4 min read

Baking FOCUS pies

Baking FOCUS pies

In his podcast Entrepreneurs on Fire, John Lee Dumas often mentions how important it is to FOCUS:


And the other day I noticed that Robert Kiyosaki mentions this same acronym in his famous book Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

In the past, I've told students at NativShark about this concept when they ask me if learning two languages at once is a good idea. I never discourage them, but I point out that their odds of success are probably higher if they FOCUS.

Easier said than done.

I personally have a ton of trouble focusing on just one thing, as I mention when talking about SNS.

Steve Jobs sums up the challenge nicely:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done.

But what if I legitimately cannot focus on one thing at a time? This became more of a problem for me when I started my own business. In the past, I focused on a single personal project when I wasn't at work. Once I became my own boss, I was always at work, so focusing on other projects meant not focusing on my company.

This weekend, I was reading the book Digital Millionaire Secrets by Dan Henry, and he talks about making pie charts showing all of the things you're trying to focus on right now. He described this as the "Circle of Focus", and ideally you've got only one thing in it. So something like this is good:

This, not so good:

If my focus is divided between all 10 of these things, then most likely none of them are going to get done. Conversely, if I have a single-flavored focus pie, then that thing is likely to get done — and get done well.

Thinking back, this is how I learned Japanese. The 2-3 years during which I saw the greatest improvement in my ability, learning Japanese was my one and only focus outside of work — notably, work in jobs that I never "took home" with me. My pie had one flavor:

Which leaves me with a dilemma. I will do everything in that 10-slice pie shown above. Furthermore, I will have to do some of them simultaneously. I can't imagine that I'll ever completely stop working on NativShark at least a little bit, for example.

The challenge:

How can I get more than one thing done without spreading my focus too thin?

Lately, my solution has been to eat different pies on different days. Somedays, I am succeeding at having single-flavor focus pies.

Here is my current Monday & Tuesday pie, for example:

Other days, I do still have multiple flavors, but I'm hoping to decrease them eventually. This happens on all the other days of the week.


I always work on NativShark Wednesday mornings. Afternoons, I focus on either this site or my new finance site, Wealth Rounded.

Thursday & Friday:

Specifically — and especially on Fridays — I only work on my sites after I've finished my chapter of my novel for that week.

Finally, I have what I like to think of as my Pocket Pie. This is my focus when I have downtime throughout the day, such as when I'm holding our sleeping newborn, riding my bike across town, or at the gym. It involves less "active" focus and more "passive" focus — books I'm reading on my Kindle/phone; podcasts I'm listening to; etc.

My Pocket Pie changes more frequently than the others.

This whole system needs improvement. I'm still trying to squeeze in 2 trips to the gym per week, for instance, but doing so detracts from time available to focus on the pie flavor for that day. (Habit stacking still helps, though.)

What about all the pie flavors I'm not consuming right now? Those go in my Antici-Pie:

Eventually, I'll remove or reduce some of the flavors I'm enjoying right now, at which point I can introduce some of the ones I'm looking forward to.

On the weekends, I just do whatever I'm most excited about. Also, I frequently break the rules and consume different flavors than I'm supposed to on certain days. Because, well, life's just more fun that way.

In a way, the whole concept of NativShark is to make it possible to learn something that takes a lot of time and effort — namely, Japanese — without it being your whole focus pie. Phrased differently, we try to take usually daunting learning endeavors and make them simple enough to learn that they can go in your Pocket Pie.

I'm not sure if I'll continue baking focus pies indefinitely, but at the moment I'm finding it to be a helpful mental construct.