I’m so grateful that I’ve created a simple life. Downsizing, decluttering, debt paying, and creating a job that comes with creativity and flexibility have all contributed to the simplicity I usually enjoy on a daily basis.
Lately though, things haven’t been that simple. I’ve been up and down, sad and worried, and focus is fleeting. That isn’t to say that I haven’t also been happy and creative and grateful because I have, but I’ve had to take extra steps to focus on my work and other things.
Instead of wasting time wishing for focus or trying to find focus, simply create it.
1. Work somewhere noisy.
When I am easily distracted, the worst place to work is my quiet apartment. Working in a noisy coffee shop or cafe provides wonderful background noise and helps me work. It’s as if there is so much going on around me, that it’s easier to focus on the task at hand. (which right now is writing this)
2. Start with something simple.
A morning routine is the best way to start your day with intention and focus, but if that’s too much, pick one thing that centers you everyday and don’t let that one thing slide. For me it’s meditation or having spinach for breakfast, but for you it could be going for a walk, or writing or many other things.
3. Let something slide.
When you aren’t working at full capacity, you’ll either do a so-so job at everything, or do less with better quality. I choose less.
4. Recognize what you did do.
My friend Tammy and I were talking about how frustrating it can be when you don’t feel like you are getting anything done, and she suggested reviewing the day and recognizing what did get done. This practice will help you recognize what you did accomplish and how you contributed. It’s more powerful to celebrate what did happen than to lament what didn’t.
5. Change your schedule.
If life is throwing curve balls, you need to swerve, duck and be flexible to catch the ball, or in this case, harness your focus. Working earlier or later, or taking time off in the afternoon, might be enough of a swerve to lean into the curve.
6. Stay present.
Second guessing past decisions and actions or worrying about things that haven’t happened yet, (and may never happen) both ensure needless distraction. Staying present can be a challenge, but it will really help to create the focus you need.
7. One at a Time
In his book Focus, Leo Babauta writes: “When email and Instant Messaging and blogs and the rest of the Internet came along, multi-tasking went haywire. Now we’re expected to do 10 things on the computer at once, still with the paper, phone, and meetings going, along with texting and messaging. Multi-tasking is no longer about being productive — it’s a way of living. It’s not a sane way of living, however, and it’s not necessarily the most effective way of working either. A few notes on why:
- Multi-tasking is less efficient, due to the need to switch gears for each new task, and the switch back again.
- Multi-tasking is more complicated, and thus more prone to stress and errors.
- Multi-tasking can be crazy, and in this already chaotic world, we need to reign in the terror and find a little oasis of sanity and calm.
- Our brains can really only handle one thing at a time, and so we get so used to switching between one thing and another with our brains that we program them to have a short attention span. This is why it’s so hard to learn to focus on one thing at a time again.”
My work is so much stronger when I focus on one thing at a time. If you haven’t read Focus, I highly recommend it. You can find a free version of the book here: http://focusmanifesto.com.
8. Use a timer.
When one at a time feels like an impossible task, I implement the Pomodoro Technique. I work on one thing for 20 minutes, take a 5 minute break and then do something else for 20 minutes. Knowing that I will be engaged for only 20 minutes allows my mind to get right to work.
As Chris Smith recognizes in I’m Taking a Break from My Wife and Kids, ultimately life is about the distractions. We can’t erase them and don’t want to. If anything we want to create more time and space for what and who we love the most.
Use the suggestions above to create focus to do your best work, because even in the simplest life, focus is fleeting.