Focused

I am usually a “get it done” kinda guy because I have an ability to apply a laser-like focus to work and tasks I set out to do. Having that type of focus has not been innate; I had to learn how to avoid distractions that would divert attention and keep me from completing even the most simple tasks.

I cannot say that as a child that I had ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), but I know that I was scatter-brained. I would flit from one thing to another, and my Mom would…

…worry that I would not complete homework assignments, household chores, or get a “real job” because I could not focus my attention.

Admittedly, the truth: I could focus my attention if I wanted to, but there were so many interesting things out there, I soon lost interest in one thing and got interested in something else. Also, as is typical, if you are doing something you do not want to do — like write a long composition for English class — it is far easier to visit a friend and do something fun.

Over the years as I have grown and matured, I learned how to make adjustments for how easily that I get distracted. This is what I do:

1. I make lists. I have many lists of things to do — daily “to-do” list on my work calendar; list of routine chores at home; the infamous “honey-do” list of longer, more difficult home repairs that need to be done; and a personal list of people to remember, such as when to send birthday cards and gifts for family, time to call a sibling to check in, and so forth.

2. I adjust those lists frequently. I know that I cannot accomplish everything at once. Priorities change. Time requirements vary. I am not afraid to say to myself that a schedule may be too optimistic and adjust it more realistically. That is, I have my goals, but I adjust those goals as “things happen.” By the way, these adjustments are not procrastination, but rather — not setting myself up for failure.

3. List adjustments also are required when new activities take priority. Such as yesterday when I was going to replace the screen door on the back porch, but the Spouse said, “you might want to replace the hardware holding up that deck wall that is just about to fall down.” Yep, priorities change with immediacy of need.

4. I reduce distractions. The biggest distraction of my work life is email. I receive some 300 – 500 new emails each day. Half of them are immediately dismissable, but half require some sort of action. So that I am not consumed with email all day every day, I do this: a) turn on email first thing in the morning and filter or move email to three folders — “hot”, “today”, and “whentime.” These labels speak for themselves. b) I answer all “hot” email immediately, then I deliberately turn email off and work on other tasks. c) I turn email on again in late morning, prioritize new email again, then answer “hot” and half of the “today” email. Then I turn it off again. d) in later afternoon when my brain is more sluggish, I turn on email again, prioritize new email once more, and answer “hot” only if I must; answer the rest of “today,” and then scan the “whentime” email to respond to what I can. I actively manage email by NOT having it on all the time to pop up and distract me all day long.

5. I also reduce distractions by not texting. I do not receive texts and do not send them. If someone really needs to reach me, he/she can call me on the phone or send me an email and I will get around to it when I can. I see colleagues at work struggle with distracting texts all day long. No need for those distractions. Albeit, I am not a parent and as such, I do not have children to whom I need to attend during the day and since children these days communicate only by texting and no other method, then I understand why texting is important for some people. Not for me, and I value the freedom from that mammoth distraction.

6. If I have to do something that I do not want to do, I give myself incentives, such as “when you complete this section of that task, you can take a break and do something else you would like to do.” That is, I break up boring and monotonous activities with short, intentional diversions that recharge my internal batteries.

7. It is also not unknown to take a power nap. If I am really dragging, I am more easily distracted. I have found that if I put on a pair of sound-quieting headphones, I can lean back in a chair and fall asleep in mere seconds. I will set an alarm (sounded through those headphones) for 20 minutes later. Amazing how refreshed and more focused I feel after a short nap. (This is why I seldom go out for lunch at the office. I find a quiet place for a power nap and recharge.)

8. As I have aged, I realize how my body responds to doses of caffeine and sugar. To avoid the inevitable “sugar crash” or headache from lack of caffeine, I have weaned myself off those things. I do not drink coffee (never did anyway), caffeinated soda, and sweets for breakfast or breaks. Instead, I have developed a tolerance for unsweetened granola bars (I keep telling myself that they are not compressed sawdust bars) and the protein and carbs give me a more steady balance of blood sugar and hunger management such that I can be more steady throughout the day.

9. I reward myself for accomplishing tasks, from little to large. A break for some fun, some play, a phone call with my twin brother or close family/friends, a warm embrace with the Spouse — these are all rewards to me. I know it sounds weird, but I can get a lot of things done when I say to myself, “you can talk to J (my twin brother) as soon as you finish this,” or “Spouse will give me a backscratch when I do this home chore.” Whatever it takes… 🙂

Managing time and reducing distractions is how I manage to get a lot of things done, and few know the wiser how I do it. Now you do.

Life is short: You can get a lot done when you are focused.