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Jari Roomer on Regaining Focus, Gaining Freedom, And Overcoming Procrastination
I love to talk to people who are likeminded and are looking to help people to work smarter and approach their time management and their productivity in the most optimal way. I’m excited to have Jari Roomer with us because he is also passionate about productivity. He talks a lot about freedom and also is a successful entrepreneur. That’s what we’re going to get into and talk to him about that. He has created a site called The Personal Growth Lab. He created that to help high achievers and ambitious individuals create a life of freedom. He does that by sharing tips and strategies on peak performance. At PGL, he shares actionable, which is important, scientifically proven self-development advice that will help you stay focused, achieve your goals, become a peak performer and live a more productive and impactful life. Without further ado, Jari, welcome.
Thank you. It’s so nice to be here.
It’s great to have you here. I know we’re going to talk about focus because it’s such a challenge for people who want to succeed that they’re constantly distracted. That shiny penny, that new idea, that bombarding with marketing. What’s your biggest thing about focus?
Focus is incredibly important. I can definitely say that nowadays, the thing I have in my workflow is focus and that was what was lacking when I was still struggling and when I was still struggling to make progress with my business. There are so many things nowadays that are pulling for our attention. It’s social media. It’s new ideas. It’s that Netflix series or Game of Thrones. The cute cat videos are a distraction and there are so many things. It’s hard to keep focused on our work, even though we know we should do our work. Even though we know it is important to get the results that we desire, but it still remains a battle for most people on a daily basis.
We beat ourselves up at the end of the day for like, “Why didn’t I focus? I knew I should’ve done that. I knew what to do, but I didn’t do what I know.”
I’ve done that myself many times.
How do you do it? How do you stay focused?
The first thing to know is to realize how often you are distracted. I knew intuitively that I was distracted often, but I didn’t know how big this issue was. I can come up with a few interesting studies that shocked me when I found out about how bad and how easily distracted we are. A Harvard study showed that knowledge workers on average, they work in a state of semi-distraction 47% of his or her day. That’s basically half of your day spent in a state of distraction or semi-distraction. A bed alarm is already crazy.
That’s generous as well. I believe that number is even higher. It depends on who you’re polling.
That could definitely be true. Imagine even if it’s 50%, you could gain back 50% of your time. If you could finish your tasks faster, your work faster and then have more free time, more time to read books or time with loved ones or other side hustle or things you want to spend it on. That is a worry in statistic. Even to make things worse, RescueTime, which is an app which you can use to block certain websites or apps if you get distracted too much, they did research that on average, knowledge workers, they check their email 55 times per day and are instant messaging about 77 times per day. That shows you how big of an issue it is, how big of an issue distraction is for us and for our productivity.
I saw a study and I don’t remember who published the study, but they said 150 times a day, 30% of the population was checking it 55 times a day. That’s crazy. The thing that I want to talk about and address is it’s addressing the impulsivity that comes along with that distraction.
That is the whole problem because distraction is what they do in the form off checking social media or having a quick chat with a colleague for example or checking those funny cat videos. What they do is they give us a form of instant gratification because instantly we are being rewarded on a neurological level. We’re entertained or we learn something new or it’s fun to scroll through social media. Much more fun, in my case to sit and focus on writing an article for a few hours in a row. It’s on a neurological level a lot less stimulating. That’s the whole problem. Distractions are more stimulating. They’re instantly giving us a reward.
It’s a hit of dopamine. It’s neurologically making us want to do more of that.
That is the issue because our work normally has a payoff somewhere in the future. If you write an article, maybe you’re satisfied with the article and that’s a boost. That’s a positive experience, but it’s only in the future that you will receive a payoff for it. If you check social media or if you watch a funny YouTube video, it’s an immediate reward. The brain prefers those immediate rewards. There’s instant gratification. That means that if we want to stay focused on our work and do our work without getting distracted, do it in a time efficient way, then we need to eliminate distractions. We can go on and fight distractions. We can try to use our willpower to in the moment, discipline ourselves and say, “No, I shouldn’t check social media. I should go back to work.” Willpower is a finite resource. If it runs out during the day. Eventually, you’re going to lose that battle.Distractions are more stimulating and instantly giving us rewards. Click To Tweet
Willpower is exhausted. It’s not the strongest power that we have. What are two or three tips that you use? One of them you said is to understand awareness, is to understand how often we’re distracted and get clear on that. What are some other tips and tricks on how to stay more focused?
