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Last October I wrote about the Circle of Influence, and in doing so I made a fleeting mention of the briefly identified but ne’er seen again ‘Circle of Focus’.

Just to recap, Covey had detailed the Circles of Concern (everything affecting our lives) and Influence (things upon which we can have an effect) in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In his later First Things First he and his co-authors went further and defined a further, inner Circle of Focus.

They defined it as ‘things we are concerned about, that are within our ability to influence, that are aligned with our mission and are timely.’

He went on: ‘When we operate within our Circle of Influence we do some good, but what we do may be at the expense of something better. When we set and achieve goals that are in our Centre of Focus, we maximise the use of our time and effort.’

The question arises, therefore – how much time do we spend administering, pandering, diverting, interrupting (and being interrupted) and time-wasting at the expense of the time we should spend within that focused centre?

Life gets in the way. Professionals who once had staff to assist with all those things now find they have to do their admin (etc.) themselves and so their focus has become blurred as a result. But that doesn’t mean we can abandon the Focus at the expense of the mundane. It just means we have to manage our selves better.

Now, what tends to happen is that we do whatever arises as it arises – an e-mail pings, someone pops by, the phone rings – and we redirect our (very important) focus away in their direction.

Stop it. Stop it now – or at least as much as the Gods of customer service allow.

A thing that pings or rings or is passing(s) should be given only appropriate attention, not undivided, immediate attention if you are to maximise your productivity and effectiveness.

I suggest that you do a couple of things which might help you do that.

  1. Ignore emails, and plan to deal with them at a time which suits your responsibilities – maybe at the start of the day, immediately after lunch or last thins as part of tomorrow’s planning.
  2. Shut your office door if you can. People won’t interrupt if they can’t see you. Honest.
  3. Turn your smartphone off if you want uninterrupted time.
  4. Block time out for uninterrupted, focused thinking/doing time in your planning system Or, put another way, make an appointment with yourself and keep it inviolable.

While Covey and his associated training company never again seemed to refer to the Circle of Focus after the 1994 publication of First Things First’ I find that the concept of the Circle of Focus (like the short chapter on The Three Resolutions in ‘Principle Centred Leadership’) is one of the most profound time management concepts I’ve ever known.

Try it at work, if possible.

Set time aside for the most important stuff, the stuff which, if focused upon 100%, will provide the maximum bang for buck you can achieve.

Then try this at home……………………