How many times have you ever struggled to know how to stay focused at work?
...Googled “best productivity tips” in a futile attempt to improve your productivity?
...Heard the stats on why multitasking is bad, but can’t seem to stop doing it?
Lack of focus ranks among the most common complaints I hear from the busy entrepreneurs and ambitious leaders I work with.
But I’m here today to tell you that it’s not a focus problem you have… it’s a clarity problem.
Inside of today’s episode, you’re going to discover why.
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You’re Listening to the Systems Made Simple™ podcast, Episode # 10.
Alright, say it with me now! Clarity over focus. Clarity over focus. Clarity over focus. Here’s the thing, if you’ve been struggling to stay focused, and feel like if only you didn’t have so many distractions and demands on your time and attention that maybe you could get more done, I’m here to tell you that it’s not a focus problem that you have. You have a clarity problem and why multitasking is bad. And that’s what we’re going to tackle together and fix today. So stay tuned!
What’s up my friends! How’s your week going so far? Are you feeling top of everything and getting everything checked off your list? Feeling really productive? Or are you already feeling a little overwhelmed by all that you need to get done this week, or maybe feeling a lot overwhelmed! Are you struggling with how to stay focused? Are you asking yourself why multitasking is bad?
Maybe you have good weeks and bad weeks. Maybe some weeks you’re really on your game, and other weeks, you feel like you’re all over the place and no matter how hard you work things are falling through the cracks. Those so-called productivity tips just aren’t working.
Most people in today’s day and age we live in feel like they have a focus problem. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has said to me, “If only I could stay focused…” “If only I didn’t have so many things to do!” “If only I didn’t have all these fires to put out…” THEN… I could get more things checked off in a day. If I had known why multitasking is bad years ago, I would’ve been more successful.
But it’s not just about checking things off that list, it goes deeper--beyond those productivity tips.
What I think people are really asking themselves is, “if only I knew the right things to focus on. How do I figure that out?” Most people want to make sure they’re focusing on the right things so that they’re not wasting time… when in reality, they waste a lot of time with trial and error, trying to figure out what those right things are.
And I get it, I’ve been there. When you’re not focused, you feel scattered. You may ask yourself why multitasking is bad and the negative impact it can have. You feel like you jump from one thing to the next all day, just trying to accomplish SOMEthing, but going to bed often feeling like despite how busy you were, you didn’t accomplish much of ANYthing. You finally realize and tell yourself why multitasking is bad. It’s exhausting. It’s a very reactionary way of living. Reacting to whatever comes through your inbox. Reacting to social media notifications the instant they hit your phone. Reacting to text messages, issues with team members, colleagues, employees, clients — giving up the power of your day over to these people and things. It’s like literally handing them the keys and saying here, you drive. I’ll just sit in the back seat and correct whatever messes you make.
It’s a reactionary way of living, it’s overwhelming, stressful, and quite frankly, it’s exhausting. Getting pulled in a million different directions is why multitasking is bad. This is how people get so bogged down in the busy-work, wasting their time, wishing they could focus better and not have so many problems to fix in the course of their day. This is not how to stay focused.
I can remember working for my dad for several years. I love my dad to death. He’s taught me so much about being an entrepreneur. He’s an incredibly wise man, full of knowledge, one of those people who knows a little something about everything. Got a question? Dad’s your guy. He’ll know the answer.
In fact, his clients have come to realize this, which is why they call him asking for all kinds of advice outside of the advice he is supposed to be giving them. Dad’s a wealth advisor, and helps people plan financially for both now and in the future. But any given day, you’ll walk into his office and hear him chatting it up offering helpful input on what kind of car to buy, or how to kill weeds in your garden, or talking about the best kind of bourbon to find for those old fashioneds you want to make this weekend when you have guests over. That’s just my dad. Ask for an inch, and he’ll give you a mile. And we all love him for it. He genuinely loves to help people.
But, it comes at a cost. Because I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard him complain about how he never has time to actually get to the work he needs to get to. Someone always needs something. There’s always an email in his inbox waiting for an immediate response, or a voicemail someone left while he was at lunch. And to know my dad, means you know he feels almost this obligation to help others. To be at their service. To give and give and give, at his own expense, all of which hurts us on how to stay focused.
And that cost is his time. It’s his time to focus on the things that he really needs to focus on. So, he’ll say things like, “I can’t ever get to it all, there’s just never enough time. I can’t seem to make any headway, I’m always putting out fires.”
