Nowadays, the attention deficit has reached almost epidemic proportions. Being constantly bombarded with all the information coming from social networks and media we are gradually becoming worse at staying on top of anything. And that includes what we want in our lives.
Today we would like to talk about the three levels one has to get to in order to regain the ability to concentrate. Skipping on any one of these will make even the simplest job quite a challenge.
What is focus and can it become an integral part of our M.O.?
We’ve come to appreciate a lot the following words:
Focus is the quality that makes us start right away and then stay on top of the task at hand until it is completed.
It’s hard to even start doing something if you are constantly distracted. And you can’t finish anything when your thoughts are getting pulled away all the time.
Still, the point here is to keep your eyes on the goal. And this nowadays is increasingly becoming an uphill battle. But there is yet another reason – how we view the matter.
Thinking clearly when focused
It is important to be fully engaged because it greatly affects how we process and retain information, make decisions and solve problems. Anyone can recount situations when our poor concentration led to poor results.
It could have been during the term exams when you binged on a Netflix series. Or when we had to make an important and life-changing decision but our mind has a mind of its own and was woefully somewhere else.
The workplace is no exception. When a serious problem needs our full attention but we couldn’t get around all other little distractions that were on our way.
Is multi-tasking a myth then?
No doubt, it’s a bit overrated. Research has shown that if you have to switch back and forth between 2 separate tasks you end up being only 20% at each, not 50% as one would expect.
Niki witnessed something quite interesting in the gym. The guy next to him on the cross trainer was more interested in his phone than the exercise. He wasn’t giving his best and thus simply wasting time and money.
It’s pretty much the same story at work. You can’t get much done if there are too many of your co-workers pulling you away with questions and other issues. Here is what we usually do:
If I am focused I get things done; if I am not – nothing gets done.
What Niki does is to find a quiet place at work, a conference room for example. That’s how he “hides” when he needs to work without being interrupted and disturbed all the time. And some other times he goes to the office before anyone else. Or, he stays late when everybody has left for the day.
Ivan has a different approach. He sets aside time for what he calls “focus sessions” – 2 or 3 hours completely dedicated to a number of complex and difficult things to do. He minimizes any possible interruptions by turning off the notifications on his cell but at the same time, he plays some music to screen off any potential background noise. He can easily go over the limit of a few hours but it is well worth it considering the amount of work that gets done.
These are very helpful in general but let’s see now how “GoalBuddy” can greatly improve the situation.
Focus and a goal-setting system
Most of the literature on the topic is about either the short-term value of the skill or the long-term aspects of it on how to go after the important things in life.
Our system treats it as something that plays an indispensable role at several levels – the vision, the 90-day goals, and the weekly steps. (We are quite surprised how lucky we were to get it so right. It’s an idea that keeps giving in new and unexpected ways.) We didn’t think much of it when we first started developing “GoalBuddy” but today we realize it is a cornerstone element of it.
# 1 Focus and the vision
We start with the long-term vision for the next 20 or 30 years. That’s when we need our focus most. It’s not about how quickly you can climb up the ladder but whether you have placed it at the right spot.
This means to be able to see clearly and exclusively only those objectives that will make the greatest contribution to you in the long run.
This becomes possible thanks to skills such as: visualizing exactly what you want; being able to answer the “why” question; knowing your authentic goals, and last but not least, being able to say “No”.
If it isn’t a 100% “Yes”, then it’s a 100% “No”!
According to Steve Jobs, it’s not about what you say “Yes” to but those many great ideas you reject.
If you think about it, the whole business of Apple Inc. is about focus. After his comeback at the company, he aimed at just a few products. He shut down some departments and canceled product lines leaving just 1 laptop model, 1 desktop. And then he came up with something completely unexpected – the iPhone.
His own words tell it all – “The innovation is saying NO to 1,000 things.”
What the problem is and how to resolve it
For many of us, it is quite difficult to pinpoint what the top priorities in our lives are. And that’s understandable – there are so many things to look at and choose from. But our system can make this happen by channeling our attention to the vision.
The very fact that you already have clear written objectives for several things in your life is already a step forward. Or, in other words, you set the ladder at the exact right spot.
# 2 Focus and the 90-day goals
We need to limit ourselves with few but key projects and strategies that will take us closer to our objective. These will be the things that we will work on during the next quarter.
Out of the many ideas, you will have to embrace just one which will contribute most. A total of 3 goals in 90 days is the key to success.
It may not be easy to make the right choice, but with time, experience and lessons learned, it will become a lot more intuitive. Plus, some specific skills can help too.
What are the possible difficulties?
Well, the issue is that we haven’t done a good job at the first level – the vision. With no clear direction to go, it is impossible to set goals and work successfully on them.
It’s quite possible that you get off course. That’s why we don’t go for yearly goals but instead, we rely on the 90-day ones. In this way, any mistake or failure won’t be as lasting and of much consequence.
The key to restoring your focus is the 90-day meetings with your Goal Buddy. This keeps your mind squarely set on the objective. This, in turn, makes the process of selecting your next steps much more easy and straightforward.
# 3 Focus and the weekly step
At this very point, you are to select the best way of implementing your chosen strategy. You will need all of your focus here because that’s the level at which you will be working and making real progress.
The ideal weekly step could very well be of the “domino” type. It can trigger many more follow-up actions. Another possibility is that the weekly step would take care of the one thing that was blocking your advancement. Once removed things will speed up considerably.
What are the distractions?
The problem with the weekly step is that often it is very important but not urgent. In the rush of our everyday life with its many commitments and responsibilities, it is precisely the focus that suffers the most.
The biggest challenge is our physical environment. Nowadays we’ve been programmed into a very short attention span. The apps on our devices are constantly trying to take over our lives. Research has shown that we’ve been conditioned to check our phones every few seconds even if there is no incoming call or a message. Our ability to stay sharp has been seriously compromised by the many holes poked into it till it has become very much like Swiss cheese.
The truth is that we have to make a conscious effort to maintain a good measure of focus.
The everyday tactics
We have already shared with you some of our approaches.
Checking non-stop your cell phone for text messages and notifications means one thing only – you have to do something about it. You can’t be throwing away that much of your time and degrading your focus at the same time.
A new beginning
One way to start fighting this is with the help of a goal-setting habit.
Perhaps, you can look for some other routine, a good one to replace the bad one. For example, instead of logging into your Facebook account, you have a look at the list of your weekly steps. Or, if you still open the social network, then the price to pay is to do something like 20 push-ups.
Goals coming into focus
It’s essential that we don’t get drawn away from what matters to us. These are our dreams and aspirations for a better life. It’s not an easy thing to do – giving our utmost concentrated effort at all the three levels – the vision, the 90-day goals, and the weekly steps.
Not losing sight of what you really want will be great for your focus. Write down your visions! Do the quarterly review! Don’t miss the weekly meeting to discuss how things are going! And last but not least, have your Goal Buddy right next to you all the time!
So, the above are the four keys to achieving your goals which can also provide a great deal of good for your ability to focus.