Focus has a lot to do with proper prioritization. To start with, if you’re all over the place, trying to get a million things done, your attempts to focus will naturally fail. You’re doing it wrong!
The first thing to start having a more focused routine is to sort through your activities and get rid of everything that is not extremely important and doesn’t need to be done right now. The second thing should be to reflect on how you could optimize or streamline certain activities to be more effective.
When I coach people that tell me they need to learn to focus, I see that they have a hard time prioritizing. They just do whatever comes up, they don’t have routines, they don’t plan, they “live randomly”. I also realize that they have an idea that focus is about attention and concentration and what they need is to learn how to be “more in the now”, focusing on their activities while they’re doing it. That, however, is the last piece of the puzzle. Having an extreme ability to concentrate on something is useless if this “something” is the wrong thing to be doing at that time.
Another piece of the focus puzzle is long term commitment. Focus is not just something you do “in the moment”, when you’re absorbed in your activity, when you’re feeling the flow. Yes, that is focus too, but if you do that once or twice and never come back to the same activity, you’ll never really get anywhere. Success is usually the result of extreme focus sustained for a very long time. If I want to be successful as a dancer, for example, I have to put in many hours of training, daily, for years on end, while trying to get gigs, network, and seize opportunities to show off my talent. That is not the same thing, however, as someone that aimlessly works for the same company for 25 years, doing the same thing. Some activities require on the spot focus while performing the actual work, but they don’t lead anywhere. That’s what I call dead end focus.
So, there’s two different types of focus: the focus on the moment, the ability to concentrate on what you’re doing for long enough to have a good performance, and there’s long term focus, the ability of remaining on the same path, doing the right things for long enough to be successful. We need both.
Now, to reach a solid level of success, we need to get strategic! Without a strategy, we’re just like the guy that works his whole life for the same company, doing the same thing. He can focus like no one else while “doing his thing”, but that’s all he does and that won’t lead him anywhere. Focus without a strategy is like being really good on video games, it’s cool, but it’s useless. You’re not going to be successful because you’re able to concentrate on something really well for a long time, unless this something has a strategic purpose.
A strategic purpose is a laser sharp reason why you should be doing something. It’s related to your “end game” – where are you trying to get with all these efforts? Of course, we get lost in dozens of pointless activities throughout the day and we can’t just get rid of all of them. What we can do is think about how we optimize them so we spend less time doing them. We can also try to outsource them, so we don’t have to do them at all. The less time we spend with these type of activities, the more time we have to do the things that will contribute to a bigger picture, to goals that will reap extraordinary benefits.
Of course that if you don’t have these type of goals, you need to reflect on what’s the purpose of all your efforts. Just surviving? What do you expect to get out of life if you’re not proactively trying to get somewhere? But that’s a different article!
What’s important to take from this article is that you must master focus on two different levels: you need to learn to concentrate on what you’re doing so you do it well, fast, and efficiently; and you need to look at your life from a distant, long term perspective. Your actions today will impact the results you’ll see 10, 20 years from now. If you’re all over the place, doing anything and everything, you’re unlikely to become successful.
The first type of focus you learn with experience. Concentration and attention require training. You force yourself to do something for X hours a day or week until you do it naturally, fully engaged in it. The second type requires purpose, strategy, and plans, which we discuss heavily on this website. There’s plenty of techniques, apps, softwares, and tricks to develop and maintain both types of focus. Do some research, plan how you’re going to become more focused, write it down, and start working on it!