We all probably realize we need better focus in our lives to take care of what we feel we need to do or should be doing. The actual issue for most of us is how to maintain that focus. Here are a few tips I’ve learned in my life.
Some Mental Downtime is Good for Long-Term Focus
In our family, we have a running gag about the ADHD most of us seem to suffer from. In my life, I know I can focus so tightly on a project for an extended period, Sometimes, this is to where I notice nothing else around me! Other times, I go through periods where I daydream and watch idiotic YouTube videos for hours.
I’ve realized that this can be sometimes good for my long-term productivity if I keep it in check.
We can’t be on task 24/7. Even when trying to get into better shape from a fitness standpoint, much of the positive change happens after the workout, while we’re resting. In fact, I’ve learned (the hard way) to rest between workouts. Otherwise, I risk injuring myself or slowing my progress.
In terms of focus in other areas of our lives, from parenting and family life to our professional lives, if we don’t have some enjoyable diversion to rest our minds and release our focus, we’re going to wind up a hot mess.
Don’t feel guilty about not being on task all the time.
Worrying is Bad for Long-Term Focus
In contrast, using your mental downtime to worry or create stressful potential scenarios in your head only serves to sap your energy and your creativity. Worrying does nothing to change the situation, and worry can never prevent the potential catastrophe from occurring.
Worrying is like being on a hamster wheel. You’re busy wearing yourself out, but you’re not accomplishing anything.
I like to take a long term view of life, through setting goals and such, but with things that may or may not happen, I also have to take things one day at a time. Our family struggled with seasons of financial insecurity because of manufacturing jobs shipping overseas. This provides plenty of seeds for worry if I allow those seeds to take root. Instead, I have to do what I can do each day, as it comes, gathering my manna from God one day at a time, and praying for daily bread, so to speak. I try not to make any “living for today” decisions that are going to make my life miserable tomorrow, like going into consumer debt. Been there, done that, learned our lesson.
My friend Tamie K used to always tell me, “Don’t borrow trouble”. It’s a paraphrase of something Jesus said. Jesus said that today’s troubles are sufficient for today (Matthew 6:34). It helps me to think of worrying as borrowing tomorrow’s troubles and bringing them into my life right now. I can’t change it. Worrying doesn’t let me do a thing about what “might” happen. I can only take care of what I have to take care of today.
Focus in Keeping with Your Season of Life
When you’re a mom with little ones, it’s hard to keep your mind on too many other tasks apart from loving on and raising up these little ones. If you try to do too much that requires intense focus for long periods of time, frustration will result. It’s hard to accomplish this in the same house as a young child (or children).
This just goes back to the seasons of life, and how they each have a certain general focus. When my kids were little, I didn’t have enough focus to make dinner some days. Now that they are older, the seasons have changed, and I can measure “productivity” more easily. However, those days were not for naught. I have exceptional kids who are now young adults. That wouldn’t have happened if I had ignored them while they were little in favor of a to-do list.
If you’re going through chronic illness, or maybe have several small children, or you have elderly parents with health issues — whatever the case may be, your focus will not be on a list of external goals.
This past spring, my “best-laid plans” for the relaunch and rebranding of my site fell through when I got the phone call no parent wants to get, that two of my kids were in a horrible car wreck — so horrible I didn’t even recognize the car when we went to the junkyard. For most of spring and summer, my focus was on insurance paperwork, doctor’s visits, traveling to the hospital two hours away, learning how to operate a feeding pump, and dealing with the immediate needs that the emergency dropped in our laps.
If you’re going through a season where life has thrown you a curve ball, sometimes it’s best just to put your focus into that emergency, and deal with it until you’re no longer feeling like you’re drowning.
Be All There
It’s great to connect, but it’s unnecessary or healthy to stay connected all the time. If you’re with other people, be all there.
I have nothing against Facebook. Some days it’s my mental relaxation, and it’s a great way to keep up with friends around the world. All of this can distract us from the here and now badly. These are things that can easily break our focus from where our focus should be at the moment.
I use programs and browser add-ons (such as Leechblock and Stay Focused) which can block distracting websites. You activate the programs while you’re supposed to be working. These programs are helpful if you lack the discipline. Other tricks have helped me, such as turning my phone off when I don’t want the distraction (Gasp!), or screening phone calls on my land line.
Sometimes I even turn the Internet off at the source during part of the day. This way distractions online stop while I work.
If you’re out “enjoying the day” with your kids, then really enjoy it with your kids. Put the phone away, or turn off your data connection so you can only get emergency phone calls.
If your focus is on your phone or the internet, that’s where you’re using up your energy. Tim Robbins once said, “Where your focus goes, your energy flows.” This is so true. If I’m spending my energy and my time on something that isn’t important for the long term, I’m going to have to give up time and energy on something that is important. Is it worth it?
Avoid Things that Fire You Up (unless it’s related to your goals)
Avoiding negativity also helps productivity and focus. Nothing can pull you away from focusing on the important than political and cultural drama.
In my life, I try to avoid politics, political Facebook posts, “the news”, and anything that is going to get my blood pressure going. I don’t always succeed at keeping it out of my line of focus, but I attempt to.
Getting fired up about something is only good if you can do something about it other than grind your teeth and stress out.
The media, political blogs, and even political parties (and politicians) themselves, on both sides of the political spectrum, market fear for staying in business, get donations (or page views), and make their money.
The political machines are selling fear and division like never. Don’t buy what they are selling, for the sake of your sanity and energy levels.
Day by Day, Step by Step, Bite by Bite
When we focused on paying off debt, a friend told us you do this the same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.
How do you achieve your goals, stay focused, and do what you need to do: also one bite at a time!
If you measure success by how fast you achieve your goals, versus how faithful you are to make progress in the right direction, your progress might discourage you.
I’m preaching at myself here.
I bite off more than I can chew, so to speak. This leaves me frustrated when I can’t accomplish things on the impossibly tight schedule I’ve given myself. That’s every bit as counter-productive as watching all the blooper reels of your favorite tv show on YouTube all afternoon instead of tackling your to-do list.
Focus on accomplishing the current step you’re taking, instead of thinking about the enormity of the journey.