The Power of Focus

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I don’t have a great sense of direction, particularly when driving. I find it stressful to drive in locations I’m not familiar with, especially in rental cars that don’t come with a functioning GPS. The ability to hit the Locate Me symbol on Google Maps, see exactly where I am on the map, and then be guided to my destination fills me with calm and confidence. I’ve been thinking about how necessary it is to metaphorically hit the Locate Me button in our lives from time to time.

When working with my coaching clients, it seems that many of us are furiously working, going as fast as we can, trying to keep up with the pace, complexity, and volume of things coming at us, personally and professionally. It can seem overwhelming. When I ask clients what’s meaningful to them and what do they want most, often I’m met with silence or, at the very least, a generalized and somewhat vague answer. It can feel easier just to keep going rather than slowing down to do the work of intentionally choosing where we’re going and why. Time to hit the Locate Me button!

Knowing what matters most, and then focusing the majority of our time on those priorities, are what Peter Bregman recommends in his book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. Specifically, his advice is to choose our top five priorities and then spend 95% of our time focused on them. The remaining 5% is for all the other “stuff.” I know… 95%? That seems impossible. The way I look at it, though, it’s a worthy experiment, and even if I (you) can’t spend 95% of our time on those priorities every day, what could change with that kind of focus?

Here’s the process.

  1. Decide the 5 top priorities that will be your focus for the next year. Consider these areas – physical wellness; psychological and spiritual health; creation, exploration, and play; relationships and family; livelihood and career; community and service.
  2. Next, list your most important tasks and actions under each priority.
  3. Notice the activities and behaviors that get in the way and sabotage how you spend your time. Make a Not To Do list under each priority. (How many times a day do you check email?)

Deciding my top 5 priorities has given me a lot of clarity and a feeling of calm and confidence. I know where I am on the map, and where I’m going. I’m not going to stress about doing it perfectly, but rather focus on getting better as I go. How about you?

Cindy Jackson

Cindy Jackson, Chief Learning Officer, has the ability to seek out the core of unique leadership challenges, making her a sought-after coach, speaker, and master facilitator. A corporate executive for over 25 years, she uses communication, compassion, and skill to transform reactive tendencies into creative competencies. She lives in Minneapolis.