We here at The Focus Formulas have the distinction of making a lot of distinctions. By this, I mean one thing I try to do is to crystalize things that you sort of know but could benefit from additional clarity on.
So, in that vein, I want to distinguish two levels of focus and talk about how they interact.
I call them Macro Focus and Micro Focus.
You might think of Macro Focus as more strategic in nature. I see this mostly as about having clear goals and/or a direction and, implicitly, not overcommitting yourself. Macro Focus operates at scales of months to years.
Micro Focus is more tactical – it’s your ability to focus on a single task completely – and operates at a timescale of minutes to hours, maybe days.
This blog is mostly about Micro Focus, perhaps ironically since that’s what I’m naturally worst at.
I’ve always had excellent Macro Focus. My family and friends can attest to my ability to ignore almost everything else for long periods in pursuit of a given objective.
This is a bit double edged, however, as it can lead to neglect of important areas of your life and can also be inefficient if not supported by strong Micro Focus.
In grad school, I had extreme Macro Focus but mediocre Micro Focus, which means I made some progress but at the expense of my social life and general happiness.
In general, being better at one kind of focus can give you a little more leeway on the other kind – hence why I made progress with only average Micro Focus – but the relationship between the two can be more complicated.
If your Macro Focus is “too good”, you might actually secure too much time in pursuit of too few objectives, and, as they say, work expands to fill the time you have to complete it.
This is one reason why many of my grad school classmates who had families were actually MORE effective than those of us who didn’t. They knew they had only a limited period of time to do their work, so they were very disciplined about getting it done. Those of us who didn’t have other demands on our time found it much easier to procrastinate, and so often got relatively less accomplished.
Conversely, excellent Micro Focus can enable you to maintain much broader but still effective Macro Focus.
Since mastering Micro Focus I’ve been able to significantly expand the number of things I’m working on and still make significant progress on all of them without neglecting health or happiness.
Being more organized is another way to balance the Micro and the Macro, but, while important, most people will benefit more from optimizing Micro Focus first.
Organization will help you turn Macro objectives into Micro tasks, but it’s fruitless if you can’t effectively complete the tasks.
If you can’t focus enough to effectively dispatch said tasks, most organizational systems will just discourage you as they will become machines for stacking up tasks that never get finished.
Now, this isn’t to knock organization. As I said, it’s very important, and I will probably talk more about it in coming months. However, most of us need to master Micro Focus first, or we will just waste a lot of time and get discouraged.
Macro Focus isn’t something that lends itself to a lot of actionable advice, because exactly how to manage it is very dependent on the person. I can help you by making you aware of relevant distinctions, and by giving general guidelines, but that’s about it.
Organization lends itself a little bit more to actionable advice, but again, it’s fairly dependent on the individual, and experience has shown it’s usually just discouraging if it’s what you work on first.
The techniques of Micro Focus, by contrast, are simple, low overhead, and broadly applicable in their basic form to many kinds of people and objectives.
A final thing to note about Macro vs. Micro Focus is time. One way to maintain effective Macro Focus is to realize that life is long, and that you don’t have to do everything you want at once.
By limiting your goals appropriately within a given period, you’re more likely to get them done. When you master Micro Focus, they get done a lot faster. When you realize this, it gets easier to be content waiting, because you know that you won’t actually have to wait long.
You’ll also be more motivated, because you’ll always be making consistent progress towards things you want to accomplish.
Once you get there, the possibilities are endless.