You really believe in the Full Focus System and you know that it will help you feel less overwhelmed—but you can’t seem to get started. The tool itself feels overwhelming! There’s so much you know you need to change to increase your productivity and holistic balance, but you can’t do it all at once. It’s easy to feel discouraged before you even begin.
We’ve been in your shoes, and we’ve become experts in maximizing the effectiveness of the planner. We’ll walk you through four simple actions you can take to implement the Full Focus system gradually by adopting an iterative approach.
When you do, you’ll stop neglecting your planner and start leveraging it to accomplish your most important work.
You can finally stop feeling ruled by the chaos of your life and start living with intention.
In this episode, you’ll discover—
- Several approaches to begin using the Full Focus Planner
- How to identify your next step in using the Planner.
- The very first feature of the Planner you should use.
- The worst mistake you can make when starting to use the Planner.
- How to gain more value from using the Planner over time.
Verbs: Happy Monday. This is Verbs, and you are listening to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays, with your hosts Courtney Baker and Blake Stratton.
Blake: Hey, Courtney. How are you?
Courtney: Hey, do you want the honest answer?
Blake: No. I’m so sorry. Let me rephrase that. Hey, Courtney, put on a brave face for me, will you? How are you?
Courtney: I’m doing great. This Monday has been perfection.
Blake: Perfection. Right. No technology issues. We’re totally on time with our day. Everything is fine here at the most productive podcast on the Internet.
Courtney: Exactly. Actually, I feel like my discontent in this moment leads into this episode a little bit of what we’re talking about. I feel a little overwhelmed at the moment because I’ve had some tech issues this morning, and I think that plays into what we’re talking about.
Blake: Yeah. We’re talking about what to do when your headphones are broken and you can’t find another pair, the classic productivity system thing that everyone runs into. No. You know, what I’m excited about with this episode is my main man Verbs is here for real today. How are you, Verbs?
Verbs: I’m back. Man, I’m doing great. I almost didn’t want to say that, because I’ve seen Courtney’s tech issues this morning and I didn’t want to make her feel bad that I’m doing okay and she is not at the moment. I’m just kidding. Courtney is fine. She’s on her way.
Courtney: I mean, behind the scenes look. I think I’ve been through four pairs of headphones already this morning. I even pulled out my 4-year-old toddler’s pink headphones. So, that’s what we’re dealing with here, but, Verbs, I legitimately am really glad you’re here, because I haven’t seen you in a while. Even though we work at the same company, we’re all working remotely, so I haven’t actually laid eyes on you in a while.
Verbs: Yes. It’s good to be back.
Courtney: For all of the people out there, I’m sure they’re excited you’re back too.
Verbs: Well, that makes a guy feel warm inside. Thanks, guys. So, let’s start with this question. Think back to when you first were introduced to the Full Focus System. Did you feel like it was actually a little overwhelming to you when you first laid eyes on, let’s just say, the planner? That book showed up in the mail. You opened it. What were your first thoughts?
Courtney: You know, gosh, it has been so long. It’s almost hard for me to put myself back there. I was already using a planner system before, so it wasn’t that hard for me to transition. What was hard was later on. I had just been using the daily pages for a while, and I had kind of ignored the whole front matter of the Full Focus Planner. My mechanism for dealing with that overwhelm was just to ignore it.
Verbs: I had a similar experience. I think I ordered the planner when we first launched it. This is before I started working for Michael Hyatt & Company, but I do remember it showing up in the mail. Previous to this, I was a non-planner user at all. I had a calendar on my phone, and that’s kind of what I went off of. So, the book shows up in the mail. The planner comes in. I open it, and I’m immediately overwhelmed, because I’m like, “Oh snap. There’s something else I need to go along with this planner. I have not grasped the framework, or the concept of how to use this planner.”
So, I set it to the side for a while. I figured, “Hey, I don’t have the time to learn about how to use my time at the moment.” I was a little overwhelmed with it and pushed it to the side, but when I did get into it, the first thing I went to, as well, the daily pages and trying to understand how to maximize those. What about you, Blake?
Blake: Similarly, I got the planner in the mail, and I did it all correctly and perfectly the first time.
Verbs: I knew that was going to be your answer.
Blake: It was a challenge, but what can I say? Beginner’s luck. No. That’s not what happened either. I talk to people all the time where they “love the planner,” and I say, “Oh, cool. I hear you’re having trouble with X, Y, and Z. What has been coming up in your Weekly Previews?” and they’re like, “Well, I’ve never done one” or “I haven’t done the Ideal Week, and I feel almost overwhelmed by this tool that’s supposed to help me not feel overwhelmed.”
