It’s been said that focus is the art of exclusion. I’ve found this to be tremendously helpful in my life and work. So often I have tried to find focus amidst a bunch of things I have going on, and it has felt nearly impossible. The problem was that I wasn’t able (or maybe ready) to choose one thing over all the others. I was trying to choose one direction, while still maintaining all the other options (that mental picture alone is exhausting).
Focus, on the other hand, and the exclusion that it requires can be very freeing and liberating.
Packing for travel is a great example of this. I used to pack everything I could possibly need: lots of layers, a few pairs of shoes, and plenty to do while in transit. (Confession: I still have difficult time only taking one book with me any time I leave town. Thankfully, the Kindle was invented for people just like me.) The trouble with taking all the options with you when you travel is that you have a horde of baggage to transport! Sure, it’s nice to have options and to be prepared, but you pay for it by the amount of energy, strength, and money you expend to move all your stuff.
When Stacia and I had the chance to go to Europe this summer, we packed light. We had been planning for this trip for almost five years, and we wanted to be as free to explore as possible. We both decided to carefully choose items and layers that could be combined into many different options. It was hard work. In the end, we weren’t perfectly prepared for absolutely everything that could have happened, but we had enough to get by. And when we would move from city to city by train or plane— sometimes carrying our bags for quite a distance— it wasn’t difficult.
By focusing our packing on essentials and excluding everything else, we were able to be more free, more flexible, and simply have more fun than if we had brought everything.
The challenge in focus is saying no to really great options and possibilities.
If it had gotten extremely cold, we would not have been prepared. We didn’t pack for it. Likewise, if it had gotten extremely hot, we wouldn’t have had the right things to wear. But we would have survived. We did, in fact, survive just fine.
Often, in life and work, it is difficult to focus on one path, project, idea, or impact, because to focus means to exclude the rest. The problem is that without focus, you will always be carrying around too many options.
Without exclusion, you cannot have focus, and without focus you cannot be effective.
In the comments, what are your thoughts on focus and exclusion? Do you have any related stories of success or struggle?