It does seem impossible sometimes to try and focus without distraction. To ignore the texts and emails coming in at you, to ignore the kids yelling “mommy!” And the dog barking at the mailman and the client calling you with an issue and the countless other things that come up in the course of a day, doesn’t it?
Most people would just chalk it up and say that’s life! Or blame them on those beyond this productivity tips. And most people don’t ask themselves why multitasking is bad.
And to an extent, yea it is. Things are going to come up, things are going to happen. You can’t plan for everything.
But let me ask you — have you ever stopped to define what focus means to you? Have you ever asked yourself how to stay focused?
If you felt focused — what does it feel like? What would it look like? Maybe close your eyes and imagine it right now. Ask yourself why multitasking is bad. Not if you’re driving obvs, keep your eyes open. Just imagine — if you sat down at your desk and felt totally focused, what emotions would be present? What emotions would be absent? What is surrounding you? Would you ask yourself how to stay focused? Would you ask yourself if those productivity tips are working?
Is your cell phone sitting right there, or is it in another room? Do you have 14 tabs open, or are you just in a creative flow state and honed in on the one thing you’re working on? Do you have music playing? If so, what kind? Do you have your favorite drink nearby? Hot coffee? Iced coffee? Maybe you don’t drink coffee. Maybe you want water, or some other kind of drink. And notice how do you feel? Do you feel energized? Tired? Happy? Thoughtful? What kind of emotions are present?
Now, this is just a simple visualization, this is something you can do any place, anytime. Imagine how you want to feel, notice what’s happening in your mind’s eye when you feel that way, when you visualize it, and then start aligning your environment to that vision.
“Wow, awesome, love this, sounds great Courtney” but what about those times where I CAN’T have my perfect environment? Where the kids are hollering in the background and this is literally the only time I have to sit down and work today? Or, when I do sit down and have everything just so, and my boss pokes her head in my door and says “hey, meeting in the conference room in 5 minutes?” What then? What about those productivity tips?
You know what? You’re right. It’s easy to say “here — go create this setting for yourself so you can feel more focused.” This is how to stay focused. And it’s a good first step, having a little more clarity around what focus actually even looks and feels like for you. But if I were to end here and say ok guys now go forth and focus, I’d be doing you a disservice. It’d be just like all those articles you find when you google “how to focus better” and read things that tell you what to start doing, what to stop doing, what to do differently.
And that’s not enough. Sure, these short-term, temporary solutions may work for a time. But they're not enough for optimum focus to become a habit for you in the long-term.
Avoid multitasking and ask yourself why multitasking is bad.
Take regular breaks.
Do some daily mental exercises.
Book in for that exercise class.
Take time out to rest and get a good night's sleep.
Try mindfulness meditation.
Become a more active listener.
Follow those productivity tips.
These things all sound great in theory, but they’re not the answer to suddenly feeling more focused and how to stay focused.
We’ve got to go deeper. We’ve got to take a look at the iceberg under the surface, so that we don’t crash the Titanic — YOU — so that you don’t crash and burnout somewhere along the way.Because guess what? Just trying this focus technique and that focus technique until you find something that works, is like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Being scattered in too many different directions is why multitasking is bad. It’s actually keeping you distracted, circling the real problem, and staying busy doing more things is just keeping you from getting to the heart of the issue.
So let’s get to that root. Lack of focus is never the problem.
Lack of focus is a SYMPTOM.
And like any GOOD doctor would tell you, you can’t treat the symptoms and expect the problem to go away.
FOCUS is a byproduct of CLARITY.
The bottom line is this: focus is not the opposite of lack of focus. Clarity is the opposite of lack of focus, where focus is a natural byproduct of that clarity. Or if you want the bumper sticker version: write this on a sticky note and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day: Focus follows clarity.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of FOCUS, I think of: Concentration. Putting my energy on one thing at a time. But when I think of CLARITY, I think of having a sense of control, a confidence, a relaxed, calm approach, knowing the right things to focus on, a clear direction (where you’re headed) with clear steps to get there. And when you’re clear on where you’re going, the steps naturally appear. And when you have that clarity, focus is easy. Ridiculously easy. This is how to stay focused.
So now I’m going to give you two scenarios here and I want you to tell me which one of these feels better for you.
Scenario 1: rolling over in bed, hitting snooze, groggily checking your email, seeing an email from a client or a vendor with a problem that you have to fix, launching into your day with this on your mind, hurrying through your morning, gobbling breakfast and gulping coffee so you can get to your desk and take care of it. Then, by the time you take care of it, it’s mid-morning and your brain is shot.
