What I Don’t Know About Lasers and Prisms

Focus and prioritization appear to be hot topics in popular media right now. Isn’t it interesting how we still need reminders about subjects long accepted as principles of success?

The knowledge that multitasking is contrary to effectiveness is no secret, yet many people continue to operate as if they are somehow the exception to the rule. Kind of like how we all know overly processed fatty foods aren’t the healthiest choice, but we rationalize our fast food purchases as being an exception to our supposedly wiser normal eating behaviors. All three times we do it during the week.

As Brendon Burchard says, “common sense is not common practice.”

Attempted multitasking and being busy for the sake of being active as opposed to working exclusively toward a defined goal might cast illusions of productivity, but, as illusions, they aren’t real. Like oasis mirages in the desert, they won’t end up helping you survive, no matter how good they might look.

Thinking of illusions and seeing things, consider this: lasers and prisms both manipulate energy (light), but the way in which they do so is dramatically different. So are the results. Practically opposite.

This is such an obvious metaphor I’m certain thousands of coaches and instructors have utilized it. It’s a good one, though, and worthwhile. And since it seems we could use reminders,  lets’s go over it again.

A laser amplifies light by focusing it tightly. It creates a highly focused, direct, powerful beam with awesome capabilities. A prism, on the other hand, refracts light. It bends and spreads the light’s wavelengths, creating a spectrum of color. It’s pretty to look at; it can make an interesting display that captures attention because of all the different colors. Each color, though, has only part of the energy the beam of light entering the prism has.

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We all have the ability and the choice to likewise use our personal energy. When we want to accomplish something, we can either concentrate our effort — focus — to be powerful like a laser beam, or we can spread our internal resources broadly… and create the opposite effect.

We didn’t get to play with lasers when I was in grade school (what a shame), but we did have magnifying glasses. Same idea on a simpler scale. We’ve all used a magnifying glass to concentrate sunlight and burn something, right? That doesn’t happen when the same sunlight goes through a prism. You won’t be setting any fires with your energy spread out.

When you have a goal, you’re likely to accomplish it quicker, with greater impact, by tightening your focus. Move toward that one goal directly. The shortest distance between two points is, after all, a straight line.

We’re all faced with having multiple goals, though, aren’t we?

Probably not. Not as many important ones — the “needle movers,” as Christine Comaford-Lynch calls them — anyway.

You might have many interests, you might have several good ideas you’d like to pursue, but trying to address them all at the same time can lead to frustration. Which of those ideas are going to make the greatest impact? On you, your mission, or the world? Whatever the scope of your endeavors, analyzing your options to direct your energy toward one at a time is likely to increase your effectiveness and personal satisfaction.

A multitude of great thought leaders have addressed the necessity to prioritize and narrow focus. Recently, Greg McKeown coined the term Essentialism for the discipline of “making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution.” Identify and eliminate the trivial for the sake of doing what’s vital.

Consider your work. What keeps you busy, and what actually matters? Are they the same? Even close?

You’ve probably heard of the Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 rule. It’s generally acknowledged that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. Read the other way around, 80% of what most of us are doing is ineffective, inessential, or, at best, not immediately bearing fruit.

Do you really want to spend the greatest percentage of your living and working hours NOT moving toward goals?

What’s the fix? Self-awareness. Analysis. Clear goal setting and defined actionable steps. Review the tasks ahead of you, the things on your to-do list. Are they important and necessary? Will they propel you in a positive direction? If they meet that criteria, prioritize them by recognizing which are MOST likely to have the GREATEST impact on helping you achieve your goals. Then get to work, and dedicate your best energy toward completing them without distraction.

It’s not always an easy exercise, but it always — ALWAYS — pays off.

By the way, do you know what the term in physics is for the process in which lasers create laser beams? Coherence. So by contrast a prismatic display not only lacks focus, it’s… incoherent.

Really helps to make the point, right?

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