My oldest son, Zac, learned to ride a bike when he was really young. We lived in a small town with wide streets, and I still remember sitting on the curb by the mailbox with a video camera on my shoulder filming his wobbly turns, commenting proudly to my wife how amazing it was that he could ride a bike even though he was only 4 months old! (Well, maybe he wasn’t THAT young, but he was young!)
As he turned his bike to pedal toward us, he came right at the mailbox, and by default, right at us. My wife cautioned him, “Don’t hit the mailbox.” He kept coming. “Don’t hit the mailbox!” No course change. In fact, the more she said it, the more he seemed to head towards it. His radar was locked in. As you probably guessed, he hit the mailbox, and we had to scramble to avoid getting hit also.
Both the mailbox and his bruised shins survived, and along with it, a lesson I’ve never forgotten about the power of focus. We tend to accomplish the things—and maybe only the things—that we focus on. So why is it so hard sometimes to focus at work? I’ve found that using the word FOCUS as an acrostic can help me “lock in” on those times when it feels counterintuitive to do just that.
- Fears – Humans are emotional creatures. I think that many times the reason we can’t focus on something is that we have fears that have invaded our space, and we have to address them. If you can’t focus, start by asking yourself, “What am I afraid of?” Chances are you’ll find that something, real or irrational, is gnawing at you.
- Outcomes – Just like Zac seemed destined to hit the mailbox once his eyes got focused on it, I think it helps us to think about the outcomes we want. I believe in the adage, “Begin with the end in mind,” and I try to work backwards from there. It helps me to imagine myself having already accomplished those outcomes.
- Clear – Clear your schedule. Clear your desk. Clear your mind. Clear out your office. Clear whatever clutter is fogging the issue. Distractions are the obvious enemies of focus, and you will never really focus as long as those things are hanging around. Most of us have multiple demands upon us, so we rarely have unlimited time to focus on one thing; but we do have some time, and we’ll be more productive if we give ourselves completely to one thing at a time.
- Understand – Albert Einstein said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” If you are having a hard time focusing, the roadblock could be that you intuitively know you don’t fully understand the situation. Focus on THAT first!
- Start – If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done. I once worked with a leader who said for years, “I need to get back to focusing on what I’m really supposed to be doing.” He never really did, either. You can learn a lot from your kids, and one of those lessons I’ll never forget is that you naturally move toward the thing upon which you are focused, so figure out what that should be, and by all means, get started now!