Is Focus is More Important than Intelligence?

I recently stumbled across this quote in an old journal, “Focus is more important than intelligence.” Is focus more important than intelligence? I certainly believe so, and I think the more I live and navigate smart phones and the beginning of the internet revolution, the more I realize that focus is essential to having a good life and making progress towards your goals. I’m sure I wrote it down because it resonated with me, and I felt it in my bones to be true. Also, focus is a struggle, each and every day, for me. I have two jobs, a husband who travels, kids to take to activities and appointments and help with homework, a Masters course, lesson plans, and this blog. It’s a lot of code switching.

Is Focus More Important Than Intelligence?

Why is focus so necessary nowadays and what can we do to get more?

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, argues that focus is intelligence. He states that “focus is the new I.Q. in the knowledge economy, and that individuals who cultivate their ability to concentrate without distraction will thrive,” in his bio. His theory is that workers who will be most sought after in our new economy will be those who can quickly master hard things and those who produce at an elite level. Both of these qualities require focus, he argues.

Newport is an author and professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, and he’s fairly young, young enough to have had social media around in college. But he’s always been very careful where he puts his attention, shunning social media from the start.

“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction,” he says. For Newport, standing in line at a supermarket is a chance to practice letting our minds wander, rather than checking our social media accounts. The more we wean ourselves from technology and constant distraction, he argues, the better we’ll eventually get at working at a deeper level. Like anything, he argues, it takes practice, and in today’s highly distractible world, it is not a common commodity to have.

No More Social Media?

If you don’t wean yourself from a dependence on your smart phone, or something else that distracts you constantly, then you won’t be able to perform at such elite levels of focus. But how?

Newport is a proponent of digital mimimalism, defined below:

Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.

To this end, Newport recommends avoiding most forms of social media. In his TED Talk, he explains why. Many of the most popular social media sites, he argues, are engineered to be addictive. Since our attention is a scarce and precious resource, why would we spend it clicking through an app designed to keep us glued to the app, at the expense of a more deeply-fulfilling, real-life experience? That doesn’t mean he eschews all forms of online communication. But his point is that he doesn’t adopt a new technology blindly. He asks himself if the technology in question adds enough value to make it worth it. Will it help him use his time in the best way possible?  He has decided that having a blog does. But Twitter and Snapchat do not.

I came across Newport’s TED Talk this summer and after watching, I thought through how to curtail my use of social media, mostly because his arguments against its use resonated. When I think about what I’d most like to focus on, it’s truly not social media. And Facebook can wreak havoc on my contentment levels. I get FOMO almost every time I’m on. Twitter is also a time suck, when my focused time can be scarce.

I’ve also noticed my addiction to my smart phone. I pull it out almost anytime I have a few minutes to wait, and it’s terribly difficult not to pull it out. But there are things I can do at macro and micro levels to help myself focus more.

Macro Level Focus:

“Who Am I” Course

Part of Newport’s recommendations are macro; he recommends figuring out who you really are, what your values are, before making a plan about where to put your attention. For me, that means asking myself questions about how I spend my time.

What’s also been surprisingly helpful is a “Who Am I?” course I’m taking from Tsh Oxenreider called Like Your Life. I bought it last year when it was called The Paddle Upstream Course. I didn’t know how much good it would do me, given that I have a strong idea of who I am, but the writing activities and other exercises the course takes you through are surprisingly instructive in helping you figure out your deepest values and priorities. It’s one of the reasons our family came up with our Three Year Experiment and prioritized travel in our lives, because Mr. ThreeYear and I started talking about what really mattered to us, rather than making it through each day without an ounce of self-reflection, as we’re want to do when we’re overwhelmed or tired.


The Minimalists recommend asking yourself every day if your actions match your priorities. I think that’s a worthy goal, but unrealistic for me. I’m much more likely to think deeply about my priorities a couple of times a year, and then make sure I’m working towards them. It helps when I make a yearly goal sheet and regularly check it.

This weekend, for example, I’m finally fulfilling a goal from my list, to meet up with a college friend of mine. I tend to put everything before my friendships, so I know that one of the few reasons I made this trip a priority is because it was on the goal sheet.

Sleep and Nutrition

Another important area that throws off focus for all of us at the macro level is sleep and nutrition. If I don’t get enough sleep (which for me is at least 8 hours!) then I walk around in a fog the next day. I am extremely sensitive to sleep deprivation. If I eat poorly, the same thing happens. And if I’m not regularly exercising, I tend to be much less able to focus.

