Focus – To Have, To Do, or To Be?

I had a minor mutiny on my hands last week. I got so little “work” done in the last two weeks that my long-suffering Business Manager Diane revolted. Well, revolted is a strong word – but she did gently suggest last Tuesday that if I wasn’t going to be able to give her any of the things she needed to do her job, she may as well take the rest of the week off. 

The reason? I had two weeks at home with my three girls for the school holidays. In fact, the first week I had two extras – five kids total!  

On many levels, it was a high performing two weeks. That is, if we are measuring success by how many cans of spaghetti were consumed, how many books were read, or how many sleep-ins we had. 

I did lots of great lateral thinking - strategy needs space, after all. But admin and preparation? Forget it. As anyone who has ever tried to work at home with kids will tell you – kids can smell focus, just like dogs can smell fear. As soon as you start to get a fraction of it, they sniff it out and immediately interrupt you. 

No wonder Sir Isaac Newton spent two years in solitary confinement to write Principa Mathematica. Not a bad book, I’ve heard. Reasonably famous for the 3 laws of motion and the theory of universal gravitation.  

Imagine if he’d had the kids home for the holidays? He wouldn’t have been able to rub two thoughts together, much less change the face of science.

That’s the thing about focus. Focus doesn’t happen by accident. Being focused requires intentional, consistent choices. For old mate Isaac, he had to keep making those choices every day for two years.  

Focus doesn’t happen by accident. Being focused requires intentional, consistent choices.

I talk a lot about why focus is so important. Clarity of focus is the single most important factor to good strategy – without it, everything else is a waste of time. 

According to Paul Leinwand’s research, organisations with between 1-3 priorities outperform others on almost every metric. They produce better financial results, they achieve more of their work programme and their staff are happier and more engaged. There’s some great literature out there and little in the way of bad news. With focus, teams work better together, time and money is spent more wisely and organisations have greater impact.

Greg McKeown, who wrote Essentialism suggests that focus isn’t something you have – it’s something you do. I couldn’t agree more. I’d add a bit - focused is something that you can be… if you can commit to intentionally and regularly removing distractions.  

Nature abhors a vacuum. Which means that as soon as you clear the space for what matters, it will fill again quickly. If you’re committed to putting first things first, you need to constantly fight against the clutter. 

Nature abhors a vacuum. Which means that as soon as you clear the space for what matters, it will fill again quickly.

This doesn’t have to mean solitary confinement for two years – that kind of fixation, while possibly quite good for developing earth-shattering mathematical theory, is generally unhelpful for those of us who just want to get some meaningful work done at the office. 

As with any skill, consistent practice is the key. Like our eyesight, focus doesn’t mean staying fixated on one spot. It needs constant adjustment and adaptation. It needs us to have the temerity to reject distraction, and to do the things that matter by being clear about our non-negotiables. To be focused requires us to say no - courageously, graciously and often.

Or, you know, to drop the kids at the movies and work for a couple of hours at a nearby café. I’m not judging. 

TIl next week,