It is perhaps surprising that the first piece of advice from one of the world’s leading experts on how to focus, is not to plan your day.
According to Les Hewitt, founder of The Power of Focus organisation, people who start their day making to-do lists end up feeling overwhelmed by their work.
“Shortly after making the list, they open their inbox and get bombarded with requests. By 4pm, they still have not done the most important things on the list. So they take work home, and then there’s a struggle between balancing work with family. Some of the biggest stress and guilt comes around this issue.”
Last month, Mr Hewitt delivered a presentation to 30 business leaders in Dubai on the theme of focus. His Canadian-based organisation, founded more than 30 years ago, has created and delivered more than 900 workshops and training programmes for thousands of executives. The 68-year-old also co-authored the number one New York Times bestseller The Power of Focus with Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (creators of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series).
Clients who sign up to his leadership training programme undertake a complete review of their traditional goal-setting methods. “Instead of planning your day, design your week”, he proposes. “It’s a completely different way to look at business.”
Mr Hewitt recommends spending 25 minutes at the start of each week to evaluate the three most important things that must be completed by the end of it. This should be aligned with three-month targets. “And that means complete — not ‘hope to finish’. Set four or five blocks of ‘focus time’ on your weekly calendar, each between one and three hours long. Focus time is really the game changer here. Most people are multitasking, which is proven not to work. I work with CEOs who are completely scattered because of their inability to focus.”
According to his company’s research, business leaders are focusing on the most important thing they need to do at their senior level between 15 per cent and 35 per cent of their time.
“That is shocking. They are spending most of their time on minimal wage jobs when they should be spending 80 per cent of their time focused on the three things they do best that drive their business forward,” he says. “One carefully selected person as an executive assistant can free them up, if they are willing to let go. But often, they do not know how to delegate, how to say ‘no, I do not do that’, or they don’t trust people to do these jobs. A lot of them are controllers. I know, because I used to be one.”
Mr Hewitt moved to Canada in 1974 at the age of 27 from Northern Ireland, to run a haematology department of 20 people. “I was totally out of my depth, and procrastinated for three years before making the leap of faith to do something more suited to my skills.”
These days teaching others how to focus is a family affair — his wife Fran Hewitt wrote the bestselling book. The Power of Focus for Women, and he co-wrote The Power of Focus for College Students with his son Andrew Hewitt.
The focus expert also coaches leaders one on one, setting up a three-year vision for their business to give them what he refers to as “exceptional quality of life”.
There are four distinct stages in life according to Mr Hewitt, who claims to have experienced them all. People are either celebrating (“things are going really well”), plateauing (“you are in a comfort zone and don’t want to push too hard to get out”), stuck (“you feel you are not going anywhere, but don’t know what direction to take”), or severely challenged (“a health or financial disaster has made you feel like you are at the bottom of a rollercoaster”.)
To attain exceptional quality of life, people need a focused plan. “If you cannot fit your plan on to one page, then it’s too complicated. I take people through a process that shows them in 20 minutes how unfocused they are, and gives them practical strategies to change. My clients go from 30 to 80 per cent focused. Their energy, confidence and momentum goes up, and that impacts on their productivity.”
Mr Hewitt strives to practise what he preaches with his own team. He sits down every Monday with them to design the week. “Each person chooses the top three things they need to complete that week, and we write these on the boardroom whiteboard. At the end of the week, we look at the board to see how we did. If everybody got three out of three that week, t is high-five time. But if we did not, it is a chance for good communication — ‘What adjustments would you like to make?’ The truth is that some weeks, the world caves in. I get zero out of three sometimes when something unexpected happens. I just wipe the slate clean, learn something from it, and start afresh the next week.”
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