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Focus – What’s Your Red Dot?

Those of you who watched the recent British Open Golf Championship from St. Andrews will relate to the ‘red dot’ reference in the title.

For those that didn’t, Louis Oosthuizen, a comparatively unknown golfer from South Africa braved some pretty rough weather conditions to win what is often described as the most prestigious title in golf, by a margin of seven shots.

One element that was clearly visible in his approach to the win was the red dot he had marked in pen on his golf glove.  This was a ‘trigger’ he looked at before every shot.  He used the dot to remind himself of the routine he needed to follow to keep himself focused and ‘present’ and able to hit the best shot he could, despite everything else that was going on around him.

Oosthuizen’s use of the red dot to keep focused prompted me to reflect on to the things we could all do a bit more of, or a bit more often, to keep us focused on the things that we need to focus on.  While we may not have millions of people watching our every move, we have many other distractions that can get in the way of us performing to our best, whether it be multiple and conflicting priorities; lack of clarity about what we need to do; procrastination etc.

Over the past few days I’ve been asking people I’ve come into contact with for their tips on how to keep focused. I’ve distilled these down into the following tips that may be helpful to you if, like most of us, you often find yourself getting distracted and unable to focus fully on the job at hand:

  1. If your issue is that you have fuzzy or unclear thinking about where to focus, or feel like there is too much on and you don’t know where to begin, it can be helpful to take the simple step of writing down everything that’s going on in your head and that needs to be done.  Somehow, seeing the extent of what needs to be done written down in black and white clears your mind of the noise/fog that was there before and that you were having difficulty seeing through.
  2. Having everything down in front of you allows you to do some prioritisation of what you really need to do at this time, and what you’d like to get done.  Identify what you really need to do; estimate how long you think it’ll take; add 30% (because things always take longer than we think) and allocate time in your day/week to do these things.  Start with the ‘must do’ items and when you’ve finished them, go to the ‘like to do’ items.  Focus on one thing at a time, in the knowledge that you’ve already identified what you need to do, and allocated time for it, so there is no need to worry about things that still need to be done.  You’ve set time aside for these, and you’ll get to them in due course.
  3. As well as the tasks that need to be done, you might also want to clear your mind of the other things that can get in the way.  For example, are there any difficult conversations you need to have that you’ve been putting off?  Are there any unsaid things that need to be said to a member of your staff, a colleague, or perhaps your partner?  These kind of ‘niggles’ will pop up now and again and distract us from the task in hand.  So, better to get them out on the table as part of your download described above, decide how important they are, and deal with the ‘must do’ ones as a priority.
  4. Remember to take regular breaks to keep things you flowing. Rehydrate;  take a quick 10 minute walk, outside if you can, for a little bit of fresh air and sunshine; get up and move about.  I guarantee that 10 minutes spent in a break will save you a lot more than 10 minutes labouring over the issue; report; presentation.  Plus, during the break, you are very likely to have one of those great insights that often come when we put a little distance between ourselves and whatever we are wrestling with.
  5. Have a look at improving the environment you are working in.  Simply taking 10 minutes to do a tidy up of your desk/office; put the filing away; or creating some new folders for different bits of ‘work in progress’  can shift the energy and remove some of the negative ‘chi’ that clutter brings with it.  Tidy desk; tidy mind!
  6. While you’re at it, if what you are working on is the most important thing to you at the time (given your prioritisation), give yourself permission to turn off your phone and email notifications so you won’t be disturbed.  Pretend you are in an important client or leadership meeting (where I’m sure you wouldn’t think of responding to a phone call or email!) for the next hour/two hours and really give your attention to the task at hand.  Doing this will not only help you to deliver better thinking to the topic, but you are also likely to deliver a better quality outcome more quickly than if you are constantly allowing yourself to be distracted.

I encourage you to give one or more of the above ideas a go over the next few days.  I’m confident they will help you to become more present and focused on the task at hand.

To remind yourself to do so, you might even want to think about (literally) putting your own ‘red dot’ up somewhere (e.g. screensaver; whiteboard) as your own trigger – to remind yourself to take the steps that allow you to be fully focused on what you are doing.

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