Running is essential to my focus, so signing up for races is a good way to make sure I keep doing it!

Space for Thinking

I think walks are a fabulous way to get exercise, but they’re also a way very successful people produce at high levels. Creative endeavors, especially, require a certain amount of time where the mind wanders, where you’re not thinking about or doing much of anything. I talk about the importance of making space in your life for thinking in this post, and I’m still convinced it’s one the most important things you can build into your life to improve your focus.

Micro Level Focus:

Plan Your Day

For me, focus is about planning. If I have planned my day and planned what to do during “dead space” in my day–time off–then I will use that time advantageously. If, however, I haven’t planned my day or haven’t made a to-do list, or am tired, then I tend to use that dead space inefficiently–scrolling through Instagram or reading headlines.

One of the ways that works best for me is setting a “tomorrow’s top three“–the top three things I’d like to accomplish that day, set the night before. The only problem is, I don’t do it regularly. And truthfully, at this time of year, there is so much going on with my work and the kids’ homework and school that setting three things might be too much. Sometimes I’ll set one. Currently, my list has “homework for class” written on it (I have to finish my homework for a graduate class I’m taking).

Daily Habits

Focus is also about my habits (I’m a huge fan of habits–check out this page). Over the past few years, I’ve worked on using my smart phone less at home. I’ve been successful in some areas, like in the bedroom. I no longer scroll my phone or iPad before bed. I’ve been somewhat successful in other areas, like smart phone usage when we get home from school. But I still fail in these areas, and I notice it affects my focus. Yesterday, I got sucked into using my computer after school, and followed a rabbit hole of articles and information down the internet. It had nothing to do with anything important, or that I couldn’t have worked on later. Junior ThreeYear finally shocked me out of my spell by asking that I come outside. I used one of Cal Newport’s tips, closed the computer, and told it, “I’m done with you now.” Then I went outside. It’s amazing how much more clearly I could think, how much better I felt, when I went outside.
Being outside with space for the mind to roam is critical to focus, in my opinion.

I’ve filled the commute to school and back this year by listening to podcasts. I never considered doing it before because my commute was short (15 minutes), but I’ve started downloading podcasts to my phone and even those 15 minute chunks, 30 minutes a day, have been fabulous. Hat tip to Mrs. Adventure Rich for inspiring podcast listening with her podcast recommendations. I realize that even listening to podcasts could be a distraction to my biggest priorities, so I make sure that my podcast choices are related to FI or travel.

Truth is, I know this is an area I’ll work through for awhile. I’m leaning more and more toward less social media, less phone scrolling, and less time with my smart phone, and more towards time writing long form posts on the blog, and listening and working on my high priority areas during big chunks of time. I think lots of people are seeing the benefits of cultivating a deeper focus. I was listening to a podcast today where Glennon Doyle mentioned her family hasn’t had internet access on their phones for the last three months.

So what do you think? Is focus more important than intelligence? 

A Year of Good Habits: Practicing Gratitude

It’s a busy time in the ThreeYear household. School (which is work, for me) has started. We’re on tight schedules, up early, and racing to get ready for our days in the mornings.

In the afternoons, we have swimming, soccer, and homework. My older son has lots of homework this year and a large part of my afternoons are spent managing that (i.e., making sure he’s actually doing it).


Weekends feel impossibly brief, especially since I’m taking a class on Saturday mornings and am gone from 8am-1pm.

It is a transition time, a time when our lives have changed radically from one season to the next. We have to give ourselves time to figure out these new rhythms in our days. I have to remind myself to prioritize sleep over almost everything (I’m so tired that I’m usually ready for sleep by about 8:30, but then again I do get up at 5am).

So what is a habit that can possibly support me this month? Picking going to bed early wouldn’t be super helpful, because I go to bed as soon as I can every night. Luckily, I’ve already developed the habit of keeping my phone and Ipad in another room, so I’m not tempted to scroll through them right before bed. That’s helped me tremendously, because I’m almost never tempted to stay up late (unless I’m reading a really good library book).  Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: Practicing Gratitude”

Location Independent, International Jobs: Jonathan of Joney Talks

Hello! Welcome to “Location Independent, International Jobs,” the Wednesday series where I showcase stories from people who have become location independent, work internationally, and/or continuously travel. I’ve interviewed some fascinating individuals who all have slightly different takes on location independence or living internationally. Recent posts include Mrs. Adventure Rich, Kerri, who owns a top-earning Etsy business, Steve from Think, Save, Retire,  and Pete of Do You Even Blog?. 

