Choose Your Focus or It Will be Chosen for You

hourglass

Time is the great equalizer. For all of the variation existing in resources such as education, experience, and income, the one resource that you cannot multiply is available time. We all have 24 hours in a day with which to accomplish how much (or how little) we want to do. Moreover, time has the upper hand in our lives as we do not know when time will be called and life on earth is over. Time is clearly a precious yet finite resource. Time scarcity makes choices about how we focus our attention and thoughts all the more important.

The One to Grow On quote this week is simple, but it is a message that I often need to be reminded to follow. It is a call to make a priority of people and situations that are truly important and recognize the rest for what they are—less important.

I came across this quote at a time when some of my co-workers were hurting. They did not tell me they were hurting, but they did not have to say a word. Setbacks occurred in projects in which they were heavily invested. They had a right to be disappointed, frustrated, and even angry. It saddened me to see them dejected. It also saddened me to see them stewing in so much negative energy for situations that do not matter much in the big picture.

Recognize the Distractions

It is not too difficult to become ensnared with issues and situations that do not matter much in the long run. We do not set out to do let small matters rob us of growth opportunities, yet that is exactly what can happen. We fixate on small things that do not go as we want, dragging us down to the point it impairs our ability to work on big things. You can cite many explanations for succumbing to these distractions:

  • You want to do right. If you have strong beliefs about how an issue or project should be handled, you may feel led to get involved to do something about it. But, if the outcome does not go your way the personal investment you made can feel like a loss.
  • You want to win. Sometimes, our competitive spirit overcomes us, and we take on a non-priority project or issue because we seek the satisfaction of being on the “right” side of the outcome.
  • You forget there is more than one way. Becoming sidetracked with matters that are not related to your true priorities can occur because we think we have the best solution. You may have the best solution, but is it an issue worth your investment, or will someone else’s solution suffice?
  • You welcome the distraction. If you regularly become distracted by low priority issues and projects, are you seeking them out as diversions? Shifting your focus to tackle a project that is low priority might feel good to you. Perhaps you justify the diversion by convincing yourself it must be handled… by you. The unintended effect can be you spread yourself too thin, causing more important projects to suffer.

Goals = Focus

How can we avoid falling into a dark hole of anger and discontent when something does not go our way? Set goals. Priorities are established when goals are in place. They give focus to how to spend your time, attention, and even your money. Pursuing those outcomes that will contribute to your growth leaves little room for distractions in the form of unimportant issues to creep in to your life.

In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I devote a chapter to setting goals. The practice of personal branding is pointless without having clearly defined outcomes. In Me, we urge setting goals for different life parts. We are not one-dimensional beings, and your goals should reflect your varied interests. The life parts for which goals can be set include:

  • Career
  • Relationships
  • Wellness
  • Spiritual
  • Financial
  • “Bucket list”

When you set goals for multiple life parts, you set priorities for what is important to you and in turn, demands your focus. You will be too busy to be dragged down by the minutiae of low priority or non-priority matters.

Short Indeed

We are wired for accomplishment. The thrill of achievement is one of the greatest feelings we experience. Realizing achievement and success in the right areas can be easier said than done. Resolve to focus on what matters most and let go of what doesn’t. Life is short, and time is limited. Decide what your priorities will be and enjoy the journey of pursuing goals.

Forget Making New Year’s Resolutions

The calendar flips to a new year, and along with this milestone comes a tradition practiced by many people: making New Year’s resolutions. Evidence of New Year’s resolutions can be traced back as far as 1671, with more specific mentions of the practice found as early as 1813. A notable characteristic of New Year’s resolutions then (and still today) is they seemed to excuse or acknowledge undesirable behavior in the run-up to a new year. New year’s resolutions offer a fresh start… at least in theory.

Resolutions Fall Short

If you have made New Year’s resolutions for 2017, you need to know that the odds are against success. A study on New Year’s resolutions found that only eight percent of people who make resolutions are successful in achieving them. Maybe the low success rate explains why only 45 percent of Americans usually make New resolutions.

So what are we trying to accomplish when making New Year’s resolutions? Google search data are revealing about what we long to be, do, or have. According to digital marketing firm iQuanti, the top New Year’s resolutions based on search queries include:

  • Getting healthy
  • Getting organized
  • Living life to the fullest
  • Learning new hobbies
  • Spending less/saving more.

The goals are worthy; that is not the problem. New Year’s resolutions fall short of their intended outcome so often because of the absence of a plan to reach the destination. We would not get in a car and drive from Memphis to Miami without directions. Yet, New Year’s resolutions without an action plan is the equivalent of blindly making that long distance drive.

Set Goals Instead

Replace New Year’s resolutions with personal goals. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I discuss how setting goals is essential to managing your personal brand. Setting goals offers two significant payoffs. First, goals align action with purpose. Pursuing goals is a way to to spend your time in ways that are consistent with the big picture you see for yourself. Second, goals give focus to how to spend time and energy. It is easy to fall into a trap of working on projects not aligned with your goals. Setting goals and identifying actions needed to achieve them can minimize getting sucked into other people’s priorities.

Set personal goals with two criteria in mind:

  1. Goals for different life parts
  2. Goals with different time horizons.

Life Parts

Pursuing goals could get you to the destination you want, but will you be happy once you get there? Colby and I caution against putting too much emphasis on a single area. Instead, we advocate setting goals for six different life parts:

  • Career goals
  • Relationship goals
  • Wellness goals
  • Spiritual goals
  • Financial goals
  • “Bucket list” goals.

The idea is setting goals in multiple areas can help create balance in your life. None of us is one dimensional; our goals should reflect the various roles we concurrently take on. For example, it might do little good to reach career goals if the actions taken to get there ruin personal relationships or damage your health. Setting goals for different life parts serves as protection against self-sabotage.

Time Horizon

In addition to setting goals for different life parts, we need to set goals with differing lengths to achievement. Why? Not every accomplishment we pursue requires the same amount of time. Set goals that are:

  • Short range- 12 months or less
  • Mid range- one to three years to achievement
  • Long range- More than three years to achievement.

Also, use short-range and mid-range goals as stepping stones to reaching long-range goals. A long-range goal might be that end destination you envision but requires a lengthy journey to get there. The relationship between short-range, mid-range, and long-range goals is evident in the question “What is the best way to eat an elephant?” The answer is “one bite at a time.” You are more likely to achieve long-range goals set when broken down into smaller “bites.”

Do Something

Despite the preceding discussion on the limitations of New Year’s resolutions, it is OK to set goals or make resolutions. The point is do something that will spur personal growth. If you are among the eight percent that can see resolutions through to achievement, then go for it. Keep in mind that resolutions are essentially short-range goals. Complement them with more ambitious, longer range outcomes. And, set outcomes in multiple life parts; do not zero in on a single aspect of your life and ignore others.

Good luck pursuing your goals (or resolutions) in 2017!