“My success, part of it certainly, is due to my focus on a few things.”
So, we come to the fourth and the last part of this series on the “Power of Focus”. We have traversed the journey of the Ten Commandments to increase your focus, with the first six so far and here is a recap.
- Begin with the end in mind.
- Learn to say NO.
- Spend some time with you.
- Sleep well.
- Have Measurable Goals.
- The Reverse Pilot Test.
7. Zero-Based Thinking
We are immersed in a plethora of activities in our lives and as we have discussed earlier, they all cost us time, effort and money. We also have an innate urge to complete whatever task we undertake while not always doing a cost-benefit analysis of the same. The technique of Zero-Based Thinking (ZBT) helps us to focus our mind and eliminate the activities which bleed our productivity or peace of mind. Let’s say, you are in a decent job with reasonable pay and manageable working hours but which provides no prospects of future growth. On top of that, the work environment is not too great either due to which going to work each day feels like drudgery. If you are applying the regular method of thinking, probably there is nothing seriously wrong with the job and you will hang around forever. Now let’s apply ZBT to this situation – if you were applying for this job for the first time, having known what you know now (i.e., a poor work culture and prospects of promotion) would you still join it? Please read the previous line again and answer which, in all probabilities will be an emphatic NO. Well, then there is no reason for you to be continuing in this job, start looking for something better and more suitable.
Another example – you are a girl who has met this charming young man, who is from a good family, holds a nice job and seems eminently suitable for you to take the relationship to the next level. You go out to a restaurant for dinner with him and to your horror, he consumes too much liquor, behaves rudely with the waiter, creates a scene in the restaurant and insists upon driving in a drunk state. You flatly refuse, take a cab home and apply ZBT. If you were considering marriage with this man, having known what you know today (his uncouth and rude behaviour, his propensity for getting drunk and violent), would you still go out with him on the first date? The answer would again be a NO and if that is the case, there is no reason for you to meet this man again. Regular application of ZBT helps you focus on activities, things or persons who may be draining your productivity, peace of mind, money and so on. This helps you instead focus on what is important to your Wheel of Life.
8. Never Multitask
Ever wonder why it is illegal to drive while talking on your mobile? It is because we are multitasking i.e., driving and talking on the mobile simultaneously and our brain can process only one set of inputs at one time. So, if i.e., you get too immersed in talking on the phone, you may stop concentrating on driving resulting in potentially fatal outcomes. And yet, multitasking seems to be the flavour of the day today – a working woman who is deftly shifting gears between being a corporate honcho, doting mother, loving spouse and able homemaker, clearly fits in this category. There are so many examples of this nature and in fact, multitasking appears to be the epitome of effectiveness nowadays. But is it so?
Your brain needs to “lock on” to the task at hand to complete it efficiently. This time may be in a fraction of a second but nevertheless, it is required. As a corollary, when you are multitasking, you are actually doing only one task at any fraction of a second while quickly switching over to the next one after another fraction of a second. This is what is happening when you are having your dinner while watching a T-20 match on the TV, having a conversation with your family in person, texting your friends, and responding to emails in the virtual world. No wonder, later when your spouse asks you the much-dreaded question – “how was the chicken?” you find it difficult to answer because you barely remember what you ate, chicken or vegetable? Similarly, you have very little idea about what answers you gave to emails and what opinions you shared on WhatsApp etc. All in all, you were inefficient and out-of-focus all this time, while taking pride in the fact that you were multitasking.
Similarly, while I am writing this article, my daughter has put on a lovely Kishore Kumar song. I am a huge music lover and if any kind of music is on, I just can’t focus elsewhere. My writing had stopped for the last 10 minutes and I had to request my daughter to use her headphones. Let’s face it – we are not designed to multi-focus so even when we might be multitasking we are actually doing only one task at one time. We are rapidly switching attention between a multitude of tasks and each switch takes some time before we focus on the next task. As per the latest research, this mode of functioning is around 40% less efficient than taking on one task, completing it and only then moving to the next one i.e., single-tasking.
If you go through the Ten Commandments you will notice that I have been deliberating on correctly choosing the goals (or tasks) on the Wheel of Life, prioritise them a day before and then begin the new day with the most important task. Move on to the next task only if you have completed the first task. Try it, it tremendously improves your Power of Focus.
9. Follow Pareto’s Principle
I once had a terribly inefficient and very painful boss and it was next to impossible to get any proposal cleared from his desk. His “In Tray” was always overflowing with files with little movement from the “In to Out Tray.” Once, a rather important and time-bound proposal was, as usual, resting on his table for about a week, and he had refused to clear it. I marched into his office and requested him to clear the file immediately. He looked at me amusingly and quipped, “Anand, your file is barely one week with me, how do I look at it when there are even one-month-old ones waiting?” Then he added a precious gem, “I have to add value to each file that comes to me, I can’t be hastening up.”
