the state of having or producing clear visual definition.
to give your full attention to what you are doing or what is happening.
The average person at work is interrupted approximately 7 times per hour. The average interruption takes approximately 11 minutes to deal with. After an interruption, it takes approximately 25 minutes to return to pre-interruption status. Do that math. It’s no wonder we feel like we can’t get anything done.
High-interruption days are sometimes fun and exhilarating, like a dinner rush in a restaurant or a day on the trading floor. But what about when you really need to focus?
There is a great scene in the movie As Good as It Gets. OK, there are a lot of great scenes, but the one I am thinking of has Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear in a car driving from New York to Baltimore. Helen Hunt is driving. Greg Kinnear starts to tell a story of a trauma he experienced, and Helen Hunt tells him to hold on for a minute while she pulls over to give him her full attention. Wow.
Think about how few occasions we have to give or receive full attention. We live in a world with all kinds of movement and media and devices and information assaulting us constantly. And we have all gotten used to it and feel fairly accomplished at multitasking, which is of course the exact opposite of focusing.
Focus time is in short supply in the 21st century. And why does that matter? A few opinions:
- “The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” – Bruce Lee
- “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” – Alexander Graham Bell
- “Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” – Tony Robbins
Focus time is not just an abstract concept or a luxury. It’s an imperative. We live in a complicated world, and we have complicated lives and complicated businesses. We need not only the time but also the right environment in which to do the critical thinking required to achieve our goals and aspirations.
Can you remember a time when you were faced with a difficult project, and you pulled it off like a pro? We all have that experience and when we think back on how we got it done, it was not without dedicated focus time.
Now imagine the power of having that focus time on a regular basis.
So, some tips for creating focus – some from the experts and some from my own trial and error experiments:
- Schedule Time – This is the simplest and most indispensable step on the road to focus. I like to choose at least one day each week where I focus for a stretch of a few hours. I put it on my calendar right next to those zoom appointments and lunch dates.
- Find a New Location – Seriously, not because I run coworking centers – a change of environment is nothing short of miraculous for focus. Studies have shown that a change of scenery, even as simple as moving to a different room in your house, boosts productivity and engagement.
- Make a Simple Plan – Now that you have a time and a place, you get to decide what you are going to do with them. I find it works best to just pick one thing. You can choose a project to fit your time allotment, but you don’t have to. Even if you spend only one good focus hour on a four-hour task, finishing it later becomes much easier. That’s part of the magic.
- Get a Friend – My very first Word blog was on the word “sprint.” It’s a term borrowed from the tech world and describes a process that teams use during product development. My version is just to make dates with work buddies. We work on separate things but set times and places together and agree to be accountable to each other for sticking to our plans. Ever have a workout partner for the gym? Same idea.
- Eliminate Distractions – Is that even possible? Probably not entirely. But we can make a good dent. I turn off phone, email and text alerts. If I’m working in an area with other people around, I will sometimes wear noise-cancelling headphones. Some people like listening to music, but for me it’s just another distraction.
All the tips above will help with focus. But, I will admit, I use a lot of my focus sessions to accomplish tasks as opposed to doing critical thinking. So every once in a while instead of assigning myself a task during my focus time, I just assign myself a strategic question. It might be something as simple as “where do I want to be in two years” or it might be a little more scientific, like taking myself through a SWOT analysis. The important thing is to force myself to think conceptually and out of the weeds.
We too often think that if we’re not doing then we’re not working. But thinking is important work too, and the kind that simply will not happen without focus.
There is a terrific old movie called The Village of the Damned, originally released in 1960 starring George Sanders and remade in 1995 with Christopher Reeve. In a quiet village suddenly every woman becomes pregnant with what turn out to be scary alien babies. The babies get born and proceed to grow quickly, wreak evil havoc on the town, and show a dastardly ability to read minds, which thwarts attempts by the villagers to fight back. The Sanders/Reeve character finally rounds them up in a schoolhouse under the guise of some reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. But he has planted a bomb that will explode and destroy them all. The kicker is he keeps them from reading his mind by thinking about a brick wall. There is a long suspenseful scene when the kids know something is up but they can’t read his mind because he maintains his focus on the brick wall. Then kapow! The power of focus.
If you have focus tips or stories, please share them with us! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.