Imagine the rays of the sun striking a newspaper lying on the sand of a tropical beach. Even if the newspaper were to remain there for many years, there wouldn’t be very much sun damage. True, the pages would yellow and fade, but for the most part, the newspaper would remain intact. Yet, if we were to use a magnifying glass to focus the rays of the sun, we could set the newspaper ablaze in minutes. Such is the power of focus. It is magical.
Like the sun, you have enormous potential power, but it will not bear fruit unless it is focused. Your good ideas and intentions can easily become diluted and dispersed by ever-changing thoughts. Tony Robbins explains, “One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.”
If we really understand the enormous power bubbling within us, we would act differently. Instead, we let it escape like steam from a teapot. But those who channel their power achieve greatness, for notable achievers are nothing more than ordinary men and women who are focused.
Look at dogs catching Frisbees thrown by their masters. Note how focused, intent, and enthusiastic they are. That’s the attitude you want to develop. However, it’s not Frisbees that you will be chasing, but your goals and dreams. To help you focus on your dreams, write them down. For as Michael Leboeuf wrote, “When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools.”
Don’t just write down your ideas; write down your PLANS on how you will reach your goals. Planning helps you remain focused. Another tool to help you stay focused is QUESTIONING.
Ask yourself questions like,
- “What is the best way to spend my time now?
- What step can I now take that will bring me closer to my goal?
- What do I need to do differently?
- What do I need to improve?
- What do I need to do more of?
- Am I still on course?”
Successful people realize they are not immortal. They do not have forever to achieve their dreams. That’s why they act now. Reminding yourself that you are not immortal will help you to remain focused.
What are the main things we need to focus on?
I have listed 17 points below. And a lot of what follows you already know, and is just common sense, but we need to ask ourselves are we practicing what we already know? And if we’re not, when will we begin? After all, it doesn’t make sense to wait for success and happiness, does it?
1. FOCUS ON YOUR CHOICES
- What you have become today is based on what you decided to focus on in the past, and what you will be tomorrow depends on what you choose to focus on today. Our choice of focus is critical, so we need to focus on what we are focusing on!
- What do you choose to focus on, the practical or the theoretical? Contributing to life or just watching the parade pass by? Solutions or excuses? Something to be grateful for or something to complain about? Being busy or being productive?Will you focus on your desires or your doubts? On what you want from life or what you feel like doing now? That which pulls you forward or that which drags you down? That which inspires you to greatness or that which lulls you into complacency? Will you continue doing what’s not working or focus on what is working? Will you focus on your imagined limitations or your limitless potential? Will you putter through life or focus your attention on what’s important to you
2. FOCUS ON WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO YOU.
- You’ll never be able to read every book in the Library of Congress, will you? It would be foolish to try. Neither can you do EVERYTHING. All you accomplish by trying to do everything is to get stressed out. And stress makes it impossible to focus. So, stop trying to do everything, and focus on what’s important to you.
- Here are two African proverbs to remind us to focus on what’s important: “The hunter who is tracking an elephant does not stop to throw stones at birds.” and “The hyena chasing two gazelles at the same time will go to bed hungry.”
- Summing up, the most important thing to focus on is the most important thing. In other words, the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing.
3. FOCUS ON SUCCESS
- Success doesn’t come by accident. It comes to those who plan for it and act on their plans. Decide what you want, what steps need to be taken, and in what order. Then act. And remember the words of Thomas Edison, “I never did anything by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work.”
4. FOCUS ON THE PRESENT MOMENT
- We are always aware that we are alive, but by not focusing on that fact, we fail to take advantage of it. Focusing on the present moment is important because it is the only moment we have power. NOW is the only time we have to focus on our plans and monitor our progress. Johann Friedrich Von Schiller put this idea into rhyme:“Lose not yourself in a far off time, seize the moment that is thine.”
- And Barbara De Angelis explains more fully the importance of the present moment, “Only when your consciousness is totally focused on the moment you are in can you receive whatever gift, lesson, or delight that moment has to offer.”
5. FOCUS ON LIFE
- How many of us quickly walk to our destination, oblivious to leaves and flower petals blown about by the wind? Why is it we see the litter, but not the grass waving to us? Why do we hear the clamor of traffic, but not the songs of birds? Everyone is looking, but few are seeing. Everyone is hearing, but few are listening. Everyone feels the breeze and sunlight, but few enjoy it because their mind is elsewhere. Someone mindful of the present moment may see more in a walk around the block than others see in a trip around the world. As Eddie Cantor said, “Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast —you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”
6. FOCUS ON YOUR STRENGTHS
- It is good to be aware of our weaknesses and work on self-improvement. But we should spend more time focused on our strengths than our weaknesses, for it is our strengths that will lead us to success. In the long run, what we can’t do is unimportant, it is what we can do that defines us and offers us the opportunity to shine. Here’s how Peter Drucker put it, “The great mystery isn’t that people do things badly but that they occasionally do a few things well. The only thing that is universal is incompetence. Strength is always specific! Nobody ever commented, for example, that the great violinist Jascha Heifetz probably couldn’t play the trumpet very well.”
7. FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE
- Successful people focus on what they want, not what they don’t want. There’s a good reason for that, and it is pointed out by the extraordinary motivational speaker, W. Mitchell. Here’s what he said, “What I focus on in life is what I get. And if I concentrate on how bad I am or how wrong I am or how inadequate I am, if I concentrate on what I can’t do and how there’s not enough time in which to do it, isn’t that what I get every time? And when I think about how powerful I am, and when I think about what I have left to contribute, and when I think about the difference I can make on this planet, then that’s what I get. You see, I recognize that it’s not what happens to you; it’s what you do about it.”
8. FOCUS ON OPPORTUNITIES
- Like W. Mitchell, we need to focus on opportunities. That is, we need to look for them, for we find what we look for. The great Greek playwright, Sophocles wrote, “Look and you will find it — what is unsought will go undetected.” In more modern times we find Henry David Thoreau wrote something similar, “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. What we find depends on what we look for.”
9. FOCUS ON YOUR POTENTIAL
- If we wish to unlock our potential, all we need do is act like the person we want to become, for “Act the part and you will become the part” (William James). Just as famous as the words of William James are the words of Henry David Thoreau; mainly, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
10. FOCUS ON TIME
- Because time is the stuff life is made of, it deserves our careful scrutiny. Don’t waste or kill it. Rather, heed these two points made by Michael Leboeuf: “Waste your money and you’re only out of money, but waste your time and you’ve lost a part of your life.” and “The ultimate goal of a more effective and efficient life is to provide you with enough time to enjoy some of it.”
11. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU THINK AND SAY
- Because we program our subconscious by the words we think and say, it is essential that we are aware of them. Be sure to keep your mind on the things you want and off the things you don’t want, for you will become or get what you spend most of your time thinking and talking about.
12. FOCUS ON CONTRIBUTING TO LIFE
- We are insignificant specks in the universe. So, to think about ourselves is to have insignificant thoughts. Yet, when we focus our thoughts beyond ourselves to our neighbor, community, country, world, and beyond, we transcend ourselves and touch the infinite. Our globe takes care of us, and we are here to take care of it. In a word, we are here to contribute to life. Doing so is not only the right thing to do, but it provides its own reward, for as renowned expert on stress, Hans Selye, wrote, “If you want to live a long life, focus on making contributions.”
- Also think about these words of President Barack Obama, “Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.”
13. FOCUS ON DOING YOUR BEST
- Do not underestimate the power of a commitment to always doing you best. Someone said, “I just try to be the best I can be and hope that is the best ever.” That someone was Tiger Woods. If it works for him, I think it will work for us as well.
- One way of always doing our best is to be committed to always doing MORE. For example, if you’re a student that has been studying a textbook for an hour and a half, feel exhausted and are ready to quit, rather than quitting, you can tell yourself, “I will quit after I study FIVE MORE pages.” If you’re working out in the gym and feel ready to quit, you can tell yourself, “I will quit after FIVE MORE minutes.” If a friend asks to borrow $20 from you and you agree, you can give him FIVE MORE dollars. You get the idea. When we are committed to doing more, we become more.
14. FOCUS ON YOUR DREAMS, NOT YOUR FEARS
- Focus on your fears and you will become paralyzed, but focus on your dreams and you will be inspired to take action. Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want
15. FOCUS ON QUESTIONING THINGS
- Knowledge is exciting and empowering. But don’t be too quick to accept what others say. Question what you hear and read, and question your own opinions.
16. FOCUS ON FOLLOWING THROUGH
- Acting on our personal plan for success isn’t enough. We have to follow through every step to its completion. Consider what American psychologist Harry A. Overstreet had to say, “The immature mind hops from one thing to another; the mature mind seeks to follow through.”
17. FOCUS ON GETTING UNSTUCK
- Every now and then, most of us seem to get stuck. For some inexplicable reason our progress is impeded. To focus on getting unstuck.
Unleashing the Power of Focus
It’s important to realize that the power of focus can work against us just as easily as work for us. That is, to benefit, we have to focus on the right things, the important things. To back up and see the big picture, let’s consider the four categories of the tasks and projects we have to perform. They are:
- Urgent and Important
- Important and Not Urgent
- Urgent and Not Important
- Not Urgent and Not Important
Now let’s consider the characteristics of each category:
1. Urgent and Important
These tasks are screaming for attention. They need to be done NOW! The problem with urgent tasks is they cause stress, which reduces clear thinking and problem solving skills. Our productivity will always go down when we have to work under pressure. There are two types of Urgent and Important tasks: unavoidable and avoidable.
If a family member were to be suddenly injured in an accident, you would have to drop everything and immediately rush to their aid. This is an example of an unavoidable Urgent and Important task. As we all will have unavoidable emergencies to deal with, it is important to learn stress reduction techniques so we will be better able to cope with future emergencies.
