Tag Archives: focus

Slow vs fast

I am sitting here watching the sunrise in my favorite chair with my coffee beside me. Sometimes my mind swirls with all I “should” get done today. Then I remember to take some deep breaths and SLOW DOWN.

I just finished a re-listen of Tom Sterner’s book, The Practicing Mind yesterday. It is about developing focus and discipline in your life. He reports a time when he tried an experiment: instead of rushing from thing to thing, event to event during his day, he tries moving as slowly and deliberately as possible. He discovers a remarkable thing: in that process of slowing down, everything seems to get done faster.

This is something I have noticed at times in my own life. When I am pinging back and forth between screen windows, or thinking in the back of my mind “I have so much to do” I get a feeling of busy-ness that creates anxiety.  When I realize that, I take a deep breath and acknowledge I have time for everything I need to do, I relax. I focus. I engage in the present moment. I get things done, one at a time.

Truly we only need to breathe to survive today. Yes, we probably want to eat sometime as well. But we would survive if we did not eat one day. Yes, we probably want to go to work, because there are consequences if we do not. But we have all the time we need, and going slower may actually help us get the work done faster. 

I love this paradox. As someone who has conditioned myself for that rushed feeling, it will take some deliberate practice to change the habit. But it can be done. I am going to prove it to myself. It runs counter to our culture, and that is just fine for me.

Go slow, friends.

Advertisements

What’s your One Thing?

Yesterday I took an opportunity during my monthly operations meeting to present to my team a concept I had discovered that intrigues me, from The One Thing by Gary Keller.

In preparing for the presentation, I realized that I can indulge my love for teaching and training in my current job. It was totally fun to prepare, and I enjoyed challenging my team with a new idea. It was a bit of a risk, and I had not discussed it with my director first. But he has been open to my creative streak, and when I finished (in about 20 minutes) he actually came up with the perfect picture to capture the idea of what we do now, versus what we might prefer to do.

one man band

“One man band” – photo taken in March 2018 by my boss

What is perfect about the photo is that it showed empathy for the struggle of my teammates, and it illustrated the point I had made during the presentation.

The basic idea of the book is that we need to work on ONE thing at a time, sequentially rather than simultaneously to achieve extraordinary results. When we multi-task or spin in a list of to-do’s that has no main priority, we dilute the focus and the quality of our work. So the book has a number of suggestions for how we drill down from our “someday goal” to a 5-year, then one year, monthly, weekly and daily goal.

We are asked to use a focusing question: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

This can be applied to goals at work, in relationships, goals for your physical health, personal life, money and business. You use it both on a temporal level: “what’s the one thing this week, or today or in this moment…” Then you plan time blocks on a daily basis so you get your one thing done first, before you slide off into more shallow work, like answering emails, attending meetings and other tasks.

Nothing should distract you from your one thing until it is done. Those time blocks can be protected. This is similar to the concept of Deep Work, by Cal Newport.

After I concluded, I asked the team: How can we apply the concept of “The One Thing” to the work we do every day? A couple of them had some ideas, and one had a great example. One thought it would be very hard to do this in the world we live in now, which was when my boss pulled out that great photo. We often feel like “one man bands” in our group, serving so many business units.

I believe the concept has merit, and though we a.d.d.-oid folks struggle with doing just one thing at a time, and many need to have shorter “time blocks” than the average person, I know when I do it well, I generate amazing results. I like to think of my one thing right now as my morning writing practice. When I do it, I feel a nice surge of energy, and that makes the rest of my day more productive as well.

What’s your ONE THING? Or if you prefer a more focused question: What’s your One Thing today?

Happy Friday, amigos!

 

Constraint

In this big, wide world with so many channels, choices and chatter, it can be hard to find our focus and stick to one main goal. I really struggle with this intention. I like to take on a lot of new things, but then sometimes I find that they “pile up” and start to crowd my life, in a way.

I generally try to put a constraint around things like the blog, for example. I give myself a limited amount of time each morning 30-45 minutes, to write the content. Sometimes if I am looking for photos to add, it can take up to an hour. But I try to make sure there is a limit. I could literally spend hours writing if I allowed it (and maybe someday I will), but I have a “regular” job. At least today that’s what allows me to pay my bills and not strangle my creativity by trying to make it pay.

