Allowing Myself to Focus

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned while trying to juggle multiple different jobs/pursuits at once, it’s that multi-tasking is way overrated.

My computer is both my friend and my enemy: It’s amazing that this little box sitting in front of me allows me to play music, browse blogs, make spreadsheets, answer emails, look at photos on Facebook and plan dinner for the night… all at once. But that ability to do all these functions can also very easily keep me from getting meaningful work done.

In fact, I am realizing that it’s not a sign of weakness to admit to myself that I do my best work when I have zero distractions.

When I have an approaching deadline breathing down my neck — month end financials for our bank, for example — I am frequently astonished at how quickly I am able to accomplish a large chunk of work. I sit with my mug of tea at my computer, maybe some music playing lightly in the background, with QuickBooks and Excel open, phone on silent.

This is a good indicator that I am capable of focus: When something needs to be done, I am able to shut out all distraction and internet temptation and really let my focus work for me.

The next step is to take this focus I apply to deadlined, clearly outlined tasks and put it into more self-directed creative endeavors. Right now I blog, photograph, and brainstorm in spare time or gaps in the afternoon after the initial, more pressing morning work has died down.

Unfortunately, usually by late afternoon/early evening I have “used up” my daily ration of strong focus. This often results in just dabbling around in a blog draft or editing a few photos before daydreaming about dinner commences.

I wonder what quality of work I would able to produce if I consciously set aside time and energy to hone in on my creative pursuits, too.

Good Reads: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

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I’m not big on “self-help” books. They usually just don’t resonate with me. I often read articles in magazines with titles like “Top 10 Things Happy People Do” or “How to Change Your Life in 3 Steps” but they always leave me a bit unsatisfied. Don’t we all know we’re happier when we exercise, get good sleep, eat well, socialize, work hard, etc? It’s pretty clear that satisfaction with life is more than just our daily habits – it’s a state of mind.

That said, if you ever read my more personal posts on this blog, you’ll know I have a few issues achieving this state of mind. In this world of constant comparison and my constant yearning for change, it takes frequent reminders for me to feel grounded and content. I’m a driven person, and generally happy, but not without the stresses and fears we all face.

So, when I was emailed Brene Brown’s infamous TED talk, I was a bit skeptical that it would be anything more than a feel-good pep talk. But I was wrong – she has a gift for getting to the heart of these issues.

Emboldened by the TED Talk, I recently purchased one of Brene’s books: The Gifts of Imperfection.

I read the entire book in one sitting. If I hadn’t been reading on my iPad, I would have been highlighting quote after quote — Brene’s writing is so powerful, relatable, and real. When we feel down, we tend to struggle alone because we think we are the only ones experiencing these feelings of doubt or shame! Brene explains that we are all struggling with fears of vulnerability and that the entire human experience is imperfect.

I highly recommend this book for anyone struggling with feeling content with themselves or their lives — it’s a great dose of non-corny perspective and motivation, written beautifully

How Long Between Leaps?

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Entrepreneur and popular author Seth Godin recently wrote a short, thought-provoking post on how we know when its time to change.

He points out that childhood promotes change on a trimester/semester/year basis, via the school system. When we are young, we constantly shift routines, friends and activities, regardless of our comfort with change  – it’s unavoidable.

This disappears as we get older and settle into our own pace. Without the clockwork change of school, we are free to avoid change and seek stability.

Seth ends his post urging us to seek change anyways: “People don’t like changing their rhythm. If you adopt the rhythm of stability, then change is a threat. Adopt the rhythm of change, though, and you’ll get restless right on schedule.”

This struck a chord with me –  though perhaps from the opposite end of the spectrum he was trying to reach. I’ve never had difficulty finding the “rhythm of change”. In fact, that rhythm comes very naturally to me.

A lot of this has to do with the way I grew up: Before the age of 12, I moved 6 times, in the process going through a series of school systems (I’ve been to public, private, charter and home schools). My family would move to a new state each summer, and I would need to settle in quickly to make friends in time for my mid-September birthday party. Changes in geography, social groups, activities, sports teams… these were just the norm, and I threw myself into the rhythm of change wholeheartedly.

Even once my family settled a bit more permanently in Oregon, I sought change in other ways — I remember the last year of high school felt like a long slog through the mud towards college.

When Erika and I started the company, I was two years into college and itching for a change of pace. Dropping out was an easy decision — I was ready for a big change, and it was perfect timing.

Fast forward, it’s been another two years, and I am getting –  as Seth described perfectly – “restless right on schedule”.

It’s more complicated this time though. I don’t get to move, change schools, find a new career. I’m busy building something.

The answer I want is not how to adopt the rhythm of change, but rather how to override it. Creating something really good – in the business world, in my relationships, in my community – is going to take years, not months. Sometimes I wonder (in a very Carrie Bradshaw-esque way): can I maintain the level of change I crave and simultaneously stay the course?

Maybe it will just take a little mental focus and some creativity in my day to day schedule. Breaking up the routine, shifting my methods, taking on new challenges and delegating repetitive tasks as much as possible to focus on the big picture.

I think Seth might say that just as it’s uncomfortable yet necessary for those who dislike change to embrace it, it is necessary for me to stay still and breathe for a little while… just to see if I can do it.