The Power of Focus

By Dan Vis
January 18, 2021
Comments: 29

This week I'm bringing back another reading from last year's ROCKET that was replaced by new content this year. I couldn't squeeze it into our 10 days together, but the principle is still super important. Consider it bonus #2!



There are many facets to a good time management system: scheduling, prioritization, goals, and more. But when it is all said and done, and your plans have been set--one critical need remains. The need for focus.

Multi-Tasking

The fact is, humans are terrible multi-taskers. We like to think we can do two or more things at the same time, but other than highly automatic things like walking and chewing gum, we can't. Our brain is simply not wired to run two processes simultaneously--and there's a slew of research out there to confirm it. What we do instead is switch back and forth between tasks. And it costs us.



Each time you switch between tasks, you have to reorient yourself, adjust to the new activity, figure out where you left off, and pick up your train of thoughts. That all costs time. Employees who constantly stop to check emails or answer texts are typically as much as 40% less productive than employees who only check emails 1 or 2 times per day and stay locked on their projects. That's a huge productivity boost. And some studies put the number even higher!

Multi-tasking leads to mistakes. The constant switching between tasks is statistically proven to increase errors. And the more complex the tasks, the more serious the errors. And that eats time too. Each time we make a mistake we have to stop, figure out where the problem is, go back and fix it, and then redo whatever it was we did wrong the first time. And then, of course, get back to where we were before we digressed. And that does not even take into account any consequences from the actual mistake.

Other studies show multi-tasking to decrease creativity. It adversely affects memory. It weakens your ability to concentrate. And it can cause us to miss things we would otherwise see. In one study, a clown riding a tricycle was put in the busy intersection of a college campus. Of the students walking by, 75% of those talking on a cell phone did not even see him. Imagine that! How much do we miss when we live distracted lives?

And there's a psychological consequence of pursuing too many goals at once. Suppose you have five tasks to do and they each take about 4 hours to complete. If you shuffle equally between the five through the day, you won't get any of them finished. In fact, none of them will even be half done. You head home feeling stressed, that the entire day was spent spinning wheels. And you come back the next day overwhelmed by all those part-finished projects. By contrast, choose to tackle those tasks one at a time, and you get your first task finished by lunch and another before you clock out. You head home with a sense of accomplishment, and you start the next day motivated to tackle whatever has moved up to the top of the stack!

Putting this all together leads to a pretty clear conclusion. If you focus on one task at a time, you will work faster, make less mistakes, be more creative, remember things better, concentrate more deeply, and notice things we would otherwise miss. Like clowns. :) We'll be more happy and fulfilled, and feel significantly less pressure and stress. Choosing to focus on one thing at a time makes a huge difference!

The Focus Question

One of the big time management gurus of a generation ago recommended using a simple question frequently through the day: "What's the best use of my time, right now?" It's a good question. I recommend turning it into a prayer: "Lord, what should I be doing right now?" In my experience, the more you pray that prayer, and the more sincere you are about wanting to know the answer--the more willing God will be to speak! This one tip alone can dramatically increase your productivity.



But I'd suggest taking it a step further. My advice is to select a default answer, prayerfully, in advance. In other words, choose an answer you will assume is God's will, unless He intervenes and tells you something different. And then stick to that answer through whatever slots of time are available to work on that task.

How much time do we waste, not sure what to do next? Unclear which project to work on? Where to put our efforts? How often do we procrastinate? Do stuff that's not really valuable? Waste time in lots of different ways--because we don't have a "default answer"? What if instead, we caught ourselves every time we found ourselves with a bit of free time--and went straight to one pre-planned high priority task?

That's the power of focus.

And it's pretty easy to do, by simply incorporating a bit of life planning into your devotional time. At the conclusion of your morning Bible study and prayer, take one minute to ask God to highlight the top 2 or 3 tasks for the day. Then list them on a small card or scrap of paper, in the order they need to be done. That list then becomes your default answer.

Life happens. Stuff comes up we don't anticipate. And we have other responsibilities we need to take care of. But whenever you have a bit of free time, and you are not sure what to work on, you now have an answer. You focus on one project and get it done as steadily as you can. Then when it's finished you move to the next, and then the one after that.

The item you choose can be your most important project, something urgent, or just something small you want to knock out quickly. If you've created a good strategic plan, it really doesn't matter. I personally tend to do them in order of importance. But I also like to sprinkle in quick wins. They can be super energizing.

