People often confuse focus with an unrealistic, abstract idea.

“Keep your focus”, “stay focused”, or “don’t forget to focus” – these are the kind of comments you hear people making to one another all the time.  Let me be the first person (or not) to say that I find those types of comments to be absurd.

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The sheer nature of telling someone to “keep their focus” means that you are distracting them from what they should be focusing on, and the failure isn’t really theirs (it’s yours, if you are the one saying those distracting kinds of things) sometimes.

[Tweet “How the heck does someone know what to focus on if you don’t give them a priority?”]

Focus is a result of strategy.

Perfect example – last week at Big Boat Series we managed to squeak out another successful first overall finish in the Express 37 class.  If you’re interested in how we did it last year (much easier, actually) then you can check out the recap post by tapping here.  I was in the back calling tactics, again, and Mark was driving this year, again.

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The competition was a bit more robust this time around, and it all came down to the last race in the series.  Two boats had the opportunity to win the regatta; one would finish in first place, the other in second place, in the overall standings.  Our strategy was to win the last race, even though we only needed to beat one boat.  So our primary focus, at least in the early stages of the race, was to work our way to the front, if at all possible.

In order to get to the front of the pack, each person on the team has to focus on their specific task at hand – the current task and how to set up to do the next 2-3 tasks properly.  Focus can be very fluid, especially as it relates to time; yet it maintains a very structured aspect to it as well.

Focus is a task specific mechanism.

Super competitive athletes in high level competition – Olympics, world championships, national championships, etc – are the beneficiaries of a lot of coaching over the years.  Good coaching, in my opinion, is task specific coaching.

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If you’re going to be driving a race car, the first thing your driving coach should be teaching you is how to engage and disengage the clutch properly.  That’s right – clutch in, clutch out.  Sounds really simple, eh?  If you’re at all familiar with a manual transmission car or two, you’ll know that not all clutches are built the same way, for starters.  A Ford clutch engages at a completely different point in the depression than a Toyota clutch.  A Lotus clutch engages at yet another different point during the motion of depressing the clutch pedal.

Super competitive – and likely to be successful – business people also engage in task specific focus; it’s a trait that’s shared by the majority of folks who do well.   Many of them understand how to tune out the noise and focus on the important bits from the beginning.  Others may take a bit longer to figure it out, but with the right coaching they will quickly learn what to filter through and process, and what to leave outside their conscious thought stream.

What qualifies as noise?

This is the first, and perhaps most important, part of determining where the focus should be directed in a campaign.  This is part of the strategy portion of the program, you know, the one where you sit down and decide what you would like to have happen in an ideal world…  dominant in sales in your market, winning the quarterly productivity competition, making enough to swing the down payment for your new mortgage – whatever the goal is, you have to start somewhere.  I use these three as examples because they were all, at least once, a driving force behind setting my own personal goals and narrowing my focus to succeed at them.

Take the mortgage comment, for instance.  I once needed to pretty much double my monthly sales at my job for 3 months in order to make sure I had enough for my down payment on the first house I bought.  My lender wouldn’t allow me to get enough money from my family or friends to cover the amount, and I certainly couldn’t change jobs.  So my only available options were either sell more and earn more in commission or don’t buy the house.

Noise at that point was anything that distracted me from going to work early, staying at work late, doing my best to grab every telephone sales call that I could, and really, really, REALLY busting my butt to close every possible sale that I could.   The noise included my boyfriend dumping me, my father becoming terminally ill, my son being young enough to not understand what the heck was going on but old enough to know something was very different.

Tune it out or you’ll never make it work.

Noise also included indulging in my usual spending habits, which suddenly became an obstruction towards getting where I needed to be financially in order to make my closing happen.  No more new shoes every week, no more filet for dinner, and no more unnecessary spending on anything until the house sale closed.

[Tweet “I was young, in my twenties, not an age when people are known for tending to make the right choices.”]

Here are some suggestions for getting focused and maintaining the right focus:

  • I found then, and still do now, that the biggest part of the battle is inside my own head.  First is the decision to set the goal in a way that is clearly defined – “I’m going to buy this house” or “I’m not going to settle for an easy second place”.  By nature, we tend to want to set the bar a bit lower, in order to feel more successful, and that is a hard habit to break, so don’t give in to it – not one time!
  • Once you set the goal, get your strategy into place.  Plan your work and work your plan (gads, how I hate that line but you can’t really argue with the truth of it).  Know what your backup will be if your first option isn’t the right choice.
  • Be ready to grind it out.  No matter how far in front (or in back) you may find yourself, remember that it’s not over until the gun goes off.  So much can change so quickly, and if you are not positioned to take advantage of every mistake that your competition is making, you are leaving a lot on the table.
  • Do not be afraid to be successful.  It’s much harder to stay in first than it is to get into first, in my mind.  But once you are in first, then your tactics shift a bit, and while the strategy part doesn’t change, the execution (and therefore the focus) of the task at hand is altered to match.
  • It is not over until the gun goes off.  Never forget that.  Don’t start celebrating until you have actually won the thing, whether that thing is winning a race or getting funding for your startup, or winning the sales person of the year award.  Many times people lose it at the very end when they did not have to, all because they decided it was done before it was actually won.



If you have issues with strategy, tactics or focus, I’m a pretty good sounding board, so drop me an email  ;)