It is an unusual Sunday for me when I do not have a blog topic enter my consciousness and then start writing. But at the moment, with a workshop coming up in January and some ideas I want to sift through and outline I find myself with an unusual single-minded focus there.
I am grateful for that, since I tend to bounce around a lot of things in my noggin all at the same time. Generally they are on a theme, but they tend to be interdisciplinary. For example, I almost never have less than 3 books I am reading at one time. For some people, that might be challenging. For me, it is the intersection and collision of unique ideas that I enjoy.
I allow for sifting and sorting of what I’m learning to percolate through my consciousness. Sometimes this leads to interesting metaphors to describe concepts in new ways.
Thus, in honoring that focus, which obviously indicates some passion about my topic, I am keeping this short. I know better than to declare less frequency of writing here, though I have been able to take Tuesdays off reliably. I leave open the possibility of serendipity.
I found myself with another short article-writing project on Wednesday, due on Friday. I am getting used to these quick-turnaround pieces, and rather enjoy them. Though the pay is not large, they are good practice for my “journalistic” style and for working with an editor.
It reminded me of a strategy I used to use when I used to procrastinate on a project, and I think I learned it from Martha Beck back in the day when I was in grad school. It involves taking a huge project and breaking it into short chunks of only 15-30 minutes at a time, especially if we are avoiding just getting started. Often, just starting and gaining momentum is the hardest part.
Nowadays, I can usually set a timer for 60-90 minutes of uninterrupted work at a time because I have worked up to that. The idea is that you set everything else aside and just focus on that one thing. It is harder to do that in an era when we often feel tied to our inboxes and phones.
But really: email is not urgent. If someone cannot wait a day or two for a response, they should call you on the phone. We need to de-condition people to getting automatic responses from email, social media and all the other distractions.
After my 60-90 minute sprint, I typically take a break of 20-30 minutes. Research shows that few humans can focus behind 90 minutes anyway, due to our ultradian cycles. These are basic rest-activity cycles discovered in the 1950’s. When we respect these rhythms of focus and rest, we can better manage the ebbs and flows of our energy and be much more productive.
I think that is one problem with corporate work environments. Typically they are built around an 8+ hour workday, and are not sensitive to human rhythms or people’s individual chronotypes, which also influence their productivity. When I complete 3 of these focused 60-90 segments in a day I typically get a mountain of work produced, more than I ever did in a corporate day that was highly interrupted. I am so very grateful for being able to manage that and design these “work sprints” for myself.
What is your cycle for accomplishing your best work? How can you plan to incorporate that cycle into more of your days?
It is getting to be THAT time of year. You know the one. First is Thanksgiving, which is actually one of my favorite holidays. It is all about gratitude. There should be more of that in all of our lives. It also tends to be about food and gluttony, though in recent years, I have not over-eaten, so that’s been less of an issue.
After Thanksgiving, the Christmas season roars to full attention. Though I like aspects of Christmas, becoming less of a “thing” person in the decade or so, I often find myself getting overwhelmed with it. I dislike shopping, even if it is for people I care about. I have decision fatigue just thinking about the holiday.
My husband and I have managed to get 90% of the gifts for our nieces and nephews online, which has cut down greatly on the shopping. What a relief. But there’s still the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
This year, there’s the hustle and bustle of finding paid freelance work so that my hubby and I do not end up eating cat food for Valentine’s Day… LOL! Just kidding, it’s really not that bad. But if you know people in the market for science writers, please send them my way via this Link. Thank you, y’all are the best.
For now, I need to be focused and disciplined so I will continue to read my usual favorite blogs, but I will probably not pick up any new ones. I am putting the Saturday Share on holiday until after the New Year.
Sometimes we must focus on what is essential, and eliminate the rest. I shall try to do that, and have plenty of time for what matters most. My best to you and yours. I hope you have a lovely and safe holiday season.
I mean it, schedule fun into each week, each day, maybe even in every hour if that is possible.
It is not optional. Fun feeds your creativity.
I used to take breaks to play and rest only when I had “earned” them through doing enough work. Probably that daughter-of-an-immigrant work ethic that many of us inherited. Work all day and then you can earn your fun.
But what it we turned that on its head?
Play at intervals, rest at intervals. Work deeply, but do so in a focused and paced way.
Those of us with focus issues might prefer the “sprint/break” approach: work in 45 minute blocks with no interruptions (including email, social media or other distractions) and then get up and move, dance or walk for 15 minutes.
Others who like to work for longer stretches might work for 90 minutes take a 30 minute break. Most research says that the maximum focus for most humans sitting at one time without moving is about 70-80 minutes. Honor that. In the era of social media, it is likely substantially less, according to Cal Newport.
Knowledge work often requires sitting at a desk for long stretches, or enduring endless teleconferences that sometimes make you want to stab your eye out with a pencil (not speaking personally, of course).
