The greatest enemy of productivity is a lack of focus. And we'd like to believe that we can effectively multi-task but that whole thing is a myth (research from the likes of the American Psychological Association, among others, shows task-switching kills productivity). 

So how to lock-in on a hack that locks us in to our priorities? I started using a one-word solution four years ago when I became a full-time entrepreneur. It became a survival tactic as any entrepreneur can tell you there is never, ever, a shortage of things that could be done to advance the business. So I called upon my days of old as a brand marketer at Procter & Gamble and re-purposed one powerful word common in marketing lingo.

First, the word (and an explanation).


In the world of consumer goods brand marketing, one of the greatest challenges is to make your brand stand out in a very crowded aisle. Think of the toothpaste category for a minute. Imagine you go into a grocery store you haven't been to before and you jaunt over to the toothpaste aisle. You begin the search for just the right variant of toothpaste that's right for you, with all the bells and whistles that you want.

What should be simple is an insanely daunting task.

The amount of choice is overwhelming. In fact, retailers push consumer goods manufacturers to help them simplify the shelves in their stores to make it easier for the consumer to find and purchase the variant of product that they want.

In fact, they push for what's known in the industry as "deselection": making it easy for the consumer to quickly deselect all the stuff they don't want so they can more easily find the one thing they do want.

That might mean organizing the shelf first by brand blocks (Colgate in its own sea of red, Crest in its own sea of blue).

Then perhaps you organize within that major variant types by putting up signs that say "Anti-Cavity", "Whitening", and "For Sensitive Teeth" to further direct the consumers eye.

Then within that you organize by flavors. You get the idea.

When you're standing in front of a confusing shelf of products, you need help to first deselect all the stuff you don't want.

That's exactly what to do for 60 seconds in the morning to help you sharpen your focus. Pause over your morning coffee and deselect all things that you know are going to pop up on your "shelf" during the day, (your day's activities) so that you can focus on the one or two things you still want left standing on your mental shelf of things to do. We'll often just do what falls in front of us even if we were expecting that thing to come up and know it's not the most productive use of our time.

Why this word is so powerful for maintaining focus.

It's worth repeating. Starting your day by thinking of the word "deselection" allows you to quickly put all the things you don't want to do in that day into categories, so you're more likely to bypass those activities when they come up. Then you can select the few things that matter and focus on doing those.

Here's a specific example. A few days ago over breakfast I said to myself, "Deselection" to start the 60-second mental process. Four categories of things immediately came to mind that I knew I didn't want to fall into on that particular day (but that I knew would likely come up). Those categories were client phone calls, keynote research work, keynote rehearsal work, and website upgrades. Sure enough, things to do in each category cropped up.

But I was prepared to quickly resist them and stay focused on the one thing I did select for the day, which happened to be writing Inc. articles.

Now, you might say, isn't this the same thing as just picking the one thing you want to focus on for the day and staying committed to it?

Not exactly. Thinking "deselection" springs the trap before you fall into it. It brings top of mind the unwanted clutter that will likely come up that day so you're ready to resist it all and stay focused. It's like having a mental To Don't list.

So take 60 seconds tomorrow morning and give it a try. It just might save you 60 minutes (or much more) of unwanted unfocused time.