Focus: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of True Immersion in Life, Work and Play (Part 1: Eliminate, Eliminate, Eliminate!)

I’m excited to announce today the beginning of a new series entitled Focus: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of True Immersion in Life, Work and Play! I hope you’ll find much value and fun from the series.

This post is part 1 of 4, with each part launching for the next 3 consecutive Tuesdays. Stay up-to-date by subscribing for free with or . Don’t forget to connect with me on and say hi.

Why the Focus Series?

Due to a number of people either asking me how I can find focus in our busy lives or complaining about how they can’t seem to focus anymore, I wanted to write on a topic that is highly relevant and practical.

But I don’t write what I don’t know. And I certainly don’t write what I don’t demonstrate (such as minimalism). So obviously, I know a thing or two about focus, right?

Here are just some of the things I’ve accomplished in 2010 alone, all the while working in a 9-to-5 corporate job, which I just quit on November 30th to write and travel full-time. How’s that for focusing on what matters?

In 2010, I …

  • Earned my 1st degree Black belt in Shotokan Karate (training begun 4 years prior)
  • Competed in 3 Karate tournaments, including the Illinois State Championship
  • Started and ended a full-time corporate day job
  • Painted over 2 dozen large, art studio-quality paintings
  • Took a Japanese language course
  • Ran in half a dozen races over the summer, 5Ks and up
  • Read 76 books
  • Launched Castles in the Air blog and steadily wrote a new post 2-3 times a week and had about 7 hits a day in the beginning (amazing how far this blog has come since then, no doubt due to you!)
  • Self-published my first major eBook, The Radical Minimalist, which has been a great hit thus far (have you picked up your copy yet?)
  • Self-published Minimalist Freedom, a free manifesto on creating your very own personal freedom
  • Wrote a 50,000-word novel during the NaNoWriMo challenge in 18 days

But all this is superfluous as compared to the tremendous growth I’ve experienced as an individual. It was through consistent and persistent self-examination and many trial and errors begun years ago and only gaining more momentum in 2010, that I have been able to grow so much as a person.

The Focus Imperative

Focus is an imperative in our distraction-heavy days. Without focus, your mind will wander to all corners of your brain but never actually do anything about it, all the while adding to unnecessary stress, anxieties and debilitating (and unreal) fears.

The fear of not being able to do everything and be everything is ridiculous. You can’t do everything on your lengthy To Do list because you keep on adding to it instead of taking things off of it.

I used to keep many To Do lists but not anymore. I may have some notes in my notebook I’ll jot down but I certainly have given up any notion of I-MUST-DO-THIS-OR-PERISH attitude and replaced it with a LIVE-NOW-LIVE-FULLY attitude. It’s saved me much heartache and trouble than the alternative.

The alternative is I have my Skype logged in and ready for an impromptu chat, Twitter feed on to catch all the latest tweets, e-mail loaded and ready to retrieve every new incoming message, Facebook page open and sitting there, and the list goes on. I don’t want this. It goes against my minimalist lifestyle and philosophy, one in which affords me ultimate mobility, autonomy, flexibility, freedom and peace.

I Quit!

Why quit my day job just to be chained digitally to self-inflicted commitments and must-do’s? It wouldn’t make sense.

I quit my day job in order to travel the world, see places for longer than a horrendously short 2 weeks’ vacation. Being boxed in and forced to go and do what I want to do in 2 weeks out of an entire year is preposterous. This isn’t a vacation; it’s a quick 10-minute break outside during your prison term.

I also quit my job in order to do what I love and to focus all my attention and energy towards it: Writing and Art.

Freedom is the necessary vehicle and by-product for me to fully realize my dreams and make them a reality.

So with more ample time (I just got back 40+ hours of my life per week), it’s imperative now more than ever to focus and to never take a single day of freedom for granted.

I have honed the art of focus intensely over the years, poured upon myself through thorough self-examination and experiments and will now share with you how I master the art of focus.

Why An Uncommon Guide?

