Connections to Experts: Finding Your Focus

Article by:

Ned Hallowell
EO Speaker
Ned Hallowell - EO Speaker

The ability to stay focused is a primary factor when it comes to achieving success. No one understands the role focus plays in one’s personal and professional life more than Ned Hallowell, a child and adult psychiatrist, celebrated author and EO speaker. In this interview, Ned highlights how to strengthen one’s focus in business and beyond.

How would you categorize the state of focus for entrepreneurs?

NH: “Focus, for an entrepreneur, is the same as focus for anyone else; it’s just usually more difficult to achieve. This is because the mind of the entrepreneur runs wild and free. Indeed, freedom and independence may be the entrepreneur’s greatest treasures. The entrepreneur hates to submit, be hemmed in, conform and be still. Yet focus—mental focus—requires some measure of stillness and submission to a task. It is impossible to focus fully on two or more demanding tasks or ideas simultaneously, so the entrepreneur must learn to master the free-wheeling mind with which he or she is gifted. Failure to do this, to control the immense power of the entrepreneurial mind, is a leading reason why entrepreneurs underachieve and fall short of their magnificent goals.”

How can a lack of focus be detrimental to entrepreneurs?

NH: “Most entrepreneurs are gifted with a fertile imagination. They come up with new ideas as often and as easily as most people blink. Their problem is not in coming up with ideas, but in choosing which ideas, projects and ventures to focus on and develop. This task of prioritizing—of choosing what to focus on and pass over—can be agonizing. There are so many sparkling gems! Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to focus on too many targets at once, so they never develop any one as fully as possible. Here’s a tip: Make a list of all the ideas and projects you have that really grab you, then force yourself to number them from most pressing to back burner.”

What are some signs that you’re shifting in and out of focus?

NH: “Signs that you are losing focus include: boredom, tending to too many tasks at once, frustration at having more to do than time to do it all, confusion, dissatisfaction with work products and spending more time on trivial tasks than on tasks that require sustained attention. Signs that you are in focus include: a merging with the task, such that you lose your awareness of the passage of time, hunger, thirst, external happenings or noise; sticking with a task even when it becomes frustrating or difficult; and a feeling of satisfaction with what you’ve produced. Here’s an action step: Try to work within your ‘sweet spot,’ the overlap of what you really like to do and what you’re really good at doing.”

Is there a marked difference between focus and discipline?

NH: “Achieving focus requires discipline, but discipline is not focus. To hone focus, you must first discipline yourself not to go off on tangents the minute you get bored or irritated. But you must also give yourself the freedom to work on something that captures your interest at the given moment. Where interest goes, focus follows. With no interest, focus is all but impossible. One reason why people procrastinate is, unwittingly, to scare themselves into focus. Fear focuses the mind. So, if you put off something until the last minute, and you face consequences for not getting it done, you can create enough fear inside of you to focus even on the most boring of tasks. Of course, this is not the best way to achieve focus. The best way is to work on a task that is challenging, matters to you and is within your skill set and interest.”

Edward “Ned” Hallowell, M.D., is a renowned psychiatrist who specializes in helping people achieve focus. He last spoke at an EO Vancouver event and has authored 20 books, including most recently, “Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive.” Learn more by visiting, or contacting Ned at [email protected].

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