How You Can Sharpen Your Metaphorical Axe

In the modern workplace, where distractions are wildly abundant and multitasking is an expectation (not a last resort), the concept of dedicated focus time often feels like wishful thinking. However, this doesn’t have to be the case, and in fact, it truly shouldn’t be.

Focus time is a powerful tool, a mighty sword, a gilded blade that can take you from drowning under the weight of an ever-growing to-do list and an inbox that never seems to stop pinging to being a leader with purpose, direction, and boundaries. Focus time allows you to hone in on bigger picture items that often go overlooked while you’re in the trenches.

In this article by Velaction, the author tells a story of two lumberjacks in competition to see who can chop the most wood. It’s a quick read, but to summarize the message: the lumberjack who takes the time to sharpen his axe as needed wins the competition against the lumberjack who simply powers through.

The author of the article discusses the importance of taking the time to “sharpen one’s axe” in order to have the most effective tool for “chopping wood”. Of course, this is a metaphor for the workplace. Leaders can’t expect to work efficiently and reach their big goals if they’re stuck in the never ending loop of tackling the daily minutia. Leaders have to take time each day to work toward their bigger goals–to sharpen their axe.

Enter: focus time.

So, What Exactly Is Focus Time?

Focus Time involves blocking your most productive time of the day to do your most important work–work that requires deep focus and a sharp brain.

Often, this time is spent thinking strategically about how you can:

  • Manage your team more efficiently
  • Take steps to grow the business
  • Train your team
  • Delegate tasks
  • Think big and get creative about how to impact your bottom line

Focus time is when you work on things that don’t have a strict deadline, but are equally, if not more important areas for your focus.

If you’d like to know more in-depth info about focus time, how you can implement it yourself, as well as additional actionable productivity tools, check out Jan’s bestselling book, Work Smart Do More.

The Power of Focus Time

In an era dominated by constant notifications, social media, and the allure of instant gratification, concentrating on a more abstract task for an extended period of time can often feel foreign. So let’s break down the power behind this tool.

Focus time encourages you to take a predetermined amount of uninterrupted work time each day without those constant distractions. Focus time is scheduled into your calendar–and I promise you’ll soon see why it’s the most important meeting you’ll have each day.

During your focus time, immerse yourself in a big-picture task that you’ve been putting off, but this time without being sidetracked by external stimuli. Turn off all of your notifications (yes, even your email), put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door, and dedicate your focus time to just this one task.

Some of the benefits of focus time include:

  • A Minimized Need for Multitasking: According to the University of Southern California, “In everyday society, the ability to perform multiple tasks at work is often praised as a faster way to get more done. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, however, indicates the opposite. The authors found that multitasking is actually less efficient because it takes extra time to shift mental gears every time a person switches between tasks.”

Multitasking might seem like an efficient way to handle multiple tasks simultaneously, but in reality, it divides your attention and diminishes the quality of your work. Focus time encourages you to allocate specific blocks for individual tasks, allowing you to channel all your mental energy and creativity into one task at a time.

  • Enhanced Deep Work: Deep Work, a concept popularized by author and productivity guru Cal Newport, emphasizes the value of undistracted, focused work.

By immersing yourself in deep work sessions, you create an environment where your cognitive abilities can flourish. This enables you to produce high-quality output in less time, as opposed to shallow work that yields mediocre results.

  • Cognitive Flow: Focus time enables you to enter a state of cognitive flow—a mental state where you are fully absorbed in a task and time seems to fly by. Achieving this state not only boosts productivity, but also enhances your overall satisfaction and enjoyment of the work you’re doing. This, in turn, drives your interest in completing similar tasks in the future.

In this 2019 Positive Psychology article, the author states: “The biggest benefit of being in flow is that it amplifies performance. Malcolm Gladwell’s famous claim in his book, Outliers, that one needs 10,000 hours to reach mastery of any skill can be cut in half through cultivating flow, according to Steven Kotler of the Flow Genome Project (2014).”

  • Completed Tasks with Higher Quality: It’s no secret that when you devote ample time and attention to a task, the end result is often of higher quality. Focus time allows you to dig deep, explore various avenues, and refine your work until it reaches its full potential.
  • Reduced Decision Fatigue: Constantly switching between tasks and distractions can lead to decision fatigue—the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. Focus time reduces the number of decisions you have to make during a session, preserving your mental energy for more critical aspects of your work.

Implementing Focus Time

Now that we’ve broken down the significance that lies within focus time, let’s explore some practical strategies to implement it effectively:

  • Plan Ahead: Don’t step into your focus time without a set plan for how you’d like to spend your time. If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll likely end up wasting your most valuable resource (time) trying to figure out which task you want to tackle.

Instead, look at your goals (or, if you’re an EOS® fan, your rocks) prior to your scheduled focus time and pick the task you’re going to focus on. Put it in your calendar so you don’t stray to other things.

  • Time Blocking: Figure out what your most productive time of day is and schedule specific time blocks in your calendar dedicated to your focus time. This can be an hour or two long, but it should be consistent, scheduled, and non-negotiable for you.
  • Digital Detox: Temporarily disconnect from digital devices and platforms during your focus time. This means you should turn off all notifications on your phone, computer, and tablet, set your office phone to DND, and if you have a smart watch, stick it in your desk drawer.

This might feel like chopping off a limb at first, but it will help you resist the urge to check notifications, social media, and email, allowing you to maintain a deep level of concentration. And trust me when I say, you’re going to get a little addicted to being tech-free for a while!

  • Environment Optimization: Create a workspace that is conducive to focus. Minimize clutter, noise, and anything that might divert your attention. Close your office door and put a “Do Not Disturb” sign outside.

If you need to set expectations with your employees beforehand, do so. In fact, setting those expectations may even help to start building a culture where focus time is encouraged for everyone at every level, but minimally, it will set the tone for your own focus time.

Having a designated workspace solely for focused work can trigger your brain to enter work mode more easily, so whatever you do, don’t skip this step!

Focus Time: The Modern Leader’s Mighty Axe

Cultivating focus time has become an indispensable skill for driving productivity in this modern world of constant interruptions. It opens the door for you to take back your time, prioritize your own goals, and reevaluate how to increase efficiency within your organization.

When you take the intentional time to step back from your email and your to-do list and redirect your attention to the larger, more abstract tasks at hand, you’ll find you’re able to drive change on a larger scale for your business.

This is why we consider focus time to be an effective way of “sharpening one’s axe.” You’re no longer grinding with no end in sight–instead, you’re taking deliberate steps to drive productivity, change, growth, and culture. By adopting strategies that prioritize focus time, you can harness your cognitive abilities to their fullest potential and unlock new levels of productivity in both your personal and professional lives.

Interested in seeing the real-life value focus time can add to a business? Check out this client success story.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Be the first to hear any updates from CTC!