I think it’s because, like me, when I started using it, I wanted to get it all right perfectly on the first try, and it’s not really about getting it all right so much as it is making this tool work for you in the long term, which means, usually, starting small and building momentum.
Courtney: Yeah, that’s a really good point. We’ve brought up several different approaches to how people might be looking at this. Like, what you said of trying to do it right or, Verbs, like you said, “I can’t even take the time to do it,” or you feel overwhelmed so you just ignore parts of it.
Ultimately, hopefully, people are seeing and hearing the other side of the fence. We’ve been down that bridge, and we know what it can look like once you get there. I’m really excited today to help you do that, hopefully take some steps across that bridge, so whichever situation you may have found yourself in, you can actually get to that place where this tool becomes really effective for you.
Blake: The risk you run when you’re trying to do everything correctly or like what I was doing, getting everything right the first time, or putting a lot of pressure on yourself, is throwing it all out because it won’t work for you, because it’ll feel too hard, potentially, or you’ll get down on yourself or you’ll feel overwhelmed by this tool that helps you get out of overwhelm.
For some folks, and I would say, for most everyone I talk to who starts using the planner, you may neglect using the planner altogether if you try to bite off more than you can chew right up front. The solution is not to completely upend everything and do everything all at once. The solution is learning to iterate.
Verbs: Blake, it’s interesting we’re using this term iterate when it comes to using the planner. Let me ask you this. Why would iterations help someone start using their planner better?
Blake: When I think of the word iterate, I think of a start-up. I was a part of a software start-up once, and it was a lot of approaching things as an experiment. You test stuff, you get quick feedback, and then you make adjustments, because the goal is “How can we grow? How can we get a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better, until we really hit our stride and find our groove?”
Just like a start-up, it takes a while to find your groove fully. Iteration simply means you’re shifting from trying to implement everything all at once, but starting small, learning as you go, checking in, reflecting on those things, and then making those little adjustments that’ll help you improve over time.
Verbs: You can actually leverage the power of iterations to implement the Full Focus System by taking four simple steps that we’re going to talk about today.
- Define the next step.
- Take the next step.
- Assess your results.
So, what does it look like to iterate when you’re trying to use the Full Focus System?
Blake: Let’s start with step one: defining the next step. You want to choose an immediate action you can take to improve your results. If you’ve never used the Full Focus Planner before… Maybe you don’t even have one and you’re just interested in the Full Focus System that we teach or maybe you’ve been using the planner a while but this year or this season has just thrown you off your game. Things have gotten out of control and you’ve been using it less and less and you’re experiencing the negative effects of that. It’s great to pause and just define, “Okay. What is the very next small step I can take to make my life better, to improve my focus?” You’ll know you’ve defined that step when you’re able to jump right in.
Courtney: We kind of talked about this already, but we recommend with the Full Focus Planner that you start with the daily pages. That’s the most intuitive first step, and it’s easy. You can do that, just jump right in, like you said, Blake.
Blake: There’s no shame if you have a Full Focus Planner and you’re just rocking the daily pages for a while. No shame in that, because taking time every day to plan your day is the foundation of it.
Courtney: For example, with the Full Focus Planner, you may be rocking the daily pages, and you’ve been doing that for a while. It has been working. Maybe you’ve knocked out several days of getting your Daily Big 3 done. Defining the next step might be to say, “Okay. From here, I want to add the Weekly Preview,” which then takes us into the next step: take the next step. Once you’ve defined it, it’s time to actually do it.
This is where you don’t want to just stay in that zone of never… You know, you’re just doing the daily pages, doing the daily pages. You hear about people in the Full Focus community who are like, “The Weekly Preview is the magic of the Full Focus Planner” and never actually do it. This is the time to implement some of the things we’ve talked about on the podcast, like scheduling doing your Weekly Preview. Whatever that next step is for you, schedule it. The next step for you might be doing the Ideal Week. Schedule the time to do your Ideal Week.
Blake: Just like a start-up, you want to think of these as experiments. Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself, but think of it as an experiment. “Hey, I’ll try to schedule an hour for my first Weekly Preview or my next Weekly Preview. I’ll try it on Sunday night.” Maybe that’s not the most perfect time, but when you treat it as an experiment, taking the next step becomes a little easier. I think it’s more emotionally accessible that way.
