Focus is the ability to put effective action towards one thing in concentrations sufficient to accomplish a goal that can’t be accomplished with the same overall level of action all spread out.

If you dump a bucket of water onto a sheet of metal, it won’t do a thing. But waterjets can cut through sheets of metal like butter – the difference is focus.

Everyone’s ability to focus is different, and I think a lot of problems are caused by misaligning your level of focus capability. We take on too much (or even too little) and don’t align focus correctly. How do we do that?

I’m going to continue to use the analogy of the waterjet. Using that analogy, we can understand focus to have three components: Intensity, Spread (or “Horizontal Focus“) and Depth (or “Vertical Focus“).

Intensity is the jet itself. How narrow of an area can you concentrate that water down to? This is different for everyone, but the ability to block out the external and really get the water down to a tight point is what allows it to cut metal. You don’t get anywhere by splashing around. This is the easiest concept to understand, so I won’t dwell on it – but focusing more is obviously more effective.

Spread is like thinking about how many waterjets are fed from the same line. Two won’t be as intense as one – but you might not lose much. If you have plenty of water pressure, two jets might each cut through the same metal as one, and now you’re twice as effective. Likewise, if you have plenty of energy to give and a tight focus, you might be able to focus on two different areas of your life with efficiency. Maybe even three, four, five. But probably never ten, certainly never twenty. The exact number differs by person, but this is essentially how many plates you can keep spinning in your life. If you find that you can’t maintain a successful career, a successful marriage, a healthy body and an active social life – then guess what, four jets is too many for you. You’ve got to cut it down.

Depth is, quite simply, how much water is in the tank. Regardless of how intensely you can cut, or how many sheets you can cut at once – how long can you do it? Some people are incredibly intense, able to go “all in” on an area of improvement – or maybe more than one – but always burn out after six months. They never stick to it. Maybe they have high Intensity and even high Spread/Horizontal Focus, but they lack Depth/Vertical Focus.

So, it’s a simple set of statistics: everyone has a level of How Intensely They Can Focus, plus a Maximum Number of Things They Can Effectively Focus On, plus a Maximum Duration of Effective Focus.

I have high Intensity, high Depth, low Spread. I can focus very intently, and I can do so for long periods of my life to build habits and routines. But I can’t pick more than one or two focus areas in my life before the machine starts to stall. I’ve met people with different stats – people with medium Intensity, low Depth, and high Spread, for instance, are excellent short-term multitaskers but tend to revert to their baseline life after a while. Or people with low Intensity, high Depth, low Spread – these are the people that are excellent at one particular thing, master it, but don’t tend to want to do much else or move out of their comfort zones.

If you want to be successful – however you define it – you need to operate within the realistic framework of your own waterjet. You need to know how far is “spreading yourself too thin,” how much intensity will burn you out before it accomplishes anything, and when you might be “biting off more than you can chew” by taking on projects whose timeframes exceed your depth.

If you stay where you have full power, you can accomplish incredible things. But one of the first stages to successful planning is to know your equipment.

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