episodes of Crusher™TV as a Member by joining for just $1 (cancel any time you like) at CrusherTV.com. Crusher™TV is one of the largest libraries of evidence-based productivity and quality-of-life videos in the world.

Bless!

Alan

Alan P Brown CrusherTVAlan P. Brown, an internationally recognized Productivity Coach, TEDx Speaker and #1 Best Selling Author of Zen and the Art of Productivity: 27 Easy Ways to Have More Time, Earn More Money and Live Happier is the host of Crusher™TV, where he and his Guest Experts share simple ways to get more done in less time with less stress. Follow Alan on Twitter and on Facebook.

 

6 Comments

Robert Clark Lang

Alan, great stuff!
With having to think creatively as part of my jobs for so many years, this is especially good advice. For me sometimes it’s not a place, or a set amount of time away… it’s simply a matter of hitting the “off switch” on the right side of my brain, doing something completely different, then hitting the “right brain switch” back on.
You know how so often your best idea is your very first thought?
Well, I cheat sometimes and give myself several chances at that “first thought”.

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Alan Brown

This sounds like a sound strategy, Robert. This reminds me of research that says “the quieter your mind, the wider the window to creativity” — and you seem to have taught yourself how to shut up your brain for a spell. Keep crushing it! APB

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Will Cooper

Hi, Alan! I’m back! Can’t wait to get started up again.

I’ve written four plays when I went on retreats. After I’d finished researching them, I packed off to various locales, a friend’s house in Fort Wayne, IN, a condo in Jackson Hole, my sister’s casita in San Miguel de Allende, and motel in Oceanside. For some reason, I was able to focus and worked morning to night, finishing the plays within three weeks each. I’d take a walk in the early afternoon and then get back to it. After dinner I sometimes worked or I sat back with a glass of wine and chilled. You call what I call a writer’s retreat a “Grand Gesture”. Okay ! I don’t know why it works for me, but it does.

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Alan Brown

Will — you are a true WARRIOR. Will be great to see you again. It’s so awesomely perfect to hear a real life playwright talk about having had success with this hack. You may not know WHY it works, and some of that I do mention in the blog post, but more importantly, you can create mini-Grand Gestures to beat the demons bedeviling your writing soul!! APB

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Marianne

Hey Alan,

First your “ grand gesture” blog topic is my #1 reason for signing up with you. Ideas!! Ideas for managing this hairball of adult add and getting very very important work done. Your blog on the Vegas trip and the concept of the “ grand gesture” is inspiring and solid. It’s exactly the quality and depth i personally need.

I was thinking this concept of the “ grand gesture” is really a way of signaling to ourselves we’re “ entering” a different level of commitment to ourselves..

One thought occurred to me. It would be helpful if you could share for example in this Vegas blog —- how you would have managed the ADD challenges — when you were FIRST learning how to manage through it. These early stage Add insights would be so helpful.

So in the “ grand gesture “ situation acknowledging to us “hey you are going to be tempted at moments through this power day/session to distract yourself” . So what can you do in advance to relieve the pressure? Thinking ahead of time to plan for these moments —- and not be forced in the moment. You’ll have your ideas that work best for you ready to reference – and get through that moment. Also I like the idea of setting up your environment with your power food snacks on hand.

Thanks Alan!!

Marianne

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Alan Brown

Hi Marianne — so glad this resonated with you. As for how I managed such things when I was first grappling with my ADHD, to be honest, I just did what YOU’RE doing now — reading about strategies and then trying them out. With the emphasis on trying them out, i.e., DOING them. So find a long-languishing project and see if you can build a Grand Gesture around it to make some progress — and keep us posted!! APB

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