This is the uncommon guide because it won’t detail steps 1-12 on how to focus, leading you by the hand and having you take baby steps as I gently coach you and tell you everything’s just going to be okay. My methodology does not call for baby steps and I will NOT hold your hand. You must learn to do this yourself. Consider this an ass kick.

Part 1: Eliminate, Eliminate, Eliminate!

Since most of what we say and do is entirely unnecessary, if a person could rid of these, he would have more leisure and be in less of a state of confusion. Therefore we all must remember to ask ourselves: “Is this one of the truly necessary things?” But we must leave aside not only unnecessary activities but even unnecessary thoughts, so that unnecessary activities do not follow from them. – Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180), Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor

How many times do I have to tell you to stop hoarding your 13-year-old collection of baseball cards and bottle caps? Or that fine China dish set your great great grandmother passed onto the rest of the family?

Lay not your self-worth upon your possessions. Yes, certain memories (good and bad) are associated with such things. The bad has GOT to go, immediately. Some Zen artists will tell you this is negative energy, festering in a pit of cloudy darkness the longer you keep it in your home.

Old pictures of ex-lovers? Seriously. Got to go. Your 5th grade perfect attendance certificate? Seriously. Got to go.

How do you imagine you will find focus when you cannot even find yourself?

You are swimming in a sea of distractions and clutter and focus is the life raft in which you can save yourself. But the life raft can only be thrown to you if you begin eliminating anything and everything around you that does not add true value and positive meaning in your life.

Eliminate, don’t accumulate. Decrease, don’t increase.

An Elimination Story: What to Do With Old Letters and Cards When They Attack?

When I was a teenager, I used to hold onto old letters, birthday cards, holiday cards and notes from old boyfriends, friends and family members. The fact that I never went back through them and spend an entire Saturday afternoon reading old letters did not deter me from holding onto every note I received.

Until my boxes (I had at least 3 jam-packed cardboard boxes) literally came crashing on top of my head while trying to reach for them in the closet, I didn’t realize how heavy, cumbersome and painful this mindless habit was.

With all the letters and cards splayed haphazardly everywhere on the floor and a throbbing lump on my forehead, I now had 2 choices:

1. I can put them all back into the boxes; or
2. I can put them all into the recycle bin and never deal with them ever again.

You can probably guess I chose the latter option. And you know what? No regrets. I don’t shed a misty tear of the decades-old letter I thrown away from my childhood best friend. Memories are within my heart and mind, not necessarily contained in a physical item.

This is the same principle I use when walking away from the rest of my stuff. Owning less and less means I’m not only a minimalist, but I’m more of a free spirit, allowing ease of change to occur without holding onto destructive habits.

It can be done. Many of my minimalist peers are doing it, fully understanding that who they are is not defined by what they own.

You Are Not Your Job

You are not your MacBook Air.

You are not your Moleskine notebook.

You are not your Audi TT.

You are not your Dolce & Gabbana cologne.

You are not your 10×10 cubicle or 14×14 corner office with one window (maybe).

You are not your Starbucks venti 3-shot 4-pump soy no-whip extra hot double cupped white mocha.

You are not your Smart Water.

You are not your $1,557.43 paycheck you receive every 2 weeks.

You are not your title.

You are not your Nike shoes, Diesel jeans, Adidas cap.

Eliminate all of this and what are you left with?

You. Naked, barefoot, un-caffeinated. This is all of you. Nothing more, nothing less.

You must eliminate in order to find focus. Just shoving your papers off to the side doesn’t mean the junk’s gone. You’ve only moved it from point A to point B.

Here’s how to eliminate, starting with your workday:

1. Field incoming calls and don’t answer all of them, all the time. People will call you when it’s convenient for them. They don’t necessarily call you when it’s most convenient for you. Remember that, especially the next time you pick up the phone to dial someone else.

So when your phone rings, unless it’s someone you know and believe to have something imperative to discuss, don’t feel bad if you don’t pick up. Let it go to voicemail and if it’s an urgent request, a message will be left. If not, no worries for you.

