The Force of Focus
by William Baldwin
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Have you ever known anyone who is busy, but never accomplishes much? It’s possible that person is you. We have all been guilty of this. However, if this is your life-style, it can rob you of success in key areas of life.
Here is what I have discovered about such people. First, most times, they are exceptionally skilled. These people have a lot on their plate because they tend to have a “big plate.” Because they are unusually skilled in diverse areas of life, they are more apt to invite too many responsibilities.
Second, frequently these people have good relational and personality gifts. These are “people-people.” They get their deepest joys in life from working with, being around, and serving others.
Finally, they are motivated and they are motivators. They are leaders and others enjoy being around them.
However, and here’s the clincher, often these gifted individuals are not able to make the big play—the big sell—the game winning score. The problem? They are unfocused. Their life is full of many good and worthy projects, but they are not super-achievers in any of them because they cannot seem to focus on what is most important. In reality, they CANNOT focus because there are too many activities before them.
Likewise, unfocused people will never achieve to the utmost of their ability. While these gifted individuals may receive praise for their giftedness, until they focus their abilities, they will not go over-the-top. They see the big picture, but the picture is blurred because they view life and opportunities through a wide-angle lens. They are like a gifted artist who envisions a painting of a beautiful landscape, with flowers in the foreground and mountains in the background, surrounding a cabin by a flowing stream. But they never paint the picture because accomplishing the big picture requires focusing on one flower, then another, the mountain, then the stream, etc.
Over the last decade, multi-tasking has been acclaimed by corporate leaders as a productive skill to master. However, recent reports have changed and the experts are now saying that, not only has multi-tasking slowed down productivity, it has also lowered quality. The bottom line—it is impossible to achieve top performance when our focus is scattered over too many responsibilities.
To help find focus for your life, ask yourself the following questions.
• What is most important to me? (Make a list, 1-5)
• What is necessary?
• Where do I want to be next year this time—and what do I need to focus on to get there?
• What areas of my life demands greater focus in order to accomplish my goals?
• Is my lifestyle helping me achieve my goals? (Family goals, Career goals, Relational goals, Financial goals)
• What are my priorities in life?
Below I have covered a few major thoughts on the force of focus.
A Season of Focus
This is not a new idea. Seasonal focus is an ordinary part of life. For example, after Thanksgiving, we turn our attention to Christmas and for the next thirty days our financial and social planning is focused toward one day out of the year—December 25th. After this, life “gets back to normal” and our ordinary routines continue.
Likewise, we should plan seasons of focus—allotted periods of time, set aside, when we plan to accomplish certain goals, in route to our big picture. This is a short sprint, not a long distance race.
When I am in the middle of a book writing project, I will plan smaller seasons of focus. For example, I plan ahead, looking for a completion date for the “dirty manuscript” (the unedited copy). On my last book, I planned a three month season of focus. I informed my wife that I would be going through three months of tedious focus to accomplish the task. Clearing your season with your family is important. It will save you from any misunderstanding or feelings of neglect they could feel during this time. If you tell them about your season of focus, they will understand when you are not around (physically or mentally), and recognize that you are engaged in a project.
Within my season of focus, I will have smaller seasons. For instance, while I am tediously writing within my three month season, I will have chapters within my book that require more thought. For these, I will give myself smaller seasons. If a chapter is difficult, I will commit to myself, “I want to complete this chapter by Friday.” And for the next 3 days my thinking processes are focused on the subject of that chapter until it is completed. Meanwhile, I am still working within and focused upon my season of completing the book.
Bob and Kristen MacPherson, Key Manager for EcoQuest International, has an excellent season of focus in their business they call a “Blitz.” For a season of time they commit themselves to reach certain business and financial goals. During that short season they work harder and longer than usual. When that season is over, they return to a more normal routine, having achieved some business goals they would have never accomplished without their season of focus.
This works for anything, wherever there is a need to make progress toward a certain goal. Family, exercise, relationships, skills, education—these and many more, will gain great benefits from a season of focus.
Schedule a “Think Day”
One of the best investments you can make is to schedule a “think day” into your calendar. This is especially effective if you are “stumped” over a situation or you feel like you are simply “spinning your wheels,” going nowhere, accomplishing less than you desire.
