Are you suffering from distractionitis? Do you start something new just as you get tracking on something old? You’re not alone. Often referred to as having an idea fairy on your shoulder, it’s normal and natural to find a greater sense of joy chasing new ideas with new potential rather than old ideas that have reality attached. But you don’t need to be someone who can’t focus on just one thing. You can learn the skill of singular focus to achieve a greater level of success in all areas of life.
1. When you focus on one thing, you master it!
Let’s start with the importance of focus. No one is an expert at everything. Yet, tons of people are experts at something. This something is their focus. Bouncing from one idea to another, or one subject to another, means we will never be able to put enough time and energy into developing our skill in that single area. Without significant time and energy in one area, we can never become an expert at it. Business expert Brian Tracy talks all about this in his book, Bull’s-Eye: The Power of Focus
It’s easy to see that if someone was dribbling a basketball and trying to aim a crossbow, their ability to hit the target would be greatly diminished. But we do this in life all the time!
You desperately want to finish writing your book but you’re surfing social media instead. You want to be a more present mom or dad but you also want to grow your side hustle. There is nothing wrong with having multiple goals at the same time, but there is something wrong with trying to achieve opposing goals at the same time. To be present with your kids, you must be present with your kids. Anything else added to it is subtracting from your effectiveness at being present. When writing a book, you must write. If you are bored of writing or not sure what to write, then set time aside for other things. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you can do both and accomplish both.
2. Disorder exists where focus splits.
In the recesses of our lives, there are dark corners between our goals. Hidden nooks and crannies between our passions. Cob webs between our priorities.
Without clear delineations between things we focus on, there is a middle ground of blurriness. If you try to multitask and write a book while catching up on your favorite podcast, not only will you not give either priority the attention it deserves and NEEDS, but you will make a mess of both of them. It will be time wasted because you were distracted in your writing when you required clarity of thought and you were distracted in your listening when you needed full attention. You won’t hear or retain everything in the podcast and the progress made writing your book will be abysmal at best.
You can always find competing objectives by the mess they leave behind. That mess is often guilt, anxiety, or confusion. A distracted dad who wants to spend more time with his kids but yearns to be connected more with friends will find himself disengaged and unfulfilled in both areas. That dissatisfaction will manifest itself as guilt of not being a good parent or confusion in why he can’t maintain friendships.
3. Humans can only focus on one thing at a time.
This provocative statement often gets boo’s and hisses from the females in the audience. “But we’re great multi-taskers!” they all shout together before they read The Myth of Multitasking: How Doing it All Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw.
As John Staughton puts it, “multitasking is basically impossible.” What we often refer to as multitasking is really just us trying spending a small amount of time on more than one thing. Our brain works so quickly we can hear a podcast during one fraction of a second, think of an idea the next fraction of a second, speak to our child the next fraction of a second, and keep vacuuming. All of that happened within a second so we are inclined to say we multi-tasked.
But it couldn’t be further from the truth! What we actually did is split up our focus 4 ways in 1 second. Think about that for a second…or a minute.
If you were paying me $500 for a 30-minute coaching session, would you want my full attention? Why? Can’t I multitask? Why would you mind me reading an email while you told me your latest circumstance, or have one earbud in with my favorite podcast on?
Exactly. Without giving you singular focus, my attention would be split. The time spent on you is impacted and my abilities to perform would be greatly reduced.
Then why do we do the contrary?
4. Fight your nature.
What I have found in almost every case of multitasking distraction is a lack of passion as a seed. Consider the moments you give your best attention to a single thing. Is it not when you are most interested in it?
Take a woman, for example. She may shop around on her smartphone while sitting in front of a movie that doesn’t interest her. But take her shopping, and all she does is shop. Why? Because that is what she is interested in doing at that moment!
Unfortunately, we can’t ONLY do what we are interested in doing. If we did, few people would work and the world would quickly descend into chaos. Instead, we must fight our nature and selectively decide what we will pay attention to at any given moment.
Do you want your surgical doctor fighting his nature for distraction? What about your dentist? Babysitter? Construction worker? Teacher? Driver next to you on the highway? Of course! Everyone must fight their nature to be distracted, to want to think about other things, to desire perceived multitasking.
5. You CAN focus on one single thing!
You really can do it because true multitasking in the biological sense is impossible. Now, I don’t mind you dividing your time to complete multiple objectives in similar time frames. Dividing our attention is healthy and necessary to have a fully functioning society, workplace, and family. There will always be competing goals that require our time and energy if at no more than the basic levels of health, activity, and purpose.
I know you can improve your focus because you were created and wired to focus only on one thing at a time. What you must do, however, is focus on only one thing for a longer period of time. The issue you likely struggle with is how and when to switch your focus.
Be organized and know that the best way to achieve your goal is to spend more time and attention on it. Singular focus is one of the best indicators of success. I found this to be painfully true when I was younger.
I used to be a big time video gamer. I also have always enjoyed working out and exercising. I would often wake up early to exercise before having to leave the house for work. Every now and then, I would workout in my room near my computer. Eventually, I began playing games in-between sets. I would think to myself, I may as well use my time to play games instead of sitting around waiting to recover. It was a slippery slope. After a month or two, I came to the realization that my workouts turned into gaming sessions. I would literally consume pre-workout supplements and then spend an hour playing video games only to check the time and rush off to work! Isn’t that a sad way to live?
Then why do you do it too? Maybe it’s not video games and exercise. It’s more likely work and hobby. Or kids and social media. Or church and day dreaming.
The human condition is wired for distraction but we can overcome that. You can overcome a distracted lifestyle.
6. Draw the lines in the sand.
The single best piece of advice I can give you to become a more focused person is by drawing lines in the sand. What does this mean?
It means creating clear boundaries around situations. When I get home from work, I immediately place my cell phone on the kitchen counter and engage with my family. If I had my phone in my hand, I know I’d be tempted to use it. When I lay down to sleep, I place my phone on my dresser. If I put my phone under my pillow, I know I’d be tempted to use it. Do you see the lines being drawn in the sand?
Regardless of what your goals are, you must put a clear boundary around them. If it’s time for you to write, put everything else away and devote a certain amount of time to the activity. Kids awake? Time to put the hobby away and focus on them for a certain amount of time. Don’t try to do more than one thing at a time. It’s not helpful to you achieving your goals.
In fact, it’s far more beneficial to spend a short period of uninterrupted attention on a single activity than mix multiple activities together over a longer period of time. Your goal NEEDS your undivided attention. Your family NEEDS your undivided attention. Can you only spare 5 minutes? Fine. Give it 5 minutes of laser focus and then give that other thing 5 minutes. But don’t give 1 thing a quarter of a second, and another thing a quarter of a second, and flip back and forth for an hour. It’s simply not effective to accomplishing your goals.
What do you think? Can you develop your skills to focus on one thing at a time? If you do, you will become more successful.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and any additional strategies for focus better on one thing at a time. If you like this article, give it a like, share it on social media, and subscribe to my blog using the links on the sidebar.