Feb 5 2010
Creative Work, Distractions, productivity
Asked and answered by the wonderful Frank Chimero:
Anonymous asked: ‘How do you maintain focus (on work, dreams, goals, life)?’
You do one thing at a time.
You might be amazed how many times—and over how many years—a given person can ask this same simple question, hear that same simple response, and still find themselves casting about for the great and arcane “secret” to achieving real focus.
But, this is pretty much it. Mostly.
Although, I must add one important “Step Zero,” borne of my own tedious experience.
Before you sweat the logistics of focus: first, care. Care intensely.
Specifically, if you discover, in frustration, that you’re pathologically incapable of doing one thing at a time, consider the possibility that you’ve been unknowingly trying to “focus” on two, twenty, or twenty thousand disparate things that you don’t really care that much about. Just consider it.
Because, in the absence of caring, you’ll never focus on anything more than your lack of focus. Think about it.
Think about those times when you really disappeared into challenging work. You had to tear yourself away, right?
Because, during those happy times you were fortunate enough to find yourself engaged with something that you cared intensely about, you probably started asking a really different sort of question.
A more transitive, muscular question that shows you own the attention that others may see as a bowl full of complimentary Jolly Ranchers, free for the grabbing.
That’s when you ask,
How many things do I need to shed, cancel, defer, drop, shank, or shit-can with extreme prejudice in order to singlemindedly focus on this one thing that I love?
In my experience (yes, as I said, hard-won experience), obsessing over the slipperiness of focus, bemoaning the volume of those devil “distractions,” and constantly reassessing which shiny new “system” might make your life suddenly seem more sensible—these are all terrifically useful warning flares that you may be suffering from a deeper, more fundamental problem.
Where’s the care?
For as long as you know in your heart that what you’re making or doing matters, and, consequently, for as long as you accept and embrace the immutable laws of scarcity, your options for maintaining focus will, like Frank’s perfect answer, remain stunningly obvious.
You “focus” on the one thing you care about, as you “unfocus” on everything else. If not for every minute of your life, at least for the time you set aside to pursue the thing that matters.
If that sounds fancy and oversimplified, then you “care” about too many things. Period.
My suggestion? Own your distractions, resist fiddly half-measures, and never for a minute allow yourself to believe that productivity systems, space pens, or a writing app that plays new age music while you stare at a blank page in full-screen mode can ever teach you anything about how to care.
That’s all on you.
So, first, care. Then, as you’ll happily and unavoidably discover, all that “focus” business has a peculiar way of taking care of itself.