Back When I Used to Be Focused

I used to be super focused. Maybe you can relate. Was there a time when you were younger and had more drive, energy, and concentration than you do now?

For me, I look back at my time in grad school as high-water mark for conquering my goals. I was in a program where I only had a mild familiarity with many of the subjects and the professors covered the topics at a review speed.

I quickly realized that I was behind before I started and had to sprint to even catch up. I decided early on that if I didn’t pass it wasn’t going to be because I didn’t put in the work. I went completely head down, nose to the grindstone, relentless about getting work done, and it paid off in my grades and opportunities that came to me through the program.

These days, I often feel like I’m working more and accomplishing less. I feel scattered. I sometimes find it hard to concentrate on any one task before my attention is drawn to another task. Days, weeks, months zoom by and, though I was busy, I can’t remember what I was working on. It is ego crushing to think about how I’ve lost my edge.


And this is an important except. You may have had a different path, but I suspect your journey feels similar.

When I was returned to school in my late 20s, I focused on my classes and had almost no distractions. I was married, but we didn’t have kids yet and my wife worked insane hours so we didn’t see each other all that much. We lived in a tiny apartment and didn’t have to take care of the yard or do maintenance on a house, we didn’t have pets, or hobbies. We didn’t have any spare money so we didn’t really go anywhere. There were no smart phones (I didn’t even have a cell phone at that point), the internet was slow and less entertaining, and we had about four channels on the TV. All I did was go to school.

As I type this, I’m stunned with the realization of how ridiculous the comparison is of my life now to my life then. Back then, I literally had one focus. Today, I have higher expectations and demands in every area of my life. I have a complex and mentally taxing job, kids to keep up with, a wife that likes seeing me from time to time, pets, hobbies, trying to improve my health, weight lifting and running, finding time to read, carving off part of my day for personal development, keeping up with a yard and house and maintenance on several cars, staying current on social media, watching movies and TV, wanting to write and podcast, and, and, and…

And I feel unfocused and scattered? Weird. Every single part of my life has become more complex, more demanding, with less certainty, and requiring more time and attention, yet I still have the same amount of time in the day.

I’m feeling a little silly now for ever looking back to then with any kind of nostalgia or seeing that as my peak. Thinking about who I was then, I would have never been able to juggle today’s life demands and certainly not at my level current of expectation. It wouldn’t even be close.

That doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t improve today. The increased demands mean I need to be even more intentional about my priorities and discerning with my time. It means I need to be present with people, seek and destroy the distractions that aren’t improving my life, and do more planning, preparation, and reflection. I need to be hyper-clear on what I want to accomplish and judicious and ruthless with my time, energy, and focus.


check the box and move on

checkboxThe other day I heard someone say, “It’s better to do the right thing poorly than the wrong thing well.” This made me stop. Do something poorly? Blasphemy! Yet…

So many of the things we measure in business (and in life) make no distinction on whether our actions are focused on the right or the wrong things. Only: 1) whether or not we’ve accomplished them; and 2) how well we accomplished them.

Check the box and move on. Don’t bother to consider whether the actions helped or hurt, moved us forward or held us back. Focus on quality, not usefulness. Check the box and move on regardless of whether there was a different action – a better action – we could have taken.

Check, check, check.

People ask us how our day was. We say, “Busy.” We don’t say, “Productive” or “Effective” or “It was bumpy but we’ve made some good strides in the right direction.”

It makes me wonder how much time we spend focused on doing the wrong thing well. Measuring whether something is done is so much easier than measuring if it was right or the best thing to do. So we don’t worry about it.

Nope. Just check the damn box and move on.

if you want something done, give it to a busy person

Years ago as a consultant I noticed a trend so prevalent it borders on a Truth of the human psyche: everyone thinks they are hard workers; everyone thinks they are busy. Even the people who aren’t hard workers – who obviously and clearly aren’t busy – think they are.

Observation also shows that the most productive people are also the most eager (or at least willing) to take on new projects. On the flip side, those who spend all their time telling you how busy they are and complain about the burden of new assignments never seem to get much done.

I’d write more about this important subject, if only I weren’t so busy…