Why You Should Focus on One Thing at a Time

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Make Time" by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Does your mind feel scattered? Do you feel like you need to focus on one thing at a time?

In Make Time, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky say having one central task as the focus of each day is the key to success. They also claim you need to arrange your time and energy to support that key activity.

Check out how to focus on one thing at a time below.

What Is a “Daily Focus”?

Learning to focus on one thing at a time is just as vital as maintaining your attention and using whatever tricks you can to keep yourself in the groove. According to the authors, your “Focus” will be a single task or project that will take 60-90 minutes to complete. Anything shorter may not be long enough for you to get fully immersed in your work, while anything longer risks wearing you out and impacting your energy for the rest of the day.

To be clear, your Focus doesn’t necessarily have to be related to your day job. It might be a project at home, something to benefit your family, or something done merely for pleasure or growth. The importance of choosing a Focus is that it lets you set your own priorities instead of responding to external demands. Also, be aware that your Focus doesn’t need to be set in stone; you can change it at any point throughout the day.

(Shortform note: Experts on personal success agree that determining where you direct your attention is a crucial first step to steering your life. In First Things First, businessman Stephen Covey advises shifting your attention to significant tasks rather than those that are merely “pressing.” In You Are a Badass, author Jen Sincero says that you have to shift your perception toward the reality you want before that reality can become a possibility.)

Your daily Focus can be anything you want, but Knapp and Zeratsky offer several ideas to help you decide where to dedicate your time.

  • If there’s something important that’s under a time crunch, such as a project that has to be finalized, it might be an ideal Focus for your day. Deadline pressure is a great motivator.
  • Is there something that will give you a feeling of pride? Perhaps you’ve been training to run a 5K, learning to paint, or playing in a band. Being able to look back with a feeling of accomplishment is a great way to determine where to aim your efforts.

Is there something you can do that will simply make you happy? Maybe there’s a novel you’ve been aching to read, a new recipe you’ve been wanting to try out, or a nature trail you’ve always meant to hike. Your Focus doesn’t have to be of value to anyone other than yourself. What’s important is that you use your time intentionally.

With the Right Focus, You Might Write a Novel

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual writing challenge that incorporates all three of these criteria to motivate aspiring novelists. Begun in 1999 by Chris Baty, the rules are simple. Participants start writing on November 1st, to complete a 50,000-word draft by midnight on November 30th. This creates deadline pressure that many would-be writers otherwise lack while forcing them to set aside time to produce at least 1,667 words (or about five pages, double-spaced) every day.

NaNoWriMo gives those who succeed a sense of accomplishment for achieving what otherwise might have seemed impossible. By measuring success by how much gets written, rather than judging the quality of work, it lets participants experience the joy of unbridled, focused creativity. It’s one example of how focusing on one thing at a time does work. In 2021, over 400,000 writers took part in the challenge.

Why You Should Focus on One Thing at a Time

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky's "Make Time" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Make Time summary :

  • How the current landscape is designed to steal your time and attention
  • How to be proactive to take back your time
  • Why we were all better off as hunter-gatherers

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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