Sunday, January 15, 2012
Reset Sunday: Focus and Finish
So picture waking up slowly, your mind blissfully half asleep, when the dreaded wave comes crashing through the calm. This wave is a chatter of obligations, tasks, chores, places to be, people to meet, so many things to do. Ahhh, suddenly waking up seems a lot less appealing. Maybe just one more cuddle in the soft cocoon but there is just not enough time with so much to do.
When I follow this tide through out the day, I find that I am engulfed in a constant busy-ness. My body tightens up; my breath edges toward non-existent. I have entered, what I like to call, Multi-tasking Madness. I am in a state of perpetual mental and sometimes physical motion. At the end of the day, my nerves are buzzing at a strange and uncomfortable frequency and I can't quite pinpoint what I even spent my time doing most of day. I know I did a million things but how did all those minutes and hours slip away? I feel like I expended a crazy amount of energy but what did I get in return? And was it worth it?
Recently, I have been playing with a practice I dubbed Focus and Finish to provide some respite from the Multi-taking Madness. I have broken down this practice into steps for you to experiment with over the next week. Try them all together or maybe just pick one. I invite you to write about your experience and revelations in the comments as well. We can all learn from each other.
- Instead of Waking and Thinking or Doing, Try Waking and Breathing.
Just take a few deep conscious breaths in the morning. Feel the breath moving through your entire body from your belly to your toes, from your heart to your finger tips, from the bottom of the spine to the crown of your head. Let the breath expand into a big stretch and maybe a nice satisfying yawn. Then, get up.
- Before You Start Working, Focus
First, clear the slate by simply bringing your attention on the breath. It doesn't have to be a long serious mediation. It can just be 3-5 focused inhales and exhales. This is literally just a short practice session in focus. Ask yourself, "What is the single most important thing I would like to accomplish today?" Don't judge the answer. Just take note of it and bring it to mind throughout the day to see how it is aligning with your actions.
- Notice the Distractions
Ok, now we laid a relaxed and focused foundation. So let's get to the tricky part. As you are engaged in your "single most important thing," notice when other tasks or distractions are trying to pull you away. It is amazing how frequently this happens! Someone might ask for your help on another project or you might suddenly remember an email you need to send, or wait wasn't I supposed to research hotels for my parent's visit, or don't I need to call so-and-so back or is this other task actually more important...... and yes, this can go on forever. If you follow the endless prompts of these distractions, you are right back in Multi-tasking Madness.
- Return to Your "Single Most Important Thing"
So how do we deal with all these underminers of focus. First, keep some paper nearby where you can jot down any thing that pops up that you are afraid you will forget if you don't do now. That way it safely written down and you can free the mental energy and time to return to your "single most important thing." Second, if it is a family member, friend, or boss that is asking you to switch gears, take the time to assess the situation. Is what they are asking for truly urgent or can it happen later? Is it more important than your "single most important thing"? If the answer is honestly and completely yes, then it is good to be flexible, responsive and helpful. However if the answer is no, explain that it is important for you to remain focused and that you may be able to help them when you are finished. Sometimes, just repeating the mantra, "finish and focus" in your mind can be enough to get you back where you want to be.
- Feed your Focus
You want to keep turning away from the distractions and towards your "single most important thing," but if this is a task that requires hours of work, then it is essential to take breaks. And a break is not doing another task. Checking emails doesn't count as a break. That is simply a detour towards Multi-tasking Madness. A break could be a walk, or a little stretching, or some focused breathing, drinking some water, or mindfully eating a snack. If you can't tell if it is a good break activity, ask yourself, "Does this feed my focus or distract from it?"
This part is unbelievably satisfying. You saw your "single most important thing" through to the end. This doesn't mean you finished that novel you have been meaning to write but maybe you finished the first draft of the first chapter and that is something. If you still have time and energy to do something more, go back to step 2 and find the next "single most important thing". Notice how you feel at the end of the day when you have practiced focusing and finishing. I find that even if I am tired, it is good, relaxed tired and often times, I am actually peacefully energized.