A think-day is simply that: A day set aside, free from distractions or disturbances, allowing your mind to be creative, focusing on the area of life where you desire to make progress. This in itself is a day of focus.
Here are my suggestions:
2. Schedule the whole day, but do not feel pressed to use the whole day. This day is to be relaxing, but also energizing. For me, a think day may take 2-5 hours, but I have the whole day set aside should I decide to use it.
3. Don’t answer calls from your mobile phone. This is without exception! (The only exception I make is calls from my wife or children—and I make sure they know what I am doing on that day.)
4. Only take a pad and pen, and maybe a book or two that best stimulates your creative, spiritual juices. Do NOT take your laptop! Having your computer would pose the temptation to open other files and get you off track.
5. Go to a place where no one knows you. For me, I go to a neighboring town and find the local McDonalds restaurant, buy a cup of coffee, find a corner booth, and open up my pad and books. I tend to be more creative with a bit of background noise. This has been my think-day location for about twenty years! You may like a place of complete silence. You decided.
6. Write down every creative thought that comes to mind. Do not limit yourself because of money, ability, or any negative situation. Everything is wide open on think day. This is a day of dreams and possibilities. Have fun with your thoughts and dreams. My first book was conceived on a think day. Several years later it became a reality.
At the end of your think-day session, go over all you have written down and begin to prioritize the possibilities. Bring into focus on the areas that apply to your situation and begin to focus on those.
Focus on Your Strengths
We have been taught to strengthen our weaknesses. While there is some truth in this—there is only “some” truth. While strengthening our weaknesses sounds noble, it usually causes us to focus on our weaknesses rather than using our strengths.
Personally, I have never built a strong organization from strengthening my weakness. I have always excelled from my natural, God-given strengths. Today, I give you the permission to spend your time doing what you do best. You will excel in achievements when you play to your strengths.
In business, if you are a great salesperson, SELL! If your strength is in relationships and leadership, lean toward management and leadership. I have found, when we incline toward our strongest abilities, the success we achieve from our strengths sometimes opens doors into fields where we were previously weak.
How do you know what you do best? First, it comes easy for you. The task is simple, and is usually free of stress. Second, you enjoy doing it. Not only is it stress free, it’s enjoyable. Finally, most times, you have done it before in other areas of your life. You do not need to learn a new skill. This comes easy, as I stated above.
As I write this article, I can turn my head to the right of my computer screen and see my list of goals, my big picture, broken down into bite-size, focused accomplishments. My goal is to have 100 goals. Presently, I have about sixty. I get my authority for goal setting from one of my favorite books, the Bible. It is a passage from the Old Testament when God said to a leader, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it” (Habakkuk 2:2-3).
Isn’t that amazing? God knew if the leader did not write down specific goals and focus on the tasks at hand, he would not be able to run with it. In other words, like most of us, he would get bogged down from other responsibilities and not accomplish anything. People who are not focused usually do not advance toward their goal, though it seems like they are busy running everywhere!
Furthermore, I believe there is, what I call, a measure of the miraculous, in writing down our visions and goals. Some years ago, upon accepting a position with another organization, I wrote down three legal pages of vision, dreams and goals I wanted to accomplish there. Afterwards, I placed the legal pad in my bottom desk drawer and forgot about it. Three years later, I discovered the legal pad in my drawer, and as I looked it over I was shocked to find that nearly every dream I wrote down had become a reality or was in process of becoming so. To make this even more miraculous, I wrote down these goals before I agreed to take the position in the organization, before I moved to the city where they were based. Indeed, we enter into a measure of the miraculous when we write down our vision, dreams and goals.
Here are a few pointers I have learned about focusing on goals.
1. Focus on YOUR goals—not someone else’s projected goals for you.
2. As much as possible, make them measurable. (I place dates on my goals, a time when I want to see them accomplished.)
3. Remain flexible with your goals. (More than once, I have had to change the date!)
4. Your goals should be balanced between family, business, career, relationships, spiritual, etc.
5. Your goals should be BIG—but realistic.
6. Use pictures on your goals page.
Having goals challenges me to make statements about priorities in my life that I deem most important. As Herschell Lewis once said, “Emphasize everything and you emphasize nothing.”
Nothing can add more force to your life than focusing your energies on a limited set of targets. When we focus our attention on key areas of our life, then, our focus becomes a force.
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