If you are a Star Wars fan, you might remember that in Episode I, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn tells young Anakin Skywalker, "Always remember, your focus determines your reality." Although this quote comes from a work of science fiction, it makes an interesting real-world point. Over time, successful supervisors have come to understand that learning how to stay focused is one of the best ways you can invest in yourself. Knowing how to focus multiplies your efforts and makes you more effective.
There are no tricks or short cuts when it comes to focus. Focus is all about concentrating on what's important, being in the present, and not letting anything distract you. Of course, that's a lot easier said than done. We live in an age in which dealing with distractions has become the norm. Every experienced supervisor knows that distractions lie in wait around every corner with every call of the radio, buzz of your cell phone, or walk-up question. I always knew it would be an interesting day when the conversation started with, "Hey, LT, got a minute?"
In order to understand how to use focus to our advantage, let's break it down into three basic concepts: focusing on the now, focusing on the task at hand, and focusing on the positive.
Focusing on the now is also called mindfulness. Mindfulness means being present in the moment; being more conscious of life as it happens. It is being in a state of active attention in the present. One of the keys to accomplishing this is doing one thing at a time. This may seem counterintuitive as a supervisor, but it can be applied.
We often hear the term multitasking in the same conversation about focus. However, there is no such thing as multitasking in the sense that we have been led to believe. You may be involved with five tasks simultaneously, but you're not actually doing them all at once. You are just switching focus from one to another in succession. There is a Zen proverb that says, "When walking, walk. When eating, eat."
Another key to focusing on the now is not thinking of the past or worrying about the future. You need to think in terms of what's important now. What are you dealing with right now, at this very moment? There is no way to think in terms of the past, the present, and the future all at the same time. If you don't stay in the present, the moment will pass without you and you will miss something. Missing something will ultimately lead to you making a mistake.
Focusing on the task at hand goes back to the fallacy of multitasking. For example, if you are talking on the phone and writing an email at the same time, you are kidding yourself if you think you are doing both well. The mind is not wired that way; it only commits so many pathways to performing complicated tasks. One of them is suffering from your lack of attention. We have all done this while talking on the phone. You know you're not paying attention if you are saying things like "uh-huh," "right," "sure," or "I get it" just to get by.
Conversely, if you are listening to the conversation, then you are probably making errors as you type your email. You have probably made some spelling mistakes or typed the same words twice. It's far better to focus on one task at a time by taking the phone call and then finishing your email afterward. If it deserves your attention, then you should give it fully.
Focusing on the positive is more important than you might think. Negativity is one of our biggest distractions. It's a proven fact that negative thoughts, words, and attitude create negative and unhappy feelings, moods, and behavior. In essence, you are what you think. I believe it's better for a supervisor to think in terms of how to make something happen instead of why it's not going to happen. Focus on what resources you already have, what past experience you can draw from, or any middle ground and use that as your starting point.
Negativity is contagious and only serves to drag everyone down. Bypass the drag by looking for the positive first and moving on from there. Complaining or whining about what you don't have or why you feel it won't work does nothing to accomplish the mission. Change the conversation in order to find ways to make it work. When you change the conversation, you tend to change the outcome in your favor.
Staying focused requires practice and commitment. It's only a great tool if you learn how to use it. Mark Sanborn said, "Fear not but to waste the present moment." I have to agree.
Amaury Murgado retired a senior lieutenant from the Osceola County (FL) Sheriff's Office with over 29 years of experience.