Rather than juggling projects, cultivate the habit of keeping your eyes locked on one thing. And unless God directs you to do something different, or to change your focus, don't deviate till it's done!

Exceptions

There are, of course, exceptions to the "one target at a time" rule. Here are two of them:

1) If you have big blocks of time, you may want to divide them up between a couple goals. I try to mix mental goals with physical ones each day in order to attempt some balance. My current schedule allows me to carve out large blocks of time. I like using the morning for mental work and the afternoon for physical work. After writing four or five hours, my brain starts to get tired, and I start to lose productivity. So I switch to something different in the afternoon. You too, can tackle more than one goal, if you can carve out separate blocks of time to work on them.

2) Sometimes your work on a goal hits some impasse that requires you to stop temporarily. Maybe you need information from another person; you lack the money to go forward; or some other task has to be completed first. Rather than pausing and waiting idly until you are able to get moving again, it's good to have a backup project ready to turn to. Just make sure you have done everything you can to advance your first task, that there are not other aspects of the project you can work on, and that you have scheduled a time to get back to it. If there's nothing more you can do, start on something else.

I also want to add an important word of caution. Don't make "focus" an excuse to neglect less interesting duties. While it's great to stick to one thing at a time, and it will help you get more done--God also asks us to be faithful in the small responsibilities of life. Leaving little things undone can trip us up and cause big problems down the road. I've learned that the hard way! You probably have too. We want to get our most important projects done without leaving less important things undone (Joshua 11:15As the LORD commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua, and so did Joshua; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses.).

So take a few moments in prayer and ask God to show you what tasks you should focus on today. And in what order. Then use that list to answer the focus question I suggested above any time God does not specifically point you to something else. Commit any small blocks of time that come your way to completing the first task on your list. And then move on to the next, and then the next, and the next...

It's all about focus.


Comments

How important is focus to you? Do you struggle with distractions? Procrastination? Find yourself wasting time because you are unsure what to do next? Leave a comment in the box below...

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Posted by Dan Vis on 01/21/21  
Oh I miss our times together so much Sixto! What awesome memories. :) Stay faithful dear brother!
Posted by Sixto Ramos Jr on 01/20/21  
Pastor what a timely memo. I have been like a chicken without a head lately. I just read the memo and it brought such clarity and encouragement. I am putting these tips to practise now!!
Posted by Dan Vis on 01/19/21  
You made me laugh Eric, about a lack of focus being like the clown on the tricycle. Which makes that story an even better illustration--as it highlights both risks: too much and too little focus. Great post!

You're welcome Valerie. I think this is true of all of us. Especially those who work on computers a lot. I've gotten to where I shut down my email program for most of the day--and only turn it on at specified times. Same with my phone. All notifications are off, so if I check it, it's because I choose to check it. Not because it dinged at me for attention. We do have to attend to these things but so important to do it on our terms not theirs. Thanks for your comment!
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 01/19/21  
Dan,
Thank God that you shared this post again. Focus. Focus. Everything you mentioned in the article is what I experience throughout the day because I check emails, look at YouTube posts, go to Google, get a phone call- you get the point. Then I have to refocus and I find that I struggle to remember what I was doing before the interruptions.
I will add prioritizing my tasks to my daily devotion and ask as Paul did, “ Lord, what do You want me to do?” I am reminded by Philippians 4:13I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. that what He asks of me, He will enable me to do it.
Posted by Eric Dunn on 01/19/21  
Thanks for the encouragement to prioritize according to God’s leading. I feel like God has been leading me to Focus, and that is why I chose that as a stepping stone this year, Focus. Without focus I feel like the clown on a tricycle, but I do see myself as the kids passing by not noticing the interesting things God has for them during the day. I will ask God more as I begin my day. Thanks!
Posted by Dan Vis on 01/18/21  
Glad this was helpful Mary! These are simple principles and I'm excited to see you working already to start implementing them! As for your question, I think the rule of thumb is whether one of the tasks can be done without demanding much mental attention. If so, it may be perfectly fine to listen to a sermon or book while doing the chores, without it hampering productivity too much. I'd also consider the converse. If you find your mind wandering unprofitably when doing a task--you would probably be better off to engage it in something more useful. For me personally, I tend to focus my full attention on even my simple tasks with an aim to getting them done in the absolutely most efficient and effective way possible. I kind of turn it into a game, analyzing every motion and trying to find ways to constantly improve. That certainly helps get those tasks knocked out faster...

