Where Is Your Focus?

I have learned much from a friend of mine, Dan, about attention and focus. He has said that attention works like a muscle. If you exercise it, it grows. There seems no doubt that our ability to focus greatly enhances our results, but it is difficult to quantify and measure.

I like to be aware of my current focus. One model that helps with this is to consider three areas of focus, inner, outer, and other.

1. Inner focus – This is the focus on our self. We are seeing the world in terms of impact to our life. We are using intuition and our embedded values, and making decisions for our self.

2. Outer focusOur world is made up of layers upon layers of complex systems. This is the construct from which everything operates, and includes systems such as corporate, biological, financial, legal, and educational. When our focus is here, we are trying to work within the constraints of the construct. This includes strategizing.

3. Other focus – This is the focus on other people and our relationships. We are utilizing our connections to other people. We use this focus to enhance our relationships, and see the world from some one else’s view.

At any given instant, our focus can only be in one of these three areas. One measure of success is how intentional we can be in focus. Being able to exclude other thoughts and remain on task. But another measure of success is how flexible we are in switching between these three areas, and understanding the impact of one upon the other.

It is an interesting concept, and it makes me ask, “Where is my focus at the moment? Where should it be?”

What Do You Want to Achieve?

What Christina Aguilera said is true, “The roughest roads often lead to the top.” Achievement takes work, perseverance, and desire in some magical combination. This week I captured some thoughts about achievement.

1. Achievements fade over time. The importance of an achievement is highest at the time of achievement. It is the culmination of the time and effort spent. Afterwards, the effect is diminished. As a plant manager I monitored cost, delivery, quality, safety, and employee engagement among many other metrics. All of these accomplishments were important, but the importance was reduced the next month, because I had a new target. At times I found myself too focused on this month’s target that I missed bigger opportunity.

2. Define your own goals. Most of my working life I was given goals by my boss or the company directors. The goals that meant more to me and my team were goals that we created. When I challenge myself, I am more likely to find a way to reach the goal. I will also learn more and enjoy the process more.

3. Understand why. Blindly following goals that you don’t understand can be very frustrating. When I could embrace the reason for the target, it was much easier to get the team working together.

4. Have fun with what is important. The achievements I remember most are the ones that were fun to complete. Work can be enjoyable with the right team. If you can make your goals fun, it is easier to spend your time working towards them.

For me, I found accomplishments to be important milestones but they are not as important as the journey to achieve them.

Is a Balanced Life Impossible?

A work-life balance is something we all wish we had. To me it has always seemed elusive. I can only do one thing at a time, so balance must come from splitting time among activities that I care about. At any one moment, balance is an illusion.

Victor Hugo wrote, “To put everything in balance is good, to put everything in harmony is better.” Harmony may be a better way to evaluate our efforts, rather than balance.

As a reflection exercise this week, I focused on the word balance. Here are some thoughts I had.

1. Consider both heart and head. The energy to do something comes from the heart. If you listen mostly to your head, you will most likely run out of steam.

2. Keep moving. Life is like riding a bicycle. If I keep moving, then it is easier to keep my balance. If I wait too long to take action, I risk getting stuck.

3. Lean into the future. What is in front of me tends to be more important than what is behind me. I can’t change yesterday’s balance, but I can change tomorrow’s balance.

4. Recognize hopes and needs. I need to know the difference between my hopes and my needs. Hope helps me reach for more. Needs focus my efforts, and demand humility.

For me, balance may always be just out of reach, but maybe that is a good thing. How do you find balance in your life?

Four Certainties about Competence

As a reflection exercise, I sometimes like think about something I value from my perspective.  Recently I spent some time thinking about competence. Competence means possessing the skill, knowledge, and ability to effectively perform. It provides significance and context for our actions. Here are four things I know about competence.

1. I am never as good as I think I am. It is human nature to see things unfold better in our minds than in reality. I never practice missing a 30 foot golf putt in my mind. But when playing, I miss more than I make.  When I take time to think through an idea before taking action, I plan for a positive outcome. The basis of self-confidence is belief that we can be successful, the reality is we must fail along the way.

2. I can always improve. Improvement is a never ending process because I am not perfect. I am not even close to perfect. Any competence I possess can be improved. I can gain new knowledge, or increase my skill, or invest time in practice. Master pianists have natural talent, but their competence comes from hard work. It is the same with me.

3. I care more about my skills than anyone else. Others can only judge my competence from their perspective. However, my perspective is more important. My evaluation of myself determines my actions. Do I work to improve, or am I content with my current level of competence? External influences affect my plans, but ultimately from within me comes my motivation to improve. No one can force me to become better without my participation.

4. I must use and improve my competence in order to keep it. If a surgeon returns from a five year hiatus, would you want to be their first patient for surgery? If I do not use my skills, they will begin to lose proficiency. Some investment of time is required to maintain my level of competence.

Throughout our lives we gain and lose competence based on the decisions we make and the time that we invest. Taking time to reflect on competence has helped me challenge myself. How do you improve or maintain your competence level?