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Focus on Success

In the most basic sense, to focus means to put your attention on something. But focus is not a simple thing.
Picture of Karl Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk
February 1, 2003


In the most basic sense, to focus means to put your attention on something. But focus is not a simple thing.

At times you will use focus to mean goal-setting. Other times, having established your goals, you will use focus to mean deciding on a course of action. And yet again, when you look at the “big picture” and evaluate where you’ve been and where to go next, focus will be the measuring stick to evaluate your progress.

Focus can mean a practical set of steps to take. At the same time it can be the grand inspiration that guides your life and brings purpose to your actions. Every day focus can mean simply getting out of bed and doing what you need to do.

There are three types of focus that are critical to your success. The first is goal setting. This process is critical because everything else follows from it. After all, you can’t make progress toward your goals until you have them.

Everyone should write down a set of short-term goals, intermediate goals, and long-term goals. In some sense, the long-term goals are the easiest. After all, if you’re going to change careers, write the great American novel, and get a graduate degree, no one expects it to be done tomorrow. So it’s easy to state the long-term goal because you don’t have to do anything about it.

Intermediate goals are a little tougher. Let’s say your long-term goal is to change careers. What are the steps you need to take and what is the time frame? You need to write down the milestones: When will you start retraining? When will you get the certification?

Intermediate goals do two things for you: 1) They help you divide “the goal” into manageable, practical, smaller goals; and 2) They help you focus on the reality of getting from “here” to “there.” What things need to be done? What’s a realistic time frame?

Finally, the short-term goals help guide you today. Will you study an hour each day? Three hours a week? Pass the test by next Saturday?

Here you see that goal-setting helps you to focus specific activities. Here’s what I’m doing today to reach my goals. Here’s what I’m doing this week, this month, this quarter, this year. You can hold yourself accountable. If you tell someone else, they can hold you accountable.

Write down your goals! Review your goals! Share your Goals!

So, the first type of focusing on your success is goal-setting.

The second type of focus that is critical to your success is working the plan. You’ve heard the old saying “Plan the work and work the plan.” You now have a series of goals–things that need to be done for you to reach the ultimate goal. You have plans that translate into actions for the year, month, week, and day.

Working the Plan means you get up every day and do what needs to be done to advance your goals. It might mean studying, reading, writing, preparing for a test, taking an exam.

Don’t forget that your plan should include eating right and exercising so you can stay healthy. It should also include time to think. Perhaps meditation or prayer: Some quiet time to relax and put things in perspective. Remember, without relaxation there is no success!

And, of course, working the plan means focusing on those short-term goals and doing occasional checks on progress toward the intermediate and longer-term goals.

When I talk to people who are successful, I hear the same advice over and over again:

Get up every day. Do your work. Do your best. Get up the next day and do it again. Pretty soon you’ll look back and find that you’ve made progress toward your goals.

I have a reminder on my calendar that is set to go off every morning at 6:00 AM. It simply says “RFS.” To me that obviously means Relax Focus Succeed. More specifically, it means stop whatever I’m doing and go do one of the following items that contribute to my ultimate success:

– Exercise – Quiet Reading

– Writing – Meditation or Prayer

Note that these are not “work” activities. The list does not include filing paperwork, creating invoices, faxing quotes, making travel plans, doing payroll, etc.

The morning activities include things I need to be well-rounded, to keep my life in balance, and to allow me to make progress on the ultimate goals.

Part of working the plan is to remember the big picture.

You should not have a bifurcation between your professional life and your personal life. Your life is your life! Part of focusing on success is bringing harmony to these pieces of your one life. That’s why you need a little time off and exercise and relaxation.

So let’s go back to goal-setting for a minute. After you become comfortable with a few goals (don’t overdo it at first), you may want to set goals for the three major areas of your life:

Personal (individual)

You may see some conflicts between these. In fact, if you don’t see conflicts, you’re probably in denial. We all have to balance different elements in our lives. Sometimes you feel guilty because you have to go to work when you should be spending time with the family. Sometimes you feel guilty because you have to spend time with the family and you can’t put in the extra effort they need at work!

This balancing act never stops. No one ever gets it “right” for more than a week at a time.

Which brings us to the third type of focus you need for your success: evaluating your actions in light of your goals. Most people don’t think of this as “focus” right away. But it may be the most important type of focus there is!

On a grand scale, you might ask yourself “If I make this decision, is it consistent with my overall goals?” But life is seldom so dramatic. It is actually easier to make big decisions and big purchases that are consistent with the “big picture.”

More important are the hundreds of little decisions we make every day. Evaluating your actions in terms of your goals has to be more of a mindset and less of a calculation. It takes a special kind of focus. The answer has to be consistent with your goals and your values and your overall sense of how you want the world to operate.

Do you see why this is difficult? You have to know what your goals are and how they will have an impact on your daily life. You have to know your values. You have to have a sense of how you want the world to operate!

And this guiding perspective that unifies your personal life, your family life, and your professional life does not exist until you create it!

Young businesses (and young business people) are rarely successful unless they have commitment to guiding principles that helps them to make decisions. They need to have some way of translating “the big picture” into daily activities.

On a personal level that means taking time to relax and think (focus) about these issues at a time set aside so that you’re not working, you’re not getting the kids off to school, you’re not paying the bills, etc.

The big picture doesn’t create itself: You have to relax and you have to focus and you have to create it slowly over time.

So this final type of focus–evaluating your actions in light of your goals–takes a long time to achieve. It relies on a great deal of work and thought.

When we say that a person “has focus” or “is a focused individual” we usually mean someone who has achieved this higher level. A focused person sees more opportunities than the rest of us because that person interprets almost everything in light of a specific world view.

A focused person reaches his goals sooner because more of his activities are related to those goals. It’s not that he’s a “calculating” person; it’s that he has a big picture and most people don’t. Having a big picture is one more tool he uses when making decisions.

A focused person has a high level of consistency between her work life, personal life, family life, spiritual life, and every other aspect of her life. There’s a lot less switching hats between “Now I’m the boss; Now I’m the sister; Now I’m the environmentalist; Now I’m the entrepreneur.” Consistency, by definition, means less fragmentation of the various roles you play in your life.

* * *

Conclusions: Perhaps you’re ready to say that, somewhere along the line, this became overwhelming. “Where do I begin?”

Begin small. Your success is not a sprint; it’s a series of marathons. Don’t try to run 26 miles the first day. Set a few simple goals. Set aside time every day to think and read and write about what you want to do. I promise that if you use that time every day, your goals will evolve. And consistency in practice will make it all happen.

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