Another one and this is probably the most important one and it’s not going to be a popular one, put your smartphone away for at least about two to three hours in your day when you’re doing your most important work. The smartphone is a distraction device. It’s an amazing technology and I love it. It can also enhance your productivity, but in most cases, especially when we’re working on our most important tasks and will only serve as a distraction. What I like to do is put it on flight mode. I like to put it out of sight or put it in my backpack or put it in another room even so that my mind also doesn’t wonder like, “Did I receive a message or what’s new on Facebook or Twitter?” It’s because my phone is away. It’s removed from my environment. All I have left is my work. It’s my laptop and, in my case, writing my articles. That is a valuable tip.
In the beginning, you might feel resistance towards that because I don’t know about you, but normally my phone would be attached through like 24/7. To remove it out of your environment, even if it’s just two or three hours in your day, that’s something that we need to get used to. It is super important. It’s probably the most effective thing you can do to protect your focus, is to put your smartphone away, put it on flight mode and put it in another room. Maybe even give it to a colleague or a friend and tell them, “I can only get my phone back in two or three hours unless there’s an emergency or something.” You have an accountability partner.
The accountability partner is important because sometimes we know what to do, we just don’t do what we know. We have to commit outside of committing to ourselves so that we can get those results. I do want to comment also on what you said is around that resistance is people have to push through that because we are addicted. If people are checking it whether it’s 55 times or 150 times, it’s too many. We’re going to go through a detox period as we’re weaning ourselves away from that and there’s going to be resistance and impulse. What are some other things that you think might help people during that period where excuses come up as to why they need to have it? How do you handle the excuses that come up when you’re in that detox period? Like, “No. Somebody important might be calling, I might lose a project,” or whatever might come up in terms of excuses?
Indeed, in the beginning, you might think, “I’m missing out. I might miss out on phone calls or messages,” but in reality, you’ll find out that you won’t miss out on that much. If you miss out on a phone call, 99% of the cases, you can simply call that person back after your hyperfocus or your deep work period is finished and there’s no problem at all. Often we made this problem bigger in our own mind. We think that the consequences of missing a phone call or missing an email, even if it’s for two hours, that’s going to be this huge problem. In reality, it’s basically never a problem because you can simply respond to that person after your important work is done. You could go about this in different ways. You can say, “I’m going to work without a smartphone for the first two hours of my day, first three hours of my day and afterwards I’m allowed to use it. Afterwards I can respond to all messages or emails or phone calls.”
What you could also do is right after your first hour of working in full focus mode, you give yourself five to ten minutes. This is not necessarily something that I advise you to do, but only if your job requires you to be present on your smartphone. What you can do after an hour of work is give yourself five to ten minutes to quickly check your messages, quickly check your emails, quickly check your phone calls to see if something important has popped up. Not every message is important so you don’t need to respond to every message, but only to the most important things and then go back for an hour or an hour and a half working in full focus mode. This is only a method that I would advise you to use if your work demands that you are always available.
It comes back to also people remembering that the benefits are bigger than the cost. The amount of clarity, speed and quality that’s going to increase for you is going to way outweigh the cost of having to call somebody back versus being available. I think that is important. Some people, maybe they do need to be available and maybe it’s a good way to ease into it. Some people don’t like to cold turkey like, “Three hours without my web phone.” That way that’s a good idea, just five or ten minutes at the end of every hour. Make your block of focus time 45 minutes. Give yourself five or ten minutes on your email and give yourself five minutes to refresh, re-energize, get some water and identify what’s in the next segment. You talk a lot about freedom in a lot of the messaging that you have and what not. What is freedom to you?
Freedom to me is doing whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it with whoever I want to do it. That’s pretty broad, but it’s being able to decide what projects I’m going to work on. Not having someone else impose on me what project I should work on for, that I should stay in an office from exactly 9 to 5. That’s not something that works for me. It might work for other people and I definitely respect that, but for me, freedom is being able to work, for example, wherever I want to, whenever I want to and on the topics, tasks, projects that I personally choose.
Also in the context of working smarter. In order to achieve that freedom, you have to work smarter. What does working smarter means to you?
The thing is with working smarter or in increasing your productivity, in general, most people assume that if they want to get more done or achieve certain goals is that they need to put in more hours or take on more projects.
