February 20, 2023
min read

Being Productive Is Kind of Like Potty Training

Focusing is hard. Learning to focus is an art… kind of like potty training. (Okay, stay with me here.)

Like potty training, focusing doesn’t come naturally or easily. It’s not particularly rewarding all the time, it’s boring, and it’s often uncomfortable. It’s easier to get distracted on Facebook (or pee your pants).

But, like potty training, focusing is pretty crucial to achieving success.

And surprisingly, the training process for both is pretty similar.

Level 1: Baby

When we’re babies, peeing is something we do instinctually. When our bladders are full, we empty it. On the spot. No matter where we are. No matter what we’re doing.

When we’re unproductive little blobs, getting distracted is instinctual. We get bored or disengaged so we naturally reach out to whatever distraction is closest: Facebook, Twitter, a colleague, or even eraser shavings (yep… it gets pretty bad sometimes).

At this stage, can’t control where our minds wander (or what comes out of our bodies).

Level 2: Potty Training Starts

Then potty training begins. When we’re potty trained as kids, we’re taught to realize what’s happening before the pee comes our of our bodies. We’re taught to notice the signs earlier so we have time to get to the bathroom. During this time, it’s tough. It’s hit or miss. We have a proud smile on our faces when we get to the toilet in time… or a look of guilt when we stand there in a pool of pee.

Learning to focus is the same. It’s hit or miss. Some days are magically productive, filled with hours of uninterrupted focus. Others leave us with a feeling of guilt as we’re surrounded by tons of unfinished to-do lists. But learning to focus is also about realizing what’s happening before we lose focus. It’s about noticing our mind wandering so we can put in a plan to stop ourselves from getting distracted. Or we put up website blockers and Pomodoro timers. They don’t always succeed, but we’re getting there.

Level 3: Early Mastery

Then the misses start happening less and less. We start getting to the bathroom every time, but it’s still tough! At this stage when we need to pee, we need to pee. It consumes everything. All our energy is focused on making sure we hold it in and it’s all we’re doing!

As we learn to focus, our primary goal is to prevent ourselves from getting distracted. A success is a long period of uninterrupted work on a single project. But during this time, all our energy is dedicated to not reaching for our phones or checking our email. We’re not working particularly effectively since all our energy is spent on staying focused, but at least we’re not getting distracted anymore!

Level 4: Full Mastery

Now that we’re adults, we don’t pee our pants anymore (hopefully?). Holding it in becomes second nature, and under most circumstances, it’s not a big deal. We can do some work, finish a meeting, or wait until the end of a movie before we go pee. Little energy is spent on holding it in so we can do other things even if we need to pee. We’ve officially mastered potty training!

Similarly, once we’ve fully mastered the art of focusing it’s not so hard anymore. Focusing starts coming naturally so we can use your energy on the good stuff: doing great work. We start working efficiently, our days are consistently productive and we see huge increases in our work quality.

So instead of getting frustrated at why we can’t seem to be productive, we’ve got to put it into perspective. Potty training took some time and learning to focus will as well. We’ve just got to be patient, be ready to clean up the mess when we miss, and be proud of those times we do pretty well! And the next time you have a crappy, unproductive day, don’t worry. It’s like peeing your pants — embarrassing but worth a good laugh (:


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