Verbs: I’ll say this too, Blake. There’s freedom in calling it an experiment, because you know, “Hey, everything is not going to rest on this next move I want to take. It’s an experiment as I go.” We continue to work out the kinks just to find the groove we need to get in to maximize on the planner.
Courtney: I would add, I think it’s important not to try to take on too much, to focus on the next step and get that into your rhythm, part of your process. Don’t try to do the Weekly Preview and the Ideal Week and the Rolling Quarters and the index. Don’t try to lump those all together and try to do it at one time. Really focus on adding that next step and making it part of your process.
Verbs: I think it gives you grace as well, because as we call it, it’s a system, and there are pieces that work with each other to be able to get the results you want to get out of it. So, as you understand one piece you can move on to the next to the next to connect the dots and get the full maximization of the system.
Blake: So, we define the next step. We take the next step. Next you want to assess your results. Again, this experimental, iterative way of doing things. You need to take that step, but once you do the experiment you want to go, “Okay. How did that go? What was working? What’s not working? Is there something I need to change?” You want to assess the results you’re getting so you can move forward appropriately.
Verbs: Blake, you were able to tackle your first usage of the planner perfectly in one fell swoop, but here’s a question I have for you. Is there something you’ve done before where you did an assessment and found out there was something you actually needed to stop doing?
Blake: Absolutely. I think there are things in my Weekly Preview where I’m always… There’s that acronym KISS: keep, improve, start, stop. I feel like there’s almost always something to stop doing, but what comes to mind when you ask that is when I tried to implement the Ideal Week earlier this year. I already had my own Ideal Week, but I wanted to create an Ideal Week for my family. As we were quarantined together, it became more and more obvious, as my daughter was getting older, we needed an Ideal Week as a family to reduce the friction and improve our quality of life overall.
So, we tried an Ideal Week as an experiment, and it crashed and burned the first two times, maybe. It’s one of those things where we typically will say, “Oh yeah. Set your Ideal Week. Review it every quarter.” We had to review it every week for about four weeks, I think, until we kind of got it dialed. With something like that, where there’s a lot of coordination, a lot of moving parts, maybe you haven’t done it before, you have to try it on and see how it fits. There was freedom for us, and now, months and months later, I can’t remember what life was like without that as a tool. I think that’s sort of that long-tail effect of it.
Courtney: So, to clarify, you didn’t totally stop doing it. It’s just that it kind of tanked out of the gate. You did basically this whole process and turned it into something that worked really well.
Blake: Exactly. I kept it. I guess that would be an “improve” not a “stop.” However, there were several “stops” within that improvement, if that makes sense.
Courtney: So, once you’ve done the first three steps, now it’s time to repeat that. You’re kind of on to the next thing. What is the next thing you need to define for your next step? Then you just rinse and repeat. Over time (this is that whole idea of iteration), you are going to be a pro user. We’re going to be calling you for tips on how to use the index.
Blake: Speaking of the index, Courtney, what do you recommend our listeners…? They have a fresh planner, they’re getting started, or maybe they feel like they need to dial things back because life is a little bit crazy. Is there a standard order of operations when it comes to rolling out the tools of the planner in your life?
Courtney: This is so funny, because I was going to ask you that question. I think we should talk about it, because I don’t know that there really is a defined version other than I highly recommend starting with the daily pages, then adding the Weekly Preview. Beyond that, my next step that I usually recommend is to set your annual goals. To me, that is the core system of the Full Focus Planner. If you can get those three things done, you’re really off to the races. Beyond that, I’m curious what you would say next, Blake, after those three.
Verbs: Wait, Blake. Before you answer that, I’m curious. Can I ask a follow-up question there, Courtney? You said you would go to the annual goals later in your process, but most of the goal matter is at the front of the planner. Why would you wait until you started that?
Courtney: That is a great question.
Blake: You know, Verbs, you don’t want to start in Leviticus just because it’s earlier on. You want to open up to the book of John.
Courtney: Yeah. Setting annual goals is a huge, powerful thing to do. Having goals is so important in every aspect of your life, but it’s a process you really need to have some time to do. You’re not going to just be like, “Oh, you know what? Let me jot down a few ideas.” That’s not our recommendation on how you set goals, because, most likely, you’re probably not setting what we call SMARTER goals. We have whole episodes about… Even just how you write your goals is half the battle.
