How to Become a Focused Thinker


In his book Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It, marketing consultant Al Ries gives a tremendous illustration:

The sun is a powerful source of energy.  Every hour the sun washes the earth with billions of kilowatts of energy.  Yet with a hat and some sun-screen, you can bathe in the light of the sun for hours at a time with few ill effects.

 A laser is a weak source of energy.  A laser takes a few watts of energy and focuses them in a coherent stream of light.  But with a laser you can drill a hole in a diamond or wipe out a cancer.

Focus can bring energy and power to almost anything, whether it’s physical or mental.  If you’re learning how to pitch a baseball and you want to develop a good curveball, then focused thinking while practicing will improve your technique. If you need to refine the manufacturing process of your product, focused thinking will help you develop the best method.  If you want to solve a difficult mathematics problem, sustaining focused thinking helps you break through to the solution.  That’s why philosopher Bertrand Russell asserted, “To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.”  The greater the difficulty of a problem or issue, the more focused thinking time will be necessary to solve it.

Does every area of your life deserve dedicated, focused thinking time? Of course, the answer is no. Be selective, not exhaustive, in your focused thinking. And once you have a handle on what you should think about, you must decide how to better focus on it. Here are five suggestions to help you with the process:

1. Remove Distractions

I’ve found that I need blocks of time to think without interruption.  So when necessary, I make myself unavailable and go off to my “thinking place.” As a leader, however, I am aware that I need to remain accessible to others and to withdraw from them to think.

But since one lets us connect with people and know their needs, and the other lets us think of ways to add value to them, we need to value and give attention to both.

2. Make Time for Focused Thinking

Once you have a place to think, you need the time to think.Years ago I realized that my best thinking time occurs in the morning. So whenever possible, I reserve my mornings for thinking and writing. One way to gain time for focused thinking is to impose upon yourself a rule that one company implemented. Don’t allow yourself to look at e-mail until after 10 a.m. Instead, focus your energies on your number one priority. Put non-productive time wasters on hold so that you can create thinking time for yourself.

3. Keep Items of Focus Before You

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great transcendental thinker, believed, “Concentration is the secret of strength in politics, in war, in trade, in short in all management of human affairs.” To benefit from that concentration, keep important items in front of you. Ask a colleague or assistant to keep bringing them up. Or keep a file or a page where you see it every day as you work. That strategy has successfully helped me for thirty years to stimulate and sharpen ideas.

4. Set Goals

I believe goals are important. The mind will not focus until it has clear objectives. But the purpose of goals is to focus your attention and give you direction, not to identify a final destination. As you think about your goals, note that they should be

  • Clear enough to be kept in focus
  • Close enough to be achieved
  • Helpful enough to change lives

Be sure to write down your goals. And if you really want to make sure they’re focused, take the advice of David Belasco, who says, “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my business card, you don’t have a clear idea.”

5. Question Your Progress

Ask yourself, “Am I seeing a return for my investment of focused thinking time? Is what I am doing getting me closer to my goals? Am I headed in a direction that helps me to fulfill my commitments, maintain my priorities, and realize my dreams?”

From the How Successful People Think Workbook

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  1. 1

    All great points John and keeping clarity is so vitally important to obtaining the success you desire. Your dream is merely a wish when you don’t write it down. Writing causes thinking and the more of your senses you can experience when you are writing, the more your body is receptive to what you are teaching yourself. Applying this through repetition will establish good habits and burn your dream in your sub-conscious mind that drives your feelings and emotions, that drives your body to producing the results you see in your life. When you write what you believe, fix it in your sub-conscious mind so you will behave or take action on your belief as well or known as “praxis.” Having the ability to step back and view your progress like you said and see if its getting you closer to where you are achieving to reach is important, if you were driving on the highway and you were going to Detroit, but the sign said Nashville you would know you were going in the wrong direction and would immediately turn around. With goals its important to not get fixed just on the end result or destination like you said. Sometimes people get too focused on an end result that they don’t get out of their driveway. You have to map your course. If you were trying to get to Chicago and you lived in Toronto, if your just focused on Chicago with out knowing the first point, and the rest of the points that follow before getting to Chicago, you might end up in a totally different location. I enjoy your blogs John look forward to more get information to grow and learn from you :)
    Jason Johnson

  2. 2
    Glori says:

    Very simple suggestions and it should be easy to follow, but habits can be hard to break. Sometimes, a complete re-schooling of the way we do things or think is needed.
    Thanks for a great article.

  3. 3

    I use my mornings in the exact same way. My afternoons are set aside for meetings, phone calls and networking. I am an extrovert and interacting with people in the afternoon energizes me during a time I can fade.

    These are great reminders as I work with my 15 year old son as well.

  4. 4
    Evan says:

    Thank you John. I’m an early morning person too. Sometimes the amount of ideas I get is hard to bear with. Is there any chance you could talk about filing/organising your ideas and any practical tips? Best wishes, Evan (UK)

  5. 5

    V helpful.
    OOoooppps, my thinking time now :)

  6. 6
    enrique says:

    i think you mentioned a filing sistem, I could be wrong….but if you could share…..

    I think of you as my coach….thank you Enrique

  7. 7
    Vijay Eze says:

    Thank you Sir. Your a blessing to the world and you have touched so many people around the world. This article has really helped me with practical steps to follow to adjust my thought life. As a young man with goals to make positive change in my society, this will really help me focus better on my goals!

  8. 8
    Yvonne Green says:

    You have taught me SO MUCH. THank You for sharing Your Wisdom and the opportunity to learn and grow.

  9. 9
    Adetunji Adewumi says:

    Thank u my Mentor! I am adjusting to your tips on how to become a Focused Thinker. God bless u!

  10. 10

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  11. 11
    sophia says:

    Wow! Dis is great! Bless u real gud sir!

  12. 12

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