Bring Your Best Life Into Focus Beginning Today
(About a five minute read)“To be everywhere is to be nowhere” ~Seneca
I grew up in an age when taking photos meant focusing a camera. Shocking, I know. There was no auto-focus, imagine that. A sharp photo actually required taking a moment to pause and focus before snapping the shutter. Interestingly enough, as early as 1960 the auto-focus function had been invented but at the time, it was thought to be useless. The concept languished, undeveloped until the late 1970’s when auto-focus cameras came into common use. Could it be that’s where things began to run amuck?
Have you ever noticed the crazy looking eyes of a housefly? (Stay with me here, I promise it makes sense.) The eyes of a fly have thousands of individual receptors that each create one, minute individual image. When all those tiny images come together, they form a fragmented mosaic view. Flies have no pupils. The amount of light coming into the eye cannot be controlled so they cannot focus and it gives them a very short range of vision. However, they do have the ability to view nearly 360 degrees. This means they are highly aware of any motion around them and become jumpy at the slightest flinch. OK, does that sound frighteningly familiar to how we take in our surroundings?
Focus seems to be difficult for a lot of us but it’s an essential skill for making good choices, setting goals and getting on with the work of living a life aligned with the things that truly matter most. So, in the hyped up world we live in today, what can we do to become better at focusing and less fly-eyed as we go about our day?
“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” ~Alexander Graham Bell
All this makes me dive into my nerdiest research mode to uncover some best practices and strategies for focusing on the life we want to live, the values we choose to serve and the personal legacies we want to begin building.
One of my early virtual mentors was Steven Covey and his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. A key in his strategy was the “Covey Quadrant”. Recently, I was surprised to discover an early version of the quadrant called The Eisenhower Matrix, named for Dwight Eisenhower, a five-star general and our 34th president. It’s a great tool for deciding what to focus on. Here’s a link to an image of his tool Eisenhower Matrix. The essential message of this method is that the important things often do not appear to be urgent.
Only you can decide on the things that are most important for you to focus on. You’ll have unique goals which we suggest ought to be an extension of the worthy pursuits you wish to live out. Always remember, when you move toward your goals with this in mind, who you become is as important as what you accomplish.
You probably wish I’d just give you some practical steps to increasing your focus instead of talking about fly eyes. OK, wish granted. You know what they say, it’s simple but not easy. But here are five of the best ideas I’ve found in my research.
- Don’t go to bed without actually writing down three to five things you need to focus on the next day. No more. Warren Buffet subscribes to this way of thinking and it seems to have worked well for him and his employees who he instructs with this methodology.
- Turn off distractions. Yes, we can. Put your phone in another room, turn it off. Work in full-screen mode so you’re not tempted to peek at email or social media. Turn off the dings and beeps that tell you there is something new to look at. It can wait. If necessary, take your work to a different place like the library or a coffee shop where you can hide in a corner booth.
- Begin with the one thing that will produce the most results and stick with it. Think of it as your anchor task, the one thing you must absolutely get done. Finish it before moving on to number two! We can all remember a time when an urgent deadline made us get that one thing accomplished because we had to. Apply that kind of focus. Granted, you may not always be able to finish an entire project in one day but by breaking down larger projects into manageable steps, you can make solid progress by getting another step closer to completion.
- Focus on the process more than your progress. I wrote about this in an earlier post. We’ve got to embrace and practically fall in love with the process of getting the important things done and quit viewing success as a single event. The focus must be on doing the daily work.
- Stop with the multitasking, darn it! Give it up, it’s a fraud! Research has repeatedly demonstrated that it’s not only ineffective but can actually cause harm to your cognitive ability. Multitasking can cause a reduction in attention span and learning, a 40% loss of productivity and the disruption of short-term memory. In fact, it can temporarily reduce IQ by 10 to 15 points.
Inspired by the things that matter most to you, meaningful living fundamentally comes down to a few very simple (but not always easy) practices. Focus is a huge factor in becoming the best version of the person you were designed to be. Work on focus by knowing your “why” and taking the time to develop your personal plan. When you take even a few minutes every day to become intentional about your goals and habits, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish!
“Take five minutes to center yourself in the morning – set your intention every day.” ~ Oprah Winfrey