The Art of Focusing

Bulls Eye
What Can You See in the Above Picture?

It’s the days of the epic Mahabharata in ancient India. All the kings send their sons to the ashram of Guru Drona for their education. Guru Drona teaches them everything from the Vedas to philosophy to the art of war.

One day, Guru Drona decides to see how attentive his students are. He wants to know how far they’ve come with their skills in archery. So he places a wooden bird on a high branch of a tree. And asks his students one by one to take aim to shoot the left eye of the bird. Guru Drona then asks each one what they see before they shoot.

One by one, the students come and claim that they can see everything clearly. The forest. The trees. The branches. The bird. They then shoot their arrows. Some come close to the mark. Others miss by wide margins. One or two even hit the bird. But no one is extremely accurate.

At last comes Arjuna. He takes aim and then Guru Drona asks him: what do you see? But like everyone else’s answer, Arjuna doesn’t say that he can see everything clearly. In fact he says: I only see the left eye of the bird.

When he shoots his arrow, it goes straight through the center of the left eye of the wooden bird. Bulls Birds eye!

Arjuna goes on to become the most accomplished archer of his time. And all because he learnt how to “focus” on his target.

Two Tricks to Focusing Better

There are two tricks to focusing:

1. Get rid of all your distractions.

2. Add focus reminders.

Why Do People Put Blinders on Horses?

Horse Blinders

Blinders are put up in front of the horses’ eyes so that they can focus on what lies ahead of them. So that they don’t get scared or distracted by things happening in their periphery vision.

You need to put up blinders so that you can focus better too.

The most productive people I know regularly put up blinders when they sit down to work:

  • They won’t check their email while working.
  • They will shut off their cell phones.
  • Many of them even hire secretaries and gatekeepers to help them keep unwanted things out so that they can focus on the important things.

Hernanda Cortez went one step ahead. After landing in Mexico with 600 people, he burned down all of his 11 ships. So that there is only one way for his army to move: ahead.

Because he left no other choice for his men but to march ahead and conquer, his men went on to defeat the mighty Aztec empire!

The first part of focusing is getting rid of distractions. The second part is to use focus reminders… tools that prevent distractions… and tools that help you get your focus back once you are distracted.

Let us look at 2 such tools, shall we?

Focus Reminder Tool # 1: Use Post-it Notes

Some time back, I realized that my eyes would strain because of long hours in front of the computer. While digging for a solution to the problem, I found out that the chief reason for my eye strain was I didn’t blink a lot while I stared at the computer screen all day long! (Experts say you should blink 10-12 times per minute!)

So I created a post-it and wrote 2 words on it.

“Blink. Breathe.”

And stuck that post-it note right on my computer. Every time my eyes wandered off a bit, I would see the note and blink.

You can place post-it notes around your work space too so that it keeps on reminding you of the important stuff.

Focus Reminder Tool # 2: Wrist Bands

Wrist Band

Lifestyle Design pioneer Tim Ferriss wanted to inculcate a new habit: to stop frivolous complaining. He realized that if he could control his words, he could control and think better thoughts too. To keep himself focused on developing this habit, he went on a 21 day no complaining experiment.

What he did is he wore a purple wrist band. This wrist band constantly reminded him to not to complain. Every time he complained, he had to switch the arm band from one hand to another. The goal is to go for 21 days without switching the arm band!

“I made it 11 days on the first attempt, then I slipped. Back to zero. Then it was two or three days at a time for about a month. Once I cleared 21 days at around month 3, I no longer needed the bracelet.” – Tim Ferriss

Buy a bright coloured wrist band. And wear it. Let the arm band remind you of the one truly important task that you need to do. Until it becomes a habit.

How Do You Eat an Elephant? One Bite at a Time!

Chanakya’s Epiphany (What to do when your goal or task is way to big for you?)

2300 years ago in India, young Chandragupta – with the help of the great strategist Chanakya, builds an army by borrowing soldiers from the Himalayan kingdoms. In return, he promises to share between them half of whatever territory he manages to conquer from the greedy Nanda Empire. (The Himalayan kingdoms agree to lend soldiers because they have no risk except giving up a few soldiers, but the returns could be a part of a dynasty!)

Chandragupta then ventures into a war with the Nanda Empire but fails to seize control. He is in a dead lock with the Nanda Empire. Both the sides proved themselves equal in a few skirmishes.

At this time, Chanakya – a Brahmin and Chandragupta’s guru, is roaming through wilderness. He comes upon a hut and watches a mother and child. The child keeps burning his hand while eating khichidi (an Indian rice dish). So the mother scolds the child to eat from the edges and not the center, as the center will always be hotter.

This is the precise moment when Chanakya has an epiphany. He sends a message to Chandragupta to withdraw his forces and not to fight any more wars with the Nanda Emperor directly. Instead, he should go on and challenge the harmless and ignored independent small kingdoms that weren’t directly a part of the Nanda Empire, but laid at its periphery.

Chandragupta heeds to Chanakya’s advice. And starts conquering the kingdoms at the edges of the old Empire. With every new conquest, Chandragupta’s might grows.

After a year of such small conquests at the edges, Chandragupta once again challenges the Nanda king. But this time, he is a little more powerful and has a few more soldiers. And this time he wins.

Chandragupta goes on to create the Maurya Empire that for the first time unites India and brings on its “Golden” age.

Chandragupta Maurya Unites India

Action Summary:

  • Your success depends on your ability to focus on the truly urgent tasks.
  • Create an environment for yourself where there are no distractions.
  • Use focus reminder tools like post-it notes and arm-bands to constantly remind you that you need to focus on the truly important tasks.
  • If the task is gigantic and overwhelming, take a deep breathe and start at the periphery. Move to the center from the periphery. Divide the big task into smaller sub-tasks. And then focus on each smaller sub-task one at a time.


Un-Abbreviated Definition of Focus


Master marketer David Frey shares this definition of Focus:

  • Follow
  • One
  • Course
  • Until
  • Successful