HOW CAN YOU STAY FOCUSED? - How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life

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Once you have a handle on what you should think about, you must decide how to better focus on it. Here are five suggestions to help you with the process:

1. Remove Distractions

Removing distractions is no small matter in our current culture, but it’s critical. How do you do it? First, by maintaining the discipline of practicing your priorities. Don’t do easy things first or hard things first or urgent things first. Do first things first—the activities that give you the highest return. In that way, you keep the distractions to a minimum. 

Second, insulate yourself from distractions. I’ve found that I need blocks of time to think without interruptions. I’ve mastered the art of making myself unavailable when necessary and going off to my “thinking place” so that I can work without interruptions. Because of my responsibilities as founder of three companies, however, I am always aware of the tension between my need to remain accessible to others as a leader and my need to withdraw from them to think. The best way to resolve the tension is to understand the value of both activities. Walking slowly through the crowd allows me to connect with people and know their needs. Withdrawing from the crowd allows me to think of ways to add value to them.

My advice to you is to place value on and give attention to both. If you naturally withdraw, then make sure to get out among people more often. If you’re always on the go and rarely withdraw for thinking time, then remove yourself periodically so that you can unleash the potential of focused thinking. And wherever you are… be there!

2. Make Time for Focused Thinking  

Once you have a place to think, you need the time to think. Because of the fast pace of our culture, people tend to multi-task. But that’s not always a good idea. Switching from task to task can cost you up to 40 percent efficiency. According to researchers, “If you’re trying to accomplish many things at the same time, you’ll get more done by focusing on one task at a time, not by switching constantly from one task to another
Years ago I realized that my best thinking time occurs in the morning. Whenever possible, I reserve my mornings for thinking and writing. One way to gain time for focused thinking is to impose upon yourself a rule that one company implemented. Don’t allow yourself to look at e-mail until after 10 A.M. Instead, focus your energies on your number one priority. Put non-productive time wasters on hold so that you can create thinking time for yourself.

3. Keep Items of Focus Before You 

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great transcendental thinker, believed, “Concentration is the secret of strength in politics, in war, in trade, in short in all management of human affairs.” To help me concentrate on the things that matter, I work to keep important items before me. One way is to ask my assistant, Linda Eggers, to keep bringing it up, asking me about it, and giving me additional information in reference to it.
I’ll also keep a file or a page on my desk so that I see it every day as I work. That strategy has successfully helped me for thirty years to stimulate and sharpen ideas. If you’ve never done it, I recommend that you try it. (I’ll tell you more about it in the section on reflective thinking.)

4. Set Goals 

I believe goals are important. The mind will not focus until it has clear objectives. But the purpose of goals is to focus your attention and give you direction, not to identify a final destination. As you think about your goals, note that they should be

  • Clear enough to be kept in focus 
  • Close enough to be achieved 
  • Helpful enough to change lives
Those guidelines will get you going. And be sure to write down your goals. If they’re not written, I can almost guarantee that they’re not focused enough. And if you really want to make sure they’re focused, take the advice of David Belasco, who says, “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my business card, you don’t have a clear idea.”

Even if you look back years from now and think your goals were too small, they will have served their purpose—if they provide you with direction. 

5. Question Your Progress 

Take a good look at yourself from time to time to see whether you are actually making progress. That is the most accurate measure of whether you are making the best use of focused thinking. Ask yourself, “Am I seeing a return for my investment of focused thinking time? Is what I am doing getting me closer to my goals? Am I headed in a direction that helps me to fulfill my commitments, maintain my priorities, and realize my dreams?”