The undistracted mind

It’s easy to focus when nothing else grabs for your attention. But we aren’t built to handle distraction. When you consider that we were often beset by predators on a daily basis, it makes sense that our attention would be easily pulled away from what we were doing – lest we’d be eaten.

So handling distraction isn’t so much a matter of will power, rather than it’s a function of setting your environment up in such a way that potential distractions are blocked before they can even reach you. I like the description in Cal Newport’s Deep Work of Carl Jung: “He began with a basic two-story stone house he called the Tower… [including a private office]. “In my retiring room I am by myself,’ Jung said of the space. ‘I keep the key with me all the time; no one else is allowed in there except with my permission.”

In a practical sense, maybe you can’t have a tower out in the woods. But you can set up distraction-proofing.

That means, for me, working on a computer with the internet off, notifications off, noise-canceling headphones, a song on repeat (this one certainly takes some getting used to, but I’ve found that once the song fades into the background it is easier to concentrate than with other ambient noises), and a block (or blocks of time) that are strictly for the work.

The one about the job search

Oh, right. Now that COVID has canceled my summer season, I’ll be looking for work once again.

The thing about job hunting is that it was unpredictable before the outbreak. Now, well, I’m sure I find myself like many Americans.

But hey, opportunity from adversity! Good luck to all, and to all a good night.

The Abundance Trap

How easy is it to get lost in the minutiae of having so much? So many emails, or obligations, or *gasp* books to read.

You would think that the more inputs we put into our life, the more product we should have to offer. In economics, the downward side of that bell curve is an example of the Law of Diminishing Returns. “Advantages gained from slight improvement on the input side of the production equation will only advance marginally per unit and may level off or even decrease after a specific point.”

And it seems that we all run in the mode of diminishing marginal productivity. We don’t realize it, but we constantly reach input overload, causing our productivity to level off, or even decrease.

So where is that sweet spot? The point on the graph where you’re at optimal performance, not wasting any input while maximizing your output?

Finding it may be impossible, but we can try to get as close as we can.

Recharge your batteries

A lot of what I’ve been writing about over the past few weeks seems to have been on energy, streamlining your life, and putting the focus where it most matters.

But none of it means anything if you’re draining down your battery. You can go and go, get everything accomplished, but if you’re too tired to enjoy it, what’s the point?

So what reenergizes you? For me, it’s solitary times. It’s spending moments in contemplation away from the pull of anyone else’s agenda. Certainly, I like being of service, and helping where I can. But this can easily lead to burnout. (I mentioned Alex Strohl’s advice previously.)

There are times when drastic measures are needed. Complete revamping. But that’s not about recharging. It’s more of attempting an upgrade.

Find your focus

With so many things on your plate, it’s easy to try and take it all at once. But figuring out where to place your focus will pay dividends in getting things done.

But how? Which items to take your attention, and which to postpone?

Those questions are similar, but the answers are unique to each individual. But regardless of what you have lined up to do, make sure you’re spending time on real work – work that you find motivating and important. Otherwise, nothing else you do will matter.

Are you being productive, or are you just keeping busy?

When I was directing fundraising programs, this question was written on a sticky note and attached above my desk so that I could keep my attention focused. If I felt myself straying, I could look up and ask myself that question. Was I just sending emails, or was I working on something with more purpose?

Since that development contract ended, I’ve seen that sticky note float around every now and then. I hadn’t thought about it much until recently since I’ve been working an extra gig. Now, I find my calendar full most days, and that’s great!

But, am I making time for the deep work? For my creative endeavors? Am I writing for the blog, for instance? Working on some of my other projects, whether in writing, publication, or film/tv/stage? Sadly, the answer more often than not was no…

Now in the new year I have to remember to keep my attention focused. Yes, the jobs I do must be done, and done well. But also, don’t neglect the deep work. The nourishment for the soul. That thing I get to leave behind me.

So again I get to ask myself: “Am I being productive? Or merely keeping busy?”

We work, then we ship

This blog is shipping. It’s a continuous reminder to me to get the work done. I’m at a point where I can now write every morning. I write here, and I write in my other media (at this time a novel, which I started during NaNoWriMo, but which has been a holdover).

Work completed isn’t much until we get it out. Really, it isn’t completed until you put it out. And it’s scary to put it out. There are times when I’d rather not see the finished product.

I do some work in improvisational acting, and that’s instantaneous shipping. That’s getting up, creating a scene (doing the work) and performing it in front of an audience (shipping), all in one moment. Terrifying!

But doing that, it’s helping me here. It’s helping me everywhere. Because in improv, as in any other work, it’s okay to fail. Maybe one project lands flat. Flatter than flat. Just put it in the dungheap and move on.

Seth Godin has a graph of shipping that looks like this:

6a00d83451b31569e2017ee8407661970d-500wi.jpgOriginal post here.

This is specifically for the publication of a book. But it applies to any artistic medium. The Y-axis is the joy you feel for the project, and the X-axis shows time passing with each milestone. I think data point 6 is even lower than what’s shown because fear can take hold. That resistance.

But it’s so important to ship. To accept that fear. That fear is a gift. It’s your body telling you that what you’re doing may very well be important. So don’t stop now. Accept the gift, and get your idea out there.

Recovery days

Some days it’s important to focus on your health and recovery – not necessarily creating or building or selling. You can’t stay on 100%. You can’t fill every waking hour. It’s important to find time to shut down, relax, and decompress.

And that can be a challenge. There is always something else to be doing. Always one more item to check off the to-do list. But make sure your list has alone time. Refreshment time. Time to recover. It’s one of the most important things we do.

Setting communication standards

Management is about delegation, communication, and motivation. Peter Drucker warns that, “There seems to be little correlation between a man’s effectiveness and his intelligence, his imagination or his knowledge.” (The Effective Executive)

When managing any group of people, from three up to multinational corporations, communication is paramount. Any misstep in communication regarding expectations, assignments, etc, rests solely with the management. (Any lag in communication regarding issues that arise in the trenches are most likely the cause of ineffective management as well, as effective communications in the past will lead to open channels of dialogue in times of crisis.)

The importance of communication is the shared understanding. “Communications are a two-way process.  You can be certain of what you communicated, but how can you be sure what you communicated was understood by the receiver? The assurance of your message being understood begins with the message and the manner of delivery.” (University Survival)