The Power of Focus

Somebody a lot smarter than me once said “the man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” I don’t recall who said it but it’s absolutely true.

But there is a way that guy can catch both rabbits. He just has to chase them one at a time.

That’s focus.

If you can’t say no to many things then you’ll find it impossible to say yes to focus. In most areas of your life what you choose not to do will determine what you are able to do. If you’re trying to do too much you fall victim to what is known as task saturation. If you fall into that trap you end up accomplishing far less than the person focused on one thing at a time.

That’s the big illusion that multi-taskers present to themselves. They believe they can do many things well and that they can do them all at once. But every bit of research shows without a doubt that they are fooling themselves.

One person doing eight things one at a time will do them better and faster than one person trying to do all eight of them at once. That’s the power of focus.

Some people would tell you they can’t focus. That’s not exactly right. What they can’t do is decide. They can’t decide on their priorities. They are like a kid in a candy store…they want it all and they want it right now.

That “kid in the candy store” mentality causes them to accomplish things right at the deadline. They get them done in the nick of time because suddenly they didn’t have to decide what to do next, a deadline made the decision for them. The problem is, things done at the deadline are seldom done as well as those things done with time to spare.

The most successful people possess laser like focus. They invest a bit of time, well actually some serious time, in determining their priorities and then they go after them to the exclusion of all distractions.

Warren Buffett has laser focus and he has a dependable process to keep it that he shares with people who struggle with their own focus.

He’ll ask them to invest some time to write out their top 25 goals. These can be life goals, 10 year goals or goals for the coming month or year. Once they have that list he asks them to review it and select their top 5.

So now they have two lists, let’s call them list one and list two. Buffett asks what the person intends to do with list two. Most say that they will work on them as time permits because while they are not as important as list one they are still important.

That’s when Buffett gives them life altering advice. He tells them list two is actually their “avoid at all cost” list. He says that list should get zero attention until list one is 100% complete. That’s what focus looks like in practice.

I can tell you from personal experience that focusing is easy when compared to developing the lists. If you want success with your own list one you must be willing to sacrifice everything on list two.

Most people are able to do that but are unwilling to do that. Those 20 things on list two prevent them from achieving any of the things on list one. In their case, ALL the rabbits got away.

Some would say if you’re focusing on more than one thing you don’t really have focus. I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt and say so long as you’re focusing on one at a time you can maybe have five or six things on your radar.

Any more than that and you might as well be Elmer J. Fudd.

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. 

 

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!