What comes to mind when you think of the word focus?
The attention or concentration it takes to complete a task? The amount of will power needed to finish writing a report without touching your phone? Or, is it having to sit in complete silence and away from distractions so that you can study for an important exam or prepare for an interview?
I’m sure many of you can relate to the above statements and agree that the ability to focus is about staying on task for a period of time. Breaking that concentration would mean that you’ve lost your focus; and you’re either doing something else, or trying to gain back that focus to finish up the intended task.
With an ever increasing amount of information–that is easily accessible online and offline–we’re faced with a lot more opportunities and avenues to create possibilities to experience things on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, that can make it a lot harder for us to make progress or get things done, because we’re either easily distracted or overwhelmed by the constant influx of information.
That is why many of us end up having problems ‘concentrating’ or ‘focusing’ in life–whether it be on a smaller scale like completing a task on time, or something much bigger like staying on track in your career and climbing the ladder of success. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we blame our failures due to a lack of focus.
So, how does one focus better?
Focus Is Not About Paying Attention
What if I tell you that you’ve been doing it all wrong this whole time?
Focus isn’t just the attention span of giving 20 minutes to a task. It actually goes way beyond that.
The real reason why we focus is because we need to do something that exceeds our existing capability. We need to devote large amounts of time and energy to move the needle in life, to make that progress and positive change.
And why do we want to do that? Because we want to become a better version of ourselves! Isn’t that true?
At the end of the day, the reason why we stay focused on any task, project, or goal is because we want to succeed. And with that success comes progress in our lives, which means we eventually become better than what we were a month ago, or even a year ago.
Let me give you an example:
Say you’ve been tasked to manage a project by your boss. You have targets to meet and favorable outcomes to achieve. Your focus and attention has to be on this project. Once the project has been completed, your boss is happy with the results and your hard work. He rewards you with praise, a promotion, or maybe even a juicy year end bonus.
That’s your success right there, and you feel good about your achievements. So looking back at who you were before and after the completion of this project, wouldn’t you say you’ve become a better version of your previous self?
Focus Is a Flow
This is what focus is and how focus works! It’s not a one-off task by task mode that you jump into whenever needed. Rather, focus is a flow.
Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about. And because focus takes energy, time and effort, whatever it is that you need to focus on should be something meaningful to you.
So why is it that we sometimes find it so hard to focus?
Usually, it’s because we’re missing two major elements. Either we don’t know where we want to go–in that we don’t have a clear goal–or we do have a goal, but we don’t have a clear roadmap.
Trying to improve your focus without these two things is like driving to get somewhere in a foreign country with no road map. You end up wasting a lot of gas but you don’t really know if you’re getting anywhere.
Let’s go back to the example of your boss assigning you a project to manage. The company is opening a new office. Your boss wants you to oversee the renovations and moving-in process of this new location. Now, if you didn’t have a clear goal or end result of how the new office should look, you could be busy arranging for contractors, interior designers or movers etc to come, but have no clue what to assign or brief them on.
The second scenario is that you know exactly how the new office should look and when it should be up and running. But, because you don’t have a clear roadmap to get to that end result, you end up working all over the place; one moment you’re arranging for the contractors to start renovations, the next moment you’ve got furniture coming in when the space isn’t ready. What do you focus on first?
The Focus Flow
Without a clear goal and road map, things can turn out frantic and frustrating, with wrong turns; and you also end up expending a lot more mental energy than needed. But, having a Focus Flow can help.
So let me show you how the Focus Flow works.
- It starts from a clear objective.
- This becomes a clear roadmap.
- Then it manifests into a state of targeted attention and effort.
- This results in pushing your progress towards your ultimate destination.
Setting a Focus Objective
To start off, you need to set an effective focus objective. If you don’t have an objective, how can you decide on what things are worth focusing on? You can’t focus on everything at the same time, so you have to make a choice.
Like driving a car, you need a destination.
In this case, you don’t want to drive around aimlessly. You want to arrive at your destination before you run out of gas.
A good focus objective therefore needs to be concrete. This means that it should be something you can visualize. Such as determining how the new office is going to look after you’ve completed the renovation and moving in project. If you can visualize it, that means you have a clear enough picture to know what’s needed to achieve it.
Setting a Focus Roadmap
The second step is to lay out a practical Focus Roadmap. Once you have your ideas, setting an objective is easy. The most difficult part is determining how you’re going to achieve your objective.
There are lots of things you can do to work towards your goal. But, what comes first? What’s more valuable? How long will it take?
That’s where having a roadmap helps you answer these questions. Like driving, you need to at least have a rough idea of which major roads to drive on, and the order in which you need to drive them.
Yet, creating a roadmap can get tricky because you have absolute freedom on how you’re going to achieve your objective.
So to create a good road map, you should include major milestones. These are targets you need to hit in order to achieve success. Your road map should also include feasible and realistic actions that you can achieve.
Power Up Your Productivity
I hope you now have a better understanding of how focus truly works. By harnessing your focus using the Focus Flow, you’ll be able to work on a task more productively not because you’re able to ‘concentrate’, but rather because you know exactly what your end goal is, and you have a game plan in place to make that happen.
Once there is clarity, I can assure you that you’ll be less likely to get distracted or ‘lose’ focus on your tasks at hand.
You may think it’s going to take you extra time writing out an objective and setting out a road map. You may believe that you are better off getting right down to the actual work.
But, as I’ve mentioned, there’s no point in rushing your efforts that lead you to nowhere or cause you additional detours. You’ll end up expending more mental energy and time than needed.
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Featured photo credit: Paul Skorupskas via unsplash.com