As I near my 200th post (this Saturday!) I am considering whether to impose another constraint, to help me focus on larger projects that have been scratching at my consciousness. Since October 1st I have been posting daily here. Sunday is a haiku and it is short and sweet, though I cannot always resist 2 or 3 verses. And Saturday has become a blog share day, to pass along some love to other blogs I have discovered and enjoyed. So in a way, I already imposed some constraints that helped me find writing rhythm in my week.

I truly enjoy this daily ritual, writing whatever I happen to be thinking about each morning. So I hesitate to pull it back. It has given me structure and focus, and even when I have had to travel for work, I planned ahead and made sure to plan short posts sometimes scheduled for while I would actually be on an airplane.

There is a little thrill when we hit the “publish” button (do you get that too?) and our work goes out into the world. Even though I try not to get caught up with how many “likes” or “views” any particular piece has, I sometimes do consider it. Truly it fascinates me, which topics resonate with people, not always predictable and often a surprise for me.

Now that I have had some time to develop a regular writing practice, though, I strive for a bit more focus on some longer and “meatier” pieces, perhaps to submit to publications. I told my husband: I have a book in me (or three) and I would like to consider whether that is my ultimate goal. I sense a transition in my own creativity, and may need to constrain one area of my writing, so I can generate greater focus on another part. So again I toy with a frequency that will work for me.

When I imagine cutting back to once a week, as many bloggers do, I get this “muzzled” feeling which I do not like. I then consider 3 or 4 times a week as a reasonable limit. It allows for me to get my blog “fix” and generate some short(ish) pieces as warm-up writing and to keep myself loose. But it also allows for those other mornings when I can assign the time to a few project ideas that are longer and more involved, that require some editing and polishing.

Are there areas in your life where you recognize constraint helps you focus? Do you struggle as much as I do when you first consider cutting something out to make room for other things? I would love to hear about your experiences with this in the comments.

Focus vs exploring options

I am preparing for a session with my coach this morning and slept in an hour more than usual. Sometimes when my body needs it, I just allow it to rest. After last week’s travel, and disrupted sleep schedule, it has been lovely to have 4 nights in a row of 8-10 hours of sleep.

But of course, my writing time is a little cut short for the morning, so I sit, brainstorming what I most care to say. I went back and read a bunch of previous posts, scanning the “data” for trends, themes. Then I considered my worries about the upcoming coaching session. I turned in my homework only 5 minutes before the deadline this time, not a half day in advance like last time.

I wondered about all the resistance, and the fact that committing dreams or goals to paper makes me feel some pressure about it. I asked my husband last night about what he wanted to be when he grew up (at age 5-6) and he wanted to be a farmer like his grandfather. But then his family moved, and the farming industry changed. I reflected on my own memories of being asked that question.

I typically had a long list of all the things I wanted to do someday. But I remember being disappointed with someone who laughed at me kindly and told me I could not do ALL of those things. I would have to pick one, maybe two. What?!? I was sad that I would have to choose and I wanted to keep all doors open.

Back in the day, in our parents era, that was the norm: to choose one main career goal and to stick to that choice for 30+ years. Pension plans were built on that principle. To move around too much was flaky, seen as irresponsible and perhaps self-indulgent.

I had an active imagination and knew that everyone in my family were teachers, and that I also considered that a possibility, but did not want to limit myself. Fortunately the world has changed, and people seldom have just one career. The possibilities now seem limitless, but that does not mean we can have all our choices all at once.

Now that I am getting older, I recognize the value of making a career choice for one particular period of time (say, a decade) and fully embracing that choice, allowing ourselves to go deep into that field of endeavor, really to learn it well. Any area where we practice extensively and develop a body of knowledge is a place we can make a contribution.

But then there comes a time when some of us (and maybe this is my a.d.d. talking, or just my curiosity about other fields and the roads not taken) long for a transition to something new. I had hoped to get into the “Entrepreneurs in Residence” program at my company but found out yesterday that I will not advance to the interview round. I was a bit disappointed, but strangely felt relieved as well.

Working for a very large corporation for nearly 11 years, this era is coming to a close for me. I long for more freedom and less bureaucracy than this setting can deliver. I long for more innovation and less forms to fill out in order to get work accomplished. But that specific direction has yet to solidify for me.

