The Consequence of Focus

May 24, 2021

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I am not much of a sports fan, especially golf. I barely understand even the most basic rules. But it was hard not to hear the news of Phil Mickelson—a 50-year-old golfer—leading the PGA over the four days and eventually winning. He beat Las Vegas odds and most followers of golf did not think he would pull it off. Before Mickelson, the oldest person to win a major championship was 48 years old—and that happened in 1968, over half a century ago.

I think what made this remarkable, was not his age, but the absolute focus it took to stay on top for each grueling day of the tournament. Each hole on the course was a new challenge, each hole an opportunity to make a mess or to succeed. Each shot required that he clear the noise and focus—seeing the shot.

We are all faced with more and more reasons to be distracted. And while some of the distractions seem to be adding to our life, they are most often actually undermining our progress. Distractions take us away from what we should be doing and kills our momentum. Clearing the noise is not easy, but imperative if we are to think critically and make sound decisions. It requires a level of focus few know how to achieve. It requires seeing the goal.

The author of an article in Business Insider advises that in order to develop the focus muscle, companies need to select 1 to 3 high priority goals and stick to them. “Focus the entire organization on those goals and continually track results.”

In the same spirit, several years ago Steve Jobs said something that has stuck with me: “Focus is not about saying yes. It is about saying no to the hundred other good ideas that clutter the mind and shift the focus.”

This becomes more true every single day.

Clay Scroggins, in his book How to Lead in a World of Distraction, provides an interesting strategy to clear the noise and stay focused. I think that this too is spot on: Know your why. Find that one sentence that defines why you do the things you do, and it can have massive repercussions on your life moving forward. When you clarify your why—and by that, I mean the answer to every ‘why do you do what you do’ question—you can lead effectively.”

He suggests we ask ourselves four questions: “What are the things I no longer need? What can I afford to get rid of? What are the things keeping me from what matters most? And how can I organize my life so that I know exactly what I’m looking for and I can easily see what matters right away?

Your why becomes the filter through which you can decide what you spend your time on.

As leaders, we need to appreciate in new ways the importance of clearing the noise, staying focused and knowing our why.