Chapter 4. Environment

It’s not your fault to lack focus. Learn how to navigate your embedded behavior that always goes against your will and create an environment that makes getting focus easier.


  • Focus Workshop Chapter 4 MP4 – Download
  • Focus Workshop Chapter 4 PDF Slides – Download


00:01 | Alright. Nice to see you here again. In this chapter, we’re going to talk about the last element of focus: environment. Environment is the fundamental cause and factor behind every behavior of all living organism on Earth, including human. To improve your focus without optimizing your environment is like building a house without strong pillars.

00:24 | Let’s pretend that you’re living in 200,000 years ago. You don’t need to get to work or school, and you don’t have your smartphone with you. Instead, you have the tools you made yourself using stones, searching for edible plants or hunting for meats. Nearly every decision you make and every action you take provides an immediate benefit to your life. When you’re hungry, you hunt. When you’re tired, you seek for safe shelter and rest. When you sense threat or danger, you run. Every day, you’re making decisions – when to eat, where to sleep, what to do – based on the immediate impact to your life.

01:04 | Fast forward to now, you live in a relatively different environment. You no longer do things for immediate benefits. In most cases, you do something for future returns. You’re working now and get paid a few weeks later. You’re exercising now to get into better shape years later. And you’re saving money now to prepare for a better retirement later. Most of the choices you make today are based on the future returns. In most cases, what gives you pleasure today is not going to bring you the desired results in the future.

01:40 | Okay. What have you learned from this? The former is what researchers call The Immediate Return Environment. And the later as The Delayed Return Environment. To survive in the Immediate Return Environment, we need to be highly alert to threats and to instant rewards — all the time. On the other hand, the only way to thrive in the Delayed Return Environment is to have a laser focus and always plan for the future. That’s said, it’s not entirely your fault to lack focus.

02:16 | You don’t only train to get distracted in your lifetime. Your genes and behavior have evolved to do so in the past 200,000 years. And our society has only switched from the Immediate Return Environment to the Delayed Return Environment since the past 500 years. For our brain, that’s like a blink of an eye. The question is: What should you do?

02:39 | In the book Linchpin, Seth Godin calls this embedded behaviors the Lizard brain. In fact, part of our brain is identical to the lizard. To work with our lizard brain — that more often than not, go against our will. We need to set goals the right way. The best source you can learn about this is to study how top athletes set goals.

03:07 | You see, when people set goals, they’re focusing on what they want in the future. For example, I want to be able to squat 180 kilograms. I want to grow the reader base of my blog to 50,000 people. I want to lose 10 kilograms this quarter. In sports, these goals are called the product goals. The goals that talk about results. And most people stop here.

03:34 | However, for many athletes, results goals are not enough. To really achieve the desired results. They need to clearly define their process goals. For example, if you want squat 180 kilograms, never miss a session of training. If you want to grow your blog, write every week or every day If you want to lose 10 kilograms, manage your daily diet. The process goal pulls you back from the future to the now. You can’t work in the future, nor change the past. So instead of fantasizing your big dreams or dwelling on past mistakes, strive to put in the work every single day.

04:16 | A great concept to think about this is seeing your product goals as a destination and your process goal as a repetition. To get to a particular destination, you need to put in a certain number of repetition. When both product and process goals work hand in hand, you gain a better clarity on where you’re heading to and how you can get there. So, what’s next after goal setting?

04:44 | In a TED talk, Tim Ferriss stresses that the things we should do most are usually the things we fear most. And there, he introduces an interesting and Helpful concept that he called fear setting. Here’s how you do it.

05:00 | There are three directions to define your fears. The worst condition of each and every area of your life. The 180 degrees opposite of your dreams, and the biggest risks of the thing you pursue. To define your fears, visualize the worst-case scenario. See, hear, and feel them as if they are real. Then, ask yourself these: Is it really that bad? Is it really irreversible or impossible to get back to where you were? What should I do next if that happens?

05:37 | Often, our fears are just an imagination that will probably never happen. And we never really think about them because they’re scary. And this ambiguity makes it even scarier.Defining them helps to remove the big majority of the unnecessary fears. At the same time, allow you to see clearly the real potential risks. Then, you get to think about how to prevent it or recover from it, way before it happens.

06:05 | Fear-setting adds a whole new dimension to what and where you should focus on because knowing your goals only help pushing you forward, but knowing your fears can stop them holding you back. With proper goal and fear setting, you gain a lot of clarity that helps you to focus better. But that’s not enough.

