For as long as I can remember, I’ve always found focus a challenge. I suppose it’s one of the symptoms of being a bit of a big kid.
It’s a big wide world out there and there’s so much to learn and do. Of course, as I’ve got older, I’ve realised (sometimes more slowly than I’d like) that any worthwhile goal requires considerable commitment if it is to be achieved. As such, it came to my attention (briefly 🙂 ) that the ability to focus would be incredibly important if I was ever going to create anything really good. So here’s the framework I’ve developed over the years to try and stay on track.
There is never going to be enough time for everything. If you haven’t got there yet, at some point in your thirties, you will probably realise that life is incredibly short. There’s never going to be enough time to do everything you want to do. There are at least two reasons why this is.
First, there is simply too much I’d like to do. Because of the Internet we’re all aware of a lot more of what the world has to offer than we ever used to be. Which means it doesn’t take long to populate a list of things we’d like to do.
And second, I don’t even have full control over all the time that I do have. (My wife does! HAHA!) No, but seriously – a good fraction of my time will be spent sleeping, hanging out with my wife, attending to life etc.
So as you realise that the demands on time are far too high, and the actual amount of available time is very small, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s important to be really careful what you do with your time.
Following from that stark realisation, it becomes important to reduce the goal list down to things that really matter. I’ve found that I can do this with a couple of incredibly reductive questions.
For any given goal, I ask myself:
This question has magic powers. For some goals, I’ll get a stab of anxiety in my chest. That’s typically a sign there there’s something about this goal I need to pursue. It is somehow connected to my reason for being.
And on the other hand, there are other goals where I feel nothing. Those are things I probably just like the idea of but are not really that necessary to me.
The rationale here is to establish whether a failed attempt at achieving the goal is wasted time. I’ve spoken to a surprisingly large number of people who say they have a dream but won’t try to get it because “What if I spend years trying and don’t get it?”
Any sort of attempt to achieve any type of goal in any part of life must come with an accepted degree of speculation. It is always a gamble. You put in time, money and effort (and most often, blood, sweat and tears), and no matter how hard you try, there are going to be some things that just aren’t to be.
If your response to failure is going to be, “Well I could have been doing something else!!” then the goal was probably never for you in the first place.
There are things I have done that I wouldn’t particularly categorise as successes, but I’m still very glad I did them. I’ve learned valuable skills and lessons along the way. And I know as fact, that if I hadn’t tried, I’d still be wondering “What if?”
I have found these two questions to be incredibly effective at helping me realise what is important to me: the things I’ll be proud I did, even if I fail.
Now that I know what’s important to me, I need to make time for those things. Time management tools like Calynda (still in beta at time of writing) are very important for this.
I think we all know on some level that we need to make time for the things we want in our lives. Whenever I’m in conversation with anybody and they tell me they “don’t have time” for this, that or the other, I instantly translate it to “that is not important to me”, because if it was, they’d make time.
Ask yourself why things are important. The answer to this can be deep. But knowing why something is important to you helps you to prioritise goals during hard times. If time isn’t short enough as it is, there are going to be times when it’s even shorter. And the shorter time gets, the more important it becomes to spend it wisely.
So for example, if you experience cash flow issues, business goals are likely to take priority over leisure goals. Because at that time, money is what is required most urgently.
If you’re burning out from work, leisure goals need to take priority.
What if you experience cash flow issues and are burnt out? God help you. That’s a tough situation.
When planning days and weeks, there is one question that always saves me when I don’t know what to do.
What is the single most impactful thing I could do now that would bring me closer to my goal?
Regardless of the goal or the area of life, this question helps is my ultimate focus tool. I can – or should – only do one thing at a time. So what should it be?
Naturally, you can alter the question to suit your time period, by replacing ‘now’ with ‘today’ or ‘this week’ or ‘this month’.