Why you must focus to achieve success!

The ability to stay focused and control your mind from wandering regularly throughout the day can be both incredibly frustrating and exhausting if you are working on specific activities in pursuit of your goals. Whilst there certainly appears to be evidence to support ‘deliberate’ day dreaming that can in fact benefit you from embracing your creative part of the brain in a variety of different ways. The simple need to concentrate without distraction can be challenging when deadlines are fast approaching. It’s the ability to assume control of your mind, unhook the current thought and reset your focus on the task in hand. This takes practice, like and habit, but the benefits are significant as you will become a productive machine!

There are a number of different techniques to consider to train your mind to become better at focusing on your specific priorities and the benefits are certainly there to be seen. There is no doubt that by channeling your energies into a single activity will ensure you are consistent and the overall quality of your efforts will increase (check out the previous post on ‘The One Thing’). You will also find that you feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed as your mind isn’t trying to juggle a handful of different things at once – all you have to deal with is one task at a time. Additionally your specific objective will be achieved rather than a sub optimal version of the perceived outcome. Finally you will simply get more done in a shorter time period, rather than endlessly distracted and losing energy as your mind tries to process different requests, thoughts and activities.

The working day is essentially a series of individual blocks that you should focus all energies on for a specific period of time, then rest and go again – one analogy is like a boxer and having a series of rounds to fight in – 3 mins of focus, strategic effort with a single clear goal in mind, then rest, recover then go again…with the ability to last 10 – 12 rounds. We will explore the structure of the day in much greater detail in future posts but for now you should ensure your focus is maintained for the current window or round. To achieve your goals, you need a plan and the focus to deliver on the specific parts of the plan. To really achieve success you must have your primary goals in mind before you go to bed and when you wake in the morning – writing them down, reading and repeating them to yourself, front and centre – this creates the unwavering purpose you need to have any chance of being successful. Your goals will evolve over time, new ones replacing the old but you need to ensure you look ahead rather than backwards – your attention focused on what’s ahead of you to be achieved.

Below are a list of suggested techniques to think about that will help you focus:

  • – Our willpower and decision making lose energy throughout the day therefore it can be valuable to work on the more creative or activities that require concentration first whilst our minds are fresh, focusing on the hard tasks up front in those 2 or 3 hours in the morning, the more mundane, repetitive, mindless tasks can be done later in the day – it’s all about planning out your day effectively to optimise your energies – understanding when you are at your best should align with when you focus on different types of activities.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice – every time you find your mind getting distracted, recognise it and reset your attention on the task in hand – no matter how insignificant or small, keep working on this as you will get better at it and eventually it will become natural and you’ll pick up on when you day dream far faster – like anything its a habit than can be learned and improved upon.
  • During your breaks use this time to day dream and encourage your mind to wander – actively embrace this time and see where things go – essentially allowing your mind to problem-solve and relax – there are benefits to improving your focus by simply giving your mind a break from the intensity and deliberate control of staying in the moment.
  • Reinforce your commitment by keeping your promises (no matter how big or small) – follow through on commitments you’ve made ensures you’ll see things through till the end – this develops a habit of consistency and there are parallels to the way your mind will approach focus and self control.
  • Treat or reward yourself after completing a task with supreme focus. The promise of some kind of reward can drive you to see through a specific task. Remember these blocks or rounds should be small and therefore it won’t be that long until your first break – setting an initial reward as you start practicing can get you over the first few hours and gradually the rewards can become less frequent but perhaps larger as you complete more significant goals.
  • Take time to completely switch off – no work, no phones, time with the family, completely distract yourself with enjoyable activities, lose yourself in a different part of your life to re-energise yourself before coming back to your goals – avoiding burn out is key to relentlessly drive forward – it’s all in the planning but taking time away will enable you to refocus and push on.
  • Sleep at least 7 hours per day – don’t take this lightly – yes you may think you can work through the night (sometimes required) or you can live on 5 hours per day but over time I believe this catches up with you – you’ll be fresh and you’ll mind will be clear – critical in those first few hours of each day. Find ways to optimise your sleep so you sleep deeply and wake full of energy – it’s all about how effective you truly are whilst working rather than simply turning up – we want to maximise each hour and squeeze every last ounce of value from our working day if we want to achieve great things – so fresh, focused and energised requires quality sleep.

Why self awareness is so critical to success!

Having thought long and hard about what I would consider to be one of the most critical attributes for success I keep coming back to Self Awareness.  I really believe that it is the starting point for any successful career, a better understanding of ourselves building on our strengths and identifying areas were we must make incremental improvements.

I think the brilliant Gary Vaynerchuck captured it best:  ‘Self-awareness is being able to accept your weaknesses while focusing all of your attention on your strengths.  The moment you decide to accept your shortcomings and bet entirely on your strengths, things will change’.

The dictionary definition of self awareness is ‘conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings’.

The ability to understand why we do things, the way we react, what truly drives us, how we control our emotions and behaviours in the present moment will ensure we focus and manage our thoughts on most important objectives and goals.

Many studies have shown that self-awareness is a critical factor in the success of many industry and business leaders.  Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) believes that this is the key corenestone to Emotional Intelligence – a very interesting read if you have time – would certainly recommend it.

I think part of the problem as to why we aren’t more self-aware is that for the majority of the time we just aren’t there to monitor or observe our own behaviour.  We don’t really appreciate what is going on around us or indeed inside of ourselves.

The good news is that there are a whole bunch of techniques to try that can improve our ability to be more self-aware.  I’ve listed five techniques that I feel are worthwhile trying and can make a difference – like everything you have to pursue and keep practicing but even picking one and repeating it over and over will realise benefits.

  1.  Capture your thoughts in a notebook or journal.  Before you go to sleep at night write down those things that went well or didn’t, your feelings, your experiences through the day and reflect on what you may or done differently or would do again.
  2. Ask for some ‘honest’ feedback from close friends, colleagues or family.  You may be uncomfortable with this but believe me it works if you want to get a sense of how you may be perceived – certainly much easier to hear it from those you trust than those you don’t really know.
  3. Download Headspace and practice mindfulness.  One of the best things I’ve done in recent months is to start spending 10-15mins each day practicing mindfulness – empty your mind of everything – sit in a quiet room or take time and observe what’s going on inside and around you.  There are so many benefits to this – one being to clear your mind (will deal with this in future blogs) but will help you achieve laser focus.
  4.  Personality Tests.  Whilst this may seem like a management technique or team building exercise having some indication after answering a series of direct questions and then considering the answers provides an insight into the way you think and feel about things.  Myers-Briggs is one, but there are many others….
  5. Goals & Priorities.  Write down your priorities for the day, week, month ahead and think about how you will achieve these based on your strengths and weaknesses – what needs attention and what do you need to be aware.  Track and monitor your progress based on your personal traits in addition to your activities to see how you can continue to grow your character over time.

I’ll cover more on self-awareness in the future but simply working on how you observe and monitor your emotions and behaviours in different situations will dramatically improve your chances of success in the future.