The Ability to Focus
By: Bill Easum
One of the things I've had to do over and over in my coaching of pastors is to remind them to focus on the major issues we've talked about instead of getting distracted time and time again. Pastors appear to be extremely vulnerable to distractions due to their high desire to please people. Often, pastors have a high mercy gift, which drives them more than the desire to be productive. So, they will allow almost anyone in or out of the congregation to be a regular distraction from the things they really need to do in order to grow their church and their people.
Years ago, when I first started consulting, I was coaching a guy to fulfill the recommendations I had left the church after my consultation with them. I remember there were six or seven major recommendations, but I told them that one recommendation was so important that if they didn't do it first, then nothing else mattered. A year later, the pastor sent me a letter (before email) and said they had done all the recommendations except the first one and the church hadn't grown. Of course, the first one was the most important recommendation. So, I sent him a full page letter that had one word written over and over until the last sentence.
Imagine a letter with the word FOCUS written over and over until it ended "FOCUS on the first recommendation or nothing else matters." He finally did, and the church went from 300 to 500 members over the next two years and then to 1,100 within five more years. All he had to do was focus on the main thing.
So, how does one remain focused on the major issues?
1. Decide what you can't afford to not accomplish today, this week, and this month.
I always had a "to do" list, but I would rate each item 1 to 4 with 1 being urgent and important; 2 being important but not urgent; 3 urgent but not important; and 4 being not important and not urgent. And I tried to never have more than six or seven things on my "to do" list at any one time.
2. Work on one thing at a time.
3. Tackle the most important and urgent issues at the time of day that you are the most productive.
4. Set your own agenda each day and stick to it unless you face a real emergency.
When working on a major project, such as your sermon, shut your office door, tell your secretary to tell people you are in conference with someone, go home, or find a quiet spot like a library. Do whatever it takes to give you an hour and half uninterrupted time. Then take a short break – walk around the room, get a drink, anything to make your body move and your brain disengage for a short time. Numerous studies suggest that working at a project longer than an hour and half makes a person less effective.
5. Never work beyond 50 hours a week.
6. Learn the fine art of saying "no."
7. Slow down your pace of life.
Whereas there hasn't been any such study on adults, the odds are it will cause the same problem with adults. I know. Adults don't watch Sponge-Bob, or at least I hope they don't, but some of us do tend to watch fast paced movies and, dare I say it, play video games.
8. Reduce or eliminate the clutter in your life.
They go on to say that clutter competes for your attention in the same way a toddler might stand next to you annoyingly repeating, "candy, candy, candy, candy, I want candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy …" Even though you might be able to focus a little, you're still aware that a screaming toddler is also vying for your attention. So clean up your office.
This is the hardest advice for me to swallow because my office is always a mess. I tell my wife that even though it is a mess, I know exactly where everything is in the mess. (I've found that to be a small lie several times as I rummaged through stacks of paper to find that one document I can't live without finding)
These are just some of the lessons I've learned over the years to increase my own ability to focus.
Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.