You look at your list and you’re like omg, I have so much to do. That feels overwhelming, so you decide to do something the feels easy — so you feel busy — like you’re doing something… and what do you do? You ask yourself how to stay focused. You check email. And oh! My gosh! Look! There are THREE NEW EMAILS with MORE PROBLEMS for you to panic about and battle with. By the end of the day, you fall into bed exhausted, and give yourself the 3rd degree because you didn’t get to anything on your list today. You ask yourself why multitasking is bad because you ran out of time. Again. If only you could just stay focused! If only you had more time.
Ok that’s scenario 1
Here’s scenario 2: Your alarm goes off, and you roll over in bed. Your first thought is, hmm, can’t wait to go sip that coffee. You get up, brush your teeth, walk into the kitchen, and pour that first cup. You take a sip and treasure it. There’s no rush, there’s no need to hurry. You decided somewhere along the way that you were not going to let the day rule you anymore. You chose to take back your power and instead of giving it away to everyone else first thing in the morning, you do you first.
So, you get your day going, maybe get the kids off to school, commute to the office, sit down at your desk, and you’re tempted to check that email, but you know it’ll derail you from the three main tasks you’ve got to accomplish today which is going to take you closer to your goal. That goal you’re so crystal clear on and how to stay focused. Maybe it’s completing a big project, maybe it’s hiring a new team member, maybe it’s recording your video content for the month ahead, whatever it is, you know exactly what has to happen in order for that goal to happen.
So, you look at your list, you’ve got 3 main tasks written down as well as a few minor tasks that’ll take you under 5 minutes to complete, and you feel energized. Empowered. Excited for the day ahead. So, maybe you turn on some music, get another cup of coffee, and start working on task one. Before you know it it’s lunch time, and you’re almost done with your 3 big tasks for the day. Just a little more and you’ll have the afternoon to spend tying up loose ends. Then and ONLY then do you check your email, and guess what? You haven’t even felt the NEED to check it until then, because you’ve got an auto responder turned on that sets others’ expectations and lets them know you check emails every day after 2pm. You did a great job keeping your phone on airplane mode until lunch, and it feels SO GOOD to maintain control of your day like this. To hold the power. To know that you’ve got a clear direction, you know WHERE you’re headed, so it’s easy to identify WHAT steps you need in order to get there. To know why multitasking is bad. You get to bed that night feeling good. You didn’t get to everything on your list, but you moved the needle and learned how to stay focused. You saw it. You felt it. You know today was a good day. And you realize why multitasking is bad for your productivity and output.
Ok. Which scenario feels better? I think we’d both agree with the second one, right? Now, answer me honestly: which scenario feels like YOU right now. Are you living a life that looks like scenario 1, or scenario 2?
If you’re living a life that looks like scenario 2, good job. You’ve obviously figured out that focus naturally follows clarity, and that it’s easier to focus when you have that clarity. So instead of pouring all your energy into trying to figure out how to focus better, instead you pour that energy into getting clear on what has to happen for you to move the needle. On your projects, in your career, in your life.
Now, if your life currently looks like scenario 1, don’t worry. I’ve got your back. And you now have the building blocks for what you need to do next.
The answer is simple: you need clarity, not so much on how to stay focused and more productivity tips.
Clarity is not that hard to find. WE create problems for ourselves by overthinking things, by waiting until the “right time” or resisting taking action because we’re afraid of making mistakes. But when you have clarity, all that goes away.
And just as in everything else — you are 100% responsible for your actions. You can choose to seek out clarity, or you can keep doing what you’re doing and avoid it.
After all, Clarity is what you create for yourself. It’s not about those productivity tips.
Clarity is a decision.
Whatever degree of clarity you’re experiencing right now is what you’ve decided to create. Not deciding still counts as a decision — a decision to not decide and not how to stay focused.
In fact, taking you back to my 8th grade Latin class here, the word decide comes from the Latin decidere, which means “to cut off from.” To decide means to choose a direction and cut away or cut off other potential directions.
Running around in circles chasing after shiny objects and going in a bunch of directions at the same time — hello SQUIRREL — gives you confusion and unclarity--problems with how to stay focused. Committing to one specific direction doesn’t mean limiting your options, or closing the door on opportunities that might come up. It means knowing EXACTLY which opportunities are meant for you, and which ones aren’t. Committing to that direction will help you find the clarity you crave.
Alright that's it for today guys. As always, go forth and live your EffortLESS Life®. You’re the best — see you next time on the Systems Made Simple™ podcast.