Balance your focus and learn to eat the elephant

Throughout your working life, you will regularly be required to take on new challenges. These challenges may push you beyond your current capabilities. While you may initially worry about your ability to do the job, you should remember that extending yourself and learning new skills and knowledge are an essential part of life. You are a human being and as such you are not meant to stagnate; you are meant to grow and thrive. However, it is also important to remember that for learning to be true growth, it must take you in the direction of fulfilling your objectives. If the skills and knowledge that you are gaining are of no real use, then you are merely wasting time. To do this, you must be able to balance your focus between the end goal and, the next important task.

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Why you cannot focus solely on the end goal?

When you focus solely on the big goal, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. It may be that the deadline is tight and there is a lot of work to do, or it may be that you do not yet know exactly how to complete the task. In these instances it is important to remember the old adage that you complete a big task in the same way that you would eat an elephant – one bite at a time. This is what you do when your balance your focus.

It is important to remember the old adage that you complete a big task in the same way that you would eat an elephant – one bite at a time. This is what you do when your balance your focus.

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How to balance your focus

To avoid overwhelm, you need to break the task down into a series of small tasks which you can then focus on, one at a time, instead of focusing on the big picture. Simply put, the large task becomes a project.

If you are uncertain as to how you will complete some aspects of the task; you can seek advice from those who have done it before, or you can conduct some research. Research does not have to meet the strict criteria of scientific research. There are a myriad of resources available to you. These resources include:

  • Search engines
  • Books
  • Online training
  • Seminars/Webinars
  • Peer groups
  • Mastermind groups
  • Blogs

These are just some of the many ways in which you can research the best solution. As part of your long-term development plan (you do have one, right?) you should compile a list of resources which you can refer to, whenever you have an issue which is giving you difficulty.


Moving from project to task

It is important that you remember the ultimate objective of the task. When you are clear on the objective, this serves as motivation as well as a means to measure your progress. However, each time that you think about the big picture, it is important that you then bring your focus back to a smaller task. I use two questions to do this:

1. What is the end goal?

Every action must take you closer to an end goal. If the action does not serve a goal, it does not have a purpose. Therefore, it should not be in your schedule. People with poor productivity, when they finally seek help from a professional, often learn that they have been completing tasks which have little or no relevance to their goals. That is time wasted which can never be reclaimed.

Before you accept a task, and before you commence you should ask this question to be certain that you really should be completing the task.

Related

For help in choosing which work to focus on, check out my article on How To Decide What You Should Be Doing.


2. What is the most important action which I can take to move me closer to the goal?

While there will be a number of tasks, related to the goal, which you could take; your goal will be best served by taking the most important action. Too many people choose the easiest task as it allows them to tick more tasks off their list, making them feel that they have been effective. However, effectiveness is not about the quantity of work that you complete; it is about the quality of the tasks that you complete i.e. how important are they?

It can be difficult to accept that you could get 100 tasks completed today but, if they are not important tasks, you have had ineffective day. Conversely, there have been many days where I have completed only one task but, as it was my most important task, it was still a highly effective day.


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For strategies designed to improve your organisation and focus, check out 'The Modern Professional's Guide to Organisation and Focus'.


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Conclusion

There are many things upon which you could choose to focus in any given moment but most of them will not serve your objectives. If you want to be productive, effective and fulfil your goals, you need to be able to balance your focus. If you focus solely on small tasks, you fail to see the bigger picture and you end up completing a lot of tasks which are of little or, no importance. If you focus solely on the big task, you can easily feel overwhelmed and, lack confidence in your ability to get the job done. The solution is to balance your focus between the big picture (the end goal) and the current situation (choosing the most important task to complete). When you learn to balance your focus like this, you are able to ensure that you are constantly completing the most important tasks which take you closer to the completion of your goal.

Image credit: Cindy J Grady