It’s ironic that I am writing about focus today.  I planned to start writing this three days ago.  Sharing that with you, I want you to understand that the things I write about are as much a reminder to myself as they are to anyone else.

How many of us feel like the Doug from the movie Up?  The squirrels seem to come out in abundance about the time we decide we are ready to focus.  You are sitting down ready to work and all of a sudden, an email, or a visitor, or a call, or a random thought, or you just remembered your car warranty is about to expire and are wishing someone would call to discuss.  Regardless of what you are trying to do, you will inevitably be tempted with distractions.  Some of the things we will talk about will help guide you to be able to focus.

The One Thing

Statistically speaking, each one of us will have a unique “one thing.”  To arrive at what our one thing really is, we have to ask ourselves some questions.  They are simple questions, but sometimes difficult to answer.  It reminds me of a salesman that worked for my company, he always had a “quick” question, but to answer that question properly, turned into a very long answer.  

What do you want?

Why do you want it?

Those two questions will help you focus without focusing on the concept of focus….stop and think about that for a minute.  Once you determine what you really want, that becomes your focus.  Nothing else really matters.  Yes there are things that matter, but the distractions that get in your way can magically melt away once you determine what you want.  

The next question will help guide you when you begin to question if you have what it takes to reach that goal, to reach that ‘what’ you previously determined.  Squirrels pop up and become enticing even though you know what you are going after (your what), so you have to remember ‘why’ you started it.  ‘Why’ you began the journey.

By eliminating all the other distractions and having the one thing as your goal, you really have begun the journey of focus without realizing it.  You are focused on that one thing because you know what you want and why you want it.

Picking my favorite is hard

Gretchen Rubin’s post about identifying her favorite reminds me that some people really do have trouble focusing on one thing.  Equating your favorite to your one thing, because, you have kind of singled out that one thing as your favorite.  The following sections will discuss other options that might work well for you.

Top Three

Lots of planners have taken on the concept of three things.  The Self Journal and Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner are two of the ones that I have personally used.  For quite some time, in my journal/work notebook, I would list out my top three items.  

The idea is to list out three things that you would like to have accomplished by the end of the day.  If nothing else happened but those three things, you could call the day a success.  They could be big or small.  Work related or personal.  Part of the bigger long range goal or part of the project who’s deadline is rapidly approaching.  Whatever the reason, focusing on three things can help you focus.  It’s more than the one thing we previously discussed, but you have some wiggle room to acknowledge a squirrel knowing that you will have success today by getting those three things done.

As someone who likes a to do list and the satisfaction of checking things off that list, focusing on my top three items helped hit the ground running and not wonder what my day might look like.  It also helps you to determine your schedule and not someone else.  “I really would love to help with that project, but I have a deadline on this.”  And you do…you have given yourself till the end of the day to get it accomplished.  

Disclaimer…although you and I both know that getting those three things done will be a great success, your boss might not be happy with you knocking those out in the first hour and then going home.  These three things are designed to help you focus but also to be like compound interest.  The euphoria you feel from getting those things done will carry over into more productivity.  

Warren Buffett’s 25/5 Rule

It has now been disclosed by Warren Buffet himself that his “25/5” rule isn’t true, but the urban legend still exists.  

The story goes that Buffet had a conversation with his personal pilot about career priorities.  Buffett asked him to list his top 25 career goals.  The he asked for him to circle the top five.  Then what Buffett said, surprised the pilot, because the next instruction was to do away with the 6-25.  That by trying to focus or have more than 5 goals was just to much and nothing would get adequate attention.  The 6-25 was now an ‘avoid at all costs’ list.  Because anything on that list would interfere with the top five.

The moral of the story is that to gain focus, sometimes we have to eliminate things.  We might think we want to do/accomplish this long list of things, but in reality, the longer the list the more distracted we will be.  

Along that same thought, Ron, in Parks& Recreation gave some wonderful advice about focus.

The Ivy Lee Method

Everyone has heard the name Charles Schwab, but not many recognize the name Ivy Lee, I know I didn’t.  But in 1918, Schwab was still looking to find ways to improve.  One of these methods was to meet with a productivity consultant by the name of Ivy Lee.  Lee asked for no money for his advice, unless his method worked and only asked that he be paid what Schwab deemed worthy.  
The method is simple and only involves five steps.

  • At the end of the day, write down the six most important things you need to get done tomorrow.  Strict instructions to stop at six.
  • Rank these six in order of importance.
  • Upon work arrival the next morning, start with number one and don’t move on until it’s complete.
  • Work on the remaining items the same way, not moving on until the highest priority is completed, moving any unfinished task to the new list of six for the next day.
  • Repeat daily.

It sounds very simple, but when you think about it, it’s forcing you to have focus.  To not be distracted with things that aren’t important.  The result from this method at Schwabs company was that he paid Mr. Ivy Lee $25,000 in 1918, and as of 2015, that was worth over $400,000.  Productivity and efficiency increased enough that Ivy Lee was well compensated for his method.  This method will be one worth trying out.  Its very simple but as you can see, it can be very effective.

Wrapping Up

There are multiple methods to increasing your focus.  The ones listed here are the ones that piqued my interest and have helped me get focused more.  Although, by what you read at the beginning, maybe I need to take my own medicine and stop chasing squirrels.