Focus, Not Time

Sean McCool here, watching the controls this week at The Writer’s Life.

First, let’s get some important business out of the way. If the turkey is still in the freezer, now is the time to get it out and start thawing it for Thanksgiving dinner.

Okay, now let’s get back to our second of 5 Keys to Exceeding Everyone’s Expectations — including your own.

We’re taking our 5 Keys from the book Get Out of Your Own Way by Robert K. Cooper, PhD. Monday we talked about “Direction, not motion.”

Today’s Key is Focus, not time.

Think about it this way:

If you’re in a well-lit room, you can see details and find your way around the room easily. And, if you want to get through the steel door at the other end of the room, you can see your way there, and even see the type of handle and how to open it.

But, what if the big steel door is locked?

Then, it doesn’t matter how long time-wise the light is on in the room, you’re not getting through the door without a key. But, what if you could focus all the light in the room into a super-small beam of light — a laser? You could take that focused light and cut your way right through the door.

That’s the power of focus.

I tend to spend a lot of time in front of the computer and in my office. Just being there makes my brain think I’m working.

But, even though I spend a lot of time in the office “working,” often I’m really not focused as well as I could be. Sometimes I check email too often … or do important but not urgent tasks … instead of bearing down and focusing on the project that’s due next.

We all know how to focus. Work in 30-minute intervals … no email … turn off social media … let the dishes sit … etc. The real trick, is simply deciding to focus.

But, here’s the kicker …

According to Dr. Cooper, to be effective, you must learn how to focus “in advance and [emphasis mine] as it unexpectedly appears.” (I reveal more about focus in my article “The Number One Thing Blocking Your Success.”)

In other words, before you ever walk into your office or open your laptop, decide which project you will focus on … and for how long. And, when unexpected things pop up, you must learn how to decide quickly whether or not to focus on the new situation or continue your work. That choice relates to Key 1, the direction you want to go.

For instance, if I am working on my Money-Making Website and a client calls and needs an article written, do I stop my website work and jump to the article? For me, the answer would be no. In fact, if my scheduled time is to be working on the website, then I don't even answer the phone. That way, the temptation is avoided to jump to a new project.

This is only possible because I decided in advance what was a priority and what deserved my focus. I am the only one who gets to decide who gets my focus. Period. Sound idealistic? Sound impossible? That’s for you to decide.

So What?!

Here’s something practical you can do to increase focus. It’s something I’ve started doing recently and it’s really paying off. Try it this week to see if it helps you, too …

At the end of your work time, sit down and take five minutes to write out a list of five to six things you need to get done the next day.

Then, prioritize them. And, I mean actually write down the order in which they need to be done to get you moving in the direction you want to go. By doing this the night before, you give your subconscious brain a chance to start working on the list while you sleep.

And, it will be much easier to focus because you’ve already decided what needs to be done and in what order. Now, it’s just a matter of checking off the list.

Let me know how you focus or what you struggle with in the comments below.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the third Key to Exceeding Everyone’s Expectations.

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Published: November 22, 2011

4 Responses to “Focus, Not Time”

  1. Hi Sean - Great article and so timely. Distraction is my middle name these days and since I work at home opportunities to get off task are rampant!

    The fact that focus is a choice hits the target. Another way to put it, and I can't remember where I saw this, is that focus is deciding what you are NOT going to do.

    For me that's a long list of things, but it boils down to choice either way. Thank you for the nudge.

    Lynn Allen

  2. Focus is a big problem for me too. I am a big list maker but instead of crossing things off my list I use a highlighter to check them off. This way I feel like I'm "highlighting" my accomplishment of finishing that task.


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