Focus in writing is what every writer needs to do. Focus on getting words on paper. Focus for success in whatever you do, is setting those goals and achieving them. This lesson has been a hard one to learn!
It’s “Focus for Success”, Dummy!
This has been the phrase that has been swimming around my head for the past week and a half. I mention the length of time here, as it has taken a week and a half to procrastinate on everything else other than to focus on a post talking about focus. Doh!
There is more though and the reasons for the delay will become clear. The meaning of the word focus is important here:
Oxford Dictionaries writes as a first definition for focus:
The centre of interest or activity:
and then gives the example:
“this generation has made the environment a focus of attention.”
The important thing to note here is that the word focus and the word which always seems to be near it – attention. These two words more than anything WILL have a direct effect on anything you or I do!
“Focus of Attention”
In order for me to achieve anything I first need to focus and apply my attention to achieve it. I cannot just focus – that would be like looking at a mountain but ignoring that it was a mountain or how it could be climbed. You cannot just have attention – in other words, “Oh, I noticed all the trees and rock on that mountain”.
Both, it seems, need to be linked together to be useful to anyone. This I have learned on my journey to writing this blog!
I started out in the middle of 2014 with some attention to the fact I no longer wanted to be in the classroom. It was sucking the life blood from me and I could do no more than the 100% I was already giving!
As I left the school for the final time, I walked to the car and drove off, not looking back, for fear I would be drawn back to the place where so many people made such a difference to my life. I had set sail!
What I didn’t know then but I know today was that through that major step I was learning about myself. I was prepared to go it alone. Try something different and above all make a difference.
What I had not known then and what I do know now was that I needed to focus too!
I wandered a bit. Tried to learn as fast as possible how to reach people online, how to make a difference and how I could earn a living while seeing the world. I filled my mind up with ideas of different cultures and experiences and got all excited about it.
The experiences were great, and being able to do the things I wanted to do was the important part. However, I had not learned to FOCUS!
This led to many situations where others automatically assumed that I was “not really working” so “could travel with them”, or “eat out with them” or “just help them in the middle of the day”. Their idea that I had all the time in the world was also fuelled by my own lack of FOCUS!
Today I noticed how frustrated I had become at not being able to go out and do what I really wanted to do. I got trapped in a cycle of thinking I was helping others but ended up losing to myself and really require help now in turn!
When I thought I was focussing my attention, it wasn’t long before something distracted me and I became lost again. Missed opportunities and time have passed me by, and here I am learning about focus now!
I cannot regret that I have had to end up this way! Many people have to reach a place of discomfort before they are able to see through and this is what has led to my own understanding.
The Rock and the Hard Place
In order to focus for success, it is imperative to see nothing else while doing it.
For example: I want to write this post, so I need to only be thinking about this post. If I am distracted by email, the doorbell or phone ringing or just a quick look at my phone to see new emails, I will loose the thread – MY FOCUS will be lost.
A strange thing happens though. When I lose my focus, my attention doesn’t stop. My attention is still there, it has just been diverted from one thing to another thing. It is a bit like browsing online. You read an article and see a link in it you want to follow. When you read the next link you see an article at the bottom of the page and read that one, then half an hour later you are thirty links away from what you originally searched for and your focus has gone.
Attention has a shelf life
This is where you realise that your attention has a shelf life! If you have been distracted for long enough you will have lost the main objective and you will be too exhausted to get back to what you were doing previously. If you do manage it, you will be too tired to make it a worthwhile task – either taking far longer than it should or just messing it up to re-do again later on!
If I think that my attention can run out during the day, then I need to be aware that what I spend my time on really has a direct impact on achieving something. Without attention, FOCUS cannot properly exist.
I cannot waste my time focussing on owning a Mercedes G Wagon when I do not know where to place my attention. My mind will wander around aimlessly until it is tired and then flick off into standby mode. That is the mode where you are watching the TV but not concentrating on it, or driving home, but not remembering it!
Each day attention must be approached with the same value that your money has. If I spend the attention credits on reading stupid comments at the bottom of YouTube video’s I am using my attention up. Is that a worthwhile way to use up this precious resource?
Recently the term “Time Poor” keeps appearing in the conversations, posts and videos I have seen. That we, the modern people of our world are now time poor.
A new newspaper will launch in the UK in a few days and they have done so much research on their target market to get the launch right, that they discovered a gem that will direct their entire editorial process – people are time poor and have less than thirty minutes a day to read a newspaper!
It is a funny thing to divide your day up into segments. First you can divide it up into thirds – sleep (8hrs), work (8hrs) and other (8hrs). Then you can take those time periods and break those down further too – Work for example – Eight blocks of individual time to complete today’s tasks. Each block hold 60 smaller blocks which can be apportioned to any activity to make sure you are achieving your targets.
Yet we start the day with 10 minutes of chat, 5 minutes for a coffee and then a quick look through the notes you left for yourself yesterday – a long list of to-dos. Then another 25 minutes answering emails that appeared in your inbox, and also thinking about answering those other emails that have been in your inbox for nearly three months. Finally, you begin work and 40 minutes of your precious attention has been used up.
The work day now has 7 hours and 20 minutes to go and you are ready, when Pete asks about a night out, Shirley sends an email asking for your holiday dates, again, and before you know it the first hour is up. The most important hour of your attention has been spent on trivial things.
The Past Year and a Half
This was the situation that I have had to learn myself. It is no good thinking you are doing something when you are only using attention. It needs to be used with focus or else it is useless.
That focus comes from direct goals you have either previously set or started your day with. When you focus on that, and apply your attention to those goals, you immediately have it all working for you.
Pete’s interruptions won’t bother you because you are focused and your attention is where it should be. Those holiday dates have been sent and dealt with. The coffee is still warm and you are fired up to get something done!
As I sit here and write, I am all too aware of the time that has passed. A year ago, I was going to return to a wildlife reserve to work as a volunteer, five months ago I was going to contact a business to offer a proposal that would further my interests, and three months ago I was going to make a difference and get focusing my attention on my writing!
If I had written just a 1000 words each day for those 603 days I would have 603 000 words which surely would have been the basis for a book or six! There are no regrets, of course not, but to put into context that focus and attention are needed to make a difference are the major factors here.
I can explain that I didn’t really start writing properly until July of 2015. I was distracted in designing an app that I thought would help the volunteering community and spent three months learning how to build it. Are these just excuses though?
The main part of my goal is that I wanted to and very much still want to travel to meet new people and cultures. To see the world and all it has to offer. I just didn’t realise that when I said I wanted to learn by travelling that I would learn that I needed to focus and then apply all my attention to that thing.
I have travelled, I have seen national parks and floated in Venice, seen strange religious ceremonies and sat next to a lion cub while watch the rugby. The furthest I travelled was in learning this life lesson – as simple as it sounds – to Focus my attention.
The Major Lessons
- Often the rock and the hard place create focus in which to use your attention properly
- Focus is required to see what you need to do
- Attention is FINITE and has a self life
- Both are required: Attention and Focus for Success.
Read the follow up post, Why Interest and Activity are the keys to Success.