When you try to do everything, you do nothing.
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To avoid doing nothing, we must focus in the moment, which requires choice, clarity, and commitment. Saying “I’m going to focus” is not enough.
We’ve already covered how to get focused daily with a five step system and an impromptu five minute solution for late starts. Those solutions suggested making a list of objectives for the day. Lists are a great idea, but this post is about the mechanics of focusing, and focusing in the moment.
You don’t need pen and paper. You don’t need anything except to keep three steps in mind. Mentally running through these steps at any time will have you focused in seconds.
So, how do you focus your mind instantly? It’s simple – choose, clarify, and commit!
- Choose ONE Objective
Don’t say: “I’m going to focus.” Do ask: “I’m going to focus on what single thing?” This question will bring you to consider objectives. When you select one objective from a quick calculation of your situation and your most important tasks, THEN you can say, “I am going to focus on cleaning my dresser!”
Take the pressure off yourself for choosing the very best task (perfectionism). What you choose matters less than you think. It’s better to be focused on one good task than to be distracted with several potentially great tasks.
And choosing one single objective is the non-optional, required, ironclad, sealed, official, FDA-approved, permanent, necessary first step for getting focused in the moment. Don’t try any other way!
- Clarify Your First Tiny Step
I like to treat myself as if I’m a little child. If I decide to write an article, I’ll say to myself in a baby voice, “can you write five words? Why don’t you do that right now and I’ll give you an animal cracker? Very good!” It’s so degrading, but I won’t turn myself in for mental illness or get too upset, because it works too darn well. It must be the animal crackers…or perhaps it’s the small steps.
Small steps are not just complimentary to focusing, they’re a necessary component of it. Who can focus on building a house? According to the broader meaning of focus, anyone can. But in the real world, you can only focus on mixing cement in a wheelbarrow or cutting a piece of rebar in order to accomplish the objective of building a house.
Many people aim to focus on a big multi-step objective, but it’s impossible. You can only focus on small individual steps.
We do ourselves a great disservice when we assume that we can “put the pieces” together for completing our objective. We are just like computers in that we follow specific instructions. You may be used to following instructions without thinking much about it, but you still do it.
Going to the gym
Open drawer and get athletic shorts
Put on shorts
Do steps 1 & 2 for a shirt and socks too
Put on shoes & tie the laces
Grab water bottle, keys, wallet, and phone
Drive to the gym
This list is obvious, and more effective than the one-step “go to the gym.” It is especially helpful when you’re resistant to doing work. When you don’t want to do something and know you should, you’ll think, “I should really go to the gym.” That statement is weak and ineffective compared to the simple step of putting on gym shorts, because the latter starts the process. When you’re ready to go to the gym, you’ll think, “I’m going to put on gym shorts.”
Don’t make it easy to opt out of important tasks. Be specific about your first tiny steps (and make them so tiny that you can’t say no).
- Commit To Refocusing
You will lose focus. Count on it and prepare for it. I once heard that the average person loses focus every 10 seconds, and I believe it. They say that great writing is rewriting. In the same way, great focusing is refocusing.
Anyone can focus for seven seconds. It’s staying focused that holds value and makes you a focus master and über productive. It isn’t hard to stay focused, it just requires training like any other skill.
A common pitfall for me and many others is failing to update our current focal point. We’ll set the first small task, complete it, and then space out. To focus, you must know your current task in each moment. When you no longer have a specific task to carry out, you will lose focus. Every time. You can’t focus on nothing, as this quote points out:
For a person to become deeply involved in any activity it is essential that he knows precisely what tasks he must accomplish, moment by moment.
~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi