FOCUS
  • Concentrating efforts along the right priorities in an effective manner
  • Honing attention, time and energy into fulfilling specific responsibilities
  • Guarding against distractions and saying “no” to that which degrades high-quality performance

HARRINGTON COMMENTARY:

Distractions come in many forms. Some are positive, such as wanting to spend time with friends and family. Other distractions are more negative, like an unwelcomed, grumpy neighbor. Lately, I have been focused on one particular type of distraction. It is one that is not inherently positive or negative, but the result, because it takes my focus away from where it should be, is not good.

What is this distraction? True But Beside The Point (TBBTP)

True But Beside The Point =  Facts, comments, ideas or opinions shared by others that may be true, but do not directly relate to or impact the task at hand.

TBBTP distractions can easily take us off-mission and we do not even know it. Worse yet, we may think that we are still on mission, but, in reality, we are chasing a rabbit down a trail that leads to nowhere.

Let me give you an example. I have spent a good portion of my time for the past few years focused on an effort to reform the E-rate funding program. I have had countless meetings with others about the need for change. I have been surprised at how many of those conversations have been derailed or been monopolized by other things. Things that may be true, and, in fact, may need to be addressed, but, by themselves neither negate, refute, or are directly impacted by the need for change in the E-rate program. Here is an extreme illustration of what a TBBTP distraction may sound like:

John:

“It is essential that students (and teachers) in all classrooms have the opportunity to connect to online resources. The E-rate fund is ideally suited to help make this a reality. Let’s reform the E-rate!”

Other Person:

“A cure for cancer is possible within our lifetime. Let’s support cancer research!”

Obviously, this is an absurd example (but not that far from some conversations that I have had.)  Like most of us, I have had family members and friends impacted by cancer. I am in favor of cancer research. But, in practical terms, the need for E-rate reform and the need to eliminate cancer have nothing to do with each other. If I allowed myself to be pulled deeply into efforts to raise funding for cancer research, or started doing fulltime advocacy work for victims of cancer, then I would not be doing a very good job of helping students get online. Both are good. Both are important. But impacting students’ lives is the mission I am called to, not curing cancer. (Hopefully a student getting a wonderful education will find the cure!)

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Most of the time, True But Beside The Point distractions are not as clear as this example. When presented with facts or opinions that may not be relevant, here are a few questions that you can ask:

Is this person’s opinion related to our goal, or does it relate to a different task or a different goal?

How does this new fact relate to our mission? Does it impact our ability to fulfill the mission?

Will this other circumstance or fact be changed if we fulfill our current goal?

Is there a point to this debate?

Focusing thoughts, talents and resources towards a specific goal or outcome improves the odds of success and increases the quality of outcomes. Many times, issues that are raised as objections or conflicts have only tiny threads connecting them to the issue at hand. A major requirement for being focused is the ability to recognize and to guard against these types of distractions. By steering away from True But Beside The Point issues, we save our time and energy for the work that we need to focus on the most.

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Key Words and Phrases

To concentrate attention; Emphasis; Fasten; Center; Train; To have a clear perception; To bring to focus.

Opposite Terms

Blurry; Out of focus; Without direction.

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