Saturday, March 1, 2008

Succeed through Focus

I did something with my speech students last semester that I know many found helpful. I thought it was an original idea, but I've seen it recommended in two other places this week. One was Christine Kane's blog and I don't remember the other. The fundamental concept is to get what you want, you need to focus.

Now, before I continue, it must be clear that before you can focus, you need to know what your goals are, what is it you want to accomplish today, this week, this year, this decade. You don't need to know every single thing you want to do in this life - and your objectives can and will change, but you can't focus if you have no clue what you want, or what you don't want. So, I am assuming that you have written down somewhere, some things you want to do. Some examples could be getting a new job, finding a new friend/client, making more money, starting a new charity, giving a party, writing a paper, getting a certain grade, meeting a certain person, and so forth.

Many of you can relate to this situation - I know what I want to do, I get busy with one of my numerous projects, and then the distractions appear. I decide to check email, just one more time. I go check to see if there's milk for breakfast tomorrow, someone calls, I remember something else I was supposed to do, and then it's time to be somewhere. This is a perfectly normal life, but it is certainly possible to get more productive through a renewed focus.

Think about this. I learned at a presentation for parents of young violin students that a violinist has to manage about 57 different aspects of playing at the same time: posture, bow hold, intonation, bowing, reading the music, pressure of the bow, placement of the fingers, pressure of the fingers, and so on. So, how does a teacher help the young student improve, without totally demolishing his motivation by pointing out the dozens of defects. The answer is by focusing on one thing at a time.

After hearing my students' first speeches, I saw and hear many mistakes of different kinds: organization, lack of enthusiasm, poor visual aids, unclear pronunciation, boring details, lack of credible sources, insufficient clarity, unprofessional dress, and so forth. While I had to point out several of these in order to give them grades, afterwards I wrote on an index card one single word. But it was a different word for each student: organize, visualize, enthusiasm, structure, credibility. And by the second speech, the students not only improved on the quality I had written on their cards, there were substantial improvements in many other areas. But focusing on one single aspect gives us something concrete we can work on, without feeling overwhelmed.

Multitasking is a trap. While one can do laundry while cooking dinner, the mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time. What is the single thing that can help you get more done in the day? Is it to organize your papers? Be more brief on the telephone? Bring your lunch to work?Exercise? Invest?

This involves some thinking; that's good for you. What is the one thing you can focus on that will have a multiplier effect on several areas of your life? Write it down on an index card - make it attractive. You may want to make several of these and post them in different places. In a month, you can evaluate whether to keep working with this word, or change to another.