That’s what our brain tells us. Our brains say, “Work harder.”
If you instead focus on working smarter, so applying productivity strategies and techniques, then you could basically get your work done much faster and much more efficiently. You can also say, “If tasks or projects that I’m currently pursuing, they don’t add that much value. I’m working on them, simply my impulses are to do more to work harder. What if instead I used that time and focused it on a few or maybe even one important project, one important goal, it will give me a lot more results?” I can give you a personal example. At the beginning of Personal Growth Lab when I was building the business, I thought I just have to be everywhere and have to do everything. I need to start a YouTube channel, a podcast, a blog. I want to build courses. I was working on many different things at the same time because I thought that I needed to work harder and do more in order to build a successful business. After learning more about productivity and about working smarter, I realized that by taking on so many things at the same time, I was only spreading my time, my energy and my attention too thin among those different projects. Those projects, my YouTube channel, my podcast, my blog, neither of them blew up or gotten any results because I was spreading my resources way too thin.
I decided to pick writing articles on Medium because that was the platform that was giving me the most results at that time. I dedicated most of my resources, so my energy, my time and my attention on writing on Medium. That eventually helped me to grow Personal Growth Lab to amounts that I’ve never seen before in the past few years, even though in the past I was working harder, but not necessarily working smarter. For me, working smarter is applying certain productivity techniques, productivity strategies to make sure that you’re getting better results while not necessarily putting in more hours. That to me is working smarter.
I’m hearing that one of the things is to be aware of what’s delivering results. Instead of working, is to focus on the results and quantify which tasks or strategies are getting traction and getting results. What are some other strategies that you can recommend to people about working smarter?If you focus on working smarter then you can get your work done much faster and more efficiently. Click To Tweet
Another strategy that I would recommend is being able to catch yourself when you’re procrastinating and turning that around. Procrastination, for example, is another form of we can sit at a desk and work many hours or be there for many hours, have the perception that maybe we’re working hard but in reality, we’re still not being there fully at our work. We’re not there 100%. Still, we’re checking out those funny cat videos or scrolling through Facebook. If we are able to catch our self quickly when we’re procrastinating, and turn it around and get ourselves back to work, then we are able to work much smarter because we can finish our tasks.
We can be able to make a lot more progress in even less time than before because we no longer waste any time. It helped me a lot in getting more results. In the best, and I didn’t even realize this, but I would procrastinate so much on my work. Procrastination and distractions go hand and hand with each other. If you’re falling prey to distractions like social media, at the same time you’re procrastinating. You’re not doing the work that you know you should be doing. It’s not necessarily a strategy but more of a principle that I like to use is aligning the two versions of yourself. Have you ever heard of that principle?
I don’t know. Tell us more.
Aligning the two versions of yourself goes like this. We all have two versions of ourselves. We have a future self and this version is the one who sets goals and who dreams about how awesome and successful our future will be. This version of ourselves, the future self, also realizes the importance of hard work, of consistency and of getting the job done and doing the work that we want to do. We have our present self and the present self is the one who is responsible for sitting down and doing the work. It’s my present self, right now, that is talking to you, not my future self. The problem is that the present self prefers instant gratifications, which we already mentioned, over the long-term reward or the delayed gratification that the future self wants. What we have are the two versions of our selves clashing. The future self who wants to achieve our goals and the future self who wants to work hard, but the present self just wants that immediate craving or an immediate dopamine hit of something fun like scrolling through Instagram and Facebook. If you can align those two selves with each other, then you can overcome procrastination.
How do you do that?
How you can do that is by making the future consequences of procrastinating immediate. When we’re procrastinating, we’re not necessarily thinking about the future negative consequences. All that we’re thinking about are the Instagram posts that we’re indulging at that moment. That’s what we’re focused on. When we catch ourself procrastinating, what we need to do is is think, “What will be the negative consequences that my future self will experience if I keep on procrastinating?” Procrastination is never just once. It’s basically a repeated pattern of behavior. What will happen if because of that continuous procrastination, we won’t achieve our goals? What would that do to our career? What would that do to our finances? We’ll be earning less money because we continue to procrastinate and therefore not get the results that we want. What would it do to our health and relationships or our own self-esteem?
