President's message to students about increasing focus

April 29, 2019

Dear Gamecock Students,

I don't need to tell you that the world is changing faster than ever. There's so much coming at us all at once that we often feel challenged to keep up. We're juggling so many things at one time that it's hard to stay focused on what's most important in our lives. But reading day and finals are upon you. I know it's not your favorite time of year, but it's an opportunity to show your stuff...to dig down deep...and to focus on preparing for them in the very best way you can.

I recently read a book by Joshua Seth entitled, Finding Focus In A Changing World: How To Think Differently And Make The Impossible Possible. It's a simple and quick read that challenged me to confront the fact that I often lose my focus on more important things by juggling so many things at once.

I appreciate that I've become a "master juggler," attending to so many things to get through the day; and I bet that you are one too. But people like us who are really good multi-taskers often pay the price of diminished focus. We can do many things at once but we may not bring our true excellence to any one thing. Have you ever read five pages of a book and then realized you didn't absorb what you just read, so you start over? That's a really inefficient way to read five pages. Or, have you ever sat down to study and after a short while "suddenly remembered" that you needed to call someone? Or, how many times have you gotten a text that distracted you to the point you responded immediately, at the expense of what you were doing?

It's been estimated that, on average, one spends 40% more time trying to accomplish three tasks simultaneously. Even though we think we're being more efficient with our time by multi-tasking, it usually means that we're collectively neglecting all of our tasks. So, by sharpening our focus, we will not only do things better, but we will also do them quicker. That means more time to do things you like.

Many of you have asked me recently, "What do you have planned next...what are you going to do?"

 

I'm going to learn to focus on the most important things, which for me are family, community service and professional engagement. And here's how I'm going to do it.

 

I've given a lot of thought to this. Patricia and I certainly have many things planned, including serving the university in new ways, but one thing I'm going to commit to is finding my focus. I'm going to learn to focus on the most important things, which for me are family, community service and professional engagement. And here's how I'm going to do it.

First, I'm going to take the 13 or so balls I juggle every day and, over time, drop most of them one by one. I'll "watch" them fall and break and feel ok about that. As one drops, I'll be able to better focus on the others. And I'll keep dropping them until I have a smaller, manageable number left. With a smaller number left, I'll be able to juggle higher and higher, become better and more productive at those things, and, I hope, happier.

You might say, "President Pastides, that's easy to say...you have the benefit of time and retirement ahead...I have to worry about a thousand things coming at me at once, from career planning, to commitments to friends, to finals!"

I hear you, but my message is simple and it can help you. Organize your responsibilities in blocks of time, stay true to one task for the time you have allotted, and stay focused while you're doing it. You'll retain more and won't have to read things twice. One other simple thing that might help is to put away your phone for the time you need to stay focused on an important activity, like studying. The texts that come in will wait patiently for you to finish your work.

Students, I'll truly miss writing these e-blasts for you...I really will, but I'm not done yet. I hope to have one for you during the summer. In the meantime, I'm preparing my final commencement address for the seniors. And I also have another Mini Conversation for you...a ride with my favorite people -- USC students. I took a ride in the Mini crammed with me and four students, a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior... and since I couldn't decide who to choose from among so many who applied...well, you'll see!

I can assure you that even as I find new things to focus on, Carolina will always remain a strong priority for me. I might not be in those special seats at athletic or cultural events, and I might not even be in the top row, but you'll hear me cheering as loud as ever, especially for your success and happiness.

Forever to thee, Carolina students.

Harris Pastides