Guest posters will be sharing how they became location independent or how they got jobs abroad, but most importantly, they’ll share how their lifestyle has positively or negatively affected their finances and how they got to the life they’re living now.  

The reason for this series is to showcase people who have already achieved what the ThreeYear family is working towards: location independence and/or securing international jobs. Today I’d like to introduce Jonathan, a Belgian financier and blogger who’s lived abroad for the past ten years. His story is really interesting, because he moved to Norway, then moved “abroad” to Paris for a year on a work assignment. Today he tells us why he took on that project and how it’s worked out for him. 

Jon and I chatted via Skype and here’s what he had to tell us: 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I am from Belgium, and I lived there until I was 25. My background is in finance and business [there’s a unique business engineering degree in Belgium that combines engineering and finance, Joney explained, and he took classes in chemistry, physics, and math first and then eventually finance]. Then after my studies I wanted to start my career with a 6-month internship abroad (with the thought of moving back after the internship) and this led me to Norway. I found an interesting internship and I thought, “okay, let’s do it.” It was a 6-month internship and was the start of my career. I didn’t know much about Norway before going there. The internship became a real job, and then I got another job that sent me to France.
Jonathan in front of Norway's Royal
Jonathan from Joney Talks in front of the Royal Palace in Oslo, Norway.

How did you make the decision to move internationally?

The first step to go to Norway was to join AIESEC (pronounced eye-sec), the international student organization. And they give opportunities to students around the world to do internships abroad. I joined that community to find a job abroad [Laurie: they’re one of the largest student organizations in the world that I’d never heard of, and are in the US, too, for those looking for internships abroad]. I didn’t have in mind to move to Norway specifically, but an opportunity came along there and I took it.

Continue reading “Location Independent, International Jobs: Jonathan of Joney Talks”

A Year of Good Habits: No Eating Out

For the past three days, we’ve had Mr. ThreeYear’s cousin and her family staying with us. We’ve been living the best of August. Mr. ThreeYear took a couple of days off work, and we’ve been showing our family our town’s local lake, a craft fair, a dairy farm, and more. The five cousins have been playing, building forts, swimming, and eating ice cream (okay, the adults have enjoyed that one, too).

No Eating

The weather has been warm in the day and cool in the mornings and evenings. In short, they’ve gotten to see the best of our area while they’re here. One of the nice things about their trip is that we’ve eaten all our meals, save one, at home. Since they’re Chilean, we’ve eaten the most delicious Chilean meals–empanadas, ceviche, and we had a killer asado. Asados are barbecues (not the Southern kind) where you cook chicken, sausages, and steak on the grill, then you make simple salads to accompany all the meat. Did I take pictures of any of this? Of course not. I was too busy eating! But it’s been delicious. All the delicious home-cooked food inspired this month’s habit. Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: No Eating Out”

Tools of the Frugal Trade

There are certain tools that I believe are essential for saving money and getting longer life out of your possessions, especially in your home.  The following is a list of my tools of the frugal trade, simple tools or ingredients that I use time and again for saving money.


The truth is, in our modern world, we’ve lost sight of part of the old adage,

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

It’s the “make it do” part that is an anathema to us. In our age of planned obsolescence and products engineered to fail, we’ve lost the repair skills that seemed like second nature to our parents and grandparents. It’s only natural that we buy new instead of repair, because:

  • We often have no idea how to repair things, and
  • It’s cheaper to buy a new version of something rather than replace it.

That’s true of a lot of things. For example, when I broke our blender a couple of months ago (long story), I didn’t destroy the motor, just the jar (the top part where you put your liquids). But to replace that part cost about $50! Mr. ThreeYear opted to get a brand new, on sale Ninja blender with two single serve cups for just $70. While it was $20 more expensive, it’s a way more powerful blender. We plan to sell the motor on eBay and recoup some of that cost, as well. Continue reading “Tools of the Frugal Trade”

Location Independence, International Jobs: Pete of Do You Even Blog

Hello! Welcome to “Location Independent, International Jobs,” the Wednesday series where I showcase stories from people who have become location independent, work internationally, and/or continuously travel. If you haven’t already, check out the posts from Ruby from A Journey We Love or Adriana from Italy. Guest posters will be sharing how they became location independent or how they got jobs abroad, but most importantly, they’ll share how their lifestyle has positively or negatively affected their finances and how they got to the life they’re living now.  

