Have you ever heard of or taken the Clifton Strength Finder test? It is an online assessment that helps people identify, understand and maximize their strengths. It shows you what your top 5 strengths are, and one of mine is “focus”.
But in my opinion and from my internal point of view, this past year would show that I fell really short of that being one of my strengths. Don’t get me wrong…in 2019, I accomplished a lot of really great things, and I reached a lot of my goals. But throughout the year, more than ever, I found myself spread thin, scatterbrained and stressed out from having committed to too many things, which in turn, weakened my focus.
That’s why I’ve committed FOCUS as my word and objective of the year in 2020. Not that I won’t be working on many other things, but I know that if I can dial in on this one particular thing, everything else I care about will grow.
So you might be asking, “if this guy sucks at focus, then why is he writing about it?” And well, I get you. But remember, technically, it is one of my natural strengths. I just had to have the humility to recognize that I had let it fall by the wayside. Now, I’m going to explain how I am regaining my focus, increasing my strength in this area, and how you can too.
Have you ever felt like you’ve lost focus? Here’s my 3-part process for getting back on track with life and goals:
1. Understand your mission, vision and values
I believe we have all been created and designed specifically for a purpose. If God has a vision for your life, then so should you.
It took me a bit of time, but in the last 5 years, I have identified my mission in life, my vision for the future, and the 12 values that support those statements.
If you’ve taken the time to identify what these are already, then you just need to revisit them. I try to read them to myself every day, and normally when I feel my life getting off track, it’s because I have most likely let that habit fall by the wayside.
If you haven’t already done this, then mark off a few hours in your calendar over the next week and spend time alone really thinking and praying about your mission, vision and values.
2. Learn to say no
Once you’ve identified your mission, vision and values, you should have a good idea of what it will take to accomplish your goals. Some of us waste too much time and energy doing things we don’t enjoy or things that don’t add value simply because we don’t know how to politely decline our friends, family and coworkers when they invite us to things or ask us to do things. Please take this into context and know that I am not advising you to tell your spouse or your boss no, because some things need to be done and aren’t negotiable, but common sense will give you an idea of the things in your life I’m referencing.
Here’s a few tips for saying no:
- Be honest
- Explain why (if necessary) but don’t make excuses
- Keep it simple
- Be confident and don’t over-apologize
3. Audit your time
I schedule mostly everything that I do, but over time, it seems like it is inevitable that unnecessary tasks end up on my plate. Conversely, new and important responsibilities stack up while I am still somehow managing to do the old tasks that got me to where I am. This is when an audit comes into play. I would recommend doing a “deep clean” once every 3 months and ask yourself 3 questions?
- What can I eliminate?
When you audit your time, you will recognize a few small things that simply just don’t need to be done. You may have to have a quick conversation with your boss, coworker or spouse before you ultimately quit, but these are the things that if they didn’t ever get done again, would anything negatively change? If the answer is no, then you can just stop. This act can add a few minutes back to your day, which can add up over time.
- What can I automate?
There are plenty of apps or services out there that automate plenty of roles for very cheap, if not free. In the most practical way for me to explain this, ask yourself, “what am I doing that an affordable robot can probably do?”. Once you identify a few things, simply Google, “how to automate ________”.
- What can I delegate?
If you work for a growing company, or if you are at least in a growing role, delegation needs to be one of your strongest weapons as a leader. Once you’ve audited your time and identified all the things that take up your time that may not serve you or your organization best to do yourself, and if you have important stuff leftover after eliminating and automating stuff, now it’s time to delegate. This is how you raise up leaders and high performers alongside of you.
BONUS HACKS FOR FOCUSED TIME ONCE YOU’VE DONE THE 3 PART PROCESS:
- The “do not disturb” feature on my iPhone has recently become my best friend. Like most people, I have a hard time ignoring the vibration or ring from my phone. But when I am trying to do focused work, I simply put it on “do not disturb”, turn my phone upside down, and only check it when I really need to, or when I’m done.
- Carry a mini notebook. I often have thoughts or ideas that need to be written down, but when I pick my phone up to write it down, somehow, I end up answering text messages and scrolling on Instagram. I’ve adopted using a small notebook to write down those things, so if they are important, they can go in my phone or agenda later.
- Tell people when you are trying to focus. When I’m in the office, we have an open-door policy. I want people to feel comfortable asking for help. But if I know that at least for the next hour I am going to be intently focused on writing something, or reviewing a proposal, or even brainstorming a marketing plan, I ask them to email me instead and I will get to it ASAP.
My final recommendation: take your time, and don’t expect too much from yourself. Yes, you should be ambitious. And yes, you should set high expectations and lofty goals. But you know yourself better than anyone, and you need to be real, so you don’t discourage yourself in the long run. Don’t try to take all these steps and apply them overnight. Pick one, knock it out. Then move onto the next. Within a few weeks, you will be a way more focused person, and you’ll love it.
One thing at a time.