I was dumbfounded – this man had no clue about the concept of the “80:20 Rule” or “Pareto’s Principle.” He was treating everything as the most important thing, which could never be the case. In essence, he had no idea of prioritising things in life. I hope you have read Pareto’s Principle which states that 20% of your activities will account for 80% of your results. This principle asks us to focus upon the “vital few” while discarding the “trivial many.” As a corollary, 80% of your time will be consumed in 20% of the activities while you will do the balance 80% of work in the remaining 20% of the time. Confused? Let me elaborate.
If we are clear about the 20% of activities in life that truly matter to us, we should devote 80% of our time to accomplishing those. The same analogy holds true for relationships, financial issues etc. We should be laser-focused towards first identifying this 20% stuff and then accomplishing them no-matter-what? Balance not-so-important stuff, the 80% of issues in life, should be secondary to your existence, be it work, relationships, time, books, monetary issues et.al. Now, in the case of my boss, his sense of the 20% stuff was warped and he wanted to treat the entire 100% as the most important 20%. The result – time overruns, delays, extended work hours, disgruntled employees, deteriorating health, and so on. Start applying the Pareto’s Principle from today – which are the most important 20% relationships to you, nurture them tenderly with 80% of your time, effort and love. Which are the most important 20% of activities before you start the day? Devote 80% of your time to finish those and then only move to the balance of 20%.
Do spend some time on your Wheel of Life to identify the 20% stuff along the hub and the six spokes and then tackle them first. If you are getting stuck with some task, don’t bang your head or increase your time and effort to accomplish it. Take a pause and identify the 20% critical components of that task and do those first. It will ensure that you don’t waste too much time on the peripherals, the 80% stuff.
Live in the NOW
Let me ask you a question, not now, I will ask you after two minutes. Don’t pause, continue doing whatever you were doing before you read these lines. Don’t cheat. Ok, the two minutes are up and here is the question – whatever you were doing in the last two minutes (maybe you were reading this article), were you immersed fully in that task? I mean 100% immersed with no flashbacks about the past going through your mind or no daydreaming about the future. If you are true to yourself you will realise that you were not fully into the task at hand with ruminations about the past and anxiety about the future ruling your mind space or if nothing else, your smartphone was bleeding your productivity and focus. This is our bane which leads to unproductivity and inefficiency – we put only 20% of the effort in the present, the NOW, and hence get only 20% of the expected results. Then we crib and curse everyone for being unfair. Were you fair to yourself by not giving your 100% to your task?
There is this immortal Hindi movie song, “Agey bhi jaane na tu; peeche bhi jaane na tu; jo bhi hai bas yahi ek pal hai (you don’t know the future; the past has already gone; what you have is only this moment.)” And yet, we spend very little time in the present, the only entity that will create a happy and desirable future for us. Whatever task you may be doing, get rid of all the distractions around you, and whole-heartedly immerse yourself into it. This focus will ensure that you finish the task earlier with better outcomes and you end up saving time, effort and money. Living in NOW should also be part of your relationships, where you end up multitasking – what do you do when your spouse or child tries to make a conversation with you? Are you fully into the conversation or your laptop/ smartphone/ TV/ Book/ Newspaper etc. are vying for your attention? Live in the NOW, that’s all you have.
The Power of Focus though could turn out to be double-edged if you get too focussed on any one spoke of Wheel of Life which is bound to be to the detriment of your life balance. Don’t have too narrow a focus, nothing in life is more important than life itself. Balance is the key and hence let me wrap up this musing with an anecdote about one of the most successful and loved cricketer of our country – Rahul Dravid and how a mere change of attitude (read focus) brought him tremendous success.
Rahul was an intense cricketer who always looked for perfection in his batting – his stance, shots, defence, modes of dismissals; everything was a matter of study, focus and contemplation for him. In fact, he was always switched on with this intensity, whether on or off-field. However, despite all his efforts and introspection, he was never able to make it big. He did play international cricket and even achieved a modicum of success, but it was way less than his talent suggested. What was it that he was missing? Rahul says, “I think you can become too intense, there’s no doubt about it and I fell into that trap as a young boy myself. Realizing that worrying about something off the field just because I’ve had a bad day or not done well, you know, worrying about it was not going to help my game.” So, the worry was the villain who was standing between Rahul and ultimate success.
At the age of 27, Rahul got a chance to play County Cricket in England, and that stint changed his outlook towards life. He found that the young cricketers there were effortlessly able to divorce themselves from cricket when off-field. They went out in the evenings partying and enjoying themselves. This clean-break made them recharge better, and they could give it all the next day on the field. Rahul says, “I sort of realized that this was a much better way to play the game. From then on, for the next seven, eight, nine years, I probably had the best years of my career.” The mantra – do the work to the best of your abilities, with laser-focus but having done that, stop fretting about the results. Your focus should be on your work and not the results thereof.
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