The Power of Focus

By Les Hewitt


Editor’s Note: With the ever-increasing demands on their time, marketers are sometimes distracted from their core goals by minutiae. The same is true in their personal lives.

Learning how to focus on guiding values is a key skill to hone in today’s technology-driven world. It’s also helpful to understand that better focus is something that your customers and prospects are looking for as well.

Recently I conducted a survey asking experienced business owners and CEOs about their challenges at work and also in their personal lives. One question was, “At this stage of your career, are you happy with your overall quality of life?”

Fifty percent said “No”!

Despite earning well above average incomes and having the flexibility to make their own decisions on most issues, there was a high level of unhappiness within the ranks of these business leaders. As I get invited to share my expertise in more countries, most recently in Bahrain and Dubai, it is intriguing to discover that this quality of life issue crosses international borders, despite cultural and geographical differences. Why is this?

One reason is that the ever-increasing speed of technology is now a global reality. Today, smart phones are as common as reading the daily newspaper used to be. We are bombarded with emails, texts, promotional junk and never-ending requests from our clients, suppliers and superiors to complete our work faster. The pressure is now on to perform, often at unrealistic levels. We are told the competition is getting stronger, so we need to suck it up, take work home, and sacrifice our weekends if necessary, all for the common cause.

What cause would that be, I humbly ask? To burn ourselves out, become workaholics who have little memory of a leisurely family picnic or a true holiday with no interference from the office? The fact is, in many organizations around the world, stress levels have become dangerously high, mental health days are now essential, and the idea of enjoying a healthy work/life balance no longer exists.

The paradox to this unhealthy evolution is that the more complex our lives become, the less effective we are at work and the more dissatisfied we are with our quality of life. Someone wisely observed that complexity is the killer of execution.

And let’s get this straight; multitasking is NOT the answer! More and more evidence clearly shows that juggling five or six tasks makes you LESS productive.

We are also living in an age of distraction. The slightest interruption … a phone call, a new email or someone disturbing your concentration … means it takes anywhere from 7 to 15 minutes to get back on task again. How many interruptions do you battle or allow every day?

This complexity extends beyond the office, too. Many parents seem to think it’s a competition to have their children enrolled in more activities than their friends or neighbors. Can you imagine a family with three children, each one enrolled in three or four weekly activities, all at different times? Dance classes, swimming lessons, team sports, extra tutoring to ensure the best grades at school, to name a few.

Of course, that isn’t you is it?

What’s all this got to do with focus? EVERYTHING!

In business, a lack of focus is absolutely the core issue concerning productivity and results. Our ongoing research shows that the current level of focus among business leaders is in the range of 15 to 35 percent during a typical week. That means only 15 to 35 percent of their time is being spent on their most important priorities, those activities aligned with their greatest strengths that drive the business forward. That’s shocking!

Peak performance requires 80 percent focus on these crucial activities.

In our personal lives, due to longer working hours, (often due to a lack of focus) and the crush of time pressure, is it any wonder family time is being dramatically eroded.

So what’s the solution? Here’s a few proven strategies that will reduce the stress and boost your energy, as well as bringing more joy back into your life.

  1. Be aware of your reality. Discover what’s not working and make a firm decision to do something about it.
  2. Design your week instead of creating lengthy to-do lists every day that never get completed. Focus on completing your top three priorities every week. Make it a habit. This will make a big difference.
  3. Create blocks of “focus time” on your calendar for working on your top priorities. During these times, concentrate on one task only: no interruptions, no day dreaming, no excuses! Every week practice flexing your focus muscle.
  4. Set clear boundaries to minimize interruptions. Say “NO” more often. Be polite but firm on this. Communicate clearly when you are not available.
  5. Take regular rejuvenation breaks, without guilt! At least one day off each week, that is 24 hours with nothing whatsoever to do with work. And here’s the big one. If you run the business, six weeks off a year, just to enjoy that quality of life so many people seem to be missing.

To improve your focus requires changing your habits. Unfortunately many people don’t realize how big a deal this really is. The fact, is your habits WILL determine your future! Let’s explore that attention-getting statement.

What is a habit? Simply stated, a habit is something you do often and then it becomes easy. Eventually this repeated behavior becomes so automatic, we don’t even think about it. Almost everyone goes through a series of routines when getting ready for the day. During those first two hours I easily utilize 20 habits.

New habits can also help us achieve goals. Here’s a personal example:

For years I dabbled at playing golf, and my scores proved it. I’d take an eight or a nine at several holes and end up with a score well north of a hundred. Occasionally I took lessons and noticed some improvement. Then I wouldn’t play for months, and I’d still expect to produce a reasonable score. This is called living an illusion!

I finally set a goal to break 90 consistently. That’s a big leap. To accomplish this, I made a commitment to create new habits: practice a little every day, study the top players, take regular lessons and play twice a week. Finally, it’s working. I just shot an 86. The great news is that you can reprogram yourself any time you choose to.

Let’s look at another situation. If maintaining excellent health is high on your list of priorities, exercising three times a week may be the minimum standard to keep you in shape. A “no exceptions” policy means you will maintain this exercise habit no matter what happens, because you value the long-term benefits.

People who dabble at change will quit after a few weeks or months. They are not able to maintain focus. If you want to distance yourself from the masses and enjoy a unique lifestyle, understand this: YOUR HABITS WILL DETERMINE YOUR FUTURE!

It’s really that important and applies to any part of your life that is causing you concern. Remember, successful people don’t drift to the top. It takes focused action, personal discipline and lots of energy to create sustainable improvements. The habits you develop from this day forward will be directly related to the level of your future success in life. Rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, fulfilled or unfulfilled, happy or unhappy.  It’s your choice, so choose wisely.

One other point worth noting: The results of our bad habits often don’t show up until much later in life. If you blindly keep spending more than you earn, you may not realize the financial hole you are digging for yourself and your family. But what the heck, credit is easy and we really want those expensive toys now. We desire instant gratification and choose the dangerous option of paying much later.

That’s the lifestyle approach millions of people in North America have chosen thanks to clever marketing that tugs on the emotions. Sadly many people are spending their way into bankruptcy because they are not aware of the consequences of their bad habits.

The lesson? Stay focused on making better choices so you won’t get slammed with a crisis down the road—one that may come as a complete surprise.

Here’s the really good news. Imagine if you only changed three or four habits a year. In three years’ time you would be enjoying up to 12 successful new habits. Would that make a difference? Of course! This can completely transform your quality of life, including creating financial freedom, loving relationships, a healthy body as well as opening up all sorts of new opportunities.

Think of the possibilities! Start by focusing on changing one bad habit right away.

Les Hewitt, “The Focus Coach,” is an executive coach to CEOs and business leaders, an international speaker, and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of
“The Power of Focus.” Telephone: (403) 295-0500 or email: [email protected].