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Sometimes You Have to Focus Manually

Posted by on in Education Leadership
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I found myself mixed with humility and joy listening to my sixteen-year old son, Keegan, as well as just observing his passionate explanation of how I don't know how to use my own camera to take pictures.  Having mastered the art of lecturing to me complete with eyes rolls and exhausted breath, he walked me through all the various settings, buttons, and dials on the camera. When did my son learn all of this?  

While I tried to act interested in all of his tips, tricks, and strategies, I waited patiently for him to finish, so I could school him a very important fact that would keep me at the top of the food chain of knowledge in the family; the fact that I bought an expensive camera with something called "Auto-Focus".  When he finished, I paused for dramatic effect before announcing my profound statement.  Getting ready to drop the mic, he quickly brought me down to Earth with his response: "Then, why would the company still keep all these features?  Sometimes, it is necessary to focus manually."

Even a year later, that experience and his response had me reflecting on its truth in settings outside of the photography world.  We tend to think about the word “Focus”, and think it should be automatic in what we do with it.  We tell ourselves we need to focus more as a New Year's Resolution, and say it when we are asked what changes we intend to make in improvement settings.  It has become such a much-needed area of work that it often gets nods of approval and the occasional "Amen" when we say it aloud.  We treat the ability to focus as something automatic, when it is something that is meant to be set manually.

In an effort to ensure you are focused, here are "Four Strategies To Manually Set Your Focus": 

1. Visually Post Your Priorities.  Too often, I hear people chanting the word “focus” over and over again, as if just saying the word makes something magical occur.  When I probe them on what they need to focus on, their response is often incoherent and incomplete.  Manually focus by writing your top strategies, goals, and objectives clearly on paper.  Actually put them on paper and post them in a place you will see them everyday.  They should be concise and understandable to anyone reading it.

2. Verbally Tell Your Priorities to Others.  Don’t make the assumption those around you know or have the same priorities as you.  Verbally tell them your priorities, so they can hold you accountable to them as well as support you along the way.  Set up regular meetings to check in with a "critical friend" to ask the hard questions that force you to keep your priorities at the center.

3. Remove Yourself From Distractions.  Being focused is not about mind over matter, or having willpower to overcome temptations from the things that might distract you.  Make physical changes or limits on things that might take you away from your priorities.  If your phone distracts you, put it away or turn it off.  If a mindless app seems to take away your focus, delete it.  If you can’t focus with the TV or music on, it’s time to turn it off and find another room.

4. Take Breaks. It’s important to build in breaks to your work.  There’s a “Law of Diminishing Return” that makes the point of too much work at once having an adverse effect on productivity and outcome.  What seems like commitment by working after hours is unhealthy and creates less focus: exercise regularly, don’t eat at your work desk, and stop checking emails after 7 pm.

I love networking and getting to know successful leaders.  I am always drawn in to their confidence and seemingly effortless work to produce amazing results.  Yet, the more I get to know them, I find that they aren’t superhuman.  They don’t necessarily have any natural gift.  They work hard at staying focused; and it isn’t automatic.  They just learned how to manually focus their attention.


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Guest Monday, 20 May 2019