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[Editor's Note: The following article is part 1 of 2 parts, but stands on its own as a complete article. Part 2 is not planned for publication on this site, but may be found at along with many of her other articles:]


How To Stay Focused, Part I
by Susan Dunn

Staying focused means getting those distractions out of the way that are keeping you from accomplishing what you want to. Life is full of ways to let ourselves become distracted. Pleasures and competing obligations are always calling to us.


What IS a distraction? Take a look at this painting and learn what a distraction is. I use this painting, “Ulysses,” by Draper, as an illustration of what Intentionality is, an emotional intelligence competency.

This painting is an illustration of part of the adventures of Ulysses, and, if the painting has done its work, you’ve already gotten the message!

There’s a man tied to the mast – that’s the hero, Ulysses.

Focus on the expression of the man at the bottom center of the painting, the man who’s rowing. This sailor is one of my favorite images. Ulysses was on a journey and he’d been told that when he encountered the Sirens at sea, they would seduce him and his men with their irresistible song no man could resist.

Take this as a metaphor for the strongest distraction for a man with a mission, a man at work. And of course this applies to women too. This portion of the myth is about DISTRACTION that disables intent.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is an old saying. It means you can have all the best intentions in the world, but if you don't carry them through on them, they are worthless.


Back to our myth. Ulysses was determined to complete his journey, and, having been forewarned of the danger of the Sirens' song, he put wax in the ears of his men. He left his own ears unplugged, but had himself bound to the masthead.

You can fill in the blanks here by looking at the men. The look on Ulysses’ face shows you the lure of the song, but at the same time you can see the Sirens yourself and one of these luscious creatures is right in front of this man who’s rowing. But he knows his job and he’s going to do it. That is to say, he has Intentionality.


And what might motivate him? It’s Ulysses’ voyage, and Ulysses’ adventure, Ulysses who will get the glory when it’s over, and Ulysses who never has to row. We never even learn the names of his men, whose night jobs are to be turned into pigs on Circe’s island, and to be eaten by Scylla, the sea monster, while their day job is to row.

This is, quite simply, the everyday person doing her or his job. He’s motivated because he’s motivated.


Now that you have your own distractions in perspective, here are some tips on how to put aside the things that might interfere with your task at hand – get them out of your sight, sound and mind.

• Turn off the sound on your computer so you don't hear "You've got mail."

• Read your email at scheduled times during the day. Otherwise ignore it, and don't chase rabbits - people send us enticing emails of all sorts - from Chadwicks got sweaters on sale, to the latest 'funny' you've GOT to send to your friend, to requests for information, to invitations to parties.

• Figure out what helps you concentrate best and insist on it -- you may need music, you may need silence, you may work better in the morning ... figure these things out.

• Know what your values and priorities are and be able to touch base with them at any given time.

. Use the DND button on your phone, and let your admin assistant screen calls and people.

• Train your loved ones. When someone understands that when it's their turn they will have your full, undivided attention and get what they need and want, they are far more likely to be able to wait for quality time.

• Don't listen to everyone else's advice. Nothing will pull you off-focus more.

• For special projects, and when you're first learning, hire a coach. This gives you knowledge, practice, accountability, and expert guidance.

• Take care of yourself and build reserves. You can't concentrate if you're too tired, too lonely, too hungry, too thirsty, etc.

• WRITE THIS ON YOUR SHOE (j.k.): "My job is to raise money" if, for instance, you're a fundraiser. This will remind you as you enter the office and all that stuff starts coming at you, what your real job is and how you should set priorities and concentrate your time.

• WRITE THIS ON THE 'FRIGE: "I want to have a good marriage." These little reminders will keep you focused!

When you see them--these messages--you'll be reminded to stop and think about what you're doing to see if it's going to further your intent.

Intentionality is a high-level emotional intelligence competency that requires focus, and focus requires that old-fashioned thing called “discipline.”

[See Part II, for the role of the leader.]

Susan Dunn may be contacted at

Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, , Coaching, Internet courses and ebooks around emotional intelligence for your personal and professional success. Coach Certification Program - fast, affordable, no-residency, training coaches worldwide. Email for free ezine.


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