In the last few weeks one article on my website keeps getting hit over and over again.
The headline, How to Focus on What Really Matters and Stop Wasting Time, tells you exactly what many of us are searching for.
If we had to label in one word what’s driving this search, we might choose “regret.”
Looking back on those things that we didn’t get done last year, we’re seeking strategies to get them done this year.
Correctly, we identify that our problem might come back to focus.
Incorrectly, we often think the solution is getting better at time management…
NOT About Time
Some of the most “successful” people I’ve known are hardly experts at time management, nor are they even efficient.
In fact, many of them are downright inefficient.
They aren’t particularly clear on what matters most to success, nor are they particularly exceptional at getting focused on those things…
But for what they lack in focus, they make up for in brute force by throwing a lot of hours at their goals.
Unlike a surgeon whose every cut could be the difference between life and death, in many arenas of success, precise focus can be less relevant than simply working at it.
My old world of investment banking is a perfect example—
You don’t need to be the best banker on the planet if you’re willing to work 100 hours a week for the rest of your life.
This Is Focus
See, it’s not about solving questions like, “How do I stop wasting time and focus on what matters?” It’s about committing to what matters!
Whether you want to get the house painted, your mind right, or step back and get focused on landing the job you truly want, it’s your decision that gets you moving.
A decision is simple. It says, This matters. And I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
That’s not to say the right decision is to work 100 hours a week. It’s to say that you get focused on what matters by deciding to put time into it!
Therein lies the rub.
Easier Not To Decide…
It can be much easier to “pretend” that we don’t know what to focus on than to commit to a decision.
In making a decision you’re cutting off other options. You’re committing to something that requires effort and time. You’re exposing yourself to potential disappointment, fear of failure, and so on.
It’s easy to say, “But I just don’t know what I want.” It’s easy to say, “I just don’t know what to do.”
It’s much harder to say, “I don’t know what I want, and I don’t know what to do, so I’m just going to start taking XYZ steps anyways…”
Decide to focus on what matters, and you move beyond thinking about it.
Taking Action Is The Same
Deciding what to focus on would be easy if it didn’t come with any implications! And taking action on those decisions would be too…
But because the decision we make to stop wasting time and focus on what matters comes with its own “challenges,” we must become expert at getting beyond those roadblocks to action.
In the article referenced above, I laid out some mental tools for getting beyond being stuck and taking action, and here I want to hit a handful of points on why these problems can be particularly tricky to solve.
How Do You Not Focus On What Matters?
One of the most basic tools of personal change is to reverse your questions.
If you ask the question, “How do I get myself to focus on what matters and stop wasting time?” you’ll get as many answers as the Google can provide.
But, if you ask yourself, “How do I not?” Well, now you’ve opened a different door in your mind.
Really think about that question—What are those things that you must be doing to waste time and avoid focusing on what matters?
Remove those and you’re golden. Here’s five obvious places to start:
Often when we are failing to stop wasting time and focus on what matters we are simply avoiding.
Like sitting in a classroom hoping that the teacher doesn’t call on us, it can be easier to duck out on your goals than to put up your hand!
“I just can’t make the time.”
“Look, I really want to, but I just haven’t been able to get to it.”
“After I get done with X, then I’ll tackle it…”
Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit…
We are full of it when it comes to the things we are avoiding. Almost always we can “find the time,” but only when we decide to prioritize.
You may not “have time” to go to the dentist and get your teeth cleaned, but if your tooth cracked and fell out, you’d likely make the time.
Unless we are “forced,” often it’s easier to avoid even the things we say we “want” to do.
So if you can’t get yourself to “want” to focus on those things you say you “want,” then get yourself moving with a little force. (e.g. block out 2 hours to focus on your goal)
Just like getting yourself out for a run, it’s not always easy to get started, but once you’re moving, the momentum will carry you.
Resistance is similar to avoiding, except, here you actually buy into your BS excuses for why you are avoiding.