You must take control of your time and focus your best energy on what matters most. That doesn’t include 20-minute long gossip sessions over the phone.

2. Work at your most optimal times. I understand that your job may not allow for flexible work times or telecommuting. If not, have you asked your manager specifically why?

Earlier in 2010, when I asked my manager if I could come in half an hour early and leave half an hour early (for 2 reasons: 1) my commute at that time was 40+ miles 1-way, and 2) my accounts were mainly on the East coast and it would better adjust to their time zone), thereby shifting my work schedule by 30 minutes (but still working the same number of hours as everyone else), I was told that this schedule request could not be granted.

Why? I asked.

The response: if she does this for me, she’ll have to grant other people’s requests too.

And how is this a bad thing? I inquired.

Because we’re expected to be here 8:30 to 5, that’s all. It’s always been like this, was the firm and final response.

You know yourself better than anyone else and you know when your attention and energy dips dramatically. For instance, I do a vast majority of my major writing in the wee hours of the morning, somewhere between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. I don’t necessarily do a lot of my writing in the mid morning. For that, I reserve the time to wake up, make a nice cup of coffee and drink it slowly while reading a book or just thinking about my life.

Sounds simple? It’s simple and focused only because I know myself and work at my most optimal times.

3. Quit early and quit often. Just because you’ve invested a lot of time into something doesn’t make it a worthwhile endeavor to continue. But how do you know when to quit something versus persisting on?

You know that really annoying and bad friend you have? Rather than trying to please him/her and be a great friend when they’re really not so great and never show they ever cared about you, it’s okay to quit the relationship. Don’t force the relationship if it’s just not working out. Agree to disagree and then move on. You’ll survive.

So with your work, I’m telling you to quit your job if it’s not doing any of these following things:

  1. Adding value to your life (not just financially but more importantly, the intrinsic value, the sense of doing meaningful work)
  2. Taking you one step closer to your dream
  3. Making you a better, healthier and happier person and citizen of the world
  4. Allowing for a sense of true meaning, of pride and joy in one’s work

If you can’t say your job is doing any of these things, then what are you doing there in the first place? Focus on what matters, which includes the work that you do.

4. Automate the areas in which you can and minimize the areas in which you can’t automate. I spoke about this in my post, The ACE Method. This is where you can automatically take care of certain mundane, routine areas of your life, things such as paying bills, paying employees, receiving pay checks and payments, etc.

The areas in which you can’t automate (there are fewer now, more and more, thanks to the power of the Internet), minimize as best you can. Batch similar tasks, like checking e-mail and answering voicemail together. But even these, you can automate, as Tim Ferriss so aptly taught in his ground-breaking book .

5. Choose who you spend your time with at work. Just because you sit next to a person doesn’t automatically make him/her your new best friend. Especially if that person is severely pessimistic, sour, negative and an overall drag.

Focus on cultivating the friendships with those who you feel uplifted by. Eliminate the rest. It doesn’t mean you’re not civil with such folks and won’t even say hi. It just means you’re not going to spill all your beans about what happened over the weekend, your joys and woes, your latest plans for vacation, etc. with them.

Us humans are sponges and we so easily can add to our emotional baggage the more we hang out with vampires. If you want to be soaked with fear, cynicism and a rather nasty outlook on life, continue hanging out with such folks. If you don’t, focus on those who can make your day brighter and who you can brighten up their day as well.

I do this all the time. People who I just don’t find particularly positive or enlightening or who does not have more to their life than watching football and eating chips, I simply don’t hang out with. Who I do spend my time with are the ones who are real treasures. I can continually add value to them in their lives and vice versa.


In part 2 of this 4-part series, I’ll describe what it means to get your ass kicked in front of thousands of screaming fans yet still walk away on two feet and all my limbs attached. Focus. Stay up-to-date on when part 2 comes out by subscribing for free with or . Connect with me on .

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