The Power of FocusBy Dan Vis
January 14, 2019
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-TaskingThe 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 QuestionOne 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!
ExceptionsThere 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 (Matthew 23:23Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.).
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.
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CommentsHow 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...
|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 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 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 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!|
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