Finding clarity in what matters most and building the habits you need to actually stay on track and do the work is one of the most important skills everyone needs to build. In this article, find out why that matters, how to do it, and learn better tips to help you see it through.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY FOCUS ANYWAY?
Focus is your #1 priority
Finding your focus is about identifying the most important thing you need to think about:
- in life
- in a part of your life (work, parenting, hobbies, etc.)
- within a specific project you’re working on
- right now in the moment
It’s about strategy. It’s about understanding your options and making the best decision based on all calculated internal and external factors.
It’s about meaning and being mindful of your purpose, of your strengths and weaknesses, of your likes and dislikes, of what’s important to you and what’s not.
It’s about using data AND YOUR VALUES to help you make decisions both better and easier.
It’s about identifying priorities and sticking to them. It’s about understanding tradeoffs and it’s not about balance, but rather accepting the imbalance that will be. Ultimately, it’s as much about deciding what you WILL do, as it is about deciding what you WON’T do.
It’s about living a life with less, to have more.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Having focus improves your life
Life has never been more full of distractions AND demands…on our time, our attention, our health and wellbeing. Too many people are trying to do it all and feeling guilt and burnout for not succeeding.
It’s time to have less demands. We do this with rigorous dedication to our focus. It’s easier to say no to opportunities wihtout regret when you have a clear sense of purpose for what you want or how you want to live your life.
Science backs this thinking with studies about
- having a strong sense of meaning in your life improves your overall health and wellbeing
- having a strong focus, being mindful, reduces stress
- multitasking actually makes you less productive
- having more choices makes us less happy
But really, it just feels good. To think about less, to worry less, to have less, to do less and to enjoy more.
Living a life with focus helps us to eliminate all the clutter, all the waste, all the nonessentials from our busy lives so that we have more time for the things that matter most.
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SO HOW DO I FIND MY FOCUS?
Finding your focus is a journey
The best place to start is by going all the way to your highest focus — your life’s purpose.
Knowing your life’s purpose is not something you can figure out in a day, or even a lifetime. It’s a journey not a destination. The goal is not definite answers, but greater clarity and every step you take that brings more clarity is a step towards a better life.
This can be incredibly frustrating for people, especially my fellow Type A, control freak, strategic people that need answers now, like yesterday now.
But patience pays. Acceptance of the things we cannot control, and joy in getting closer to the answers we desire is the first step.
That’s why I’m in the process of developing a new course, Find Your Way, that will guide you through the process. It’s designed to be re-visited often and you’ll have access for life so that as you discover more about yourself, and what matters most to you, you can update and improve the clarity and definition of your own life’s purpose.
Next, it’s time for alignment. Once you know your purpose, you can establish your focus for work, parenting, self care, for the things you care most about, whatever they may be.
With a clear focus for each area of your life, you can then define the focus for each project, each day, each moment you live. Everything should ladder up to your purpose in a way that makes sense for you. In a way that makes it clear to make better decisions, easier because it eliminates the paradox of choice.
Let’s get into particulars of exactly how to do that…
Get to know yourself better
The more attuned you are to your true self, the easier this whole process will be. So try new things, read some books, listen to your body, mind and spirit and try to figure out what it’s telling you about yourself.
Be vulnerable and let your guard down. In order to find your true self, you have to be open to being emotionally exposed, and this is the part that can take a lifetime. We bury so much, so deep, that to unpack it all can seem impossible. But know that it is possible. We can all get closer to our truth.
For example, I used to pretend to be outgoing and social to fit in in high school (I know, lame, but I was just learning). I’m a natural introvert. It took me a long to realize the lie I was telling myself, but I did figure it out eventually. What un-truth have you been telling yourself for years, that you’ve evolved to believe as truth? Be honest with yourself about who you really are, and what you really need and want out of life.
Then go ask those that know you best (friends, family, colleagues) because research actually shows we’re the worst at evaluating our selves. Try these links to get started.
- take the StrengthsFinder test
- figure out your Myers Briggs personality type
- figure out your enneagram type and read about the positive and negative associations of it
- review the list of universal virtues and their corresponding 24 character strengths
- ask your parents or siblings what you were like as a child
- ask your peers what they think about your work skills
- if you’ve ever kept a journal, go back and re-read it
Once you have a better understanding of your personality, your strengths, and your career, check for alignment between your current life and your purpose. Studies show, and common sense would agree, that we’ll be more satisfied with our lives and ultimately have a greater sense of happiness, if we build on our natural strengths as opposed to trying to improve our weaknesses through our work.
If a strength of your personality is curiosity, and one of your strongest skills is research, but your current career is designed to limit and narrow your ability to learn and grow, you need to reconsider that fit.
As Gary Zukav once told Oprah, “When you align your personality with your purpose, no one can touch you.”