I really appreciate your testimony Jean, that God is willing to guide us like this. It makes the Christian life into such an exciting adventure--because we never quite know what God has in store. It also relieves a lot of stress. When I wake up I have no worries about what task I will do that day. I've already got a general strategic plan I'm working towards, and I'm fully confident God will fill in the rest of my tasks for the day later in the morning. It's really nice to not have to worry about that, isn't it?
Posted by Jean Behm on 01/18/21  
Thank you Dan for this post. After my devotions I tell the Lord all the things I need to do and ask Him to prioritize them. Even when my devotions take longer I find that I get everything accomplished that was necessary.
I also ask Him if he has other plans for me that day to open my ears that I might hear what He wants me to do. Even then, He helps me to get things done that I really want to do.
It is amazing how He works, through the Holy Spirit. I am so thankful for His leading every day. Jean
Posted by Mary Ellen Coleman on 01/18/21  
Focus is something I struggle with so I really appreciate this post. Distractions are constantly around me, as my husband has a tendency to have the TV on almost constantly, and turned up rather loud. At the same time he tries to have a conversation either with me or loudly on his phone with someone else.
I have also found myself overwhelmed, frequently (even daily) because there is so much to do and not enough time, energy, strength, or resources to do them. Needless to say, I frequently feel unsure what to do next.
I love the idea of praying about this, of asking "Lord, what should I be doing right now?" It is so simple, yet it took reading this to open my eyes to praying about what to do. So thank you for this message today.   
I do have one question about focus and multitasking: is it multitasking or is it a good idea to listen to a book, sermon, or such while doing something physical, like cleaning house or working outside? That way I could be learning while doing tedious tasks? Not sure now after reading this. Sometimes I do this in order to block out the TV or to listen and learn while moving so I don't fall asleep while learning. What are your thoughts?
Thanks again for directing me to prayer. I'm starting today. Please pray that I will actually listen until I hear the answer. Thanks.
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/04/19  
Great! Glad this was helpful Floride. Sometimes the most helpful things are the most counterintuitive--like focusing on one thing at a time. Good idea for a prayer request!
Posted by Floride Leonce on 07/04/19  
Dan, this is so interesting and helpful. I always tend to want to accomplish several tasks simultaneously. Like you stated, I always end up not completing them as planned, and feeling overwhelmed. I think that focus is very important and will help take away much stress at the end of the day. I will that one of my prayer subjects from now on.

Thanks for this great post, Dan!
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/30/19  
It's a good class Clara, and I think you'll enjoy it if you haven't done it before. It's great for January 1, but you can do it any time of course!
Posted by Clara Peredo on 06/30/19  
I am grateful for this information and will be doing Rocket as soo as I complete Basics and cross Reference. Thank you Dan
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/27/19  
Glad this was helpful Lillian. It's a powerful question isn't it? And the thought of heaven is definitely a powerful motivator. Can't wait. I'm sure there will be lot's of crowns to go around. And we'll throw them all at Jesus feet, right?
Posted by Lillian E. Cepeda on 06/27/19  
This is good information for me. I do struggle with mind and physical distractions. I will include the "focus question in my daily prayers", which I think it will keep me focused with less distractions and procastination.

Thank you, Dan, for your hard work. One day you will receive the Reward from Jesus' hands. What a blessing that would be!
Posted by Fiona van Wyk on 03/15/19  
It's lovely to be here, Dan. And a privilege too. :-)
Posted by Dan Vis on 03/02/19  
Glad this was a blessing Fiona. Thanks for being a help to so many people here at FAST with your encouragement and support. :)
Posted by Fiona van Wyk on 03/02/19  
I agree with Qing, Dan, that FAST has helped immensely in clarifying my actions and jobs. I appreciate this.