Perhaps it has been a long time since I worked toward a particular dream or goal. I did dream of becoming a manager, and I achieved that dream. I dreamed of travel and work where I would get to do that much more often, and I achieved that dream as well. So in a sense, I have accomplished some of the goals that I had for myself, definitely not along the path I had expected.

I believe in staying open to opportunities, and saying yes to experiences where I might grow and learn. But now that I have achieved a certain level of success, I return to the question of where I want to focus. I long to figure out what contributions I most want to make, where I can provide the most value in the world.

This is a road we all travel, I realize. Perhaps making those choices and sticking to those decisions has been more challenging for me, or maybe I am operating on an old belief system that needs upgrading. In any case, I would love to hear from others that have made big career changes in their lives. What were your fears? How did you discover what you truly wanted? Were there ever times when you doubted your new direction?

Going All In

I am about to embark on a 6-month coaching engagement with the Handel Group. There is quite a bit of homework due before the first session which is next Wednesday, and I am both excited and a little scared.

My coach assures me this is a good place to be. We are going to get truthful about some areas in my life where I want to make change, and it will require a commitment to doing the work, and taking action. I will be writing up a biography and evaluating 12 areas of my life, and also dreaming big about where I want things to be.

When I talked with my husband about this endeavor, I explained what it was, and why I wanted to commit some resources to it. I told him that I believe this can get me “unstuck” about where I am now, and that it is great timing because of the changes I plan to make in the next 6 months career-wise. He was understanding, and he said he thought it would be a good use of time and money, but only if I am “all in.”

As someone who likes to do a lot of personal development reading, experiments, habit change and self-help types of efforts, this is my jam. The challenge can come when I am pursuing a few too many different types of efforts, and dabbling a little in each. Then my efforts get diluted over a number of challenges, and no one effort gets real traction.

I recognize that my a.d.d. can contribute to this tendency to bounce around, doing a little of this, a little of that, but never fully committing to one or two BIG projects, or BIG change efforts. Why is this? I am trying to be honest with myself about why I find that hard, but also want to give myself the challenge of being ALL IN with this one.

One of my fears that I have had since being young is that of being bored. I was the kid who *always* had a book on hand, just in case I was stuck somewhere, having to wait and having nothing to do. Whether it was long road trips with the family, or having to spend time in a waiting room, I never wanted to feel like I had nothing to do.

In fact I almost never leave the house without a journal to write in or a book to read, in case I am caught in a place where I will have time with nothing to do. Now that I meditate every day, I do not worry as much about having nothing to do. In fact, I look for opportunities to practice mindfulness, in airports, in grocery stores (though that one is still harder for me).

But I still like to “toggle” in my life, between several different projects, in case I get stuck in one of them and then can switch to another one. That in itself is not bad. In fact, I think it is one reason I have thrived in my current department: we are always juggling a lot of different projects, and while it would overwhelm most people, I enjoyed it for many years, knowing I was sure never to get bored.

But there is a kind of Deep Work (Cal Newport writes about this) that I am missing right now in my work and life. When I have so many different “windows” open, like a computer running a lot of different applications at once, it exhausts me after a while. Sure, I never get bored. There is always something new coming my way. But it seems I sometimes use that to distract me from bigger, more important goals that deserve deeper and more consistent focus.

Do you ever struggle with that problem?

I think this tendency may be endemic to the distraction-filled lives we live today. With technology providing these many gateways to rich content: books, classes, podcasts, blogs, social media sites, YouTube videos and the like, we have a plethora of choices.

Some of it can be nourishing for the brain and the psyche, and I love learning. But that can be a distraction from practicing skills, and really truly embracing change efforts in our lives. I recognize that I am sometimes so intent to fill my brain with concepts, that I do not always put things into practice. At least as a clinical researcher, I have a skeptical eye about claims in books. I tend not to believe things unless I have tried them, or I have some good data to back up what the author claims.

So this time around, I am going all in on this coaching process. The investment is not insignificant, but it fits into my budget. I commit to doing the homework, and maybe even to share some of what I learn on this blog. At the very least, it will help me figure out my next move career-wise. But I think it has the potential to change and improve many other areas of my life also. I am ALL IN.

Happy weekend, friends.