Focus

The first element to consider when creating a more realistic “ideal day” is that unlike Franklin, we have many more places to be and many more opportunities to lose focus. We have to account for this, not fight against it.

~ Maneesh Sethi.

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Attachment

Worrying is impossible without attachment. No one worries about the weather on Saturn, because no one is counting on the weather to be a certain way. The time we spend worrying is actually time we’re spending trying to control something that is out of our control. Time invested in something that is within our control is called work. That’s where our most productive focus lies.

~ Seth Godin

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Surface area of concern

Our “surface area of concern”—the number of events we pay attention to on a regular basis—has expanded alongside technology. This is not an inherently negative thing, but becomes one when it adds chronic stress, leads us to burnout, and affects our mental health.

~ Chris Bailey from, https://alifeofproductivity.com/your-surface-area-of-concern/

This is a precise and powerful way to describe something which lies at the root of many other phrases: Information overload, multi-tasking (as a way to fail), and spreading our attention too thin (as another way to fail), are just three examples. I’ve long since decided that I do not need to have an opinion on most things, and that frees me from feeling I need to notice as many things as possible.

For many years—but explicitly I have 3 years of journal entries where this is glaring—I’ve lamented wanting to spend more time on some specific things. And yet my days slip past doing other things. I’m not talking about things which get planned—a day at the beach, dinner at someone’s house, or weekend work in the yard. No, I’m talking about that, “where the hell did today go?” stuff. If you like visuals: The glass jar that I filled slowly all day with the sand of small things, only to realize at day’s end that there’s no way to put these larger rocks in. Ever. Because every tomorrow is like today. Dammit.

About a week ago I decided—memento mori, ya’ know—it’s time to flip that shit over. For several years now, I’ve been starting with pretty consistent morning routine. After that, I have four things that I want to do, and I’ve been doing those next. Sometimes that means I don’t touch anything else—not my phone, not my email, not other people, not bills, not even voicemail from roofers—until 4 in the afternoon. It sounds crazy, I know. Guess what? Every day I look at those four things and go: Shazam! Progress! …and it turns out that I then go on to pour in a ton of sand too—return that call [from yesterday], mow the lawn, run an errand, interact with people, etc..

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Small asks

The world expects that its requests will be accepted. That assignments, lunch dates, new projects, and even favors will get a yes. […] It’s just a small ask, the person thinks. Responding or reacting to incoming asks becomes the narration of your days, instead of the generous work of making your own contribution.

~ Seth Godin

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Have it all

When we try to do it all and have it all, we find ourselves making trade-offs at the margins that we would never take on as our intentional strategy. When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people—our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families—will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.

~ Greg McKeown

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Trade-offs

When we try to do it all and have it all, we find ourselves making trade-offs at the margins that we would never take on as our intentional strategy. When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people—our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families—will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.

~ Greg McKeown

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In the last year, I’ve been regularly returning to my personal mission. It’s a blazing beacon on the horizon. Every time I am aware that I should make a choice, I can honestly say this choice right here is in service of my mission. (The corollary of course is that those times when I’m not aware that I’m making a choice, my mission doesn’t help me at all.)

And I do literally mean all the things are in service of my mission. My choices about my commitments to people, family responsibilities, taxes, friendships, volunteer work, rest, relaxation, food, and many more things are all intentional choices now made in service of my mission. All those things, which others might say seem to be off-mission, are in fact making me a functioning, decent person who is then able to pursue a mission. There’s a whole suite of things that people incorrectly talk about as “home” life, (or “personal” life, or sometimes just “life”,) which they need to balance against “work” life. No. No no. No no no. I tried splitting my universe into work and life and that’s simply not reality.

There’s only “life” time. Stare unflinching at those choices that seem to be on the margins, for they too are just as much important choices about your life.

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The main thing

I think we often get distracted by, well, life, or social media, or whatever. At the end of the day, we can see that we haven’t really moved the needle on what we truly care about. Women out there in particular know this is true. How do you keep the main thing the main thing?

~ Sarah Elizabeth Lewis

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What to focus upon

The practice is simply this: pause to consider what you’d like to focus on.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/everchange/

I’m great at focusing, but am weaker at intentionally choosing what I’m focusing on. I’ve no idea when I realized I was weaker at the latter point. While it’s clear I have a lot of habits and behaviors which work well to help me deal with the weakness, I cannot recall if those developed simply by trial and error.

One habit which works well to avoid disaster is dump it out of my brain into an outline. An emergency spillway prevents complete failure of a dam, but if water ever goes over the emergency spillway, something is terribly wrong. That’s me and brain-dump outlining. I flip my 40-minute sand timer and start a fresh outline, saving it to my computer desktop. (Aside: There is never anything on my computer desktop.) As I’m outlining, panic often nips at my heels. Eventually, I get most everything down. I find long strings of knock-down-doable domino tasks. And I usually find at least one Big Question buried in there.

And then I close the document. It’s cathartic. It’s as if, having written it down, it’s in some sense done.

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Clarity

Problem identification is always a sound investment of time, money, and energy. It feels uncomfortable to spend time and resources trying to figure out exactly what the problem is—we want to jump to fixing way too fast. Most of use are plagued with action bias and really struggle to stay in problem identification. I’ve found that getting clear about what’s wrong and why it’s a problem is the best investment you can make at home or work.

~ Brené Brown

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Macro versus micro

This is super important. Everybody’s impatient at a macro [level], and just so patient at a micro [level], wasting your days worrying about years. I’m not worried about my years, because I’m squeezing [everything] out of my seconds, let alone my days. It’s going to work out.

~ Gary Vaynerchuk

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