Posts Tagged With: Focus
“I’m a person of whim, and easily distracted. I don’t like multitasking. When I’m doing one thing, I like to do just that thing.” – Margaret Atwood
Multitasking is working with split attention and currently enjoys a great reputation, but the fact is that we are never actually multitasking. Instead the brain switches between tasks so quickly that it feels we are performing each activity in succession. Imagine a machine were to switch between tasks. We know how much downtime is involved, changeover operations have to be scheduled and performed fully, else the machine will malfunction during the process. It’s not easy for our brain to switch tasks. It takes time and invokes a second level of executive functioning, meaning that we have to use a lot of resources to switch tasks. Do we pause to think what kind of costs we are loading on each task switch? Multitasking drains our effectiveness. We end up performing each activity far more poorly than if we had done it on its own. And the task-switching overhead multiplies exponentially with the number of things being juggled.
The antidote to doing too many things at once is, of course, to only do one thing at a time. That’s the most basic definition of concentration: doing one thing at a time. It is the easiest thing we can do to create a substantial increase in our ability to focus.
When we reduce the number of things you are mentally juggling, the cognitive cost is vastly reduced. Just changing from three objects to two objects frees up a tremendous amount of overhead. The best, however, is to reduce the number of things we are doing or thinking about to one at a time. This lowers the juggling overhead to zero, and allows us to focus 100 percent of our brainpower on one topic.
Develop a habit of doing one thing at a time.
Distractions have become the norm in this tech-driven world today. But it’s more of a habit we have got used to. The challenge now, to break this habit is to make a new habit. Which should be – doing just one thing at a time. Every time we catch ourselves doing too many things at one time, let’s consciously return to just that one essential. The thing that matters. Practise this at every opportunity, at work, at home, while driving the car, all day long. Gently remind ourselves, “One thing at a time.”
We can take a quick check on how strong our habit for distraction has become. Shut everything off and do something simple with no distractions. The first thing that happens, often, is that the mind begins to complain “This is boring. There’s something on TV. Why can’t I just play some music? What’s wrong with eating while studying?” And so on. We will experience anything from mild discomfort to an almost irresistible compulsion to bring back the distractions.
That’s the place to start. To attempt some discipline about doing one thing at a time while trying to concentrate. Concentrating without distractions will eventually turn out to be incredibly pleasant. It will refresh and energize. Stable focus can increase our feeling of satisfaction in what you are doing.
It’s not that difficult. All it takes is a little practice.
“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” – Pablo Picasso
To postpone is to cause or arrange for (something) to take place at a time later than that first scheduled. It is the nature of the mind to postpone work to tomorrow. The mind has the habit of flitting from one thing to another, from one thought to another. We have to still the unstable mind, stop it from wandering and focus it on one idea. This needs to be done repeatedly. Unfortunately though, most of us are unable to control the mind. So, we keep postponing the task at hand to tomorrow, which obviously never comes. Poet-saint Kabir put it so succinctly: ‘Kaal kare so aaj kar, aaj kare so ab / Pal mein pralaya hoyegi, phir karoge kab’ — Do tomorrow’s work today and today’s work now / If this moment is lost, how will the work be done? Kabir advises us not to get into the realm of procrastination. No one knows how ‘tomorrow’ will turn out to be, whether we will be around or not. Time and tide wait for no one. At the end of life’s journey, all unfinished tasks will come to haunt us and we will be full of remorse and regret; this dissatisfaction becomes the cause of transmigration.
If there is something you have to accomplish, don’t postpone it. If it is possible, do it as soon as you can. Even if it is uncomfortable, time wasting or something else. When postponing becomes a habit, you learn to avoid uncomfortable situations. You search excuses not to tackle them. As soon as difficulties come flying in, you run away. That is definitely not the path to be effective or successful.
As long as you continue to avoid the task, nothing will happen and precious time would have flown by before you realize it. No sooner you address the issue, it might take some time to resolve it, but you can move on and focus your energies elsewhere.