06:27 | Have you ever make some big resolutions for a new year and only found yourself not sticking them through? Or starting a project that you’re passionate about but can’t bring yourself to work to the end when you’re half way through?Remember, your brain is wired to seek for instant and immediate rewards.  Your goals and plan can sometimes seem too far to reach for the lizard brain. To overcome that, you need to measure your progress aggressively. On the surface, it keeps you on track and helps you get clear about your position. But besides that, measuring your progress also creates an illusion for your lizard brain that you’re getting closer and closer to your end goal.

07:11 | And here is the strategy I called the four by four progress measurement. It consists of four time-frames and four measuring angles. The four time-frames include. Daily progress tracking. When tracking daily progress, focus on action and to-dos. Limit your list of to-do under 2 to 5 items and focus on completing them. Weekly reflection. Reflect on what you’ve done for the week, lessons you’ve learned, and how can you do it better for the coming week. Monthly or quarterly review. Review your milestones. Ask yourself: “Is this what I really want?”, “Am I on track?”, “How to do it better and faster?” Annually self-assessment and goal-setting. Revisit your product goals. Assess what and where you’ve gone after a year. At the same time, think of who you’ve become.

08:10 | And here are the four approaches you can use to measure your progress. Binary. Simple yes or no answers to what you’re measuring. Good? Bad? Does this work or not? It removes nearly all the ambiguity from your progress. Facts and figures. Some examples for this are: How many words have I written? What percentage of income am I saving? How much revenue growth? Checklists. Checklist is useful when you measure a progress. Here’s an example of my blog publishing checklist: Outline > Research > First draft > Edit > Publish > Promote

08:50 | And finally, questions. How have I performed better? What areas in my work and life have improved? In what degree I’m more focused? In Tony Robbins’ words, our thoughts are the answer to the questions we ask ourselves. And in the book Tool of Titans, Tim Ferriss noticed a pattern after interviewed 200+ top performers and high achievers. Almost 90% of them ask absurd questions. Like I’ve mentioned in the previous chapter, they ask themselves tough, thought-provoking questions to develop a better thinking. And this can be an exercise you do in your brain-dumping practice.

09:31 | The last part of this chapter is space and environment. We’ve covered how to work with our lizard brain that has evolved since the immediate return environment. Now, I’m going to talk about how to design your current environment to help you get into the state of full engagement easier. Our surrounding space and environment play a major role in our ability to focus.

09:56 | This is the home office of Steve Jobs. As you can see, it’s not the most organized home office you can find. It’s not uncommon, but it’s a surprise when this was the home office of Steve, as a visionary who obsessed with less. I’m showing you this picture to prove ONE thing. There’s no one size fits all solution when comes to create an optimal working and living environment.

10:24 | Everyone performs best in his or her own uniquely different way. To create the optimal space to improve focus, you need to know yourself and be willing to test things out. Move your furniture, reorganize your space, and find the right balance for yourself.

10:43 | However, here are a few universal tips to give you a clearer idea on how to do this right. Separate work space and living space so you can be fully engaged in both when you’re working and resting. Try to keep your space neat (but again, most importantly, know in what conditions you perform best.) Carefully select and manage people within your circle because they affect your beliefs, emotional states, and energy directly. Declutter your digital space. Our digital space — laptop, iPad, smartphone — becomes an important part of our life. It’s even more crucial if you’re working with digital devices every day.

11:32 | These are the tools I use to manage my digital space and environment to maximize my focus. First, Noisili. It’s a background noise and color generator for working and relaxing. F.lux. Free download that warms up your computer display at night by reducing blue light, to match your indoor lighting and promote better sleep Evernote. A digital tool that helps organize your work and declutter your life. Workflowy. A simple, but a surprisingly powerful app to take notes, make lists, collaborate, brainstorm, plan and generally manage your work and life. Siteblocker. Place a barrier in your way by blocking distractive sites for pre-scheduled focus time. You can find the links of these tools below this video

12:27 | Now, you’ve completed all three elements of focus. In the next chapter, I’ll run through a quick recap and show you what I call the pyramid of focus. It’s a step-by-step approach to help you implement everything you just learned.


  1. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable by Seth Godin. You can also read my summary for this book here.
  2. Why you should define your fears instead of your goals by Tim Ferriss at TED2017. Tim shares his experiences in depression—that almost got him killed—in the speech and how he overcome that with Stocism, an ancient philosophy.
  3. Here are the links the digital tools I’ve recommended in the video of this chapter: Noisili, F.lux, Evernote, Workflowy, and Block site.