What is it that keeps you from focusing?
For me, I can’t even focus on what is at the core of my lack of focus.
Off the bat, some obvious things that keep me spread thin and nonproductive:
- My ADD nature
- My extroversion
- Social media
- A wide variety of interests
- A society that is constantly waving things in my face, saying "Look at this! Now look over here!"
Even as I write this, I am distracted by the tabs open on my Internet browser.
We are a creative, talented lot, us human beings. Gifted and creative in different ways, but we all have something to offer that is meaningful to life’s conversation. But how do we harness it?
I enjoy so many things – writing, reading, needlecraft, talking, exercising, singing, cleaning, animals, meditating, mundane things like filing papers, lying in the sun – but here’s the thing: I rarely tell myself that I should set most of them aside, for a moment, or (here’s a provocative thought) for several months, in order to focus on one thing that might be more of a service to people if I really bore down and focused on it.
There’s a problem here I already see with this idea. One can’t skip the everyday activities in order to focus on one’s art or craft. We have to keep our surroundings clean and functional, take care of our hygiene, pay our bills, talk to our kids (mine are yet to be, but I know a lot of y’all have them) and our friends. We have to do these things in order to maintain our well being and to keep ourselves as, well, ourselves.
If I don’t talk to people every day – and I’ve decided recently that it’s very important that I physically see people each day – I am not completely, fully Bailey. I won’t die if I go a day without talking to someone – and thanks to a blizzard that I would like to forget I have gone several days without seeing people in person – but it’s really helpful to my nature if I do. I need to laugh every day, and praise the good Lord I have some funny people in my life who keep me laughing.
Meanwhile, all my little rituals and hobbies keep me up and bubbling with ideas, etc. etc. I also know, though, that some of these rituals like meditation and sitting still and praying and writing are so good for keeping my racing mind in check. I don’t like to be bubbling with ideas all the time. It makes me crazy. I can’t shut my mind off in those moments. I don’t have the patience or the energy or the wherewithal to write down all of my ideas for things to write about, videos to make, people to send fun mail to, when my mind is going super fast ahead of any pen I could use to write these ideas down with.
Recently I made myself a new and improved “unemployment schedule” that is overall too ambitious in its entirety, but I don’t expect myself to hit nearly all of the things on it every day. What it boils down to, though, the things on it that I am trying my best to hit every day, are:
- Writing in the morning
- Morning meditation/prayer/stretching time, on some days
- Lunch (yeah, I have to write this one down)
- Job searching/networking in the afternoon
- Sometimes exercise
- Dinner and free time (seriously, this sounds like a camp schedule for kids, but these are the kinds of ridiculous drill sergeant steps I must take with myself)
I’ve thought for a long time now about the irony of our world’s ability to get things done so quickly through the benefits of technology and the fact that we as humans can’t move any faster in our thinking or writing or doing simply because there are technological tools to help us.
Let me tell you what I mean. Email. Twitter, Facebook, etc. Many moons ago – you know, around 1985, when some of us were born – if we wanted to communicate with someone who wasn’t right in front of us, we had to either call them or sit down and write or type a letter. We had to put that letter in an envelope, look up the address (in our Rolodexes that we had better hoped were organized, otherwise it would take us all afternoon to find the address), write that address on the envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail it.
Then, then! We had to wait for the person to receive it! And then wait for him or her to call us or write us back!
Today? You have something to say, you say it. “Blah blah blah, 140 characters, POST.” Whoops, maybe shouldn’t have said that. Too late.
It used to be that when we wanted to go somewhere, we had to look up details on a map, or talk to a trusted local who knew every road and landmark nearby. (Let me just stop here and say that while I use Google Maps almost daily, I am also a proud owner of a Thomas Guide for the streets of Los Angeles – awesome tool.)
The fact that we can look up things on Google Maps – or, for some of you advanced people, have your smarty pants phone look it up for you – doesn’t mean our cars can drive faster than they did 20 years ago. It doesn’t mean we won’t possibly have trouble finding the place once we get near the appropriate cross street. If a Yelp review says the drinks at said place are delicious, it doesn’t mean our taste buds are robotic and will agree with those taste buds of the Yelp reviewer.
When we press ‘send’ on an email message, it travels in seconds, or less, across the world if need be. But we still have to take the time to think about what we’re saying in that message. We might be typing our messages, which is faster than handwriting, but we still have to sit to compose it long enough to get our full message across, to proofread it, organize our thoughts and convey appropriate, civil, kind tones.
I was reluctant to join Twitter, which I did last month, because I knew it was just one more social media outlet to heap onto the pile. I don’t even want to look at how many Tweets I tweeted yesterday – it was my first real day of getting a little crazy with my rate of tweeting. But as a social person, and as a person who uses the Internet for entertainment in general and in this time of unemployment, and as a writer who wants to get her writing out there for consumption, I wanted to try out this Twitter business.
I think it’s hard, in this time where we have so many stimulations around us, to say to ourselves that we should take our hands off the keyboard for a moment (or, for us writers, maybe keep our hands on the keyboard but only keep that one Word document open!) and focus on one thing. I think that’s a pretty radical thought for our time, yet I don’t think that’s radical for the way we are designed as humans. We have these great new tools, thanks to our creative human design that allows us to think these things up and make them, but our bodies and our minds aren’t designed to just suddenly – or ever – keep up with this new pace we’ve set for ourselves.
I can find hundreds of jobs to apply to each day on the Internet, but I can only meaningfully put together application materials for one or two of them each day. And that’s of course assuming I’m not dinking around on Facebook, yakking on the phone with my friends, or even doing other valuable things like exercising or volunteering. Yet, because the tools are there – I can send an email with one click, and for that matter I can email a recruiter who I’ve never met because his or her email address is publicly available – we don’t tell ourselves that we should move at a slower pace than that which the tools themselves can keep.
I’ve been trying recently to focus on my writing as my real work, the work that I feel I am called to do and the work that my creative capacities are most aptly attuned to.
But at times it’s really radical for me to think that I need to temporarily sacrifice some of my other gifts and talents, or interests, to focus on that work. Not necessarily even for just a couple of hours, either – maybe longer, much longer periods of time. Just because I can agree to help a bunch of people out with various projects doesn’t necessarily mean I should. With Facebook in my face, and the fact that my friends know I use it, it’s harder to say “No, I’m going to sit this one out.” Obviously I’m there in front of them, I seem available, so why should I tell them I’m not? Because if I make myself too available, then I can’t really offer anyone quality time or assistance, friendship or focus.
Before I wrote this, I tweeted that I needed to turn off the Justin Bieber Pandora radio station if I was planning to get any real writing done. My hashtag?: #focus