Carl Barenbrug

Product design, creative direction

Focus Is About Saying No

Focusing our minds is essential to productivity, high performance, and awareness, but our focus is constantly under siege by things grasping for our attention. Some of us may excel in multitasking, but you will undoubtedly perform better with full, selective attention. It’s not exactly supernatural. Our attention is a precious commodity, and it requires protection. Not just by avoiding things that distract us, but also through exercising our attention through techniques like meditation. You might call that mindfulness or cognitive control.

Generally speaking, us humans are keen to please. We say yes to a lot of things because we feel we can fit it all in. It also means we avoid making tough decisions that may disappoint or offend others. But where does that ultimately lead? Well, it leads to several places—one of those being stress, and another being mediocracy.

“You’d think focus means saying yes, but it actually means to say no.”

—Steve Jobs

I think the key to being focused is through living by design, and not by default. Meaning that we deliberately make a distinction between the vital few from the trivial many—eliminating everything that is non-essential to us. And it’s this elimination that will drive us to say no to distractions—to the noise.

We can even look at this from a wider standpoint, and analyse what we’re actually saying yes to, and how this not only affects the tasks we perform, but also the lives we lead. Sometimes we will say ‘yes’ to something that is seemingly important, but by doing so, we are inadvertently saying ‘no’ to things that are even more important—our physical and mental health, our relationships, and even our creativity. Scale it back, be more intentional, and don’t be afraid of saying no—even to the good things.

Recommended Reading: Focus by Daniel Goleman and Essentialism by Greg McKeown

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