By envisioning right now when the present self is envisioning the pain that the future self might experience because of this procrastinated of behavior, you align both versions of the self. The present self feels the pain of procrastinating instead of the pleasure of procrastinating. All of a sudden, what I personally noticed is that you don’t even want to procrastinate anymore. You don’t even want to waste time anymore because you feel that future pain, that future failure, maybe even you feel that right now. That pain is something that can drive us to take action. It’s a powerful motivator. That is something that you can apply to work smarter, to make sure that you don’t waste any more time and that you get the job done and you do the things that you know you should be doing.
It makes a lot of sense in the context that we have driven 100 times more away from pain than we are towards pleasure. It’s not enough to think this will be great on the other side. It’s important to use both of those. This will be great on the other side and here are the consequences. I’m practiced in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. What that does in psychology, we’re taking that pattern of thought at the moment that is looking for the pleasure, the easy way out and interrupting it. We’re interrupting it with being aware of the consequences and the cost, so it’s allowing us to be more purposeful and deliberate as opposed to in reactive and impulsive mode. That’s an important strategy. It’s so simple but at the same time, people have difficulty accessing simple techniques like this. What do you recommend and how do you help people overcome that thing if they don’t do it?
It is all about awareness, the same thing with being distracted. When you’re aware of how big of a problem it is, that’s the first step towards change. By simply becoming aware of how often you are procrastinating and how that impacts your life because that is the most important part. If you’ve truly become aware of how procrastination impacts your life, you create the leverage to not do it anymore. Even me, I experience procrastination on a daily basis but what I do is I refer back to that principle, aligning the future self with the present self. I make sure that I realize at this moment that if I don’t take action right now and if I watch cat videos, if I do anything else that has nothing to do with my work, I’m wasting my time. What am I doing here?
I’ve got ambitious goals, I want to impact other people and you want to make this life as awesome as possible, but that is your future self-thinking. If the present self doesn’t act upon that, if the present self keeps on wasting time, it is a literal waste of your time, of your opportunities as well. If you realize that your time here is limited and opportunities are limited, that creates more drive and motivation to start doing it. That is what I would recommend. It’s aligning those two versions of yourself. Right now at this moment when you’re procrastinating, feel the future consequences, the negative future consequences of a bad time wasting and inaction.
If I might add to that, you mentioned an accountability buddy. I always think about the ways that I help myself, so they can remember, so I can create that awareness, is looking for different ways to hold myself accountable. I know I want to get a particular result and I know myself. I know that I’m going to procrastinate. I’m going to sometimes not choose deliberately. I’d put different things into place before I start so that when I have that goal, I set up my environment for success. That might be shutting off different sites or put your phone away from you so that’s not a distraction. You’re turning it on airplane mode and you’re maybe putting it in a drawer somewhere or giving it to someone. You’re tracking your time so that you’re aware of when you’re procrastinating and distractions because it makes you more aware or having a sticky up on your desk somewhere with a question that will remind you of what’s the best thing for me to focus on next or whatever. It’s those things that we put into practice and into place before we start that help us to be successful in what we’re doing and to align those two.
I love those methods that you mentioned. The powerful thing about this is that you are using your environment to work for you instead of against you. You don’t necessarily have to tap that much into your willpower and discipline because you’ve got those reminders, success reminders or notifications surrounding you and you set up these systems. I like that.
I’m a firm believer that systems support us. I know a lot of people resist systems. It sounds so structured, especially you missed your freedom and do what I want when I want. God forbid we should put in a structure or a system or somewhere you have to be, but it’s adding just enough that gives you the support so that you’ll fall back onto those and it will help you to own the things that you’ve committed to. That’s what’s going to help you with a New Year’s resolution. It’s not about changing the behavior, it’s about changing your accountability systems.
The thing is, those systems and routines, they enable freedom. I love systems and routines because of those things I can then do with my time whatever I want to do. Do you have a morning routine as well?When you're aware of how big of a problem the distraction really is, that's the first step towards change. Click To Tweet
Without my morning routine, I notice that I’m much less focused. My actions are not in alignment with my goals. I take longer to finish my work that day. I have less freedom when I don’t follow that routine or system. I think that the two for sure, they need to go hand-in-hand with each other. If you have the right system, that enables you to have freedom in other areas of your life.
