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Focus, Can you do it for four minutes?

SWPTA’s annual meeting was a fantastic event. There was something for everyone, and it was a great place to talk about parking. But I glanced over at the fellow sitting at the next table and he was playing a game on his phone. Granted he wasn’t a parking pro, he was the head of a county in a nearby state, and yes, he was there to hopefully make is myriad parking issues go away. But he wasn’t focused.

I don’t really blame him, I blame the environment he brought with him. When Cindy Campbell spoke, there wasn’t a person in the room that didn’t focus like a laser beam on her. She was articulate, she was engaging, she brought her topic right home to the people sitting in the room. She changed that environment and people listened.

Everywhere we go, we take our environment with us. We have our iPad, our smart phone, our laptop and they consume us hour by hour, day by day. It becomes impossible to focus on the task at hand.

When Michelangelo was asked by the Pope to fix the architecturally poor ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, at first he couldn’t do it. He had no focus. Then he read the bible about the creation and his focus was clear. He spent four years working on the ceiling. He had his focus and kept it. No distractions.

How many of us can say we are clear in our focus? Many of us, women particularly, talk about multi-tasking. They work on many things at once. Some are even proud of the fact that they can be on a zoom call, check email, review a spread sheet, and complete a report, all at the same time.

(At this moment, I glanced down at my mail icon, saw there was mail waiting, and went to look at it. Now, I’m not sure I’m back to where I was in this blog when I left.)

I doubt sincerely if a multi tasker can truly do as good a job as someone who focuses on one task and truly is involved in it.

I think instantaneous news, social media, email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and their ilk have numbed us to the point that we simply cannot focus, no matter how important the task at hand. To get someone’s attention takes more and more effort. You are fighting big media, silicon valley, and all the tech an iphone and android can throw at you.

When I speak before a group, I attempt to get its focus with two things. First, I ask them to take their phones and turn them face down on the table. Then I ask a question that requires a ‘shout out answer.’ I walk around the room and force people to follow me with their eyes. I’m not always successful. Once I saw a fellow working on this cell phone. I stood directly in front of him and stopped talking. The room was silent for a full minute before he looked up. Even then he didn’t understand the problem.

We have not only lost our ability to focus, but we have lost our understanding of just what focus is. Trust me, its not found on your phone or computer. It’s the ability to maintain a subject in our minds to the exclusion of all else. At least for a period of time. Michaelangelo was able to do it for four years. Can you do it for four minutes?

JVH

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