What is focus? Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt have written a book guiding us to achieve it but, in reality, it translates into a million different things for different women. We asked a few working women to read The Power of Focus and share their insights and personal experiences.

For Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa, an experienced facilitator and personal coach, focus involves “articulating to myself what it is that I value about my work and personal life… because these become the touchstones, particularly when things are going out of control [or] when I feel challenged”.

Zanele Mbuyisa, co-founding partner of Johannesburg legal firm Garratt Mbuyisa Neale Inc, says focus is an attitude that work “has to get done”.

For IT professional Rachelle Meyer, however, it is “an occupational hazard of being in the project management profession… planning, scheduling, reviewing, contingencies. These are habits that have become automatic actions due to nearly 10 years in the field.”

Focus is something many of us lack in our day-to-day lives.

Virgin Active SA national fitness manager Franciska Venter admits she has no real thought-out strategies. “I took the days and tasks as they came. I would strategise around the immediate situation and handle accordingly – very re-active.” She is not alone. “I think that women  in general are often distracted by trying to prove that they can be as good, if not better than men, particularly in management or senior roles,” says Meyer, who lists Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as a book that had a huge impact on her earlier career.

“A number of women believe that career is an either/or choice as they need to juggle their roles as mother/breadwinner/businesswoman,” says Meyer. “These external factors often dilute their focus and value in the workforce. The truth is that there are many support mechanisms that women can investigate, for example aftercare programmes and online grocery shopping. Women need to take cognisance of the bigger picture and use the principles that have been well articulated in this book to ensure that they focus on the most important aspects.”

Venter agrees that women have a natural bent towards focus and planning. “Running a household and a career is nothing less than daily strategising and planning,” she says. “But women do not display these abilities enough. We still tend to take the back seat to male dominance and apologise for being ambitious.” Mbuyisa, however, finds it hard to fault the focus shown by SA’s women, particularly in the workplace. “It’s the personal life that might need work and this is influenced by a number of things: the difficulty in juggling work and private life and the challenge of keeping the balance.

If you are single, it’s the culture issues and perception issues that tend to make it difficult to keep a focus on your personal life. Then there is the ultimate one of being able to focus only on one aspect – work – and be completely unfocused on your personal issues… which is what I suffer from.”

Executive coach Jill Hamlyn, MD and founder of the People Business, is reluctant to assume that women “go wrong” in their approach to work/life balance. “I am of the strong opinion that regardless of the classification of an individual, the responsibility of all of us is to actively tap into our individual uniqueness in order to explore and then exploit the gifts, talents, temperament, skills and abilities that we each possess and to balance our lives (to the best of our abilities).”

The Power of Focus deals extensively with creating a balance in life. Chapter Four, Creating Optimum Balance, opens with a quote from motivational speaker and entrepreneur Jim Rohn: “When you work, work, and when you play, play. Don’t get the two mixed up.” Another area that struck a chord was Chapter Five, dealing with relationships and finding great mentors.  “There are people in my life who are mentors – people who I can talk to about issues and challenges and from whom I can learn,” says Kabali-Kagwa. “I also work with a personal coach from time to time. This helps me to focus, and also to experience what I take other people through. It becomes a space to grow and learn about myself.”

For Meyer, growth is a personal challenge. “Not many companies provide… guidance/mentorship on how to effectively get ahead. Although I do believe that, as individuals, we control our destinies and should document our objectives and learning roadmap independent of what companies can offer.”

Hamlyn agrees. “The majority of leaders and managers within today’s corporate arena are still grappling with the same challenge faced by Henry Ford in the early 1900s, when he lamented: ‘Why is it that I get the whole person when all I need is a pair of hands?’ Although academic literature proves otherwise, changing the mindsets of a large amount of people in the working world to enable individuals to become more motivated is probably a tall order.”

But that doesn’t prevent you from making the journey on your own. “Spend more time in the present to become more self-aware, more self-enabled and more self-encouraged,” suggests Hamlyn. Books like The Power of Focus offer guidance, but they might not be your cup of tea. “I never read these kinds of books because I can never abide by them,” admits Mbuyisa. “But I thought it was not a bad idea to have a go and try to develop good habits. I don’t know whether their assertion that the book will change your life is true or not, but I think they make some good suggestions about making changes.”

The Power of Focus is available from Exclusive Books, 011 798 0111, for R164.