While participating in a recent conversation, I couldn’t recall my main character’s name from a novel published three months ago. All I could think of were the names of characters in the current book I’m working on. After what felt like an eternity (30 seconds), his name popped back into my head (Joe Tenning).
How strange that after spending hundreds of hours writing that book, I couldn’t remember something so central. It prompted some pondering about focus and the power it holds.
Most understand that focusing all our attention and energy on something enables us to produce results. When we have a billion things to do and experience feeling overwhelmed, focusing can help us sort through the mess.
When faced with these situations in a work setting, I always try to focus on what’s due next. Keep the boss happy and make them look good remains an effective strategy! Even when working for yourself, often it revolves around what’s to be delivered or presented next. Focus enables concentration on something in order to finish it.
The logical downside of “focusing on what’s due next” is time can fill up with the smaller, less significant and the more important continues to get pushed back. Let me give a personal example.
I’ve discovered starting the day writing and then doing other tasks late in the afternoon or evening proves more productive for me. Beginning the day knocking off what on the surface seem to be “fast” or “easy” tasks, often turns into a non-writing day.
Many can relate to the frustration when those things anticipated to take hardly any time end up taking way more than expected. For me it turns into, “Well, I’ll just knock out a few more of these ‘small’ things and get to the writing after lunch.” Then a phone call here, answering emails there, doing a bit of editing, checking the bank accounts, the internet going down, and (if working from home) throwing in a load of laundry, defrosting chicken for dinner, etc., etc.. Pretty soon, most of the day is history and writing gets postponed until tomorrow. And, MY kids are grown! I remember the days with children and elderly parent responsibilities as well. Yikes!
No matter how hard you work at eliminating the small stuff, more magically appear. So the reasoning behind starting with the “quick” tasks invariably is not a fail proof plan. Plus, distractions and interruptions will always exist. They can come in groves and at the worst of times.
This introduces the question—what is most important?
On occasion, life throws us and our loved ones terribly difficult situations. Serious diseases, accidents, misfortunes. Unexpected loss of relationships from death, divorce, disagreements. Hardships created from jobs, finances, health. The list goes on and on because, after all, this IS life and heartbreaking things happen. These times call for “focusing on what’s most important.”
Then there is multi-tasking. Which more accurately is the ability to change your focus rapidly from task to task. It can be a sought after skill in situations that require multiple accomplishments during a time crunch or while under pressure. However, it can be more of a challenge when the task at hand requires extensive or creative concentration.
One thing is clear. Focus is needed for results. We have to pick and choose where to put our mind and effort depending on our individual circumstances, our passions, and our goals.
Focus is best utilized when we use it to our advantage but don’t let it take over. That means maintaining balance in our lives. Perhaps we accept taking a little longer on a task (if you have that freedom). Sometimes it’s negotiation with loved ones about time. Don’t forget, keep things in perspective while taking both mental and physical breaks during the process in order to maintain some sanity and because getting sick means nothing gets done at all! Find what works for you to accomplish while at the same time keeping life balance.
Also, don’t forget the old adage to work smarter, not harder. And, enjoy small rewards along the way to keep you motivated.
One last thing. Remember the importance of celebration. With so much energy spent, there isn’t a more appropriate activity than celebrating an accomplishment with those around you. Congratulations!
Now…get back to focusing on the next thing.
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