Here it’s important to divide tasks into the matrix of Urgent – Non-Urgent v/s Important – Non-important. Highly effective people live in the 2nd quarter – Non-Urgent, Important. Because it’s the most effective way to live and manage your time. They don’t spend time in the 3rd or 4th quarter as these are always unimportant. And to live in the 1st quarter means to deal with constant fire-fighting. It is extremely stressful as you are constantly dealing with urgent AND important issues. Because they are important, you cannot reject them. Because they are urgent you cannot postpone them.
In the 2nd quarter, you deal with things that are important BUT not urgent yet. You have time to solve them without fear of deadlines. This gives you inner peace.
The habit of procrastinating work also keeps us away from spiritual pursuits. The mind tells us ‘enjoy the present moment. There is a lifetime ahead to finish our work’. It seeks to find newer excuses to not do the work at hand. Thus, an entire life might be wasted and there is nothing to show for it. As the deadline to finish a task gets closer, we get stressed and wonder what to do now. The habit of postponing work increases our stress levels.
Live in the 2nd quarter. Complete your work in the moment.
“The clock of life is wound but once, And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop, At late or early hour.
The present is the only time you own, So, live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in ‘tomorrow’, For the clock may be still.”
~ Robert H. Smith
A man was traveling and stopped at an intersection. He asked an elderly man, “Where does this road take me?” The elder one promptly questioned, “Where do you want to go?” The man replied, “I don’t know.” To which the old man opined, “Then take any road. What difference does it make.”
That was the easiest part. Because it did not require any effort to ask a question. But it is really challenging to find the solution. And for this riddle, there is no perfect answer. Some people know what they really want, but just haven’t pursued it. So, for them, it is only a matter to focus and realize what they wanted all along. Others will have a more difficult time. They have not yet figured out what their dream is. Or what they’d like to accomplish.
For those wandering aimlessly but would like to get a grip on things, it is best to start simple. Small steps, like thinking. Close your eyes and think about things. Deep inside, you already know what you want, only that it has not surfaced enough to be visible. That is why you have to go inside. Close your eyes and think.
Think about what’s important to you. Think about what you’d like people to talk about when you are no more. Think about how you would like to be remembered. Write down the things that come to mind. This should not be a one-time exercise. You will need to do it many times. Until you can see clearly. Your goal should be visible right in front and everything else will be a blur. Continue to explore your inner consciousness till you can see clearly.
This was the easier part. The struggle starts as you build a road map to get there. There are always several roads to get where you want to go. The ones that are easy have many shortcuts and compromises. The others will be difficult, treacherous and full of hardships and obstacles. But one has to walk down this street. There is a technique here which works – think backwards. From the end to the beginning.
What is the last thing you’ll need to do to achieve that outcome? What is the thing you’ll need to do just before that step? What is the thing you’ll need to do before that step? And so on, until you get to the first step. The first step is what you need to focus on.
On the best sunny day, the most powerful magnifying glass will not ignite the paper if you keep moving it around. But focus and hold it in place and the paper will light up. That is the power of concentration.
This was the easy part. Now you actually have to go and do it. You have your plan outlined. Surely you can now have the 1-2-3-step guide laid out too. What is needed and critically so, is to monitor how you stick to the plan. It could get very complicated keeping track of several goals with different time frames. What can be done to simplify things ? It is suggested to break down the goals into smaller components. And then monitor them. So you have just one small sub-goal one at a time. And several such sub-goals leading to a short-term goal. And a bouquet of short-term goals building up to your medium-term goal. A number of medium-term goals lead to a long-term goal and finally targeting the life-time goal.
The reason you focus only on one goal at a time is because it is difficult to follow many objectives at the same time. So, we sort them into actionable aims. When you need to accomplish only one thing this week, you actually boost your chances of success. As you can really focus more energy into making it happen. However and when you decide to do 3-5 things in the next two weeks, it is much more likely that you won’t do any of them.
