Focus on the future, not the present


6 December 2016, by

What follows are three examples of how focusing on the future improves efficiency over focusing on the present.

Running — don’t look down

I often like to run at the weekend. I’m not sure what I’m running from, but I feel significantly more happy for the rest of the weekend if I go for a run on Saturday morning.

I’ve got some tactics to make sure I actually go for my run, as I’m very good at putting it off. Giving myself some accountability and telling my fiancée the night before helps, as she then keeps reminding me until I go out. I also find removing barriers to starting very helpful, by which I mean make sure everything is ready for me to head out the night before. This usually involves putting my running shoes by the door, and sleeping in my running shorts.

I’m not running with any particular aim at the moment, other than my happiness and fitness (although given the advice I’m giving in this blog post, perhaps I should have a more tangible goal to be aiming for), but I do use run keeper to track my run. This keeps me focused on my pace and encourages me to try my hardest. This also means I can notice when I’m speeding up/slowing down, to try and keep a consistent pace.

The main factors that I find, which affect my run are:

  • hills
  • posture
  • focus

Hills are obvious. If it’s steep, I’m slower. Posture is perhaps less obvious, and I’m not going to focus on it here, but good posture aids breathing, and consequently speed.

Focus is the big thing here. I’m much faster if, rather than staring at my feet, I focus on where I’m running to. Unfortunately, the more exhausted I am, the more difficult this is, so I’m active in checking where I’m looking while I run. If I find my head drooping, and my vision staring at the floor, I revert it back to far away, and focus on getting myself there. This helps me reach that place, and means I get to pay more attention to my surroundings as I pass them by.

Projects — where is the project going?

I’ve spoken about this before in Don’t touch the patient, but I was mainly talking about tech leads in that post. This point applies more generally to everyone on a team.

You need to know where your project is heading, or your short term decisions will be in the wrong direction.

If you only focus on your current tasks, it’s easy to not spot things that will be an issue a week/month down the line. It’s important to spot these issues and resolve them early, as they are easiest to fix the earlier you address them.

To maintain this forward looking vision, it is important to know how your current tasks fit into the larger picture. What is the higher purpose of your work, and what can you do in the present to ensure that your work fits in with everything else going on. Working this out will involve communicating with other people to know what their aims are. Often other people will come to you first, but if they don’t, ensure you know who to talk to and make sure that the conversations are happening.

Work — where am I going?

At the highest level, this focus on the future applies to your whole career. If you only ever focus on what you are doing this day/week/month, then when you come to reflect on the past year, you’ll find that you missed the chance to take the opportunities provided to you to further your career and drive it in the direction that you wanted.

Zoe Cunningham has written an excellent series of blog posts about getting the career you want, which I would recommend to anyone who wants to know more:

What do you want

Make a plan

Do it

Summary

There are lots of situations in everything you do to ensure your focus is in the right place. Your life will be easier overall if you make sure that you focus on the future, as it will allow your present tasks to be progress you to your goals. Without this anticipation, you may find that you have not ended up where you expected, with lots of work required to get back on track.

This post first appeared on Chris Arnott’s blog.

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Categories: Soft skills

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