Do you suffer from incessant distraction? Have trouble keeping your mind on one task for more than a few minutes at a time? Well, join the club. The present author is a prototypical spacebrain, another product of a childhood weaned on television.
A few years ago I cancelled my cable in hopes that the eliminated distraction would help me focus on more meaningful and important tasks. Nope. Instead I just found other distractions like youtube, guitar, or housework, anything to stave off the dreaded inevitability of actually doing something productive. I have often found that the only time my brain goes into high-productivity mode is when customary sluggishness is temporarily overcome by several cups of coffee. Can anybody relate?
I’ve listened to an army of personal coaches and self help gurus talk about time management strategies. None of these have ever worked for me. From my earliest days in school I was always that kid who was hopelessly disorganized. Handouts never seemed to find their way into their proper places. My school bag was a chaos of papers from various subjects tucked here and there and often mixed together. Deadlines were experienced as this hazy yet undeniable recognition of the approach of something I had no power to deal in a sane manner. It was as if some some unstoppable army was coming over the distant horizon. All I could do was wait for the onslaught.
I have gotten my act together since then. At some point I just realized that in order to make it in business I would have to learn to get organized. Now I use calendars, to do lists and I have a white board in my office that helps me track the priorities of day and week. Despite all of this I still have had trouble reaching my goals. I still have had trouble focusing. That is until recently…
If you’ve been around the self-help/personal growth industry for any length of time, you’ve probably heard about the importance of finding your “why”. Stephen Covey (and many others) talk about creating mission statements for your life or your business. Very often they are linked together. A mission statement helps you define your purpose and bring it into clear focus. After hearing this advise countless times but not really having it sink in, something finally dawned on me recently viz a viz my seeming inability to focus.
I saw that the cause of the problem was not some fatal personality flaw that couldn’t be fixed – it was the way I was using my attention to focus on tasks. I was focusing on the minutia rather than the WHY. Whenever I would think about all the various and sundry details I would feel overwhelmed to the point where I just couldn’t even get started. But I realized that by switching my focus from the the details and reminding myself of the deeper purpose, the end goal, getting down to work became relatively simple. For me this deeper purpose encompasses self, family, community and world. It has many facets that reflect my own ideals. When action is aligned with personal ideals, your why emerges.
Connecting to your why is an ongoing process of reflection and adjustment. It is something you have to think about as you move through your day. You keep it front and center, you mull it over, and in so doing, you refine it. If it is something you truly believe in, you should have no problem pursuing it vigorously. If it isn’t, your heart will tell you that it is time to go back and rethink it. It starts by simply asking yourself, “what is my why?”
When you are connected to your why, your reason for doing is a always there in front of you. It guides you onwards. The moment you lose sight of it, work becomes a pile of endless details that don’t seem to have any meaning. When that happens, focus is lost.