“You get what you focus on, so focus on what you want.” In this episode, I share my thoughts on two elements that every leader must master to win: Focus and Finish. They may seem simple at first, but if you don’t understand their importance, you may lead yourself or your team to disaster.
There are two powers every leader can learn to harness and wield to drive positive results for themselves and their team: Focus and Finish.
Focus – As covered in a previous episode, I’m a huge fan of the Bullet Journal system by Ryder Carroll. I’ve been using this productivity system since 2019 and really found it to be a powerful tool that I can tailor as needed to meet my needs to track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future. My Bullet Journal helps keep me focused by organizing tasks and thoughts within multiple time frames so that I don’t feel overwhelmed. I can clearly see what tasks I need to finish today, this week, this month, this year, or even further. The different options of organization help keep your mind focused on what matters: if it’s not being tracked within my Bullet Journal, it’s probably not that important. In addition, I can see my accomplishments in a manner that encourages positive discipline. Keeping a streak of running mileage, books read, or released podcast episodes are oddly satisfying. Tune out the noise and distraction of the day-to-day grind so you can stay focused on what matters.
I’ve also found the “analog” nature of the Bullet Journal system to be extremely productive. By having to organize your thoughts and transcribing them, you start to develop a shorthand style of writing that captures the most important thoughts for action or reflection. You can’t have 34 open tabs on a browser or a never-ending inbox of emails you haven’t opened yet and never intend to, yet those things are weighing you down as a leader. Track what matters within a flexible system to minimize distractions and stay focused.
Finish – Closely related to the idea of Focus, progress can’t truly be made unless you Finish what you started. No one cares if you participated in a marathon race: it only matters if you finish. The months of preparation and training mileage can only deliver a feeling of accomplishment when you cross the finish line. When it comes to performing an individual task or leading a team project, be relentless with your drive to get the work done.
Possibly the most common effort I’ve seen that people fail to finish is Professional Military Education. Yes, there are some legit life reasons that may prevent you from finishing this important milestone within your military career, but more often than not the lack of finishing is due to poor focus and time management. After I graduated from USMC Command and Staff College in late June of 2014, I was selected for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and was immediately eligible to enroll in Air War College (AWC) by correspondence. One of my former mentors contacted me to congratulate me on my promotion, and then asked when I was going to sign up for AWC. Here’s how the rest of the conversation went:
Me: “I plan on taking the next two months off and I’ll finish it by the end of the year.”
Him: “No, you need to enroll right now and get it done by October.”
Me: “I just did a year of school, I don’t want to do more!”
Him: “Noted, enroll this week and get it done. I bet you can’t finish it by the end of October.”
So he already knew if he challenged me that I would take that lightly. I signed up in July and started AWC at the same time moved my family to Hawai’i and started my tour on Pacific Air Forces staff. On 31 October 2014, I passed the final block and graduated from AWC by correspondence…all within the same year. I’m highly confident my dedication to finish AWC set me apart from peers and helped me earn all of the opportunities the Air Force has provided for me. If I didn’t have a mentor push me to finish AWC, who knows how my story would’ve gone. Finishing PME was completely in my span of control, and I knew I didn’t want to lose the challenge from my mentor. The discipline to finish can be applied to any personal or professional goal or task you have: writing a book, completing a project on time, running a marathon, getting your first pull-up, etc. Whatever reason you need, just finish.
Focus and Finish are within the immediate span of control of leaders at any level to take advantage of. Instead of letting external forces affect your mindset and ego and distract you from your or your team’s goals, just remember to Focus and Finish.