The reason for this series is to showcase people who have already achieved what the ThreeYear family is working towards: location independence and/or securing international jobs. Since we’re not sure which route we’ll take, we thought we’d hear from people who’ve already achieved one or the other, so we can learn more.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Pete from Do You Even Blog, where he interviews bloggers and online entrepreneurs on his podcast, and teaches people how to blog on the website. Pete and his family have been fully location independent for about six months and he runs his own business from home. I’ve gotta share his “official bio”–what a wordsmith! 

Pete McPherson writes killer bio paragraphs. But when he’s not doing that, he’s a full-time husband and dad, idealistic entrepreneur, purple cow thinker, blogger, marketer, CPA, data nerd, STAR WARS nerd, web and iOS developer…and really fast typer. He spends his days teaching people how to blog better as well as drafting and validating various project ideas.

So get ready to hear a story about bravery from Pete, who took a leap of faith to create a location independent business to give his family a better lifestyle. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I have two kids (aged three and three months), and I have a super-corporate background in Accounting and Finance. I worked for huge companies in Atlanta, Georgia [Laurie: hey! us too!] for a few years before venturing out on my own 100%.

Oh, and my wonderful wife and I have been married four years!
Pete from Do You Even Blog and his family.

Continue reading “Location Independence, International Jobs: Pete of Do You Even Blog”

A Year of Good Habits: Quarter Two Update

We have officially completed (slightly more than) half of the year! We’re calling this year, which is Year One of our family’s plan to reach location independence, the Year of Good Habits. Each month, I’ve focused on improving or developing one new habit. Sometimes the habits are directly related to personal finance and sometimes they’re related to general self-improvement.  At the end of each month, I have been continuing the last month’s habit (or trying to) and adding a new habit in. (May I suggest, however, that you not try to adopt more than one or two per year? Twelve is a lot. This is more an experiment in extremes for our doubling-our-net-worth-in-three-years goal).


Habits–whether intentional or not–have been proven to be incredibly important. They are routines that are so ingrained into our days that many of them we follow without realizing we do so. Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: Quarter Two Update”

Our Summer Road Trip

Summer’s here! At least it is for the Junior ThreeYears and me. All three of us are out of school for the next nine weeks. So, what better time to whet our appetites for location independence than a summer road trip?

Last year, the three of us hopped in the trusty Prius and drove all the way from Northern New England more than 14 hours to North Carolina, to stay with my sister and her family, and then South Carolina, to stay with my parents. We spent four glorious weeks with no agenda and no plans except to spend time with our family and enjoy the summer.

Summer Road

This year, we’re going to repeat the experience. We’re currently busy preparing for our departure. How did we decide to spend a month “down South” and how did we make it happen? Continue reading “Our Summer Road Trip”

A Year of Good Habits: Don’t Throw Away the Food!

We have entered the first days of June. June, sweet June, has continued wet and cold here in New Hampshire. I’ve tallied the rain days–fourteen and then, after a few days of respite, seven. Still, school ends in eight more days, flowers are blooming, and the boys and I are headed to the South for our annual summer road trip at the end of the month. Life is sweet this time of year.

Don't Throw Away the Food!

It’s amazing that at the end of the month we’ll have finished half of the year! In some ways, it’s lovely to see the progress towards our goals we’ve made this year, and personal growth we’ve made as a family, in helping the kids navigate school and friendships, and finding the best combination of after-school activities and fun without going over the top.

We’ve also started the process of replacing our roof, and just sent a check in for 50% of the cost–$7,000 dollars of our hard-earned, after-tax dollars. I just keep telling myself that we’ll have a beautiful new roof that won’t leak and will make the house sellable! And I’m grateful that we’ve saved up that cash so we don’t have to panic or take out a loan for this major home repair. Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: Don’t Throw Away the Food!”

My Favorite Online Tools to Save Time and Money

There are hundreds of new apps that purport to make our lives better, but sometimes it’s hard to wade through and figure out which are really worth incorporating.

That’s why I wanted to share a couple of apps and browser extensions that I’ve been using lately that are awesome.


Unroll Me

Unroll Me is a free service that cleans up your inbox. I get a lot of subscription emails from LinkedIn, my local hardware store, the National Council of English Teachers, etc. These are emails that I don’t want to unsubscribe from, because the information they contain might be useful. But it mostly clutters up my inbox (there should be an “appropriate amount of emails to send weekly” course for these stores!). This brilliant service allows you to either unsubscribe from or “roll up” the emails you don’t want to hit your inbox. Continue reading “My Favorite Online Tools to Save Time and Money”