Yes and No
The two sides of focus
If there has ever been a time in history when we’ve been distracted, it is now. The constant barrage of interruptions and disruptions is pulling our attention in multiple directions. It’s harder than ever to get focused and stay focused.
At the same time, without focus, leaders will spin their wheels, chase the latest fad, and give their teams whiplash as they shift from one vision to the next. The key to focus is to embrace both sides of the proverbial coin.
Focus With Yes
Focus begins by determining what to concentrate on. While this seems obvious, it’s not as easy as you might think. Consider Mary and Martha.
One day Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. This was no doubt a special moment, and Martha’s mind must have raced with all the things she must do to welcome Jesus with hospitality.
But Mary had a different approach — a different focus. Mary, “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39). In other words, Mary chose what to say yes to (or perhaps I should say “who” to say yes to). Martha, on the other hand, was “pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen” (Luke 10:40, MSG).
Those two words, “pulled away,” describe our modern-day dilemma. We are in a constant state of being pulled away. But Mary mastered the “Yes.” In the moment, she was able to prioritize what truly mattered. Mary said yes to Jesus. She said yes to sitting at His feet and learning from the Son of God.
That’s where focus begins. It begins by determining the most important “yes” in our lives and in the moment. If you want to identity the “yes” in your life, answer these questions:
- Have I clarified my life purpose?
- Have I articulated a small set of core values?
- Do I understand my God-given gifts, abilities, and skills?
- Do I know what roles maximize my giftedness?
- How do I add the most value in the ministry I lead?
- Do I have a way of identifying what’s most important right now?
These questions will help you find focus on a macro level and a micro level. They will guide your “yes” and help you allocate your time and attention to what truly matters.
Focus requires “Yes” and “No.” Without “Yes,” you’ll efficiently do the wrong things. And without “No,” you’ll live in a constant state of distraction.
Focus With No
Focus begins with yes, but it doesn’t end there. We must also learn to focus with “no.” While Mary said yes to Jesus, she also said no to helping in the kitchen. This obviously irritated Martha.
In fact, Martha later interrupted Jesus and said, “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand’” (Luke 10:40, MSG). Mary didn’t abandon Martha; Mary abandoned distraction. She abandoned the thing that would pull her away from what was most important in the moment.
The dishes weren’t most important. Baking some bread wasn’t most important. In Mary’s mind, those tasks deserved a “No.” Mary understood, “I can’t be in the kitchen and at Jesus’ feet simultaneously. And since there will be plenty of opportunities to work in the kitchen, I’m going to choose the opportunity that may never present itself again.”
Mary chose Jesus. She focused on what mattered most and said no to everything else.
Apparently, Jesus thought Mary had her focus in the right place. How does Jesus respond to Martha’s request for her sister to help? “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing” (Luke 10:41, MSG). In other words, “Martha, you’re busy … so busy that you’re missing the point.”
Then Jesus continued, “One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it — it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her” (Luke 10:42, MSG).
Notice, Jesus said, “One thing only is essential.” Not two things, not 10 things. One thing. That’s focus. And Mary chose the one thing.
As leaders, we must embrace both sides of the focus coin. We must define our “Yes,” and then exercise our “No.” Exercising our no happens when we:
- Establish clear boundaries to protect our time.
- Eliminate time wasters from our schedule.
- Resist the lure toward pet projects that don’t matter.
- Manage bottomless time pits like social media.
- Learn to say “No.”
Focus requires “Yes” and “No.” Without “Yes,” you’ll efficiently do the wrong things. And without “No,” you’ll live in a constant state of distraction. Together, both sides of the focus coin equip you to live with purpose, attention, and productivity.