When you achieve the short-term goal, select another one which is in line to get you to your medium-term goal. Once the medium-term goal is accomplished, choose a new medium-term goal to get you to your long-term goal. No sooner is your long-term goal accomplished, set your sights on a new long-term goal. Keep this up, and you will achieve your aim. Importantly, you won’t be wandering aimlessly anymore. You will have discovered purpose, hope, faith, confidence and success.
“The simple “break” from work – the kind that lasts an hour, or the kind that lasts a week or longer – is part and parcel of daily working life. It is something that has been built into the whole working process, a part of the schedule. The “break” is there for the sake of work. It is supposed to provide “new strength” for “new work,” as the word “refreshment” indicates: one is refreshed for work through being refreshed from work.” ~ Justin Pieper
Each day as you head to work, ask yourself, “Am I having fun or learning today at work?” This simple question can help you stay motivated – as an employee, as a leader, while surrounding yourself with a comfortable aura – which off course you bring to work. When schedules are demanding, deadlines are looming, a sense of humor can help get the job done. But you could use a few tricks for keeping your focus.
Find time for creativity outside of the office. It could be a cultivating a hobby, pursuing an interest, planting in your garden, painting, reading for enjoyment (not work!), or just trying anything new. Taking breaks is the key. Sure, a vacation will recharge your batteries, but such luxuries may not by easily had or may be few and far between. The idea therefore is to accept that it will be fine to sometimes just take your mind off work and do nothing. When there’s something you truly enjoy, don’t feel guilty—just do it!
It’s important to realize that you cannot be on top of things all the time. There are going to be bad hair days too! At these times, try to ease off on yourself. Listen to others instead. Walk the halls, and talk to team members about mundane things – What they’re working on, How things are outside work, What the children have been up to. These loose thoughts may not throw up any new ideas but they will surely energize the mind. Listening is important, because we all run out of answers. Even after years of experience – an old dog can learn new tricks. Also, try complimenting someone. Praise gets returned in unknown and mysterious ways. When you take time to thank people for a good job or a great idea, it will immediately motivate you.
Lastly, and most importantly, motivation flags because you have lost sight of the goal. It is easy to fill our lives with trivial things while letting the end goal escape us. You may never find that perfect balance, but you should sort all of the major life issues into the correct pigeon holes. This will help you understand them better and therefore prepare suitable plans for action. You can call it a ‘life map’. Visually draw the paths you will take to reach your final goal. Understanding yourself is the best way to motivate.
“Our friendship with others can get a firm base only when our friendship with ourselves has been well established. A person who is not one’s own friend cannot befriend any other. Friendship is a complete feeling and not a fragment or a one-sided relationship.” – Acharya Roopchandra
An oft-repeated cliche. Because the greatest struggle in life is the struggle to – accept all the faults, embrace all the imperfections, and over and above it all – love ourselves. To be really honest about who we are, how we feel and what we need. We have to learn to be our own best friends. Because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies. We love the idea of others loving us, but we forget to love ourselves.
Be your own friend –
- Focus less on winning the approval of others. Remind yourself that you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. And you don’t have to get permission to do it differently either.
- Distance yourself from those who bring you down. Don’t worry too much about people who don’t worry about you. Know your worth! And believe it. Your friends in life should motivate, inspire and respect you. Your circle should be well-rounded and supportive.
- Embrace the mistakes you haven’t even made yet. This will ensure long term success. Don’t let the fear of making the wrong decision prevent you from making any decision at all.
- Do something every day that makes you happy. Life is too short. Invest in the activities you deeply care about. A good life is should include – caring for yourself – doing things you care about. There’s nothing selfish about self-care. You have to experience life on your terms before you can be life-giving to others.
- Believe in your abilities. Nothing is impossible! The key is – identify what you want, claim it as part of who you are, and believe that you are worthy to have it
Go out of your way to be kind to others. Everything comes a full circle. People who love themselves come across as caring, generous and kind to others too; they express their self-confidence through humility, forgiveness and inclusiveness. And be thankful for rude, difficult people too – they serve as great reminders of how not to be.