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Understanding Success – Part Seven

Successful people get it. They simply understand some things that less successful people seem to have a hard time grasping. The things they understand are the “it’s” of success. 

This is the seventh post of an eight post series. They will be short posts, each just long enough to give you time to focus on one “it” of success until the next post arrives. The goal of this series is not to get you thinking about success, it’s to help you do the things that successful people do and less successful people don’t. The choice of success is completely up to you, always keep that important fact in mind.

One way successful people listen well is by focusing on the other person’s words and non verbal communications. But they don’t just focus on someone speaking, they focus period.

They also understand that focus means focus. They know that focusing on more than a very small handful of things is not really focus at all. Successful people do more than enough to succeed but they also know that trying to do too much usually ends up with less actually being done.

There is a proverb that says when you chase two rabbits you most often catch neither. That’s true with more than just rabbits. It’s true when chasing your goals as well.

Your focus should be a reflection of your core values and the goals that come out of them. For instance, if I just watched you for a week would I be able to tell what things in your life are a focus for you? Would I be able to tell what’s important to you? The odds are the answer to that question is no. It’s no because we fall victim to the tyranny of the urgent, we focus on the urgent things of life rather than the truly important things of life. 

Taking a business call while having dinner with your family is a prime example of the tyranny of the urgent, the call may have been “urgent” but your family is important. “Urgent” comes and goes, important, ignored long enough, just goes. Very, very, very few of you have “business” that will ever be more important than your family but if you lack the ability to focus on the important things it will surly look that way.

Some people have convinced themselves that they have this skilled called multi-tasking but successful people understand that true multi-tasking is a myth. What passes for multi-tasking is in fact the greatest productivity killer of all time. Multi-tasking is the opposite of focus and people who believe they can accomplish more by “focusing” on several things at once are just fooling themselves. They are in fact fooling themselves straight into failure. 

Focus is singular, it requires that whatever it is you’re doing you do it to the exclusive of everything else. No one needs to focus 24 hours a day but the reality for less successful people is that they have little or no focus in their life at all. 

Focus on focusing, block out the urgent things that don’t matter in the long run and focus on the important things that do. 

 
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The Truth About Multitasking

Most everyone agrees that focus is a major key to success. The ability to block out distractions and hone in on the task required for success is often what separates the most successful people from the merely successful people.

Multitasking is nearly the exact opposite of focus. 

As technology allows people to do more tasks at the same time, the myth that we can multitask has never been stronger. But researchers say it’s still a myth and they have the data to prove it.

“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.” Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says that for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.

“Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said. “You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”

In reality, multitasking slows your thinking. A brain attempting to perform two tasks simultaneously will, because of all the back-and-forth stress, exhibit a substantial lag in information processing. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.

Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.

The research just goes on and on regarding how multitasking is ineffective. There is no research that shows multitasking to be effective.

Now I know that a substantial number of people reading this will disagree. They will say THEY are excellent at multitasking and that they are accomplishing more than they ever could without it. Please reread professor Miller’s comments again… you’re deluding yourself. 

Some people are indeed better at multitasking than others but no one is truly “good” at multitasking.

The truth is, and always has been, that focus, singular focus, is a key to success. Multi-tasking is a key to failure. 

Just another reason why the difference between success and failure is often in the choices we make.

Choose focus! 

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Life in the Overlap

I have written before about the importance of knowing what’s truly important. The most successful people know that they control very few things that really matter. Most people spend entirely too much time on seemingly urgent “stuff” at the expense of investing their time on things truly important. 

The other major waste of time we experience is worrying about things that matter but that we have little or no control over. While we are worrying about things we cannot control we are not focused on the things that matter that we can control.

I could write thousands of words on this subject but this week a colleague of mine named Billy sent me the drawing that accompanies this post. It “shows” what I mean better than I could ever say it. (I guess that’s where the whole “a picture is worth a thousand words saying comes from)

A life well-lived is a life lived in the “overlap.” The overlap is where the things that matter coincide with the things that we can control. While I’m certain my colleague drew this picture rather quickly I’d still bet it’s almost perfectly to scale. There really isn’t much overlap to live in. 

Maybe that’s why we find it so hard to do. 

Living in the overlap requires discipline, awareness, and as the picture shows, FOCUS. As for me, I’m pretty good at not worrying about things that don’t matter and that I have no control over. But I’m constantly straying into the things that matter territory that I can’t control. That happens at the expense of my controllable things that matter.

It’s a very human thing to do. It’s also a very unproductive thing to do. 

I’ve thought about this drawing a lot this week and it’s amazing how the overlap aligns with my core values. I have a very few core values and I’ve been reminded this week that leaving the overlap also means I’m likely living outside my core values. My deeply held core values. 

If I stay in the overlap my core values will always be nearby.

I have it easy compared to many people; my core values have been developed through years of introspection. I know what matters to me. Most people have yet to fully understand their core values and I’m guessing that makes living in the overlap that much harder. 

Pay no attention to those things that don’t matter and less attention to things that do matter but that you can’t control. Care about those controllable things that matter and if you can, help the people who do have some control there. But YOUR focus must be on the overlap! 

I highly, highly, highly recommend that you begin to look at what is in your own overlap. What truly matters to you? What can you truly control? What are you willing to let go of so you can hold something even more important to you closer than ever before? You will likely be very surprised at just how small your overlap really is. You will also be shocked at how much time you spend on things outside of your overlap. 

