The Manic Cycle: Finding and Keeping Your Focus

When you work for yourself and don’t have anyone telling you what to do everyday, it can sometimes be difficult to find your focus.

Despite our best efforts to find and maintain balance in our crazy lives, I still find myself occasionally going through what I like to call, The Manic Cycle.

The Manic Cycle occurs when you fall off the horse and slide away from your plans of world domination, which usually involves 4 phases:

  • The Comfy Phase
  • The Manic Phase
  • The Burnout Phase
  • The Focus Phase

The Comfy Phase

The Comfy phase is when you’re in a totally predictable and routine place in your life. You know what exactly what you need to do to maintain your income, lifestyle, routine, whatever – and you know exactly how to do it. You’re not necessarily actively growing or developing, but you’re riding life pretty easy as well.

Doesn’t sound too bad, unless you’re a creator, entrepreneur or even semi-ambitious individual who still has at least a few items to check off their bucket list. Then comfy phase becomes just a little to comfy – to the point where it starts to feel stagnant.

The problem with comfy phase is that you’re not totally tuned-out like you are in burnout phase. You’re still looking for the next big step to take whatever your working on to the next level, but the problem is you have WAY too much time on your hands. Ideas start to swim around in your comfy brain. You start googling “how to” blogs on a random plethora of subjects. All of this begins the slow creeping ascent into Manic Phase.

The Manic Phase

Manic phase is when you’re getting itchy to make something big happen. It’s when you start going into information overload – trying to learn everything about everything humanly possible. It’s the phase where your creative brain goes in to overdrive, birthing some of the most awesome ideas in the whole entire world! (or so creative brain would like to think anyway).

It’s also the phase where you can very easily screw everything up. When you’re full steam ahead it can be easy to get carried away. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been guilty of the “OMG lets change the entire world RIGHT NOW” part of Manic phase.

“Whoah! I think I need to totally refocus my entire brand lets inject espresso into our veins and re-design our entire website and line of products in 48 hours”

“Johnny Coolface told me he’s totally making tons of money selling customised brain enhancer electro-wave pillows and I think we should totally get in to that and ride this awesome trend!”

“I think we should look up the hardest languages to learn in the world – then learn ALL OF THEM”

“I feel this is really a good time in my life to write a book about molecular biology, which I know nothing about, but I’m totally into midnight research parties at the moment so…”

You get the idea.

The thing about Manic phase is that it can be hard to get things done when you’re trying to do – well – EVERYTHING. Eventually the thought that you can possibly do everything, but you CAN’T do everything RIGHT NOW starts to wear on you a bit, and you start to slip into burnout phase to regroup.

Burnout Phase

Burnout phase doesn’t necessarily mean you lock yourself in the house for days on end because you’ve decided pants are overrated. It’s just the time after you’ve exploded your little brain in Manic Phase and finally come up for air under your pile of research, half-assed initiatives, and life-changing ideas.

It’s the phase where you stop – breathe – sit down – and take a chill pill. Burnout Phase is often the time where 11pm personal development podcast time gets replaced with block-watching “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”.  It’s especially important during this time to make sure you get yourself OUT of Burnout Phase after you’ve had sufficient time to recuperate from your marathon of creation.

It’s at this point that you muster all of your self-motivation (and possible cancellation of your Netflix membership) to drag yourself into Focus Phase.

Focus Phase

Focus Phase is where you loudly sigh with exasperation, pull up your big-boy pants, and head to the nearby café armed with a pen, notepad (or tablet, whatever), and a reluctant but determined intention to plan.

This is when you take the remnants of all those Manic Phase ideas (those that didn’t leak out during your Burnout Phase block-watch party for 1), and write them down, then make a plan of action. This is when you break your “to-do” list down into teeny tiny pieces so that you don’t even have to THINK about what you’re doing. You just ACT.

Set a goal, make a solid plan, and then just do it. Follow the plan. Keep the end-goal in mind.

This is when the cool stuff happens. It’s when you’ve allowed yourself time for creative chaos, as well as sufficient time for recuperation, and there’s no more excuses left to get in the way of your next big thing.

