The ability to focus intensely on a project, without interruption, until it is complete is critical to success. There have been particularly busy times when I have been overwhelmed and had difficulty focusing for long enough to get projects and tasks done. For example, I would start working on one project, and my mind would quickly shift focus to another task of equal importance that needed to get done first. Then my assistant or associate would interrupt me with a question and draw my attention to yet another problem that was of equal or greater importance than what I was already working on. In the midst of these three events, the phone would ring and a programmer who was coding our new database and case management system would call with important questions about our new system she was configuring that was weeks behind schedule.
If this sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because everyone who is trying to run a law practice or other business goes through periods similar to this. Sometimes it just can’t be helped. It happens in life. You deal with the problems as best you can so that your staff, associates, and vendors can continue their important and time-sensitive work, and then you return to your projects. Because you are so busy, it is so important to be able to harness the power of focus and the discipline and will power to finish one task before moving on to the next.
Learning to focus on a task until it is finished is critical to achieving the success you are capable of. It seems self evident, especially for a businessman or professional, but it isn’t. The test isn’t whether you can focus on critical projects that need immediate attention. That isn’t so difficult. The test is whether you can focus on and complete an important project or task that is not yet urgent, but which can change your practice or your life for the better for years to come. My guess is that the important but not yet urgent projects only hold your focus for minutes at a time until you get interrupted or think of something else you would rather do. The important but not yet urgent tasks get put off indefinitely until they become urgent.
Learning to focus on a task that is important but not urgent, and having the discipline to complete the task, is a skill which can be learned and mastered. Like any skill, it takes practice and discipline to master. You have to build your focus muscle. There are things you can do throughout your day that take no time at all that will improve your focus. Here are a few:
- When you exercise, focus your attention on your breathing and the muscles you are working out. Do not listen to music or the radio, read, or watch TV. As soon as your mind wanders (and it will, often), bring your attention back to your breathing and your muscles. Also, before you exercise, commit to a specific amount of time that you will exercise. Do not let yourself quit until you have reached that amount of time.
- Clean your dishes after each meal with no radio, music, or any other distractions. Wash them, dry them, and put them away. Focus all of your attention on doing this task until it is finished.
- If you have a work project that is important but not yet urgent, determine whether the project needs to be broken into separate tasks, and then do each task in one sitting without interruption or distraction until it is complete.
The idea is to improve your ability to focus on a task until it is complete. Building up the simple skill of focusing will lead to more productivity, accomplishment, and success.