A FIGHT between unequal worriers is under way. On one side is Goliath, but not the giant warrior from the famous biblical story. Goliath is the huge cloud of information coming to us on a 24/7 basis, mostly through computers and smartphones.
On the other side is limited and weak David — our attention. The attention is somehow trying to escape the clutches of its giant opponent, but you know who is winning.
According to Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver Of Excellence, our attention is under siege. Whether enjoying a meal in a restaurant or attending a meeting or doing routine work, most of the time we operate with partial, fragmented attention while a chunk of attention is swallowed by the ever-present mobile phone, tablet or laptop.
Like scattered sunrays, we accept the partial attention mode as normal without realising the immense potential of focused attention.
Says Dr Goleman: “Attention is the basis of everything we do. Better we pay attention, better we do whatever we do. Attention is the essence of excellence.”
Hidden power of focus
Try the following experiment and in five minutes your scattered attention will be focused like a laser beam.
Pick any object from your surroundings — phone, pen, cup and so on. For the next five minutes, describe what you see in that object. Without stopping to think in between, continue describing whatever you observe.
You may say: “This pen is green. The word ‘Zeco’ is written in white letters. I also see ‘Made in Japan’ on its body. It is plastic.” And so on.
After five minutes of non-stop commentary, you will find that initially you could see only the obvious things like colour, shape, markings and so on. But as you persisted, you started seeing finer details you had never noticed before.
More importantly, you realise that for five minutes you could control your attention and direct it on a chosen object. And the object got illuminated with your attention, revealing its finer details. That is focus.
Focus is directing attention on a chosen object while ignoring everything else. And if the attention wanders away — which it will — bring it back gently to whatever you’re doing.
Getting focused: Exercise the muscle
Says Dr Goleman: “Attention works like a muscle — use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows.” Here are some strategies to help you grow your focus:
• Set a goal, deadline and consequence: Think about your focus while working a day before you leave on a long vacation, making arrangements for a party at short notice or preparing an important proposal hours before the submission deadline.
In all these situations, you don’t have to worry about focus; it happens automatically and you do precisely what’s required.
Focus is an automatic outcome of a triangular combination of a goal (complete the first draft of a report), a deadline (by this afternoon) and some consequence if you don’t do it (the client will be unhappy).
Next time, if you feel distracted, set a small goal with a short deadline (the next 30 minutes or one hour) and think of some consequence. Your focus will return to you, right away.
• Say no, no, no like Steve Jobs: When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he found a floundering company chasing hundreds of different products.
To bring back focus to Apple, he killed numerous products while retaining only a few. Later during a public interaction, he explained: “Many people think focus is about saying yes. No. Focus is saying no.”
To regain focus in your work and life, deliberately say no to too many goals, tasks, meetings, newsletters, phone calls, appointments, invitations and so on. Every “no” will sharpen your focus on what really matters.
• Create media breaks: Instead of allowing the constant stream of e-mail, WhatsApp messages and Facebook notifications to trap your attention, create a system of media breaks.
Check your messages at a predetermined frequency, say, every 30 minutes and stay focused on your work in between. The psychic space occupied by such distractions will be released, leaving you more productive.
With more focus, seemingly weak David can defeat Goliath and pave the way for excellence in whatever you do.
Article by Atul Mathur, an engineer, technical writer and Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment-certified trainer. He runs a micro-training programme titled, “Power of Focus”. For more information, visit www.atulmathur.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org