Like billowing clouds that bring no rain is the person who talks big but never produces. Proverbs 25:14, MSG
It's safe to say that the world we live in has become more and more filled with distractions - social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, a million new TV shows that are pretty addictive, and the chronic texting via group chats that people are constantly caught up in. For many of us, life is simply too fast paced and cluttered. This new American way of life leads many people to attempt to do too many things in too little time. If you want to anything truly great at any profession, you need to be single-minded and focused. I think of these distractions like an NBA player who’s trying to shoot a free throw and the fans of the opposing teams are waving objects like inflatable plastic noodles in order to keep the player from focusing on the making the shot. That’s the way you need to look at life. You are like that NBA player who has to make a free throw to win the game but there are forces that don’t want you to succeed. Whenever you decide to pursue something meaningful, there will be people, events, and/or circumstances that will attempt to steal your focus rendering you ineffective and subsequently incomplete in your effort to accomplish your task. Just like any muscle or virtue, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Focus is a muscle that you have to cultivate.
Writing a book takes a tremendous amount of focus. Writing a good book takes even more focus. There are moments that are extremely painful and confusing as you consider the audience you’re writing to. One of the most liberating aspects of the process is when your focus on the intentions of your writing gets really clear and the writing process flows smoothly. For me, this happens about 20% of the time. It’s one of the best feelings in the world to be in this kind of zone. 80% of the time comes from research, organization, and the constant fight to get the mind from wandering. It seems that the distractions get even more intense when you are determined to complete something of great importance to you. I’ve been blessed to meet many great people over the course of my life who have learned to not allow the pressures and forces of the culture to distract them. As someone who has faced a fair share of emergencies over my life, I certainly understand that life happens – someone close to you may be suffering with a sickness and need help, a family member passes away, your car has a flat tire, you may be dealing with mental or emotional issues like depression (See chapter 37), or other significant events. These things can be hard to deal with. If these things are going on, it’s hard to stay focused but another perspective to consider is that when these events are not occurring, you should take full of advantage of the relative peace to pursue your goals wholeheartedly because you never know what card life may throw your way. Over time, I learned that what separates the people who are productive is their ability to focus on what is most essential. I want to use a time budget exercise, offer some suggestions on how to get your focus sharper in order to be more productive, and discuss the benefits of that focus. This is a call for you to learn how to respond with a strong resolution to lock in and not let yourself get derailed – to FOCUS - Follow One Course Until Successful.
A. Time Budget Exercise
There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s assume you sleep 8 hours a day – 56 hours a week. That leaves 112 hours a week. Let’s assume you work a 50-hour job (including commute). This leaves 62 hours a week. Let’s say you go to the gym 2 hours each day. That’s 14 hours a week. That leaves 48 hours a week that you have control over?
This is a sample scenario using really conservative figures. You can create your own scenario using the weekly breakdown – 168 hours a week. Include your sleep, work/school, gym, family time, entertainment, work and anything unique that I didn’t mention.
Time Budget Exercise
Sleep ________ hours
Work (Include commute) ________ hours
Gym ________ hours
School ________ hours
Church ________ hours
Social Media ________ hours
Goals ________ hours
Other ________ hours
Other ________ hours
Total ________ hours
Make sure the total equals 168 hours. This is a simple way to do the hard work of figuring out where your focus and your time is going. I’m sure someone is saying that this is too simplistic and sometimes things are not so simple or its hard to get focused. I beg to differ. The simplicity of the exercise is what gives it power. As for focus, I certainly agree that it’s hard to get focused so I will often some suggestions.
B. Some suggestions to stay focused.
1. Grab a sheet of paper and write some things down. Go back to Chapter 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, 15, and 17. List out and reflect on your values, your talents, your vision, your role models, your Why’s, your SMART Goal, and your major Focus. If you have not done these exercises, go back and complete the exercises. Once you have done all the exercises, list them all on a piece of paper. By writing all this on one piece of paper and keeping it with you, it will help you organize your days and ultimately, your life. One thing I’ve noticed is that the people who are constantly in crisis usually have a poor sense of priorities and are unorganized in multiple areas of their life. This will help you get organized so you don’t constantly cause your own crisis.
2. Decide what not to do. That points you to what your available options are. This is just as important as deciding what to do. Examples: I will not text anyone for the next 4 hours because of my work. I will not watch TV until I get work done up to a certain point. I will not attend any social events until I get a certain amount of my work done. You have to decide what not to do in order to put all your efforts into what you need to be doing.
3. Learn to say No. Without sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I’ll say that there are forces in the world that have a vested interest in keeping you distracted. You have to learn and practice this great skill because it will be necessary as you focus on accomplishing your goals. The more you do it, the better you’ll become. Go back to #1. What you have on that list gives you a strong YES and that will make saying No easier. Saying no is a tool for living by our priorities, allowing our calling to direct our lives rather than a crazy insensitive culture. Listen to me. You don't have to disappear forever. You have to disappear long enough to get whatever milestone accomplished. Whether it's a GED, passing the boards in medical or nursing school, taking the LSAT, taking the bar exam, getting your CPA, CFP or series 6 or 65 or whatever number they have at this point, finishing your book, your CD, your movie, your website, your degree, certification program, or whatever you are working on. Don't let other people tell you what you should consider to be important. You have to decide that for yourself. Hopefully you have a great support system in the process that understands you and your goals and gives you the type of space and support you need but if you don't, you have to put those other people at a distance.
4. Learn to delay pleasure and take deserved breaks. This can be a show, a game, a quick call to a friend or family member. Make your break a necessity, not a destination. If you can keep working, keep working.
C. Benefits of Focus
1. It gives you a feeling of alertness and clarity of thought. It’s known as getting in the zone.
2. Confidence that you can accomplish what you set your mind to by putting forth the necessary attention and time.
3. Taking hold of your vision and not letting go until it becomes a reality.
4. Fearlessness in the face of obstacles because a focused mind doesn’t have room for fear and anxiety.