If you’re completely honest with yourself you’ll discover that you control far less than you thought you did. That is not a sign of weakness, that is a sign that you are human.

My overlap is very, very small and yours probably is as well. But the days I stay within my overlap are special days. I accomplish more and what I accomplish actually can make a difference. 

I am not unique in this, days in your overlap will be special days for you too. You must know where your overlap is in order to live there. Find it, focus on it, live there and grow there. 

Most of all, enjoy the very special days you create there!

 

Why Leadership Really Matters

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Top performing, passionate people still need direction, focus and a purpose. The most common source for those three prerequisites for success is an effective leader. Without effective leadership even top performers lose the motivation the use their skills and abilities.

They can get simple direction from a manager, they can even be somewhat forced to focus but their purpose becomes clear only when there is a vision to work towards. Vision casting is a prime responsibility of an effective leader.

People will put forth effort for mere money… for a while. Money alone however has proven to be a poor motivator for top performers. People are most productive when they know that they are making a difference. Working towards a vision shows them where and how they can make a difference.

If the vision can’t be articulated by the leader then there might as well not be a vision. If the vision isn’t shared often then that too is nearly as bad as not having a vision at all.

Leaders are role models as well – good or bad. They should not expect to see more effort from their people than they are willing to offer themselves. They should not expect better decisions or more prudent risk-taking than they put forth as leaders.

If you’re in a leadership position then you absolutely MUST know that your people are watching you… always. They watch to see if your words match your actions. (They do what you do, not what you say) They watch to see if you’re committed enough to the vision and if they determine that you’re not then they will not commit to you.

If they cannot commit to you then they will not commit to the vision. People, especially top performing people, commit to a leader before they commit to the leader’s vision.

The energy that makes good people top performers turns on itself without direction, focus and purpose. When that happens top performers go sour, become ineffective and they eventually leave the leader…. or worse, they stay with the leader and simply stop performing.

Leadership matters, it always has and it always will. Without effective leadership even promising top performers will struggle to reach their potential.

If you’re in a leadership position then you not only have the opportunity to lead, you have an obligation to lead. If you can’t or won’t meet that obligation then you owe it to your would be followers, and even to yourself, to step aside and let a real leader take over.

Focus for Success

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Avianca Flight 52 was a regularly scheduled flight from Bogotá to New York. On January 25, 1990, it crashed into the village of Cove Neck, Long Island, New York after running out of fuel. 8 of the 9 crew members and 65 of the 149 passengers on board were killed.

The recovery efforts for Flight 52 proved to be difficult since the aircraft had crashed into the hilly, sparsely populated North Shore, making it difficult for emergency crews to reach. This was compounded by the narrow, winding roads that lead into the village.

Rescue squads from all over Long Island responded to the crash. The weather conditions and the darkness made the search crews’ task even more challenging. The first ambulances to arrive performed triage, selecting the most critically injured passengers for transport to area hospitals. But so many other ambulances had arrived that a traffic jam developed, and some were unable to leave the site immediately. Passengers who could, simply walked to other ambulances and arrived at hospitals sooner than critically injured ones.

A New York emergency room doctor lived very near the crash site and as one of the first medical professionals on site, he was credited with saving the lives of many of the survivors.

In the days following the crash the NTSB began interviewing the various groups of people involved in the crash and subsequent rescue efforts. The ER doctor was interviewed as part of this process and his responses to the questions shocked even the most seasoned investigators. The doctor stated that one of his first and lasting impressions was the “almost complete silence” at the crash site.

The investigators were surprised by that answer because the actual crash site had been anything but silent. It was near total chaos, sirens blaring, people yelling, helicopters overhead. Most people said they couldn’t hear themselves much less anything else. Yet this doctor maintained he heard none of it.

The doctor it turns out was so focused on saving lives that his focus blocked out every other distraction. His focus allowed him to concentrate on only what was important to the task at hand. His focus allowed him to use his skills and training to the best of his abilities. His focus saved many lives that fateful night.

Few of us will ever find ourselves in the kind of situation where that level of focus is required but the outcome of his efforts do demonstrate the awesome power of focus.

In a world where “multi-tasking” is rewarded it is really a nearly single minded focus that wins the day. If you truly want to accomplish something then focus on it to the exclusion of everything else. Focus!

There is an old quote or proverb from somewhere that says something like “he who chases two rabbits catches none.” It makes a lot of sense. If you want one thing you wouldn’t pursue something else, would you?
Now, I know in the world we live in that focus gets harder everyday. The temptation to multi-task is powerful and on the surface seems to work. But it doesn’t. Every task in a “multi-task” actually takes longer than when done as a stand alone task and worse than that, it is rarely done as well.

In his life-changing book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” Dale Carnegie says that we should live in “day-tight” compartments. He meant we should never let tomorrow’s worries negatively impact today’s efforts.

I have a similar recommendation for the busy world we live in today, live in “task-tight” compartments. Do multiple tasks but do them one at a time; if you must move on to a second task before you complete your first one then really move on. Get the first task out of site and out of mind. Clear your desk or work area of anything that would distract you from the task at hand. When you return to the first task then return to it and nothing else. Focus!

Focus wins, it’s as simply as that. Focus as if your success depends on it because it does!