Riding the subway home yesterday, my typically silent car was enlivened by two young girls and their mothers who hopped on. The girls, 7 years old or so, immediately danced over to the upright pole in the middle of the aisle and started twirling around it. After several minutes of this, giggling and talking and having a marvelous time chasing each other (paying no attention whatsoever to anyone else in the car), they settled into a rhythm directly across from each other. Still twirling, but more slowly, one said to the other ... "everything's blurry except for you" ... and the other immediately chanted it back. Back and forth. Their delight in each other's company was glowing in their conversation and lack of interest in anyone else on the train. They truly focused on each other, and discovered that everything else gets blurry! What a delightful example of focusing on someone when you're with them, and giving them 100% of your attention ... fully being there with them.
How easily do you focus on things? Are you able to tune out distractions, or do you find yourself readily sidetracked by things around you? As I pen this article, started during a break at the office where I work a couple days a week, there is a personification of "distraction" at work behind me ... let's call him Tom. Tom is a very vocal character who wanders into my shared office many times per day with comments, inane questions, and "lets toss a few" requests for my co-workers. I've learned to tune him out if I'm busy, and only stop to re-direct the nerf football when it lands on my desk. Hence the subject ... how effectively do you focus on what's in front of you? Something you'd like to do more, or less, of? Let's take a look!
It seems we prize the ability to focus the minute a child is born ... delighting in their ability to track an object, make eye contact, or spend 20 minutes discovering their own toes. What we focus on shows our attention, and often our respect as well. Do you focus 100% on someone when you talk to them, or are you planning tomorrow's breakfast, braiding your daughter's hair, checking your e-mail, and hunting for a pen that works all while trying to have a conversation? Sound familiar? I read recently that multitasking isn't really doing several things at once, it's just shifting rapidly between tasks. I'm afraid I'm very familiar with that one, having an overly-developed multi-tasking approach to life ... which works well in many arenas, but isn't always the most pleasant or effective. Half an hour of time, free from distractions, focused on one task, produces more than 2 hours of running in circles.
How about some tips or reminders for how to find, and keep, that focus when it really counts?
1. CHOOSE your focus. Don't let it choose you, be proactive and conscious about how you're spending your time. Choose only one thing at a time, and do it well and with your whole being.
2. Speaking of TIME, set a limit and stick to it! I focused on a computer screen for 7 hours yesterday, working on my husband's website, and was rewarded with a splitting headache and rumbling stomach along with the snazzier site. Not a healthy focus at all!
3. MINIMIZE distractions! If you're blessed with the ability to tune out everything and everyone around you, at will, you may find this one irrelevant, but the rest of us take note. You need silence to write or create or work well? Find something to block the surrounding sounds ... close your door, put up a "do not disturb" sign, silence your phone, or use a fan or walkman or other source of "white noise". I was on a long overnight bus trip last week (fulfilling one of my 10 goals for this year!) when my seatmate decided to flirt with the man across the aisle all night. I have a very poor ability to filter out words of any kind, and found myself unable to fall asleep ... wishing heartily that I'd taken the time to pack my Walkman and some music!
4. Take BREAKS! Remember recess? That longed-for chance to escape the classroom and run around for 15 minutes? There are good reasons behind the practice ... breaks have been proven to increase productivity and ability to focus. I find it much easier to focus on what's in front of me if I clear my mind or "change the channel" for a few minutes.
Those may all seem ridiculously simple ideas, but whether you find it hard to keep focused or hard to shift away from it, they can help you find healthier ways to approach your day.
Bethany Rule is an experienced personal and professional life coach, championing human development, encouraging change, and helping you break your own rules. Based in NYC, she works with clients all over the world. Please visit http://www.bethanyrule.com to sign up for your FREE Trial Session, FREE monthly newsletter, or to learn more about coaching with Bethany.