Why You Need Focus First

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This past week I was doing graphic recording for a leadership conference in Memphis, just three hours from my “home base” of Nashville. All of the speakers had great things to say, but I wanted to share my biggest personal takeaway with you.


Time management isn’t as important as focus management.

Leadership expert Mick Ukleja was sharing ways to leverage the strengths of the millennial generation in the workplace, and noted how easy it is to become distracted these days. It’s not just a generational trait, but a cultural one! Few are immune to the effects and influence of social media, information, and technology.

The easier it is to become distracted, the easier it is to lose focus.

Mick shared how time-management seems to be a big topic these days, but he would rather promote focus-management because of how difficult it seems to be for everyone. I couldn’t agree more!

I’m still learning what true focus looks like both personally and professionally, and I often feel like I’m the only one I know with written goals, specific savings accounts (heck, ANY savings account), or timelines. I feel I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to discovering focus and if that’s the case, Mick is absolutely right. People need focus more than they need time management.

  • Time is the one resource that everyone has that can’t be manipulated or changed.
  • Time management is ordering your life so that you are using the resource of your time in the most meaningful and/or productive way possible.
  • The only way to have true mastery of time is to have mastery of focus.

Finding and mastering your focus

Your focus is like a mission statement that says who you are, what you believe, what you do, and what you want to do. It’s sort of like coming up with your ideal future self. Once you figure out who you are and where you want to go, finding your focus is a bit easier– simply ask yourself, “Will doing X help me move closer to or away from my ideal future self?” If the answer is “further from,” then your logical obligation is to not do that thing even if you REALLY want to. Focus requires discipline and the ability to say no (or at least “not right now.”)

A personal story

For over a year I had a membership to a co-working space. When I first signed up my overall goals were to a) find creative community (having just moved), b) pursue my freelance work more intentionally, and c) surround myself with people more talented than myself. Working in the space helped me accomplish those things, and I re-evaluated at the end of the year. The specific questions I asked myself were “Does this membership bring me prosperity?” and “Does this membership make me happy?” Ultimately, the answer was no on both counts.

My overall goals changed and the co-working space was no longer serving a vital function. While the un-easy decision to end my membership made me feel disappointment, being focused on my goals allowed me to make that choice.Long-term gains are more important than avoiding short-term disappointments.

Managing your time

I did a quick search and discovered that the average American watches 35 hours of television per week, or 5 hours a day. That’s almost a full-time job! I could rant about this for an entire post, but all I can say is this: I’m not surprised.When you have no focus, it is easy to become distracted.

When you know who you are, what you believe, what you do, and what you want to do, managing your time is much easier. Ask yourself “Is what I’m doing right now helping me get where I want to go?” If the answer is no, don’t do it! Or, at least do it less.

One point I want to clarify is that rest is important, and rest looks different for everyone. Not every waking moment of every day should be 100% productive… that’s called burnout! I’ve been there, and it’s not a good place to be! There is tremendous value in taking time to relax, be a part of your community and culture, and try new things.

Determine your focus. Then manage your time.


This post originally appeared on emily.carlton.com. Subscribe for updates.