Mastering the art of focusing on as little as possible to achieve more
To get anything done at work, we have to act on specific things. But what things? We must act on what matters most to get the right job done, of course – you might call this having a task-focused purpose. But there’s more to it, especially when you think about your motivation and the energy to act and stay in action. Try including a deeper question about what matters to you personally, what’s most meaningful and important to you about your work and the task at hand. We have found that this extra layer of enquiry can really strengthen focus.
Easy! Some say. Just prioritise and act on the top priority. If only it were that simple.
1. Distractions – not the big deal they appear to be
We all know how easy it is for top priority items to get bumped from I’m on to it, to I’ll come back to it later. We often hear this put down to living in “The Great Age of Distraction”. But is this so?
Contrary to popular wisdom, there is really nothing new about this belief in distraction. Each era has fretted about some version of being the “Age of Distraction”. Ours is no different – just the distractors look different. In his day, Socrates thought that the written word was a distraction from verbal discussion!
Of course, distractions are an issue – they are not going away any time soon, and we need ways to push back, but sometimes we find that focusing on ‘distraction control’ can be a distraction in itself! There is a more enduring approach.
2. Meaning – the heart of focusing
What our work means to us can be a powerful source of inspiration and motivation. It can underpin a sustained drive for progress. When we have a strong sense of our work’s deeper meaning, what exactly it is about our work that makes it matter to us, then we can prioritise more powerfully, maintain focus on those priorities, engage fully with work and reap the wellbeing benefits that flow from doing work we feel matters. So let’s pick the idea of meaningful work apart a little. It helps to reflect on questions like:
- What is it about my work that is meaningful to me right now?
- In what ways do my priorities reflect what really matters to me in this work?
How do you relate to the idea of your work being meaningful? If your work doesn’t really matter strongly to you right now, you are almost certainly short-changing yourself. The list is long of the downside effects of having to do unfulfilling work.
On the other hand, if your work has purpose – not just task-focused importance – but purpose to you, if it is really meaningful to you and expresses values that matter to you – then the benefits can be considerable. People tend to be more resilient and resourceful in the face of difficulties.
3. Focus – what to do and doing it
To understand why meaning is connected so deeply with our ability to focus, we have found it helpful to see focusing as requiring two very different kinds of activities. The first is thinking about what’s important, its purpose, why it matters (both immediately and in the bigger scheme of things). The second is acting on it.
Both these dimensions of focus – thinking and doing – are vitally important. That may sound a little obvious to some, but it can be surprisingly hard to bring these two dimensions to bear on our ability to focus. It is a daily challenge – those who master it tend to be more committed to continuous improvement and open to being coached.
4. Thinking about what to focus on – the prioritising part
Productivity and progress are not just about getting more ticked off your list but getting the right stuff on the list in the first place. This means carefully understanding what it is that makes a task matter right now. This is where you power up your motivation, it’s where you analyse, evaluate and prioritise. Building a strong awareness of the meaning of a task is where you really own your choices – the activity moves from this is a priority, to this in my top priority right now.
If you are not crystal clear about what is important to focus on and what makes it meaningful, it’s more likely you will doubt yourself, second guess what you should be doing, loose focus and procrastinate – and end up performing below your true capacity.
The key is – we do not set priorities in a vacuum. Priorities are always priorities-in-context. We set them in a many-layered network of what matters – not only for the job at hand, but also for what’s meaningful and important to us personally. If that context is mostly imposed by others and not really owned by us, then it may have less power to motivate. We may find it harder to start and stay on task.
5. Acting – the doing part
Being in action is the other half of effective focusing. Focus that produces no results is like taking pictures with no card in the camera – lots of intense looking but nothing captured! It is not just about “doing lots” – it’s not a quantity issue. Effective action requires singular focus towards a meaningful result.
The point is, if you really want to move your work on, focusing on just one meaningful thing can be very powerful. This singular concentration may be a little scary because doing just one thing means you are paying less attention to the many other things you are used to watching. Letting go of the urge to keep track can be unsettling.
6. Career direction
There is another reason for possibly feeling unsettled though, and we see this with clients if they realise their work or career itself is short on personal meaning. This can be rather confronting because such a realisation may trigger sizeable adjustments in every aspect of what they are doing. It is definitely a “courage-required” zone, if ever there was one. It can be humbling to realise that an activity into which you may have invested substantial time and money is not delivering the satisfaction you long for.
7. Helping others focus better
Working at something you feel really does matter to you can be immensely satisfying and a huge contribution – not only to yourself through more effective focus, but to others as well in all sorts of ways.
So consider passing on this post to someone else you know who may appreciate thoughts on how to take their capacity to focus to the next level. Share this post with them.
And for managers – there’s an increasing appreciation of the productivity uptick possible for those who take on developing their ability to be ‘manager-as-coach’.
And for organisations – there are training options available
Three takeaways …
1. Finding meaning in relation to your work is essential professional development for everyone serious about being more effective and satisfied at work. Make it a daily practice.
2. A powerful way to improve your ability to focus is not just via ‘distraction control’ but by upping your engagement with the meaning of what you do.
3. Focus on as little as possible – make sure it does really matter and enjoy it!
And help others do likewise.
Want to master the art of focusing on as little as possible to achieve more?
Call Fran 027 717 9205
If you are not too sure how well you are actually focusing in your present work situation, do the Forté Professional Effectiveness Review (26 questions/ 5 min.) A number of these self-assessment questions are based on how well you focus, the clarity of your prioritising, and your ability to be in action on those priorities. See how you get on.
The Art of Work Blog exists for one purpose only, to enable you and
those around you to find more meaning and satisfaction at work and in careers and business