What if you took a playful attitude toward work? You can inject a little creativity and some cartoons or funny videos into your (dreadful) required Powerpoint presentations. (I feel your pain. I have been there.)
One of my favorite wise teachers, Brene Brown says that “Creativity not expressed is not benign. It metastasizes.” Heed that wisdom. Plan some fun and some whimsy into your day. Your work will be re-energized and you will deliver at a higher level.
How often do you ask yourself the question in your life: What is essential? Or a variation: what is essential for me right now?
I just listened to the audio book (and am re-listening, because it resonated so much) that many of you minimalists out there probably already know, called “Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. It is resonating with me on so many levels.
We can find a life of greater meaning, purpose and satisfaction with the mantra “less but better.” McKeown echoes many of the concepts of mindfulness as well as other wisdom I have discovered in other books like Deep Work by Cal Newport and The One Thing by Gary Keller. I find many applications here in how I am thinking about designing my new life and work for the future. The principle of essentialism is deeply connected to our personal wellness so I will focus on that aspect.
We face a plethora of choices every day about what to do and how to spend our time. There are many more options for what we can do in any given day and so many more decisions we are thus privileged (some would say forced) to make. Each hour, each minute, even in one breath, we choose. Do I meditate? Do I listen to a favorite podcast? Read a book? Finish that article I’m working on? Join that online webinar? Attend a yoga class?
And yet choose we must. Decisions are a part of life. We want to “have it all” and indeed many advertisers try to convince us that we can. But this is folly, because by attempting to do everything, we focus on nothing. It all becomes noise, and it is insignificant. It produces no real results, and we become frustrated at a lack of progress.
When we think we *have* to do it all, we are lying to ourselves. When we choose only what is essential to us, and pare down what is extraneous, we are rapidly able to better discern what is important. There are applications in terms of possessions, commitments, activities, memberships, or even new habits we are trying to implement. When we are spread too thin, we devote less attention to what is important. The problem is that many of us believe the illusion that everything is important. It is simply not true.
So to answer the question of what is essential for me, I would boil it down this way: sleep, play/creativity, rest, relationships and work. I was going to put work before play. But I realized I am not technically working (for money) now, and I am doing just fine. Sleep, play and rest have been essential to my sabbatical. Since I worked and saved, I am able to rest and play now for a period. I know that reflects some privilege. But it also reflects choices I have made in my life about what is essential.
What is essential to you? How can you focus more deeply on that today?
It is not easy for me to cut back on this blog. I tried it before: taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off so I can focus on some other projects. But I enjoy writing my daily post, and it can give me an energy boost to spend 30 minutes writing in the morning before I move on to the other business of the day.
Now I am setting my sights toward working on a new professional endeavor, so I will have to honor this commitment to myself. How strange that it is a commitment NOT to post a couple of days a week rather than the opposite.
When I started this blog back in September, I had no intention of posting daily. In October I challenged myself to see what I could do, if a daily post were possible for a month. It turned out to be 6 months of daily posts before I first tried to cut back. Now I have a long list of topics I want to write about. It has been hard to limit myself to daily. I will be up to 300 posts by the end of July. I find no shortage of topics on which I want to write.
As someone who is mastering her struggle with attention, I have many interests that cross fields. I am in a constant thirst for new information, new ways to think about problems, ways to feed my creativity. I believe focus can and is important at certain times. But I can also pair myself with others who have this focus, and allow my associative, creative mind out to play more often.
I used to wish I had more focus, wish my mind were easier to “discipline” and could be more concrete, sequential. At times this is useful. But I have many people around me who are really good at concrete, sequential tasks. Might it be better for me to partner with their great gifts and strengths while fully exploring my own?
True, I am cultivating my focus through meditation daily, and this helps greatly in my ability to single-task more work-wise. I turn off social media, and minimize the distractions. Thus I am able to finish things more quickly. But most of that advice is directed toward more “neuro-typical” people, and my brain is not wired that way.
Sometimes in total silence it is difficult for me to work. I actually have MORE internal thought distractions when it is too quiet. Music playing in the background can help, or even going to a coffee shop with a little quiet conversation around me can help. I often get quality work done on airplanes despite the distraction of food service every two hours.
A.D.D. is more about variable focus, which is why it is a misnomer. When something fascinates me I can literally spend hours focused, forgetting to eat meals, get dressed for work, etc. I have all kinds of little alarms and reminders to help me get to work on time, get to yoga class, and generally do what life requires.
So I will try gradually cutting back on this blog, taking Thursdays off. Maybe I’ll do a “throwback Thursday” and revise some earlier posts. I want to submit more writing to magazines and journals. So maybe I’ll take my “B minus” versions and polish them up a bit for fun.
I write this blog to discover: What do I love? What do I most care about? How can I share and connect with others during the process?