Feeling short on time and unable to focus?
Do more by doing less.

Once upon a time, a wise man was on his way to a nature retreat in the mountains when he passed a younger man trying to saw down a tree on his property. The young man was sweating, breathing heavily, and did not seem to be making any headway with his task at hand. The wise man pulled over and approached the young man. “Excuse me,” he said. “It looks like you’re having some trouble there.” “Yeah, I’ve got to get this tree cut down and it’s not budging!”

It looks like a big job you have there. Have you tried taking some time out to sharpen your saw?”

“Ha! You don’t understand! I have too much to do! I don’t have TIME to sharpen my saw.” And so, the young man brushed off the wise man, and went back to sawing away at the tree with his dull blade…

Have you ever been in a similar situation, toiling away at something and feeling like you were getting nowhere?

In the blaring noise of social media updates, “breaking news” updates, push notifications, advertisements, emails, it’s getting harder and harder for us to exercise the mental muscle of focus. This sensory overload has us exposed to an estimated 3,500 pieces of advertising in a single day. Not only is our constant multitasking is making us stressed and unable to focus… it’s slowly killing us. With that in mind, here are 3 ways that you can sharpen your saw that don’t even require you to go on vacation to recharge:

#1… Reclaim your white space

In graphic design, this concept is also known as negative space. The idea is that if you are designing, say, a flyer and cramming as much information into the page as possible, nothing will stand out to the reader, rendering everything useless. The page needs white space so the important information can stand out and easily catch the reader’s eye.

I was recently listening to a health podcast where the speaker, Matt Johnson, said that our lack of focus is due to a lack of white space in our day-to-day lives. He estimated that we are averaging less than one hour of white space a day, and struggling to get our screen time below 2-3 hours a day.

With that in mind, the next time you’re forced to suffer through the PAIN of spending a few minutes waiting in line for your Starbucks or for your lunch order to come out, instead of pulling out your smartphone, I want to invite you to try something different. Put your phone in airplane mode and become more conscious of the present moment. Stare out the window, do some good old-fashioned people-watching, or maybe just sit with your thoughts.

This will start retraining your brain to focus on one thing at a time, and to downshift from our natural state of FOMO, ADD, and the need for instant gratification.

#2… Utilize the Coffee Shop Effect

Have you ever had a big project to tackle, but find yourself stuck and unable to get started? You probably just need a change of scenery. Our brains crave novelty.

So, the next time you have a project to hammer out that requires a lot of focus, change your environment to give your brain a reward that will help it focus. This has been called “The Coffee Shop Effect.” According to University College in London, the new environment will release dopamine.

And that dopamine will give you the motivation to power through your task. And also, the new scenery will give you a fresh perspective to see a tough problem from a different angle. So, instead of feeding our addiction with a mini-dopamine release from mindlessly scrolling through a social media news feed, make a conscious choice to take back control of your dopamine and choose a new environment that will do it naturally.

#3… Practice nostril breathing

nostril breathing
(No, this is not me picking my nose)

“But Jeff, I have a busy life with work and a family as soon as I get home! I don’t have the luxury of shutting out all the stimuli in my world or going to a coffee shop!”

Well, nostril breathing is a technique you can do in just a few minutes while you’re at your desk, driving in the car, or anywhere really. The reason why it is so effective is that you give your brain a much-needed break by forcing it to only focus on one thing: getting enough air to breathe.

Try it right now! Plug your left nostril and do your best to inhale and exhale a few times. Then, switch sides and plug the right nostril and repeat with a few more deep breaths. Repeat again on both sides if you’d like.

And…? How do you feel?

Remember the feeling you have right now.

This is the feeling of being mindful.

This is the feeling of being focused.

And this is the feeling that will help you power through any obstacle that stands in your way.

And now, with the digital noise on your smartphone tamed, your mental energy concentrated into a laser beam of focus, and your blade newly sharpened, what will you do with it?