So, it’s going to take you some time, and what my fear is, for a lot of people, is they put off getting anything out of the Full Focus System because they’re waiting for this big huge step at the front. For me, I’m like, you can already be gaining a lot of momentum by using those daily pages and the Weekly Preview, and then once you have some time that you can schedule and sit down, have the time to think through what those SMARTER goals need to be for you, I think is the best way to approach it.
Blake: I agree. I’d say from there, you want to move to doing a Quarterly Preview. In fact, you may combine taking time to set SMARTER goals with your Quarterly Preview. For me, personally, the rhythm I recognized I needed was I actually needed to block a day. So, literally, in a couple of days from now, I’m taking the day off, but it’s truly just to do a Quarterly Preview. Part of that time will be me doing some head-down thinking, and part of it will be my wife and me together thinking through our family and the next quarter for our lives. I think that’s really, really helpful.
But the reason you’d start with the daily pages, for instance, is if you’re running frantic and you’re having trouble getting ahold of any day, it’s a tall order to be like, “Oh yeah. Take the day off. Do a Quarterly Preview,” or block a big time to do some deep thinking, because your brain will be just running with all of the immediate things you have to do. So, I would think about doing a Quarterly Preview, and then I would use the Ideal Week.
I was joking around about getting everything right the first time. I didn’t genuinely start using the Ideal Week in as deep a way as we talk about for at least a year of using the planner. I think I had a gist, where it was maybe part of the Ideal Week… Like, ideally, when am I working? When am I not working? When’s date night? When’s some “me” time, or whatever? But in terms of really thinking through my workdays and when I want to be working, measuring my energy, and matching all that stuff up that we teach with the Ideal Week, I didn’t come close to that. Don’t put pressure on yourself to come close to that yet either if you’re still a beginner or intermediate planner user.
Courtney: I’ll also say for both of those, with the Quarterly Preview and Ideal Week, it really took me scheduling time, what we talked about earlier, to make progress on those. At the beginning of every year, I go ahead and schedule my Quarterly Previews and what that day is going to look like. I don’t know if you do this, Verbs or Blake, but I even combine it with something fun. Like, I go to the spa that day. I kind of make it like its own whole event, which I think is really fun. But again, like you, I didn’t start doing that until I’d been using the planner for a while. This isn’t just the steps we made up. This is how we started and iterated on our own planner usage.
Blake: Something I’ll mention for you listening. You may adapt a different order. That’s totally great. The important thing is to define what the best next step is for you, and if you find yourself not knowing what that is and you need a little bit of help, I recommend going to fullfocusplanner.com/start.
There are tutorials, little two-, three-, four-minute videos, bite-size information on every aspect of the planner, where you can assess, “Oh, is that what I need right now? Could I tackle that right now?” Maybe you need a refresher of how to do it. So, you can go there. There’s a really handsome gentleman who teaches those, so you’ll have that added eye candy benefit, as well, for those tutorials.
Courtney: Verbs, this guy. What are we going to do with him?
Verbs: I don’t know. I do not know. Listen. So, if you’re not using the planner because you feel it’s overwhelming, you can leverage the power of iteration to finally start leveraging the Full Focus System and experiencing some breakthrough. All you need to do is define your next step, take the next step, assess your results, and repeat. Blake and Courtney, do you have any final thoughts for our Focus on This team?
Blake: My thought is to be patient. If you think about it, each one of these tools in the Full Focus System is a little habit in and of itself. Some of you listening feel like, “Man, I’ve missed doing my daily pages” or “I haven’t done a Weekly Preview, and it has been two weeks” or “It has been a month,” or whatever. Remember, if you want to form a habit, that takes a lot of effort. Research suggests a variety of timelines, but for a daily habit, for instance, I think the average is 70 consecutive days until that habit becomes second nature.
That’s over two months. That’s almost your whole quarter, if you think about it, with one habit. So, the reason we say “Start small” is because habits, when they do become autopilot, are incredibly powerful for setting course to reaching your potential, having a high quality of life, having and enjoying great focus, but it does take time, and you have to start small and then stack those habits on top of one another. You can do it.
Courtney: You can do it.
Blake: Yes, you, on the treadmill right now. You can do it.
Courtney: That’s a really good word. We tried to acknowledge at the beginning of this episode that you may feel some overwhelm, but there is a really simple way to get the full reward of the system. It’s not even that hard. It’s simple steps. Hopefully this has been helpful for everybody. Thanks for joining us today on Focus on This.
Verbs: This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so please share it with your friends. Remember #focusonthispodcast.
Blake: That’s right. And we’ll be here next week with another great episode. Until then…
Verbs, Blake & Courtney: Stay focused!