Getting Focused

Monday, September 02, 2013, Vol. 128, No. 171

Some of my clients tell me they wonder if it’s even possible to get focused nowadays with the constant onslaught of life-distracting things and events. First of all, I think the realistic answer to this question falls in the category of Henry Ford’s famous statement, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

However, the technically correct answer for most of us is yes – it’s quite possible to get very focused, very quickly if you really need to do so.

Here’s why I believe that last answer is correct. Just imagine you are driving down Poplar Avenue, thinking of all the things you have to do. Your mind is racing while thinking about this meeting and that meeting, this proposal and that proposal, this project and that project, the bills, the kids, and so forth and so on.

Then suddenly you glance in the rearview mirror and see a police car pulling out from a side street and lining up behind you. What are you focused on now and exactly how focused are you? Huh?

And it doesn’t really matter if you are not doing anything wrong. You’re likely focused on everything and anything to do with the police car in the rearview mirror. Was I speeding? What is the speed limit here? Did I run a red light or stop sign? Did I remember to put the insurance card in the glove box? Did I renew the tag? Did I put that sticker on the tag? Do I need to pull over?

And then the police officer goes around you and heads down the road after someone else. The alarm is called off. You can go back to your multi-worrying. The conclusion, if you reacted to the police officer like most people do, you can definitely focus if you need to do so.

Another good example is going to a movie. People who can’t sit still for 10 minutes at work can sit through a two-hour movie and focus. In the case of a movie, the environment helps us focus. The key to concentration is minimizing distractions. That’s what the movie theater designers do. You sit in a comfortable chair, people are asked to turn off their phones, the room goes dark, and other potential distractions are minimized except for the big screen.

And one more thing, the picture on the screen is in focus. What happens if the movie gets out of focus? People start yelling the word “focus” and insisting that the problem be corrected immediately. Unfortunately, things can be out of focus at work for days, months and years, and no one comments.

The police car and movie are just two examples that you can use to learn to focus better at work. The police car example suggests that we focus better if we seriously consider the consequences of our situation. And the movie example suggests that you constantly look for ways to minimize distractions wherever you work on important projects, or work on them somewhere else.

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through