It’s a human tendency to focus on our weaknesses as something we want to improve, and we should be mindful of those opportunities, but that shouldn’t be our focus. Focus on your strengths.
Find out what’s most important to you
For many of us the most important thing in life is easy: family, God or a cause we’re deeply passionate about. But for others it’s unclear. Even if you know what’s most important, do you know what comes next? Do you know how much more #1 is than #2?
This is when we get into prioritizing things and better understanding tradeoffs. If family is really your #1, then why would you take a higher paying job that means spending LESS time with family if the job you already have pays enough? What drives you? What motivates you? and why?
The Find Your Way course will help you answer these questions, but if you don’t want to wait for that, go ahead and take this Know Yourself 7-day email course. Every day for a week you’ll receive a series of questions and exercises to help you get to know yourself better.
Analyze your life
Once you have a better sense of who you are, and what matters most to you, you can re-examine your work and life to better understand what’s working for you, and what’s working against you.
Take inventory of how you spend your time, both in the day to day and the calendar year. Are you making time for what matters most?
Look at your monthly and annual budget. Does how you spend your money align with your focus?
Commit to change
It’s one thing to have awareness about the misalignment in your work and life, but it’s something entirely different to change things.
Through the process of analysis you should make a list of all the things you want to change. This can include small thinks like ‘stop buying expensive coffee every morning and use the money to save for a weekend getaway each month.’ Or big things like ‘find a new job with a shorter commute so I have more time with my family.’
Once you have your list, assign everything to one of three categories:
- Big projects
- Small projects
- Habit changes
These are large, one time things like finding a new job, starting a family, buying a house, launching a new business, moving to a new place, etc.
These are smaller one time things like clearing out the clutter in my closet, proposing a new idea to my boss, or learning how to cook healthier.
These are all the ongoing improvements such as quitting smoking, reading a book instead of scrolling social media on my commute, or adding a meditation practice to my morning routine.
Within each category, the next step is to prioritize your list, based on your focus. If the item is related to work, you can judge it based on your work focus, but if you’re ultimate purpose is related to your spiritual practices, then meditation would get prioritized ahead of anything else.
Next you have to be more realistic about what is possible and what’s not. Look at your year ahead (The Roadmap is a great planning tool for this), and pick no more than one big project to accomplish in the next 12 months, up to 4 small projects (or 1 per season), and 1 habit change per 45 days.
Humans have a tendency to underestimate how long everything will take, and we put too much on our plate. The result is a feeling of inadequacy and failure which goes against the laws of motivation and progress. A better strategy is to under-plan, under-promise and over deliver. You’ll feel more motivated with every success under your belt which is a much more sustainable option.
Put everything in your calendar or your planning tool. Plan it all out so you know what you’re doing and when. Then set reminders os you don’t forget. And if you’re lucky enough to have an ally, share your plan with them. Having someone to hold you accountable is your surest way to success.
If you’re looking for more specific help on the science of habits and how to change them, I recommend the following:
- James Clear’s website…
- …his newsletter…
- …and his book Atomic Habits
- Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit
- BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits 5-day method
Focus on your priorities one day at a time
It can be so overwhelming to think about how big a project is or how long it will take to complete. Our brains literally can’t handle it. Our motivation is guided by our ability to receive positive feedback as we go, which is too much when a project is too big and the finish line is so far away. So break things down into smaller, more manageable chunks and focus on one day at a time. I use my focused based to do list template in conjunction with The Roadmap to keep me on track.
Measure your results. You know why fitness apps and watches are so effective? They measure our results and provide instant feedback. We focus on what we measure so keep track of your progress and reward yourself along the way.
Schedule your day for success. In the next section on designing your life, you can read all about how I ensure my focus for each project, month, week or day is top of mind. This is essential. But within each day, plan your tasks that require the most focus for the times when you’re most relaxed and free from distractions.
For me, this is always after meals. My brain uses a TON of energy, and so does yours. Also consider the environment you work in and schedule focused tasks when you’re least likely to be distract by others.
Remove all other distractions. This is a huge topic that you can read more about here, but the most beneficial tips include:
- schedule time to check your email and social
- work in full screen mode with all other tabs minimized
- keep your phone out of sight and out of reach
- deactivate all notifications on your computer and phone
- set an intention to stay focused on your priorities
- reward yourself for staying focused and completing a task
It’s just that easy, right?! Obviously not. But following the steps above are a great start and a great way to get you moving in the right direction.
Living your best life is about continuous improvement, not overnight success.
As mentioned at the top of this page, finding your focus is a journey. We should be reconsidering what matters most to us at least once a year if not more. And certainly at the beginning or end of any major life transitions.
Because with a clear focus, and a clear intention of where you want to be, you can begin designing your future. Ready for the next step?