Procrastinators delay working on important tasks until the deadline arrives. In this way, every important task is transformed into an Urgent and Important task. This type of emergency is avoidable by overcoming the problem of procrastination. If you need some help in overcoming it, read the article that follows this one, “The Main Cause of Procrastination Is RESISTANCE.”
2. Important and Not Urgent
Our goals and responsibilities are important. As long as we do not procrastinate, we will be able to work on our goals and carry out our responsibilities before they become urgent. This is the area we we should spend most of our time.
Examples of Important and Not Urgent tasks include company, personal, and family goals, as well as exercise, recreation, social activities, home and auto maintenance, eating balanced meals, getting sufficient sleep, self-improvement activities and enjoying family time.
3. Urgent and Not Important
Examples of this category of tasks include interruptions, telephone calls, meetings, and coworkers who just want to chat. These tasks should be dealt with quickly to get them out of the way. For example, a colleague drops by while you’re busy and just wishes to chat; so you say, “That sounds interesting, let’s talk about it at lunch; I have to get back to work now.” If your work is interrupted by a phone call, quickly answer it to determine whether you must immediately deal with it (Urgent and Important), deal with it later (Important and Not Urgent), or delegate it to someone else. If possible, you may block off several hours during the day in which you do not accept phone calls or check email, allowing you to focus on important tasks.
4. Not Urgent and Not Important
These are items that do not contribute to your productivity, responsibilities, or goals. Examples include playing computer or video games, browsing the Internet aimlessly, and chatting with others on non-work related issues. Yet, recreation, chatting with friends, or browsing the Internet can all contribute to life, but it’s a matter of time and place.
Unless we first organize the many tasks on our plate, we can easily get overwhelmed, not knowing where to begin or in what order to proceed. Categorizing our tasks into the above four types is a powerful time management technique that is called the Eisenhower Matrix.
It is said that this is the system that President Eisenhower used. His focus on the important is revealed in these two quotes of his: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
To use this system, list your tasks in the appropriate box (called “quadrants”) and work on them in the order previously explained and which I will summarize here.
- Start on Quadrant 3 to quickly get them out of the way by determining their status and deciding what to do about them.
- Next, move on to Quadrant 3. These are the hot button issues that need your attention now because of deadlines.
- Then move on to Quadrant 2. This is the area where you should be spending most of your time. By overcoming procrastination, the number of items in Quadrant 1 will steadily decline, freeing up time to work on the items in Quadrant 2.
- In addition to what I wrote about this quadrant earlier, I like to use this area for my “bucket list“ or wish list. That is, I acknowledge there are many more things that I would like to do than time provides, but before I forget them, I list them here. The reason for that is there may be unexpected future openings in my schedule, so should that occur, I will quickly elevate one or more of these items to Quadrant 2.
We can also refer to the Eisenhower Matrix as the 4-D’s system as we Determine/Decide what to do about unimportant emergencies, immediately Do the important emergencies, Dispatch our important tasks, and Deferunimportant tasks that may grow in importance later.
Wrap Up and Additional Tips
- Do the important tasks first. The other jobs will take care of themselves.
- Focus on one task at a time. The quickest way to do many things is to do one thing at a time.
- When something goes awry, don’t dwell on your mistake. Rather, focus on a solution.
- “If you try to do too much, you will not achieve anything.” (Confucius). Or as the Italians say, “Often he who does too much does too little.”
- “You must not only aim right, but draw the bow with all your might.” (Henry David Thoreau) That is, in addition to goal-setting skills, you will need patience, persistence, and discipline.
- “Rather than viewing a brief relapse back to inactivity as a failure, treat it as a challenge and try to get back on track as soon as possible.” (Jimmy Connors)
- “Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’“ (Marcus Aurelius)
- “In the real world, those of us who are most productive, successful, and satisfied focus not on fixing feelings or manipulating thoughts, but on what needs to be done -and then doing it— no matter what thoughts or feelings arise.” (Dan Millman)
- Don’t focus on what you have already achieved, for resting on your laurels leads to complacency. Rather, focus on what remains to be done.
- Avoid focusing too far ahead as you cannot predict the future. Instead, expect the unexpected and remain flexible.
- Remember that focusing is not only about deciding what to pay attention to, but also deciding what NOT to pay attention to.
- To improve your life, stop focusing on the size of your problems and start focusing on the size of your potential. And focus on what you’re doing as if you happiness depends on it because it does.
I’ll now give the final word to Og Mandino, “The great difference between those who succeed and those who fail does not consist in the amount of work done by each but in the amount of intelligent (focused) work. Many of those who fail most ignominiously do enough to achieve grand success but they labor haphazardly at whatever they are assigned, building up with one hand to tear down with the other. They do not grasp circumstances and change them into opportunities. They have no faculty for turning honest defeats into telling victories. With ability enough and ample time, the major ingredients of success, they are forever throwing back and forth an empty shuttle and the real web of their life is never woven.”
F.O.C.U.S. = Follow One Course Until Successful