Don’t let a lack of focus keep you distracted from your most important things. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Focus is important because focus is needed to ensure you are not wasting your time on this Earth.
At the Megastore
“You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.” ~ Peter McWilliams
Imagine you are taken to a large store with an unlimited number of goods and you are given enough money to buy anything you want. You can fit a lot of merchandise in your cart, but when it comes time to check out if you run out of money, that’s it. There is no more. Did you get what you really wanted?
In reality, the store is called Earth and, instead of money, we are given time.  Enough to buy anything we want, but not everything we want. When you run out of time, that’s it. There are no refunds.
Sometimes we’ll add something we think we want to our cart without fully considering the cost we’ll have to pay to buy it and then maintain it; we have, in effect, wasted some of our time. And eventually, rich or poor, organized or scattered, we use up our time.
The solution, says Peter McWilliams, is preventative; to choose carefully at the outset. “Be grateful that, although you can’t have everything, some very nice anythings await your selection.” [McWilliams]
“Wanting everything is almost the same as wanting nothing.” ~ Joshua Becker
In this store called “Earth”, you can have anything that you’re willing to spend your allotted currency of time on. For most of us, our cash is limited. But time is limited for all of us. You have only so much to spend and because of this, you must decide how you will spend your precious time. Otherwise, you risk wasting it on things of little importance to you.
This requires that you sacrifice all the other things you could have done with that time and, more importantly, that you realize it is a sacrifice. “If you never stop to ask yourself if the sacrifice is worth it,” says Oliver Burkeman, “your days will automatically begin to fill not just with more things, but with more trivial or tedious things because they’ve never had to clear the hurdle of being judged more important than something else.” [Burkeman] This is a primary reason we must choose what we wish to focus upon.
Focus is important. For most of us, it isn’t that we don’t know what is meaningful for us, “the problem is that our focus is so often distracted from it.” [Becker] You can have anything but not everything.
Attention = Life
“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” ~ Seneca
The challenge isn’t to get everything done. We’ve already established that that isn’t going to happen. The ultimate challenge is to decide what to focus on and, just as importantly, to decide what to let go of, what not to do. And to be OK with it. [Burkeman]
We rely on many resources in our day to day – food, money, energy, and so forth. While these “facilitate life”, in many cases it is possible to live without some or all of them, at least temporarily. [Burkeman] However think about this: What you pay attention to is your life. “[Y]our experience of being alive,” writes Oliver Burkeman, “consists of nothing than the sum of everything to which you pay attention.” [Burkeman]
“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” You can have anything, but you can’t have everything. When you focus on things that don’t add any value to your life, the time wasters, the trivial, other people’s problems, you are paying with your life. [Burkeman] What you focus on is important because you are spending your precious time on it. Be sure it contributes to the life you want to create. “There may be no greater pursuit for yourself,” Joshua Becker says in Things That Matter, “. . . than choosing to live a meaningful life focused on the things that matter.” [Becker]
What Focus Can Do
Focus, writes Stephen Pressfield, “. . . changes our days completely.” When we shift our focus to the one or two or few things that are truly important, or in Pressfield’s terminology, shift from being an amateur to “turning pro”, our lives change. Everything changes. When we get up and when we go to bed. What we do and what we don’t do. What we eat. What we read. [Pressfield] What we watch on TV or if we watch TV. By focusing on the things that matter to us, that are meaningful, our activities, our lives, take on more meaning.
How To Change Your Focus
If we agree that focus is important, how do we improve ours? What can we do to shift our focus to what truly matters? Here are several ideas. Read through them, then pay attention to the ones that make sense for you, that capture your attention.
- Accept that you already have too much to do and that you have to make some choices. And it isn’t simply choosing between productive, high-payoff tasks and time-wasters. You’re going to have to choose some productive activities to let go of in favor of your most important things.
- Examine the tools and conditions that help you focus. What times of day are you at your best in terms of being able to focus? Prioritize your list of activities so you can schedule your important projects – your one thing – during those times as much as possible. Limit your focus so you can do that high-priority task during your best times. [Womack]
- Be a “productive procrastinator”. Realize and accept that you cannot get everything done. Then choose wisely what you will focus on and what you will neglect. [Burkeman] Procrastinate on the low-impact tasks and time wasters.
- Step back from time to time and compare what you want to accomplish “against what, currently, is actually taking your time, energy and focus.” [Womack] Refocus on your most important tasks and create “so that” statements for them. [Womack] For example, you work out “so that” you can keep yourself in top physical shape. Or you have a “date night” with each of your children “so that” you spend one-on-one time with them.
- To help identify your most important things and to help you decide which things to let go of, ask “What truly matters?” “It’s the question that can help you separate the truly important from the trivial and can help you maneuver through the minutiae in pursuit of the momentous.” [Ryan]
Actions to Focus On
Here are some suggestions for ways to put these ideas into practice.
- Limit your work in progress. Decide your most important thing (or things, no more than three) for the week, for the day, and right now. Focus on doing that one thing.
- “Resist the allure of middling priorities.” [Burkeman] Beside your number 1 priority (or your three most important things), you’ve probably got a handful – or armful – of other things you could do that are also important to you. You must resist their temptation. You can do them later IF you have time. Remember, you’ll always have more to do than you can get done. That’s why it is necessary to prioritize and focus on your highest priority.
- Be aware of how you use your limited resources of time, energy, and focus. Your energy and focus wax and wane in cycles. Aim for 30 to 90 minutes of focused, intense effort, then recover for 10 to 20 minutes.
- Always, always, always conquer the “attention robbers”. [Snyder] Remove distractions so you can focus your attention and energy on your most important thing.
Why Focus Is Important
“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
~ Mary Oliver
How are you spending your limited amount of time in this great and wonderful store called Earth? You came here with a purpose, maybe a grand purpose, maybe a tiny, little purpose, but something that only you are uniquely formed to do. If you don’t do it, it won’t get done.
“You have a purpose and a good that you are designed to bring into this world,” writes Jonathan Becker. And the rest of us need you to follow your purpose.
Don’t let a lack of focus keep you distracted from your most important things. “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Focus is important because focus is needed to ensure you are not wasting your time on this Earth. Focus on embracing your Excelerated Life™!
What impacts your ability to focus on your top priority?
How could you sharpen your focus?
Share your experience by leaving a comment below.
Excelerated Focus™ — aligning your actions with your true desires — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.
 I “borrowed” this interesting example from the late Peter McWilliams. (See Resources.)
Becker, Joshua. Things That Matter. New York: WaterBrook, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2022.
Burkeman, Oliver. Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management For Mortals. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021.
McWilliams, Peter. Life 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life In School – But Didn’t. Allen Park, MI: Mary Books / Prelude Press, 1994.
Pressfield, Steven. Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work. New York: Black Irish Entertainment, LLC, 2012.
Ryan, James E. Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2017.
Snyder, Charles R. The Psychology Of Hope: You Can Get There From Here. New York: The Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Womack, Jason W. Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Achieve More. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012.