It’s the New Year! The holidays are behind us. We’ve celebrated our blessings, mourned our losses and collected our resources in anticipation of another round of challenges. Now here we are, in the dead of winter, gathering up the strands of our lives and mapping out a plan to launch into something new, looking for ways to drum up feelings of inspiration, motivation and most importantly, focus.
It’s not easy! Especially during times of economic difficulty, of which there is currently an over-abundance, our attentions are necessarily pulled in many directions, as we must simultaneously tend to our jobs, our families, our homes and ourselves. And as I always say to my son, first we take care of the things we need to do, then we can get to the things we want…
While I never believe there is a surefire plan of action that will suit everyone, I do know that there are certain strategies we can utilize that will help us stay on track. The following is a list of ideas that help me whenever I’m able to implement them. I hope they will provide you with support for your own efforts at focusing on meeting your responsibilities and attaining your goals in the coming year.
1). Organize your environment
I cannot stress the importance of this one enough. If you have to make a mess, try to confine it to certain areas, and don’t let yourself fall too far behind on the basic maintenance chores, like dishes and laundry. We may always have one of those out of control paper piles and one or two closets that we’re afraid to go near, but at least we can keep the clutter at bay by not letting the daily accumulation get out of control.
Suggestion: Spend at least 20-30 minutes each day on basic cleaning and organizing, such as making your bed, doing your dishes, or cleaning the bathroom. Your efforts at creating a neat environment will be reflected in a clearer mind as you tackle the larger challenges of your life.
2). Clear your mind
Many of us find that meditation, or at the very least, a few minutes of quiet in the morning to breathe deeply and relax, set the tone for clear and productive thinking. Although sometimes we may find ourselves rushing around to get to work on time, or get our children out the door for school, whenever possible it helps to enjoy a few moments of quiet to try and locate a sense of inner balance.
Suggestion: Try setting your alarm five or ten minutes early to give yourself time to breathe deeply and clear your mind, before the rush of daily thoughts crowds out the quiet. If you are like me and you have lots of vivid dreams, take a few minutes to jot them down, and let yourself transition slowly into being awake and in the “real” world.
3). Organize your thoughts
I am a big believer in lists. They help to put into focus our big priorities as well as the little things we don’t want to forget. I try to write down as many as possible of the things I remember over the course of a day, so I am not distracted by nagging thoughts as I’m working on longer projects.
Suggestion: Try creating a to-do list in the morning including a schedule. It’s very helpful to anticipate how long different tasks or projects will take you to complete, so you don’t have unreal expectations of how much you can accomplish in a given day. If an entire list is overwhelming to you, then start with just one thing as your goal. If you can complete that one thing, you can always choose a second one from your list.
4). Limit your social media time
As one who spends the majority of my work time in front of a computer, I find endless distraction in the myriad of social media platforms that I monitor daily. Sometimes, jumping from Facebook to Twitter to the various blogs I follow, not to mention the random links that pull my attention along the way, I begin to feel like I am suffering from an extreme case of ADD.
Suggestion: Even if you live on Hootsuite for a significant part of your day, make sure you schedule specific amounts of time away from social media. The busiest marketing guru or community manager also (and perhaps more than most) needs regular breaks from the endless buzz of conversation. The incessant chatter becomes draining after a while, and is antithetical to any kind of focused, self-directed work.
5). Turn off the TV
This one is surprisingly beneficial. I recently had the misfortune (which I now perceive as good luck!) of being forced to cut cable television out of my monthly budget. In the beginning, it was a very difficult transition, especially for my 8-year-old son, who wept as though he’d lost a best friend and swore he was going to die. Of course he didn’t. And with a little help from Netflix, which has enabled him to look at entire seasons of some of his favorite programs (as well as discover a few new ones, I might add), we cut out the commercial driven programming that seemed to suck endless hours from our lives, and saved a huge chunk of money each month.
Suggestion: Try doing without it. It may sound radical, but it completely changed my life. No longer do I fall into a stupor for hours at a time, allowing my brain to check out while watching endless episodes of cooking shows or design contests or worse, reality TV programming that used to suck me into the train wreck of ogling dysfunctional families and communities. I get more done around the house, spend more quality time with my son (who gets a lot more reading done), and I now find that I have much more time to devote to writing! Yaaay!!
6). Don’t forget about your body
I’ll admit, this is one that continues to make me struggle. I have not always been the most athletic person, and I do not belong to a gym, so staying physically active is something that I have to consciously choose, each and every day. If you are already engaged in regular sports or other physical activity, good for you! The older I get, the more I realize how important it is for overall physical, emotional and spiritual balance to keep the body supple and active.
Suggestion: Start your morning off with some stretches and calisthenics. (I love doing light yoga, crunches and leg lifts.) Even ten minutes will help you feel more focused and able to work for longer stretches of time. Take periodic breaks from your work, especially if you’re like me and sit in front of a computer for long stretches of time each day. Whenever possible, walk and get outside, to run errands, or get from one place to the next. Don’t forget about that vital part of you that lives from the neck down!
7). Forgive yourself for not getting it right
You will have good days, and you will have bad days. It’s just part of life. The best we can do is keep on practicing the things we know will help us feel better, do better work, and live more balanced lives.
The thing that makes me lose focus most of the time is my extreme fascination with all of the wonderfully detailed complexities of life. Having an appreciation for the extraordinary interconnectedness of all living things is wonderful food for the soul, but it does nothing to help one get through a basic work day. Staying focused will give you the satisfaction of first completing the things that need to happen, so you can then fully experience the joy and wonder of fulfilling your truest desires. So take care of business, and then, celebrate!