You Need Focus to Achieve Your Goals!

You Need to Focus to Achieve Your Goals

Focus, it’s very very important! I think that I can’t stress enough why that is. From someone who used to never really focus at all, except on day-dreams, with great emphasis, it gets you NOWHERE! Given that you’re reading this blog, I’m sure that’s not the path the you want to end up in. I was recently listening to an old video of Steve Jobs at the ’97 Apple WWDC (World Wide Developers Conference), which I’ve included below, where he was really banging on about it.

In it he says that you have to say no. No isn’t popular, no “isn’t nice”, no won’t always “make you the most popular or win you friends” – granted. But when you’re out to achieve something, to build something, to do something that sets your life on fire, having focus and saying no is a fact of life.

If you’re forever saying Yesyes I’ll come to your birthday party, yes I’ll have another slice of cheesecake, yes I’ll take on another client, yes I’ll have another drink - people may superficially like you, but you’ll never get anywhere. Well, you’ll get somewhere, but not where you want to be. Let’s work through some of the scenarios above.

Yes I’ll come to your birthday party

Ok, but what if you have a product release the needs your undivided attention? If you go to your friends birthday you’re going to blow it, blow client expectations and maybe lose their business. Is it worth it? What if you’ve been training for weeks or months for a marathon or triathlon and you need your sleep. Is it worth wasting that effort, just for a birthday? I’m not saying never go, you’ll soon lose your friends for sure. I’m saying – weigh it up. If your friends are decent – and you keep in regular contact – I’m sure they’ll understand. Catch up with them later, more personally :-) .

Yes I’ll have a slice of cheesecake

What if you’ve been dieting, on the Juice Master 7lbs in 7 days Super Juice Diet, detoxing or eliminating food to find the source of a health condition?  What if you’re just trying new things? Just because everyone else’s having one – doesn’t – mean that you have to have one. You can say no, you don’t have to “just have one”, it can wait. Ask yourself, do you really need it? More than likely, you don’t.

Yes I’ll take on another client (or project)

You’ve been pulling long hours on your existing projects for your existing clients. As is normal, you strive for excellence and want to exceed client expectations and show them why you’re the best at what you do and worth every cent of your fee. We can all relate to that. But if you take on that one last project, that one last client, will you be able to give proper attention to your existing work? Are you risking creating a bad reputation with your existing clients just to satisfy one more?

Focus is the Answer

I think the point’s clear. Though it may all be very tempting, doesn’t mean that you should do it. And the further and thinner you spread your attention, the more demands you have on your time that you have to fulfil, so increasingly you have less and less time to give to your existing commitments.

For myself, I have a software development business that I’m building and this blog. The business has administration, marketing, promotion and legal tasks and all the other facets that come with any business. As a small business, it’s not always easy and doesn’t always feel attainable to do it all.

How can only a few people maintain, regular, commitment to all the social media avenues, complete the relevant paperwork, maintain and grow relationships and gain new business whilst completing existing work.

Then there’s this blog as well. Now I’m not complaining, not one bit. I love it so much, especially the feedback. I love how it provides a sense of expression as well as assistance to others. It’s just that from time to time it would be easier without one or the other.

Why it’s Beneficial

So why is it beneficial to focus, to say no? As I’ve alluded to above, you have more time and you stay on track. You’re not being a jack of all trades yet a master of none. You are dedicated to doing as best as possible what you set out to do and work to not let your attention be distracted on to other, potentially trivial things.

Do you think Facebook could have the 845 million users it, currently, has without having a clear and overarching focus and goal? In the Facebook story (pp 184 – 185), Sarah Lacy writes:

Still, she [Priscilla, Mark Zuckerberg's girlfriend] hates Facebook, the thing that has taken over her boyfriend’s life…People think I’m rude, and maybe I am, but it’s not intentional, I just don’t like to leave the house (Facebook’s offices)

Now this example may be a bit extreme and I’m not suggesting for a minute that you need to be obsessed to achieve what you want. But you need to focus and make sacrifices to get it. It’s up to you to determine if the sacrifices are a price that you’re willing to pay and live with. But if you are, then go for it. We’ll leave a discussion about a sense of balance in your life for another time. But you get the point that great things happen when you’re focused. But then, how do you get focused?

How Do You Focus

That’s a really great question and something that will, no doubt, be debated for a millennia to come. But we don’t have that amount of time. We need to build our focus today, NOW. So here’s what Dumb Little Man has to say on the topic:

  1. Eliminate Distractions: When you’re working, such as writing this post, get rid of as many distractions as possible. Close your email program, your social media apps, shut the door, turn off (or on to silent) your phone, definitely turn off the TV, tell people you’re busy when they ask you questions, stop the podcast, turn off the radio – just give yourself a chance to do one thing. Multi-tasking is both over-rated and grossly exaggerated.
  2. Visual Reminders: Give yourself some visual clue as to what you’re doing, why you’re doing what you’re doing, what the result will be, who you’re doing it for – something so that you quickly and unambiguously know why you’re performing this particular task. If you don’t know this, you’re much less likely to be interested, motivated and focused on it – resulting in a poor outcome.
  3. Create a Supercharge Hook: In other words, give yourself proper inspiration to do it. Not every task is going to actually be interesting, but we don’t always have the liberty to ditch things we don’t like. I don’t really like preparing invoices and submitting PAYE returns to HMRC, but if I don’t I’m not going to get paid and the government will come knocking on my door. Ask yourself how you can make it fun, what way can you put this task into an overall perspective in the pursuit of doing what you do, what can I reward myself with when it’s done?
  4. Set Mini-Deadlines: I can’t speak for other disciplines, but in software development, deadlines can be a long, long, way away, particularly from project inception. When you’re at the project discovery phase, the first release is a small white dot a long way down the proverbial tunnel. To focus there as your objective is likely going to only demoralise you. So break your projects up in to a series of smaller deadlines and work to each one. When you’re there, give yourself a good pat on the back – you’re one step closer to your goal!
  5. Take Mini-Breaks: You know the old saying, all work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a dull boy (or girl). Well it’s true. Wellsphere suggests that our normal, focused, attention span is 7-8 seconds and Wikipedia suggests that our normal, sustained, attention span is only 20 minutes. So, in a nutshell, take regular breaks. Yes, at times we all have larger bursts of attention, but I don’t believe, on average, this is true. Don’t get overly hung up in the Protestant work ethic and believe that you just have to labour on regardless. You’ll only work so well for so long and then it becomes a waste.
  6. Relaxed Discipline: Dumb Little Man says it well here – don’t be too hard on yourself. If something’s not working – STOP. Don’t suffer in silence, struggling on “because you have to” or “someone told you to“. Don’t be an ass, give yourself a break and come back later. An old high school teacher and Queensland state premier suggest going for a run and getting physical exertion to restore your concentration. Others say the more you get wound up about something, the less likely you are to find the solution – even if you’re right on top of it.

So, I hope this highlights why focus is important and how to both get it and maintain it. How do you find and maintain your focus? How do you regain it when it’s lost? I’d love to know in a comment.

image copyright (c) *Kicki*

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