We've all heard it before, "you need to focus, you need to concentrate, you're too distracted, learn how to focus." After hearing this, what we fail to comprehend is what does focus actually mean. There's this myth about focus where you need to put on this face where your eyebrows furrow and you intensely look at the task at hand as if you're trying to burn a hole through it with your eyes.
First of all, making that face doesn't automatically turn on the focus switch, it probably just makes you looked more confused at best and at worst, makes you look like you're having digestive issues. Secondly, in order to actually focus, we need to be aware that focus is a skill, and like any skill it can be developed with awareness and practice. Here's how.
simplify before you optimize
We need to figure out what we want to focus on first before we make any sort of commitment. There are endless amount of choices to make in life and if we get caught up in the smorgasbord of options, we will end up feeling very busy but not focused, which ultimately will result in less productivity.
Whether you are a entrepreneur, a student, an athlete, or just on the journey of self-improvement, there is no one right way to do something, which makes things difficult. So how do you know if the choices you're making are the right ones?
This is where measurement and awareness can help. As an entrepreneur, you know which marketing strategy is bringing in the most amount of profit. As a student, you know what study habits bring you the best grades. As an athlete, you know which training routine helps you feel your best to prepare for the game. As a person on the path of self-improvement, you know the one skill you really want to learn or improve on.
Once you're aware of the action that bring the best result, it's time to focus on it.
put in the work
Great, you've reached the state of awareness. You've done the initial data collection and have experimented with enough ideas to know what works best for you and what doesn't. So now what?
Now it's time to put in the work. This is where the skill of focus starts to develop. Performance studies show that repetition is one of the best ways to train our minds. The more we do something, the more we can focus on it and get better results. It's through sheer volume of work that we'll get to understand the fundamentals of the task we're trying to accomplish.
We may instinctively know what greatness looks like, but without putting in a high volume of work, we won't know what it'll take to achieve it.
Ira Glass, the famed American Radio Personality, said it best, "your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you're making is kind a disappointment to you." The only way to bridge this gap between your taste and the actual results is by putting in a large volume of work.
This thought is shared amongst many high performers such as multi-platinum recording artist Ed Sheeran and world renowned author Neil Gaiman. In the beginning, you're not going to be great, you're ideas will be trash, but you have to produce the trash ideas first to get to the good stuff.
Master the fundamentals
Once we know what to focus on, we need to put in the work. When we start off, our work is not going to be good. In fact, it'll be very bad. But we need to keep going and work through the period of bad results. As we keep working, we will breakthrough, and we will start to see progress.
This will seem boring at times as you're doing the same things over and over again. And you might lose interest because the results don't come fast enough. But seeking novelty will never lead to great results. It'll just keep you trapped in a vicious circle of starting and quitting in the middle.
Simplify what to focus on, work on that one thing relentlessly until we start to see the results we're looking for. The journey to greatness is a long one, so start now and stick to it.