I appreciate the post too. It is an excellent reminder for focusing my life.
Posted by Dan Vis on 01/24/19  
Quite a picture there Qing of shaking up your brain by shifting back and forth. No scrambled brains for me! :) But more seriously, thank you for your kind words about FAST. It's been a great adventure, these last couple years especially. And the best is yet to come...
Posted by Qing Ling on 01/24/19  
yeah, some have termed multi-tasking "milkshake tasking" instead - it's shaking our brain up and down like when making a milkshake, jumping from one task back to another and back to another in a very short space of time so it feels like we are doing it at the same time but actually in our brain it is not at the actual exact same time.

after years, dare i say decades, of milkshake tasking, i've had to accept that i cannot hope to achieve more by multitasking. to do things properly, and not "abuse/break" my brain cells, I just have to choose to do LESS and be OK with it. Because I'd rather do less and take care of my brain's health, and do things properly, than do too much and sacrifice my health in the process.
It's taken be years to be OK with not doing/achieving everything that I want to do in the 24hr days that God has given me. hard lesson for the workaholic in me.

as for living a more effective life with greater focus - FAST has been such a great resource in training to practically apply this, including first recognising what is THE 'best' thing that God wants me to focus my life/time on in the first place, and then using FAST tools/tips to EFFECTIVELY manage our allotted 24hr days, 7 days a week, 365 days a year :)
Posted by Dan Vis on 01/19/19  
It's my pleasure Barbara! Glad you enjoyed ROCKET! :)
Posted by Barbara E. LaRose on 01/19/19  
Really enjoyed Rocket and have been implementing the program this new year of 2019. Thank you so much Pastor Dan for all the hard work you put in for us to learn and enjoy! God bless you!
Posted by Dan Vis on 01/16/19  
Interesting thoughts about God and the angels Denise! Good insights! Thanks for sharing...

Glad this clicked for you Floride. The other thing that might help is blocking out times for project--without emails or interruptions. And/or to schedule set times to check emails 9:00, 11:00, 1:00, 4:00 and then resist the urge to check it any other times. When I have a big project, I typically shut my email program down. Otherwise I can't resist the temptation to peek in, see what's new, and get distracted. Then suddenly for 15 or 30 minutes, or more, are gone!
Posted by Floride Leonce on 01/15/19  
Hi Dan,
Thank you for a great lesson on focus! I'm a big multitasker, not that it makes me perform any better. Checking and replying to emails is a big part of my job at work. At the same time, that makes me not being able to really prioritize as I should. Sometimes, I could be working on an important project and decide to reply to a few emails while trying to complete the project only to find myself completely behind schedule with the project. I also struggle at home trying to cook and do homework assignments at the same time. Yes, I complete the assignmens, but that takes a much longer time than if I chose to focus on one single task alone. So, I always end up being ovewhelmed and not being able to accomplis other meaningful tasks. I like the suggestion you gave about asking God to highlight the top 2 or 3 things to perform for the day. I think that's a good thing to try.
Thanks again and many blessings!
Posted by Denise Buglino on 01/15/19  
Well put Dan. I've felt for a long time that my human frame isn't meant for multitasking. That's in God's realm alone. I think God's messengers (the angels) are also focused on doing one task at a time. Multi-tasking is a recipe for chaos.
Posted by Dan Vis on 01/14/19  
Glad this was helpful Carole. It's amazing what a difference focus can make in productivity. When I have busy days I just shut off my email and the FAST site. Work offline, My phone is almost always off. I guard against every interruption possible--the only way to get everything done that I need to!
Posted by Carole Bliss on 01/14/19  
I struggle with multitasking. I learned that at work. Now being retired I still struggle with it. I believe if I slow down, pray for direction, what I am lead to do, will be more rewarding and focused. I needed this lesson. Thank you
BLESSINGS
Carole
Posted by Dan Vis on 01/14/19  
Glad this clicked Anita. Combine this what you learned in ROCKET so you always know your next task should be, and you are in business!

Great example of how poor we are at multi-tasking Ann. What makes it worse, accord to research, is that humans universally over-estimate their ability to multi-task. That's why it takes these "don't text and drive" laws and campaigns to curb the behavior. And even then we think we still think we're the exception. :)
Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 01/14/19  
I've often thought multi tasking should be confined to the skills needed to drive a car and that does not include using a cell phone while driving. A few days ago I was in the far left lane of 3 lanes of traffic. The person ahead of me was oblivious that the light had changed to green and when he did notice he stepped on it and then proceeded to go left and bounce off the concrete barrier halfway into the middle lane and back. Fortunately God had the situation under control and none of us following behind hit him or it would have been a major pile up. I saw a cell phone in his hand.
Posted by Anita Huffman on 01/14/19  
Excellent article. I tend to flit from task to task like a butterfly and come to the end of the day feeling like I haven't accomplished anything. I've also wasted a lot of time trying to decide what to do next. I'm going to implement these tips. Thank you!




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