The Practice of Focus

You wake up Monday morning and just feel great.  It was a fun weekend with friends and family and you feel rejuvenated and ready to take on the world.   You walk into your office and sit down.

Its Monday... again (waah waah noise)

You have a hundred tasks on your todo list, but the reality is you have no idea what you should be doing. You don’t know what's actually important or what will create an impact.

It's so frustrating.  A great weekend smashed by another Monday.

Can you relate?  Do you have any idea what you can do today that will maximize your strengths and make a big impact on your future?

Without focusing and getting to clarity, you cannot lead. You cannot motivate. You cannot plan. You cannot communicate

Without a clear head. You cannot stay confident, keep balanced, maintain motivation, get or keep organized. Focusing is the key to growing into your full potential.

- Bobb Biehl

Sometime in early 2017 I was given this CD (remember those "antique" clear frisbees).  It’s by Bobb Biehl, an old school executive coach that spits out quotable sentences every day. In the audio, Bobb says you should “...schedule 2.5% of your time to keep the 97.5% in focus”.

Sick of being the guy in the story above, I broke out my calculator: 

Here’s what my calculator told me: (math…don’t be scared): 

  • time the average American spends at work per year - 2000 hours

  • 2.5% of 2000 hours equals 50 hours per year

  • that's only 4 hours per month...

Half a work day per month. That's all it takes! Anyone can free that up for focus!

I decided that next Tuesday.  I’ll go to Starbucks and sit there for 4 hours straight.  No internet.  Just a blank document.

I had no idea what I was doing… but I did it anyways.

Since 2017, I’ve done this almost every month and its truly changed how I run my business. I call it a Focus Day.  It's changed how I think about my kids and wife. I can say no to opportunities without feeling bad about it.  Over time my long term vision and dreams have become clearer and clearer.  When I start feeling fuzzy and I’m unsure what to do next, it helps me realign to my goals, values, and priorities.

So how do you initiate the focus day?

It's not hard.. Here is how I would break it down:

  • Schedule your first one

  • DO IT (see some details below)

  • Schedule your next 12 months

Schedule your first Focus Day

Here are some of my basic guidelines for your Focus days.

  • Do it during work hours. You’ll be spending a lot of time thinking about your work life because you spend a lot of time working.   

  • Do it at the beginning of the week.  You will come out of this with a feeling of momentum and doing a Focus Day on a Friday will kill the momentum. It also helps to do this when your fresh, rested and at your best. 

Since this is your first Focus Day, do it this week or first thing next week.   For all future months, do it near the beginning of the month. It doesn’t have to be perfect, a week early, a week late… just get it done.

What to do during the Focus Day?

I’m not going to go into a ton of details here, but below is a quick list. I split it up in the 3 main sections: review, focus questions, decisions. 

Review

You must review regularly your goals, what you do well, and your previous plans. You need to know how you’re spending your time and to see if you’re doing what you said you’d do.  Without the review, your focus questions down below will be very random and lack punch.

  • Review your annual goals in each of the 7 areas of life. 

    • Spiritual

    • Family / Marriage

    • Social

    • Financial

    • Personal Growth / Intellectual

    • Professional / Career

    • Physical

  • Review many of the questions from Focus By Asking (increase confidence, can not not do list, keep balanced, motivation)

  • Review my quarter and monthly initiatives/goals/objectives

  • A bunch of review questions like:

    • Big wins from the month

    • What went poorly?

    • Least valuable & Most valuable things I’ve done this month


Focus Questions

Focus questions are designed to help you get above the messy, urgent, or seems-like-its-important tasks.

If everything is important, then nothing is.

These questions force you to pick a very limited number of items. Limiting down what you can work on in a month causes your brain to automatically prioritize. Items that don't make it into this list are, be default, deemed not as important.

These questions often get the same answers, but asking them differently causes you to think differently.

  • What are the three things that you could do in the next 90 days that would make a 50% difference in where you'll end the year? –Bobb Biehl

  • What 1 thing should I be spending 60% of my time on?

    • What 3 things should I stop doing in order to spend more time on the “1 thing”?

  • What's the One Thing I can do / such that by doing it / everything else will be easier or unnecessary? – Gary Keller

  • What are your most frustrating current roadblocks?

    • Why do you keep trying so hard to get rid of the roadblock?

Decide

Are you tired yet?   The above easily took me 3 hours the first several times I did it.  Why the heck does it take so long:

  • If you don’t have annual goals in your 7 areas of life, you have to make them.  

  • If you’ve never asked yourself the 60% question, you have to analyze what you’re spending your time on and the value it brings (how to analyze value is a different post).

  • Sometimes you have to review emails, calendar, etc.. to see wins/failures.

  • Sometimes you have ask people “what is my greatest strength/failure this month?”

  • etc…

But now it's time to decide.  You've finished doing a review. You've thought about how you can create more value and impact'.  You probably have a bunch of ideas of things you can work on.  

Of all the ideas you have written down, you need to commit to… just 3.   

Now it's time to set some simple S.M.A.R.T. goals.  Set 3 goals for work, and 3 for personal.  They will come from the 7 areas, or the focus questions or the most valuable questions… 

Wherever they come from, you only get to pick 3.  Next month you get to pick a new 3 (or maybe the same 3).

What’s next?

So at this point you’re clear on some actions you can take, but you might not be clear on the long term point of it.

That’s ok.  Over time things will become clearer.  The Lean/Agile people understand that iterative action creates a faster and better result.

Next month, you’re going to do this again.  The month after that… again.  Then again, again, again.  

I've been doing this for 5 years. Clarity is an amazing thing:

  • My 10 year future vision is getting clearer

  • The understanding of the value I bring with my unique strengths allows me to focus and create more impact

  • My confidence and motivation keeps growing

  • It’s easy to move see the forest through the trees

Go, schedule your first Focus Day.  Then make focus a practice.


Posted on: March 9th, 2022

On: Blog

Focus

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