It’s around this time you have to keep plugging along and keep going over your plans and goals. It’s easy to get into a routine and let yourself slip back into comfy phase when things are going really well and according to plan.  Ideally, it’d be great to stay in Focus Phase for as long as possible. So post that bucket list up on your bathroom mirror and repeat this mantra:

“Focus. Focus. Focus”

Thankfully, many times, we avoid this cycle by finding balance and learning how to behave like well-adjusted adults. Or maybe you even go through ‘mini-phases’ when you’re having an off-day because whatever planet is in retrograde and what not.

So how do you avoid The Manic Cycle to keep focused and on-task while still developing and moving in the direction of your dreams?

Here are a few of my favorite tips for retaining ‘the balance.’ 

1.) Plan out your productive time

One of my favorite productivity habits comes from a great Jim Rohn quote. He said, “Never begin your day unless it is finished on paper.”

I still swear by this. I ALWAYS plan my next day before I go to bed the night before. Usually even before I “tune out” for the night so I can complete relax, and quit thinking about what I’m going to work on tomorrow. This also helps you to wake up, enjoy your morning routine, and then sit down and know exactly what tasks are a priority to get done that day.

This technique is also a major stress buster. It’s amazing how brain dumping all the things you need to do swimming around in your head and getting them on paper just clears the mind. Seeing a realistic step-by-step plan to getting your work done lets you focus and get in the work zone.

2.) Schedule yourself

When you’re working hard, it can be easy to let important things slide. Scheduling yourself is just as important when you’re your own boss as it is when you’re an employee. Even more so since no one is holding you accountable.

Schedule your work hours. The advantage of working for yourself is that you get to decide when you want to work – but you still have to work! Today you might say you want to work 10am – 2pm, tomorrow you might want to grab breakfast with a  friend and work 1pm – 6pm. Regardless of when you’re going to get down to business, schedule it in to your calendar and keep the appointment with yourself.

Not only should you schedule your work time, but make sure you schedule time for things you want to accomplish as well. Set an appointment to make sure you take time for business planning, personal development, and even exercise.

Want to write a book? Schedule 5 hours / week dedicated to writing.

Want to research a new business opportunity? Make an appointment for some R&D after you’ve finished your work for the day.

3.) Take time to think and explore

It’s easy to get wrapped up in what we’re doing and lose sight of the bigger picture. That’s why it’s important to take time to brainstorm and explore new ideas.

This could mean reading a book written by someone who has done what you are trying to accomplish, writing down 100 new book ideas in a notebook, writing a blog post, or even doing some keyword research to see what new trends are popping up online.

Giving yourself time to brainstorm and get creative will help you identify new opportunities that you may miss while your nose is to the grindstone.

4.) Cut yourself some slack

There’s a phrase that says, “even the slowest runner is lapping everyone on the couch.”

You have to remember, you’re already doing more to move toward your goals than 99% of the people who are just sitting around dreaming.

Sometimes it can be easy to feel like things aren’t happening fast enough, or that you’re just spinning your wheels. Give yourself a break!

You’ve made a plan, you’re working hard and things are moving forward. You’re creative, innovative, and capable of learning the skills you need to get what you want. It just takes time.

Don’t beat yourself up if your world isn’t changing overnight. Cut yourself some slack.

5.) Continually learn and grow

Another great quote from Jim Rohn says, “Pity the man who inherits a million dollars and who isn’t a millionaire. Here’s what would be pitiful: If your income grew and you didn’t.”

We’ve all heard stories of someone who wins the lottery and is broke 6 months later.

Your income can only grow as much as you do. Learn from people who have done what you’ve done, read good books, spend time with people who are smarter/richer/better/faster than you are and pay attention to what they’re doing.

It drives me crazy when someone tells me, “I don’t buy in to all that self-help stuff.”

How can you expect to reach new heights and accomplish new goals if you don’t become a bigger, better person?

If you’re not sure where to start, check out the NYPL Resources page. We’ve listed a ton of great books and resources that will help you get started.

Of course, we all go through cycles of motivation and creativity, and it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, most people I know that work for themselves prefer it this way! It’s nice to be able to work in “sprints” — where you work like a dog for 3 weeks and then take a whole week off. The trick is to find the perfect balance that works for you.

How do you balance your productivity lifestyle?

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  1. Clayton /

    Awesome post. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been through this cycle. probably wouldn’t have to do it anymore.

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