Take a close look at the post photo. What do you see? If you were asked to write a description of what you see, what would you write?
Every year a teacher took a white sheet of paper with a black circle on it and passed it out to his students. Then he would ask them to think about what they were looking at and write down their answer to a singular question— “What do you see?”
Interestingly the answers rarely, if ever, talked about anything but the black circle. They may have written creatively and insightfully about the black circle, but they only focused on the black circle.
The students wrote about the circle’s shade and size and even went so far as to make an argument for its importance, meaning and reason for being.
But they missed something that you may have likely missed too.
- Only on rare occasion did anyone write about the white space surrounding the black circle even though the white space made up as much 98% of what they were looking at.
- The perception of what was important was the black circle—it stood out and presented an obvious focal point. But it did not change the fact that the larger picture was the white space.
It has happened to all of us. We see something and quickly draw conclusions that shape our perceptions causing us to miss a bigger picture—maybe even miss what is most important.
Our perceptions shape our thoughts, which always precede, us taking action. If we only see the black circles in life, our perception will be incomplete. Poor decisions and inaccurate conclusions are the fruit of misperception.
We should be surprised to find that according to research by Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow, “We’re generally overconfident in our opinions and our impressions and judgments.”
One thing you can be assured of is that most of us are confident we are busy—very busy. The problem is we perceive being busy with being productive. We think that as long as our to-do list is full and we are crossing things off of it, we are both busy and productive.
Busy and productive is equivalent to the black circle on the white sheet of paper. Busy has our full attention and drives our daily activity and behavior. But are we productive in terms of focusing on what is really important—developing the most important relationships in our life and pursuing high-value goals?
The truth is that most of us achieve less of what is really important to us because we are always busy but infrequently truly productive. I have stubbornly held on to this perception many time—haven’t you?
Our misperceptions brings us face-to-face with the fact that there is a huge difference between acquiring information and understanding it. And there’s an even wider gap between understanding it and implementing it, or actually doing it.
Productivity replaces busy with “discerning focus”—being intentional about what you choose to focus on and developing your focus capacity.
Make no mistake about it focus is fleeting!
In fact, a recent study sampling over 2,000 adults during their day-to-day activities found that 47 percent of the time, their minds were not focused on what they were currently doing. What was more curious was to discover that when people were not focused (allowing their minds to wander away from what they were doing), they reported being less happy.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
Focus is essential to maximizing your impact with the people you love and lead. Focus is an under recognized and appreciated attribute of people who consistently deliver excellence. Anyone can improve their focus by employing two simple and powerful strategies.
Focus building strategies—shifting from busy to productive.
- Choose well—narrow what you commit your time, talent and resources to. Start by choosing one relationship you want to improve and one goal to accomplish. Choose who and what will produce the greatest personal and professional value.
- Build your focus muscle—start small. Work for 20 to 30 minutes with complete focus and concentration. Eliminate or block potential distractions. Test yourself. You are likely to find that your mind will disengage after 20 to 30 minutes. It will wander towards your typical distractions—email, social media, etc. Don’t fall into this trap. Take a quick 5-minute break. Simply get a drink, close your eyes, or take a walk and then refocus on your project.
Ask people what they dream of and you quickly find that we all dream of futures much different than our present. Unfortunately, the future we dream of gets crowded out when we focus on the black circles of life and not the white space around it.
Want to learn more about the power of focus and how to nurture it?
Add these books to your library.
- Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
- Daniel Goleman, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence