An Interview With Tyler Soenen
Tyler Soenen was one of 90 pilot members who took an early version of The Focus Course this past spring.
It was an honor to have Tyler as part of that early group because he is pretty much my ideal target market for the course: Tyler is a project manager at a large company and also has a strong bend toward creativity. While he has a lot of autonomy at his job, there are still the challenges that come with corporate bureaucracy and working with people who don’t all necessarily care about doing work that matters and living with integrity.
Moreover, Tyler has long been a “productivity student” so to speak. Before even taking the course, he had already read many productivity and goal-setting books and tried out other systems and methodologies, including Getting Things Done by David Allen, Zen to Done by Leo Babauta, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, What’s Best Next by Matt Perman, and The One Thing by Gary Keller. (All awesome books, btw.)
Throughout the pilot course, Tyler provided invaluable feedback (as did many of the other pilot members). And so, afterward, I asked Tyler some questions about his specific challenges related to focus, what his thoughts are about doing work that matters, and how the course impacted him.
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Shawn: What is your biggest challenge related to focus?
Tyler: My biggest challenge related to focus has been maintaining clarity on what’s most important in my life, and also being fiercely committed to that. In a day where information, priority, and urgency come at me from multiple directions in a short span of time, it’s always a fight to keep clarity in the midst of all of the competing elements of life.
What does the idea of work / life balance mean to you?
I like to think of these two topics as interwoven and integrated.
Work should be what your life is about, but there are different expressions of it. Work is taking care of your house, relationally investing into your family members, your church community, at your actual place of vocation by doing the best that you can to serve the very next person that you hand the product of your work to (whether that be a phone call, a spreadsheet, a presentation, a solved problem).
The ratio of work/life balance look different for each person according to their values and season of life. My aim (although I am very aware of my weakness to execute the vision) is to maximize my capability to serve others in my life and to use my opportunities for rest as a time to recharge my life so I can better achieve my aim of serving others.
You told me that you’ve already read quite a few books about productivity and have tried different systems and methodologies before. How was the Focus Course different than what you’ve learned in the past?
The books I’ve read tell you about the theory of how to use a hammer to hit a nail. For example, if you’ve ever read read Getting Things Done, it’s easy to think “Ahhhhh! Oh my gosh, there’s so much to do! I have to clarify all of my 50,000 ft objectives, set up my tickler system, clarify my 10,000 ft goals — it’s so much.” And that thought makes it overwhelming to actually put all of it to practice — you’ve learned the theory, but you’re not sure how to do anything about it.
Did the daily tasks that accompany the course help to make the teaching sink in?
Absolutely. What I liked about it is that it forced me to put words on paper, and perform the actions as I was learning the theory (reiterating what I was saying before). This also helped pace performing the actions.
As I mentioned before, when I’ve studied other books, the can be overwhelming to actually put in to practice. I learned the theory, but it’s not always clear how to do anything about it.
Your course, however, did the work for me in this area by taking that variable out of play. I just focused on doing what you told me to do and I learned from it. (Which, by the way, that’s why we usually pay for courses. And this course does that.)
What this left me with was 40 days of learning about the philosophy related to focus, doing work that matters, and having a healthy work / life balance. And at the same time I was learning from the experiences that came from completing the daily assignments. The course forces you to beat the resistance (as Pressfield says) and do the work. The result is that you learn so much more because you’ve actually done the work and tasted the fruit that so many of the books talk about.
This was huge for me, because in all of the reading I’ve done, the The Focus Course had something original that was very beneficial to my own life: the integration and union of having daily lifestyle practices that tie in to our ‘short- and long-term goals. You defined this paradigm in such a way that makes it possible to feel like I was achieving success daily by completing activities that are aligned with my own values, but at the same time using these activities to complete a short-term / long-term quantitative goal.
What was the most challenging aspect of the course for you?
I have to say, the most challenging aspect was sticking with it.
Being an American in our drive-thru-mentality society, I wanted to see awesome results just 5 days in. Sticking with 40 days of actions is difficult.
But when is the last time you’ve done something you’re really proud of in just a few days? In my experience it’s the difficult yet mundane tasks (and you talk about this, Shawn) that produce tons of fruit in the long haul. You just have to be willing to have the grit to follow through. I though you did such a great job at breaking things down and making them as simple as possible.
What was your favorite aspect of the course?
The integration and marriage of the ‘Daily Lifestyle Practices’ and ‘Short Term and Long Term Goals.’ As I said, in all of the reading that I’ve done, I think this is original and very beneficial to my own life.
In my experience reading a lot of productivity books out there, they either focus on the “now” and express that “there are no goals,” or they focus on goals alone and the achievement of these goals.
I’ve found if you focus on the “now” alone, you lose heart because of a lack of vision for where you’re going in life. And on the other side of that, if you are constantly completing and re-signing-up for goals, you never feel like you have success day to day.
You took both of these ideas and forged them into a singular convergent idea that can be deployed on a daily basis and that brings vision for the future, Yet it’s also something that is practical and simple enough to complete in 24 hours that aligns with your core values.
This was so helpful to me and was by far my favorite thing about the course.
Who do you think this course is for?
This course really could be for anyone. Every person is doing creative work somehow. If you have a choice on how you’re going to go about your day, your relationships, your vocation, etc. then this course is applicable to you. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, a horse rancher in Wyoming, or a broker in New York, I believe this course will not disappoint because it’s aligned with fundamental truths that we all benefit from.
Today’s interview is a part of my countdown to The Focus Course.
Every single person who went through the pilot and provided feedback said that The Focus Course had a positive impact on them, and that they learned about the things they were wanting to learn about and they saw change in the areas they were hoping.
Over the weekend I’ll be sharing some more stories and testimonies of those who’ve already taken the course and how it impacted their life.
You can also sign up for The Focus Course right here.