Finding focus in a world filled with infinite inputs is becoming increasingly difficult. That said, the problem is not “out there” — it’s within. Yes, we’re overstimulated with inputs that might be potentially meaningful coming at us at breakneck speeds. Let’s not forget that it’s still up to us to choose how we respond to those inputs. That is directly under our control. We must remain proactive instead of being reactive.
When we don’t have focus, our minds wander aimlessly, and it becomes easy for us to get distracted by the latest and loudest. We try to “do it all” because we don’t know what’s important and what’s not, we spread ourselves too thin, and our attention is divided. As a result, it often becomes difficult for us to finish the things we start.
So, what is focus? Firstly, focus is a noun and a verb. Focus is not just something we do, but also, more importantly, something we have.
Having focus can be a product of an area of focus, for instance. It could mean getting work done based on your predefined work areas. It can also mean having an area of focus as a priority in your life at a given moment, so the priority at that moment becomes your focus.
Focus is as much about doing as it is about having. It’s about concentrating in the space we’ve created in order to do something uninterrupted in a given amount of time. That requires making space in the first place. More on this below.
Focus is about staying in the present, which means not worrying about the past and accepting that we can’t change it. It also means not worrying about the future since it hasn’t arrived yet. As obvious as it sounds, life can only be lived in the present moment.
In order to have focus, we need to escape to a state of focus. The objects of our focus may change, but creating designated spaces for focus (or escape) make focus possible.
Focus also has to do with saying no more than saying yes. Remember that you can do a few things well or many things poorly. Focus means not doing 10 different things. It’s about doing fewer things better. What focus means is saying no to something that every bone in your body thinks is a phenomenal idea and you wake up thinking about, but you say no to it because you’re focused on something else.
Focus can be an every-minute “why are we doing this” or “this is what we’re working on” kind of decision. It can also be a priority in your life. Or it can be how you do your work and lead your life outside of it.
How do you know you have focus? Well, how many things have you said no to? Make one decision (yes) that eliminates 1,000 later decisions (no).
There are a few reasons why you want to have focus and to be focused:
You’re undistracted and singularly attuned to whatever it is that you’re doing. You’re more present mentally, which means you can live your entire life in the moment. When you do so, both your work and play become effortless.
You end up doing a few things well rather than many things poorly as a result of increased focus. As a long-term result of doing those few things well, you’ll focus on the right things. When you maintain focus in the long-term, you develop mastery from practice and experience. Not only that, you’ll do anything better and faster because you’ll put all your attention towards doing one thing well at a given time.
How do you get focus? First, you have to create the space to focus, which only comes from having some order in your life. You can learn more about that in Order and Chaos.
You use the Explore, Evaluate, Execute process to figure out what you want to truly focus on. You explore your many choices in the beginning, evaluate those choices using highly selective criteria, and execute on the few that you’ve decided on, while discarding the rest.
As an example of having focus, my work focus involves two broad areas: doing creative work (writing, learning (research), and thinking), and doing consulting work (see Services to learn about my focus areas).
My learning combined with life experience helps me write here, which helps my readers and myself (because I share to learn). That learning also feeds into my consulting work, which benefits my clients.
Focus doesn’t have to be only work-related. You could also have areas of focus from your personal life outside of work that might include health, relationships, personal growth, other interest areas, etc.
Focus doesn’t have to be static. It can evolve over time depending on your life stage.
Focus on yourself, and not on others. Forget about what others are doing or not doing. We can’t change others, nor should we even try. Prioritize your life over others. Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted and/or distracted. Others’ urgencies are not your urgencies.
Once you have the space to focus, you can use that space in one of the following ways:
- Pause before making choices. Take a deep breath, relax, then ask yourself what is most important right now (If you don’t know what that is, then you need to figure out what’s most important right now). Start by practicing 25 minutes of undistracted and uninterrupted work.
Just because you have a lot of things to do doesn’t mean that you can do it all at the same time. Finish the thinking required in order to get those things off your mind, park it in your trusted system, and pick one thing off that list to do.
You could even ask yourself: What’s the one thing you want to accomplish today? Asking yourself this question first thing in the day helps you focus and prioritize. After that, the only things that can get in your way are your own internal excuses and other peoples’ urgencies.
When you work, focus on doing one thing well; give your full concentration to your work. Working in 90-minute sprints can help.
Stay focused and mentally present in your interaction with others. That means engaging with them instead of using your phone, and expecting the same from them. Your time and theirs are equally valuable.
What are the benefits of having focus? First of all, when you have focus, you know what’s important and what’s not. You have greater clarity about what to put your attention on. You’re not wasting time chasing after many different things, but focusing on the few things you’ve decided to pursue. Focus is about having depth. This is also consistent with my personal philosophy of less, but better.
Focusing is about saying no. That means prioritizing yourself over others. When you have focus, you make decisions and eliminate future choices/requests proactively based on what’s essential in your life; it becomes easy to say no when you know how you want to be spending your time and attention.
When you truly focus, you can achieve so much more. Not only that, what you produce will also be infinitely better.