When you’re avoiding, you pretend to be doing something else, but resisting, you pretend to be focused on your goal, only, stuck in making progress.
For me, writing was this way. When I first started, even though I was fully committed and pretty good at ridding myself of avoiding, I was even better at resisting!
Sitting looking at a blank screen it was easier to question, “What’s the point?” or say, “I don’t know what to write,” than it was to just sit down and start pecking keys.
When you’re stuck, the most pathetically generic self-help advice is to build up your motivators, but that’s a double-edged sword.
Knowing why something matters to you is very powerful, but as I wrote about here, it can also make it harder for you to take action.
If it matters more, you might resist it more. The more we want something, the more we build it up, the more we “need it,” the more pressure we put on ourselves to get it done.
Instead, we must become expert at going into the mind, recognizing how resistance has held us back, deconstruct the “pattern,” and take different actions.
Or… You can just stop thinking and get absorbed using The House of Flow.
3. Inner Conflict
The previous two ideas and certainly the neophyte label of “procrastination” are merely examples of an inner conflict.
One “part” of us has decided to do something. The other part of us won’t do it, creating a conflict between the thinking mind and the feeling body.
We “think” we want to eat well and exercise more, but our body doesn’t “feel” like it. We think we want to approach the stranger we’re interested in meeting, but we fear the feeling of being rejected.
This “parts conflict” explains the many examples in our lives where we say things like “on the one hand I want X, and on the other hand I want Y,” and inner conflicts can persist forever along with our avoidance / resistance / procrastination until we decide to move beyond it.
Now, of course, this can be hard to do.
Which is why you want powerful tools like The Cure, The Formula, The House of Flow and a highly methodical approach to training your mind, as I detailed here.
4. Letter F Word, FEAR
Let’s call a spade a spade.
Most the reason we fail to do anything, and certainly fail to focus on what matters and stop wasting time is fear…
Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of what people think. Fear of wasting time. Fear of being disappointed. Fear of nearly everything in life is what keeps most of us humans living puny lives, when we have the opportunity to live giant ones.
Again, the spirit of this article isn’t to solve these problems so much as give you ideas on where you might look, and I suggest that you become very familiar with the ways that your fears are setting the boundaries of your life. (as I wrote about here)
What are the fears that are holding you back? How do they get you to waste time and avoid what matters? How do you remove them?
“That’s not who I am.”
Who we define ourselves to be governs what we can get ourselves to do.
A silly notion in personal development is that of being an introvert. As the theory goes, this means that you are the sort of person who is quiet, keeps to themselves, so on…
Such labels lead us to draw limited boundaries around us and our lives. When we say, “I’m an X type of person,” we close off those behaviors that don’t fit our limited definition of who we are.
Oh, you want to be a public speaker? I’m sorry, you’re an introvert… Wrong.
I’m an introvert and a public speaker. And even if you’re labeled an introvert or anything else, you can, shockingly to some… still train yourself to do things that don’t come so naturally to you.
Another aspect of self-image that holds us back is our fragile egos. Unwilling to be bad at things, or to “fail,” we’re “safer” not trying.
To get yourself to do those things you’re not yet good at, you must give yourself permission to suck by developing a self-image of someone who enjoys learning.
In all, if you’re struggling to get yourself to focus on what matters, look at whether you’re defining yourself as the person who is doing those things.
The List Goes On and On
I have spent many years of my life on this particular topic because it is at the heart of achievement.
If you can’t get yourself to do those things that drive the results you want, then, well, you’ll be stuck with the results you have.
It’s one thing to set goals. It’s another to take action. But it’s something altogether different to set the goals that are right for you, and to keep taking action all the way until you get the results you want.
As genius as some of these ideas are :), success at this doesn’t come from reading a few pithy articles by me, but from becoming a master at how you get focused on what matters and will your mind to take action.
A few simple ideas will keep you moving, but if you want to crush this topic, dedicate yourself to becoming a mind champ.