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A Note on Focus.

Hello! I’ve returned from my blogging hiatus and am so glad to be back! It was great to have some additional time to brainstorm ideas, learn about theme development in Wordpress (which will hopefully result in a new and renovated home for joycreation soon) and explore new platforms (yes, I’ve finally signed up for Pinterest - a dangerous place for a design junky like me!).  

I think I may be scheduling regular hiatuses from now on, because it was such a productive week! And I’ve found that unplugging from computers and mobile devices for even just half an hour can be far more productive than hours spent in front of the screen (surprise!). 

One of the topics that has come up for me again and again this week is “focus”. It’s something I struggle with. So many ideas and so little time! And the older I get, the more pressured I feel about having to catch up on all the things I haven’t done so far. Rather than taking it one step at a time, I’ve been trying to expedite the process by attempting to do it all at once. However, most successful people will say to specialize, not generalize or: to monotask, to focus on one thing at a time. 

While I wish I could offer a recipe on how to do this, I will need to go through a process of trial and error to find the right balance. However, there are a few  techniques I think may be helpful in the process, so I thought I’d share:

Be honest with yourself and pay attention to the things you’re passionate about. Then pick one (for now) and focus on that. I know it sounds cliche, but given that we spend a large amount of our lives working, we might as well be doing something that brings us joy. Focusing on one thing at a time doesn’t mean we can only have one passion (as a matter of fact I have several, which makes decision making so hard!), but I think we can be more successful,  when we give our full attention to one thing at a time. For instance, I recently listened to an interview in which an artist was describing how she balances her two big passions: creating handmade art and acting. Her method: she divides her year into two phases: for the first six months she puts all her focus on acting, while the second half is devoted to creating handmade art. Obviously, this method is open to variations (my version: from now until September my main focus will be on learning as much about web design and development as possible. I’ll be taking classes (one at a time) and see where I’m at in September).

Write it down. This should be an obvious one, and yet: for the longest time I lived without a calendar, because I was able to remember dates and events easily. I preferred to keep all of it (including projects and goals) in my head. But by writing it down, you free up energy for more important things (e.g. I don’t have to keep thinking about remembering all my appointments) and it gives you a much better perspective of what needs to get done. I also have started tracking the time I spend on various tasks (e.g. an assignment, a blog post, household tasks, etc.). Not only will this help determine how much time needs to be allocated to different areas of my life, but it will also serve as a visual reminder of the little things I do each day to move me closer towards my goal. Currently I’m using a notepad with two columns: one serves as a to-do list, the other as time tracker. 

Be OK with saying NO. "No" is a word that doesn’t come easily to me. My response is usually "Sure - I can do this!" I want to ask myself more questions like: is this something I’m comfortable doing? Will I feel resentment, if I say yes? Will it hinder me from moving towards my goals? This doesn’t mean I won’t be willing to help out anymore, but I just want to be more mindful of the things I agree to. Another good way to avoid an instant "yes" is to get into the habit of asking people for some time to think about it. (e.g. "I will need to check my calendar. Can I get back to you about this tomorrow?"). This also gives you a chance to sleep on it for a night (or more, if needed).

Re-evaluate: one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my former boss (and successful leader), is the willingness to reevaluate over and over again. Change is usually a good thing, when it is geared towards improving whatever it is you’re working on. When I started joycreation last year, my posts became more and more sporadic, until I gave up blogging altogether. However, the idea always remained in the back of my mind and as I started up again (this January), I made a promise to myself to post daily, no matter what. While there have been a few days I’ve missed over the course of the last months, I have been determined to stick with my Mon-Fri schedule. However, it’s come at a price. I’m sure every blogger would agree that blogging can easily turn into a full-time job (only without the pay - at least for most of us) and I haven’t been able to invest enough time into other areas that really need tending to. My list of priorities has helped gain a better perspective of the things I want to accomplish by this fall. While I’m committed to joycreation and blogging in general, I am going to decrease the amount of posts I publish each week to three times a week (Mon, Wed, Fri) to make it more manageable.
Assign specific times to specific tasks: I could be online for hours reading blogs, leaving comments, catching up on social media… And while this is something I want to be doing, I need to be more efficient at it and - most importantly - I need to limit myself. Because the internet is limitless (in case you hadn’t noticed :)). I also want to get into the habit of doing tasks that require extra focus and attention in the morning (when I’m most alert). I’m hoping that by assigning certain times to certain tasks, I will develop a habit of doing them everyday - without contemplating whether or not to work on them.

Get enough sleep: Going to bed early is a topic I could write an entire blog post on. Even if I’m tired, I tend to get a boost at around 8:30 each night, and it is difficult for me to get to bed at a reasonable time. Also, I tend to be on the computer until the very last minute, but did you know blue light (the kind we find in screens) is thought to improve performance and alertness? (There is an interesting article on this by the Harvard Medical School). Naturally, this also means it hinders us from being able to fall asleep! And as we all know, sleep is one of the most important things we need in order to feel good, productive and focused.
I’m curious: do you make time to unplug? And what helps you stay focused? I’d love to hear any tips you may have! 
On a side note: have you heard of the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg? It gives a very good insight into how habits are formed and is a fascinating read!
photo source (and some photoshopping of my own)