That’s a key point. If somebody like yourself who’s accomplished what he wants in his life, you’ve accomplished this sense of freedom and the recognition that these systems and routines that they create that freedom. It’s almost like an oxymoron. People understand that it’s okay in itself. It’s not overdoing it, not being obsessive with too many systems and too many routines, but some key ones like the morning routine that sets your whole day up for success, it sets your mindset for positivity, goal-directed and clarity. This has been an amazing support for people who are reading on ways that they can help themselves to be more focused. Is there anything we missed or anything that you think needs to be addressed?
I want to share one more thing that is often overlooked in the productivity world that can help people get better results. It’s the power of reflection and this day, I really didn’t produce anything but I only reflected. I took time to do nothing, just sit still with a journal and write down, “Is my current business strategy working? What are the tasks or projects that are getting the most results?” Asking myself questions like, “How could I get better results? How could I be more focused and productive? Are the projects that I’m currently working on worth my time or is my time better spent on another project and will get any more or better results?”
In our society nowadays, it’s driven by doing more and more and working hard. Every now and then, maybe it’s once a week, every Sunday, maybe it’s once a month, sit still and reflect. Think about what am I doing with my time, what results am I getting? Am I happy with what I’m doing and am I being productive, and then asking yourself, “How could I improve this? How could I be more focused on productive? What tasks, what projects can I drop because they take up my valuable resources, but don’t get me that many results?” That is something that I never wanted to believe years ago. I wanted to work. I didn’t want to sit still with a journal. Nowadays, this is something that has saved me weeks or even months of hard work.
I’m a super huge proponent of taking a step back. I’d say that that’s probably, for me, the biggest productivity enhancer is taking a step back because we can chase all the wrong things for the longest time and find ourselves like how did we get here. People now, they’re too busy to reflect and they’re too busy to connect, like connect, not just Facebook connect but connect. That reflection and connection time is so important. One last thing let people know where they can get ahold of you. What’s your biggest challenge? What’s the thing that you struggle with most?
For me, the thing I still struggle with most is waking up early. I’m going to be very honest about that. I apply many different accountabilities in other systems to get myself out of bed but it’s still a struggle for me. I could set my alarm clock and then the temptation to snooze is so big and sometimes I still lose that battle. Fortunately, I apply certain things like putting my alarm clock in an entirely different room so that I have to get out of bed and stuff to get me out of bed. It’s been a challenge for me for years and I’m still working on that.
Are you familiar with Mel Robbins?
A lot of people use the five, four, three, two, one, the launch sequence to get themselves out of bed. One of the things that I do is and I’ve always been good at it, so maybe that I’m not a good example. There started to be a time where I would just stay in bed and snooze and say, “I’m tired.” For me, it comes down to my values and if I set my alarm for a specific time, that’s almost like a promise. If I’m not willing to keep that promise, I should set it for a different time. If I let my promises slip, even the smallest there, where else am I letting promises go by? It’s my integrity. When I connected to my values of integrity, I’m up because that’s who I am and if I want to connect that, then I’m like, “I have to get up because that’s what I set my alarm for.” I obviously had things I wanted to do like working out or whatever is in my morning routine and not cut that short or delay that. Try that and see if that helps you.
I love that idea. I’ll definitely try it. Thank you.
There are lots of great tips and tricks. Thank you so much. Tell people where they can get ahold of you and learn more about you and read your great articles. That’s how we connected, as I read one of your articles and liked it.
We connected through Medium. I publish about three times a week on Medium. If you go to www.Medium.com/@jariroomer, you can find me there or you can find the same blog posts on ThePersonalGrowthLab.com.
Thank you so much, Jari. It’s great to have you here.
Thank you. It was a pleasure being here.
Thank you all for being here and giving your attention and your focus, and knowing that you took away at least four valuable tips that you can use to create more focus. I’m going to highlight them one more time. First of all, is to understand what’s distracting you and get clear on how often and what’s distracting you. Create that awareness, track your time and distractions and get some clarity. We talked about setting up in your environment and using reminders and understanding the cost of procrastination so that you can align your future self and your current self. There are lots and lots of great tips. Also, an important thing that we talked about was that systems and routines are going to enable you to have freedom. What systems and routines are supporting you in your environment, but also throughout your day and to achieve your goals? What’s your morning routine? Focus on that and that’s going to make a huge difference in the focus that you see all day long. Thank you for being here.
- Personal Growth Lab
About Jari Roomer