By Lynne Prescott, CCLS
There are times when life can feel like one big distraction, especially in today’s world. E-mail, text messages, phones buzzing and chirping, Zoom meetings, working remotely, interruptions, kids attending school online or back to class on campus, political and social unrest, drought and wildfires, a global pandemic that refuses to go away, ever-changing health guidelines, return to the office issues – – all very real sources of anxiety for most of us. It’s no wonder we have trouble remaining focused or even finding our focus.
Jones Loflin, co-author of “Getting to It,” says, “Of all the comments I hear when talking with others about their day, ‘overwhelmed’ is heard most often. But things aren’t going to slow down. In fact, they’ll more likely speed up.” So how do you find focus in a world that is noisy and chaotic? While it’s easy to blame technology, coworkers, kids and dogs, Loflin says the answer might be found in the mirror. “Too few of us take time to define our ‘it’–our ‘important thing.’ Instead, we choose to be victims to activity, like hamsters in a wheel.”
Loflin says it’s possible to block the distractions and finish each day with a sense of accomplishment. He offers these five steps for finding your focus.
- STEP BACK
The first thing to do is to stop and find moments of sacred idleness. “We get so close to taking care of our tasks that we often don’t see the big picture.” He likes this quote from Leonardo DaVinci: “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away, because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”
Taking time away can bring a better perspective, but it doesn’t have to be an elaborate or long vacation. Even just a few minutes can help.
- DEFINE “IT”
Next, define your “it” – your “Important Thing.” Loflin says we walk around every day dropping possibilities of things we can do into a big mental funnel. “We hope they’ll all get done in the end, but a funnel slows and narrows at the bottom,” he says. “We may be working in a world of unlimited possibilities, but we’re also in a world of limited time.”
Instead, determine what gets done by using deadlines, values, available time, or resources, and arrange your day around the things that are important – big or small.
- USE YOUR RESOURCES
Carve out time to work by taking care of the things that distract you. Unexpected things will always pop up, but you can plan for common and known distractions. For example, if you find noise to be distracting, seek solitude or replace the sound with something soothing. Perhaps a music channel on Pandora that plays music without lyrics? Another option is to use a countdown timer and limit a task to a certain number of minutes. “This will force you to stay in the moment,” says Loflin.
And always turn off email and social media notifications. Even if you choose to not respond, your mind registers the interruption and wonders what it’s about.
- COMMUNICATE YOUR “IT” TO OTHERS
Let your colleagues, family, and friends know what’s important to you, so they can support you and respect your time. In his role as a management consultant, Loflin likes to ask people what their important thing is. “They usually know what they need to get done, but then I ask, ‘What would Joe say is your important thing?’” says Loflin. “If they hesitate and have to stop to think, they haven’t communicated it well.”
- THINK IN TERMS OF SMALL MILESTONES
Finally, keep the feeling of being overwhelmed at bay by focusing on milestones. Loflin has a friend who started running. Instead of focusing on miles, he worked on running from utility pole to utility pole. “It made the process feel much more doable,” says Loflin, adding that the same goes for work. “Concentrate on staying focused for an hour or for a day instead of looking at everything that is ahead.”
The same can be true for those of us in the legal profession. If there is a motion for summary judgment that is due on Friday and today is Monday, yes, it would be nice to get a head start on that. However, if the statute of limitations is going to run today unless you protect it by filing a complaint with the court, then obviously your focus needs to shift to filing the complaint. Complete that milestone and feel the satisfaction of accomplishment in doing so.
One tip that was passed on to me years ago, which I still use, is to print out my daily calendar in the morning, as well as any email instructions or to-dos that may come through during the day, and place those printed pages on the copyholder next to/in front of me. This way, I can’t forget them because they are right in front of me. If I leave them in my email or on the computer calendar, they will get buried in other emails. I then place the printed pages in order of importance or by how quickly I can accomplish that task. Once I finish the task, that page goes from my copyholder to the recycle bin!
Oftentimes it can be more satisfying to take care of several small things that you know can be easily accomplished and get them off your list, rather than starting your day out with something big and daunting and still have the small things hanging over your head. This can help you focus on that big, daunting task knowing that you’ve already taken care of a number of matters already. It’s a great feeling to see that copyholder empty at the end of the day.
If you are still dealing with a number of distractions, try the “running from one power pole to the next” approach. Don’t try to run the mile that day. Just run from power pole to power pole. And if you only ran from one to the other, don’t beat yourself up. It’s one less power pole you’ll have to run tomorrow. Remember, “We may be working in a world of unlimited possibilities, but we’re also in a world of limited time.” Focus your time on what is most important, most critical, and what can reasonably be done.
Categorized in: General
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