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  • A D Ackerman

What are you focusing on?


Northern Cardinal on a fence in snowstorm
© 2021 ADAckerman, all rights reserved

Northern Cardinal on black fence in snowstorm
© 2021 AD Ackerman, all rights reserved

Northern Cardinal on snow, with snow on face
© 2021, AD Ackerman, all rights reserved

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you are aware that I feel that I have a special affinity to birds, both wild and domestic. I feature our winged friends in many of the posts that I write, or at least they often appear in the photos that accompany the stories. Why? To be honest I am not sure, but I feel drawn to them for their beauty, their industriousness, and the fierce way in which most avian species protect their progeny. Yet, I have not chosen to work with birds as a career, nor, really as a hobby. No, my professional focus has always been on humans, especially on the most vulnerable members of our society, the children. And my hobbies have tended toward creative outlets, such as photography, needlework, and polymer clay. And now, as a coach, my focus is on how I can help others find their focus, get "un-stuck" and learn to fly.


Okay, that sounds pretty hokey. You can't really fly, can you? But I find great joy in seeing others spread their proverbial wings, and be all they wish to be.


What does it matter whether you can or do focus on one thing or on many? Well, I think we can take some lessons from photography, as we discussed in another recent post.


When you look at the three photos above, what do you notice? There is a beautiful red bird (Northern Cardinal) in a snow storm. He is sitting on a fence in the top two photos, and directly on the snow in the third. While you can see that there is snow whirling around him, you notice the bird very much more than the snow. Why? Because of how I have focused the lens. I was looking straight at and focused directly on the bird's right eye, in each of the frames. This gives you a sense of being able to really see the cardinal. You feel like he is looking directly at you. I have used lines and movement in the photos to draw your eye to the bird's eye, and that makes these photos much more real than if I had focused just generally on the entire bird, and definitely much more than if I had tried to keep any individual snowflakes in focus at the same time. In the bottom photo, some of the snow on his beak is actually in focus, and that becomes a bit distracting, don't you think?


OK, so what could this possibly have to do with coaching, and the joy that I was describing of seeing you thrive and grow wings? Well, it is a fact that as much as we would like to think we can multi-task, we are only able to focus on one thing at a time. When we feel that we are multitasking, in reality we are switching our focus back and forth really quickly. When we do that, we are fragmenting our attention, and we may fail to see the the most important part of the picture. When we fail to focus we can also fail to see the whole picture, and we tend to make mistakes, we jump to conclusions, we attribute mal-intent to otherwise innocent actions on the part of another human. Most importantly, when we fail to focus, we may be focusing on failing.


How do you develop focus, and keep yourself from becoming distracted? How do you keep the snowflakes off the beak, and see past the distractions, to stay focused on the main topic?


In photography, I might change lenses, so that I can focus more carefully on the spot of interest. Or perhaps I just change my focal length, so that only a part of the scene is in really clear focus. How do you do that in real life? We talked about valuation a previous post. The best way that I have found to change the lens of my life-view is to use a perspective that I know is clear for me. That perspective will allow me to see the whole picture, and most importantly allow me to make the best possible decisions about where my focus needs to be.


Where do I find the perspectives that give me the clearest vision? These are my assets, the thought patterns that line up with the universal hierarchy of values. I have a few perspectives that are very clear, but I may not always use them. So I have trained myself to develop the habits of mind that allow me to look at life through one or more of these lenses when needed or appropriate.

I first ask myself the Central Question: What decision can I make and action can I take in this moment to create the greatest net value? I follow that with what are known as Centering Questions from one or more of my assets (I learned which perspectives are clear for me by taking the V/Q Assessment). These are a bit harder to do spontaneously, as I don't have them all memorized, but I do have them written in several places on index cards that I carry with me most of the time. Once I have chosen to use one of these lenses, the problem or dilemma comes clearly into focus, and I can decide to focus on what is important and value-genic.


Focus Leads to Productivity


Focus without action will NOT create value. So you are best served by tying your desire to accomplish something to your clarity of focus, and to your action plan to get it done. There are many frameworks for turning intention into action. Below I share what has been working for me most recently.


  • I choose just 1-3 tasks for each day that will get my undivided attention for certain periods of time. I have found that I work best in chunks of about 45 minutes at a time. (The original Pomodoro technique recommended 25 minutes, so you may want to start there, and then adjust to your own "sweet spot." Every evening I plan the following day and choose 1 task or project that I really want to get done. I try to estimate how long I will need in order to achieve an appropriate component of the project, and allocate that amount of time in my journal. (For example, when planning to work on a blog post, I dedicate time slots for finding a topic, choosing photos, writing the post, editing the post, and making a final reading, which includes any SEO optimization, attributions, etc., before I hit the "publish blog post" button on my website). Then I find another 1 or 2 items that are important for the next day, but that I will only do after I have done my number 1 item. In this way, I can look at the calendar, and know in advance what I will do between clients, meetings and errands. It helps me be efficient. It also helps me to not get overwhelmed.


  • While I am working on each project or task, I listen to music with noise-cancelling headphones. I am finding this technique keeps me on track and truly allows me to focus and more easily get into a flow state. I often find that the 45 minute chunks go by much more quickly than I ever expected, and I work on only the ONE THING for that chunk. It is important for me to listen to orchestral music only, because any music with words tends to distract me, as does conversation from a distant TV or someone in the next room talking on the phone--hence the noise-cancelling headphones.


  • At the end of every chunk, I note how much I have accomplished, and take a break. During this time I can check emails, work on a crossword puzzle, change the laundry, go for a walk outside, use the restroom, make more coffee, etc. This helps to reset and rejuvenate my brain, so I don't crave getting up or looking at something else while I am attending to my ONE THING.


  • If I do find my mind wandering, despite my best efforts, I may recognize the need for a break at that time, or I may just need to re-orient my thoughts so that I can go back to focusing. Above all, however, I have recognized it is not only not helpful, but it is counterproductive (and not value-genic) to chastise myself. I need to recognize I am human, I WILL sometimes get distracted, and I need to be kind to myself. If I focus on the distraction, that will potentially become more habitual in my brain, and I will get into a negative feedback loop. No, I want to stay focused on the positive, on the choices I have made that will create the greatest net value. I want to stay focused with the lens that provides the most clarity.


  • When I get to the end of the time that I allocated for focusing on this task, or if I complete the entire task before the focus time is over, I assess how well I was able to focus, and celebrate my accomplishments. Maybe I give myself a gold star, or a hug, or I write a note in my journal about how wonderful the time was.


  • At the end of the day, I review how my focus times went for the day, and start planning the next day using the same strategies.

What do you think about this process? What process works for you? Do you have a way to clearly decide, first what you want to focus on, and then how to accomplish the goals you have set for yourself? I would be honored if you would share some of your tips in the comments below, so others may learn from you as well.


Thanks for reading. I value your time and am honored you chose to spend the last few minutes reading this post. I hope it provided value for you. If so, I would appreciate it if you would share it with someone who might also find it of value. You can add value by leaving a comment in the space below.


I would love to hear from you. Please come find me on Twitter or LinkedIn, or Clubhouse (@coachingada). Or send me an email at Alice@adackerman.com.


To add more value to your life ask yourself this question every day: What choice can I make and action can I take in this moment to create the greatest net value? Then take the free VQ (value quotient) assessment to start your journey with Axiogenics, and learn how to consistently play your "A" game.