Success in life is a matter not so much of talent as of concentration and perseverance.
– C. W. Wendte
Focus is something we don’t mention enough in business, but it’s something so incredibly valuable, not only in business but in everyday life. I was not top of the class at school, being more of an all rounder – able to make friends with anyone. I have always I have been blessed with a positive, outward-looking and solutions-orientated mentailty and approach, relentlessly enthusiastic. Only well into my business career did the important and very valuable penny drop regarding the priceless return on investment if only I could stay singe-mindedly focused. Thanks to Colin Barrow, Author, Leader at the Business Growth Development programme and wickedly great small business expert.
Focus for me means having a clear path, a vision if you like. It’s a strategy to underpin the steps in getting there, written down in a plan, shared with my team and built to deliver the end goal which is repeatedly reminded, shared, sold and pursued.
Without focus, we can easily waste hours on end, flitting between different tasks but never actually completing any. The notion of multitasking is not entirely a myth, but there are benefits to exercising the self discipline of setting goals and getting them achieved at the cost of saying no to others, restsiting temptation or being sucked in to the less progressive needs of others.
If you read the book The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan or The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen you will undoubtedly learn more about focus and in the process be able to do better, achieve more and become more likely to achieve your own objectives. Once I learned to really focus and stopped deluding myself about the tasks I choose to do, rather than tackling the more important outputs, that is when Pacific Direct became very seriously a threat to all in our industry.
We can achieve and accomplish so much more if we are able to focus on one task at a time. This goes for the smaller things, like checking emails or carrying on a conversation about our child’s day at school, but also for the larger things like launching a new product or setting up exports to a new country. When we can focus on that one thing, we can do it and move onto the next so much more quickly.
The problem is that these days there are so many other things vying for our attention, focus can seem like an impossibility in terms of keeping up and I have found myself dropping my communication standards and misprioritising if I don’t stick to some time management skills which are both priceless and profitable. Our mobile phones are constantly pinging; our email inboxes seem never ending; there’s always another networking meeting to attend and don’t even get me started on the time suck that is social media. Sad that some executives look forward to being on holiday so they can clear the decks! (I personally have a tactic that means I have always been the early bird and I have worked hard to get stuff done on holiday mornings before the teenagers wake.) Not ideal.
Here are some simple but exceptionally powerful habits to help you to obtain and maintain focus, so that you can drive your business and yourself forward to achieve great things:
1. Literally practice and review! Focus is a skill most of us can learn and maintain. People who are able to focus consistently on a particular task can do so because they have practised this day in, day out for some time. Probably when you were at school or university you were able to sit down and focus on reading long, boring texts for long periods of time because you had to – but as adults we lose this skill if we don’t continue to read and put time aside to stay or become the expert in our fields. Building a business is of course a myriad of skills including networking but the time I spend on airplanes reading my reading pile, has always been really profitable.
Get into the habit of sitting down and focusing on one thing at a time, and your ability to do so will grow.
2. Make it easier. If you’re trying to focus on a particular task whilst also dealing with constant interruptions from staff members, phone calls, Facebook notifications and the radio playing in the background, you are most probably doomed to failure – especially if you are not used to it! Remove as many distractions as possible: switch your phone off or onto silent for an hour; tell your staff you are not to be disturbed, or go and sit in a different office so that you can’t be found. Some people find that they are able to concentrate better with some music in the background, but something without lyrics will probably work better than the latest chart hits. I have places where I set myself goals and rewards to get stuff done. Today is actually a speech on a hobby I love, not cake.
3. Use a ritual for getting settled and being organised to do stuff. Do not keep trying to clear the small things so you can get to the big important things. I also use aroma as a therapy and as a hook. I’ve spoken about Scentered balms before; they really were born from necessity. I use Scentered Focus balm before I sit down to any job where I really have to pay attention. The fresh, minty scent has now become a trigger in my brain, so that when I smell that particular fragrance my mind automatically begins to be alert and ready for some serious concentration. This along with the Stop – Inhale – Reset ritual helps me to prepare myself to sit and focus on the task in hand, whatever it may be.
4. Time yourself. If you have a large task to do, it can feel so overwhelming that it’s hard to get started. Set a timer for half an hour, and tell yourself that after thirty minutes of laser focus, you will get up and take a break. Often the promise of a short break will help your brain to knuckle down and get on with it. You could try something like the Pomodoro Technique which can be incredibly effective in promoting focus and productivity. Actually something else I do is get my PA to sense check the stuff I write at speed, make it pretty and then I find I usually am able to add finishing touch inspiration that really makes the work quality, or so I like to think.
5. Write everything down. You cannot expect your mind to be able to focus on the task in hand if it is also trying to keep hold of your shopping list, remember to book a dental appointment and remind you to call that client back at 3. Our brains are amazing things, but they can only do so much and when they are full of junk of course there is no space for focus. I am a big fan of writing everything down; I carry a notebook wherever I go and make sure I write down what needs to be done. More and more I make notes on my phone, building lists for different people, and then I relax knowing we have a rough agenda of running priorities. (Reviewing the last lot when we next meet.) If I physically need to remember to collect, take, carry, deliver I stick ntices to my phone with a postit or to my keys which I cannot get out of my home without. This way I don’t need to remember to buy bread on the way home or to email something to a new contact; it’s all taken care of. I am sure this is what allows me to focus so well on the task in hand, whatever it may be.
6. Eat that frog! If you’ve not read this classic book by Brian Tracy, you really should. In essence, he says the one task you put off because you dread it and really don’t feel like doing, you should do first thing in the morning. Once you’ve eaten the frog, it will no longer be hanging over you for the rest of the day – and you are free then to focus on everything else you need to do. The bonus on this one is whenever we procrastinate, when we finally get round to things, it is always, always always less painful.
7. Know yourself. Some people work better early in the morning; others work well late at night. Whilst this should never be used as an excuse to finish work early or start late, you can schedule your day so that those tasks that require maximum focus are done at the time of day when you’re most on the ball. Never schedule important tasks for right after lunch, when your body will be putting its energy into digesting food and there won’t be spare capacity for taxing brain work.
8. Misery day. I cannot finish this piece without mentioning what I used to term as misery day. The day I set aside to have all my monthly reports, looking at the aged creditors and debtors, the bank numbers the sales performance by person, my own status against my targets for the week, month and quarterly goals. One day a month of misery is a highly recommended thing to diarise, share with your staff (mine the 2nd Wednesday of every month) so that I know that all the rest of the days of the month are mine to progress and make a success of.
How do you maintain focus at work? Is there something you swear by that I’ve not mentioned? I am always looking to learn new skills and techniques so if there is something I have missed do please tell me about it.