This article was taken from the May 2015 edition of Proteuslife magazine.
Over the Christmas break of 2014 I started reading the new book by Goleman entitled ‘Focus’ and although like most of Goleman’s books, parts of it were very hard work, there were also some amazing gems. Being a reflective person, I am always looking for ways to improve myself and my organisation and so this book and topic really got me thinking.
2014 was an amazing year, but I was exhausted; a story that I had heard from many of the people that I had been communicating with. To make things worse, I had decided only to have one week off at Christmas because I just had too much to do. During that week friends from overseas decided that
they needed a holiday and would stay with me.
Lovely, but certainly not restful!
Please somebody stop this life NOW!
It’s not like I am not enjoying it, but enough is enough – I needed a break and I needed to reorganise!
It was then that the gems within this book, combined with how I had already been thinking, started to make a lot of sense. It was time to re-focus!
What did I want to achieve over the next five years both personally and professionally? What was I doing that I needed to stop doing? What changes did I want to make, but had not stopped long enough to make them? All of these questions and many others saturated my brain, but they were all questions that had to be answered and acted on.
So I set about establishing a plan to bring some focus back. Try these 7 steps for yourself, they really work.
1. First STOP
How can you see clearly while everything around you is constantly moving?
It is like watching a mouse running on a wheel. The mouse cannot eat, drink or do anything else until it stops running. Sometimes we are like that. We just have to keep doing and moving, when what life is saying to us is – STOP, look at what you are doing and consider the impact that it is having on your life and the lives of others around you.
But do you know how to STOP?
Stopping is not about throwing your hands in the air and saying – “that’s it; I’m not doing anything else”. Stopping is about giving yourself some space. It may only be an hour per day or a day away or 2 hours at the coffee shop.
It is about stopping the wheel turning for a period of time so that you can regain the balance that you need to be successful.
A major part of my role is to write. I have a BLOG and a magazine; I write new leadership programs and materials, I write organisational strategy, I write social media content etc. All of these things I love doing, but they also need time and when you are running a company or a department, often the things that are important and the things that you love to do, get caught up in the turning wheel.
I am an early riser and usually start work by 5:30am. I find this time before everyone else arrives, invaluable. I have dedicated the early morning to preparing for the day so that I am ready to spend time with my team when they arrive. But I was still not finding the time to do all of the writing that I needed to do. So I asked myself this question, “what would happen if every day you left the office at 2pm, took a one hour break and then in your home office, spent two hours where you just focused on writing”?
After the initial feelings of – how would the world cope without me, I decided to give it a try.
It is awesome!
Four months later, apart from the occasional day when I really need to be there, I am still leaving at 2pm and writing. I have never felt so productive in my life!
My team now know that this is part of the deal and if they need my input then they too need to manage their time better to have access to me.
I realise that this may not be achievable for everyone, but it is about finding your own ways to STOP and your own ways to say NO and your own ways to refrain from being a victim!
2. Then ORGANISE
It is all very well to put these new practices into your life, but if you are not organised and do not follow through with why you did them in the first place, then you will only frustrate yourself more. It would be very easy to slip into negative patterns where we filled the time with other things, other than writing. So we must be disciplined and organised if we are to feel that sense of achievement that we need to grow.
Have you ever done a spring clean in your home or office? It feels so good to get rid of all of the things that you don’t need and the things that are constantly eating away at you through your sub-conscious.
When we decide to focus, this is what we are doing! Removing the peripheral clutter.
I call it the ‘sieve of life’. Letting the clutter fall through the holes and retaining the things that are big enough to be of importance.
But to be able to do this we must first understand what is important!
So many people are so overwhelmed and out of control that they have even lost the ability to know what is important and how they might need to organise.
3. Then SIMPLIFY
Simplify, simplify, simplify – this is my mantra for success!
We live in a world where it seems people feel the need to complicate everything, even though technology and processes are heading in the opposite direction.
I often think that premeditated confusion is the ultimate demonstration of procrastination!
You simply cannot do everything, so decide what is important and then spend time removing the peripheral clutter around each of those activities.
Do you really need six reports? Do you really need three meetings each week?
Do you really need everything to be perfect before you take action? Do you really need another framework?
Simplification is about removing what is not necessary and spending that time on making things happen.
Learn to spend time on the right things – NOT everything!
4. Then STRATEGISE
So, we have decided what is important and we have spent time simplifying the processes, now we need to create a simple one-page strategy on how we are going to make what we are doing a great success. We cannot achieve anything worthwhile if we do not take the time to create strategy.
Again, keep it simple!
If you just took one hour to focus on creating a strategy for each important activity, then you would save yourself many hours of frustration going forward.
As I said earlier, you cannot do everything, so create an ideas car park. This is a file on your computer where all of the great ideas that you would like to introduce are parked, ready to be rolled out when the time is right.
As you continually revisit this car park, you will find one of two things happens. Firstly, the power of the idea will diminish and you will remove it from your car park, or the idea will build and get stronger and when it is time to be released, it will have a much greater chance of success.
Your charm, past experience, ego etc. will not help you to be successful unless you are also prepared to spend time strategising.
5. Then LEAD
Many a wonderful idea and wonderful businesses have gone belly up because no one was prepared to lead them.
A general rule in leadership is that if you are not prepared to do it yourself, then you have no right to expect it of others.
Over the past thirty plus years I have worked with many talented and intelligent people.
They have had skills and abilities that I would love to have had, but during that period I have only come across a hand full of people that I would consider to be great leaders.
Where are our leaders?
No level of effort will ever lead us to success if we are not prepared to lead by example and demonstrate to people what could be.
Where do you fit on the leadership continuum and how prepared are you to lead your ideas and strategies?
You can have great ideas and opinions on how things should be done, but the mark of a leader is whether or not they are prepared to take people on the journey with them.
Remember: to successfully lead others you must first understand how to lead yourself.
6. Then TAKE SOME DESERVED CREDIT
Celebrate by setting yourself rewards. It is OK to feel good about your decisions and what you have achieved; in fact it is essential.
It is not the fact that you tell people what you have achieved, but how and why you tell them.
Why should everyone else make the same mistakes that you have made if you can help them not to?
When you achieve something great, you actually have a responsibility to share it with others so that they can learn about the processes you went through to achieve your result.
You see, we have been brought up to believe that if we speak well of ourselves or the things that we have achieved, then somehow we are arrogant and shallow. I am sure that there are some people that fit that description, but there are also many other people out there in pain, because we kept things to ourselves that could have helped them in their situation.
Remember: if your celebration is encompassed with humility and perspective, then it is a good thing. So give yourself the credit you deserve.
7. Then DO IT ALL AGAIN
The confidence you gain from achieving something worthwhile needs to be used again, or it will be lost.
What were the key things that you did?
What were the barriers you had to break through and how did you do it?
What would you not do next time?
What really worked?
Doing great things over and over again forms great habits. Build on the new skills that you have acquired.
So, are you prepared to focus on the important things in your life?
If you are, then you will need to Stop, Organise, Simplify, Strategise, Lead, Give Yourself Some Deserved Credit and then Do It All Over Again.
Make time to take time to FOCUS – it is the only way to gain clarity in those situations that are out of control, or on those great new ideas that you want to succeed.