How well can you focus?

We've all been there: we've planned to do something that is not our favorite activity. Then, we either don't start doing it at all, look for other seemingly more important tasks, or are distracted over and over again. This is called procrastination. And most of us are really good at this...

Of course, we would like to just get started, stay focused and then keep on working on the matter. 

But what does 'stay focused' actually mean? The term 'focus' comes from the world of physics and means the bundling of light rays. We often use the word in the context of directing or concentrating our attention on one particular matter. However, the term 'focus' also has another dimension: keeping an eye on what is essential: How does what I am currently doing fit into my overarching goals (for life) or those of the organization I am working for?

These two dimensions of focus require different behaviors or attitudes. Therefore, there is no single measure to ensure your attention.

In order to complete a task with concentration and speed, you need discipline and a quiet environment – in other words, as little noise or visual distractions as possible. Meditation is often cited as an ideal method to ensure your concentration, because meditation is all about being mindful and focusing on the moment. This is all we need if we want to complete a task without our thoughts wandering off into the past or the future.

The maximum form of focus is certainly 'flow'. I think most of us know what it's like to be absorbed in something to an extent that you don't even notice how time flies. If you haven't experienced this yet, you probably haven't landed your dream job. Because we usually get into this flow with activities that challenge us but don't overwhelm us and for which we have a strong inclination and feel a high level of motivation.

In order to keep an overarching goal in view, it is necessary to take a step back on a regular basis, to deliberately lose focus or even disperse. After all, those who keep on working through their list of tasks run the risk of losing their very own path. 
This reminds of the 10th Agile principle: "The art of maximizing the amount of work not done." Because it is only when you master this art that you will have the time, space and attention for the essential things and for taking a step back, as I said above.

At the same time, we also need external stimuli to adjust our actions and aspirations and to check whether they are still in line with our overarching goal. These stimuli include interacting with other people, attending cultural events, consuming literature, and absorbing a wide range of information. As with so many things, the right balance is the key to success. Not becoming overwhelmed with external input and remaining uninspired on a topic or canceling an appointment can help you find the right balance. 

We would therefore describe a person as focused if they keep an eye on the overarching goals and – when working on a particular task – maintain their concentration to the largest extent possible.

You might think that I was suggesting that any activity – even distraction, culture or meeting up with friends – can or should serve the goal of maintaining focus. Anyone who thinks that doesn't know me. 

Because I am convinced that doing nothing, taking breaks, being bored, letting your mind wander, or routine activities such as doing the washing up or ironing improve everyone's health and sleep. In addition to this health-related aspect, these non-focused activities can accidentally lead to creative ideas, ways out of dilemmas, innovations or other good ideas. So it's worth being non-focused sometimes!

This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every three weeks. For subscription click here

Further reading:

Andrea SchmittInnovationstrainerinAm Mittelpfad 24aD 65520 Bad Camberg+49 64 34-905 997+49 175 5196446
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